I don't laugh at the same stuff most people do. I find funny in the uncomfortable, the weird, the inappropriate, the brutally true. I thought I was a freak because of this until I walked into a comedy club in Atlanta 19 years ago and saw Bill Hicks.
It was a weird night, from what I can recall. Cold outside, the tickets were free from a radio station I worked at, and the person I took with me wasn't a fan. He thought Andrew Dice Clay was funnier. Bill Hicks came on a few minutes late. He looked tired and disinterested. He started his headliner set like this
"Good evening, my name is Bill Hicks. I've been on the road now doing comedy 12 years, so, uh, bear with me while I plaster on a fake smile and plow through this (stuff) one more time. I'm kinda tired of traveling, kinda tired of doing comedy, kinda tired of staring out at your blank faces looking back at me, wanting me to fill your empty lives with humor you couldn't possibly think of yourselves."
I was one of maybe 5 people who laughed. For the next 45 minutes or so, Hicks ranted and chain smoked his way through thoughts on sex, drugs, rock and roll, and the state of the Union; skewering every conventional thought I or anyone in the audience ever thought. It was brilliant. Bill Hicks wasn't brilliant. He was a little off that night, but his material was ahead of it's time. I never forgot it. He slayed the crowd. I remember my friend being unsure of what he saw and heard. He said he couldn't stand him and were glad the tickets were free. I was mesmerized.
Hicks and I lived similar lives until the age of 18. He was born in Georgia, moved around, settled in Houston at the age of 7. White, straight, raised southern Baptist, and never got into significant trouble; Hicks' middle class family wasn't in show business so he started performing in front of his Sunday school class at church. After leaving home at 17, Bill Hicks changed. He used drugs and alcohol. he read vociferously. His comedy transformed from mildly edgy pop culture stuff to subversive takes on religion (didn't like it), drugs (liked them), and politics (all over the map, mostly didn't like). He cultivated an act as a young curmudgeon who chain smoked, ranted, and challenged the intelligence of any audience that would listen.
I was a bad American last night. I didn't watch President Barack Obama's State of the Union. I followed it online in between looking up muscle cars and listening to 1990s grunge and punk music like Fluffy. Then I got really sentimental, which is something I rarely am. I thought about Bill Hicks. How would he view our world today. My beliefs are similar to his, although I disagree with him on drugs, smoking, and religion. Where is that questioning middle thats asks the left and the right, "what are you doing? what are you talking about? That was Bill Hicks.
Like Bill Hicks, I get frustrated with the political climate and popular culture. The majority of what and who are liked and celebrated I am astounded as to what many are seeing. Oprah, Sarah Palin, reality shows, Jay Leno, party politics (Democrat and Republican), talk radio, fast food, silly bands and silly bandz; I don't understand any of it. I get called negative like Hicks did. I'm not. I believe in the best in people. I just think folks are either too busy or too lazy to let the best in all of us flourish.
I wrote a fan latter to Bill Hicks after seeing that show in Atlanta. I never sent it, because I thought it was stupid. I remember thinking that if every performer in movies, music, television, or comedy could be as honest as Hicks, we would be greater as culture. I didn't watch the President's speech last night because I knew he wouldn't look into the camera and tell Americans to get over themselves and be better, and here's how I am going to help you. Bill Hicks did that every night. Then liver cancer that spread to his pancreas killed him at the young age of 32 in February 1994. Like every great artist, his work became appreciated after his death. if really want to think, to look for answers, and challenge yourself to know more; look up Bill Hicks on youtube or the internet. Even in disagreeance you will like what he has to say.
Today's song is not only a tribute to Bill Hicks, he came onstage to Jimi Hendrix's Voo Doo Child, but also an anthem to those rare artists that were ahead of their time but still resonate today. We could use Bill and Jimi right now. Their respective brilliance could cut through the ignorant clutter.
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