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Published: 2003/01/23
by Bill Stites

LoveLaughterandTruth – Bill HicksFlying Saucer Tour Vol. 1 Pittsburgh 6/20/91 – Bill Hicks

RykoDisc 10631

RykoDisc 10632

"I'd love to hear a positive drug story on the news. Wouldn't that be
Just once?... 'Today, a young man on acid realized that we are all one
consciousness experiencing itself subjectively. Time is an illusion, there
is no such thing as death, and we're the imagination of ourselves. Here's
Tom with the weather!'"

So you've got every single Dick’s Picks. You bought each batch of
Phish albums en masse as they came out, even though you had all the shows on
DAT anyway. You pre-ordered all those String Cheese releases before the
shows even happened. OK; I guess we need people like you to keep these
archival series profitable for the people churning 'em out. But riddle me
this, smartass: how's your Bill Hicks collection looking?

No, he's not a bluegrass picker or some long-forgotten Allman Brother. He's
not a jazz pianist, and he's not a minimalist composer. He was a stand-up

Say what?

"Was", as in he's been dead for almost nine years. "Stand-up comic", as in
he spent his entire adult life working a schedule that makes the
hardest-touring rock bands look like a bunch of self-indulgent pantywaists:
as many as 300 days a year on the road, traveling from city to city to plop
himself, mic in hand, in front of crowds of drunken middle Americans hungry
for dick
jokes. And you care because for years there's been a community of Internet
dorks trading bootleg audio and video of his shows, and the interest in a
long-dead orator has now reached the point that RykoDisc has begun – you
guessed it – an archival release series, documenting complete live shows,
warts, as anyone engaged in such things is obligated to add, and all. Been
looking for something new to start collecting, Mr. or Ms. I've Got 2,500
Hours of Panic from The Past Year Alone? Meet your new master. The ghost
of Bill Hicks has come to expose your life as the hollow, meaningless shell
it is.

Oh, is that not what you normally expect from stand-up comedy? Well, if
this guy was normal do you think anyone would care enough to be clamoring
for new material damn near a decade after he succumbed to pancreatic cancer? Bill, like Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor
before him, spent his career straddling the line between stand-up and
performance art, only he seemed to derive perhaps even more glee from
kicking dirt back and forth between the sides until their boundary blurred.
Somehow both a humanist and a misanthrope, Bill's best material crackles
with the dissonance of reverence and love for the beauty of nature and
humanity clashing with poignant disappointment in our species' damn near
comprehensive failure to achieve its full potential. An unapologetic
psychonaut in an era of Heineken and blow, even after he quit drugs Bill
preached a gospel of mushroom-induced epiphany as one of the few chances we
have to escape the cycle of war and accusation and move into an epoch of
love and togetherness.

In his quest to open minds, by force if necessary, shock and uncomfortable,
self-conscious giggling were as good as laughs, and a profanity-scarred
screaming match with an audience member
perhaps even better. He's the guy Denis Leary literally stole his hostile
smoker act from, only Hicks took it further than that compulsive famemonger
ever could: "At least I can't kill anyone behind the wheel of a car because
I'm smoking a cigarette. And I've tried. Kill the headlights, rush 'em,
they always see the glow." This is a man who dubbed himself Goat Boy while
Jim Breuer was still in high school, only his furry alter ego was an
incubus obsessed with anal sex. And, if you're hip, his unaltered voice
provides the samples at the beginning of the "Dark Star" of prog-metal,
Tool's "Third Eye": "all those musicians who made all that great music
that's enhanced your lives? Rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrreal fuckin' high
on drugs." If that won't hook you hippies in, nothing will.

So let's get down to it. Flying Saucer Tour, Vol. 1: The Funny Bone,
Pittsburgh, 6/20/91 is, as its title suggests, the first Bill album to
mostly drawn from a single show. I say "mostly" because apparently the tape
ran out right as he went into his closing bit, and a splice was used to
create the illusion of a whole performance. (Taper geeks, how do you feel
about that?) This ends up being more significant than it might first sound,
since the show was characterized by his struggle with an audience so
standoffish he wonders aloud whether they're all doped up on thorazine.
The roaring ovation he gets at the end of the disc at first makes the
listener think he's completely won them over, but for all we know they could
have silently donned their coats and left. It'd be hard to blame them,
since he confesses in the show that he prays for nuclear holocaust, tells
the audience "I want you all to die" and calls them "hypocritical,
scum-sucking pieces of shit."

Still, he does get laughs throughout – he
speculates that he's amusing the crowd one person at a time – and, as the
archivist suggests in the liner notes, it does seem that bad audiences
brought out the best in him, as he strives desperately to welcome them into
his dark flock. In particular, you can feel the discomfort in the room
early on as he skewers the voyeuristic spectacle of the Gulf War: "It was
pretty amazing, you gotta admit, watching a bomb fly down an air vent.
Pretty unbelievable. But couldn't that same technology feasibly be used to
shoot food at hungry people? Fly over Ethiopia… hey, there's a guy that
needs a banana! (insert amazing missile-launch sound effect here)"
But by
the time he gets around to tearing apart the War on Drugs the Bush Sr.-era
is cheering him for openly criticizing our government. The tracklist is a
mixture of already-released classics – a "Beelzebozo, Clown From Hell"
nearly identical to the one on Relentless – and interesting
digressions like
the bit on pornography toward the end. In short, everything we look for in
a live album, right?

Ryko has simultaneously released another collection, the surprisingly titled
Lovelaughterandtruth, a heavily edited cut-and-paste job of material
didn't make any of his first four albums. Oddly, though, there is a lot of
overlap with the Pittsburgh show, and they even begin and end identically.
The sudden cuts and difference in sound quality between the tracks are
distracting, and not nearly as much thought seems to have been put into the
flow of the album as on the older discs. Or maybe they're just running out
of usable material. Still, the repetition underscores the level of improv
integral to his work, and the little variations in bits I've already heard
four different versions of are fascinating. (Sound familiar?) There are
some gems, too: a priceless Hendrix impersonation, a great bit about kids
running loose on airplanes, and his definitive smoking routine brought to
the new settings of heaven and hell.

Not many really take advantage of it, but the stand-up occupies a uniquely
subversive role in today's society: he finds himself onstage every night in
front of a different group of people, all in a rare state of intellectual
vulnerability. Comedy-club audiences are there, obviously, because they
want to laugh. In order to get to the performer's punch line and the laughs
that presumably follow, they have to let down their defenses and follow him
wherever he leads. Each laugh the comedian gets reinforces to the audience
that they are safe in his hands, and they in turn grant him ever more
license to take them further and further out. Under Bill's guidance, crowds
all over the country found themselves nodding their heads in agreement with
political and cultural ideas they never would have even considered in
another setting just because the innocent-looking guy onstage had kept them
laughing all the way there. It's not just that it's funny because it's
true. Sometimes it can be true because it's funny. Laughter, properly
applied, can be a lubricant that helps unsuspecting audiences swallow
unpleasant realities they wouldn't open themselves up to under other
circumstances. That sounds to me like a good enough reason for you to jump,
however belatedly, onto the Bill Hicks bandwagon and help keep a steady
stream of angry psychedelic comedy albums headed towards America's record
stores. Think of the excitement that will course through your body a year
from now as you check the track listings on the newest set of Flying
Tour releases and mentally cross-reference them against your burgeoning
bootleg collection: "oh, wow, 'I Am the Hate Camel'! First one since
4/5/89! And he does the whole 'Sucking Satan's Pecker'' that he only teased
the night before!" This could be you. This should be you. Bow to

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