Bill Hicks died twenty-five years ago this week. Poor sod was only in his early-thirties, and it felt as if he was just on the cusp of breaking through and getting the freedom to build on his dreams. “Christ,” he said (at least) one time, looking out over a sparse audience of people who didn’t get his jokes, “I left more people behind in bed to come here…” Those days were beginning to come to an end.
And then he died.
So much of what we think of when we think about Bill Hicks comes from the baggage of having been dead for a quarter of a century. There’s a glamour to that baggage – he gets to join that fucked pantheon of Artists Gone Too Soon™ : the Jimi’s and the Janis’s – but there’s also a tedious repetition to it all. “I’d loved to be judged on two hours of material,” grumbles Stewart Lee, forced to churn out another two hours every single year, “gradually reducing the quality of your own obituary…” and the hero-worship that only goes to saints (and you always have to be dead to be a saint) inevitably looks tired and ridiculous to those who don’t share the faith. Not to mention having missed the subsequent 25 years of evolution (and he was always about the evolution). Perhaps Bill Hicks saw successes on his horizon, but those successes weren’t the successes that he ultimately achieved, twenty-five years a martyr, preserved in aspic and arsenic.
“I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work,” Woody Allen said famously, several decades before still not dying, “I want to achieve it by not dying.”
But what are you going to do? “I’m Bill Hicks, and I’m dead now…”
Anyway, I was nineteen when he died and that chubby-faced, ferociously funny clown with a heart of gold and tongue of hemlock has continued to been a source of fun and friendship for me for the next twenty-five years.
You can go mad on what-might-have-been’s – a lesson I had almost learned at nineteen, but you can also enjoy the stories, learn the lessons, and go on to write stories of your own.
Don’t let Goat-Boy be displeased by your indifference.
Is there a point to this blog? I think there is. I have to. My friend Rob Daniel, whose Electric Shadows podcast is damned enjoyable, recently put together this program of the two of us and some of his other friends, talking about what Bill Hicks meant to us then and means to us now…
“Here’s Tom with the weather!”