Monday, July 23, 2007

Boy Do I Wish Bill Hicks Were Here

Was just re-watching the recently re-released Sane Man DVD (if you haven’t seen it, get thee to a video store–and pick up the equally invaluable ‘live: satirist, social critic, stand-up comedian’ while you’re at it) and, inevitably, felt the painful pangs of regret: the almost incalculable void his absence left. and i’m not just talking about comedy, because he was self-evidently so much more than just a comedian (and just comedy, when done at its highest level, is quite sufficient, and close-to-impossible to pull of…quick, think of how many stand-up comics from the past two decades not named richard pryor whose work can be returned to repeatedly, with renewed joy, enthusiasm and reward? the list is short: carlin, chris rock, the lean and hungry, less solipsistic seinfeld…and perhaps the pre-lobotomized dennis miller. what else ya got?). Admittedly, it’s a pretty facile formulation to just assert “so-and-so was so much more than just a (insert endeavor–be it artistic or political or social–here)”. But the fact remains: Bill Hicks was (or should i say is? Yes, i should) more than a comedian. That’s the main reason it is never not a little painful to watch him work: the way his mind worked, and worked around the obligatory idiocies that even mediocre comedians routinely beat up like fish in the proverbial barrel. He took care of the light work as an appetizer; it was when he set his sights on politics that he sailed into the stratosphere, and i can’t help but believe–however naive i may be–that we would have been so much better off to have his voice to lampoon the Bush juggernaut when it actually might have made a difference. In other words, we’ve (finally?) crossed the threshold of tolerance (proving that the average american, even some republicans) are usually about 2-3 years behind the curve of Fox-news fed spin: I mean really, is there anything being said about, say, Iraq that wasn’t abundantly obvious to anyone with even a rudimentary knowledge of the middle east waaaaaaaaaaay back in 2002? The only thing more intelligence-insulting than craven sell-outs like Colin Powell and the litany of chickenshit career officers who are only now coming out to attack the utter incompetence and mismanagement of the Iraq imbroglio (now that is has become politically expedient, if not imperative to do so), is their having the temerity to imply that they have known all along how wrong it was. Gee, thanks for speaking out now fellas. It’s nice to see that similar sentiment, which was roundly assailed as everything from liberal cowardice to outright treason less than 18 months ago, is now seen as valid and sound insight, when uttered by opportunistic politicos, running the gamut from Andrew Sullivan to the always insufferable and shameless Newt Gingrich (hey guys, I’ve heard that freedom fries go nicely with crow). Ditto the hijacking (for? by?) the religious right lunatic fringe, which, as usual, was dismissed as just that (lunatic and fringe) when it was ostensibly less threatening issues like the tragicomic “debate” about teaching “intelligent design” alongside evolution or the cynical bottom-dwellers who advocate putting the 10 Commandments outside of court buildings; but eventually, inevitably, it was a bridge too far during the Terri Schiavo farce, when the Big-Mac(hiavellean) Bill Frist–in a twist that could, and should, only befit a politician–tried to bolster his presidential chances and instead deflated them, thankfully, once most of the population saw through him as the feckless, lightweight, meddling mediocrity that he is. The questionas usualremains: what took so long? Did it really require almost half-way into a second term for folks to figure out that everything this administration touches turns to doo-doo? Its refreshing, of course, to see the spiraling approval ratings for Bush and company (anyone see that response Cheney got at RFK? That was a surefire Tivo moment, if I had Tivo), but its pathetic that it had to come to this for people to wake up. What was the tipping point? I maintain there wasnt one (though New Orleans served as the final piece of evidence that only the true believers could continue to deny), but rather that this entire misadventure has been a sort of imperfect storm of incompetence, close-minded myopia and cronyism masqueradingas alwaysas Capitalism, and that if you fuck up everything you do, sooner or later reality will catch up with spin. But getting back to Bill Hicks. I cant help but fantasize, even though I know in the darkness of my heart (or brain) that it wouldnt have made a damn bit of difference, how refreshing it could have been to see Big Bad Billy tearing into Bush. And Cheney. And Condi. And Rummy. And Wolfowitz, Powell, OReilley, et al. Just seeing the wonderful way he eviscerated Bush Sr. (and Reagan, and Quayle) in 1989 when Sane Man was filmed is enough to make one salivate at the opportunitiesAmerica, post 9/11, would afford him. But its also almost quaint to think about the (gasp) good old days (!) when making fun of Dan Quayle was part of any astute satirist’s game plan. Although the rich-get-richer religion of the GOP was alive and well right up until Clinton kicked down the barn door, (giving the Enron gang a respite, or time to regroup) and the woes of those on the other end of middle-class were as deadly serious as they remain now, it still seems like the world was a lot smaller, and a lot less apocalyptic than its become. And as easy it might be to blame much of this on the self-hating sociopaths who flew planes into our buildings, how much more comforting is it to (rightly) ridicule these repressed religious lunatics who fancy a few dozen virgins handpicked by Allah awaiting them than it is to consider our own democratically-elected (sort of) leader rebuking his father’s advice prior to the ill-begotten Iraq occupation, claiming he listened to a Higher Father who may or may not be his personal consigliere in matters of the impending clash of civilizations? Maybe there are times when the stakes are too serious for a comedian, even one who could be called, without hyperbole, a statesman–albeit a sardonic one–and when you can no longer look to music or movies or, have mercy on us, even the media to make sense of things, its up to us to save ourselves.

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