From The Desk Of Kelly Hogan: Bill Hicks

KellyHoganLogoNeko Case has called her pal Kelly Hogan “the Zelig of rock ‘n’ roll.” Her name appears in the credits for albums by Mavis Staples, the Mekons, Will Oldham, Matt Pond PA, Amy Ray, Giant Sand, Archer Prewitt, Alejandro Escovedo, Drive-By Truckers, Jakob Dylan, Tortoise and many others, Case included. Hogan’s fourth album has been a long time coming, in part because she’s been busy as a crucial part of Case’s band (anyone who’s seen Case live has witnessed Hogan’s amusing banter), in part because of the nature of the project. For I Like To Keep Myself In Pain (Anti-), Hogan sent letters to her songwriter friends, many of whom she’d sung with, asking them if they would send her a song, either one written specifically for her or one that “you think I could do right by,” as she said. That process started several years ago, and results yielded songs from a veritable who’s who: Vic Chesnutt, Stephin Merritt, Andrew Bird, Jon Langford, Janet Bean, M. Ward and others. Hogan will be guest editing all week. Read our recent feature on her.

Hogan: I’m gonna talk about someone whose art has meant so very much to me in the past 15 years.

One afternoon during a heatwave at SXSW in 1998, my pal Ted and I retreated into the cool dark of his apartment, with his pet snake and some cold beers. The curtains were closed, and a mattress was on the floor. Ted said, “I’m gonna show you someone you’re gonna like.” And he put on a video of Bill Hicks.

I jumped up off the bed and yelled, “That’s him! That’s him! It’s finally him! That’s the guy whose show I saw right after my friend Allen died!”

I had turned on my bedroom TV late one night in Atlanta in early March 1994, the week after my dear Allen had died alone in his car of an overdose. I had only expected the TV to provide noise and light and movement—something to distract me from what I knew was gonna be another sleepless night with my grief, with my broken heart and a belly full of knives. But, instead, on my TV I saw the last few minutes of a show that instantly riveted me—it was a guy with a mullet, wearing a duster and cowboy hat, pacing the stage like a lion, and talking about how life was “only a ride”—and that we are all free to choose love over fear, because … it’s only a ride.

Before I even knew what was happening, I burst into tears—like vomiting, like a thunderstorm—violent weeping, keening, eyes swollen, mucus dripping, chewing my blanket and moaning and rocking for what seemed like forever. It was such a great relief. I cried myself to sleep.

But not before I desperately scanned the rolling credits at the end of the show to try to find out who it was that I had been watching—but no luck. No name listed. Nothing.

Now once again, I’m gonna have to remind y’all that this was the Google-free time of pre-internet. A few months later, I do remember reading a piece in Spin (I think) about a comedian named Bill Hicks who had just passed away (almost on the same day as Allen), but the picture on the page was a silhouette in shadow, and I didn’t recognize him.

So when Ted rolled the video four years later on that hot afternoon, I was overjoyed! “His name is Bill Hicks! Cool! Does he live in Austin? Where is he playing? When can we go see him?” And then Ted had to break it to me that we couldn’t go see him. That Bill Hicks had been dead for four years. I was crushed. We spent that whole afternoon watching Hicks—almost eight hours’ worth—of comedy specials, bootlegs of early performances around Austin, and the show I had seen part of in 1994, the brilliant Revelations—it certainly had been for me at the time.

I’m not gonna say much more right now—y’all just need to stop wasting time and go get hipped to Hicks. More of a philosopher than a comedian, really. A preacher, almost. Of love. But not all pussy like that might sound. Bill’s fangs dripped blood when he bit into subjects like ignorant hillbillies, blind followers of any crowd or M.C. Hammer. Figurative ribbons of jizz arced like Silly String over the heads of the crowd when his gleeful randy Goat Boy was on parade. As he liked to say onstage after painting himself into a corner with a heady philosophical tirade, “Don’t worry, folks. The dick jokes are coming.”

Get the Hicks compendium Love All The People and keep it with you. I had it in my backpack when a plane I was in (returning from SXSW, actually) almost went down in a thunderstorm in 2006. And what was I saying to myself while gripping my serving tray as it became more and more apparent that we were indeed going down? While other folks around me began whimpering and crying out, suddenly and without consciously choosing to do so, I began to repeat out loud, mantra-like, over and over again, “It’s just a ride, it’s just a ride, it’s just a ride.” Thanks, Bill. I love you, too.

Video after the jump.

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