Oct 13, 2009

Op-Ed: I Miss Bill Hicks

[This post has no point.]

Sometimes I wonder about the dead. Death is a constant source of contemplation in my life, and I can't help but think about people who have already slid off this mortal coil and how they might perceive the world today.

It's not anything particularly enlightening that I mull over. I'm not an existential whiz, by any means, but sometimes I'll be jogging, or watching "the news", or else surfing a web site, and think: "What would so-and-so say about this?"

Mostly, I think about comedians. Oh, sometimes I wonder how Kurt Cobain would see today's rock-and-roll scene, or what would have happened if John Lennon had initiated a long-term bed-in throughout the month of December in 1980. It's interesting to have a bemused moment over situations and how life might or might not have been different if this or that hadn't happened. It's only a natural part of life to envision such things.

But mostly - mostly - I think about comedians. My particular worldview has been irrevocably shaded by their comments, and though I enjoy certain modern comedians - thank God for David Cross - I am more often intrigued by those who have passed on.

Take Bill Hicks, for example. Hicks was, without really knowing it, a visionary of the first order. Well, see, that's part of the problem. I say these things, or I think them, and then I wonder: Is that true? Is praise over Hicks heightened partly because he's no longer with us? Maybe.

But I don't think about that for very long. We can never know a person's potential. Is Keith Richards less influential because he was able to ingest a South American country and persist? [shrugs] I am more concerned with what he might say today, in the midst of Obama's first year as president and all of its surrounding insanity. I also wonder what his thoughts might have been during the presidency of George W. Bush, but that is another post entirely.

It's not even necessarily that Bill Hicks was a visionary, or the funniest, or had his career cut tragically short (even though it was a robust 16-years, which is a lot for a comic). It's what Hicks represents, which relates to his premature death, but also to his place in the world. Hicks was more raw, less packaged, than a majority of even the rawest comics working today. Like artist who takes chances, he wasn't afraid to alienate the audience, or to challenge their sensibilities outright, and then pull them back in with a dick joke. Well, most artists don't pull listeners back in with a dick joke, but you get the idea.

His comedy was less slick but also distinctly his (depending on your opinion about Dennis Leary), and though in being topical some of it doesn't translate to this time and place - his bits on Billy Ray Cyrus, though, have become ironically relevant again - most of it still resonates. Before he died of cancer in 1994, Hicks was able to ponder issues like: gays in the military, the (first) Iraq War, right-wing radio hosts running the Republican party, and drug legalization, all of which are still prescient today. 'Relentless' may be my favorite comic album, and for good reason. It stands out for being more than a comedy album. It's a manifesto, and like 'Rant in E-Minor', encapsulates everything in the man's demented philosophy.

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