Saturday, 20 March 2010

Sane Man

If you have no idea who Bill Hicks is, I strongly urge you to find his work. Head over to YouTube and watch as much of his stand-up work that you can find, or get your hands on his albums Arizona Bay, Relentless and Rant In E-Minor. I was exposed to Hicks around 1992 after seeing his live show on late night TV. It was a revelation, changing the way I thought about comedy in the same way that hearing The Pixies changed the way I thought about music. I was used to and enjoyed edgy, dark comedy that was being offered by the likes of Ben Elton and Stephen Wright, but Hicks was something else. This pale, lank haired, spec-wearing American was part-comic, part-revolutionary, part-preacher, screaming his diatribe at an audience who were laughing sometimes with humour and other times with nervousness. Hicks was funny but he was angry, attacking corporate business, the LA riots, the Kennedy assassination, mass marketing, abortion and George Bush Sr. Listening to his routine got me thinking about politics, about alternative music, about the importance of making a choice in my life that didn’t have to fit in with a certain crowd and about having my own voice. I may well have discovered those things on my own or with a different guide, but it was Hicks who pushed me onto the path. As I started to track down his work and find out more about the man, I also discovered that he was dying of pancreatic cancer.

Bill Hicks died in February 1994 at the age of 32. To say that his voice was cut short to early is an underestimation of biblical proportions. In the years following his death I have often wondered what he would have had to say about the current state of the America and life in general. Certainly seeing George Bush Jr in the White House would have incensed the man to a white-heat rage. I would have loved to hear his thoughts on 9/11 and our so-called ‘War On Terror’. Or the cult of Celebrity. Or Reality television. Or the Internet. There would have been so much for Bill to turn his intellect and genius towards.

American : The Bill Hicks Story is a new documentary that examines his too-short life taken from over 150 hours of footage from his early days on the comedy circuit, back through his teen years and right up until his death. Bill’s journey was similar to many artists. Drugs, alcohol, temperamental mood swings, the works. But unlike most such stories Hicks righted himself, kicked the booze, kicked the drugs (even though it seems that Acid was what took him to the next level as a person and comedian) and didn’t lose any of his edge because of it. The documentary reveals Bill to be a deeply complex individual who loved and hated the world in equal measures. There’s a particularly incredible piece where Hicks picks up a tape recorder and starts discussing his deep-rooted fears of having to live up to being funny. It’s a raw and honest moment of insecurity from someone who just oozes confidence in every bit of moving footage I’ve ever seen. Writing this entry and re-watching some of his old work made me realise just how much I missed the man, one of my true, genuine heroes. His words today are more essential than they ever were. As The Smiths once said, ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out…’