Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Song of the Day: Gil Scott-Heron - Ain't No New Thing (1972)

With the depressing verdict in Ferguson, MS, coming down yesterday and deserved national outcry over what it all means, it felt like the perfect time to share Gil Scott-Heron's profound lament, "Ain't No New Thing." 

This song mostly speaks for itself. It's proto-rap, pseudo-jazz, percussive soul poetry. With flute. It isn't directly about anything to do with Ferguson, but really, as Scott-Heron tells us at the song's conclusion, "America is always the same old shit." Misfortune that befalls minorities just matters less to The Man than misfortune that befalls people who look like The Man. 

This really challenges our notions of what a song fundamentally is. There's no real melody to speak of, but there is music. There's no singing, but there is chanting. There's no rock and roll, but there's lots of stickin' it to the man. 

These words have a power that halts whatever you're doing and drops your jaw. "White people couldn't dig havin' their daughters go to no shows and cream over no black man wigglin' on the stage, so consequently, they invented Elvis Presley and let him do it." I cannot imagine what it must have felt like to hear that said in 1972, when the civil rights movement and the changes it wrought were still fresh in the minds of listeners. 

In 1963, Sam Cooke passionately spoke to millions with the immortal words "A Change is Gonna Come." And change did come, a whole lot of it, and now we have a black President. But there's still so much that doesn't change, or at least changes very slowly. 

"We're used to havin' white people try to rob us. Why don't they steal some of this poverty?" 

"Cultural rape, and no geographical boundaries on white hate."

Sadly, it all just ain't no new thing. 

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