July 30, 2008

Hump Day Poetry: Gil Scott-Heron

Posted in Poetry at 9:00 am by The Lizard Queen

I was at the Rock & Soul Museum in Memphis recently and heard this for the first time (at least to my knowledge).  It’s powerful, particularly aloud.  I couldn’t help cringing at the reference to “hairy armed womens liberationists,” and I wonder what Scott-Heron meant by that.  Part of me thinks perhaps it’s a reference to the tendency of news outfits to cover what women look like rather than what they do; the rest of me is put in mind of the ways in which oppressed groups are set against each other so that they aren’t able to effectively challenge the existing hierarchy.  It’s nevertheless a great piece, though; more background info here.

The revolution will not be televised

You will not be able to stay home, brother.
You will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out.
You will not be able to lose yourself on skag and skip,
Skip out for beer during commercials,
Because the revolution will not be televised.

The revolution will not be televised.
The revolution will not be brought to you by Xerox
In 4 parts without commercial interruptions.
The revolution will not show you pictures of Nixon
blowing a bugle and leading a charge by John
Mitchell, General Abrams and Spiro Agnew to eat
hog maws confiscated from a Harlem sanctuary.

The revolution will not be televised.
The revolution will not be brought to you by the
Schaefer Award Theatre and will not star Natalie
Woods and Steve McQueen or Bullwinkle and Julia.
The revolution will not give your mouth sex appeal.
The revolution will not get rid of the nubs.
The revolution will not make you look five pounds
thinner, because the revolution will not be televised, Brother.

There will be no pictures of you and Willie May
pushing that shopping cart down the block on the dead run,
or trying to slide that color television into a stolen ambulance.
NBC will not be able predict the winner at 8:32
or report from 29 districts.
The revolution will not be televised.

There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down
brothers in the instant replay.
There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down
brothers in the instant replay.
There will be no pictures of Whitney Young being
run out of Harlem on a rail with a brand new process.
There will be no slow motion or still life of Roy
Wilkens strolling through Watts in a Red, Black and
Green liberation jumpsuit that he had been saving
For just the proper occasion.

Green Acres, The Beverly Hillbillies, and Hooterville
Junction will no longer be so damned relevant, and
women will not care if Dick finally gets down with
Jane on Search for Tomorrow because Black people
will be in the street looking for a brighter day.
The revolution will not be televised.

There will be no highlights on the eleven o’clock
news and no pictures of hairy armed women
liberationists and Jackie Onassis blowing her nose.
The theme song will not be written by Jim Webb,
Francis Scott Key, nor sung by Glen Campbell, Tom
Jones, Johnny Cash, Englebert Humperdink, or the Rare Earth.
The revolution will not be televised.

The revolution will not be right back
after a message about a white tornado, white lightning, or white people.
You will not have to worry about a dove in your
bedroom, a tiger in your tank, or the giant in your toilet bowl.
The revolution will not go better with Coke.
The revolution will not fight the germs that may cause bad breath.
The revolution will put you in the driver’s seat.

The revolution will not be televised, will not be televised,
will not be televised, will not be televised.
The revolution will be no re-run brothers;
The revolution will be live.

—Gil Scott-Heron, 1970

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1 Comment »

  1. DavidD said,

    Years before I heard this poem performed, I heard “When The Revolution Comes” performed. It’s on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8M5W_3T2Ye4

    The vision of the revolution is somewhat different between these two, though both share some contempt for all those who are not “us”. It’s hard to know, but I suspect “hairy armed women liberationists” is just the author’s listing of yet another visual he sees regularly that has no relevance to him or his vision of the revolution. I bet he sees the oppression he wants to overthrow as more substantial than that by which the bourgeoisie feel oppressed. Have you ever heard the quote that the only position for a woman in SNCC is prone? The arrogant black man who said that probably meant supine, but revolutions aren’t made by nitpicking.

    I notice that both of these pieces are dated 1970. Maybe they were written independently, but either one could be a response to the other. I heard “When The Revolution Comes” when I was a freshman living in the black theme house, which was required to be 50% white as other minority theme houses also were. That reminds me that the most accomplished freshman from my group, regardless of race or gender, was Charles Ogletree, now a professor at Harvard Law School. Everyone knew Charles was a star. He was smart, ambitious, and commanding, not unlike Barack Obama. I think they waited until he was a sophomore to elect Charles president of the Black Student Union, but whenever that happened, it was impressively quick.

    Some might argue whether the life of Charles Ogletree, like that of Barack Obama, will complete the revolution that makes race irrelevant for most of our culture. Either way, Charles has been on PBS a lot. His story has been televised. I think the entire revolution has been televised, too, even parts yet to come. No one expected YouTube in 1970.


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