Comedy Outlaws no. 6. 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’re the imagination of ourselves. Here’s Tom with the weather.” BILL HICKS

I hope by now anyone reading these short biographies of my favourite comedians will now realise the numbers are not in order of merit. If they were the William Melvin “Bill” Hicks would obviously be number one…by quite a jump. By happy accident I’ve assigned him the Devils number. He’d probably appreciate that. Hell, he actually started out his career as a teenage stand up being part of a troupe of American comedians known as the Texas Outlaw Comics at The Comedy Workshop in Houston. About 95% of us that are Bill Hicks fans sadly became aware of him after his death of pancreatic cancer in 1994 at the tragically young age of 32. Had he lived modern stand-up comedy may have ended up vastly different to the toothless and anodyne fare the corporate shills spoon feed us now. However if he didn’t get cancer I’m sure the powers that be would have to have found some other way to silence him…Am I implying he was killed by his own government? Well if I am it’s purely in the spirit and memory of him.

“Isn’t humanity neat?’ bullshit. We’re a virus with shoes, okay? That’s all we are.” BILL HICKS.

If you’re not familiar with his work, and many people aren’t now would be a good time to become familiar. The subject matters of he tackled covered a wide range of social issues including religion, politics, and philosophy all daubed with a jet black comedy style and voice.

He criticized consumerism, superficiality, mediocrity, and banality within the media and popular culture, which he characterized as oppressive tools of the ruling class that keep people “stupid and apathetic.”

I was in Nashville, Tennessee last year. After the show I went to a Waffle House. I’m not proud of it, I was hungry. And I’m alone, I’m eating and I’m reading a book, right? Waitress walks over to me: ‘Hey, whatcha readin’ for?’ Isn’t that the weirdest fuckin’ question you’ve ever heard? Not what am I reading, but what am I reading FOR? Well, goddamnit, ya stumped me! Why do I read? Well . . . hmmm…I dunno…I guess I read for a lot of reasons and the main one is so I don’t end up being a fuckin’ waffle waitress.” BILL HICKS.

I remember exactly where I was the first time I saw him. It was 1994 and late at night. Channel 4 were doing a retrospective special on him a short documentary featuring friends and other comics was shown and then they showed the concert film Revelations which was filmed here in the UK. Prior to viewing I had no idea who he was or that stand up could tackle the world in quite the unique (at the time) way that he did. I remember by the end feeling shocked, at times my sensibilities were offended but with an overall feeling of exhilaration. Plus the downer of a realisation, “Fuck…this guy is dead?”

“Watching television is like taking black spray paint to your third eye.” BILL HICKS

Bill began his comedy career young. As a teenager he would sneak out of his home at night with his friend Dwight Slade and travel to a nearby comedy club to try routines. Immediately the older comics were impressed by his ability. I’ve seen footage of him performing aged 17 it professionally annoying how good he is. Much of his early material would mock his Southern Baptist religious beliefs. “We were Yuppie Baptists,” he joked to the Houston Post in 1987. “We worried about things like, ‘If you scratch your neighbour’s Subaru, should you leave a note?’ “

A typical argument with his father has been documented as going along these lines…

The elder Hicks would say, “I believe that the Bible is the literal word of God.” And Bill would counter, “No it’s not, Dad.” “Well, I believe that it is.” “Well,” Bill replied, “you know, some people believe that they’re Napoleon. That’s fine. Beliefs are neat. Cherish them, but don’t share them like they’re the truth.”

There’s a bit of a lazy myth I used to hear when I first started going around the British stand up circuit that he was never a success in America and only found fame here in the UK. Well, he had his own HBO special in 1990, had a very successful and televised run at Montreal’s Just for Laughs and appeared 12 times on David Letterman’s chat show. sadly the last appearance he made was dropped from the broadcast.

Hicks said, because Letterman’s producers believed the material, which included jokes involving religion and the anti-abortion movement, was unsuitable for broadcast. Producer Robert Morton initially blamed CBS, which denied responsibility; Morton later conceded it was his decision. Although Letterman later expressed regret at the way Hicks had been handled, Hicks did not appear on the show again.

Letterman finally aired the censored routine in its entirety on January 30, 2009. Hicks’s mother, Mary, was present in the studio and appeared on-camera as a guest. Letterman took responsibility for the original decision to remove Hicks’s set from the 1993 show. “It says more about me as a guy than it says about Bill,” he said, after the set aired, “because there was absolutely nothing wrong with that.” Amen to that.

“The worst kind of non-smokers are the ones that come up to you and cough. That’s pretty fucking cruel isn’t it? Do you go up to cripples and dance too?” BILL HICKS.

I work in the comedy industry full time as a comic. When I started in 1999 and worked alongside a certain Frankie Boyle at the Stand Comedy club. A club with a reputation for promoting edgier or more alternative comedy. I remember thinking that stand up was going to all become like Bill Hicks. That his legacy would be enormous. A thousand comedic voices of righteous indignation. Now I look back and sadly realise he was an anomaly. It was a miracle any of his stuff got through at all.

I’ve immersed myself in more socio political comedy in recent years. When people ask why I say, “Nothing original. I’m just trying to be like Bill Hicks.”

I’m sure there must be some young upstart comic out there who’s brilliant and wont play their corporate game. I hope they break through. We really are well over due another anomaly. The last words here are a final short piece Bill wrote a week before he passed. His is the only biography I’ve ever read where I broke down in tears at the end. The hero dies you see… Christ I’m welling up now. Some funny guy you Mr Hicks.

“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.”

Just what is so remarkable about Mr David Bowie?

I wrote this a couple of months before our beloved hero passed away. Thought is was worth another visit and have updated a wee bit….

 

I’m what’s known as a Bowiephile. It’s a term used to describe a fanatical David Bowie fan. I once read that the only fans that match the dedication of Bowie fans are the followers of Elvis. I think I agree with that. The first blog I was going to write about the Great Dame David, The Grand Poobah of alternative rock, soul, electronic, folk, dance, disco…etc…etc…etc was going to be about my journey as a fan. But then a more fun idea came to me. There is no way everyone will agree with the points raised here. Not all of it is meant to be taken seriously. Listen to me, don’t listen to me. Talk to me, don’t talk to me. Dance with me, don’t dance with me. No. …err…Beep Beep!

  1. He invented the Mullet.

OK maybe not the greatest of claims. It is possibly the most derided haircut in history. But here’s the point, not only was he the visionary of this two haircuts for the price of one style…he’s the only person in history that it actually suited. Not only that, but after a series of failed attempts at stardom, once he did change the hair fame came like a juggernaut. Which makes that particular haircut probably the most successful in Rock and Roll history.  Others have tried and failed miserably. See Bono, most of the planet in the 1980s.

Bowie.

Awesome Mullet.

Bono

Bad/smug mullet

MULLET2

sports mullet.

mullet 3

Only Ziggy can save him now…

  1. He wrote, co-wrote and produced co-produced 4 of the most influential albums of all time IN ONE YEAR!

1977 is a big year in modern music history. While punk was shaking the rock establishment tree and finishing off the hippies Bowie managed to sidestep the whole commotion by retreating to Berlin and putting in a fairly decent effort to get off the fame juggernaut that had now ploughed into a snow drift sized pile of cocaine.

I’m cheating slightly with this. I think the creative period that these four albums were put together took place over 14 months. But why get pedantic when you realise what albums they were. Low, Heroes for himself and Iggy Pops The Idiot and Lust for Life.

Let’s just list some of the songs from those sessions…Sound and Vision, Be My Wife, Heroes, Sons of the Silent Age, China Girl, Lust For Life,  The Passenger, Night Clubbing…Several of these have went on to iconic status.

Heroes is remarkable in that not only being one of his greatest anthems but when he does it live at times he’s improved on the original recording. I’ve posted such an example below.

Interesting fact. The brilliant riff on Lust for Life is often credited to being lifted from The Supremes You Can’t Hurry Love. And drummer Hunt Sales does seem to get some inspiration from this. However the real inspiration came from the Armed Forces Network, station ident (They both watched this lot in Germany. In particular Starsky and Hutch) which was a radio conning tower (like the old RKO logo) giving off a staccato signal: BEE.P-beep-beep, BEEP-BEEP-be-BEEP. One night, watching TV with Pop in his apartment, Bowie took his son Duncan’s ukulele and played the AFN riff on it. The two started building up a song. “Call this one ‘Lust for Life’,” Bowie said.

  1. He has continuously left potential big hits on his albums unreleased as singles.

As we well know when Bowie is on form he not only creates phenomenal albums he’s also an extremely adept hit writer. In fact so good is he at writing such hits that often throughout his career including right up to the present day he doesn’t even bother releasing them. It’s been said he does so for the simple savvy marketing device of getting folk to invest in the LP. It’s also been said to drive record company bosses to distraction. I’ve put a list of songs I believe could have been hits. No way anyone will agree. But I’ve also posted a couple to help prove my point.

Wild Eyed Boy From Free Cloud, The Man Who Sold The World, Oh You Pretty Things, Queen Bitch, 5 Years,  Lady Stardust, Cracked Actor, Rock and Roll With Me, Word on a Wing, Always Crashing In The Same Car, Sons of The Silent Age, The Secret Life of Arabia, Fantastic Voyage, Bus Stop (Tin Machine) , No Control, Survive, Everyone Says Hi, A Better Future, Fall Dog Bombs The Moon, The Next Day (Ok the last one had a video made but was only released as a limited edition white vinyl. And it’s from his latest albums and is one of his best efforts ever!)

OR THIS FROM BLACK STAR…

  1. He’s quite the collaborator.

Not just a great solo artist but he’s knocked out some formidable collaborations. From producing Iggy to Lou Reeds Iconic Transformer LP. Sits down with John Lennon for 5 minutes and knocks out his first American number 1 in the shape of the song Fame. Does a Christmas song with BING CROSBY. No way should it work…but it does (Incidentally a lot of people believe the Peace On Earth part of the song to be based on a traditional arrangement. It’s not, it was written especially for the track.) Get’s together with Queen and knocks out one of the best songs either of them ever made, which is not bad considering their respective back catalogues. Actually gave us all a not bad laugh with Mick Jagger by sending themselves up. All the Eno stuff. Has also appeared alongside Arcade Fire, Marc Bollan, Goldie, Mott The Hoople, Lulu, Adrien Belew, Tina Turner, Placebo and err…Scarlett Johansson.

  1. He’s from outer space AND the future.

Space Oddity is now over 45 years old and it still sounds like it could have been recorded next week. From its twin vocal approach to the human condition capturing words of “Planet earth is blue and there’s nothing I can do.” Which is as relevant today as it was in yesteryear. And your heart still soars at the “Tell my wife I love her very much…SHE KNOWS” bit every time.

Not only were we introduced to him as a man from outer space, his first band proper were from Mars and he was a man who fell to earth.

All that aside he is a major fan of science fiction which has gone on to influence his son Duncan Jones being one of the hottest new sci-fi/fantasy film directors currently in Hollywood.

Even in his later less innovative years he was the first artist ever to release a song only available on digital download. At the time they said it would never catch on. If I was him I’d be after a percentage from I-Tunes.

But the surprise biggie was his last album The Next Day (still got one eye on tomorrow.) It was as fresh and as relevant as anything from his golden era. It also got him his mystique back which is pretty impressive after 50 odd years at the game.

He has a new single Blackstar out on November the 20th and an album of the same name will be released on his birthday in January. For the first time in a quite a while that’s a really exciting prospect.