Michael Franti on passing of Gil Scott-Heron

By Jim Stanford on July 15, 2011

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Michael Franti at the 2011 New Orleans Jazz Fest.

After nearly two decades of touring, Michael Franti and Spearhead have become big stars. “The Sound of Sunshine” was a radio hit, and the band’s music can be heard on various TV commercials.

But for Franti, headlining Saturday at Targhee Fest, life wasn’t always so sunny. Check out Live at the Baobab, for instance, for more incisive and somewhat darker social commentary. Early in his career, a major influence was the rap forefather Gil Scott-Heron.

When Scott-Heron died in May, the music world mourned his passing with various remembrances. One of the most insightful and personal came from Franti, and it shed light on the soulfulness in which Spearhead’s music is rooted.

Here’s an excerpt:

To anyone who met Gil or saw him onstage it was clear that he was an addict. The first time I met him in San Francisco in 1991 while working as a doorman at the Kennel Klub, my heart was broken to see a hero of mine barely able to make it to the stage, but when he got there he was clear as crystal while singing and dropping knowledge bombs in his between song banter. His view of the world was so sad and yet so inspiring. He made me think about the man and musician I wanted to be and I always left his shows questioning my own beliefs and wanting to go out and change the world.

One night after a show in Emeryville California, when Gil was particularly high, I asked him what it meant to be a rapper and he said, “Rap is poetry put to music, and the role of the poet in our society is to make difficult things easy to understand.” I never forgot that phrase. He put his arm around me and he said, “It’s on you and your generation now.”

The entire essay, originally on Facebook, is now posted on Franti’s website.

Franti says of Scott-Heron, “He brought so much excitement, empowerment, humor, politics, dance and wisdom to my life as a musician and a man.” No doubt Franti and Spearhead will do the same again for us Saturday on the mountainside at Grand Targhee.

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Posted under Deaths, Music

1 Comment so far

  1. Darrel Sewell July 16, 2011 7:04 am

    Met Gil on numerous occasions. He even stayed at my house for a few days when I lived in Austin, Texas. I always left him with mixed emotions. I was always inspired but felt like his soul was screaming for help. In retrospect, I am still not certain there was anything anyone could have done to save him.

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