That this house notes with sadness the 10th anniversary of the death of Bill Hicks, on February 26th 1994, at the age of 32; recalls his assertion that his words would be a bullet in the heart of consumerism, capitalism and the American Dream; and mourns the passing of one of the few people who may be mentioned as being worthy of inclusion with Lenny Bruce in any list of unflinching and painfully honest political philosophers – Stephen Pound MP, in a February 2004 Early Day Motion before the House of Commons.
Today would have been Bill Hicks’ 49th birthday. Born on December 16th 1961 in a small town in Georgia, Bill was about as far away from the stereotypical resident of the Deep South that you can imagine. Discovering at an early age that he had a gift for making people laugh and that he had a lot to say for himself, he grew up to become – without exaggeration – the most influential comedian of his generation and, as Stephen Pound MP pointed out in his extremely unusual EDM, a modern philosopher.
Despite the fact that Hicks had to cross the Atlantic to make a success of himself (he was immediately and passionately adored by us Brits from a very early stage in his professional career), and although his material was frequently outrageous and often very closely skirted the borders of good taste, there were many in his homeland and elsewhere who were inspired into action on hearing his vicious, pin-point accurate critiques of humanity and American culture. He loved and despaired of his country in equal measure, and was never afraid to poke at cultural sacred cows with a pointy stick.
I discovered Bill’s genius aged 17, only a few months before his stupidly untimely death at the age of only 32 in February 1994. I was utterly blown away by his philosophy and inspired by his wicked, irreverent sense of humour. Nearly eighteen years later, he remains a huge influence on me and many, many others, and I believe much of his work remains as fresh and as relevant today as it was in the early 1990s. Just listen to his routine on the war in Iraq and a Bush in the White House for a classic example of this – it could have been recorded in 2003.
He was screamingly funny, yet he made you think. He shocked, yet his unflinching logic was so honest that you had to agree. He said what so many didn’t dare to – and he was right, most of the time. He loved people, yet he despaired of humanity’s direction. He told it like it was, and he told it like it should be:
You know all that money we spend on nuclear weapons and defense every year? Trillions of dollars. Instead, if we spent that money feeding and clothing the poor of the world, which it would pay for many times over, not one human being excluded … not one … we could as one race explore inner and outer space together in peace, forever
I’ve quoted the words of his below on Another Kind Of Mind before, but they bear repeating – again and again. Maybe one day enough people will pay enough attention, as they express Hicks’s uniquely cynical and romantic philosophy to perfection:
The world is like a ride in an amusement park, and when you choose to go on it you think it’s real because that’s how powerful our minds are. The ride goes up and down, around and around, it has thrills and chills, and it’s very brightly coloured, and it’s very loud, and it’s fun for a while. Many people have been on the ride a long time, and they begin to wonder, ‘Hey, is this real, or is this just a ride?’ And other people have remembered, and they come back to us and say, ‘Hey, don’t worry; don’t be afraid, ever. Because this is just a ride.’ And we…kill those people. ‘Shut him up! I’ve got a lot invested in this ride, shut him up! Look at my furrows of worry, look at my big bank account, and my family. This has to be real.’ It’s just a ride. But we always kill the 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 any time we want. It’s only a choice. No effort, not work, no job, no savings of money. Just a simple choice, right now, between fear and love
I choose love.
And so did he. Only a couple of weeks before his death, knowing that he didn’t have long left, he wrote:
I left in love, in laughter, and in truth – and wherever truth, love and laughter abide, I am there in spirit
Happy birthday, Bill. Wherever you are…
(All quotes not linked are from ‘Love All The People: Letters, Lyrics, Routines’ by Bill Hicks – an essential volume for all Hicks fans)