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.

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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.

Hear Meryl Streep Read Sylvia Plath’s “Morning Song,” a Poem Written After the Birth of Her Daughter

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Pregnancy and parenting are “extreme experiences that stretch our understanding,” writes Lily Gurton-Wachter at the Los Angeles Review of Books. They “push us beyond comfort or even comprehension.” Women risk their own lives to give life to a stranger, a tiny human whose future is entirely uncertain. Parents live with constant dread of all that could befall their children, an anxious state, but also a vulnerability that can make us deeply sensitive to the fragility of human life. Gurton-Wachter compares motherhood to going to war, “a profound, frightening, exhilarating, transformative experience at the boundary of life, an experience from which one comes back a different person.”

It’s a comparison Sylvia Plath would likely appreciate. With her ability to compress personal experience in collections of surprising, often violent, images, Plath expressed deep ambivalence about motherhood, undercutting a tradition of sentimental idealization, giving voice to fear, discomfort, bewilderment, and mystery.

In “Metaphors,” from 1960’s Colossus, she begins with a playful description of pregnancy as “a riddle in nine syllables.” Within a few lines she feels effaced and starts to "see herself merely as a ‘means,’” notes Shenandoah, “almost an incubator… This culminates with the last line, where she realizes that she is forever changed, irrevocably”: “Boarded the train,” she writes, “there’s no getting off.”

In 1961, after the birth of her daughter, Frieda, Plath wrote “Morning Song, which might be read as almost an extension of “Metaphors.” It is “one of her most unusual poems,” writes Maria Popova at Brain Pickings, “both paean and requiem for new motherhood—the love, the strangeness, the surreal and magnetic disorientation of it.” Published posthumously in Ariel, the poem addresses itself to the new arrival, in a series of stanzas that capture the awe and anxiety of those first hours after her birth. In the audio above from the Academy of American Poets’ annual Poetry & the Creative Mind event, hear Meryl Streep read the poem “with uncommon sensitivity,” Popova writes, “to the innumerable nuances it holds.” As you listen, read along below.


Love set you going like a fat gold watch.
The midwife slapped your footsoles, and your bald cry
Took its place among the elements.

Our voices echo, magnifying your arrival. New statue.
In a drafty museum, your nakedness
Shadows our safety. We stand round blankly as walls.

I’m no more your mother
Than the cloud that distills a mirror to reflect its own slow
Effacement at the wind’s hand.

All night your moth-breath
Flickers among the flat pink roses. I wake to listen:
A far sea moves in my ear.

One cry, and I stumble from bed, cow-heavy and floral
In my Victorian nightgown.
Your mouth opens clean as a cat’s. The window square

Whitens and swallows its dull stars. And now you try
Your handful of notes;
The clear vowels rise like balloons.

Streep's reading of Plath will be added to the poetry section of our collection, 900 Free Audio Books: Download Great Books for Free.

via Brain Pickings

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Chris Cornell’s Daughter Pays Tribute to Her Father, Singing an Achingly Pretty Cover of Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U”

Just a little more than a year after Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell took his own life, his daughter Toni, only 13 years old, released an achingly beautiful tribute to her father. Recorded for Father's Day, she sings a poignant version of Prince's "Nothing Compares 2 U," a song her father also performed live on many occasions. Indeed you can hear his voice on this track too. It's a duet of sorts.

Released on YouTube, the song came accompanied by this short letter:

Daddy, I love you and miss you so much. You were the best father anyone could ask for. Our relationship was so special, and you were always there for me. You gave me courage when I didn’t have any. You believed in me when I didn’t. I miss your love everyday. Recording this song with you was a special and amazing experience I wish I could repeat 100 times over and I know you would too. Happy Father’s Day daddy, nothing compares to you. - Toni

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Life Lessons from Anthony Bourdain: How He Developed His Iron Professionalism, Achieved Creative Freedom & Learned from Failure

Anthony Bourdain was not a particularly good chef. That statement comes not as a cheap shot at the recently departed, but a quote from the departed himself. Bourdain freely admitted it over a couple of Tiger beers with a Fast Company interviewer last year. "I was very deservedly fired on a number of occasions," he adds for good measure, referencing his decades of dirty work and drug abuse before he rose to prominence in the worlds of food- and travel-centric books and television. But in more than one way, those decades prepared him to ride the kind of success he would eventually achieve into a body of work that could have arisen from no other life or personality.

"Most of the people I've met who've been in the television industry for a long time, their greatest fear is that they will not be in the television industry next year," Bourdain says. "That they'll say something or do something or make a decision that will be so unpopular that they'll lose their gig and won't end up back on television again. I don't have that fear." He knew, surely better than anyone who has publicly remarked on it, that he may not have shown the genius in the kitchen to attain star-chef status. But he also knew he had something ultimately more important: the skills to turn out meal after flawless meal, day in and day out. "If I have to," he says, "I'm pretty sure I can keep up on an omelet station."

Many remembrances of Bourdain have highlighted his iron professionalism. "He is controlled to the point of neurosis: clean, organized, disciplined, courteous, systematic," wrote the New Yorker's Patrick Radden Keefe in a profile published last year. "He is Apollo in drag as Dionysus.” Bourdain credited that to his lean years in the kitchen: "Everything important I ever learned, I learned as dishwasher and as a cook: you show up on time, you stay organized, you clean up after yourself, you think about the people you work with, you respect the people you work with. You do the best you can." This went for matters personal as well as professional: "If I say to you I'm going to meet you tomorrow at twelve minutes after five to see John Wick 7, I will be there at 5:02."

He would also, he adds, be "hanging out across the street, discreetly observing to see what time you show up. And I'll be making some very important decisions based on your arrival time." Bourdain's exacting standards, for himself and others, allowed him to achieve an unusual degree of freedom for a major media personality. "I detest competent, workmanlike storytelling," he says of his and his collaborators' penchant for creative risk. "A powerful reaction, in one way or the other, is infinitely preferable to me than pleasing everybody." Yet despite taking books and television shows ostensibly about food in new and unpredictable aesthetic and intellectual directions, in the kitchen he remained a traditionalist to the end. "You put chicken in a carbonara? You lost me. It's an unforgivable sin against God."

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

The Causes & Prevalence of Suicide Explained by Two Videos from Alain de Botton’s School of Life

“Suicide,” writes Albert Camus in “The Myth of Sisyphus,” has never been dealt with except as a social phenomenon.” And yet, as Alain de Botton argues in his School of Life video above, at least when it comes to media and government priorities, contemporary societies prefer to hardly deal with the problem at all, even though it claims the lives of some 800,000 people every year. “It remains entirely strange,” says De Botton, “that through the media we should hear so much about killers and so little about those who take their own lives.”

Given that so much mass media seems to specialize in producing a fear of others, perhaps this is not so strange after all. However, when it comes to the allocation of government resources, most “in the wealthy nations tend overwhelmingly to direct their efforts to dealing with poverty, illness, and aging,” and devote little to the problem of suicide. This may be due to social stigma. “Suicide is the supreme reminder of our intense psychological vulnerability,” and in highly religious societies, like the United States, it carries an added stigmatization as a “sin.”

Nonetheless, “given that more people die by suicide than are collectively murdered, die in traffic accidents, or are killed by animals,” it should stand to reason that we would expend more effort on finding out why. Perhaps over and above philosophy and the social sciences, De Botton argues that literature alerts us to the importance of several qualities that make our lives matter, including “love, self acceptance, meaning, hope, status, pride, forgiveness.” Such intangibles have no price or value in the competitive marketplaces that increasingly dominate our lives.

The trivialization of psychological needs leads to another common feature of suicide—the “element of surprise.” The suicide of those we know, or thought we knew, nearly always comes as a shock, which De Botton takes as “evidence of an unwitting neglect of one another (and of ourselves).” It does not serve us at all to live in denial of suffering or push despair to the margins of thought. “We should always be mindful,” Arthur Schopenhauer wrote in 1818, “of the fact that no man is ever very far from the state in which he would readily want to seize a sword or poison in order to bring his existence to an end.”

Schopenhauer’s grim universalizing statement, however, does not accord with the vast differences in suicide rates across societies. Certain countries, like Kuwait, have rates close to zero, or 0.1 in 100,000. By contrast, China has the highest rate of all, at 25.6 in 100,000. One significant difference, De Botton argues, has to do with the “interpretation and acceptance of difficulty,” including “a greater acceptance of failure, a higher role for forgiveness,” and “a status system that honors intrinsic value over achievement.”

The difference in suicide rates between nations does not have anything to do, however, with wealth. “One of the most surprising aspects of suicide,” De Botton observes in the video above, is that rates tend to rise “markedly the richer and more developed a society becomes,” a phenomenon that might appear to “negate the whole purpose of economic growth”—that is, if we assume the purpose is the maximization of human well-being. The suicide rate of an “undeveloped country like the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” he notes, “is a fraction of the rate of a developed country like South Korea.”

De Botton does not address the problem of inequality within wealthy societies. The United States, for example, the wealthiest country in recorded history, also has the greatest degree of economic inequality in history. Here, suicide rates have risen an astonishing 25% overall and over 30% in half of the states since 1999. De Botton’s cultural explanation for widely varying suicide rates between different kinds of societies may help us understand that alarming increase.

Paraphrasing the work of sociologist Emile Durkheim, he tells us that “the crucial factor behind people’s decision to end their lives is not really wealth or poverty…. It’s the extent to which the surrounding culture ascribes responsibility for failure to individuals” rather than to external factors beyond our control. Ideologies of individualism and meritocracy create grossly exaggerated beliefs about our ability to influence events in our favor, and grossly exaggerate the shame and stigma heaped upon us when we cannot do so.

This makes high-profile celebrity suicides seem to us the ultimate conundrum, since such people appear, at least superficially, to have it "all": wealth, power, talent, status, and acclaim. But the celebrity culture that elevates some people beyond the reach of ordinary mortals can also be profoundly isolating, creating illusions of happiness rather than genuine fulfillment. We can never truly know what private griefs and personal feelings of failure and sorrow other people live with. Tending to our emotional needs, in spite of societal pressures and narratives, is critical for suicide prevention and can greatly deepen our care and compassion for ourselves and those around us.

Suicide is one of the top 10 causes of death in the U.S. right now. Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for help and support.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

David Bowie Memorialized in Traditional Japanese Woodblock Prints

The East beckons me — Japan — but I’m a bit worried that I’ll get too Zen there and my writing will dry up. - David Bowie, 1980

David Bowie’s longstanding fascination with Japan pervaded his work, becoming the gateway through which many of his fans began to explore that country’s cultural traditions and aesthetics.

Perhaps the entry point is designer Kansai Yamamoto’s Ziggy Stardust togs, Yukio Mishima’s 1963 novel The Sailor Who Fell from Grace from the Sea—one of Bowie’s top 100 books—or the 1000s of images photographer Masayoshi Sukita captured of the rocker over a period of four decades.

Maybe it was Aladdin Sane’s kabuki-like makeup or director Nagisa Oshima's World War II drama,  Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, in which Bowie played a British officer in a Japanese POW camp.

The recent release of two modern ukiyo-e woodblock prints featuring the rocker has caused such mass swooning among legions of Japanophile Bowie fans, the reverberations may well be powerful enough to ring temple bells in Kyoto.

For each print, artist Masumi Ishikawa casts Bowie as both himself and an iconic Japanese figure.

In the image at the top of the page, Bowie’s Aladdin Sane assumes the pose of the central character in Edo Period artist Utagawa Kuniyoshi’s Kidômaru and the Tengu, below.

The other print relocates the dashing Bowie from Terry O’Neill’s Diamond Dogs publicity photos to the realm of magician Takezawa Toji, whose spinning top performances had the power to summon dragons, at least as depicted by Kuniyoshi.

The prints were ordered by the Ukiyo-e Project, whose mission is to portray today’s artists and pop icons on traditional woodblock prints. (Bowie follows previous honorees Kiss and Iron Maiden.)

The prints and the blocks from which the impressions were made will be on display at BOOKMARC in Tokyo’s Omotesando neighborhood from June 23 to July 1.

via Spoon and Tamago

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker, Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and Bowie fan.  Her solo show Nurse!, in which one of Shakespeare’s best loved female characters hits the lecture circuit to set the record straight opens June 12 at The Tank in New York City. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Patti Smith, The Godmother of Punk, Is Now Putting Her Pictures on Instagram

As evidenced by her Instagram feed the Godmother is just like you and me. She posts pictures of her kids.

She gives her mom a Mothers Day shout out…

She celebrates her friends’ birthdays, posts selfies, travel shots, and pet pics

She’s not above self-promotion if the situation warrants.

But the accompanying captions set punk's poet laureate apart. No LOLs here.  It’s clear that the award-winning author of Just Kids  and M Train thinks about her content, carefully crafting each post before she publishes. Each is a bite-sized reflection, a page-a-day meditation on what it means to be alive:

This is day two of my Venice report.

I bummed around thinking of 

Venice in the seventies. It had

a strong Rasta vibe with Reggae

music drifting from the head shops

and boom boxes on the beach. 

Burning Spear and Jimmy Cliff

and Bob Marley. Venice has an 

ever changing atmosphere but 

I always like walking around, 

anonymous, just another freak. 

On Pacific next to the Cafe Collage

I had steamed dumplings and 

ginger tea at Mao’s Kitchen. 

The food is great and reasonable.

Because it was early it was 

nearly empty. Since I was awake

since 4am i was nearly hypnotized 

by the turning of their overhead 

fan. Before I left they gave me a

fortune cookie. It was a true one.

Reflecting my past and certainly 

my future. A very good day.

Follow Patti Smith on Instagram here.

via W Magazine

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Her solo show Nurse!, in which one of Shakespeare’s best loved female characters hits the lecture circuit to set the record straight premieres in June at The Tank in New York City. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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