The older I get, the more I am convinced that Bill Hicks was the most important comic who has ever lived. It's not just because he's a fellow Houstonian and we tend to put him on a pedestal here, it's that even decades later, it's easy to find nuance and different shades of meaning in his material. It's kind of like scripture in a way, if you'll pardon the small blasphemy of comparing the One True God to some guy on a cross.
That's the sort of humor Bill Hicks brought: a manic, dark, cackling madness that could drill an audience into place. And once he had you squirming, thinking of death and that everything around you was a lie, he turned on the lights and talked about freedom, space, consciousness and the infinite possibilities of human souls. He was scary because life is scary, and sometimes fear becomes a way of life. Hicks took people deeper as a shock to their systems, leaving them a bit wiser, and usually a bit more hopeful.
On this day in 1994, Hicks passed from this world for points beyond, dying of pancreatic cancer at his parents' house in Little Rock, Arkansas. He was just 32 years old. He left behind his incomparable stand-up work, but also an impact on the world of music that continues to this day.
Super Furry Animals, "The Man Don't Give a Fuck": Welsh experimental band Super Furry Animals is truly something to see live. During concerts they open the appropriately titled song "The Man Don't Give a Fuck" with Hicks's quote, "All governments are liars and murderers" from a bit he recorded at Austin's Laff Stop about David Koresh condemning the government's handling of the Branch Davidian standoff. It's one of his more powerful messages, gleeful and terrifying, and it works wonderfully with SFA's strange psychedelic style.
Bliss n Eso, "Eye of the Storm" I just recently discovered Australian hip-hop masters Bliss n Eso, but if "Eye of the Storm" is any indication, they're a pair you want to watch. Their second album, Flying Colours, featured this track, and all among the odes to various bits of beauty and life that they cling to in the chaos around them is the line "It's that echo through eternity that still hits live/ It's life, a beautiful journey on a Bill Hicks ride."
Take Hicks's advice, kids. Life is just that. A ride. Anyone trying to convince you otherwise just doesn't want to admit it.
George Pringle, "Fellini for Prime Minister" I'm just going to let the words speak for themselves here. Ms. Pringle?
Well I woke up and he was gone
my coat was there and the news was on
They said quality control has been imported
and Bill Hicks came back from the dead just for the day
to say that it was going to be okay and rock stars were rock stars again.
We can smoke and drink indoors and make jokes about cancer but only catch colds
Today, just for the day
Hicks was close friends with Tool, considering their art similar and differing only in approach. Hicks actually opened for Tool in their Lollapalooza appearances, and playfully got thousands of concertgoers to look for a contact lens he claimed to have lost on the ground.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the mission of the Houston Press. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Houston’s stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Ænima was dedicated to his honor, and the title track's lyrics are clearly based on many of Hicks's more famous rants. The final track, "Third Eye," also contains samples from his comedy recordings.
Annie Lennox, "Into the West" Hicks spent his last weeks with his family. The master comic stopped speaking on Valentine's Day, 1994, and was dead less than two weeks later. He took the opportunity to reread The Lord of the Rings, sharing it with his parents. He penned his last words as well.
"I left in love, in laughter, and in truth and wherever truth, love and laughter abide, I am there in spirit." I thought those words echoed nicely in Lennox's song of journey's ends from Return of the King. Rest in peace, Bill.