Bill Murray Explains How He Was Saved by John Prine

Judg­ing by the out­pour­ing of affec­tion in online com­ment sec­tions, Chica­go folk musi­cian John Prine (may he rest in peace) 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.

Bonus: Below, watch Prine and Mur­ray “swap songs and sto­ries about the ear­ly days in Chica­go cross­ing paths with the likes of John Belushi, Steve Good­man and Kris Kristof­fer­son.” Plus more.

Note: An ear­li­er ver­sion of this post appeared on our site in June 2018.

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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