[MUSIC] [AUDIO] Emiliana Torrini – At Least It Was

I thought I saw you on the train
I hid behind some men
I had never seen you look so good
I’m glad you’re doing well

I went out for a walk today
To think of things unsaid
Of course I found I’d said too much
So I laid all that to rest

And when the day falls
I guess it was love
And when the day falls
At least it was

You thought of the name to call me
I guess that’s how it goes
I know a few with the same name
Yes, I’m sad I’m one of those

Ungraceful as I am in loving
And leaving I’m the same
It’s way too late to say I’m sorry
But I’ll say it anyway

And when the day forwards
I guess it was love
And when the day forwards
At least it was

[AUDIO] DAVID FRANCEY – ‘LUCKY MAN’: CANADA’S WOODIE GUTHRIE?


LUCKY MAN 

I saw you first in the smoky café light
When I came in from the frozen winter night
And I saw a face that put the stars to shame
I loved you ‘fore I ever knew your name
And my heart sank, lost without a trace
And it’s a lucky man that gets to kiss your face
I’ve seen you shine in the summer, spring and fall
But it’s winter when I love you best of all
And I’ve seen you in the spotlight hard and bright
And I’ve seen you in the shadows of the night
When I see you coming I can feel my cold 
heart race
And it’s a lucky man that gets to kiss your face
And I heard you singing to that empty hall
And I heard the joy that echoed off the walls
And I realized when all is said and done 
That youth is never wasted on the young
And I don’t believe the silence of this place
And it’s a lucky man that gets to kiss your face

Words and Music: ©David Francey

______________

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Iranians still facing death by stoning despite ‘reprieve’

Fifteen could still die in horrific sentence after being allegedly convicted of adultery

Saeed Kamali Dehghan and Ian Black

Thursday 8 July 2010

An Iranian woman at a protest in Brussels highlights the barbarity of death by stoning, in which women are buried up to their necks in front of a crowd of volunteers and killed in a hail of rocks. Photograph: Thierry Roge/Reuters

Twelve Iranian women and three men are on death row awaiting execution by stoning despite an apparent last-minute reprieve for a mother of two who had been facing the horrific sentence after being convicted of adultery.

Human rights groups and activists welcomed a wave of international publicity and protests over the case of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, 43, who was awaiting execution in the western Iranian town of Tabriz after what her lawyer called an unjust trial and a sham conviction.

The Iranian embassy in London said in a statement that “according to information from the relevant judicial authorities” the stoning would not go ahead. If confirmed it would be an victory for a brief but intense campaign that was first highlighted by the Guardian last week.

However, there are still concerns over her plight. In a previous case a prisoner who was to be stoned was instead executed by hanging.

Speaking to this paper Mohammadi Ashtiani’s son Sajad, said his mother – whom he had spoken to by telephone – believed the pressure on her behalf might succeed, although he had not heard of any reprieve. “The campaign for her release is going very well,” he said. “They gave me permission to talk to her and she was very thankful to the people of the world for supporting her. I’m very happy that so many have joined me in protesting this injustice. It was the first time in years I heard any hope in my mother’s voice.”

Without a reprieve, Mohammadi Ashtiani would have been buried up to her neck before being pelted with stones large enough to cause pain but not so large as to kill her immediately. Iran routinely censors information about executions, but all the 12 other women on death row have been convicted on adultery charges, as has one of the three men.

Azar Bagheri, 19, was arrested when she was 15 after her husband accused her of seeing another man. She has been subjected to mock stonings along with partial burial in the ground.

Ashraf Kalhori, 40, also sentenced to death by stoning, was forced to confess to a relationship with her husband’s murderer, and has been in Tehran’s Evin prison for seven years, according to her lawyer.

In one especially gruesome case, Maryam Ayubi, another alleged adulteress, fainted while being ritually washed before her execution in 2001 and was stoned to death while strapped to a stretcher. Outrage over that led to the marking of 11 July as the annual international day against stoning – which will see demonstrations at the Iran embassy in London.

Iranian activists say the tragedy is that the families of those sentenced to death often ignore them. “It doesn’t matter to them whether the charge of adultery is true or not because the honour of the family is tainted so they forget the poor creature awaiting death,” said Soheila Vahdati, who is now based in California.

“It’s not possible to talk about these prisoners in public because their families don’t want their names mentioned or their pictures published. Their families don’t want to defend them neither. Mohammadi Ashtiani’s case is amazing because her children are campaigning for her courageously and said that their mother is innocent.”

Shammameh Ghorbani, who is awaiting stoning, begged not to be freed from prison because she feared being killed by her family.

Shadi Sadr, an acclaimed Iranian lawyer, said it was hard to know exactly how many people were still facing stoning. Last year the Iranian parliament passed a law banning it, but the powerful Guardian Council has been silent on the issue.

“Many women are kept in prison because the government is very scared of the public attention,” Sadr said. “One of my clients has been there for eight years and her family have abandoned her.”

Publicity helps. “The only reason the Iranian government has not carried out stoning sentences on all these people is that it is afraid of Iranian public reaction and international attention,” said Sadr.

The embassy said in its statement: “This kind of punishment has rarely been implemented in Iran” and condemned media reports about the case as unreliable.

The 12 women on death row also include Mariam Ghorbanzadeh, 25, Iran Iskandari, 31, Kheyrieh Valania, 42, Sarimeh Sajadi, 30, Kobra Babaei, and Afsaneh R.

Mohammadi Ashtiani was convicted of having “illicit relationships” with two men. But her lawyer, Mohammad Mostafaie, insisted there was no evidence to justify an adultery conviction. As a member of Iran’s Azerbaijani minority, her inability to understand the language of the court also prevented a fair trial, he said.

William Hague, the foreign secretary, added his voice to the outrage today, condemning a “medieval punishment that has no place in the modern world”. He added: “The continued use of such a punishment in Iran demonstrates a blatant disregard for international human rights commitments … as well as the interests of its people. I call on Iran to put an immediate stay to the execution of Ms Mohammadi Ashtiani on the charge of adultery and review the process by which she was tried, and her sentence.

“She has already faced the disgraceful punishment of 99 lashes for adultery; her execution would disgust and appal the watching world.”

Actors Emma Thompson, Colin Firth, Juliette Binoche and playwright Sir David Hare have backed the appeal to halt the stoning. John Bercow, the Commons speaker, made a rare statement condemning a “horrific” matter and a “grotesque abuse” of human rights.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a party, requires states that have not yet abolished the death penalty to restrict its use to the “most serious crimes”. The United Nations general assembly has called on all states to introduce a moratorium on the use of the death penalty.

[VIDEO] RSA ANIMATE: we are Homo Empathicus — author, political adviser and social and ethical prophet Jeremy Rifkin investigates the evolution of empathy and the profound ways that it has shaped our development and our society.

This lecture was given at the Royal Society of Arts in London (The RSA) and was commissioned by them as part of their “RSAnimation” series of videos.

“Your sense of being a separate entity from the rest of the universe is just an illusion. You were born from the fundamental laws of the universe, time, space, particles, atoms, molecules and cells. You are nothing more or nothing less than the universe itself. Your brain is merely observing and unfolding the universe using your physical body as the vantage point. Think of yourself as nothing more than a complex subprogram within the game “Universe 1.0″.”

–Anon from Helsinki

Jeremy Rifkin

Author of ‘The Empathic Civilization: The Race to Global Consciousness in a World in Crisis

January 11, 2010

‘The Empathic Civilization’: Rethinking Human Nature in the Biosphere Era

Two spectacular failures, separated by only 18 months, marked the end of the modern era. In July 2008, the price of oil on world markets peaked at $147/ barrel, inflation soared, the price of everything from food to gasoline skyrocketed, and the global economic engine shut off. Growing demand in the developed nations, as well as in China, India, and other emerging economies, for diminishing fossil fuels precipitated the crisis. Purchasing power plummeted and the global economy collapsed. That was the earthquake that tore asunder the industrial age built on and propelled by fossil fuels. The failure of the financial markets two months later was merely the aftershock. The fossil fuel energies that make up the industrial way of life are sunsetting and the industrial infrastructure is now on life support.

In December 2009, world leaders from 192 countries assembled in Copenhagen to address the question of how to handle the accumulated entropy bill of the fossil fuel based industrial revolution-the spent C0₂ that is heating up the planet and careening the earth into a catastrophic shift in climate. After years of preparation, the negotiations broke down and world leaders were unable to reach a formal accord.

Neither the world’s political or business leaders anticipated the economic debacle of July 2008, nor were they able to cobble together a sufficient plan for economic recovery in the months since. They were equally inept at addressing the issue of climate change, despite the fact that the scientific community warns that is poses the greatest threat to our species in its history, that we are running out of time, and that we may even be facing the prospect of our own extinction.

The problem runs deeper than the issue of finding new ways to regulate the market or imposing legally binding global green house gas emission reduction targets. The real crisis lies in the set of assumptions about human nature that governs the behavior of world leaders–assumptions that were spawned during the Enlightenment more than 200 years ago at the dawn of the modern market economy and the emergence of the nation state era.

The Enlightenment thinkers–John Locke, Adam Smith, Marquis de Condorcet et. al.–took umbrage with the Medieval Christian world view that saw human nature as fallen and depraved and that looked to salvation in the next world through God’s grace. They preferred to cast their lot with the idea that human beings’ essential nature is rational, detached, autonomous, acquisitive and utilitarian and argued that individual salvation lies in unlimited material progress here on Earth.

The Enlightenment notions about human nature were reflected in the newly minted nation-state whose raison d’être was to protect private property relations and stimulate market forces as well as act as a surrogate of the collective self-interest of the citizenry in the international arena. Like individuals, nation-states were considered to be autonomous agents embroiled in a relentless battle with other sovereign nations in the pursuit of material gains.

It was these very assumptions that provided the philosophical underpinnings for a geopolitical frame of reference that accompanied the first and second industrial revolutions in the 19th and 20th centuries. These beliefs about human nature came to the fore in the aftermath of the global economic meltdown and in the boisterous and acrimonious confrontations in the meeting rooms in Copenhagen, with potentially disastrous consequences for the future of humanity and the planet.

If human nature is as the Enlightenment philosophers claimed, then we are likely doomed. It is impossible to imagine how we might create a sustainable global economy and restore the biosphere to health if each and every one of us is, at the core of our biology, an autonomous agent and a self-centered and materialistic being.

Recent discoveries in brain science and child development, however, are forcing us to rethink these long-held shibboleths about human nature. Biologists and cognitive neuroscientists are discovering mirror-neurons–the so-called empathy neurons–that allow human beings and other species to feel and experience another’s situation as if it were one’s own. We are, it appears, the most social of animals and seek intimate participation and companionship with our fellows.

Social scientists, in turn, are beginning to reexamine human history from an empathic lens and, in the process, discovering previously hidden strands of the human narrative which suggests that human evolution is measured not only by the expansion of power over nature, but also by the intensification and extension of empathy to more diverse others across broader temporal and spatial domains. The growing scientific evidence that we are a fundamentally empathic species has profound and far-reaching consequences for society, and may well determine our fate as a species.

What is required now is nothing less than a leap to global empathic consciousness and in less than a generation if we are to resurrect the global economy and revitalize the biosphere. The question becomes this: what is the mechanism that allows empathic sensitivity to mature and consciousness to expand through history?

The pivotal turning points in human consciousness occur when new energy regimes converge with new communications revolutions, creating new economic eras. The new communications revolutions become the command and control mechanisms for structuring, organizing and managing more complex civilizations that the new energy regimes make possible. For example, in the early modern age, print communication became the means to organize and manage the technologies, organizations, and infrastructure of the coal, steam, and rail revolution. It would have been impossible to administer the first industrial revolution using script and codex.

Communication revolutions not only manage new, more complex energy regimes, but also change human consciousness in the process. Forager/hunter societies relied on oral communications and their consciousness was mythologically constructed. The great hydraulic agricultural civilizations were, for the most part, organized around script communication and steeped in theological consciousness. The first industrial revolution of the 19th century was managed by print communication and ushered in ideological consciousness. Electronic communication became the command and control mechanism for arranging the second industrial revolution in the 20th century and spawned psychological consciousness.

Each more sophisticated communication revolution brings together more diverse people in increasingly more expansive and varied social networks. Oral communication has only limited temporal and spatial reach while script, print and electronic communications each extend the range and depth of human social interaction.

By extending the central nervous system of each individual and the society as a whole, communication revolutions provide an evermore inclusive playing field for empathy to mature and consciousness to expand. For example, during the period of the great hydraulic agricultural civilizations characterized by script and theological consciousness, empathic sensitivity broadened from tribal blood ties to associational ties based on common religious affiliation. Jews came to empathize with Jews, Christians with Christians, Muslims with Muslims, etc. In the first industrial revolution characterized by print and ideological consciousness, empathic sensibility extended to national borders, with Americans empathizing with Americans, Germans with Germans, Japanese with Japanese and so on. In the second industrial revolution, characterized by electronic communication and psychological consciousness, individuals began to identify with like-minded others.

Today, we are on the cusp of another historic convergence of energy and communication–a third industrial revolution–that could extend empathic sensibility to the biosphere itself and all of life on Earth. The distributed Internet revolution is coming together with distributed renewable energies, making possible a sustainable, post-carbon economy that is both globally connected and locally managed.

In the 21st century, hundreds of millions–and eventually billions–of human beings will transform their buildings into power plants to harvest renewable energies on site, store those energies in the form of hydrogen and share electricity, peer-to-peer, across local, regional, national and continental inter-grids that act much like the Internet. The open source sharing of energy, like open source sharing of information, will give rise to collaborative energy spaces–not unlike the collaborative social spaces that currently exist on the Internet.

When every family and business comes to take responsibility for its own small swath of the biosphere by harnessing renewable energy and sharing it with millions of others on smart power grids that stretch across continents, we become intimately interconnected at the most basic level of earthly existence by jointly stewarding the energy that bathes the planet and sustains all of life.

The new distributed communication revolution not only organizes distributed renewable energies, but also changes human consciousness. The information communication technologies (ICT) revolution is quickly extending the central nervous system of billions of human beings and connecting the human race across time and space, allowing empathy to flourish on a global scale, for the first time in history.

Whether in fact we will begin to empathize as a species will depend on how we use the new distributed communication medium. While distributed communications technologies-and, soon, distributed renewable energies – are connecting the human race, what is so shocking is that no one has offered much of a reason as to why we ought to be connected. We talk breathlessly about access and inclusion in a global communications network but speak little of exactly why we want to communicate with one another on such a planetary scale. What’s sorely missing is an overarching reason that billions of human beings should be increasingly connected. Toward what end? The only feeble explanations thus far offered are to share information, be entertained, advance commercial exchange and speed the globalization of the economy. All the above, while relevant, nonetheless seem insufficient to justify why nearly seven billion human beings should be connected and mutually embedded in a globalized society. The idea of even billion individual connections, absent any overall unifying purpose, seems a colossal waste of human energy. More important, making global connections without any real transcendent purpose risks a narrowing rather than an expanding of human consciousness. But what if our distributed global communication networks were put to the task of helping us re-participate in deep communion with the common biosphere that sustains all of our lives?

The biosphere is the narrow band that extends some forty miles from the ocean floor to outer space where living creatures and the Earth’s geochemical processes interact to sustain each other. We are learning that the biosphere functions like an indivisible organism. It is the continuous symbiotic relationships between every living creature and between living creatures and the geochemical processes that ensure the survival of the planetary organism and the individual species that live within its biospheric envelope. If every human life, the species as a whole, and all other life-forms are entwined with one another and with the geochemistry of the planet in a rich and complex choreography that sustains life itself, then we are all dependent on and responsible for the health of the whole organism. Carrying out that responsibility means living out our individual lives in our neighborhoods and communities in ways that promote the general well-being of the larger biosphere within which we dwell. The Third Industrial Revolution offers just such an opportunity.

If we can harness our empathic sensibility to establish a new global ethic that recognizes and acts to harmonize the many relationships that make up the life-sustaining forces of the planet, we will have moved beyond the detached, self-interested and utilitarian philosophical assumptions that accompanied national markets and nation state governance and into a new era of biosphere consciousness. We leave the old world of geopolitics behind and enter into a new world of biosphere politics, with new forms of governance emerging to accompany our new biosphere awareness.

The Third Industrial Revolution and the new era of distributed capitalism allow us to sculpt a new approach to globalization, this time emphasizing continentalization from the bottom up. Because renewable energies are more or less equally distributed around the world, every region is potentially amply endowed with the power it needs to be relatively self-sufficient and sustainable in its lifestyle, while at the same time interconnected via smart grids to other regions across countries and continents.

When every community is locally empowered, both figuratively and literally, it can engage directly in regional, transnational, continental, and limited global trade without the severe restrictions that are imposed by the geopolitics that oversee elite fossil fuels and uranium energy distribution.

Continentalization is already bringing with it a new form of governance. The nation-state, which grew up alongside the First and Second Industrial Revolutions, and provided the regulatory mechanism for managing an energy regime whose reach was the geosphere, is ill suited for a Third Industrial Revolution whose domain is the biosphere. Distributed renewable energies generated locally and regionally and shared openly–peer to peer–across vast contiguous land masses connected by intelligent utility networks and smart logistics and supply chains favor a seamless network of governing institutions that span entire continents.

The European Union is the first continental governing institution of the Third Industrial Revolution era. The EU is already beginning to put in place the infrastructure for a European-wide energy regime, along with the codes, regulations, and standards to effectively operate a seamless transport, communications, and energy grid that will stretch from the Irish Sea to the doorsteps of Russia by midcentury. Asian, African, and Latin American continental political unions are also in the making and will likely be the premier governing institutions on their respective continents by 2050.

In this new era of distributed energy, governing institutions will more resemble the workings of the ecosystems they manage. Just as habitats function within ecosystems, and ecosystems within the biosphere in a web of interrelationships, governing institutions will similarly function in a collaborative network of relationships with localities, regions, and nations all embedded within the continent as a whole. This new complex political organism operates like the biosphere it attends, synergistically and reciprocally. This is biosphere politics.

The new biosphere politics transcends traditional right/left distinctions so characteristic of the geopolitics of the modern market economy and nation-state era. The new divide is generational and contrasts the traditional top-down model of structuring family life, education, commerce, and governance with a younger generation whose thinking is more relational and distributed, whose nature is more collaborative and cosmopolitan, and whose work and social spaces favor open-source commons. For the Internet generation, “quality of life” becomes as important as individual opportunity in fashioning a new dream for the 21st century.

The transition to biosphere consciousness has already begun. All over the world, a younger generation is beginning to realize that one’s daily consumption of energy and other resources ultimately affects the lives of every other human being and every other creature that inhabits the Earth.

The Empathic Civilization is emerging. A younger generation is fast extending its empathic embrace beyond religious affiliations and national identification to include the whole of humanity and the vast project of life that envelops the Earth. But our rush to universal empathic connectivity is running up against a rapidly accelerating entropic juggernaut in the form of climate change. Can we reach biosphere consciousness and global empathy in time to avert planetary collapse?

This blog post has been adapted from Jeremy Rifkin’s new book ‘The Empathic Civilization: The Race to Global Consciousness in a World in Crisis’ (Tarcher/Penguin; January 2010)

Jeremy Rifkin (born 1945Denver, Colorado), founder and president of the Foundation On Economic Trends, is an American economist, writer, public speaker and activist. Rifkin’s work explores the impact of scientific and technological changes on the economy, the workforce, society, and the environment.

Jeremy Rifkin was born in Denver, Colorado in 1945, to Vivette Ravel Rifkin and Milton Rifkin, a plastic-bag manufacturer. He grew up on the southwest side of Chicago.

He earned a BS in economics at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, graduating in 1967. He was a self-described, “party animal”, and also class president. He had an epiphany when one day in 1966 he walked past a group of students picketing the administration building and was amazed to see, as he recalls, that “my frat friends were beating the living daylights out of them. I got very upset.” He organized a freedom-of-speech rally the next day. From then on, Rifkin quickly became an active member of the peace movement.

He went on to obtain his masters degree in international affairs at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in 1969.

Rifkin pursued anti-war activities at Fletcher, and avoided the Vietnam War by joining VISTA, although he jokingly claimed that he instead “saw action” as an unpaid tutor in the Brooklyn and East Harlem ghetto neighborhoods of New York City.

In 1977, with Ted Howard, he founded the Foundation on Economic Trends. He works out of an office in Bethesda, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, D.C.[1]

Since 1994, Rifkin has been a senior lecturer at The Wharton School’s executive education program at the University of Pennsylvania, where he instructs CEOs and senior corporate management from around the world on new trends in science and technology.[2]

He is married to Carol Grunewald.

Sex with strangers and other tales from Sook-Yin Lee

Globe and Mail 

Sook-Yin Lee: Her movie found its roots in her adolescence, when she found a community of fellow artists.

Guy Dixon

Tuesday, Jun. 22, 2010

There’s a secret to understanding Sook-Yin Lee.

She actually cares what other people think of her. A lot.

This might come as a surprise to anyone who saw her masturbate in the film Shortbus. Or appear naked in the short film she directed and starred in for Toronto Stories. Or those who listen to her unconventional CBC Radio show Definitely Not the Opera. Or follow her presence on the highly uncommercial fringe of indie rock. Her new film Year of the Carnivore, however, is the first feature film she’s directed, and that makes it personal.

The film was inspired by Lee’s teenage years in and around Vancouver’s Chinatown and Strathcona neighbourhoods, when she was a socially awkward young woman trying to impress a young guitarist by becoming more sexually experienced. “There are people who are going to embrace this movie, and there are people who are going to deride this film. And it profoundly affects me!” Lee says, sitting on the grass outside the CBC building in Toronto on a warm afternoon.

“It profoundly affects me,” she repeats, “and I wish it did not. I wish I could just go, ‘That is just their interpretation,’ and not feel hemmed in by any definition stated by anyone else. And also let [my own definition] of myself move. Do you know what I mean?”

Some artists pretend they don’t care about labels attached to their public personae, or about turning themselves into a brand. Lee cringes at the idea.

“It sucks to be Ronald McDonald! I’d hate to be, like, this walking brand, ‘Hey, I’m Sook-Yin Lee!,” she says, holding up her arms like a marionette and shouting in a mock-obnoxious voice.

Lee began fighting limitations and being pigeonholed at 15, when she left home and the confines of suburban life in North Vancouver’s Lynn Valley.

“It was a very exciting time. I broke out of a very, in some ways, traditional family. I hung out at the mall. I watched a lot of television. And suddenly in the middle of my parents’ really messy break-up, I jettisoned out and found freedom,” she recalls. “And it was so exciting. It coincided with my discovery of punk rock and existential writing. The only punk guy in my entire suburb: We became friends, and he introduced me to all these great bands and stuff.

“Then I found myself an orphan with a lot of freedom. I was a very socially awkward teenager, unable to speak verbally and very shy. I found myself always expressing myself through painting and art. These were very meaningful and cathartic expressions for me. And suddenly I found myself in the company of a number of other artists.”

It’s that period which was the genesis for her film Year of the Carnivore. When preparing the actors for their roles in Shortbus, director John Cameron Mitchell asked the cast to make personal videos about love. Lee wanted to explore the story she told in her video about her cluelessness back then about love and her body – which she tried to address by having sex with strangers in a number of befuddled ways.

Lee embellished the script with many fictional details, often for comedic effect, but the essence of the young woman’s confusion resembles what Lee went through. “I think with [the film’s lead character], it was more like looking at a relationship with a fella, and being in a quandary about what it is to be a woman. I still feel that. I don’t quite comfortably fit into what seems like the culturally prescribed gender roles. And sometimes when I’m faced by a majority of people who fit [in] better, I feel, like, ‘What’s wrong with me?’”

She’s currently working on other scripts about relationships and identity. “I am challenging this notion of what makes me,” she says. “This attempt to define self seems so slippery.”

[VIDEO] BILL HICKS: The Tupac Shakur of Comedy

William Melvin “Bill” Hicks (December 16, 1961 – February 26, 1994) was an American stand-up comedian and satirist. His humor challenged mainstream beliefs, aiming to “enlighten people to think for themselves.”[1] Hicks used a ribald approach to express his material, describing himself as “Chomsky with dick jokes.”[1] His jokes included general discussions about society, religion, politics, philosophy and personal issues. Hicks’ material was often deliberately controversial and steeped in dark comedy. In both his stand-up performances, and during interviews, he often criticized consumerism, superficiality, mediocrity and banality within the media and popular culture, describing them as oppressive tools of the ruling class, meant to “keep people stupid and apathetic.”[2]

Hicks died of pancreatic cancer, which had spread to his liver, in 1994 at the age of 32. In the years after his death, his work and legacy achieved significant admiration and acclaim, of numerous comedians, writers, actors and musicians alike. He was listed as the 19th greatest stand-up comedian of all time by Comedy Central in 2004, and 6th greatest in 2007 and 4th greatest in 2010 by Channel 4.

Born in Valdosta, Georgia, Bill Hicks was the son of Jim and Mary (Reese) Hicks, and had two elder siblings, Steve and Lynn. The family lived in Florida, Alabama and New Jersey, before settling in Houston, Texas, when Hicks was seven. He was raised in the Southern Baptist faith, where he first began performing as a comedian to other children at Sunday School.[3]

He was drawn to comedy at an early age, emulating Woody Allen and Richard Pryor, and writing routines with his friend Dwight Slade. Worried about his behavior, his parents took him to a psychoanalyst at age 17 but, according to Hicks, after one session the psychoanalyst informed him that “…it’s them, not you.”[3]

In 1978, Hicks, along with friends Slade, Ben Dunn, John S. and Kevin Booth, began performing at the Comedy Workshop in Houston. At first, Hicks was unable to drive to venues independently and was so young that he needed a special work permit to perform. By the autumn of 1978 he had worked his way up to performing once every Tuesday night, while still attending Stratford High School. He was well-received and started developing his improvisational skills, although his act at the time was limited.

In 1986, Hicks found himself broke, but his career received another upturn as he appeared on Rodney Dangerfield’s Young Comedians Special, in 1987. The same year, he moved to New York City, and for the next five years he did about 300 performances a year. On the album Relentless, he jokes that he quit using drugs because “once you’ve been taken aboard a UFO, it’s kind of hard to top that”, although in his performances, he continued to extol the virtues of LSD, marijuana, and psychedelic mushrooms.[4] He fell back to chain-smoking,[5] a theme that would figure heavily in his performances from then on.

In 1988 Hicks signed on with his first professional business manager, Jack Mondrus. Throughout 1989, Mondrus worked to convince many clubs to book Hicks, promising that the wild drug- and alcohol-induced behavior was behind him. Among the club managers hiring the newly sober Hicks was Colleen McGarr, who would become his girlfriend and fiancée in later years.

In 1989 he released his first video, Sane Man.[6] It was reissued in 2006.

In 1990, Hicks released his first album, Dangerous, performed on the HBO special One Night Stand, and performed at Montreal’s Just for Laughs festival.[7] He was also part of a group of American stand-up comedians performing in London’s West End in November (or December[8]). Hicks was a huge hit in the UK and Ireland and continued touring there throughout 1991. That year, he returned to the Just for Laughs festival and recorded his second album, Relentless.

Hicks made a brief detour into musical recording with the Marble Head Johnson album in 1992. In November (or December[8]), he toured the UK, where he recorded the Revelations video for Channel 4. He closed the show with “It’s Just a Ride”, one of his most famous and life-affirming philosophies. Also in that tour he recorded the stand-up performance released in its entirety on a double CD titled Salvation. Hicks was voted “Hot Standup Comic” by Rolling Stone magazine. He moved to Los Angeles in early 1993.

Censorship and aftermath

Hicks was constantly facing problems with censorship. In 1984, Hicks was invited to appear on Late Night with David Letterman for the first time. He had a joke that he used frequently in comedy clubs about how he accidentally caused a fellow class-mate to become wheelchair bound. NBC had a policy that no handicapped jokes could be aired on the show, making his stand-up routine difficult to perform without mentioning words such as “wheelchair”. Hicks was disappointed that the TV audience didn’t get to experience the uncensored Bill Hicks that people saw in clubs.[9]

On October 1, 1993, about five months before his death, Hicks was scheduled to appear on Late Show with David Letterman, his twelfth appearance on a Letterman late night show but his entire performance was removed from the broadcast — then the only occasion where a comedian’s entire routine was cut after taping. Hicks’ stand-up routine was removed from the show allegedly because Letterman and his producer were nervous about Hicks’ religious jokes. Hicks said he believed it was due to a pro-life commercial aired during a commercial break.[10] Both the show’s producers and CBS denied responsibility. Hicks expressed his feelings of betrayal in a letter to John Lahr of The New Yorker.[11][12] Although Letterman later expressed regret at the way Hicks had been handled, Hicks did not appear on the show again. The full account of this incident was featured in a New Yorker profile by Lahr[11], which was later published as a chapter in Lahr’s book, Light Fantastic.[13]

Hicks’ mother, Mary, appeared on the January 30, 2009, episode of Late Show. Letterman played Hicks’ routine in its entirety. Letterman took full responsibility for the original censorship and apologized to Mrs. Hicks. Letterman also declared he did not know what he was thinking when he pulled the routine from the original show in 1993. Letterman said, “It says more about me as a guy than it says about Bill because there was absolutely nothing wrong with it.”

Cancer diagnosis and death

In April 1993, while touring in Australia, Hicks started complaining of pains in his side, and on June 16 of that year, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer that had spread to his liver.[16] He started receiving weekly chemotherapy, while still touring and also recording his album, Arizona Bay, with Kevin Booth. He was also working with comedian Fallon Woodland on a pilot episode of a new talk show, titled Counts of the Netherworld for Channel 4 at the time of his death. The budget and concept had been approved, and a pilot was filmed. The Counts of the Netherworld pilot was shown at the various Tenth Anniversary Tribute Night events around the world on February 26, 2004.

After being diagnosed with cancer, Hicks would often joke openly at performances exclaiming it would be his last. Hicks performed the actual final show of his career at Caroline’s in New York on January 6, 1994. He moved back to his parents’ house in Little Rock, Arkansas, shortly thereafter. He called his friends to say goodbye, before he stopped speaking on February 14[citation needed], and re-read J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring.[17] He spent time with his parents, playing them the music he loved and showing them documentaries about his interests. He died of cancer in the presence of his parents at 11:20 p.m. on February 26, 1994. He was 32 years old.[18] Hicks was buried in the family plot in Leakesville, Mississippi.

On February 7, 1994, after his diagnosis with cancer, Hicks authored a short statement on his perspective, wishes and thanks of his of life, to be released after his death as his “last word”,[16] ending with the words:

“I left in love, in laughter, and in truth and wherever truth, love and laughter abide, I am there in spirit.”

Comic style

Hicks’s style was a play on his audience’s emotions. He expressed anger, disgust and apathy while addressing the audience in a casual and personal manner, which he likened to merely conversing with his friends, often making eye contact with individual audience members in smaller venues.

Hicks’s material was less focused on the everyday banalities of life and placed greater emphasis on philosophical themes of existence. He would invite his audiences to challenge authority and the existential nature of “accepted truth.” One such message, which he often used in his shows, was delivered in the style of a news report:

Today, a young man on acid realized that all matter is merely energy condensed to a slow vibration — that we are all one consciousness experiencing itself subjectively. There is no such thing as death; life is only a dream, and we are the imagination of ourselves… Here’s Tom with the weather! [19]

Another of Hicks’s most famous quotes was delivered during a gig in Chicago in 1989 (later released as the bootleg I’m Sorry, Folks). After a heckler repeatedly shouted “Free Bird”, Hicks screamed that “Hitler had the right idea, he was just an underachiever!” Hicks followed this remark with a misanthropic tirade calling for unbiased genocide against the whole of humanity.[20]

Much of Hicks’s routine involved direct attacks on mainstream society, religion, politics, and consumerism. Asked in a BBC interview why he cannot do a routine that appeals “to everyone”, he said that such an act was impossible. He responded by repeating a comment an audience member once made to him, “We don’t come to comedy to think!”, to which he replied, “Gee! Where do you go to think? I’ll meet you there!” In the same interview, he also said: “My way is half-way between: this is a night-club, and these are adults.” [21]

Hicks often discussed conspiracy theories in his performances, most notably the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. He mocked the Warren Report and the official version of Lee Harvey Oswald as a “lone nut assassin.” He also questioned the guilt of David Koresh and the Branch Davidian compound during the Waco Siege.

Hicks would end some of his shows — and especially those being recorded in front of larger audiences as albums — with a mock “assassination” of himself on stage, making gunshot sound effects into the microphone and falling to the ground.

Legacy

Arizona Bay and Rant in E-Minor were released posthumously in 1997 on the Voices imprint of the Rykodisc label. Dangerous and Relentless were also re-released by Rykodisc on the same date.

In a 2005 poll to find The Comedian’s Comedian, fellow comedians and comedy insiders voted Hicks #13 on their list of “The Top 20 Greatest Comedy Acts Ever”. Likewise, in “Comedy Central Presents: 100 Greatest Stand-ups of All Time” (2004), Hicks was ranked at #19. In March 2007, Channel 4 ran a poll, “The Top 100 Stand-Up Comedians of All Time,” in which Hicks was voted #6. Channel 4 renewed this list in April 2010, which saw Hicks move up 2 places to #4.[36]

Devotees of Hicks have incorporated his words, image, and attitude into their own creations. Because of audio sampling, fragments of Hicks’ rants, diatribes, social criticisms, and philosophies have found their way into many musical works, such as the live version of Super Furry Animals’ “Man Don’t Give A Fuck”. His influence on Tool is well documented; he “appears” on the Fila Brazillia album Maim That Tune (1996) and on SPA’s self titled album SPA (1997), which are both dedicated to Hicks; the British band Radiohead’s second album The Bends (1995) is also dedicated to his memory. Singer/songwriter Tom Waits listed Rant in E Minor as one of his 20 most cherished albums of all time.[37] The UK band Shack released an album in August 2003 quoting a Bill Hicks routine in the title: Here’s Tom With the Weather. The album also included other Bill Hicks quotes in the liner notes. English breakbeat artist Adam Freeland sampled Revelations for his track “We Want Your Soul.” Welsh punk rock band Mclusky reference a Hicks routine in the lyrics to their song “To Hell With Good Intentions”. Punk cabaret musician Amanda Palmer says, “I have my new Bill Hicks CD” in the song “Another Year” on her 2008 album Who Killed Amanda Palmer. The Swedish indie pop singer/songwriter Jens Lekman has written a song called “People who Hate People Come Together” after the same Hicks quote. The last track of The Kleptones album Yoshimi Battles the Hip-Hop Robots, Last Words (A Tribute), includes his “It’s just a ride” in its entirety.[citation needed]

Hamell on Trial’s 1999 album Choochtown includes the song “Bill Hicks,” featuring the lyric “I wish Billl Hicks was alive/I wish Bill Hicks had survived,” as well at the instrumental tribute “Bill Hicks (Ascension).”

Rappers Adil Omar and Vinnie Paz have also cited Hicks as an influence to their work; contemporary comedians David Cross and Russell Brand have stated that they were inspired by Hicks.[38][39] Irish Independent columnist Ian O’Doherty is also a great admirer of Hicks.

On their 2009 album There Is No Enemy, Built To Spill released the song “Planting Seeds” with the lyrics “I’ve heard that they’ll sell anything and I think they might…I think Bill Hicks was right…about what they should do.” referring to his stand up routine which asks marketers to kill themselves. The song title refers to a bit in the same routine when Bill explains, “Just planting seeds here, folks.”.

The British film Human Traffic referred to him as the “late prophet Bill Hicks,” and portrays the main character, Jip, watching Hicks’ stand-up before going out to “remind me not to take life too seriously”. Hicks even appears in the comic book Preacher, in which he is an important influence on the protagonist, Rev. Jesse Custer. His opening voice-over to the 1991 Revelations live show is also quoted in Preacher‘s last issue.[citation needed]

The British actor Chas Early portrayed Hicks in the one-man stage show Bill Hicks: Slight Return, which premiered in 2005.

On February 25, 2004, British MP Stephen Pound tabled an early day motion titled “Anniversary of the Death of Bill Hicks” (EDM 678 of the 2003-04 session), the text of which was as follows:

That this House notes with sadness the 10th anniversary of the death of Bill Hicks, on 26th February 1994, at the age of 32; recalls his assertion that his words would be a bullet in the heart of consumerism, capitalism and the American Dream; and mourns the passing of one of the few people who may be mentioned as being worth [sic] of inclusion with Lenny Bruce and George Carlin in any list of unflinching and painfully honest political philosophers.[40]

Film and documentary

A film about Hicks’ life and career, rumored to be directed by Ron Howard, is said to be in pre-production. Russell Crowe has been mentioned as one of the producers and may portray Hicks as well.[41]

A documentary entitled American: The Bill Hicks Story, based on interviews with his family and friends, premiered on March 12, 2010, at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas.[42] The film has gone on to screen at multiple festivals including SxSW, London Film Festival and Sheffield Doc/Fest.