Rant In E Minor

Bill Hicks

Rykodisc Records, 1997

REVIEW BY: Gordon T. Gekko

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 07/21/1998

Bill Hicks was born and raised in Houston, graduating from the same high school as me recently enough that we may have had some of the same teachers, and I never knew this fact until last week. I knew who Bill Hicks was, in passing, (no pun intended), through obituraried when he died, and through various stand-up clips when, during lonely late-night channel surfing of yore, I would come upon the last refuge of lowbrow entertainment: Comedy Central. Some of you may not know this, but long before the town of South Park, Comedy Central, (once known as the Comedy Channel, once known as Ha!), basically showed two minute stand-up routines with little information sidebars, in following with music videos. Bill Hicks was a staple of the network. That's probably the only way you'd know who Bill Hicks, perhaps the only truely controversial comedian of the 90s, and perhaps the greatest.

My high school never made mention of his attendance, instead dwelling on a certain young redneck B-list country star. But he was amazing. Last Wednesday, in one of those late night conversations with a girl that always seems to involve 5 packs of cigarettes and a wet patio, his name came up. I had no idea anyone else knew who he was, and I sure as hell never knew he went to my old school. I was pissed at this fact, and scurried off the next day to pick up Rant In E-Minor, his final CD.

A 74-minute, 36 track CD chronicling three shows during his last week of performing in late 1993, Rant is not a belt-busting, rolling in you seat, laugh-a-minite riot, nor is it meant to be. Hicks walks onto the stage before a feverent rant on 'fevered egos', announcing, "Well, folks, this is kind of a sentimental evening for me, because this," he chokes up, "is my final live performance I'll ever do, ever." This is a man that knows he is dying, and I can only guess now what the audience thought he meant by that weighty remark.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Don't take that as an indication that Rant In E Minor is a somber affair. Hicks is as funny, volatile, and insightful as ever, with a verbal pallete, and a deeply human philosophy that makes Dennis Miller look like Carrot Top. He tackles controversial issues without remorse, from abortion, ("if they're so pro-life, why don't they picket cemeteries"), to David Koresh, ("let's see: a frustrated rock musician, with a messianic complex, armed to the teeth, and ready to f--- anything that moves. I hate to tell you this, but that sounds like every one of my friends in Austin.").

One thing about this CD which may annoy those more accustomed to conventional comedy records is that, in many respects, it is edited like an Oliver Stone movie, drifting from monologue to rant to flat-out "dick jokes" through segues of music, performed either by Hicks himself, or local Austin band, Marblehead Johnson. I enjoyed this, and recomend listening to the CD in a dark room, preferably with a lit cigarette, even if you don't smoke it, just for the ambience.

If this CD had been made into a movie, it would defintely be "NC-17". Bill Hicks isn't as directly profane as, say, Martin Lawrence, or Andrew "Dice" Clay, but he does something a lot more dangerous. He can't be written off as just profane, just appealing to lowest common denominator, or just anything. He's just not that easily definable. He gets under the skin by berrading the senses, and making you question everything you believe in. He's more than a comedian. Bill Hicks is an artist.

Three months after the recording of this album, Bill Hicks died of cancer at the age of 32. Although he really only gained popularity in the last four years of his life, there's a little Bill Hicks in every comedian starting out today. Yet he was much more than that.

This is years ahead on any comedy album I've ever heard. Perhaps the greatest danger here is that it will show just how dated such performers as Adam Sandler, and, God help me, Dennis Leary really are. A simultaneous venture into both human comedy and inhuman tragedy, with a one-liner surface that really hits much, much deeper. You may not find yourself laughing at Rant In E-Minor, but after all is said and done, you'll feel something deep inside you loving every minute of this album, under the constant suspicion that your stereo is going to be struck by lightning. No, you may not laugh, but you're almost guaranteed to be smiling throughout Rant. It's more than just another live comedy album, it's a man looking back on the world from a perspective that none of us knows. This makes it a work of art.

Rating: A

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© 1998 Gordon T. Gekko and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Rykodisc Records, and is used for informational purposes only.