“We are the facilitators of our own creative evolution.” – Bill Hicks.
The other night Letterman had Mary Hicks on his show. Mary Hicks is the great comedian Bill Hicks’s mom. Letterman had her on because of the fifteen-year anniversary of Bill’s death this month, and he used the occasion to finally play the infamously axed routine that Hicks performed on The Late Show in 1993. Check it out here:
(If that doesn’t work, try these…)
I was really touched to watch that show. What a cool move on Letterman’s part. He didn’t have to do that. I’m sure most of the people in his audience that night were hoping for a glimpse of some vapid reality star, particularly on a Friday show, and I bet 2% of the people present, at best, had no idea or interest in who Bill Hicks was. Maybe now they will.
Mrs. Hicks was as charming and as funny as she was in the impersonations of her in her son’s routines, and it really put a human face on a comedian who is now pretty much revered as one of the legends. I love that Letterman talked to her for three segments, and what he said to her came off as heart-felt. And good on Paul Shaffer for playing “I’ll Always Love My Mama” by The Intruders. Nice touch!
Now, I happen to be one of those crazy people who doesn’t have a problem classifying Bill Hicks as a prophet. I’m in love with his message, which is that the world would be a much more peaceful place if people would open their minds a little, and be willing to expand their frame of reference by thinking for themselves.
If only people would understand that it is quintessentially American to question authority; if only people would look at arguments from their opponents’ point of view, or be willing to consider the possibility that their position may be wrong or even not the only right one; if only people would read more than one book, or at least read more carefully what their one book says rather than regurgitate what someone tells them it says; if only all of these things and more, we’d all be immediately elevated for the effort.
No, I don’t personally agree with everything Hicks ever said, not by a long shot – to begin with, I have no interest in cigarettes or psychedelics – but that’s the whole point. It’s not about the specifics of agreeing; it’s about considering and cultivating an original opinion.
Why do people like me continue to invoke the name of Hicks, fifteen years gone?
Because if you watch the routine featured in that Letterman segment, you will see that not much has changed at all. In fact, you don’t even have to change most of the names. The Bush dynasty and the Wahlberg brothers still walk among us, the first Iraq War is having the longest sequel since Return Of The King, and frequent Hicks target Billy Ray Cyrus has re-inserted himself onto the pop landscape, in his current incarnation as
So we still need sharp voices to pop the hot air balloons of pride and pretension, and to do it with humor. That last part is key: Whatever high-minded his ambitions or the rest of our interpretations of them, Bill Hicks was also funny as hell; that’s what makes his message thrilling to listen to, however much of it one chooses to agree with, absorb, or reject.
Again, if my opinion counts for anything at all, please check the above links and watch the Letterman program. (The musical act of the night was The Gaslight Anthem, which is a fun new band, worth checking out in their own right.)
After that, go to http://www.billhicks.com/, which is maintained by friends and family of Bill Hicks. You might also like a book called Love All The People, which presents interviews and verbatim Hicks routines. But of course, best to work through his albums. You can listen to them chronologically or not, in my opinion. First one I heard, I believe, was the posthumous Rant In E Minor (courtesy of my college buddy Cobb Scott). At the moment I feel most partial to
“I’m gonna share with you a vision that I had, cause I love you. And you feel it. You know all that money we spend on nuclear weapons and defense each year, trillions of dollars, correct? Instead — just play with this — if we spent that money feeding and clothing the poor of the world — and it would pay for it many times over, not one human being excluded — we can explore space together, both inner and outer, forever in peace. Thank you very much. You’ve been great, I hope you enjoyed it.” — Bill Hicks.