Bill Hicks is my personal hero. He actually saved my life when he was already dead – that is testimony to the power, the genius of his comedy and his outlook on life. I was in a rehabilitation unit for alcohol and drugs, struggling to fight my demons, then I came across a compilation album in a grimy old book (and CD) store. ‘Philosophy’, by William Melvin Hicks, totally blew me away and sucked me in at the same time.
The strength of the guy’s convictions gave me the confidence to believe in what I was doing, and why. He was born down a mineshaft, with coal dust in his hair, soot beneath his fingernails (but rent was cheaper there). Actually Bill was born in Georgia, USA in 1961 and grew up in Bible-Belt Central and his reaction to religious dogma, thrust upon him and many others, is evident in his stand-up act. As Bill saw it, “A lot of Christians wear crosses around their necks. You think when Jesus comes back he ever wants to see a fucking cross? It’s like going up to JFK’s widow, Jackie Onassis, wearing a rifle pendant. Just thinking of John, that’s all Jackie.”
As a teenager he used to sneak out to comedy venues, performing and outshining many established acts while at the tender age of fifteen. People who saw Bill Hicks live said it was an experience to be remembered for the rest of their lives. Those who saw him dead, just said that they were really too upset to comment. Bill’s no-holds barred style would never endear him with corporate, image-obsessed, mainstream US Television producers, or audiences for that matter. He venomously spat out the truth, the way he saw it, starkly honest and unabashed and most importantly, funny. “They celebrate Easter the exact same way we do: commemorating the death and resurrection of Jesus by telling our children a giant bunny rabbit left chocolate eggs in the night. Now, I wonder why we’re fucked up as a race. Anybody got any idea? You know, I’ve read the Bible. I can’t find the word “bunny” or “chocolate” anywhere in the fucking book”
Once established on the comedy circuits, Bill’s alcoholic intake soared because of the ‘always touring’ lifestyle he delved into, as did his cigarette consumption, which may well have contributed to his sad, early demise. I think his hardcore, addictive personality gave him an edge which honed his insight but sometimes the booze and later drugs led him into dark areas of incoherence, which he manfully disguised by harassing the paying audience until they left in disgust. He incorporated his excesses into his routines but always with a sardonic eye on political society’s views on narcotic substances, “Wouldn’t you like to see a positive LSD story on the news? To hear what it’s all about, perhaps? Wouldn’t that be interesting? Just for once? ‘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’s no such thing as death, life is only a dream, and we’re the imagination of ourselves. Here’s Tom with the weather.’”
Throughout his short career, he rallied against the wrongs of the world, corrupt governments, war, ignorance, religion, the evils of huge corporations and mind manipulating marketing – he wasn’t afraid to laugh at himself, and speak the truth at he saw it. Various companies tried and failed to have Bill endorse their products – “Anybody in marketing, kill yourselves rid the world of your evil machinations, please” – but he believed that he had a message, to open people’s eyes, and minds and I think he was probably right.
In his last few months after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 1994, he did a select last few shows, then went home to die in the company of his family and loved ones. He was and is a genius, wickedly funny, and with a philosophical outlook that is to be admired. His work will live on for many years, Bill Hicks, a one-off, sadly taken from us all too early.
I’ll leave the last word to Bill: “The world is like a ride at an amusement park. And when you choose to go on it, you think it’s real because that’s how powerful our minds are. And the ride goes up and down and round and round. It has thrills and chills and it’s very brightly coloured and it’s very loud and it’s fun, for a while. Some people have been on the ride for a long time, and they begin to question: Is this real, or is this just a ride? And other people have remembered, and they come back to us, they say, ‘Hey – don’t worry, don’t be afraid ever, because this is just a ride.’ And we…kill those people.
“’Shut him up. We have 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 just has to be real.’ It’s just a ride. But we always kill those 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 anytime we want. It’s only a choice. No effort, no work, no job, no savings and money. A 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 defences 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.”