Author: Cynthia True
First Published: Sidgwick and Jackson 2002
This Edition Published: Pan Books 2005
Like most biopic pieces, author Cynthia True presents a 252 page “cradle to the grave” collection of dates, facts, quotes and memories of Bill Hicks from his friends, loved ones and contemporaries. As a fellow biographer, I am drawn to her extensive research and dogged determination to bring her subject to life for the reader. By their very nature, biographies should be written after the complete life on earth of their subject has ended. Since it is not an autobiography, the writer must look to friends, family, loved ones and contemporaries to paint a comprehensive picture of who Bill Hicks was and what he meant to those who knew him best. Though relying on “second hand” accounts and data, True produces a revealing and sensitive account of Hicks’ life and effect on the world around him.
” He (Hicks) paid a heavy price for his honest opinions. They killed him. Not in a dramatic way, but in the way he passionately lived his life. Being a genius is a heavy burden, and he’s the only one I’m ever likely to meet.” **Comedian Sean Hughes from the book’s Foreward
American Scream ebbs and flows fluidly, even though the subject matter could prove to be a turbulent voyage fraught with failure, self awareness, many defeats and few victories. Scream jumps around in time, though it does cover Hicks’ life from birth in 1961 to his death of pancreatic cancer in 1994. This book benefits from this some times retrospective “time travel” method in the sense that it shows the reader Hicks’ aspirations and his affect on his muse before he may have known them himself. It follows his life in a chronological order, but True injects insights and quotes from her sources in parts of the story with the advantage of having access to information from a modern viewpoint.
This info is furnished years after Hicks’ death, but it shines light on what the characters around Hicks witnessed then, but may not have understood until later in their life. And though it may be impossible to know what Hicks was thinking in his head and feeling in his heart, through interviewing the people closest to Hicks, True successfully conveys what his words and actions meant to the world around him. Like so many savants from time immemorial, Bill Hicks was NEVER content to accept convention or bow in fright of religious dogma. Actually it was the ignorance of the masses around Hicks that fueled his creative fire. At a very young age, Hicks’ heroes were the ones using any medium to challenge the status quot and ruffle the feathers of the myopic dream of 1970’s Americana.
When Bill Hicks was just a year old, President Kennedy sent 400 Green Berets to a place called Viet Nam in hopes of avoiding future military involvement int that part of the world. We all now know now how that ended. And in True’s words : “the screaming was just beginning !” Hicks was born in Georgia and raised in Texas after his father was re-located by General Motors. The 1960’s he grew up in were an intense example of our nations’ growing pains. The country was content to accept the propaganda that America was right and that every country that was not an ally was wrong. A religion blindly based on Biblical writings written decades and sometimes centuries after the fact and edited and chosen by the Council of Nicea almost two centuries earlier. Evil blood sucking Communists we had never met were the new Nazis; Whacked out musicians and poets were subverting the American youth, and creating their own “heathenous” sub-culture. The horrors of racial discrimination and the violence waged by Southern whites against people of color, before during and after The Civil Rights Movement began, was an everyday occurrence. Fear everything, learn nothing. And like the savants before him, he had to hide his cultural awakening until he found a like-minded friend in Dwight Stone. Together they turned each other’s rooms into a stage for both comedy and music, which would both continue to be their muse. Defying the “normal” world around them, they began to see the illusion that suburban Houston life truly was at the time. About 150 miles west of them, in Austin, a man named Willie Nelson and a woman named Janis Joplin were “screaming” , too. Though Hicks was an accomplished athlete in school sports (he could have gotten a college scholarship for baseball), he opted as a teen to pursue music and comedy.
“These rockers who don’t do drugs?…. They suck suck suck suck. Soul-less ball-less pieces of shit. They were made to do Pepsi and Taco Bell commercials. They suck Satan’s cock on a regular fuckin’ basis. AHHHOOOOROOOOOO. Suck that black wormy jizz down your gullet you soul-less pieces of shit. YOU SUCK !!” Bill Hicks
His music influences were Jimi Hendrix and Rory Gallagher and he played with friends in his own band called Stress. His comedy influences were the early comedians that graced the screen of his little black and white TV on shows like Merv Griffin and The Tonight Show hosted by Johnny Carson. As part of his awakening he experimented with transendental meditation and was exposed to a thing called Karma. Both were very new to the Western world at the time, but like the rest of his life….pushing the envelope was not only new and exciting, it pissed people off and made him absolutely giddy with joy. A rolling stone gathers no moss… and Bill Hicks rolled down the hillside of life like a flaming chariot. And American Scream follows that ride from start to finish.
“We’re here at the same point again, where you, the fucking peon masses can once again ruin ANYONE who tries to do anything because you don’t know how to do it on your own. That’s where we’re fucking at! Once again the useless waste of fucking flesh that has ruined everything good in this goddamned world! That’s where we’re at.” Bill Hicks
Bill Hicks died in 1994. His long road had just brought him to place he had previously only dreamed of. Though he never had it easy, at the time of his death he was selling out venues in the U.K. and “on the brink of becoming a major voice in the U.S.” Cynthia True recounts. Just like American jazz musicians before him (that were often more appreciated in Europe than they were in America, even though Jazz was created in the states) , Hicks was so direct and controversial that his celebrity at home grew slower than it did abroad.
” I have never heard one reason that rang true why marijuana is against the law, that rang true now. I’m not talking about the reasons that the government tells us ’cause I hope you know this– I think you do– all governments are lying cocksuckers. Which is very ironic, because I always espouse the virtues of marijuana. My thing was mushrooms.” Bill Hicks
And there was no end to the obstacles in his way. He chose a “brand” of comedy that caused more consternation than appreciation. Just four months before his death, his routine for the Late Night show with David Letterman was axed by CBS exec Robert Morton AND Letterman himself. The routine was Hicks’ “Let’s hunt and kill Billy Ray Cyrus ” bit. Even 33 years into his life and 18 years into his career, mainstream America still couldn’t stomach Hicks’ comedy genius. Two hours after he taped the bit for the late night CBS show, he was informed by the powers that be that it was “unsuitable for broadcast”. In 19-fucking-94 !!!! Really?!?!?! The network spokesperson defended its’ position to the New York Post with this cop-out: “(there are) Certain things you don’t talk about, religion is one… blowing someone away is another”. As Hicks’ was known to frequently say : “People are still afraid of jokes!!!”
American Scream… is the life and meteoric rise and premature death of an amazing person with a vision his fans may never know the full extent of. Since his early departure from “this mortal coil” , it is easy to be left cold and sad about such an amazing creative force being “taken” before he had a chance, before we had a chance, to experience the full force and promise of Bill Hicks. But this writer ( Me, not C. True) wonders: Is that tragic or merciful? Selfishly, we as people mourn the earthly loss of our heroes. And, to me, William Melvin Hicks was just that. My heroes have always squirmed under the bonds of oppression, and fought convention. But I wonder if Bill Hicks died at “just the right time”. Like so many energies before and after him, he can not be created or destroyed, he merely changes form. In terms of religion , Bill believed that you can search for God/Krishna/Buddha/Allah/Tao/Aliens etc. all around you, but the truth is, it is inside of you! I agree. Living in fear of judgement and damnation is no way to exist. And in terms of his “early” departure from this earth, is that a curse or a blessing? We have seen some greats fall from grace given the time to do so. Time is relative. How much would I LOVE Bill Hicks, if he went on to do a “Full House” type fluff and filler type of sitcom? What if he lost his edge in his later years? Even the great Lenny Bruce deteriorated to the point that he was just reading the transcripts from his ongoing court case verbatim to dwindling audiences at the time of his death. Is it better to burn out… or fade away ? Bill Hicks did neither of these…. he just changed form. Like many before him, and hopefully, many after him, he cut a swath through the “norm” and blazed his own trail. Making it just that much easier for people to hear him. But are we listening? Leonardo DaVinci had to use many tactics, including mirror writing, to hide his genius from the “powers that be”. Hopefully we learn enough from these savants to improve, appreciate and enjoy the world around us. Though not idyllic yet, this world is a better place because of people like Bill Hicks. A legend in his own time !!!!!!
—— Justin Buzzcrusher—-