The world is crowded with many voices clamouring to be heard across every medium twenty-four hours a day. The flow of facts, ads and opinions is endless.
Much of the torrent is noise. It’s so refreshing when someone comes along who raps around the core of it and makes you laugh.
William Melvin Hicks died this day in 1994.
Love all the People
“Love All The People” by John Lahr is a collection of US comedian Bill Hick’s live routines, letters to friends, and a general insight into the man’s life and thinking.
It is full to the brim of top quality rants against what he saw as the rise of anti-intellectualism, the comfortable ignorance of his home country, and the general exposure of hypocrisy wherever he came across it. Or anything else that caught his vitriolic attention.
Religion, sexuality, politics, drug-use, evolution, UFO-sightings, media-manipulation and lots more. Hicks used his hard-nosed humour to rage against the injustice and untruth that he perceived all around him. And my God, he’s even funnier written down on paper.
There’s no doubt he was relentless, furious, and unstoppable on stage. There were no half measures. The lasting impression is of a man who gave the crowd and indeed life itself what was needed to be heard.
Behind all those misanthropic jokes, there was ultimately a message of hope.
“I had a vision of a way we could have no enemies ever again, if you’re interested in this. Anybody interested in hearing this?
“It’s kind of an interesting theory, and all we have to do is make one decisive act and we can rid the world of all our enemies at once.
“Here’s what we do. You know all that money we spend on nuclear weapons and defense every year?
“Trillions of dollars.
“Instead, if we spent that money feeding and clothing the poor of the world, which it would pay for many times over, not one human being excluded … not one … we could as one race explore inner and outer space together in peace, forever.”
– Bill Hicks
Hats off and respect to the man too, it was not an easy message to spread, especially in the US.
He spoke out with courage about injustice and hypocrisy. He held that people should see truth for themselves, that it could be both funny and frustrating at the same time. He despised ideology and militaristic fear-mongering. His bullshit radar was legendary.
He did not sanitise his message or beliefs. On October 1st 1993, a pre-recorded segment he performed for the Late Night David Letterman Show was pulled and not shown, despite being pre-approved. To his credit, Letterman apologised to Bill’s mother in 2009, and showed the banned performance in its entirety.
The original decision to ban what was in hindsight pretty tame stuff should serve as a reminder of the importance of free speech. More importantly, the degree to which it can be sanitised or eliminated in this digitised world. It is a reminder of the increasingly curated news that is fed us individually.
As Hicks admitted, much of his comedy was merely the sugar to help his often bitter medicine go down. He toured the United States extensively, where he remained unknown to many during his lifetime.
He became hugely popular in England, and toured there a number of times. The irony-inclined British audiences liked his bitter medicine too. I’m sure it helped that much of his ire was not vented in their direction.
The delivery of his message ranged between profundity and profanity, to UFO rantings, goat boy’s various manifestations, and a bit of political poetry. Often followed by that beautifully weighted disgust.
“The world is like a ride in an amusement park. And when you choose to go on it you think it’s real because that’s how powerful our minds are. And the ride goes up and down and round and round. It has thrills and chills and it’s very brightly coloured and it’s very loud and it’s fun, for a while. Some people have been on the ride for a long time and they begin to question: “Is this real, or is this just a ride?” And other people have remembered, and they come back to us, they say, “Hey, don’t worry, don’t be afraid, ever, because this is just a ride.” And we kill those people.”
― Bill Hicks
But always digging and burrowing toward truth, even if it was uncomfortable for the audience and not necessarily useful for his career. I think what I always admired about him is the self evident truths he so freely shone a light on. I wonder what he would have made of the NRA’s ‘School Shield’ to protect schools from guns, by suggesting arming teachers and school security staff. As an NRA representative said – “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun”. Bullshit, obfuscation, money-above-life, and fear.
Hicks carried a consistent message. He endorsed the use of psychedelic substances, urged people to avoid wrong-headed conclusions about the world based on soundbites, and endorsed personal freedom above centralised control. He called upon people to think for themselves and not to buy into the shill of corporate marketing and brainwashing. The ‘United States of Advertising’ as he put it.
He died of pancreatic cancer on February 26, 1994. Twenty-two years on in our increasingly crowded and complex world, his message of tolerance, truth, and acceptance is more important than ever.
His last words to the world, in early February 1994:
I was born William Melvin Hicks on December 16, 1961 in Valdosta, Georgia. Ugh. Melvin Hicks from Georgia. Yee Har! I already had gotten off to life on the wrong foot. I was always “awake,” I guess you’d say. Some part of me clamoring for new insights and new ways to make the world a better place.
All of this came out years down the line, in my multitude of creative interests that are the tools I now bring to the Party. Writing, acting, music, comedy. A deep love of literature and books. Thank God for all the artists who’ve helped me. I’d read these words and off I went – dreaming my own imaginative dreams. Exercising them at will, eventually to form bands, comedy, more bands, movies, anything creative. This is the coin of the realm I use in my words – Vision.
On June 16, 1993 I was diagnosed with having “liver cancer that had spread from the pancreas.” One of life’s weirdest and worst jokes imaginable. I’d been making such progress recently in my attitude, my career and realizing my dreams that it just stood me on my head for a while. “Why me!?” I would cry out, and “Why now!?”
Well, I know now there may never be any answers to those particular questions, but maybe in telling a little about myself, we can find some other answers to other questions. That might help our way down our own particular paths, towards realizing my dream of New Hope and New Happiness. Amen.
I left in love, in laughter, and in truth and wherever truth, love and laughter abide, I am there in spirit.
On the day we vote in a new government in Ireland, choosing among vaguely distinguishable mainstream parties, it’s good to remember it’s all just a ride. I think I’ll vote for Bernie.