Gil Scott-Heron was an author, a poet and a musician. Many often call him the godfather of rap and the man that introduced politics into music; he was an unknowing trend setter. His influence in the music world continues, his work his often sampled by Kanye West and his music was taken too a younger audience last year, when many of his recent songs were remixed by a leader in the electronic scene; Jamie XX. Therefore his untimely death last year was something that sent shock around the music industry. Before 2009 Gill Scott-Heron had taken a 20 year exodus from music however he did return to release the album ‘I’m New Here’ it was widely lauded and the autobiographical theme within it was pivotal too it’s success. His death was followed with the announcement that his memoirs would be released. Following my interest in the biographical aspect of ‘I’m New Here’ and my interest in his life as a whole, I thought ‘The Last Holiday’ would be a great read and I was not wrong.
Many thought the book may be about the 20 year exodus I earlier mentioned and many thought it may about the impacts some of his songs had such as ‘Johannesburg’ which inspired protest against the Apartheid regime. However it is not, it is a book that reveals Gil’s true personality, his political and music achievements are put aside, and he talks about moments and people that were instrumental too his life. He also talks about such personal moments as his mother’s and grandmother’s death. It is an ode to human experience.
Gil’s admiration for others is constant throughout his writing. However most of his admiration is reserved for Stevie Wonder. Gil admired Stevie Wonder’s role as a central figure in ensuring a national holiday on the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King. Gil had an eye-witness account of this achievement as Gil was the support act on Stevie’s tour which ended with this success. It was an important moment within Gil’s life and you can see why as the book often expresses Gil’s experiences as a Black American (pre and post) the Civil Rights Bill.
Even with all this admiration for others, the book does not fail to endear you to Gil’s own endeavouring character. It reveals many things that most mortal human beings would not be able to achieve, such as his achievement of getting the University Of Lincoln to perform a 7-day boycott from classes, too secure better medical equipment at the University, following the death of one of Gil’s friends.
However the book ends with a devastating epiphany. Gil talks about his family when he was young and how they would often ‘be there’ but would never declare their love, to each other and he comments that ‘I would have traded a hundred be there’s for a heartfelt hug.’ Gil then bemoans the fact that he has not been a present figure in his children’s life, and how he wishes he could have taught the importance of declaring their love to one another. Gil also comments ‘I hope there is no doubt that I loved them and their mothers as best as I could. And if that was inevitably inadequate, I hope it was supplemented by their mothers who were all better off without me.’ Self- confessed human mistakes are the thing most to be admired about this book, however it sadly seems that peace did not go with this brother
Words by Paddy Kinsella