A posthumous memoir that evokes Scott-Heron’s (1949–2011) voice but leaves too many gaps unfilled and questions unanswered.
The distinction between memoir and autobiography is clear in this narrative by the author (Now and Then, 2000, etc.), a once-prolific poet and recording artist who had all but disappeared from the culture for more than a decade, before his revival with 2010’s I’m New Here, a well-received comeback album. At that time, a resurgence of publicity cast light on his hiatus, as his crack addiction and incarceration for cocaine had silenced a voice that had been strong and prophetic, with cuts such as “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” having a profound influence on the most socially conscious hip-hop. A few months later he died. There isn’t a single mention of the artist’s struggles with drugs and the law here, almost nothing from the last decade of his life and only spotty accounts of the 30 years that transpired after his 1980 tour with Stevie Wonder. Oddly enough, that tour and Wonder’s efforts to establish a holiday in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. provide this book with both its focus and its title. There is also plenty about the author’s formative years, after his soccer-playing father left his mother and Scott-Heron was raised by his grandmother in Tennessee, before moving to Manhattan to live with his mother. The author writes with a wit and warmth at odds with what he perceives as his image of “some wild-haired, wild-eyed motherfucker.” He came from a well-educated family, received a postgraduate literary education, became a student militant during the early ’70s and taught writing while establishing the fusion of jazz, groove and spoken word that would prove so influential. Yet his partnership with musical collaborator Brian Jackson ends without explanation, as does his wife’s transition to ex-wife. Of his third child, he writes, “How I became a father again at nearly fifty years old is a story I will save for another time.”
The author ran out of time, leaving plenty of stories untold.