Reflection on Bill Hicks

“Today a young man on acid realized that all matter is merely energy condensed to a slow vibration, that we are all one consciousness experiencing itself subjectively, there is no such thing as death, life is only a dream, and we are the imagination of ourselves. Here’s Tom with the weather.”

As you get older, one tends to focus in on fewer things—working outward from the center of what you like, what interests you, and life pretty much takes the reins over from there. Sure, your enthusiasm and commitment factors in to how far you get (all the other limiting factors notwithstanding), but it more or less becomes the path that determines just about everything else you’re likely to experience: who you meet, what you do, where you do it, where you live, who your neighbors are, where you like to unwind, who you associate with, what ultimately makes you happy, and all of that.

It’s all those little factors that get so little attention in the big scheme of things; not because they’re not important, but because corporate America hasn’t quite figured out how to make a profit by investing in the R&D of selling minutiae. It’s just a helluva lot easier to market a modestly successful lifestyle where you’d get up in the morning, grab your iPod off the dock, hop into a Volkswagen, grab an extra-grande latte with 1% milk—no sugar, plug in to work for eight hours, and return to a loft apartment to clean up and splash on some CK-1 before a night of cavorting with friends over a few rounds of Budweiser Select.

And it’s no coincidence that my previously developed skepticism with such manifestations of well-marketed bullshit led me to an instant appreciation for the comedian Bill Hicks the first time I heard one of his routines (to which I owe a continuing debt of thanks to Ken Action).

What most intrigued me about Hicks was the thread of philosophical truth he weaved throughout his material; a thread just strong enough to keep a Norwegian cruise liner docked in the harbor—during monsoon season. Of course most comedy is based in at least some facet of truth in the general sense, a sense of reality that enough people find insightful and amusing enough to cultivate a following from. But “Truth,” capital “T” and those universal things endemic to the human condition throughout history are the bread and butter of a select handful of comedic stalwarts who’ve not coincidentally managed to bridge more than one generational gap in a career. Had cancer not cut his life short, there’s little doubt Hicks’ career would have joined the likes of George Carlin or Steve Martin in longevity.

Hicks passed away in early 1994, doing relatively little in his last year, contrasted with his prior touring schedule which included numerous appearances on David Letterman. Most of his material available today was recorded in the very early 90s, leaving the world with the unpredictable coincidence that twelve years later his thoughts can be near flawlessly transposed from the first Bush and Iraq conflict to the second.

The timelessness of his brief work lies in his discriminating focus on everything that conspires against the evolution of humanity to a better condition for all the world’s inhabitants: media, government, corporations, marketing executives, music executives, television producers—basically anyone who’s telling the public what it wants or needs in a soda, stereo, or car.

Had Hicks made it so far into 2006, he wouldn’t be at all short on the material he loved to sink his teeth into, chew on, spit out, and say what he thought of it.

Bill Hicks would have turned forty-five today.

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