Love, Laughter and Truth
Twenty years ago today, Bill Hicks died.
I wasn’t aware of his work until after he’d passed, but I believe so much in what he stood for that I couldn’t let this day go by without saying that.
His onstage sense of humour and delivery was always acerbic, often controversial, and frequently peppered with dick jokes if he ever felt like he was losing an audience. But he wasn’t onstage night after night solely to entertain. Of course it was a big part of it – his efforts to assimilate into mainstream culture coming mainly out of a ‘if you can’t beat ‘em’ attitude – but there was so much more to the man than that.
It will have been exactly ten years ago today that I stood onstage with my band in Wakefield, telling terrible jokes between songs, and then dedicating a song to the memory of Bill. Just a few months later I’d be cracking wise onstage as an actual comedian rather than lead singer. Bill made me want to do that.
As with most of my geeky passions, it was my older brother who got me listening to and heeding the words of this foul-mouthed gentleman at around the age of 13 or 14 – far too young to even get most of his adults-only material, let alone the message of peace and love he ultimately preached.
Once I’d grasped the concept that, beneath all those filthy layers of dark, twisted humour lay a message of hope that anyone of any creed or colour could identify with, his act became one of my favourites of all time. His act was filth, there are no two ways about it; from the sexual acts performed on the devil by wannabe popstars in the name of fame and fortune, to the simpler, baser needs – “gloves, scarves, rosy-cheeked women” – of a man who smoked, drank and drugged across the nation; first with his gang of Outlaws in Texas before settling for a strangled life in one of the two American entertainments capitals just to try and establish himself – Hicks never once shied away from the heavy stuff which would make more approval-hungry comedians head for the hills.
And that’s why I admire Bill Hicks. In a world which continues to peddle product at the expense of artistic development, and a nurturing environment cast aside for hothousing starlets before tossing them to the kerb, we needed Bill to have his say; to let his message remain on Earth long after he’d departed it, succumbing to pancreatic cancer at the age of just 32.
Of all the biographical accounts of Hicks I’ve devoured over the years, one story has long since stayed with me; out taking psychotropic drugs on a ranch with his best friends, Bill once pointed to a pain he felt on his left side, claiming that it’s where he’d been wounded in a past life. This same pain, the one he only felt when ‘rrrrrrrreeeeeal fuckin’ high on drugs’ was similar to the one which would be diagnosed, long before he’d even been diagnosed or was even suffering.
It’s as if he knew his time would be over prematurely. God knows the man told enough jokes about Jesus; to assume himself in some similar role would be ridiculous. But beyond that has always existed the story of the messenger; the strange man in a strange land, who spread his message of peace before his time was up.
And to me, that was Bill.
Sorry about that ladies and gentlemen, I promise, the dick jokes will happen next time.