photo manipulation & text by nacrowe
to call BILL HICKS a COMEDIAN is a bit REDUCTIVE. its also misleading because his work at its peak functioned on an entirely different plane of consciousness than mere jokes and cheap laughs. i liken him more to a PROPHET. or even an ORACLE marking the cultural path for humanity to evolve as a species. if that all sounds a bit HOIGHTY TOIGHTY and PRETENTIOUS, its probably because to his legions of fans, HICKS was a ONE-ONE-ONE. a true AMERICAN original.
AMERICAN: THE BILL HICKS STORY (VARIANCE, 2009), is a documentary that attempts to uncover and inform the viewer regarding the personal experiences and motivations that informed his legendary CONTRARIAN and CONSCIOUS-EXPANDING stand-up routines. this is done through archival footage of HICKS, as well as more recent interviews with his peers and collaborators and most of his surviving family at the time of production.
HICKS grew up and went to school for the most part in HOUSTON, where his parents settled after a few years of peripatetic existence around the AMERICAN SOUTH when he was very young. his family was part of the SOUTHERN BAPTIST church and he was raised in an EVANGELICAL community. after a brief dalliance with the idea of becoming a veterinarian, HICKS discovered COMEDY while watching JOHNNY CARSON on television and subsequently thereafter reading a book about WOODY ALLEN. HICKS being the force of nature that he was, he very much took concept of being a COMEDIAN to heart and self-taught himself as well as local friend DWIGHT SLADE to write and perform at school. this led to them trying out and becoming regulars at the recently built COMIX ANNEX in nearby HOUSTON as teenagers. SLADE's family didnt like this and moved to OREGON abruptly, leaving HICKS to find his voice in isolation.
a failed stint in HOLLYWOOD where he couldnt get off the ground as a scriptwriter and a bought of alcoholism after returning to HOUSTON later, HICKS took his drug intake to the extreme and somehow walked it back. that sense of SELF-DISCOVERY and SELF-KNOWLEDGE gained through experience, both physical and chemical (as well as a healthy sprinkling of EASTERN PHILOSOPHY), informed his new material that transcended the form. this is the period of his career for which he is much CELEBRATED and has become something of a CULTURAL ICON and FOLK HERO for his acolytes, including ALTERNATIVE METAL band TOOL whose album AENIMA is an extended MEDITATION of sorts on the METAPHYSICAL CONCEPTS in HICKS' routines regarding the NATURE OF REALITY and the COLLECTIVE CONSCIOUSNESS being the manifestation of a single expression, a single vibration. that WE ARE ALL GOD and that we are all of each other.
HICKS in his later years was causticly POLITICAL in his STAND-UP, being unnerved by the televised wanton death of the first GULF WAR and the ATF's alleged overreach in firing first on the nearby WACO BRANCH DAVIDIAN compound headed cult leader DAVID KORESH. for HICKS, who had recently been diagnosed with late-stage PANCREATIC CANCER and had a failed appearance on LATE NIGHT WITH DAVID LETTERMAN (of which his brilliant turn was excised from broadcast due to supposed "standards and practices" by LETTERMAN himself), the two examples of government overreach for him translated to an infringement on FREEDOM. we armed IRAQ during their war with IRAN and then turned on them when they got in the way of our oil interests. footage shows that the fire that took out the BRANCH DAVIDIAN compound originated with the ATF contrary to reports at the time. for HICKS, this all meant that if you were POLITICAL and monetarily WEAK, you had no voice or rights worth defending in the UNITED STATES.
in the years since its difficult to not see our current predicament with CLIMATE CHANGE, ANTI-INTELLECTUALISM and POLITICAL CORRUPTION in a HICKSIAN light. in the aftermath of the 2008 economic meltdown, homeowners got screwed and thrown on the street while powerful banks restored despite their insatiable GREED being the root of the disaster. and dont get me started on the second GULF WAR in the aftermath of 9/11. the continued prescience of his ideas regarding the AMERICAN culture and politics is remarkable to say the least. but his insight into the sad VANITY and stale MYOPIA at the heart of the AMERICAN DREAM is the dagger that continues to pierce the veil of our collective national SELF-DELUSION. the ILLUSION that we are a force for good in the world, that we are somehow EXCEPTIONAL or WORTHY of the power and influence we've nurtured through the past two centuries. for me, his pointing out and evisceration of that extended FALLACY for what it is, a DELUSION, is what cements his cultural legacy as a COMEDIAN of the first order and modern MORAL PHILOSOPHER in my humble estimation. he is someone i continually check in on and reacquaint myself with his ideas, as they are always relevant to my identity as a QUESTIONING and INQUISITIVE AMERICAN.
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