Gil Scott-Heron wrote this poem in 1976–America’s 200th birthday. Although written forty-three years ago, nothing has changed except the names and dates. It’s a BLUES YEAR y’all. AMERICA HAS GOT THE BLUES. Even the “winners” are living in a dark, depressing world where everything and everyone is perceived by them to be attacking them–closing in like a deep, dark, gloomy fog. A blue fog. AMERICA HAS GOT THE BLUES. 




Some people think that America invented the blues,

And few people doubt that America is the home of the blues.

As the bluesicians have gone all over the world carrying the blues message

And the world has snapped its fingers and tapped its feet right along with the blues folks.

But, the blues has always been totally American,


As American as apple pie

As American as the blues

As American as apple pie

The question is why?

Why should the blues be so at home here?

Well, America provided the atmosphere.


America provided the atmosphere for the blues and the blues was born.

The blues was born on the American wilderness.

The blues was born on the beaches where the slave ships docked

Born on the slave man’s auction block.



The blues was born and carried on the howling wind.

The blues grew up a slave.

The blues grew up as property.

The blues grew up in Nat Turner visions.

The blues grew up in Harriet Tubman courage.

The blues grew up in small town deprivation

The blues grew up in big city isolation.

The blues grew up in the nightmares of the white man.

The blues grew up in the blues singing of Bessie and Billie and Ma.

The blues grew up in Satchmo’s horn, on Duke’s piano and Langston’s poetry, on Robeson’s baritone.


The point is…

That the blues has grown.

The blues is grown now, full grown.

And you can trace the evolution of the blues,

On a parallel line with the evolution of this country,

From Plymouth Rock to acid-rock;

From 13 states to Watergate,

The blues is grown,

But not the home.



The blues is grown but the country has not.

The blues remembers everything the country forgot.



It’s a bicentennial year and the blues is celebrating a birthday, and it’s a bicentennial blues.

America has got the blues and it’s a bicentennial edition.

The blues view might amuse you, but make no mistake, it’s a bicentennial year.

A year of hysterical importance.

A year of historical importance.


Ripped off like donated moments from the past.

200 years ago, this evening.

200 years ago, last evening.

And what about now?

The blues is now.

The blues has grown up and the country has not.

The country has been ripped off.

Ripped off like the Indians!

Ripped off like jazz!

Ripped off like nature!

Ripped off like Christmas!

Man-handled by media overkill.

Goosed by aspiring vice presidents.

Violated by commercial corporations.


A bicentennial year.

The year the symbol transformed into the B-U-Y centennial.

Buy a car!

Buy a flag!

Buy a map!

Until the public in mass has been bludgeoned into bicentennial submission,

Or bicentennial suspicion.

I fall into the latter category.

It’s a blues year!

And America has got the blues.

It’s got the blues because of…

partial deification of partial accomplishments,

Over partial periods of time.


Halfway justice!

Halfway liberty!

Halfway equality!

It’s a half-ass year!


And we would be silly in all our knowledge,

In all our self-righteous knowledge.

When we sit back and laugh and mock the things that happen in our lives,

To accept anything less than the truth about this bicentennial year

and the truth relates to 200 years of people and ideas getting by.


It got by George Washington-

The ideas of justice, liberty and equality

Got cold by George Washington-

Slave-owner general.

Ironic that the father of this country should be a slave owner.


The father of this country–a slave-owner.

Having gotten by him, it made it easy to get by his henchmen–

The creators of this liberty, who slept in the beds with the captains of slave ships–

Fought alongside black freed men in the union army

And left America a legacy of hypocrisy.

It’s a blues year!


Got by Gerald Ford–oatmeal man

Has declared himself at odds with people on welfare, people who get food stamps,

Day care children, the elderly, the poor, women, and people who might vote for Ronald Reagan


Ronald Reagan–it got by him–Hollyweird

Acted like an actor,

Acted like General Franco when he acted like governor of California,

Now he acts like somebody might vote for him for president.


It got by Jimmy Carter—Skippy.

Got by Jimmy Carter and got by him and his friend the colonel.

The creators of southern-fried triple talk–a blues trio

America got the blues


It got by Henry Kissinger.

The international godfather of peace–

A piece of Vietnam,

A piece of Laos,

A piece of Angola,

A piece of Cuba,


A blues quartet.

America got the blues.


The point is that it may get by you–

For another 4 years!

For another 8 years!

You’re stuck playing 2nd fiddle in a blues quartet!


Got the blues looking for the first principle–justice

It’s a blues year for justice


It’s a blues year for the San Quentin 6–

Looking for justice!


It’s a blues year for Gary Tyler–

Looking for justice!


It’s a blues year for Rev. Ben Chaves–

Looking for justice!


It’s a blues year for Boston–

Looking for justice!


It’s a blues year for baby’s on buses!

It’s a blues year for mothers and fathers with babies on buses!

It’s a blues year for Boston!


And it’s a blues year all over this country.

America has got the blues.

And the blues is in the street looking for the 3 principles–

Justice, liberty and equality!

We would do well to join the blues looking for justice, liberty and equality!


The blues is in the street

America has got the blues

But don’t let it get by us.


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