As a reviewer, I am usually loath to do what I just did. Namely, first-person reviews or reactions. I always cringe seeing that “I” on a page, whether it is here or in the New York Times. Certain subjects demand stripping any pretense of objectivity, though, and American: The Bill Hicks Story is definitely one of them. This is because Bill Hicks is my comedian. I caught his One Night Stand in Chicago on the cusp of my formative years and it changed me as a person. I made sure to tape it on second airing and proceeded to memorize every bit in it… despite the fact that, unlike Mr. Hicks, I did not consider comedy a viable career option. That thirty minutes was up there with anything Pryor had ever done. It was all mine.
Until five years later, when Bill Hicks started popping up in all sorts of places. The most memorable encounter I had with Hicksmobilia was at the apartment of a person I didn’t know from Adam. He lived upstairs from a friend of mine and had the beer or taco sauce or whatever we were lacking at that particular moment. In the corner of his living room was a framed portrait of Bill Hicks. It took three glances to confirm, but there it was. Memories are tricky things, and they often graft embellishments into the psyche, but I swear it was an oil painting. Now, that is commitment to a comedian.
A few of these experiences were enough to find out that Bill Hicks had a following. In his case, the word ‘following’ is more what we’d ascribe to the Dalai Lama or Rabindranath Tagore than, say, Bob Saget. As the years go by, that following gets larger and more fervent, revelatory and more high profile. (I am thinking here of Keith Olbermann’s ‘Bill Hicks is still ahead of his time’ segment.) As is the pattern with genius, this all comes well after Hicks ‘left in love, in laughter, and in truth,’ largely because his message and material become more incredibly incisive with every passing war, crisis or bastardization of the aesthetic landscape.
If Hicks is your comedian, you’ve no doubt seen every bit of video available, listened to each album – listened to it backwards as well – know every bit by heart from Randy Pan the Goat Boy to We Live In A World to Ding Dong (the last one is incredibly timely) and have by this time discovered that there were layers of meaning and bits of cosmic truth that become more evident in 2011 than in 1999. You don’t need my recommendation to see American. Tough shit. You’re getting it. Read the rest of this entry »