I was never a cool kid, I never had any rock ‘n’ roll heroes. Not physical, either, no sporting stats to inspire early morning workouts or feats of stunning endurance. Basically just me and the fact that I liked to laugh.
Course, this was Essex in the eighties, so I had no taste, either: I found just about everything funny. These days that’s a badge of postmodern ironic honour, I’m a Why So Serious? grinaginandagin artless laugh harlot… But the flipside to that is that in the eighties I also found pastel prime time gameshow sitcoms funny, you know? You can’t just laugh at anything, really – sure, the wound-faced lipstick anarchists laugh it all up, bless their little hearts, but so do the chimpanzees. You can’t be a chimp, you know that, don’t you?
Back at the gag end fag end of the eighties Bill Hicks saved me from this tasteless fate. Must have been a late night special, caught purely by accident, but here was a guy who made you laugh and made that laughter feel like a workout… Quotable, obscene, scabrous, self-righteous, gleeful and foul: utterly funny and insightful. He was my hero, in the way that sixteen year-old boys need heroes. Stupid, but clever-clever, obscene but beautiful. Funny. I remember getting my dad to watch him a couple of months later, and loving that Bill made him laugh as hard as he made me laugh. I remember friendships that started with a Hicks quotation, and to be frank are continuing to this day in a similar vein… A big throbbing purple vein, in many senses.
Bill Hicks died, natch. The cosmopolithetes adore him, bien sur. What would he have made of the Gulf War Part 2? they ask, or President Bush Mark 2? How does Britney compare to Tiffany? Politicians, politicians, for fuck’s sake, laud him in Parliament and the Guardian publishes articles wondering whether he’s overrated. Comme ci, comme ca, whatever that means.
Well, it’s more than twenty years later and I still don’t have any rock star heroes. Bill’s still there, but he’s faded a little in my immediacy. Boys in their thirties don’t really need heroes, after all, and I know all those old routines off by heart now… I don’t listen to them very often because the last thing I want is to laugh at Goat Boy with a warm nostalgic chuckle, you know? Outrage shouldn’t be presented through rose-tinted spectacles, I knew that when I was a kid watching comedy acts with contrived surnames.
But I just watched the new movie American: the Bill Hicks Story tonight, and damn, but Sane Man’s voice is back resonating in my head. Electric, sour and soaring. Alive. Good, so good, to have him back. Familiarly inspirational.
The very best thing? The film is edited together as a stream of talking heads from his family and childhood friends, streamed to an animated collage of photos and super-8 and cinefilm footage, from back when he was a child himself.
So tonight I was a man in his thirties watching a child who would grow up to be the man in his thirties who inspired me as a child. Fundamentally obvious, I know, but it was a genuinely fresh perspective on a man whose life and work I have admired for most of my life. And that is why I thoroughly enjoyed the film…
Don’t worry, there are dick jokes coming…