Today marks fifteen years since Bill Hicks shuffled off to his eternal damnation/ heavenly reward/sweet oblivion. I am now slightly older than he was when he died, but I've accomplished only a tiny fraction as much as he did. I've lamented before the injustice of it -- how Bill should be an elder comedy statesman now, living in London, on his third wife/mistress/concubine, doing some voice work for Shrek 4, richer than even Robin Williams.
Having spent eight years wondering what Bill might've said about our journey through collective madness, I now have to wonder what he'd have thought about our gradual return to relative sanity. He did a bit a long time ago about the celebrations following Clinton's initial election, but what might he have made of the literal dancing in the streets that followed Obama's election? For that matter, what would he have made of Obama?
(audio only, not safe for work or republicans)
And what would he have done when the anger passed, and social tranquility returned? (For the record, I wonder the same thing about Jon Stewart, who's been filling essentially the same role -- in a much softer, gentler way, but he has still served as the primary filter for our anger during the Bush years. It has to be weird to be relieved of that job.)
But, then again. Even if the man had lived beyond 1994, I find it hard to imagine him surviving the Bush era. No man could have withstood that kind of psychic strain.
However, there's one thing I really, really wish he'd lived for: the modern video explosion. In 1994, everyone had cable, but content wasn't nearly as thinly-spread as it is now, with four hundred channels as well as the entire internet to fill up. He had a few ideas for TV shows, you know. And not "Let's Hunt and Kill Billy Ray Cyrus," although that was a fine idea (and how sickening is it that Bill is still dead, but Billy Ray Cyrus is not only still on TV, but has brought his demon brood along with him?) Every time I see any of the current crop of geniuses and the sheer freedom they're given to create -- that is to say, whenever I see David Cross, Bob Odenkirk, Patton Oswalt, Zack Galifianakis, Ricky Gervais, Eddie Izzard, Tim and Eric, etc. etc., I just wish Bill could've stuck around long enough to join in. The world is finally ready for him, but he's already long gone. The crickets we've been hearing for the last fifteen years were the sound of Bill waiting for the rest of us to catch up, I guess.
If you recall, last spring I spent a few weeks working with a bunch of 11-year-old girls, helping them make a silly little video on behalf of a nonprofit group. It was surprisingly hard work, but immense fun. Starting earlier today, I am repeating the process with a second group of 11-year-old girls.
They're a bit different -- this time I'm working with them at their elementary school up it St. Johns, and rather than the well-to-do girls I was teamed with last time (several of whom owned ponies and were brought to our sessions by their Mexican nannies), these are solidly working-class kids from somewhat more diverse backgrounds. Apparently they're also more given to fighting than the last group. And yet the first day was almost exactly the same. The biggest part of the job is to try to focus that much excitement -- and I don't mean tightly focus, more like "herd in the same approximate direction" -- into any kind of film at all. There are two teachers with the group, plus me, for only about nine girls, but it's still challenging just to maintain their attention long enough to issue an objective.
Still, we managed to finish out the hour having introduced everyone to everyone else, explained the project, and gotten a few ideas down for next week. Next time I'll be taking the equipment along, probably imposing a little artificial consensus ("yeah, we all agreed we were going to do X, remember?"), and maybe even get something shot. That's my hope, anyway.
The main point from my perspective is to ensure that these girls get to make this thing as much by themselves as possible. I hand over my camera (though I stand very close by), I hand over the mic, I show them how they work and then I let them do their own thing. I'm a facilitator more than anything. And the resulting films are, frankly, awful; they look like they were shot by 11-year-olds who didn't know what the hell they were doing. But who cares? The point is that they get a chance to do something that nobody ever tells them they can do. The first question they always ask when I tell them about the camera is whether they'll be able to use it -- especially when they see it they tend to feel intimidated initially. But I let them look through the viewfinder, I show them how to focus as zoom and pan, and suddenly something that seemed much too difficult is ridiculously easy and they start giggling and making faces in the lens, and they're very proud of themselves.
But mostly, it's just a lot of fun to give them a chance to play at making films and have something to show for it at the end. Particularly given my own misgivings about the whole film thing right now, it's a nice break, and a chance to just enjoy the process without all the usual accompanying bullshit. It's one of the best things I did last year; I'd do a lot more of it if I could.
Just a quick one to do the birthday thing for three people: Doug, who is still one of my favorite people in Memphis; Stefan, who was part of the pack of strays back in college; and Sonja, who's one of my better friends here in Portland.
Two of these people I don't get to talk to often enough; all of them I am fortunate to know. So happiest of birthdays to that lot.
Incidentally, Doug, is it just me or has Chess Club been resurrected? What news?