"I'm Bill Hicks and I'm dead now... cigarettes didn't kill me. A bunch of non-smokers kicked the shit out of me one night."
16 years ago today the last of my 'Dead Heroes of February' and prolific stand-up comedian Bill Hicks died of liver and pancreatic cancer at the age of 32 in his parents' home in Little Rock, AR.
[Copied and pasted from billhicks.com]
"Bill’s comedy (despite his own claims to the contrary) was not about hate or pessimism. Bill was an unabashed optimist. He believed that most people were good at heart but evil forces were deliberately distracting us all from creating a better world using television, lies, tobacco and alcohol as opiates. Bill felt a revolution of thought was coming and that it was his duty, as an emissary of the truth, to bring whatever light he could to anyone who would listen. This blunt, straightforward expression of these ideas could cause clashes with less enlightened, unsuspecting audiences. The result was sometimes dangerous; Bill had his ankle broken and a gun was pointed at him on stage. Despite these experiences, he refused to compromise his material and soldiered on."
I first became aware of Bill Hicks around the same time I became aware of Hunter S. Thompson's work, which was all around the same time I started listening to TOOL. TOOL's 1996 album Ænima was dedicated to "Bill Hicks: Another Dead Hero." It's title track was an homage to Bill's Arizona Bay material, which focused on his humorous hatred of Los Angeles and the desire to see a massive earthquake cause LA to fall into "the Pacific bowl like the turd city it is... leaving nothing but a cool, beautiful serenity called 'Arizona Bay.'"
The final track on Ænima is entitled "Third Eye" and is a reference to Bill's strong opinions on drugs and the drug war, and how mushrooms and other psychotropic substances have the ability to "squeegee my third eye quite cleanly," leading to an awareness of what truly matters in life. One of his most often-cited stand-up bits is played over the beginning of the track, and is about Bill's outrage at the negativity in which drugs are addressed and depicted by the media and his desire to see a positive drug story on the news for once:
"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."
One more quote is played before the lyrics of "Third Eye" begin:
"It's not a war on drugs. It's a war on personal freedom. Keep that in mind at all times."
Along with TOOL, bands such as Rage Against the Machine and Radiohead also aggressively praised Bill's comedic message, and Radiohead's album "The Bends" is also dedicated to him.
At the same time I was listening to TOOL but before I had actually picked up what would be the first album of Bill's I ever listened to (Arizona Bay) he popped up on my radar one more time, pushing my interest over the edge into "I must know everything about this artist" territory.
I had quit reading comic books in late '99, for reasons Joe Madureira-related (don't ask). I had moved to CA to attend Art Center College of Design, and after the first year I decided not to go back and opted to stay in CO and attend UCCS, where I decided to try and pursue film because I did not want to draw anymore. My circle of friends had branched out to some new friends who had all pilgrimaged to Colorado Springs from Hastings, NE. Some of them were comic book readers, and I was given WATCHMEN and the entire run of PREACHER to read. 10 years of reading comic books, and all I had to show for it up until that point was a shit-ton of X-Titles and blood-soaked Image books and all the 90's fluff inbetween. Watchmen and Preacher blew my mind, and in the pages of Preacher is where Bill Hicks surfaced again.
The titular preacher Jesse Custer and his Irish vampire friend and eventual antagonist Cassidy bond over drinks in a bar as they both realize they are fans of Bill Hicks.
Cassidy had seen Hicks at some point or another, but Jesse had seen him at a very important point of his life— the night before the beginning of the entire Preacher storyline.
If Jesse had not lost his faith, then had not seen Bill Hicks' show the night before, he would have never been motivated to deliver the angry, impassioned sermon to his congregation about the hypocritical practices of certain Christians; Namely, behave as poorly and as immorally as you want to in life + accept Jesus Christ as your savior before you die = Get into Heaven no matter what. It was a sermon from a faithless man at his wit's end; a sermon that irresistibly attracted Genesis— the bastard offspring of a copulating angel and demon— to bond with Jesse's soul. The following explosion killed everyone inside the church, and was the beginning of Jesse's quest to track down God— who fled heaven the moment Genesis was born— and make him answer for his dereliction of duty.
Bill Hicks had been incorporated into the Preacher series' mythology as the main catalyst for Jesse's angry sermon, the result of which was 66 issues of an amazing adventure that reinvigorated my love of comic books.
In the final issue of the Preacher series, Issue 66, a Bill Hicks' quote from his 1991 'Revelations' live show is used in (what I believe is) the first few pages:
"I was told when I grew up I could be anything I wanted: a fireman, a policeman, a doctor – even President, it seemed. And for the first time in the history of mankind, something new, called an astronaut. But like so many kids brought up on a steady diet of Westerns, I always wanted to be the avenging cowboy hero – that lone voice in the wilderness, fighting corruption and evil wherever I found it, and standing for freedom, truth and justice. And in my heart of hearts I still track the remnants of that dream wherever I go, in my endless ride into the setting sun…"
I have tried to introduce and share Bill with everyone I know. He is such a popular figure these days that I am still surprised when people have not heard of him. I've quoted him endlessly over the years (as I have a good memory for quoting stand-up, much to the delight/consternation of friends and family), and have created artwork inspired by Bill's comedy. Several characters I've created are homages to Bill.
I would have loved to have seen Bill Hicks live, but unfortunately I was seven years too late. Even if I had been conscious of him when he was alive, I would have only been 12 or 13 years old and probably would not have been receptive to it (but who knows?).
Bill would end a lot of his shows with this message, and it is one of my favorite bits of his—
"The world is like a ride at an amusement park. It 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...' But we always kill those good guys who try and tell us that, you ever notice that? And let the demons run amok. Jesus - murdered; Martin Luther King - murdered; Malcolm X - murdered; Gandhi - murdered; John Lennon - murdered; Reagan... wounded. 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 yourself off. The eyes of love, instead, see all of us as one...
...I had a vision of a way we could have no enemies ever again, if you're interested in this. Anybody interested in hearing this? It's kind of an interesting theory, and all we have to do is make one decisive act and we can rid the world of all our enemies at once. Here's what we do. 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, FOR EVER."
Bill's last words to the world were written on February 7th, 1994.
"I left in love, in laughter, and in truth and wherever truth, love and laughter abide, I am there in spirit."
You certainly are, Bill.
Born December 16, 1961.
Died February 26, 1994.
Another dead hero.