On February 26 1994, William Melvin Hicks, better known as Bill, the man who I consider to be one of the most visionary voices of the late 20th century, died. The world has not been the same since.
‘The elite ruling class wants us asleep so we’ll remain a docile, apathetic herd of passive consumers, and non-participants in the true agenda of our governments – which is to keep us separate, and present an image of a world filled with irresolvable problems, that they, and only they, might one day, somewhere in the never-arriving future, be able to solve. Just stay asleep, America, keep watching TV.’ – Bill Hicks
I first heard about Bill Hicks a little over three years ago. I was having a drink with some friends and I was complaining vociferously about my job. In particular, I was venting ire about the machinations of the evil marketing department where I worked. They were, as far as I was concerned, in league with the devil. A friend laughed and suggested that I should listen to ‘that comedian’. ‘The man in black’ he called him. Who’s he I asked?
My friend couldn’t recall the guys name but he could remember a part of his routine. In involved the comedian walking out on stage and asking the audience whether there was anyone there who worked in marketing. Apparently, there was some small cheering and clapping. The comedian then instructed those who had responded to do themselves and all other humans a service and simply commit suicide. ‘Don’t laugh,’ he said, ‘there is no joke. Just kill yourselves. It’s your only hope of redemption’
I remember being fascinated and laughing out loud at the story. I forgot all about it the next day and thought nothing of it for two and half years.
A positive drugs story
About a year and a half ago, I moved into a new house and became friends with a new flatmate. While I was helping him un-pack he showed me his collection of CD’s. I noticed a large amount of discs bearing the name Bill Hicks. “Who’s he?” I asked.
The flatmate raised his eyebrows, nodding sagely. I was told to take a seat and listen and learn. 40 minutes later I had a pain in my sides from laughing, tears streaming down my face and, more importantly I had finally found something which I had been searching for, for many years.
I had discovered a voice which seemed to be able to say everything that I had ever wanted to say. A voice that could articulate all those things that I had never been able to articulate. A voice that was able to do so without any recourse to political correctness, no bowing to popular sentiment and no cowering to the status quo. It was an absolutely fearless voice.
It was the voice of Bill Hicks.
‘Can’t say enough about the thumb’
Since then I have consumed every piece of Hicks’ tragically small recorded output and read everything that I can read about him. I supposed that I have become slightly obsessed by this man and spend an in-ordinate amount of time talking about him.
Another part of me feels that I shouldn’t stop talking about him. In fact I should make it my mission to ensure that as many people as I can humanly influence should be exposed to the work of this great genius. But he’s only a comedian, right?
Hicks considered himself (as he often told his mother) to be a preacher. He may also be called a political analyst, a social commentator, and hey, why not, a philosopher. ‘Chomsky with dick jokes’ to use his own description.
His primary concern was attacking what he saw as the forces of mediocrity who, he earnestly believed, were attempting to keep ‘bovine America’ sedated lest they ever learnt the awful truth about their country. He argued that the American political system was a joke, dictated by the nefarious agendas of multi-national corporations.
He also insisted that American laws regarding consumption of substances were hypocritical in the extreme. How can you put ad’s on TV telling you not to do drugs followed by “This Bud’s for you!” he asked.
Hicks also served up his ‘comedy of hatred’ on Fundamentalist Christians. “A lot of Christians wear crosses around their necks” he said. “You think when Jesus comes back he ever wants to see a fu**in cross? It’s like going up to Jackie Onassis wearing a rifle pendant”
On pro-lifers he said: “If you’re so pro-life, do me a favor–don’t lock arms and block medical clinics. Lock arms and block cemeteries.” And of non-smokers he had this to say: “Obnoxious, self-righteous, whining little fu**s. My biggest fear is that if I quit smoking, I’ll become on of you…”
By now, a picture should be forming and political correctness is not part of it. But for me, my personal favourite of Hicks’ pet hates has to be for marketing and advertising people. Having always been deeply suspicious about them, his observations about them struck a chord.
On his album Rant in E-minor, from which the above extract which my friend quoted comes, Hicks pours particular scorn on this section of American culture and society. In addition to those who create the advertisements to sell the products, Hicks also poured scorn on those celebrities who collaborated in creating a Vichy-like monster.
One notable Hicks’ diatribe is his caustic rendition of the moment when Jay Leno (an old friend of Hicks) realises (live on air) that his once great comedic career has gone down the toilet in preference for interviewing snotty teenage actors and hocking Doritos in commercials. Leno places an Uzi in his mouth and pulls the trigger. His brains make an NBC peacock across the wall behind. “A company man to the bitter end” said Hicks.
‘There are dick-jokes on the way’
Hicks is a hard guy to try to get a handle on. Born in the south to a (according to sources) severe Baptist family and raised with a firm hand, where the most important aspect of social life was making sure that the lawn was the right shortness, he was already beginning to display signs of his nascent comic genius at the tender age of 15 when he would perform Woody Allen routines on local stages, accompanied by his long time partner in crime Dwight Slade. Hicks and Slade dreamed that they would be a comic duo, travelling together, working together and writing together. Hicks was to forge a career on his own, but their close friendship was never to falter as the years passed.
The other aspect of Hicks that is somewhat hard to get a hold of is the essential physicality of the man. Most people who are exposed to Hicks hear him before they see him. This is due to the fact that Hicks CD’s and tapes get passed around in workplaces, get turned on at parties and sent as MP3’s via e-mail to relieve the tedium of office jobs.
Yes, you laugh out loud and marvel at the lyrical genius that is his free-flowing style, but it’s not until you see Hicks that everything makes sense. Hicks had a mad, manic and malleable face that seemed to change with each photo that was taken of him. He also had haircuts of variable success. But most important of all is the engaging, confrontational and threatening presence that Hicks had on stage. He was John Lennon, Ali and Jesus rolled into one.
‘Hairy bobbin man-ass’
Hicks always maintained that he felt like an outsider, that he just didn’t fit. In fact, it is this essential ‘otherness’ which makes Hicks so appealing. If you listen to him for even a short time you come to the realisation that a great deal of what he is saying makes perfect lucid sense. It’s just that the topics he chose to talk about were those very ones which society has chosen to classify as taboo.
For example, why was it, Hicks enquired with typical clarity, that alcohol and tobacco were legal and marijuana illegal in the USA? Hicks posed a scenario: you’re in a public place (a concert, a ball game) and there’s a guy being noisy, aggressive, violent and causing trouble. Is he stoned or drunk? The answer is evident.
The only true way to understand hicks is to listen to him. Or better still, watch him(see below). His CD’s and videos are readily available in most of the larger stores (I saw a shelf full of Rant in E minor in HMV recently) and are well worth getting your hands on. Do yourself a favour and expose yourself to his genius. In the modern age of George Bush’s War on Terror and the continuing butchery in Iraq, Hicks has never been more relevant. Indeed listening to his rants about the first Gulf War is an eerie experience – as the jokes could have been written last week.
Read about Bill
Wikipedia entry on Bill
+Bill on Marketing+
+Bill on Drugs and Evolution+
+Bill on Modern Music+