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Wednesday, July 23, 2003
Blair and Shock and Awe
British Prime Minister Tony Blair plays an odd role in the "war on terror." On one hand, he is an ambitions leader in charge of a country with one of the world's most powerful militaries. On the other, the country powerful enough to do much on its own and so Blair works as a junior partner with the United States as a way of being in on the action. One could say that in the realm of foreign policy Blair is a glorified advisor to U.S. President George W. Bush.
This was the implicit message in Blair's speech before the U.S. congress this past Thursday:
As Britain knows, all predominant power seems for a time invincible, but in fact, it is transient. The question is, what do you leave behind? And what you can bequeath to this anxious world is the light of liberty. That is what this struggle against terrorist groups or states is about. We're not fighting for domination. We're not fighting for an American world, though we want a world in which America is at ease. We're not fighting for Christianity, but against religious fanaticism of all kinds. And this is not a war of civilizations, because each civilization has a unique capacity to enrich the stock of human heritage. We are fighting for the inalienable right of humankind -- black or white; Christian or not; left, right or merely indifferent -- to be free -- free to raise a family in love and hope; free to earn a living and be rewarded by your own efforts; free not to bend your knee to any man in fear; free to be you, so long as being you does not impair the freedom of others.It should be noted that Blair's interest in a role like this began before September 11, 2001 and was most noticeable around NATO's 1999 bombing of some parts of the former Yugoslavia.
Whether Blair enjoys being in this position or is in it only out of practicality is an open question.
It was only today that I finally slogged through Blair’s speech before Congress after several terminated attempts due to the generally boring nature of the speech. I managed to get through it today by simultaneously listening to Bill Hicks’ Shock and Awe: Live at the Oxford Playhouse, Invasion Records new release of material from a November 11, 1992 performance. As I did, I was struck by how Hicks –a citizen and resident of the U.S. speaking in Great Britain- received a response similar to what Blair –a citizen of Great Britain speaking in the U.S.- got last week. Both had the audiences responding positively to just about everything they said. I don’t know if that is a common experience for Blair, but it wasn’t for Hicks, who passed away in 1994, as the recordings Rant in E-Minor (1997) and especially Flying Saucer Tour Vol. 1 Pittsburgh 6/20/91 (2002) make clear. The results are quite interesting. Hicks seems to create a false antagonism with the crowd during “English Porno” by suggesting that they aren’t into fuck flicks and pics when their response, at least as far as I can hear, actually indicated no such thing.
The material is largely similar to that found on Arizona Bay (1997), which makes sense given the date of Shock and Awe’s recording. Hicks’ musings on the arts, culture, politics, religion and war, however, are significantly different than what is found Arizona Bay, where material has either been added or deleted. Speaking about the 1992 presidential election that was just eight days old, Hicks gets off his best line of the recording. “The reason I didn’t vote for him,” he says of then sitting President George H.W. Bush, “is because he is a mass murderer.” Interestingly Hicks then gives voice to false hope about then President Elect Bill Clinton. “I’ll play that extra nickel on… you know… an extra liter of petrol just knowing little brown kids aren’t being clubbed to death like baby seals in Honduras so Pepsi can put a plant down there… I’ll pay the extra nickel.” The raid on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas and Clintons bombing of Iraq would dash such thoughts as made clear on Rant in E-Minor.
The biggest problem with Shock and Awe is that is has been heavily edited, with very noticeable cuts coming between and even during cuts. It appears that all of the bits heard on the disc are included in full and listeners are treated to some crowd reactions and then Hicks’ response but the edits are distracting since they are appear to have been done for no other reason other than to cut down on time and fit the release onto a single disc. A two-disc package would have been nice, especially since the performance does not appear on The Bill Hicks Bootleg Archive.
The delivery on this disc is noticeably laid back compared to many Late Hicks recordings and the profanity and misogyny that has colored most of his extended material is less prevalent than expected, although by no means absent. Towards the end the stand-up get philosophical. “Do I have message?” he asks before giving his own answer. “As scary as the world is, and it is, it is merely a ride in the amusement park of the universe. It is merely a ride. It has thrills. It has its chills. It has its ups. It has its downs.” And Shock and Awe is an important addition to the catalog of one of the most important performers of the sound recording era.