Gil Scott-Heron came to me in a dream, He told me to listen, then he told me to be quiet.
A Chistmas Story
I saw Gil in real life at Penn station, he had that scraggly beard and broken in jeff cap, but his collared shirt was dry cleaner fresh, bright white. I was too far away to see the pants and shoes, but he looked great, you know, in spite of the long hard life he led as a revolutionary poet no one expected to live past 23. It was a few days before Christmas, deep into his 56th year, and I felt I was getting the gift of his presence, even in passing, but clearly in focus, across a crowded Penn Station during a holiday rush hour. Gil made confident strides to a train gate, where they were lining up to board the Acela Train to Washington. It was then that I noticed Gil was leading a large contigent of family; Aunties in hats, Nephews tucked in and ties knotted to the neck; Nieces in dresses fresh off the rack. There was about 20 family members in all, forming a holiday parade following Gil to the train gate. The line for the train was 200 people deep, with a solid block of suited Washington lobbyist types right up front, ready to power-walk down the escalator to their first class seats on the train. Behind them was an unruly mob of commuters mad that the other trains were sold out and they got extorted into paying the premium fares on the Acela; Wealthy kids not worried about the ticket cost, bringing home duffel bags of laundry; Old couples splurging on a trip to the Capitol; And rounding it off more than a few people standing in the wrong line. At the head of the scrum were three conductors that formed a blue wall in their crisp uniforms. They held the line while joking with each other holding court like Supremes on the bench. As Gil entered the frame, I realized he was trying to cut the line with his entire family, against impossible odds, and suddenly I was cheering him on, from beyond screaming distance, in the nosebleed section in the arena of Penn Station, sending him all the strength I could summon. Gil approached the bench, and two of the conductors put their shoulders together and waved him off, with a unifed gesture that split the difference between contempt and disrespect. The line of family Gil was leading started pumping their brakes, the kids, missing the cues, started bumping into each other, but adult hands, like seatbelts, held shoulders and pulled them back on track. From behind the wall of two conductors leapt a hand that sliced between their glued shoulders like a key card, and opened a hole in the defense as wide as a hotel door. The hand belonged to the third conductor, who recognized a national treasure wrapped in a baggy shirt and welcomed aboard Gil Scott Heron + Party. Gil greeted the old friend he never met, and he didnt break his stride, he just stepped into the light that recogniton had made for him and his family followed, past two hundred angry people, who focused their attention on the conductor that allowed it to happen. He just smiled like he was the only one with the final Jeopardy answer and I sang out and in key, “Its a mess of irony of all the world to see, its the nation’s capital, Its Washington DC.”