Bill Murray walks among us. This Monday (4 June 2018) I saw Bill Murray live in London.
I still can’t believe this happened. An early summer night’s dream?
Aptly for Bill Murray, the evening was pretty bizarre. Like something Frasier Crane might have dreamt up, then dismissed as too pretentious. Readings from classic American literature, poetry recitals and the singing of a truly eclectic selection of songs*. Bill Murray’s sung and spoken words were accompanied at varying points by cello, violin and piano. This was a deeply odd event. But so perfectly Bill Murray. His presence is tranformative. This is a gent who can transform a film by the sudden and unexpected materialisation of his crumpled, sardonic self as, say, Bill Murray waiting tables at an all-night coffee joint**, or as Bill Murray evading a plague of zombies*** through the inexpert application of make-up.
At London’s Royal Festival Hall on Monday, it took a few minutes to acclimatise to Bill Murray’s world. During an early break in the programme, Mr Murray said that this was usually the point at which audience members would turn to one another and say “Honey, shall we go get something to eat? This isn’t what I expected.” He reminded us: “This is your chance to leave.”
But once you are settled in, Bill Murray’s world is charming and enchanting. You would never want to leave. Such is the magic of his voice, I could happily live forever inside his readings of an Ernest Hemingway short story or a chapter from Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. And all the time, my mind wouldn’t let me forget that this was the same person my 11 year old self had so marvelled at in Ghostbusters (at the time of its original release) cracking wise, sardonic attitude to the fore. And that bizarre hopping/kicking way to cross the street.****
Murray frequently retreated to the shadows at the side of the stage, to allow the audience’s full attention to fall on his accompanists. I swear that he looked directly at me in one of those quiet moments.
At other moments, he took a seat behind the piano. He would have been invisible to most of the audience. But our seats allowed the unique privilege of seeing Bill Murray at rest – sat upright, eyes closed, sometimes moving his fingers above his knees in the occasional spot of air piano.
Bill Murray clearly loves to be with these musicians. They clearly love him. To see the love in their eyes as they watched him in his unaccompanied spoken word passages made my heart soar.
The love felt by everyone in the room was equally palpable, equally uplifting. Even when Mr Murray gave his judgement on the audience’s singalong abilities: “Not bad… But not good either.”
That one person can bring such joy to so many over so many years just through his take on the world, his presence. To have had the privilege to have been there, to have been in THE presence. These are things I will never forget. A feeling I will always cherish. Thank you, sir.
When will I ever learn?
When will I ever learn? The first day of my life AB (After Bill), I had a very stupid accident, which could easily have left me dead or severely impaired. A momentary and entirely avoidable loss of balance on a stepladder in my home has gifted me a small facial scar to present to the world henceforth. Human slipped while on ladder, ladder fell over, work surface met face.
I am thankful that it was not all so much the worse. I am thankful that my wife was on hand to get me to calm my breathing in the immediate shock, and that the in-laws were nearby and willing and able to help out. I am thankful to the NHS staff at the Minor Injuries Unit and then at the Accident and Emergency department, who so promptly and so wonderfully helped me, taking all precautions to check and diagnose what had happened, and to treat the wound. It was a strangely calming, placid experience to surrender completely (with a roughly torn shroud of paper over my face) while the doctor stitched the small puncture wound that went all the way through my cheek. Moments prior, it was an oddly amusing feeling to have the doctor clean the wound, and to feel the cleansing saline solution trickle through the hole on the outside of my cheek and into my mouth.
The scar will be a permanent sign that I was lucky that time, and a reminder that there is still so much in life to cherish.
When will I ever learn?
However, I may need to come up with a more exciting backstory as to how I came to have this scar!****
I am so thankful to be alive.
I am so thankful there is an NHS.
I am so thankful there is a Bill Murray.
I am so thankful there is love.
* I would be willing to bet that the precise combination of songs to which Bill Murray lent his pipes has never been performed on a London stage before. Indeed, I would bet that you would need Bill Murray’s mind to come up with his song selections, which included Ain’t Necessarily So, I Dream of Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair and Van Morrison’s When Will I Ever Learn To Live In God? The latter piece of course lends its title to this post. You can hear his performance of this song and more on the album New Worlds, by Bill Murray, Jan Vogler and Friends. A rendition by Mr Murray and co can be seen here:
** I absolutely adore Bill Murray’s short appearance in Jim Jarmusch’s lovely film Coffee and Cigarettes, interacting with the Wu-Tang Clan’s Gza and Rza.
*** Spoiler warning (although this film has been out nine years now!): Zombieland features a superb surprise cameo from Bill Murray. I have always thought that Woody Harrelson was straying somewhat from the script in his reaction to being in the same room as Bill Murray. I really do hope this was just pure enthusiasm bubbling over!
**** Suggestions on a virtual postcard, please! And as ever with my virtual competitions, you could find yourself in the running to land a non-existent prize!
- First, third, fifth and sixth pictures of Bill Murray on stage (AKA the good ones) taken by my excellent friend Nicola Texeira, who also procured the tickets. Thank you for the kind permission to use your images, and for sorting such great seats, Nicky!
- Second and fourth pictures of Bill Murray on stage (AKA the out-of-focus ones!) taken by mjcarty.
- Pictures of a punctured mjcarty taken by my wife.