A Look Back in Anger: Poet-Prophet Gil Scott-Heron

Brian Wright O’Connor | 1/8/2010, 5:40 a.m.

“They have this big guy by the door to make sure I don’t go anywhere.”

Taxes takin’ my whole damn check, Junkies makin’ me a nervous wreck,
The price of food is goin’ up, An’ if that shit wuzn’t enough:
A rat done bit my sister Nell, With Whitey on the Moon.
Her face an’ arm began to swell, But Whitey’s on the Moon.

The self-proclaimed “Gonzo Journalist” Hunter Thompson once wrote that LSD went out with the sixties and downers came in with Nixon – a cultural shift from Strawberry Fields to Barbituarate Alley. The idealism and energy of that turbulent decade turned in on itself. Militancy gave way to materialism.

It didn’t disappear entirely – as witnessed by the Blue Note crowd of Baby Boomers, Dutch and German tourists, dreadlocked white twenty-somethings, and graying veterans of the Black Power movement who chatted in line about politics and protests, Obama and Oprah, while waiting to spend $50 a head to resurrect the past.

With all that money I made las’ year, For Whitey on the Moon,
How come there ain’t no money here? Hmmm...Whitey’s on the Moon.

Among the strongest accolades accorded Scott-Heron in his heyday was “prophet-poet,” a tribute both to his physical evocation of the seers of the Old Testament and his searing indictment of contemporary society.

With the indictments freshly minted, it was perhaps too soon to call him a prophet. But four decades later, with the circle come round again, perhaps it’s not too late.

Y’know I jus’ ‘bout had my fill, Of Whitey on the Moon.
I think I’ll sen’ these doctor bills, Airmail special
To Whitey on the Moon.