Nostalgia: Bill Hicks, the NME and me

‘Nostalgia – it’s delicate, but potent. Teddy told me that in Greek, “nostalgia” literally means “the pain from an old wound.” It’s a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone.’ Don Draper, ‘Mad Men’

You can experience nostalgia in the most unlikely places. Yesterday it was when Lou Reed’s ‘Satellite of Love’ came on the radio, a song my circle of friends listened to incessantly when we were 18 but I’ve hardly heard since. Like ‘Debris’ by the Faces, it’s a song can instantly take me back in time and space, 16 years and to the kitchen of my best friend Scott, when we all had curtain haircuts, smoked like chimneys and were terrifyingly sincere about everything all the time.

A couple of months ago the potent twinge in my heart came when I went to a screening of the new Bill Hicks documentary ‘American’.

When you go and see a film about Bill Hicks you probably expect to come out laughing or enraged or saddened, but I emerged wistful, contemplative and swamped by memories.

I hadn’t thought about Hicks a great deal since 1992, but suddenly it all came flooding back. Staying in to watch Hicks on ‘Clive Anderson Talks Back’ or being interviewed at the Montreal Comedy Festival as C4 surfed the wave of having the hippest comedy content on the block. Reading about Hicks in the NME on the bus to school, enthralled by this astonishing man who called himself a comedian but was sandwiched between features on the Lemonheads, Sonic Youth and Mudhoney and never looked out of place. You couldn’t do that with Jasper Carrot.

C4 comedy and the NME were the two key cultural influences for me at the time, so it’s little surprise that Hicks and his performances should have seemed so important, and also that they should be so easily forgotten, as what we most value in late adolescence is often the first thing that gets abandoned on the roadside during the long march to maturity.

I wrote an article exploring some of this in the context of British love for Hicks in the Independent on Sunday, but can’t help wondering the extent to which I am projecting my own memories of Hicks onto a wider canvas. 

Are these memories entirely personal and therefore largely irrelevent, or are there other people my age who place Hicks in the same C4/NME  bracket? In a sense, I don’t really want to know, because this is my nostalgia, not yours, but at the same, like everybody else, Hicks included (and why else did he love the UK so much?), I desire vindication, some confirmation that my nostalgia isn’t just a ‘twinge’, but something that has real cultural value beyond that. So come on people, vindicate me.

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One response to “Nostalgia: Bill Hicks, the NME and me

  1. Strange – to recount my nostalgia for a brief moment, this brings to mind a conversation I had with a mate back in the mid ’90’s after both Hicks and Kurt Cobain had shuffled off to meet their respective makers; obviously took place in a pub, but the consensus was that Hicks said far more about ‘our’ generation than Cobain ever did. We’d both worked for a small record / video distributor a couple of years earlier and had been involved in releasing one of his shows on video; a short, early televised appearance and a chronic cash-in that he probably wouldn’t have approved of.

    Have a couple of Hicks’ CD’s on my iPod and it’s interesting when a track crops up in shuffle mode; taken out of context, some of it does sound pretty dated (still can’t help but listen to it though), but an awful lot – his take on corporate America, government, the war on drugs and especially Iraq and the Middle East – is still pin-sharp to this day. Arguable as to whether that is a benchmark for cultural significance, I suppose, but being both relevant and funny 15 odd years down the line is something that most comedians of that era don’t get close to.

    Good Indie article too – Mrs. D vaguely knows Matt Horlock through a friend; she’s not seen him in a while, but he was talking about the film the last time they met.

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