Comedians have always influenced music in various ways, but no-one seems to have been sampled, remixed or simply been such an inspiration to various musicians like Bill Hicks – well, with the exception of Lenny Bruce, perhaps.
Maybe Hicks was just around at the right time. Anyway, Thursday this week marks fifteen years since Hicks' untimely death from pancreatic cancer. And here are ten artists/songs inspired in different ways by Hicks, Bruce and other comedians.
Let's start with the obvious. This album, released a couple of years after Hick's death, had a painting of him in the CD booklet with "Another Dead Hero" written next to it, and the nowadays rather rare early versions of the CD (with the trippy, Lenticular jewel case) have a shifting image of California, with the edited map being, of course, "Arizona Bay" as fantasised about by Hicks. Which brings us nicely to the title track, which is basically that same ideals put to a raging Tool soundtrack (and remains one of the band's best-ever songs). Needless to say, the band are still waiting for it. The following, and closing, track Third Eye takes Hicks' ideas of the Third Eye one step further, into a chaotic, sprawling prog epic.
Maim That Tune
Quite where Hicks comes into this near-ten minute track isn't immediately clear, when you first listen to this. A shuffling, lazy break forms the backbone of the track, with the odd intervention of guitar samples, but more importantly a flurry of cut-up adverts bombard all the spaces inbetween over the course of a few minutes. Which sets up nicely the use of a large segment of Hicks' Marketing & Advertising to close the track…
We Want Your Soul
Now & Them
Another electronic artist that drew heavily on Hicks (and again samples him in the track) is Freeland, with this rather more recent track that again satirises the idea of advertising. The wiki entry for the track intriguingly notes that Freeland refused use of the song in an advert. Had the advertisers in question not listened to the track first?
Yet more sampling of Hicks appears in this B-side by Pitchshifter, a close cousin of earlier track To Die Is Gain. All but an instrumental other than repeating of the title, this grinding, relentless track samples the fury of Hicks as he attempts to remind his audience of their freedom to think, despite what Governments are doing otherwise.
It's Just A Ride
Buy Now…Saved Later
Rather than simply sampling Hicks, OMS took a slightly different approach, by instead taking Hicks' ideas and writing a song around it. And with it taking a break lyrically from the heavy politicism of most of the rest of the band's output, into slightly more abstract themes, it's like a breath of fresh air – and a fantastic track to boot.
One of the more bizarre and unexpected references to Hicks, perhaps, came from this now barely-remembered Britpop band. This track was a non-album single released after their first album, and the title comes from the name of Hicks' "band" that did the incidental music on a couple of Bill Hicks albums. I've never been entirely sure whether there is anything more in the way of reference to Hicks, but it's worth mentioning at least for curiosity value.
No Cure for Cancer
A last mention for Hicks, in probably his most controversial "follower". For this album in particular, released while Hicks was still alive, allegations of plagarism have never gone away, and it certainly can be reasonably argued that Leary took much of his act and mannerisms from Hicks superior work. Leary may be funny, but he is hardly original.
Rodney King (Song for Lenny Bruce)
Moving on, Lenny Bruce has also had numerous mentions and been the inspiration for many, many songs. Just the one to mention here for reasons of space, and rather than some more obvious tracks, perhaps, I've gone for a classic indie track. The Boo Radleys around this time, on the album Giant Steps, were aiming high. The album nodded to John Coltrane in the title, the band name is from To Kill A Mockingbird, and the album itself is a heady mix of psychedelia, indie rock, dub, shoegazing and glorious pop songs, too – and if you only know the band from Wake Up! BOO!, you are missing out. And then there is this track – a bizarre, electronic-tinged, distorted-to-fuck melody that repeats one short refrain over and over, a nod to both the subjects in the title, perhaps.
Nothing To Do With Me
Sound – Dust
Chris Morris is a comedian/satirist who has got involved himself in making music in some respects, but I'm not going to cover that here. And I could have mentioned Alter der Ruine's extensive use of Morris samples in their awesomely good recent album Giants From Far Away, but instead, I'm going to go back in time a little to a Stereolab album from the first year of this decade. It's wierd, too, but then I find most Stereolab tracks odd. And not only the is the music odd in their usual way, but the lyrics are mainly taken from various Morris sketches…
Man On The Moon
Automatic For The People
Finally, probably the most joyous track here, about the most surreal of the comedians in recent decades, too – Andy Kaufman. Man On The Moon remains one of REM's best singles, and makes various affectionate references to Kaufman's life and work – and it was no surprise when the title (and the song itself) was used for the film biopic of Kaufman released about ten years ago.