Books

Grove Press
Grove Press
Grove Press

The Last Holiday

by Gil Scott-Heron

“Leave it to Scott-Heron to save some of his best for last. This posthumously published memoir, The Last Holiday, is an elegiac culmination to his musical and literary career. He’s a real writer, a word man, and it is as wriggling and vital in its way as Bob Dylan’s Chronicles: Volume One.” —Dwight Garner, New York Times

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 336
  • Publication Date December 11, 2012
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-2057-1
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $16.00
  • Imprint Grove Hardcover
  • Page Count 336
  • Publication Date January 20, 2012
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-2901-7
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $25.00
  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Publication Date January 10, 2012
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-9443-5
  • US List Price $16.00

About The Book

The stunning memoir of musician, songwriter, poet, and Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award winner Gil Scott-Heron, the hardcover edition of The Last Holiday has received extraordinary attention both here and abroad. The Last Holiday provides a remarkable glimpse into Scott-Heron’s life and times, from his humble beginnings to becoming one of the most uncompromising and influential artists of his generation.

The memoir climaxes with a historic Stevie Wonder concert tour in which Scott-Heron’s band replaced Bob Marley as the opening act after Marley was diagnosed with cancer. The Hotter than July tour covered forty-one cities across America, drumming up popular support for the creation of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a national holiday that would honor the great civil rights leader. King’s birthday, January 15, 1981, was marked with a massive rally in Washington.

The Last Holiday is a fitting testament to the career and achievements of an extraordinary man. These pages provide a deeply moving portrait of Scott-Heron’s close relationship with his mother, a heartfelt and highly personal recollection of Stevie Wonder, Bob Marley, John Lennon, Michael Jackson, Clive Davis, and other musical peers and acquaintances, and a compelling narrative vehicle for Scott-Heron’s keen insights into the music industry, the civil rights movement, modern America, governmental hypocrisy, and our wider place in the world. The Last Holiday confirms Scott-Heron as a fearless truth-teller, an unpretentiously powerful artist, and a bracing and inspiring observer of his times.

Praise

“Gil Scott-Heron’s posthumous memoir, The Last Holiday, plays back the life of a musician whose scorching political writings and recordings reflected the social injustice faced by African-Americans, inspiring today’s rappers.” —Elissa Schappell, Vanity Fair Hot Type

“Leave it to Scott-Heron to save some of his best for last. This posthumously published memoir, The Last Holiday, is an elegiac culmination to his musical and literary career. He’s a real writer, a word man, and it is as wriggling and vital in its way as Bob Dylan’s Chronicles: Volume One.” —Dwight Garner, New York Times

“Striking…Vivid. . . . [Scott-Heron’s] memoir is distinguished by the beauty of his images.” —Rob Tannenbaum, Rolling Stone (four-star review)

“Even after his death, Scott-Heron continues to mesmerize us in this brilliant and lyrical romp through the fields of his life. . . . [a] captivating memoir.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“A singular triumph. . . . It’s [Scott-Heron’s] humility, combined with his gift for charming, unforced prose, that makes The Last Holiday such a fascinating memoir. . . . In ‘Home Is Where the Hatred Is,’ Scott-Heron sang, ‘God, but did you ever try / To turn your sick soul inside out / So that the world . . . can watch you die?’ Most of us haven’t; most of us have never had that kind of desperate courage. Gil Scott-Heron did, baring his imperfect soul to the world for decades. We’re poorer for his loss, but richer for his words.” —Michael Schaub, NPR.org

“His tales of growing up in the South and North, of emerging as a writer and then as a singer and musician, are blunt, funny, caustic, fair-minded and occasionally loopy, just like his music.” —Jim Higgins, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

“Much like his poetry, Scott-Heron’s style is spare and effective, offering up jagged observations on fame, friendship and political and racial injustice. . . . Engaging and immensely human. And it is made all the more affecting with the knowledge of the calamities that were yet to come.” —Fiona Sturges, The Independent (UK)

Excerpt

Memphis matured from a midway market to a major metropolis. Saloons and whorehouse tents, once soaked with the sweat of drunken sailors and reeking with the acid stench of swine, slime, sewage, and slaves is now known more for Graceland and the Grizzlies than Beale Street and the blues. The facets of its filthy foundation as a headquarters for whores and wholesale humans belonging to the highest bidder was transposed by the magic of musical melding. Sun Records considered itself the fuse that lit the 50s with Elvis Presley and rock ’n’ roll. Stax Records with Carla and Rufus Thomas and Otis Redding brought blues to the hit parade with hooks and horns and a solid beat, which evolved into Al Green and Willie Mitchell. Memphis meant music.

And unless you stop to think for a minute you might forget that it was in Memphis where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and killed on a motel balcony in April of 1968. That assassination is one of our starting points.

Stevie Wonder did not forget. In 1980, he joined with the members of the Black Caucus of the U.S. Congress to speak out for the need to honor the day Dr. King was born, to make his birthday a national holiday.

The campaign began in earnest on Halloween of 1980 in Houston, Texas, with Stevie’s national tour supporting a new LP called Hotter Than July. I arrived in Houston in the early afternoon to join the tour as the opening act. I was only invited to do the first eight shows, covering two weeks, but I felt good about being there, about seeing Stevie and his crazy brother, Calvin, again. Somehow it seems that Stevie’s effort as the leader of this campaign has been forgotten. But it is something that we should all remember. Just as surely as we should remember April of 1968 we should celebrate January 15. And we should not forget that Stevie remembered.

Publisher’s Note

A Note from Jamie Byng, Publisher, Canongate Books and longtime friend of Gil Scott-Heron

Publishing a book posthumously inevitably creates a number of challenges, and The Last Holiday has been no exception. The words that make up the final, printed version of Gil Scott-Heron’s memoir were written over many years, starting in the 1990s and all the way up to 2010, and during this period the book has undergone some significant transformations. Even calling it a memoir may be misleading, because it is certainly not a memoir in the conventional sense of the word.

The first pages that I read were given to me by Gil when he was staying at the Chelsea Hotel in New York in the late 1990s. They included his account of the night that John Lennon was murdered (entitled “Deadline”) and chapters on growing up in Jackson, Tennessee, and on Stevie Wonder (entitled “Makes Me Wonder”). These original chapters were recounted in the third person, by a narrator called The Artist, as Gil felt that this allowed him to write more freely and objectively about the events he needed to describe.

In 2004, at my prompting, Gil began rewriting the book as a first-person narrative, after recognising that the device of using an Everyman narrator for a memoir created more problems than it solved. Although, as he wrote in a letter on 29 September 2005, “I am adjusting to the first person as these things will show, but I find it totally unnerving and self-serving at times because I have to describe shit from the ‘Watergate’ point of view: what I knew and when I knew it.” The “Interlude” chapter in this book is the only remnant of the original draft that has made it into the final version.

One of the reasons Gil had been drawn to the third-person narrator was because his primary motivation in writing The Last Holiday was to tell the story of the Hotter than July tour. He felt that Stevie Wonder had never received the recognition that he deserved for the key role he played in bringing about the legislation that made Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday a national holiday (this eventually happened in 1986). And Gil believed that The Last Holiday could be an objective account by a first-hand witness to this historic tour. He wanted to ensure that people could not forget what had really happened. And it is for this reason that there is so little in The Last Holiday that recounts what took place after the rally in Washington in January 1981. What happened to him after 1981 did not seem relevant to the book that he wanted to write.

However, it was clear to Gil that in order to tell Stevie Wonder’s story, he would have to tell his own story, and that “in writing about yourself, you write about your parents and their parents automatically because you are all of those people.” It was only by opening up his own past that he felt he could properly explain why he ended up on the tour with Stevie Wonder.

Gil’s death in May 2011 has made it impossible to ask him questions that we would dearly love to know the answers to. The manuscript he left had been sent over to me in a very piecemeal fashion, over a number of years and written on various archaic typewriters and computers. From countless conversations we had and from certain notes he left, it was clear that his original vision for the book was not a straight chronological narrative. But as time went by, Gil leaned towards a simpler approach and dispensed with the more complex structure. He also decided to write about some very personal events from the later part of his life, including the death of his mother, the stroke he suffered in 1990 and his estranged relationships with his three children. These were never part of the original plan and they add real poignancy to the concluding chapters of the book.

We are greatly indebted to Tim Mohr, whose editing skills and commitment to the project have resulted in The Last Holiday reading as smoothly as it does. Gil was a very appreciative man and I know how grateful he would have been for all the hard work that Tim, Dan Franklin, Amy Hundley at Grove/Atlantic, and Rafi Romaya, Norah Perkins and Nick Davies at Canongate have put into The Last Holiday. And I like to think that he would have loved Oscar Wilson’s stunning jacket artwork.

As Gil so memorably sang,

Peace Go With You, Brother

Jamie Byng, Publisher, Canongate Books