Imagine going outside on a winter day, packing a wicked snowball, and then pegging some random stranger in the back as he passes by.
What happens next? Does the guy turn around, grin playfully and send a fistful of snow in return? Or does he charge at you and deliver a fist to your chin?
Chances are, just thinking about that scene is enough to give you a sore jaw, and that, according to Rolling Stone contributing editor Gavin Edwards, is the difference between Bill Murray and the rest of us.
Describing Murray as a “modern-day trickster god,” “ The Tao of Bill Murray ” shares dozens of stories like that snowball stunt, which the author says Murray pulled outside a wine shop in Rockland County, N.Y. (It launched not a brawl but a giant neighborhood snowball fight.) From such roguish tales, Edwards derives rules for living that he calls the Ten Principles of Bill.
“Bill has said, ‘My legacy’s gonna have to be something different from my work,’ and these encounters might be what he’s remembered for,” writes Edwards, whose research for the book included interviewing Murray. “If you apply his philosophical tenets to your own life, you can find the previously untraveled path to a better version of yourself.”
The Ten Principles of Bill, generally speaking, are all about learning to recognize and seize opportunities to have a little more fun and be a little more kind. For instance, the First Principle, “Objects are opportunities,” gives us the movie star playfully commandeering a New York City street sweeper during a pub crawl. Later, the Sixth Principle, “Drop coin on the world,” finds Murray jamming two bottles of Veuve Clicquot into a snowbank outside a drive-through bank window. When he gets the teller’s attention, he simply mouths, “Happy new year” and drives off.
One of the book’s most surreal scenes arrives with the Tenth Principle, “While the earth spins, make yourself useful.” Late one night in Scotland, Edwards explains, Murray ended up at a party with a bunch of Scandinavian exchange students who were already too deep in their cups for him to catch up. But Murray didn’t go home — he stayed and did the dishes. “You can’t just walk in and walk out,” he told Edwards. “That feels strange. But if you walk into someone’s house, do all the dishes and leave, then you feel like you’ve made a contribution.”
But the story that perhaps best captures Murray’s enigmatic, comic genius arrives in the book’s introduction. The former “SNL” star has a habit of walking up behind strangers and placing his hands over their eyes. When they turn around, he delivers an ideal one-liner for today’s celebrity-obsessed, hyper-connected, pics-or-it-didn’t-happen culture: “No one will ever believe you.”
John Wilwol is a writer in Washington.
By Gavin Edwards
Random House. 368 pp. $26