Hicks was worshiped in England for the idealistic rants that left him feared, mistrusted and ignored in America, a country that he loved even as it infuriated him. Shortly before his death in 1994 of pancreatic cancer, Hicks was completely edited out of an episode of the Late Show with David Letterman, for hitting too many "hot topics," an error that Letterman has confessed to and apologized for in recent years.
Hicks was so ahead of his time that his work seems to come back and seem even more eerily prescient with each passing day. During the recent late night wars, many were astounded by how relevant this Hicks piece on Jay Leno was even though it was performed over 17 years ago.
The other day I saw an item that brought Hicks to mind, so much that it nearly seems apocalyptically hilarious, as if the Satan that Bill accused many pop artists of selling out to was openly laughing at his grave site: Miley Cyrus has been covering Nirvana's "Smells like Teen Spirit."
If you think this would have driven Kurt Cobain nuts, imagine what Hicks would have thought.
Hicks openly decried the rise of boy bands and female teen idols like Debbie Gibson and Tiffany. It drove him insane that the dangerous rock 'n' roll he loved was being co-opted by young girls singing in malls.
Kurt Cobain, whose suicide soon followed Hicks' death, was one of the last remaining vestiges of the danger and truth that Hicks loved. It was something that perhaps Cobain bought into way too much. Hicks, in one famous routine, ends by screaming "I want my Rock Stars dead!" and the lyrics to "Teen Spirit" seem to decry the exact type of audience that would mindlessly eat up Miley's cover version.
Hicks hated the marketing and corporatization of music artists. Miley's ascension through the Disney ranks would have driven Hicks batty. Here's one of Hick's most famous lines:
"By the way if anyone here is in advertising or marketing... kill yourself.
"No, no, no it's just a little thought. I'm just trying to plant seeds. Maybe one day, they'll take root - I don't know. You try, you do what you can. Kill yourself.
"Seriously though, if you are, do.
"Aaah, no really, there's no rationalization for what you do and you are Satan's little helpers."
Believe it or not the first joke that Hicks told on his excised Letterman performance was his pitch for a network television show called Let's Hunt Down and Kill Billy Ray Cyrus! Miley was born right around the time Hicks was out decrying her father as the pinnacle of talentless capitalistic whoring, and yet now close to 20 years later we can see that his fears were tiny compared to what we would eventually witness.
In the end, the truth is that Bill knew that he could never win. Nothing stays dangerous forever. There is no art threatening enough that it can't be adopted and turned into nostalgia by the swarming sell-outs of the entertainment world.
Want some proof? Remember how scary rap music was in its day. Imagine Hicks' horror at seeing the following routine from NBC's Late Night with Jimmy Fallon (a funny but non-threatening comedian) and boy band mega-star and actor Justin Timberlake do a medley of old school rap hits.
"Here we are now. Entertain Us! I feel stupid and contagious!" Indeed.