08/02/10 00:10, by paul.bourgeois, Categories: BFMN Exclusive, Monday Morning Musical Musings, Paul Bourgeois, Tags: curtis mayfield, freedom, gill scott heron, last poets, malcolm x, revolution, watts prophets
The Revolution Will not Be Televised. Question is:What is the revolution? Does it mean the same thing it meant in 1965? Are families still living in poverty? Is there still violence and discrimination for the same reasons? Have things just remained the same and the faces changed? I was born in 1964, in the time of riots and hopeful transformations. How could things have changed so much so that we are today talking like this is all just history? And how can we know where we are if we have forgotten where we come from? Maybe my generation, the TV/Computer generation, has their eyes on a different prize and gets these things in different ways? Maybe the powerful have just become more adept at hiding their tracks?
History, my ass. I have an education, and I have been a victim of a system designed to raise the rich and keep the poor down, so I hear what’s going on. Music can put us to sleep, distract us with unimportant things… something to drug us into non-thought, into non-life, to divert our action from the cause of our situation. Music can keep us fighting ourselves or taking drugs, it can be the background beat on that elevator which is taking us down down down. But I listen to what I choose, and the rhythm and the rhyme pounds me into the revolution, and I become what I choose. If it were blues, it would be one thing, I suppose, and gospel another. Or rock or punk or Millie Vanilli or Justin Timberlake or Eminem or Snoop Dogg, or Ice T… Or Watts Prophets.
So, what does the revolution mean for me? Does it mean I take up arms against myself because the system is too big for me to understand, or against a system wanting any excuse to lock me into a way of life that I can’t get out of. And I know it is nothing personal, that no one in the system knows my name or cares if I rise or fall. It is just that we are all stamped with the mark of Cain as we pass through that door, and we all have no faces, no identities.
And, so, what does this all have to do with music? Well, does “gangster rap” point us into gangs or does it express the pain which is in our society? I hate that word, I hate defining “it” and so diminishing “it”. What does other music do, if we had to define and divide? Are we pointed towards living fast, to drive fancy cars and wear gold to show our value because we don’t know our true value? Hey, I want a big car and vacations in Greece so I can tell my friends about the fancy places I have been. Because friendship is all about social status, isn’t it? But my children are fed and happy, and my wife knows who I am, and we hold each other at night.
I’m old. I’m half a century old. And I am going to talk about The Watts Prophets andThe Last Poets because I am old. And half a century ago people were fighting for freedom. And I don’t think it’s history. I think we are all still fighting the same fight. And you want to know a funny thing? Risen up from the sixties and into the nineties, going through people like Curtis Mayfield to the lips of Tupac Shakur, different voices are saying the same thing. “But they are such different voices,” you say, but everyone is telling us to think, to listen to the past and see the connections, and look into the light which is in ourselves, to see the gems scattered in the darkness.
But so this don’t just become a metaphor… in 1972 Mayfield did the music for the movie Superfly, which had some pretty serious things to say. At one point the Black Panthers went to the drug dealer Priest and said “You’ve taken a lot out of your community. It’s time you put something back.” Well, Tupac was listening and he said the same thing about gangs in the 90’s.
This is more than music.
I look for The Watts Prophets and The Last Poetson Youtube and I find little of the latter and nothing of the former I can post here. Because It’s Harsh. This is the mind, the thought behind fists raised,Black Panther, Malcolm X, “Freedom Now!” at any cost. The Watts Prophets and the Last Poets were contemporaries, The Last Poetsin New York. This documentary is Harsh but says something real about hip hop and history and revolution. The meaning, the desire behind it all, the more harsh it becomes, is education, peace and brotherhood. It would have to be. Otherwise, what is the point.
The Watts Prophets in LA. The meaning of The Watts Prophets rose out of the Watts Riots of 1965… 34 people killed, 2,032 injured, and 3,952 arrested. But it’s not about numbers. It’s not that simple. It’s never that simple.
I was afraid to talk about all this, because I am white. The Devil is white, isn’t he, according to the poets, prophets, and Toni Morrison? The Poets and The Prophets are about “The Revolution”. But, if what they meant by The Revolution is gangs in the cities fighting between each other, then we’ve gone and missed it and may as well go inside and watch other people pretending to live their lives on Reality TV. No matter where we come from the media invades us and infects us with sleep and complacency.
I was afraid of blood and physical pain, afraid to take up a club and fight for what I believe. Because, here and now, there seems to be no target for my aggression. “The system” is just another word for something untouchable, unknowable, because the rich is still getting richer and the poor is still unemployable, and when a person goes to the social worker, who is underpaid, to improve their life and together they both find the system is rigged to keep them both down the social worker’s answer is always “I’m sorry. There is nothing I can do. It’s not my fault.” And you look in their eyes to see if they are really sorry. And even if they aren’t there is nothing they can do, so you can’t yell at them. I am afraid to put that same physical pain which I fear into the body of another. The Sanscrit word “Namaste” means “I am you”, and it doesn’t matter if I am the prisoner or the jailer, as Lewis Nkosi says. We are all brothers. Perhaps I have to be somehow smarter than violence.
But, maybe, with my words, like the Watts Prophets used words, I can teach my pain and anger and ultimately compassion manifesting as action to others. Just like they taught me. And is that history? It ain’t. I and we all stand at the beginning of a third millennium, and look forward and back, and as far as we can see the problems of human beings are still, and will always be, the same.
But, hey, there will always be problems – problems that come from being human. And we will always be human, with a shared genealogy of begets leading back to Adam and Eve and Lucy and the shared monstrosity of Cain. And, as there will always be problems, there will always be solutions. The mind will see both. And maybe, with the pain of our words and thoughts, we can find a way to take that pain out of our bodies and souls.
Music does not need to be an opiate of the masses, you know. Music is war drums, bagpipes and horns screeching on the battlefield. Music is weddingsand the funeral march. Music is school dances with boys at one side and girls at the other, nervous and unsure how to share their passion. Music is innocence and the surprise of feeling that sneaks up into the corner of your eyes and that sudden sob that stops your throat. Music is our heartbeats and our breathing and the rhythm of sex. Music is life and death and thought.
So, whatever the revolution is, it will be sounded byGabriel’s horn, or Armstrong’s. Maybe it will come like a thief in the night. Maybe it is happening now, only we don’t know, because it is not being televised.How and why would “they” televise a person’s heart.