Saturday, 26 February 2011

Thoughts on Bill Hicks (December 16, 1961 – February 26, 1994)

“I left in love, in laughter, and in truth and wherever truth, love and laughter abide, I am there in spirit.” - Bill Hicks
On the 26th of February 1994, aged just 32 years old, William Melvin Hicks died from Pancreatic cancer. Bill Hicks, as he was commonly known, was a stand-up comedian whose satirical, visceral and philosophical humour generated controversy and acclaim in equal measures. But Hicks was much more than a simple comedian. He was a musician, a philosopher, a satirist, and to some, a prophet. Hicks never resorted to “Blue” humour, even his infamous “Goatboy” routine was based on a very real tradition of Greek myths about the half-goat God Pan. Instead he presented the world as he saw it to his audience complete with all of its hypocrisy, hate, apathy and mediocrity, and tried to show the world for what it really was… Just a ride.

Hicks was born to a typical Southern Baptist family in Georgia USA, and lived in different states within the American “Bible Belt” in his formative years. As a young teen he discovered the comedy of Woody Allen and Richard Pryor and began to perform routines with friends, first at school and then at local clubs. As Hick’s style began to evolve he would often be compared to the likes of Lenny Bruce and George Carlin for his offbeat tangents and politically charged rants. But there was always more that could be done. Hicks would experiment with drugs and alcohol, and chain smoke on stage. This gave his work a fevered energy akin to a punk rock show. Hicks style was intimate and confrontational. He would viciously shout-down hecklers and never sugar-coated a single thought. But as Hicks’ personal philosophy sharpened, so did the messages in his act. After he gave up doing drugs, he would take an unpopular pro-drug stance because, unlike a lot of people with an anti-drug stance, he had experienced first hand the beneficial effects of drugs like LSD Marijuana and Magic Mushrooms, as well as the bad effects. One of his most famous riffs was on the lack of these positive effects in news reports which only ever focus on morons that throw themselves off buildings while on acid.

“Today, a young man on acid realized that all matter is merely energy condensed to a slow vibration — that we are all one consciousness experiencing itself subjectively. There is no such thing as death; life is only a dream, and we are the imagination of ourselves... Here's Tom with the weather!” - Bill Hicks, ‘Revelations’ (1993)
Consumerism, society, religion, politics, philosophy, popular culture and (perhaps most importantly) Bill Hicks were all subjects ruthlessly deconstructed in front of his live audiences. A relentless pursuit of “The Truth” featured throughout his material which often meant cutting through the pre-conceived notions of his audience in order to lead them, not to his point of view, but to their own. In an episode of the BBC series ‘A Question Of Taste’, in response to the line of questioning regarding his act, Hicks repeated a comment he once heard from an audience member who stated “We don't come to comedy to think!”, to which he retorted “Gee! Where do you go to think? I'll meet you there!”. He questioned the alleged guilt of Lee Harvey Oswald in the JFK assassination as well as David Koresh in the conclusion of the Waco siege and other conspiracy theories to make the point that the “truth” that the media presents is just one version and that it isn’t, by any stretch, gospel.

In the seventeen years since Bill Hicks death little has changed. Though there are many comedians around today who are inspired by, and pay tribute to Hicks, few take the bold and lonely stance he once did. In the age of surveillance, instant information, the war against terrorism and international fraud dressed up as capitalism a man like Bill Hicks is perhaps needed more than ever. Even senior Labour Party MP Stephen Pound paid tribute to Hicks on the tenth anniversary of his death in the following early day amendment.

“That this House notes with sadness the 10th anniversary of the death of Bill Hicks, on 26th February 1994, at the age of 33; recalls his assertion that his words would be a bullet in the heart of consumerism, capitalism and the American Dream; and mourns the passing of one of the few people who may be mentioned as being worth [sic] of inclusion with Lenny Bruce in any list of unflinching and painfully honest political philosophers.” - Stephen Pound, MP: ‘Anniversary of the Death of Bill Hicks’ (EDM 678 of the 2003-04 session)’

It is easy to think that we lost Bill Hicks too soon and wonder at what might have been if he’d lived to see the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, George W. Bush, 9/11, The Second Gulf War, and the election of Barack Obama. But he did leave us with words to help us look for our own truth in the world. Perhaps Hicks’ most resonating pearls of wisdom came at the end of his 1992 show ‘Revelations’, that was broadcast on Channel 4 in the UK, the words of which sums up the truth of life as he saw it.

“The world is like a ride in an amusement park, and when you choose to go on it you think it’s real because that’s how powerful our minds are. The ride goes up and down, around and around, it has thrills and chills, and it’s very brightly colored, and it’s very loud, and it’s fun for a while. Many people have been on the ride a long time, and they begin to wonder, “Hey, is this real, or is this just a ride?” And other people have remembered, and they come back to us and say, “Hey, don’t worry; don’t be afraid, ever. Because this is just a ride.” And we…kill those people. “Shut him up! I’ve got a lot invested in this ride, shut him up! Look at my furrows of worry, look at my big bank account, and my family. This has to be real.” It’s just a ride. But we always kill the good guys who try and tell us that, you ever notice that? And let the demons run amok? But it doesn’t matter, because it’s just a ride. And we can change it any time we want. It’s only a choice. No effort, not work, no job, no savings of money. Just a simple choice, right now, between fear and love. The eyes of fear want you to put bigger locks on your doors, buy guns, close yourself off. The eyes of love instead see all of us as one. Here’s what we can do to change the world, right now, to a better ride. Take all that money we spend on weapons and defence each year and instead spend it feeding and clothing and educating the poor of the world, which it would pay for many times over, not one human being excluded, and we could explore space, together, both inner and outer, forever, in peace.”


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