OK, I’m not going to talk about Jazz as the great American artform. Or poetry of the street or the invention of Hip Hop. I’m not qualified to do any of that. All valid, all documented, all written before by better music and social history scholars than I.
The thing that fascinates me is the advertising slogans and the pop culture references littered throughout Gil’s verses that predate my era, yet from the way he tells them, they register with me.
I listen to The Revolution Will Not Be Televised in pop hindsight. I know that Put a Tiger In Your Tank was an Esso Oil Slogan back from the distant echoes of childhood memories. Even though they’d stopped using the slogan by the time I was born. I know ‘Green Acres will no longer be so damned relevant’ is a reference to a TV show because Travolta and Jackson joke about that show in Pulp Fiction. I’ve never seen it. I think it has a talking pig in it… Maybe.
It’s a strange kind of prism to be viewing 1970 from. And I find it fascinating.
“The revolution will not be brought to you by Xerox”
- OK easy enough for me. Xerox was one of those companies so synonymous with what they do their name came to mean the thing they sold (like hoover was to vacuum cleaning or Google is to searching the internet). I’m interested if the word will outlive the memory of the photocopier.
“The revolution will not show you pictures of Nixon blowing a bugle and leading a charge by John Mitchell, General Abrams and Spiro Agnew to eat hog maws confiscated from a Harlem sanctuary”
- Nixon I’m fine with, I later learned who Spiro Agnew was because he kept coming up in the art from the era.
- General Abrams was Chief of Staff during Nixon’s presidency. I only know this because this song makes a big deal about them. These guys were the administration of the time.
- Hog Maws are pigs stomachs. Kind of like Mexican Haggis, if you can believe such a thing
- A Harlem Sanctuary is a community church.
“The revolution will not be brought to you by the Schaefer Award Theatre and will not star Natalie Wood and Steve McQueen or Bullwinkle and Julia”
- Schaefer beer sponsored a show called Award Theatre in the late 60’s which ran over public holidays in America to cover scheduling in the late evening.
- Natalie Wood and Steve McQueen were massive stars in 1970.
- Bullwinkle was a cartoon moose and Julia was a black girl character in the same show.
“The revolution will not give your mouth sex appeal”
- An Ad slogan for Ultra Brite Toothpaste
“The revolution will not get rid of the nubs”
- A shaving commercial
“The revolution will not make you look five pounds thinner, because The revolution will not be televised, Brother”
- You get it right?
And so it goes on. I know Willie Mays presented The Price Is Right in the USA because of this song. I know the 2005 Jim Carey flop Fun With Dick And Jane is based on a 60’s TV show I’ve never even seen or heard of because of Gil Scott Heron.
It’s not trivialising this social commentary or nullifying a call to action to say TRWNBT taught me as much about TV commercials and celebrity years before I was born as it did about the civil right movement.
Nothing wrong with a bit of context.