Health beyond the headlines

Pop Music: Home is Where the Hatred Is by Gil Scott-Heron

Public health in pop music

By Elaine Meyer

Published May 16, 2013

A junkie walking through the twilight

I’m on my way home

I left three days ago,

but no one seems to know I’m gone

Those words open Gil Scott-Heron’s “Home Is Where the Hatred Is.” A searing and beautiful number that humanizes addiction, the song is included on Scott-Heron’s critically acclaimed 1971 album Pieces of a Man.

While most of Scott-Heron’s work has a political or socially conscious message, “Home Is Where the Hatred Is” is more personal, painting a picture of how a person’s environment, and particularly his home life, can contribute to drug abuse. And it offers a glimpse into the singer’s own struggles.

In the song, home is where the addiction began. It is “where the needle marks, try to heal my broken heart,” Scott-Herron sings. “It might not be such a bad idea if I never, never went home again.”

He goes on to sing of the alienation he feels around friends and family “who keep sayin’, ‘kick it, quit it, kick it, quit it.’”

Scott-Heron’s life married musical success with addiction. By 19, he had put out an album and published two books. He released Pieces of a Man at 22. But over the course of his musical career, he struggled with addiction, particularly to crack.

Nearly 40 years after the release of “Home Is Where the Hatred Is,” and a year before his death, a 61-year-old Scott-Heron was still struggling. A 2010 portrait in the New Yorker described him with a crack pipe in his mouth looking sickly:

He seems strung together from wires and sinews—he looks like bones wearing clothes. He is bald on top, and his hair, which is like cotton candy, sticks out in several directions. His cheeks are sunken and deeply lined. Dismayed by his appearance, he doesn’t like to look in mirrors.

Despite the sadness and despair, what Scott-Heron gives us is a valuable and self-aware portrait of the pains of addiction.

Edited by Jordan Lite.

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The views and opinions expressed on this website are solely those of the authors and do not represent those of the Department of Epidemiology, the Mailman School of Public Health, or Columbia University.