Poster created by UK artist Ryse Hale
“Bill Hicks–blowtorch, excavator, truth-sayer, and brain specialist, like a reverend waving a gun around. He will correct your vision. Others will drive on the road he built.” – Tom Waits
Bill Hicks didn’t suffer fools, gladly or otherwise. Like any good social critic, what fueled Bill’s ire was gullibility more than stupidity (although the latter took its shots as well). If you don’t think for yourself, you choose to follow, and certainly there are times and circumstances where that might be appropriate. But all of the time? And despite all logic and evidence to the contrary?
Take religion. Hundreds of sects, each claiming to have the one true path, most professing that should you not choose “the way” you are doomed. Nice benevolent God, right? If indeed only one religion is correct – assuming any are - what does that say to the faith of the others? And if they are all in fact pointing to variations of the same God…how many of them are so wrong in their conditions of belief? Why are people able to swear so forcefully to the abstract of religion, yet unable to comprehend the simplest, plainest truths when they are set in front of them?
One of Bill’s favorite topics was education, in that we should all seek to learn and be enlightened; satisfy our insatiable curiosity. One of my favorite routines had him being approached in a waffle house while reading a book. “Whatchu readin fer?”, drawled the observer. Not “what are you reading”, Bill said, “but what am I reading for?” “Hey everybody”, taunts the observer, “looks like we got us a reader!” Bill often railed that politicians in America could now do whatever they wanted to in broad daylight, and no one would revolt in the streets or form an organized protest. Everyone was fat drunk and happy in front of their televisions, their brains turned to mush and their priorities focused upon collecting the latest consumables, sheep in the meadow. Like George Carlin, he believed not so much that people were idiots as people behaved like idiots.
Of course, there were the cheap shots any condescending music fan will take, why are Hendrix and Joplin dead while Billy Ray Cyrus walks the Earth? Judgmental, certainly. Hilarious? Unquestionably. And even as a fan I would tire of his Goat Boy persona; I wondered if he was pushing the envelope in Andy Kaufmann fashion to get as close as he could to clearing the room before stopping (“how long are they willing to ride with me on this one?“).
But to me the heart and soul of Bill Hicks was his stubborn unwillingess to accept anything at face value. His keen observational skills and fearless mind would have you re-examining any topic he tossed out there; sometimes howling in collaborative laughter, other times challenged to take a pause and think about something from a new perspective…if you had the courage to do so. It’s always easier to shut up and go along for the ride. That’s why we will always need a Bill Hicks.
I would have loved to hear Bill’s take on the last fifteen years; the questioning of our government’s actions, the exposure and consequences of corporate greed, the ridiculous saturation of “reality television”. But it was not to be, and now the other beacon of truth, George Carlin, is also gone. There are nuggets of their fearlessness in Maher and Stanhope and Olbermann and Rock, but for me, Hicks and Carlin are on a special plateau with Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor. I don’t know that I will see another one like them in my lifetime, but I know we need one now more than ever.
The world is like a ride at an amusement park. And when you choose to go on it, you think that 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. Ha ha ha. “Shut him up! We have a lot invested in this ride. Shut him up! Look at my furrows of worry. Look at my big bank account and family. This just has to be real.” It’s just a ride. But we always kill those good guys who try and tell us that, you ever notice that? And let the demons run amok. But it doesn’t matter because it’s just a ride. And we can change it anytime we want. It’s only a choice. No effort, no work, no job, no savings and money. A choice, right now, between fear and love. The eyes of fear want you to put bigger locks on your doors, buy guns, close yourselves off. The eyes of love, instead, see all of us as one. Here’s what you can do to change the world, right now, to a better ride. Take all that money that we spend on weapons and defense each year and instead spend it feeding, clothing and educating the poor of the world, which it would many times over, not one human being excluded, and we could explore space, together, both inner and outer, for ever, in peace… (Bill Hicks)