Album Remarks & Appraisals:
Bill Hicks is remembered via The Essential Collection, a compilation of bits and sketches culled from across the comedic great's career. It's a 2CD/2DVD set that includes bonus downloadable material.
The set boasts a feature-length film (Ninja Bachelor Party) and over five hours of video footage in addition to the more than two discs worth of audio, but it's more than just a collection of "greatest hits". The Essential Collection also features multiple previously unheard pieces as well, like the "Please Do Not Disturb" sketch and the original song "Turn Your Mind Over To Your Heart" written/performed by Hicks available for download above. Grab them, The set is due via Rykodisc on 9/14. Look out for it.
"This four-disc set is a marvelous archive that honors the late comedian Bill Hicks who died in 1994 of pancreatic cancer at the much too early age of 32. Much of his comedy was rooted in his anger in reaction to the state of American culture and can be traced back to comics like Lenny Bruce and George Carlin. He challenged audiences with his strong Left-libertarianism views and his vulgar language, causing Hicks to describe himself as "Chomsky with dick jokes." He claimed to enjoy pornography and drugs, hate advertisers and Conservatives, and didn't find your kids special. Most importantly, he was as funny as he was outrageous.
The two CDs present previously released material from all seven of Hicks' comedy albums. For hardcore Hicks collectors, there are also 11 tracks from a San Ramon, CA show though no date of the performance is given. The pieces are edited together out of chronological order and while the flow and pacing work, I would have preferred to hear his work as it emerged over time. Some of the material is dated, as when Hicks rails against the movie Basic Instinct and the first President Bush, though the jokes are still humorous for those who lived through the early '90s. Other material appears to be timeless, as he deals with abortion, gays in the military, and Tonight Show host Jay Leno being a sellout.
The two DVDs contain material from his personal archives, most of which has never been released before. "Early Years 1981-'86" presents video from four appearances. The video is so bad on the Houston '81 date Hicks appears ghostlike as the backgrounds can be seen through him. There's a poolside interview with Hicks in 1988 discussing the Outlaw Comics, a group of Houston comedians that included Sam Kinison. Hicks plays the guitar and sings some of their story. "Austin Bootleg Series" is a collection of four club dates recorded by his brother Steve: November 1991, December 1992, and June and October 1993. While the video hasn't been released on DVD before, some of the material can be heard on the CDs Arizona Bay and Rant in E-Minor.
The material that has been seen before probably hasn't been seen by many people. "Early Years - TV Interview" is a two-minute Houston television news piece. "Outlaw Comics" is a performance from 1985 in Houston. The biggest offering is "Ninja Bachelor Party," a 30-minute video Hicks created with Kevin Booth (who provides an introduction) and David Johndrow. After ten years of working on it, they released the video to an Austin theater in 1991. Hicks plays a Ninja master who trains a young man so he can fight Dr. Death, also played by Hicks. The dialogue is dubbed in later. From the quality, it's something you'd expect to see on cable access. Certainly a rare treat for any Hicks fan, and there are some laughs over how silly the whole thing is, but "Essential Hicks"? That's debatable and I would lean towards "no."
The last element of the collection is Lo-Fi Troubadour, an album of original songs sung and performed on acoustic guitar by Hicks. It is available as downloadable MP3s. Rather than funny songs, it is a serious endeavor as Hicks demonstrates he had potential if he'd had the opportunity.
Even for fans who already have Bill Hicks' comedy albums, the rare video, coming in at over five hours, and the newly released audio definitely makes this an Essential Collection to your comedy library." -BlogCritics
"The legend of Bill Hicks. There it is. A legend. Ripped off by Denis Leary, feted by Radiohead and Tool, proclaimed by Rolling Stone, host of his own HBO specials and a semi-regular on Letterman in the 80s and early 90s. And yet when the name of Hicks is uttered in the mainstream, it is as if he operated in this cloudy underground inhabited by marginal funnymen who were not quite up to the Big Time. Colleagues such as Sam Kinison, Jerry Seinfeld, Gary Shandling and, yes Leary, went on to great riches and fame.
But only now is Hicks being lionized as a Lenny Bruce-ish figure who blazed trails in a world he understood a little too well. [although Your Flesh actuallycovered Hicks back in the 90s a short time after his death]
His world was a common sense stew in which a person's sexual orientation didn't impair his or her ability to be a military killing machine, kids on airplanes were (and are, for that matter) a bad idea and drugs were responsible for a lot of good things as well as bad.
That stew is presented with a completist's careful detail in the Essential Collection, which features two discs of prime Hicks from his previously released CDs and some unreleased stuff, plus two DVDs with five hours of interview footage and live video of him doing mostly the same material on the CDs in Houston an Austin, Texas, and Indianapolis between 1981 and 1993.
Also included is a download card that gives access to previously unreleased musical material, as well as a mercifully brief booklet that includes the standard "he was great" essays with contributions from Eric Bogosian and British talk show host Clive Anderson.
For the uninitiated (and they do exist more than they should), Bill Hicks was a Houston-bred comic who wanted to be a veterinarian until he caught the comedy fever watching Carson in the 70s. But Carson's benign, smart-assedness hardly seems the catalyst for what would become Hicks' stubbornly acidic, intelligent humor.
He performed as a teenager in area clubs, moving on to the big leagues of Los Angeles, failed, and returned to Houston.
A 1984 appearance on Letterman brought him into the comic game in earnest, though, and was the catalyst for what we have here in Essential; hours of Hicks material riffing on handgun deaths, smoking, the Warren Commission, pornography and Elvis (the latter was blatantly appropriated by Leary and can be found on the No Cure for Cancer release). His imitation of Jay Leno is killer, as is his wish that he will be watching when Leno "blows his Dorito-shilling head off."
It's not as if Hicks were some Van Gough, as some of his hyperbolic fans might say. True, his due didn't come until some years after his early death of pancreatic cancer at the age of 32.
Hicks was not a one-line nor a punch line comic. He had the ability to take a subject and keep it moving through various forms in a deceptively high-minded rap.
"Here's the deal; I editorialize for 45 minutes, the last 15 minutes we pull our parachutes and float down to dick joke island together," Hicks says at one point, jokingly demurring to the lowest common denominator.
One thing missing here is a crucial footnote to Hicks professional life; the lost 1993 Letterman episode, available on YouTube. It was taped in October 1993, four months after Hicks learned he had cancer and was likely to die sooner rather than later. For the 12th time in his career, Hicks taped a Letterman show in the early evening, only to find later that the bit had been cut from the show because censors felt it was too controversial. In 2009, Letterman had Hicks mother, Mary, on the show and featured the excised appearance. Of course it was terrific, with Hicks beating on Billy Ray Cyrus ("jar head, no talent cracker idiot" with a "fruity little pony tail"), riffing on women's relying on a man's dance move to indicate his fucking skills ("if a guy is on a dance floor really getting into it and enjoying himself, expressing himself, what does it matter how he is in bed? He's gay!") and pro-lifers ("If you're so pro-life, do me a favor and lock arms and block cemeteries")
Some of these segments are on Essential because it's important stuff. A TV audience was denied the material in the early 90s, but dying has a way of greasing the skids. It would have been nice to see a deal struck to put that Letterman stuff, including the mom interview, on one of the DVDs.
The late tribute to Hicks in a wash of documentaries, articles and unreleased material is itself a tribute to the love of his family which has given of the Hicks treasure trove in a munificent fashion with no apparent greed, an affliction that too often mars the legacy of great artists. Not so the Hicks family, who sees that great art is its own reward, and money has little value in that world." -YourFleshMag
Photographer: Graham Haber .
Much more than a collection of greatest hits, Ryko's posthumous Bill Hicks set The Essential Collection crams tons of material into its two-CD/two-DVD box, which also holds a download code giving access to a digital version of the comedian's long-lost musical effort Lo-Fi Troubadour. The two CDs feature well-chosen selections from Hicks' official albums along with quite a few bits from an unreleased show in San Ramon that was found in the late comedian's archives. The DVDs are very desirable for fans as they collect a set of early-`80s shows from Houston and a set of early-`90s shows from Austin, plus Hicks' low-, low-, low-budget feature film Ninja Bachelor Party, which has no ninjas, just cough syrup addicts. If the two audio discs were released on their own, this would be a perfect primer, but the avalanche of extras is overwhelming and only loyal fans will be able to devour them all. That said, they will be devoured and with the Hicks family's full involvement plus Ryko's solid commitment finding the best source material, the set ends up a Hicks lover's dream. Check a couple of his regular albums before coming here, but feel free to open this treasure chest once you realize the man's claim to be "Chomsky with dick jokes" was spot-on. ~ David Jeffries