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OFF THE PAGE IV - THE ART OF WAR

"But throughout he bemoans the commercialization of something sincere and in this case that something is Revolution. Revolution as I see it is a basic human need for change, be it through a change of consciousness, attitude or, in the absolute worst case, an armed struggle. Even though Scott Heron's original poem, which became the song, is full of images from 1970, the basic feeling is timeless, especially in this Godless Age of Dubya. It's like visual art where you can keep adding images to the canvas to fit the time. Something about it says, 'I have the anger, I have the beat, now give me some more words and don't let this thing die…'"

Kimberly Nichols interviews poet Paul McDonald

COPYRIGHT © 2003, 3 A.M. MAGAZINE. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

A few years ago I met poet Paul McDonald when he sent me his then just published poetry collection Like Neon, a discombobulated insight into the complications and chaos of an aesthete existing in a technological land. Recently, as the Iraq saga unfolded, McDonald re-wrote Gil Scott-Heron's famous poem The Revolution Will Not Be Televised which he read on tour a few months ago.

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, 2003

(apologies, acknowledgements, and
endless blessings to Gil Scott-Heron)

you will not be able to stay home, brother.
you will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out.
you will not be able to lose yourself on sex, caffeine
and investment portfolios
you will not be able to just say no
and skip out to smoke cloves during commercials,
because the revolution will not be televised.
the revolution will not be televised.
the revolution will not be brought to you by
the john d. macarthur foundation and documented by
ken burns over four nights on public tv
the revolution will not show you pictures of george w. bush
dressed in fatigues, blowing his nose, saying "newkular"
while leading a charge by donald rumsfeld, john ashcroft
and tom delay to eat hog maws confiscated from a harlem sanctuary
under the auspices of the patriot act
the revolution will not be brought to you by
clear channel communications and will not star
julia roberts and richard gere
or homer simpson and pee wee herman.
the revolution cannot be downloaded to your computer
and burned onto a cd, dvd or squeezed into an mp3
the revolution will not make you hot
or marry the bachelor.
the revolution will not help you find organic viagra
extend your penis
enhance your breasts
or help you find a mortgage at %0 interest.
there will be no pictures of you and jerry springer
being surprised by a long lost stalker
msnbc will not be able to play hardball
cnn will go out for a pizza
fox news will be forced to read the constitution because
the revolution will not be televised.
will and grace, american idol and jay leno
will no longer be so damned relevant, and
no one will give a righteous rat's ass whether or not
the tribe has spoken
because people will be in the street
in the park
in the country
dancing naked
and looking for a brighter day.
there will be no film at eleven
or on the half hour
there will be no pictures of cross-dressing militants
waiting in line to be interviewed
by geraldo rivera packing heat
or jesse ventura holding a bra up to the light
to look for a hidden microphone
the theme song will not be written by sammy cahn
nor sung by n'sync, britney spears,
madonna, or wayne newton
the revolution will not get jiggy with it
get word to your mother
give a shit who let the dogs out
or who got milk
the revolution will not be digitized
analyzed
stigmatized
or sanitized for your protection
the revolution will not fall down and
not be able to get it up
the revolution will not cure
the heartbreak of psoriasis
herpes
chicken pox
smallpox
inject your eyelids with botox
but will cause a massive reaction to
pax americana
the revolution will not be right back
after a word from sprint pcs
verizon wireless
cingular wireless
or some cat dander ragweed astrologer
the revolution will not be recommended
by four out of five doctors
or have side effects that include
temporary weight gain
dizziness
blurred vision
dry mouth
constipation
depression
hallucinations
the revolution will not be for the sea-food lover in you
the revolution will not go down easy.
the revolution will not be televised,
will not be televised,
will not be televised,
will not be televised.
the revolution will not be re-run in syndication
or shown on instant replay
or shown on instant replay
the revolution will be live
the revolution will be real

Paul McDonald © 2003
Based on The Revolution Will Not Be Televised
By Gil Scott-Heron © 1970
Check out original lyrics.

3AM: This poem came to me at a time when all of my artistic compadres and all my writer friends were up in arms about the war. Across the globe we were sending angry emails and feeling queasy as the U.S. administration ignored our pleas. It was a time when we all suddenly, voraciously, started pouring our rage, frustration and sadness into our work. Your poem came to me at that time and it expresses what seems to be a frustration in the poetic psyche about the state of our affairs in America. Want to talk about that a little?

PM: There is definitely a sense of people just not "getting it" these days, and a real restlessness on the part of those of us who are alarmed, not only by the complacency, but also the blind allegiance to leaders who seem all too ready to pull the trigger or arbitrarily send people to jail. People are behaving like children who want easy ready-made answers and simply don't want to think about things that really matter. The only thing that seems to matter to most people is money (Randy Newman wrote a great song about that). On top of this everything is watered down with media hype and artificiality about life. We think that everything that comes across on the radio-tv-tabloid brain trust media is as real as it gets. It isn't. It's far from it. For me this poem is about being disgusted with intolerant attitudes, the shallowness of American values and the sense that real change seems to be beyond the intellect of a lot of people. I get the feeling that a lot of people are really proud of being stupid. I realize that I run the risk of saying that I and a lot of other people could be labeled "enlightened" but that's hardly the point. The point is that the change, the revolution, which I believe is a spiritual revolution of consciousness, is not that hard to perceive. The things we think are so important - The Reality TV Culture; The public flogging of anyone famous just to watch them bleed; or how many wives, Cadillac's and diamonds you can accumulate in an eighteen month period, are colossal wastes of time.

3AM: Why did you choose to update this song rather than create a new poem?

PM: Because after hearing this song again, I realized how powerful and relevant its message was even after 30 plus years. The key phrase/title: "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised," is a cold dose of reality to the maestros of pop culture. Gil Scott-Heron was trying to say that too many people had no idea what Revolution was about. Of course, he was talking about the Revolution of the day, which was associated with riots that broke out every summer in the sixties, and a genuine feeling of an armed struggle. Back then there were Black Panthers in rifle swaggering mode, the Weather Underground and the Symbionese Liberation Army was about to appear on the horizon. We were involved in a war overseas that was ripping the country apart. Part of that comes across in the original version. At one point he says:

There will be no pictures of you and Willie May
pushing that shopping cart down the block on the dead run,
or trying to slide that color television into a stolen ambulance…
There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down
brothers in the instant replay.
There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down
brothers in the instant replay…

But throughout he bemoans the commercialization of something sincere and in this case that something is Revolution. Revolution as I see it is a basic human need for change, be it through a change of consciousness, attitude or, in the absolute worst case, an armed struggle. Even though Scott Heron's original poem, which became the song, is full of images from 1970, the basic feeling is timeless, especially in this Godless Age of Dubya. It's like visual art where you can keep adding images to the canvas to fit the time. Something about it says, "I have the anger, I have the beat, now give me some more words and don't let this thing die…"

3AM: The War on Iraq war was televised as if it were the latest reality video game. Talk to me about that and how it relates to the culture of your poem that derides the celebrity-ville machine.

PM: I was talking to a friend of mine who gave birth to her first child not quite a year ago and she was terrified that she and her husband are having to raise a child in a country where the media has been covering a war as if it were a football game. Both of them are very concerned with trying to give their son a sense of the sanctity of life. At one point she said, "What's it going to take to wake people up?" And she's right! My God! How can you dishonor life by treating a war as if it were a hockey game! And no disrespect to the troops who went there to serve and were willing to put their lives on the line for their country. That's a big deal! I'm totally in awe of them. I think our political motivation for being there was very misguided. Besides that I don't think our President's the sharpest blade in the drawer. I see him as part of that ready-made for us/against us "us good, them evil" mentality. I think he was lucky to even get a C average at Yale.

In this country freedom of speech and honest dialogue have been labeled un-patriotic and we have the obscenity to call new laws that jeopardize key elements of the Bill of Rights a "Patriot Act"! My God, is this Orwellian or what! Just after September 11 I heard a member of the Bush administration say that if Americans have to give up some of their civil rights for national security then Bin Laden would have won. Not only did the public allow this to happen, they looked the other way and switched the channel to watch "Survivor" or "American Idol.

I'm pretty disgusted with the pop-culture that's evolved these days. So much goddamn vicarious living through celluloid heroes. I think it enables and encourages a basic shallowness about life. On television we've got Entertainment Tonight, Access Hollywood, Extra, the Entertainment Network and on and on… A celebration of the mundane. These days it seems that people are more interested in hearing about Madonna's pap smear than having any kind of meaningful existence.

3AM: Do you really think that the gentleness of the words of poets, that the paint of artists, and that the stoic spines of activists can spark anything in the complacent heart of America these days?

PM: Absolutely. But more often than not there will be a collective of work that will spark the imagination. It's not often that a generation has a work like "Howl" or "Subterranean Homesick Blues" to hang its hat on. Activist creativity is always abundant and this time is no exception. Both of the works I mentioned, not to mention the careers of their creators, were part of a groundswell of restlessness with the status quo. Creativity always taps into that. There will always be a raw, exposed collective nerve for art to find and touch.

And while I like the imagery of stoic spines, I think it will be the stoic hearts of activists that will win everyone over. The heart is what gives the spine fortitude and the activist conviction. I have a couple of friends in the International Solidarity Peace Movement and they certainly aren't in it for the money. They're there because they consciously believe in it and if America wants to be complacent and hide its head in the ground that won't inhibit their desire for peace - and peace through the Gandhian practice of ahimsa - one bit.







McDonald may be reached at paulmcd@bellsouth.net.











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