Monday, February 23, 2015

Set The Controls For The Heart Of My Bum- Bill Hicks In Houston

William Melvin Hicks
I've recently been reading a biography of the late great comedian Bill Hicks. Usually the details of early life covered in biographies are the part I'm most anxious to get thru in order to reach the point in the subject's life where they achieved the things they are known for, but in this case Hick's early life in my hometown of Houston has been my favorite section of the book, for reasons I won't deny are personal and perhaps understandably then a bit self indulgent.  

I had forgotten that Bill grew up in a neighborhood called Nottingham Forest which is about 5 to 10 minutes (by car) from where I grew up in Houston. But having this intimate familiarity with the landscape described, the whole Memorial Drive/Dairy Ashford intersection really makes his story resonant for me- if it weren't for the weird school zoning in Houston being determined by which side of the Buffalo Bayou you lived on, I would have gone to the same High School as Hicks, Stratford, located on Dairy Ashford, right down the street from my neighborhood Ashford Forest. Instead I was zoned for Lee High School (as in General Lee) which was about 30 minutes from my house, Billy Gibbons alma mater by the way. Turns out I went to neither as I attended Catholic School all my life.

The Wendy's across from Stratford that Bill and his friend Dwight worked at was the first of that chain I remember seeing and was passed on a daily basis- I don't recall actually going in there much- as Dairy Ashford Drive on which its located, was a major thoroughfare in and out of the area via Interstate 10. I also remember fondly the Handy Andy grocery store in whose parking lot Hicks and his friend Dwight Slade had a teenage epiphany regarding reincarnation and their destiny, this is where as a young child (Hicks was 10 years older than me) I bought many a comic book while my grandmother did the grocery shopping. It later became a Randalls, not sure what it is now, but I'm pretty sure that the Wendy's is still there. And though its not mentioned I'd bet dollars to donuts that Bill and his family ate at La Hacienda the tasty Tex-Mex restaurant that all the families, including mine, frequented on Memorial Drive.   

The stories of Bill and Dwight as carless teenagers, plotting out marathon bike routes to auditions on the other side of Houston brings back boyhood memories of not quite as epic but certainly day long bike expeditions to far reaches of other neighborhoods, exploring newly built or foreclosed and abandoned houses. Whole days spent with your friends out on your own, no adults, on your bikes, exploring. My house was right near the bayou and a drainage ditch ran adjacent that could lead you right down into the sewer system which kids would explore as well, which was fun until it started to rain and fill up, then you scrambled to get out. 

Reading about Bill's time in my my hometown creates both a a feeling of kinship and a vicarious thrill as Hicks is the only notable I can think of that came out of the same part of town as I did.  And what a notable he was, one of the greatest comedians ever, and in the way that especially comedy can transcend its genre, so much more. There's still no one around that can match him as a humorist and social critic and it's amazing and frankly sad how relevant his routines from the 1980's and early 90's still are- especially in these days of rampant, unquestioned worship and deification of all things relating to the military and police- see the first bit below.  

And even worse we still have the right wing gun fetishist who claim to be Christians, that Bill calls out in the second and third bits posted below, always ready to kill and start wars for Jesus but never to turn the other cheek or forgive, they apparently never made it to the New Testament.  For fuck's sake in the grocery story HEB in Austin (note Austin is considered the most "liberal" part of Texas) I can count up to 30 different gun and ammo magazines being sold, THIRTY, all different titles! Who the fuck buys that shit?  These gun/ammo mags outnumber any other topic-politics, fashion, teen/pre-teen, glamour, most certainly music- in the racks.  

Ah well this Thursday, February 26th, is the anniversary of Bill's death of pancreatic cancer, and to my mind he is the true definition of an American and a hero- an individualist, with a penetrating wit and humor like his idol Mark Twain, always questioning, holding a mirror up to society, searching for truths, no matter how uneasy, and willing to learn and reassess as he does so and to turn the joke around on himself. He is and will continued to be missed by many. God bless him! 

Bill was a huge Elvis fan since he was a kid, below he does an extended riff on Elvis's sidekick Charlie Hodge, in truth Charlie was a talented harmony singer, but this is comedy, and a funny bit.

Early Hicks below, not long out of high school, totally comfortable on stage, he's already got his timing, gestures and delivery in place. The material would continue to develop and get stronger. 

Dwight Slade & Bill Hicks as teenagers in 1970's Houston

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