The Last Holiday: A Memoir by Gil Scott-Heron – Review
Gil Scott-Heron was a brilliant poet, musician and author who died on May 27, 2011 at the age of 62. He was one of the great American artists and influenced many in the spoken word and Hip-Hop (not Pop-Hip Hop) communities. One of his most popular and widely covered creations is his poem, song and political commentary, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (1971).
The title of this posthumously published memoir might seem to presage an elegiac farewell to the good times. Musician, author, activist Gil Scott-Heron‘s untimely death, aged 62, in May last year, followed a decade filled with enough trials and tribulations, intoxication and incarceration to provide him material for several volumes bewailing the fickleness of life. But misery-lit this isn’t, thank goodness.
Scott-Heron’s final album (I’m New Here, 2010) opened with lines from his poem “On Coming from a Broken Home”: “Womenfolk raised me and I was full grown/ Before I knew I came from a broken home.” Some of The Last Holiday‘s most affecting writing fleshes out clear-eyed portraits of those strong females who nurtured him.
Born in Chicago in 1949, Scott-Heron was less than two when his parents separated. (His Jamaican father was a professional footballer who in 1951 accepted an offer to play for Celtic, becoming the Scottish club’s first black player, known as the “Black Arrow”.) A temporary stay with his maternal grandmother in racially segregated Tennessee was extended as she instilled in him the indelible joy of learning. At the age of four, Gil was devouring the columns of Langston Hughes in the Chicago Defender. She died when he was 12, at which point he moved north with his mother. He already knew so much about the random cruelty of death to be able to report: “I had run out of tears.”
There are heart-rendingly honest revelations for psychologists to pore over: “Love was not an active verb in my family or in my life. There were few demonstrations, few hugs and embraces, and few declarations among us about love. I was a full-grown adult who had been married, a father, and divorced before I consciously put ‘I love you’ into conversations with my mother.”
The full review of Gil Scott-Heron’s Memoir can be read at The Guardian.