An Interview With Gil Scott-Heron


On July 2, a few hours after Gil Scott-Heron pleaded guilty to a felony charge of possession of a controlled substance, accepting a deal of 18 to 24 months in an inpatient drug-rehabilitation program, he called a Voice reporter who had been covering his case. Below is their conversation. Heron is now in Europe on a 25-date summer music tour, and is expected back in court for a sentencing date on September 12. To read the main story, see “Gil Scott-Heron’s Rap.”


Hey, man. This is Gil.

Oh, hey. Um. What’s up?

I, just felt bad, you know, leaving you like that back there and wanted to call up, to see if you have any questions or need me to clear things up.

Okay. Well, is there anything you want to talk about?

I found out, as I went along, that whatever information has been contributed, and the contributions made before this hour, have come from Ms. de Latour. And her contributions have been very critical. She was the one who called the judge and told the judge that I had a long-term problem, and that she would try to help me with it. And not only that, since I hadn’t seen her in about a year and a half, it’s, uh, up and over my head as to what she was saying. I had done the best I could for Monique. To try to help her out, and now, she’s about to be a martyr. And she’s done this before too. I’m trying to do some damage control. [Laughs.]

Was she lying?

She was lying both times. I haven’t seen her in 18 months. She’d have to be one of those ladies reading them tarot cards…but be careful the way she deals.

What do you think she did?

Initially, she was the one who called the judge and told the judge that I had a long-term habit and that she would try to help me with it. When the judge spoke on her attitudes, and I asked Mr. Kitson where that was coming from, he said it was because she had a long conversation with Monique, and the district attorney had spoken with Monique. Now I’m trying to find out what she had to do with it, since I hadn’t seen her in a year and half, you know? When Ms. de Latour came over here [from New Zealand] she came to get married to somebody who wasn’t here, he had skipped the country. She came over here with her children, and was, evidently, planning to get married. And the guy who she came over here to get married to was not in the country.

Were you that man?

No. I’ve been married. [Laughs.] So, suddenly they had no place to live. The things that evidently she had planned to do weren’t working out for her. In 1997, she called up and said that she had a problem, could she come to see me. So I said, “OK, fine.” I left some money downstairs, with the doorman and…uh, hold it just a sec?


My cat is going crazy. She likes the, uh, she likes the telephone.

Who’s that? What? Your cat? Is that, uh…

It’s a she. She’s very glad to see me, but she’s even gladder to see me now ’cause she can play without getting into trouble. [Laughs.] Could you call me back?

Thirty minutes later.

But the story doesn’t seem to be about her, isn’t this really about you?

The story is about where the judge came up with the idea about what needed to be done, as far as my addiction is concerned.

Are you addicted?

To what? Music, books?


No, absolutely not. I don’t think it’s addictive. I think it’s only psychologically addictive. But I haven’t had enough money to get any. I think you have to have quite a lot of money to get psychologically addicted to those things. I’d be living where people with a lot of money live. I’d have to own the building to have that habit.

What is your relationship with drugs, in general?

I don’t have a relationship with drugs in general. But I’m saying, like, uh, you smoke herb?

I’ve been known to party, from time to time.

So have I. That’s how it is. You don’t get to be my age without a rap sheet.

What do you think about the rehabilitation program?

To rehabilitate for what? For some people to call the judge and say things I can’t defend myself against?

Do you feel if the judge was better informed that she would have made a different decision?

I believe so. I believe that anytime, the more information you have, the better your decisions are. What I’m saying is, I would like to have an opportunity to balance the judge’s opinion of what’s been going on in my life and how long it’s been going on. I don’t know what comments were made, but they must have been from a long time ago.

Then how is your life different, from the last year and a half, without Monique?

Like the first 50 years. Good. [Laughs.]

What would you have done differently?

Not have been there at all. [Laughs.] And the dental surgery.


Oh shit man, that’s how I missed the court date. [Heron missed an earlier appearance in this case.] You didn’t know that. I had lost some caps. My gums were getting infected and I had been given some antibiotics that made me sick.

They put you in jail for that?

‘Cause I missed the court date. Then the warrant squad come to get me. That’s how everything got developed, the way it got developed.

Do you still consider yourself political?

I never have considered myself anything other than a citizen. I take it, though, that anyone who pays taxes is political, because they support the political machine.

What’s our main political problem?


Too high?

Too many of ’em. When you get your check, the taxes been taken out. Then you go buy something, you gotta pay eight percent. You put your feet on the table, they want some taxes. [Laughs.]

You’re sounding like a Republican in Washington trying to sell a tax cut.

That was a Tiger Woods election.

Tiger Woods?

Yeah, it’s like the man who got the least won, like golf.

Politics and golf have always been closely related. Why is that?

Because we don’t play. [Laughs.]

What about Black youth?

What about them?

What important challenges are they facing now?

Getting to be adults.

What’s preventing them from doing that now?

Nothing. Except taxes. The money needs to be spent more on the things that will help them. In our community, we have a whole lotta of people that need help. We need better housing. We need better schools, relationships, and we need to socialize. We pay all these people to represent us. We pay their salaries. They are actually our employees.

Did you think NYPD had a right to search you?

I didn’t know what they were doing. The situation was, I was on the street, on my way home. And I, uh, feel as though they didn’t have a right to be on the street either, as a matter of fact, because it was raining like a son of a bitch and it seemed like they shoulda been home, you know? Takin’ care of whatever it is they do when they go home. That’s what happens around my way. That’s what I was doing.

Do you feel like your privacy rights were being violated?

I always feel like my privacy rights are being violated.

Go back to main story.

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