Bill Murray Explains How He Pulled Himself Out of a Deep, Lasting Funk: He Took Hunter S. Thompson’s Advice & Listened to the Music of John Prine

Judging by the outpouring of affection in online comment sections, Chicago folk musician John Prine has helped a great many of his fans through tough times with his humanist, oft-humorous lyrics.

Add funny man Bill Murray to the list.

Taping a video in support of The Tree of Forgiveness, Prine’s first album of new material in over a decade, Murray recalled a grim period in which a deep funk robbed him of all enjoyment. Though he carefully stipulates that this “bummer” could not be diagnosed as clinical depression, nothing lifted his spirits, until Gonzo journalist Dr. Hunter S. Thompson—whom Murray embodied in the 1980 film, Where the Buffalo Roam—suggested that he turn to Prine for his sense of humor.

Murray took Thompson’s advice, and gave his fellow Illinoisian's double greatest hits album, Great Days, a listen.

This could have backfired, given that Great Days contains some of Prine’s most melancholy—and memorable—songs, from "Hello in There" and "Angel from Montgomery" to "Sam Stone," voted the 8th saddest song of all time in a Rolling Stone readers' poll.

But the song that left the deepest impression on Murray is a silly country-swing number "Linda Goes to Mars," in which a clueless husband assumes his wife’s vacant expression is proof of interplanetary travel rather than disinterest.

To hear Murray tell it, as he thumbs through a copy of John Prine Beyond Words, the moment was not one of gut-busting hilarity, but rather one of self-awareness and relief, a signal that the dark clouds that had been hanging over him would disperse.

A grateful Murray’s admiration runs deep. As he told The Washington Post, when he was awarded the Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, he lobbied—unsuccessfully—to get Prine flown in for the ceremony:

I thought it would have been a nice deal because John Prine can make you laugh like no else can make you laugh.

Ditto Prine’s dear friend, the late, great folk musician, Steve Goodman, the author of "The Vegetable Song," "The Lincoln Park Pirates" (about a legendary Chicago towing company), and "Go, Cubs, Go," which Murray trilled on Saturday Night Live with players Dexter Fowler, Anthony Rizzo, and David Ross shortly before the Cubbies won the 2016 World Series.

I just found out yesterday that Linda goes to Mars

Every time I sit and look at pictures of used cars

She'll turn on her radio and sit down in her chair

And look at me across the room as if I wasn't there

Oh, my stars, my Linda's gone to Mars

Well, I wish she wouldn't leave me here alone

Oh, my stars, my Linda's gone to Mars

Well, I wonder if she'd bring me something home

Something, somewhere, somehow took my Linda by the hand

And secretly decoded our sacred wedding band

For when the moon shines down upon our happy humble home

Her inner space gets tortured by some outer space unknown

Oh, my stars, my Linda's gone to Mars

Well, I wish she wouldn't leave me here alone

Oh, my stars, my Linda's gone to Mars

Well, I wonder if she'd bring me something home

Now I ain't seen no saucers 'cept the ones upon the shelf

And if I ever seen one I'd keep it to myself

For if there's life out there somewhere beyond this life on earth

Then Linda must have gone out there and got her money's worth

Oh, my stars, my Linda's gone to Mars

Well, I wish she wouldn't leave me here alone

Oh, my stars, my Linda's gone to Mars

Well, I wonder if she'd bring me something home

Yeah, I wonder if she'd bring me something home

Listen to a Great Days Spotify playlist here, though neither Open Culture, nor Bill Murray can be held accountable if you find yourself blinking back tears.

Related Content:

The Philosophy of Bill Murray: The Intellectual Foundations of His Comedic Persona

Bill Murray Reads the Poetry of Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Wallace Stevens, Emily Dickinson, Billy Collins, Lorine Niedecker, Lucille Clifton & More

Listen to Bill Murray Lead a Guided Mediation on How It Feels to Be Bill Murray

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Thursday June 28 for another monthly installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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  • John Hell says:

    Bill heard that track on The John Prine Anthology “Great Days”. 41 tracks. Always a favorite.

  • ROBERT TOBIN says:

    That’s so crazy. I was so low 1998, you wouldn’t recognize me. I went on a road trip with my sister and mom. They thought it was my music that was causing my depression. I was deep into John Prine while trying to figure out my life. I started flipping though songs for them

    1 When I woke up this morning, things were lookin’ bad
    Seemed like total silence was the only friend I had
    Bowl of oatmeal tried to stare me down… and won
    And it was twelve o’clock before I realized
    That I was havin’ no fun

    2 She was a level-headed dancer on the road to alcohol
    And I was just a soldier on my way to montreal

    3 We had an apartment in the city
    Me and Loretta liked living there
    Well, it’d been years since the kids had grown
    A life of their own left us alone

    4 Sam Stone came home,
    To the wife and family
    After serving in the conflict overseas.
    And the time that he served,
    Had shattered all his nerves,
    And left a little shrapnel in his knees.
    But the morhpine eased the pain,
    And the grass grew round his brain,
    And gave him all the confidence he lacked,
    With a purple heart and a monkey on his back.

    And it kept going like that till I got to the song that starts
    “There’s a rainbow of babies……”!!!!!!!!
    I had a happy one!!!!!

    Anyway, it’s the blues that we identify with. By identifying we are no longer alone. Then we can rise up.

    My turn around was on “He Was in Heaven Before He Died” Bill’s happened during “Linda Goes To Mars” same album though. So loco. I think we are on to something. Call American Psychiatric Association.

  • Bonny Holder says:

    Steve Goodman did not write The Vegetable Song.

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