Photograph from TheImpossibleCool.tumblr.com
I found a poster of a Wes Montgomery album, One Night in Indy (2016), which was recorded in 1959. The album features a photograph of Monument Circle in Indy, and as I saw it I remembered and felt my hometown in a way that I never quite have before. I sent the photo to my brother-in-law, a man who knows and can appreciate a solid jazz album, as he lives in Indianapolis, and may want to find a place for the album cover, perhaps framed, in his house.
As I sent him the photo I asked how he was doing, and he said he was living the dream. I asked him, What Dream? Whose Dream? He told me to look up the song "Dreams of my Father," which I haven't done just yet, though I will. "Dreams of my Father," reminded me of a Gil Scott-Heron song that I heard for the first time a few years ago: "Rivers of My Fathers."
A few moments later I played "Rivers of my Fathers," from the 1974 album, Winter in America, and stood still. "Looking for a way," Scott-Heron sings, "Out of this confusion. I'm looking for a sign," his voice carries over the piano, "carry me home . . Let me lay down by a stream, and let me be miles from everything. Rivers of my fathers, could you carry me home? Carry me home."
"Rubber soles against the concrete / And the concrete is my smile / got to change my way of living / and got to change my style."
I remember driving through the streets of Des Moines, Iowa over the summer of 2011 and listening to this album, along with at least two other live Scott-Heron albums, on a data CD –––one of those compact discs that could hold MP3s, so you could make mixes of seventy-plus songs, back when most cars had CD players, back when people still bought CDs.
Scott-Heron's music is driving music. It's also walking music. It's also thinking music. It's also sitting music. And on occasion, it's also dancing music, even if and when the lyrics mean quite a bit: consider, The Bottle.
After I listened to "Rivers of My Fathers" and let it play all the way through, twice, almost nine years after first hearing the song, I knew that I had to hear more of the album.
I first heard of Scott-Heron in 2011, a few days after he had passed away, by way of a tribute review that I found on The New Yorker's website, Gill Scott-Heron's Scornful Brilliance. The autumn before the winter and spring of 2011, I had decided that I would move to New York, and that I'd study poetry at an MFA program; though I didn't know how I'd make it work, or whether it would work, I only knew that I had a goal, something worth preparing for, worth going for. By the autumn of 2011 I was in class at the New School.
It wasn't until after I listened to "Winter in America" a third time when I put two and two together. This evening marks the nine year anniversary of Scott-Heron's death: May 27th, 2011.
Nine years later, after I flipped over to the Winter in America album again, I listened to the album's title track, and the importance of the song's lyrics sunk in at a deeper level. The full lyrics, can be read here, but as for the chorus, and the lines that I felt, and am still feeling the most, Scott-Heron sings: "Now it's winter in America . . . And ain't nobody's fighting. Because nobody knows what to say."
Nobody really knows what to say about this season of our lives, as well as this season of our nation, and this season of the world. There's something new on the horizon; something different, something better coming ––– and even if the calendar says spring, even without the snow and the ice, but more so with the reverence, the quiet, the stillness, and the hope, it still is winter in America.
Rest in peace, Gil Scott-Heron.