It’s just a ride
Bill Hicks died twenty years ago today. His death was shocking – for someone so talented and so vital to die so young. It is shocking now to think that happened so long ago.
Dying is always a great career move. Just ask Elvis. And there is no doubt that Hicks has remained in the public consciousness, at least in part, because he died young. There is always a greater allure to someone who disappeared at their peak, rather than someone who grew old and irrelevant. But there is also a whole lot more to that with Hicks.
His work has lived on with a near Tupac-esque flow of posthumous material, but not as a nostalgia piece for the late eighties/early nineties. In the early 2000s you could listen to his material about George Bush and the Gulf War and apply it just as easily to George W. Bush with Afghanistan and Iraq. You can hear footage about Billy Ray Cyrus and imagine Hicks is actually talking about Miley. His work has remained relevant, still doesn’t feel old.
Hicks tapped in to and pulled apart the hypocrisies and inadequacies of the modern world. Twenty years on you can listen to him and realise that nothing has really changed, and we could really do with a Bill Hicks now, rather than the bland procession of inoffensive, observational, nonpolitical, arena-hopping stand-ups we have today.
But beyond the material, there is the craft. The more you hunt out of Hicks the more you realise he was honing a lot of the same material. Rather than constantly trying new material, he was refining and perfecting what he had. He was a master of delivery, with the sort of comic timing that only comes from working incredibly hard, tweaking his act night after night until he got to the point where everything worked, where even if you didn’t like or agree with the content, you still had to marvel at the presentation.
And beyond his cynical and confrontational persona there was a heart. This was comedy with a soul. Like all the best art. We should be grateful that Bill Hicks shared his ride with us, even though it was far too short.
Bill Hicks and the Walkmen, subject of your previous post, are two of my pop-culture blind spots. I never spent time with them and never found the perfect entry point. You make it sound as though both are worthwhile.
There’s a fringe theory that Bill Hicks faked his death and is now posing as conspiracy-theorist radio host Alex Jones. There’s a passing resemblance, maybe, if you glance at him from the right angle. I guess it speaks well to his material and personality that there are some people who just can’t accept his death.
Both Hicks and The Walkmen are worth checking out. Hicks – you can’t really go too wrong with any of it but Relentless/Dangerous/Rant in E Minor are all good albums. The Walkmen can be a bit patchy in places, I like A Hundred Miles Off but I might be in the minority with that one, but their last three albums are all worth a little time on Spotify.
Hicks certainly seems to attract obsessives, and along with some of his material almost-sort-of touching conspiracy-type themes, there is a ready-made audience for that kind of theory. It’s just a bit silly, I guess, but perhaps it is part of the explanation of why there is a lot of love for Hicks, but not much analysis of why he was so great, or much criticism of when he missed the mark.