When Bill Murray went to Japan to film the indie classic Lost in Translation back in 2002, he brought along a little novelty book called Making Out in Japanese. It included colloquial phrases for lovers such as “You have a beautiful body” and “I don’t want to get married yet.”
For a guy with such a mischievous mind and sly wit, the comic possibilities were endless. Soon after he arrived in Tokyo, he told a startled Japanese crew member, “I really don’t love you anymore, so I’m going to change my phone number.”
When he went out for sushi, he would ask the chefs — scowling men wielding big knives — questions such as “Do your parents know about me?” or “Do you have a curfew?” or “Can we get in the backseat?” On special occasions, he would even ask them “Do you mind if I use protection?”
It could have been perceived as yet another ugly American abusing the native language for his own twisted entertainment. But because it was Murray delivering these intimate lines with his typical wacky charm and offbeat sense of humor, there were no international incidents, just laughs all around.
It was just part of the Tao of Bill.
If that sounds a bit mysterious, it’s all explained in Gavin Edwards’ new book, The Tao of Bill Murray: Real-Life Stories of Joy, Enlightenment and Party Crashing (Random House, $26). Even by the crazy-is-normal standards of Hollywood characters, Murray is a quirky guy. He has no agent and no manager, just a voice mailbox, which he rarely checks, where writers, producers and directors can pitch their projects. Sometimes months later they will get a 30-second phone call: I’ll do it. And there’s no telling when he will actually show up on the set.
Fittingly, then, Edwards has written an equally quirky book. At first glance it looks like a standard biography, and it does include a 33-page introduction that outlines Murray’s life. It starts with his Sept. 21, 1950, birth in a Chicago suburb, details his showbiz start in Chicago's Second City and his breakthrough performance on Saturday Night Live, and includes most of his film roles all the way through to September 2014, when Edwards interviewed him at the Toronto Film Festival.
The bio-introduction is bookended by a 106-page filmography, in which Edwards analyzes Murray’s role in every one of his 59 films, including classics Caddyshack, Stripes, Ghostbusters, Tootsie, Groundhog Day, Rushmore and the aforementioned Lost in Translation.
But the heart of the book is the middle 150 pages, in which Edwards breaks down the 10 Principles of Bill. Tao is Chinese for “the way,” and the 10 principles make the case that Murray has a unique way with people that has made him one of the most beloved — and enduring — actors in a business where sell-by dates come and go awfully quickly.
In an interview, Edwards admitted that even he isn’t sure exactly what literary category his book fits into. “A friend said, 'I think you’ve invented a new form of biography,' and it certainly is a different approach to biography,” he says. “But I think it also works as a guide to how to live your life. I think people would benefit from following the Tao of Bill. And as a simple bathroom reader, it has a whole lot of funny stories.”
Indeed it does. Like the day in 1987 when Murray, who loves baseball almost as much as he loves golf, had the privilege of sitting in for legendary Chicago Cubs broadcaster Harry Caray during a Cubs-Montreal Expos game. Rather than try to replace Caray, Murray later said, he approached the job from the point of view of the rabid Cubs fan that he is. That led to a series of memorable quips during what he later described as “the peak of my performing career.”
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On Montreal’s first batter: “Starting for the Expos in left field, Casey Candaele. He’s no good.” On fans in the Wrigley Field bleachers: “These are people who take bad falls down the stairs and don’t really know.” On fans yelling to him in the broadcast booth: “Nice to see the gang from Joliet maximum security prison here.” On cutting off beer sales after the eighth inning: “Anybody who can’t get drunk at the ball game before the eighth inning doesn’t belong here.” On why he was happy the Cubs' Rick Sutcliffe was pitching so well during the 7-0 victory: “Frankly, he owes me money.”
Just for the record, here are the 10 Principles of Bill that Edwards came up with after interviewing more than 50 people who know Murray and reviewing hundreds of Murray anecdotes recounted in newspapers, magazines and books. (Keep in mind that these are something Edwards came up with, not principles that Murray claims to live by.) “When I was interviewing him in Toronto, I realized that my suspicions were right, that all Bill’s crazy behavior wasn’t just random wackiness,” Edwards says. “He had put a lot of thought into things like why he crashes parties and why he is so generous with his money.”
The 10 Principles:
1. Objects are opportunities.
2. Surprise is golden. Randomness is lobster.
3. Invite yourself to the party.
4. Make sure everybody else is invited to the party.
5. Music makes the people come together.
6. Drop coin on the world.
7. Be persistent, be persistent, be persistent.
8. Know your pleasures and their parameters.
9. Your spirit will follow your body.
10. While the earth spins, make yourself useful.
Most of them are self-explanatory. For those that aren’t, well, invite yourself to the party, put on some music, drop some coin and buy the book.