F. Scott Fitzgerald famously opined “there are no second acts in American lives.”
With no disrespect to the great chronicler of the early 20th century, no realm of the arts has proven him more wrong than that of music. To the contrary, the artists who have not burned out or faded away have had their careers defined by late stage comebacks, reinventions and renewed interest by younger audiences. Bob Dylan’s career path has been so varied and gone through so many evolutions that it would be more accurate to say he has experienced second, third and fourth acts, still continuing to follow his muse in new directions well into his late sixties.
In the twilight of his life Johnny Cash recorded a stripped down series of albums most notably “American Recordings” with famed producer Rick Rubin that broadened his appeal to a new generation of listeners, many of whom would have never considered listening to country music. I had the pleasure of seeing the Man in Black at the now defunct Bismarck Hotel in Chicago. Punk rockers with mohawks and multiple body piercings chatted amiably with senior citizens in what was easily the most eclectic concert audience I have ever experienced.
Now, the great Gil Scott Heron now follows suit with his ironically titled new CD “I'm New Here”. Heron’s music defies classification, spanning blues, soul, spoken word and hip-hop. Of course, he was doing hip-hop 40 years ago, long before anyone had coined the phrase. The stunning new release is largely autobiographical, describing his upbringing in a house of strong women who did not think of their home as broken, instead focusing on what they had, not what they had not.
The best of these songs are pure poetry, the story of his life writ large, in the greater context of the human condition and what it means to be a black man growing up in America. True to his early work, it has anger, sadness, and beats so catchy you almost forget you are hearing a man’s life story and social commentary to boot. The video for his cover of the Robert Johnson song “Me and the Devil” is nothing short of chilling.
His first album in thirteen years, “I'm New Here” proves that some second acts are well worth waiting for.