Pieces of a Man | A Toast to Gil Scott – Heron

Pieces of a Man: A Toast to Gil Scott-Heron

“Jigsaw pieces
Tossed about the room,
I saw grandma sweepin’
With her old broom
But she didn’t know what she was doin’
She could hardly understand
That she was really sweepin’ up
Pieces of a man

I saw my daddy greet the mailman
And I heard the mailman say,
“Now don’t you take this letter to heart now Jimmy
Cause they’ve laid off nine others today”
He could hardly understand
That he was only talkin’ to
Pieces of a man

I saw the thunder and heard the lightnin’!
And Felt the burden of his shame
And for some unknown reason
He never turned away

Pieces of that letter
Were tossed about that room
And now I hear the sound of sirens
Come knifing through the gloom
But they don’t know what they are doing
They could hardly understand
That they’re only arrestin’
Pieces of a man

I saw him go to pieces
I saw him go to pieces
He was always such a good man
He was always such a strong man
Yeah, I saw him go to pieces
I saw him go to pieces”
(Gil Scott-Heron, “Pieces of a Man”)

On May 27, 2011, I was sitting around at my moms on Memorial Day weekend, a weekend already filled with sadness in my family as my aunt committed suicide over two decades ago during this time. Out of now where I received a text from my brother and best friend, Doug (Delaney aka Red), “Is it true Gil Scott Heron died? Please somebody confirm?” I thought it was another one of those internet pranks similar to the one that done to Al Jarreau who is quite well at over 70 years old. But there it was, blasted on the internet and over facebook (you can’t be official unless it is on facebook), Gil Scott-Heron died at the age 62. I hit up two other DJ friends, Limelight, MetroGnome, and Kyle Long from Indianapolis and they expressed their own sadness about it. Limelight said I need to write something on it. I responded without hesitation, “definitely.” But I quickly saw the onslaught of articles and blog on him some extensions of Wikipedia facts while others seem to get him quite wrong. Funny, as he parted this life all we are truly left are pieces of this man.

(Gil Scott-Heron, “Did You Hear What They Said?”)

I saw one Washington Post articles entitled, “Gil Scott-Heron, Whose Music Reflected Black Anger, dies at 62.” Really Black anger? I don’t think I ever felt angry listening to his music. Reflective, sure. Sad, often. Enlightened, definitely. But angry, never. The author goes on to cite such tunes as “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” “Home Is Where The Hatred Is”, and “Whitey On The Moon.” He even comments on the recent remixing of his past work by the Jamie xx. Clearly he never bothered to listened to his music even while drafting the article.
Every single time I hear “Did You Hear What They Said?” a pound of sadness is placed on my lap but its a sadness that I accept as it embodies the death of so many that have died unnecessarily in the streets of every city in the U.S. or the deserts of Middle Eastern lands. Why it is that Bob Dylan, similarly political and musical, doesn’t reflect White anger yet Gil who did, sang, and spoke on the same points (with a better voice) reflects Black anger? Any example of questioning, insight, or social critique must be Black anger.

(Gil Scott-Heron, “We Almost Lost Detroit”)

He often talked about outrage but his music reflected more so the pain of being Black in America which subsequently and probably led to his addictions to heroin and cocaine over the years. He was embed like the videos in a blog in life in America. He was current in the times while his music remains current as his reflections are still true today (in terms of nuclear energy warnings and how Detroit is still disregarded as a city). His abuse was not the typical entertainer addiction to a drug as he hardly paraded around at night clubs snorting lines in the VIP room. Listening to him you hear him taking on the burden of the world he was critiquing. But his addiction is another point that seems to be highlighted by many. Instead of dying from an overdose that most would probably expect, his body simply gave out. The aforementioned “Home Is Where The Hatred Is” speaks to the insight of being junkie (and not Black anger as the author of the Washington Post article failed to recognize as he must have just looked at the title) as he comments,
“A junkie walking through twilight
I’m on my way home.
I left three days ago, but no one seems to know I’m gone
Home is where the hatred is
Home is filled with pain and it,
Might not be such a bad idea if never, never went home again…
Home is where I live inside my white power dreams
Home was once an empty vacuum that’s filled now with my silent screams
Home is where the needle marks
Try to heal my broken heart
And it might not be such a bad idea if I never, I never went home again…”
— (Gil Scott-Heron, “Home Is Where They Hatred Is”)

But he wasn’t always “moody” as he was both comical and insightful on the “H2O Blues.” As if he was calling the White House he says, “Click! Brrrrrr…Click [Operator Voice] I’m sorry, the government you have elected is inoperative.” He could also get down…

(Gil Scott-Heron, “The Klan”)

You see, Gil Scott-Heron (and we cannot forget his partner in music Brian Jackson) was theme music for those who did not quite think things were right. For me and those I know, it was great to hear some cool music that had quality while talking things that mattered to us because too often political music was/is devoid of good production, creativity, and popularity. He was theme music for our protest, demonstrations, road trips, etc. Thus many others who similarly attempt to draw attention to issues sampled him such as KRS-One, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, dead prez, Public Enemy, Moodyman, Kanye West, Little Brother, Jay Dee AKA J Dilla, ?uestlove, Erykah Badu, and of course Common.

(Common, “The People”)

So let us raise our glasses to or let us pour our libations to the ground for this poet, musician, author, father, brother, Chicagoan, and social commentator. Although we cannot truly praise the complete man because we did not bother to know him, we can at least praise the pieces we bothered to pick up on. Let us let Victor Brown sing for us so eloquently as he did on the following track in honor of Gil Scot-Heron (April 1, 1949 to May 27, 2011)…

(Victor Brown, vocals, Gil Scott-Heron & Brian Jackson’s “A Toast To The People”)


Rasul Mowatt, aka black
DJ & professor


  1. Mertz

    Truly great post. There were a lot of things about the coverage of Gil’s passing that seemed to not understand who he was or what his music about — particularly the “Godfather of Hip Hop” title which he never seemed to like.

    Your post on the other hand is fantastic.

    • Rasul

      So true, Mertz on the horrible “Godfather of Hip Hop” title. I remember when the Source tried to do this in the early nineties because it was searching for ways to extend the history of Hip Hop. But really?!? When exactly did classical music, jazz, blues, etc. begin? There isn’t anything fixed. Those that developed it can’t look to one figure. James Brown earned the title of the “Godfather of Soul” because of his work not because he preceded anybody.

  2. Mr. Official

    Great piece brotha Ra. His art was always open for interpretation, its just a shame that more people cant appreciate the struggle of being a black man in America, especially during the time that he lived. He always spoke with his own unique and insightful truths. The Bob Dylan comparison … CLASSIC! 5 quills!

    • Rasul

      No doubt man! Bob Dylan is the closet comparison in terms of career choice and consistency in the content in music because Brother Gil did not fit squarely into the poetry box because he did sing or in the soul singer box because he did play an instrument, etc.