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Archival Interview: Bill Murray

Not too long ago, I quit my job. As is customary in the business world, this occasioned some department-wide reminiscing from my bosses—via e-mail and at the farewell luncheon—about my years with the company. One article that everyone seems to remember with fondness is the interview with Bill Murray I did in 1999, when he published his golf memoir, Cinderella Story.

That interview has long been languishing in electronic black hole, the victim of a server upgrade. While I was combing the corporate databases for work I might like to take with me, I finally found it again. Here it is.

May, 1999

I don't know anything about golf. Sure, I've putted a Day-Glo pink ball through the slowly revolving blades of a miniature windmill, and I have heard the somnambulent sounds of TV golf while my dad watched on Saturday afternoons, but that's about it. Ordinarily, my lack of interest in this game is not a problem. However, it quickly became a problem when I learned that I would be talking to Bill Murray. Suddenly, I was interested.

Bill Murray's book is Cinderella Story: My Life in Golf, and he's not kidding. The book is about golf. It's not a gag. Reading it, I often felt like a kid listening to grown-ups talk, only half understanding what I heard. I started to get a little nervous.

I called my dad, hoping he could give some emergency insight. Alas, he was not at home. I called my friend Catherine, but she has given up golf for deep sea fishing. I searched the web. Most of the sites I found were meaningless to the unitiated. I did find one entertaining site on the history of golf. There I learned that the rubber used to create the first modern golf ball had been packing material cushioning a statue of the god Shiva. Hmm, Shiva—the god of destruction and creation, death and life, art, and asceticism. Interesting, but could I use it? I was desperate.

As it turns out, I needn't have worried.

Hi Bill.

Bill Murray: Hi Jessica.

How are you?

BM: I'm okay, I'm a little rattled. All this is kind of strange.

Why are you rattled?

BM: Oh, I don't know. This book world is weird. Are you in the book world?

Yes, I'm in the online book world.

BM: Which is similar but different.

Yes, it's similar but different.

BM: I tried to explain it to somebody the other day. This guy said to me, "People don't read books anymore." I said, "No, I think you're wrong. I think that the online world has actually brought books back. People are reading because they're reading the damn screen. That's more reading than people used to do."

That's an excellent point. By the way, I'm glad to hear you're rattled. I'm a little rattled myself.

BM: I'm not really rattled. I was on the Today show this morning, and the guy that drove me was sort of puzzled by the whole urban experience. I had to help him get there and the phone kept ringing in the car with this hysterical woman who was… berserk is the only way to describe her. "Where are you?"

I'm sorry to hear that. So you were on the Today show this morning.

BM: It was all right. It was kind of amusing I guess. I said, "Here's the thing, you just have to drive a lot faster, and if you don't get there, we're both fired." So, anyway, he didn't get my joke. Eventually we made it in there. Just exactly the kind of guy you'd want to drive you out of town in a hurricane situation. Where are you?

I'm in Michigan. I'm in Ann Arbor.

BM: Really?

Yeah, I really am.

BM: Well, I don't know from Ann Arbor, but everybody says it's nice. Do you go to Michigan?

No, I'm not a student—I'm a working gal. I'm working all the time.

BM: Yeah, you sound like a tired, old woman. How long have you been working, Jessica?

Oh, since high school. But I've been working in the online book business for about a year.

BM: So what are you? Like 60 or 70 years old or what?

I'm 28.

BM: Oh, you've been working since high school. You're about finished.

That would be nice. Who wouldn't like to retire early?

BM: Now, let me just ask you, how do you get to the top of your business? What's your next move, or are you going to make a parallel move?

Well, I don't know what my next move it going to be. If all goes well, if all goes according to my rather tenuous plan, it will be out of the retail realm all together into the world of pure writing.

BM: You're going to write something?

That's the plan. I mean, I write now. That's a big part of my job online. As you mentioned, people are reading online, so I write things for them to read. And I'm kind of hoping to get some of this writing into book form.

BM: Well, all right. Are you one of those people who resent authors that are already published?

No, absolutely not.

BM: Somebody called me the other day and said, "You got a bad review in New Times." I said, "Really?" He said, "Yeah, the guy hadn't read it yet, but he said you got paid too much money."

Myself, I got no problem with people who are getting paid.

BM: Well, I don't know how this guy knew how much money I was making. I didn't know how much money I was making. I said, "How could he possibly know? I don't even know."

I admire people who make money. If someone can do something he wants to do and get paid for it, I'm all for it.

BM: Yeah, I think that's sort of the American way. And it's also the Polish way, it turns out.

Is it the Polish way?

BM: Yeah, it's a free market economy now. We're all racking up. Where is Borders anyway?

Borders is in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

BM: Oh, that's where the headquarters is?

Yeah, that's part of the reason I like working for Borders—I can keep my ties to the Midwest.

BM: Where did you grow up?


BM: Thank God you got out! Where were you?

I grew up in Akron.

BM: Dacron?

Yes, I grew up in Dacron. The rubber capital of the world.

BM: Dacron, Ohio. Well, I've driven that way and seen that blimp rolling down the highway. It's kind of funny. All of the sudden you're driving down the highway and there's a damn blimp rolling about 75 feet off the ground. It's kind of a freaky thing.

It is kind of freaky, although when you grow up with it, it doesn't really strike you as all that freaky.

BM: You don't fear it anymore.

So, I have three heroes, and you're one of them.

BM: Really? I'm a little afraid now!

I'm sorry.

BM: Cher and who else?

No, not Cher—Elvis Presley and Marcel Duchamp.

BM: Marcel Duchamp? Formidable! So why Marcel Duchamp?

Well, because I don't know of any other artist who had such a sense of humor. I mean he was a pie-in-the-face man. He was a pie-in-the-face to himself. He destroyed art, which I think was kind of important for it to continue to exist.

BM: To grow. I agree with you.

So, I like him because he seemed like a fun guy.

BM: Well, there's something about him that's… there is a certain integrity when you can destroy about what you do—you know, when you're able to laugh at yourself. Even in life, people who can laugh at themselves are the only ones I can really bear.

He was a clown, and there aren't that many clowns in art.

BM: I've been called a clown.

Yes, yes you have. I was planning a little segueway there.

BM: My friend, Harold Connor actually wrote a piece… he did an interview with me once and he said, "Bill Murray's a funny guy." And at the end he said "He was a clown." You know, clown, people don't always take that well, but it was a very nice way of putting it. But clowns, the ones in the circus, can be kind of scary.

I don't dig circus clowns, but the like mythic ideal of the clown—the trickster.

BM: Speaking of French clowns, there was this one guy, what the hell was his name? Clousseau? No, not Clousseau. He died a couple of years ago. He was this heavy guy, psychologically, but he was also a large man…. Peluche. Do you know Peluche?

No, I don't know Peluche.

BM: Peluche was a French clown. He was like nobody in America because he'd say anything that he wanted to say, and he was really funny, and he was sharp—incredibly smart, savage wit. He would say anything, and he wasn't mean, either. He was almost like a peasant in a way, but he was brilliant. He died in a motorcycle accident or something. It was really a tragedy. Anyway, when the French would ask—when I'd have to work over there or something—"What are you like?" I'd say, "Well, I'm a Peluche with cheekbones," They used to think that was pretty good, except they didn't quite get what the "with cheekbones" thing meant. He had a TV show and, at the end, he'd say, "Goodnight, shits!" That was basically the translation. He'd say, "Goodnight, shits!"

One of the things a clown can do is say anything—that's a prerogative of the clown.

BM: Well, like Duchamp, if you're willing to turn it on yourself, you can say anything.

Yes, you're right, that's the important distinction that keeps you from being an asshole.

BM: And so, Presley…. You've been to Memphis I guess?

No I haven't. I'm waiting.

BM: Oh. What are you waiting for?

I'm not sure.

BM: Well I would wait for a nice, warm day. You probably don't know that I went to Elvis' funeral?

I did not know that you went to Elvis' funeral.

BM: Uh huh. I was the twenty-seventh person on standby. The last flight out of New York City to Memphis the night before the funeral. Miraculously, I got on the plane—standby, twenty-seven people, I was the twenty-seventh person that got on the plane. And I got to Memphis. I just took a cab to Graceland. I said, "Graceland," you know, which is king of a funny thing to say when you get a taxi anywhere! It's actually good to say here. But I went out there and I met this guy, a photographer… he sort of walked me through a little bit of it. They'd stopped letting people into the house at that point. They just stopped. Everybody was trying to get a photograph of Elvis in the casket, and there was a $50,000 bounty on a photograph of Elvis in the casket. So all kinds of people—especially the paparazzi—were walking through time after time. These guys said to me, "I went and I had three cameras, but they'd take away a camera you'd have another one, they'd take away that, one more…. But there was a picture of Elvis in the casket, anyway, and it was given to the Globe, I guess, or the Star, by one of his cousins. He went in there at night, when only the family was supposed to be praying in there at night, and took a photograph. He was disowned by the family and outcast, but it turned out that five of his other cousins photographed it, too—it's just that his photo had the best composition, so they took his!

That's a pitiful story.

BM: But the actual funeral was a spectacular thing. I still have incredibly powerful impressions of it. I rode in the press bus that rode in front of the hearse—not directly in front, because there really was a sense of pageant about it. It was an amazing thing. We were the last people to go the route before the hearse left the mansion. Just to drive the route and see all the… I mean, hundreds of thousands of people waiting for The King to roll by. It was incredible—very powerful. It looked like a collection of WPA photographs—people waiting in the shade underneath an aqueduct. It was about 90 degrees. Waiting in the shade for The King. And all the signs, like Dairy Queen, and all those kinds of places, their signs said, "God bless you, Elvis" and "The King lives." All that kind of stuff—it was something to see. But the thing that really got me… we got to the cemetery before the hearse actually left, even though we were the last thing to go. When the hearse rolled out on the street, and it reached the speed it was going to go at, I burst into tears. It was like the long, slow walk. The speed of the car was only maybe six miles an hour—five, six miles an hour. It rolled out in traffic and straightened out and just moved like a swan gliding down the road. And it was just so poignant.

And then all the helicopters converged on the cemetery, overhead, and there was a riot at the other gate, you know, at the back gate—people were trying to storm into the cemetery. The hearse was arriving, and I started racing, running from where we were—we were already near the site where the hearse was going to come. I started running towards where I thought the riot was coming from—I wanted to see what was going on. On the way I encountered the hearse being led by 24 motorcycle cops. It was one of the most terrifying things I have ever seen, because these cops had… they were guarding Elvis. And all of the sudden there was one man standing in the cemetery right where they were passing by, and there was not supposed to be anybody there. There's one guy, and it's me. And this cop gave me a look that said, "If you move, I will shoot you right through the heart." I mean, I just froze—you know, like when your hair stands on end. It really did stand on end.

I had two really strange sensations. First, I had this really strange vibe, and when I turned around I looked right behind me, I saw that I was standing right on Gladys Presley's…

Nuh uh!

BM: Yeah. I'm standing right at the foot of the plot right there where she is. Gladys Presley's grave. It was very, very strange. I absolutely froze as all the cars went by—I mean the hearse and all the motorcycles and the cars—and then I ran back to where I had been before.

They carried the casket out and it had like, I don't know, 300 roses on top of it or something amazing—like two or three masses worth of rose on top of the casket. They were going to put it in a mausoleum overnight—it turned out later that people tried to tunnel into it and all kinds of crazy things. But they were going to put it in this mausoleum building before they actually buried it at Graceland. Anyway, as they tried to carry it up the steps, they almost dropped it—it fell like sideways. The thing weighed… I mean, it wasn't solid gold, but it was some sort of incredible metal—bronze or something—and he wasn't that light to begin with, and they almost dropped him.

But then there was a very strange moment when Pricilla actually left. Because you could feel Elvis. You could absolutely feel his presence everywhere. And when she left, it was almost like you could feel his real love went with her, as she rode out of the cemetery. It's was an amazing feeling. I'll never forget it.

That's quite a story.

BM: Yeah, it's quite a story.

I'm so glad I mentioned Elvis.

BM: Well, you gotta have role models. He was an extraordinary guy. The Albert Goldman book gets some of the facts…. He could have really been good. I mean his movies, some of them were absolutely terrible, but I don't think people know how hard it is to be as natural as he came off in his movies.

Well, and his career didn't take the direction he had desired for his movie career. I mean, some of his movies were not bad. King Creole was a pretty good movie.

BM: Yeah, King Creole is good. Jailhouse Rock is good. And even just the names of the characters he'd choose, they were good, you know?

I have a cat named Lucky Jackson.

BM: Get out!

Yeah, I do have a cat named Lucky Jackson.

BM: Well…. The amazing thing about Elvis, or another amazing thing, was the guy did some dating in his life, and not one woman that he dated will say a bad thing about Elvis—they were all nuts about him. I mean none of them really ended up with him, but we knew a girl in Illinois who met Elvis once and he bought her a car!

Ladies love that!

BM: Hey, men like that! But ladies do like that. And we'd ask her, "So what's the deal with The King?" He was still alive at that point. And she wouldn't tell us a thing. She was crazy about him. She thought he was just, you know, the cat's meow.

I have an aunt who kissed him when he was a teenager in Memphis. That's the story anyway.

BM: Well, she's not going to give that up now.

No, no, she's going to her grave with that story. This is an aunt on my dad's side of the family, and my mom has noticed some holes in the story, but I've tried to ask her to please just leave the story alone.

BM: Oh, please let it rest!


At this point, my half-hour allotment of Bill Murray's time was about over. The publicist's voice came on the line and asked, "Jessica, are there other questions you want to ask before we wrap it up?" I thought I'd see if, just maybe, the author would like to discuss his book.

Do you want to talk about golf at all?

BM: Talk about the book?

Yeah, we could talk about the book. Do you want to talk about the book?

BM: I don't care. What do people expect to read? It doesn't matter.

I think they expect, you know, some Bill Murray, and that's what we got. Are you comfortable with this?

BM: You know what? I've enjoyed talking to you, and if you're comfortable with it, I'm fine with it too.

So that, sports fans, is how I did not talk to Bill Murray about his life in golf.

August 9, 2004 | Permalink


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Morning News had a link to a great unpublished interview with Bill Murray. He just sounds as hysterical in real life as you would imagine him to be - odd, deadpan, dry. Neither the interviewer or Murray seemed to give [Read More]

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» Excellent Bill Murray interview from Brilliant Corners
For her job, "Jessica Lee Jernigan interviewed Bill Murray":http://jessicaleejernigan.typepad.com/jessica_lee_jernigan/2004/08/archival_interv.html to ask him about his just-published golf memoir, "_Cinderella Story_":http://www.amazon.com/exec/obi... [Read More]

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I just spent the last hour deleting five hundred (500) comment spam messages. I am not in a good mood. If you are a spammer, I hope you rot in fucking hell for all eternity. Interview fun with Bill Murray.... [Read More]

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» Drums and Shotguns from hyperkinetic | bubble, bubble, toil & trouble
I just spent the last hour deleting five hundred (500) comment spam messages. I am not in a good mood. If you are a spammer, I hope you rot in fucking hell for all eternity. Interview fun with Bill Murray.... [Read More]

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