Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Like Chomsky With Dick Jokes

Bill Hicks, the last American comic/social critic conceivably possessed by genius, died of pancreatic cancer in 1994 at the age of 32. I was a late convert; when an indie publicist sent me his then new CD Relentless in 1991, I had never even heard of the guy. But then I listened to it for the first time and it was barely two minutes in before I had one of those genuine Oh My God moments. Like the first time I read Catch-22, or heard The Replacements Let It Be. Here was somebody telling me the unvarnished truth, in other words, and I was an instant fan for life.

Okay, obviously Hicks was funnier than Paul Westerberg, but now that I think of it, it's not that ridiculous a comparison. In any case, I'm sure you take my larger point.

Hicks' reputation has actually continued to grow in the years since his death, mostly (I suspect) because his work not only holds up but still seems kind of prescient. Although it may be a generational thing, too; he's St. Lenny (Bruce) for the Gen-Xers, except Hicks had the good fortune not to live long enough to sell out or get hounded to death by the powers-that-be he skewered so hilariously. Actually, as horrible as this is to say, I've always considered it a bit of a blessing that Hicks died before a second President Bush lied us into war with a country that hadn't attacked us; I think it (not to mention what's happened to America in the years since) would have absolutely broken the guy's heart.

Anyway, I bring all this up because the good folks at Ryko were kind enough to send me the latest Hicks compilation in time for the holidays, and I can't recommend it highly enough, especially if you've always wondered what the fuss was about. The Essential Collection (pictured above, obviously) is a 2 CD/2 DVD set with a nice mix of previously released stuff and recent exhumations from the vaults, i.e. choices bits from his albums along with heretofore unheard standup performances and a bonus (downloadable) disc of his original song demos (like "She's a Woman")...

...which, while often charming, mostly prove that as a musician Hicks was a great comedian. Also included is Hicks' early cult short Ninja Bachelor Party, some interesting interview footage, and liner notes by (among others) Henry Rollins.

This is probably the point where I should mention that the main reason you need to check this stuff out is because Hicks was absolutely drop-dead, laugh out loud hilarious. In case you hadn't already guessed. But let the man speak for himself, from one of my favorite bits on the set.
"By the way, if anyone here is in marketing or advertising...kill yourself. Thank you. Just planting seeds, planting seeds is all I'm doing. No joke here, really. Seriously, kill yourself, you have no rationalization for what you do, you are Satan's little helpers. Kill yourself, kill yourself, kill yourself now. Now, back to the show. Seriously, I know the marketing people: 'There's gonna be a joke comin' up.' There's no fuckin' joke. Suck a tail pipe, hang yourself...borrow a pistol from an NRA buddy, do something...rid the world of your evil fuckin' presence."
You can order Bill Hicks: The Essential Collection over at Amazon here.