Good lord, I can't remember the last time I saw Gil Scott Heron, but I do know it was with my friend Marty O. Taking into consideration he has been gone for five years now, no, no, not dead, just off to Brazil. And that's sort of like dead, but different. Anyway, as Marty knows, a man's body can sustain a lot of damage in five years, and last night's performance was proof of that.
Over the years we have heard, true or not, about battles with drugs, loss of teeth and one report of homelessness. As we watched Gil approach the stage we saw a frail man wearing his years heavily and his clothes loosely over a lanky frame. A scruffy, patchy white beard covered his neck and face. As he took the stage and grabbed the mic, we heard a familiar sound, but now his voice delivered round and watery words. Words falling in and falling out. Drifting off, words were further confused by a ham-handed S.O.B. sound man.
But then a monologue began, a stream of consciousness, succinct, crisp, sharp, funny and Gil Scott Heron. The years have taken many things from this man, but they have not taken his mind, his wit or the observations of humanity as seen through his eyes and told through his words. Hell, I can barley recite my social security number and he effortlessly throws out 30 year old verses without missing a beat.
Unlike seeing many other performers age to become shadows of their former selves, this was not a sad night, although I did wonder if I were hearing the live version of "Winter in America" for the last time.
Having to stand in line next to two disturbing white guys singing heavy metal songs at the top of their lungs while playing air guitar and then comparing all time best base lines and base players was bad enough. Despite this and waiting an hour and a half for the show to start while suffering through an S.O.B. appetizer, the concert was a heartwarming homecoming and remembrance of sorts. The band played their hearts out as Gil smiled and twisted his body during instrumental solos. The crowed smiled, awkwardly danced and clapped their hands to some beat beat as they closed their eyes on a journey with their spirited poet.
I wish you could have been there Marty O.