Excerpt: 'The Last Holiday: A Memoir' by Gil Scott-Heron
Gil Scott-Heron in 2009. Photograph by Adam Turner
From The Independent:
I always doubt detailed recollections authors write about their childhoods. Maybe I am jealous that they retain such clarity of their long-agos while my own past seems only long gone. What helped me to retain some order was that by the age of 10 I was interested in writing. I wrote short stories. The problem was that I didn’t know much about anything. And I didn’t take photos or collect mementos. There were things I valued, but I thought they would always be there. And that I would.
There was Jackson, Tennessee. No matter where I went – to Chicago, New York, Alabama, Memphis, or even Puerto Rico in the summer of 1960 – I always knew I’d be coming back home to Jackson. It was where my grandmother and her husband had settled. It was where my mother and her brother and sisters were all born and grew up. It was where I was raised, in a house on South Cumberland Street that all of them called home, regardless of what they were doing and where they were doing it. They were the most important people in my life and this was their home. It was where I began to write, learned to play piano, and where I began to want to write songs.
Jackson was where I first heard music. It was what folks called “the blues”. It was on the radio. It was on the jukeboxes. It was the music of Shannon Street in “Fight’s Bottom” on Saturday night, when the music was loud and the bootleg whisky from Memphis flowed. The blues came from Memphis, too. Shannon Street was taboo at my house, something my grandmother didn’t even think about. We never played the blues at home.