In 1970, when he was twenty-one, Gil Scott-Heron released his début album, “Small Talk at 125th and Lenox.” The opening track, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” was an instant classic, but the album also featured a song that many fans would rather forget, called “The Subject Was Faggots.” In the song, Scott-Heron is walking in Manhattan, on the hunt for some unnamed club. When he finds it, he sees that another promoter is holding a drag ball in the building next door. In his usual declamatory style, Scott-Heron describes the arriving men:
Giggling and grinning and prancing and shitTrying their best to see theMisses and miseries and miscellaneous misfitsWho were just about to attend the faggot ballFaggots who had come to ballFaggots who had come to ballFaggots who were bawling because they could not get their balls inside the faggot hall
On the record, which was recorded live, that last line gets a laugh from the crowd. “Had there been no sign on the door saying ‘Faggot Ball,’ I might have entered, and God only knows just what would have happened,” he says. If this jokey twist of self-congratulatory fascination softened the song’s homophobia in 1970, it doesn’t do so now.