JULY/AUGUST 2008

THE PROPHET

Gil Scott-Heron

Everything is revealed in the “Best-Of” collection.

It’s not much fun being a prophet. Sure, you get to speak truth to power, but inevitably you wind up getting popped in the kisser for your trouble. Then you go crazy and nobody listens anyway, until it’s too late. You’re essentially doomed.

Rock stars, on the other hand—not so doomed. Which is why I hate it when critics call Dylan and Springsteen and Marley prophets. Call them what they are: brilliant artists, intermittently courageous spokesmen, kings, judges, perhaps—not prophets. There’s only one modern musician who comes close to fulfilling the prophetic office, only one whose contract rider includes clauses such as “walk me around in a wooden yolk” or “saw my black ass in half.” His name is Gil Scott-Heron.

You needn’t take my word for it. Just listen to “B-Movie,” his 1981 paean to the Reagan Revolution:

What has happened is that in the last twenty years, America has changed from a producer to a consumer. And all consumers know that when the producer names the tune, the consumer has got to dance… The Arabs used to be the Third World. They have bought the Second World and put a firm down payment on the First one. Controlling your resources will control your world… The idea concerns the fact that this country wants nostalgia… Not to face now or tomorrow, but to face backwards.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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—Steve Almond

Steve Almond is the author of the story collections My Life in Heavy Metal and The Evil B.B. Chow. His most recent book is a collection of essays, (Not That You Asked).

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