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Laugh. You'll only cry otherwise,
This review is from: Love All the People (Paperback)Like almost all anti-establishment figures who died before their time, Bill's premature death served to seal his reputation as an almost godlike figure. Easy to be cynical about that of course, but also worth remembering that to be timeless you need a special something in the first place. Bill was no saint, no genius, and his arguments were not always as watertight as they might at first have appeared. But reading his material 16 years on - and reflecting on everything that's happened since - he seems, if not quite godlike, then at least the closest we got to a pre-millenial prophet. And a funny one at that. Much of his continued popularity lies in the simple fact that his material is still so painfully relevant; his vital injection of unhinged sanity more desperately required than ever.
Reading his denunciation of the first Gulf War and President Bush Sr, you can't help but reflect on the ample material he'd have had to work with during the Bush Jr era and the invasion of Iraq. Reading his take on the safe and soulless manufactured pop of the 80s and 90s, you long to hear him let rip on the proliferation of reality TV. Reading his caustic lampooning of reactionary Republicans, you wonder what he'd have had to say about the Tea Party movement. It's impossible not to ponder these things and wonder how the focus of his work might have changed had he remained with us. Was he all set to have become a lightning rod for reason? Or for spirituality? Was he destined to become a leading light of the late 90s anti-globalisation movement? Or a researcher of '9/11 truth'? It's possible to find seeds for all of these and more in the later routines covered in this collection.
Of course one of the most moving things about reading this book is knowing what lies ahead. Several 1993 performances feature Bill joking with the audience about how this would be his last show ever. He knew the real reason of course, but he didn't let on. Also included here is his 31 page letter to John Lahr revealing his devastation at being the first ever comedy act to be cut from the Letterman show. (Letterman would later take full responsibility for that decision and in 2009 finally air the routine in its entirety in the presence of Bill's mother as guest.) Another fascinating inclusion is the script for the pilot episode of a new Channel 4 talk show, Counts of the Netherworld. This would eventually be screened in 2004 on the tenth anniversary of his death.
Transcripts are always going to be an incomplete way to experience a performance, but thankfully the transcripts here are faithfully recounted down to each hesitation and word stumble (and for anyone familiar with Hicks's routines, it's really not hard to pull the missing flourishes and contortions from your head). Unsurprisingly this is a book with no shortage of laugh out loud material, but the additional letters and lyrics give the reader a fascinating insight into Bill Hicks the man. Original, challenging, and well-meaning, he wasn't perfect but he was mostly on the right track, and, to coin a phrase, one of life's good guys. If you identify with that feeling of being caught between both loving humanity and fast losing faith in it, read this book, smile, and take comfort in the fact that at least one man was feeling much the same way almost two decades ago.