Sunday, February 26, 2006Hicks Day
I just finished reading the most recent, "definitive" biography of Bill Hicks. It was mostly quite good -- much more personal than the previous biography, much more about Hicks as a living person than Hicks as an increasingly-mythic performer. It wasn't completely without hints of some quiet agenda (although I can't quite put my finger on what that agenda might be), but by and large it was measured and thoughtful. And it was based primarily on the first-hand reminiscences of people from his life, and therefore full of respect and affection for the man (as well as a few realistic assessments of his weaknesses.)
But I also found myself feeling guilty for reading it -- it felt like an act of voyeurism, of nosing into a life that didn't have anything to do with me. The drugs, the booze, the obsessive and volatile romances, the nights when he fell down drunk onstage and railed against his audience, regardless of whether they were with him or against him; and most of all, the humiliations of his sickness and death. He didn't even want his closest friends to see his fear and deterioration during his last days, so how presumptuous am I to want to read about it? I don't mean to suggest that the biography isn't valuable, and obviously any account of his life would also have to account for his unusual and cruelly-timed death. But then again, what value does it add to his memory?
The one thing you always read in these private homages to Bill is a variation on the statement, "we wish he was still here; we need him now more than ever." Putting aside the wish that he hadn't died -- who would ever express anything but regret over the death of someone you so admire? -- I beg to differ. As truncated as his life and career were, the one mission Hicks did manage to fully accomplish during his lifetime was to get his message out. Everything he needed to say, he said. Everything we need to hear from him is available for us. We might miss him, and we might wish he could still be here (getting filthy stinking rich, banging porn stars and living in London), but we have all that we need from him.
What's more, there's some relief in knowing that he didn't have to see what an incredible mess we've made of things. I have doubts as to whether even Hicks could've found words to describe the America we live in now -- I mean, shit, he'd already blown "child of Satan sent here to destroy the planet Earth" on George H.W. Bush; what the fuck was he going to say about Dubya? "Sucker of Satan's cock" and "genocidal maniac" had already been applied in response to measurably lesser evils than the Iraq war... where do you go from there? Bill's act might've ultimately been reduced to him standing on stage and vomiting for an hour before retiring to a cave in the Texas Hill Country.
And anyway, we all already know -- in essence if not in exact language -- what he'd have said. He'd have said exactly what we should be saying ourselves, what many of us are already saying: that our actions in the world are wrong to the point of evil, that we have betrayed ourselves as a society, that our collective apathy is unworthy of us and denies our highest nature, and that we must struggle to evolve beyond brutality. That, really, was all he ever said; he just managed to make it funny.
It's a lesson we can apply to every aspect of our lives, and even to one brilliant man's death: we already have everything we need. Death can't deprive us of it, oppression can't destroy it, and injustice can't invalidate it. All we have to do is squeegee our third fuckin' eye so we can finally see it.
It really is that simple.