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Beyond “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”

 

Gil Scott-Heron

 

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You will not be able to stay home, brother
You will not be able to plug in, turn on and drop out

So begin the lyrics to Gil Scott-Heron’s most famous poem set to music, “The Revolution Will Not be Televised.”  The original version of this song – recorded and released in 1970 on Bob Thiele’s Flying Dutchman label – had Gil accompanied by bongos and congas only.  In 1971, a new and subsequently more popular version was recorded – which included a full band – and released on Pieces of a Man, Scott-Heron’s most accomplished album.  

“Revolution” has since become an anthem of sorts, and so relevant that it was used in the opening theme of this year’s season of the popular TV series Homeland (which concluded April 9).  Gil’s poetry lent a powerful, urgent and timely message to the show’s storyline.

In his posthumously released 2012 memoir The Last Holiday, Scott-Heron wrote that “the new version [of ‘Revolution’] that emerged…tended to be the focus of talk about the album, Pieces of a Man.”  But by making this song the focus, “people…overlooked what the hell the whole album said.  We didn’t just do one tune and let it stand, we did albums and ideas, and all of those ideas were significant to us at the time we were working on them.”

Among the other songs on Pieces were the tribute to Billie Holiday and John Coltrane “Lady Day and John Coltrane,” the optimistic “Save the Children” and “I Think I’ll Call it Morning,” and the album’s first “A” side single, “Home is Where the Hatred Is.”

“One of the main ideas behind recording our songs was to get them out there for other people to hear and cover,” Scott-Heron wrote.  “That plan started to work immediately, when Esther Phillips covered ‘Home is Where the Hatred Is.’”  The song is Gil’s somber outlook on his neighborhood and wrenching drug-addicted despair, something that Phillips, given her own history with drugs, could relate to.  Her version – released on Creed Taylor’s Kudu Records — became a Grammy-nominated R & B hit in 1972.  (Aretha Franklin won the Grammy, but it is reported that she presented the trophy to Phillips, saying she should have won it instead of her). 

“’Home is Where the Hatred Is’” seemed to run parallel to Esther’s own life, since she had openly overcome a serious drug problem.  So the heroin thing was something she could communicate with in terms of a song, and to this day, I’m desperately proud of the way she performed the song,” Scott-Heron wrote.  Some 45 years after its release, Ms. Phillips’ anguish with her addiction remains clear and artistically and culturally relevant, laid bare in her distinctive connection to Gil’s lyrics.  “[She] brought [the song] to life, and that’s a helluva thing for a writer to be able to hear in one of his songs.”

 

Lyrics to “Home is Where the Hatred Is” by Gil Scott-Heron

A junkie walking through the 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 I never, never went home again
Stand as far away from me as you can and ask me why
Hang on to your rosary beads
Close your eyes to watch me die
You keep saying, kick it, quit it, kick it, quit it
God, but did you ever try
To turn your sick soul inside out
So that the world, so that the world
Can watch you die
Home is where I live inside my white powder 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, if I never went home again
Home again
Home again
Home again
Kick it, quit it
Kick it, quit it
Kick it, quit it
Kick it, can’t go home again
 
 
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Lyrics to “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” by Gil Scott-Heron

You will not be able to stay home, brother
You will not be able to plug in, turn on and drop out
You will not be able to lose yourself on skag and skip
Skip out for beer during commercials
Because the revolution will not be televised

The revolution will not be televised

The revolution will not be brought to you by Xerox
In 4 parts without commercial interruption
The revolution will not show you pictures of Nixon
Blowing a bugle and leading a charge by John Mitchell
General Abrams and Spiro Agnew to eat
Hog maws confiscated from a Harlem sanctuary

The revolution will not be televised

The revolution will be brought to you by the Schaefer Award Theatre and
will not star Natalie Wood and Steve McQueen or Bullwinkle and Julia
The revolution will not give your mouth sex appeal
The revolution will not get rid of the nubs
The revolution will not make you look five pounds
Thinner, because The revolution will not be televised, Brother

There will be no pictures of you and Willie Mays
Pushing that cart down the block on the dead run
Or trying to slide that color television into a stolen ambulance
NBC will not predict the winner at 8:32or the count from 29 districts

The revolution will not be televised

There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down
Brothers in the instant replay
There will be no pictures of young being
Run out of Harlem on a rail with a brand new process
There will be no slow motion or still life of
Roy Wilkens strolling through Watts in a red, black and
Green liberation jumpsuit that he had been saving
For just the right occasion
Green Acres, The Beverly Hillbillies, and
Hooterville Junction will no longer be so damned relevant
and Women will not care if Dick finally gets down with
Jane on Search for Tomorrow because Black people
will be in the street looking for a brighter day

The revolution will not be televised

There will be no highlights on the eleven o’clock News
and no pictures of hairy armed women Liberationists and
Jackie Onassis blowing her nose
The theme song will not be written by Jim Webb, Francis Scott Key
nor sung by Glen Campbell, Tom Jones, Johnny Cash
Englebert Humperdink, or the Rare Earth

The revolution will not be televised

The revolution will not be right back after a message
About a whitetornado, white lightning, or white people
You will not have to worry about a germ on your Bedroom
a tiger in your tank, or the giant in your toilet bowl
The revolution will not go better with Coke
The revolution will not fight the germs that cause bad breath
The revolution WILL put you in the driver’s seat
The revolution will not be televised

WILL not be televised, WILL NOT BE TELEVISED

The revolution will be no re-run brothers
The revolution will be live

 

 

Esther Phillips sings “Home is Where the Hatred Is”

 

Gil Scott-Heron sings “Home is Where the Hatred Is”

 

“The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” — original version

 

 “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” — full band version