The Last Holiday: A Memoir
Music legend Gil Scott-Heron's poignant memoir.
Reviewed by Adam Bradley for The Barnes & Noble Review
Gil Scott-Heron was not the Godfather of Rap. But when he passed away last year at the age of 62, nearly every obituary honored him as such. His posthumously published memoir, The Last Holiday, unsurprisingly touts Scott-Heron's hip-hop connections as well, with back cover blurbs from Chuck D, Common, Eminem, and others. But never in the book's 321 pages does Scott-Heron mention the words rap or hip-hop.
To term Scott-Heron's music as proto-rap is to misapprehend the nature of his broad influence upon the freewheeling space of American culture and the particularly liberated zone of African-American music. Scott-Heron was just as much an aggregator of influence as he was a purveyor of it. Seeing him in concert, one might hear the preacherly inflections of the Baptist pulpit, the stand-up insouciance of a young Bill Cosby, and the smoothed-out patter of a late-night radio DJ, all woven together.
Rap carries on only a part of Scott-Heron's legacy. "I've always looked at myself as a piano player from Tennessee; I play some piano and write some songs," Scott-Heron writes with characteristic humility and directness. Scott-Heron was a musical surrogate father of sorts: to hip-hop as well as to the spoken-word movement; to black rock, funk, and folk; and to a host of politically minded and soulful artists who, like the man himself, defy the tidy characterizations of genre.
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