Sunday, February 27, 2011

It's Just A Ride; The Importance Of Bill Hicks

As I start to write this on the evening of February 26, 2011, it has been 17 years to the day since Bill Hicks died. He was such an influential comedian (although that term hardly covers what the man did) that each Feb 26 is #BillHicksDay on Twitter. I cannot possibly overstate the importance of Bill Hicks in my life. His philosophical comedy so closely matches much of my personality and feelings about life that on some level I consider him the older brother I never had. He was able to succinctly and concisely express far better than I ever could my views of the world. He and George Carlin are the only 2 people that I have ever called "heroes".

Although I had been a fan of his work from seeing him on Late Night With David Letterman many times over the years, it wasn't until some time after his death that I really was able to get more into his philosophical musings. In 1997 Rykodisc re-issued the 2 albums Hicks was able to put out while he was alive, Dangerous and Relentless, plus issued Arizona Bay, the album he was working on at the time of his death, and Rant In E-Minor, which comprised much of the newer material he'd done that wasn't going to fit into the concept of Arizona Bay. I bought all 4, and instantly dove into the mind of a kindred spirit. I have yet to emerge, and am incredibly grateful for it.

Speaking of Hicks and Letterman, I missed by ONE FUCKING DAY being at the infamous taping that marked the last time Hicks was to appear on Letterman's show. I was a frequent attendee of Letterman's tapings at NBC, having gone to 4 or 5 from 1990 thru 1993. So I was all primed and ready and had managed to get a couple of tickets to be at a show only a month into his highly touted move over to CBS. I went with my girlfriend at the time on September 30, 1993, and we had a good time. But had the tickets been for one day later, who knows how things could have been. Hicks' set that night was not earth-shattering, but it was good, and contained some interesting ideas. He only had about 5 and a half minutes, so he wasn't going to be able to delve TOO deeply into the philosophies that were vital to his act. But at least I would have been able to say I'd seen him live.

As it turns out, his set was axed from the final broadcast later that night, which led to an enraged and frustrated Hicks firing off a 39 page letter to John Lahr of The New Yorker. Lahr had been working on a profile of Hicks for the magazine anyway, and this just became an even better reason to write about him. Less than 5 months later, Hicks himself was axed from the face of the planet, as the pancreatic cancer he had recently been diagnosed with claimed his life. Thankfully, his work lives on, and continues to grow far beyond the reach he'd ever been able to achieve while alive. More and more people have looked to his work as a source of inspiration, and with the rise of the internet since his death, it's become more accessible, popular, accurate, and important. YouTube is filled with clips from Hicks on topics such as music, drugs, marketing, and the meaning of life...amongst many other topics.

One of the more interesting YouTube clips is from the night that Letterman had Mary Hicks, mother of Bill, on as a guest in late January 2009. For whatever reason, Letterman had decided that it was time to right a MAJOR wrong, and as the 15th anniversary of Hicks' death approached, he finally aired the set that had been cut. I actually have a 3 page hand-written letter I received from Mary Hicks back in 1998, when I expressed my gratitude for her son's work. She thanked me for my interest in his work; "It is heartwarming to receive such letters." I then ordered a couple of the videos that were available from the Arizona Bay Production Company that she ran, and am only now upgrading one of those to DVD (Sane Man, as it was re-released a few years ago with bonus material).

I was even able to talk about Hicks with Henry Rollins when I met him after his recent show in Los Angeles that I attended. Henry was on his short "50" tour marking the occasion of his 50th birthday, and I pointed out to him that there must have been something in the water in this country in late 1960/early 1961, as both he and Hicks were born the same year. Rollins is a great fan of Hicks as well, and even wrote some liner notes for a 2 CD & 2 DVD set called The Essential Collection. What would have been Hicks' 50th birthday will be this December 16...curious as to how that occasion will be marked.

It would be possible for me to spend far too long going on about the importance of Bill Hicks...and it still wouldn't be long enough to completely express the sentiment. I'll leave you with words that Bill often closed his shows with; "You know all that money we spend on nuclear weapons and defense every year? Trillions of dollars. Instead, if we spent that money feeding and clothing the poor of the world, which it would pay for many times over, not one human being excluded...not one...we could as one race explore inner and outer space together in peace, forever."

Blog Post Soundtrack; Metallica (live), Mondo Generator, Monty Python, ZZ Top, Pearl Jam (live), Them Crooked Vultures, The Donnas, Mr. Bungle, George Carlin, The Simpsons (w/Robert Goulet), The Mars Volta, Ike & Tina Turner, The Misfits, The White Stripes (live), Deftones, Blur, Eric Clapton, The Beastie Boys, The Specials, Tricky (covering Public Enemy), David Steinberg, Tampa Bay Lightning at New York Rangers, and, of course, Bill Hicks...

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