Bill Murray is a golf-playing Dali Lama, a wedding-crashing spiritual guide, and a bottomless well of wisdom; he’s a comedic Taoist, an unrestrained folk hero, a patron picking at life’s sampler platter, literally stealing strangers’ French fries along the way.
Over the last ten years, he’s gone from beloved American star to necessary cultural tent pole, the man who lives more freely and more emphatically than the rest of us, coming to represent some best-lived version of ourselves.
And Matt Nathanson had a dream they were friends, which we should all share.
At this stage, Murray’s exploits are numerous and far-reaching: one night, he switched places with his cab driver, taking the wheel so the overworked could play his saxophone in the back seat, and another night, he was been pulled over by Swedish authorities for navigating a golf cart into a night club; he doesn’t have an agent, and instead uses an infrequently checked voicemail for business, which has caused him to miss major roles over the years, but that’s something he’s untroubled by. He’s played Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival, buys one way tickets when he travels, is an elite bowler, a Chicago Cubs fan, and one afternoon, he showed up at a construction site to read poetry to the workers. Most infamously, at any given time, he’s known to turn up at a public park, house party, or karaoke bar, leaving those he’s encountered with an implausible tale, telling them, “No is ever going to believe you,” as he slips away, undetected, like he was never there in the first place.
For these reasons, among others, Matt Nathanson calls Murray his “patron saint,” and on 2015’s Show Me Your Fangs, the singer-songwriter immortalizes the man on the simply-named “Bill Murray.” Backed by a sweetly-played piano, Nathanson imagines what it would be like to travel alongside that unencumbered, existential whirlwind for 100 days. “Kind of like the dude version of Thelma & Louise, but without the dying,” Nathanson quips on his website.
Despite its ode to the comedic legend, “Bill Murray” avoids humor: it’s soul-stirring, life-affirming, and lyrically-deep, Nathanson calling it “the best song he’s ever written.” That’s hard to disagree with, as the duo’s globe-trotting comes to include driving “the world from Boston to Japan, blasting old Van Halen songs,” hiking “the coast of Galway in the rain,” and a late night in Spain, where Murray mulls over “all the stupid things [he] ever did,” imparting a learned-wisdom on the wide-eyed Nathanson, who’s better for his co-pilot’s words.
We’re better for Nathanson’s words from his imagined-Murray, and if we can’t be friends with Bill Murray, then we should try to be friends with Matt Nathanson, and if we can’t be friends with either, “Billy Murray” by Matt Nathanson more-than-adequately fills the void.
LISTEN: “BILL MURRAY” BY MATT NATHANSON