three-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
58-May-June-2012
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737428.pngSometimes known as the "godfather of rap," Gil Scott-Heron was an author, musician, spoken-word performer, and social critic. He died in 2011.

The Topic: The title of this posthumous memoir by American soul and jazz poet, spoken-word performer, and one of the main predecessors of hip-hop refers to a tour the artist did with Stevie Wonder, in which the two successfully advocated for the creation of a holiday in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. However, the book covers many periods in the life of Gil Scott-Heron (1949–2011), including his upbringing in both North and South, the early struggles with segregation, the formation of his artistic identity, and his collaborations with many of the other figures who would prove important to the hip-hop sound and African American political consciousness.
Grove. 384 pages. $25. ISBN: 9780802129017

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"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

Los Angeles Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"It’s fitting perhaps that The Last Holiday eludes a standard definition. … . [N]earing the conclusion of the book, there are hints of darkness, his later interior struggle, he decided that this was the story he wanted to tell, one that is less official accounting than one long, open-hearted solo." Lynell George

Milwaukee Jrml Sentinel 3.5 of 5 Stars
"[Scott-Heron’s] 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

Washington Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Scott-Heron’s addictions, his troubled marriages, his estrangement from his children, his difficulties with the law and the evaporation of his creative output are only hinted at. These sorts of incidents are the ones that tend to be found in another familiar form of memoir, the one about how an author managed to conquer his addictions and inner turmoil. Scott-Heron did not survive to write that story, which provides a cautionary, unspoken postscript to what is in large part an inspiring and triumphant memoir." Adam Langer

Onion A.V. Club 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Like [Scott-Heron’s] music, the book has flashes of brilliance, but too many unpolished stones cluttering the space between. For fans of the performer or anyone interested in the tenor of the 1970s, The Last Holiday is still well worth sampling." James Sullivan

NY Times Book Review 2 of 5 Stars
"[A] reader quickly starts to wonder: what kind of book is this? When did Scott-Heron write each section, and what was he trying to prove at the time of writing it? … I don’t know if we can expect him to be great in a book that he only half inhabited." Ben Ratliff

Critical Summary

The Last Holiday was assembled from a number of writings Gil Scott-Heron left after his death, and evaluations of the book tended to depend on what the reviewers made of that editorial process. A few critics felt that it fails, arguing that while the memoir has interesting pieces, there really wasn’t enough insightful information around which to build a book. Most felt that the author’s voice does emerge from the memoir, but they added the caveat that like most books in the genre, it is somewhat selective. Overall, The Last Holiday is an interesting complement to Scott-Heron’s other music and writings, but not a great memoir in itself.