Stalking Bill Murray

My buddy and collaborator Mignon Khargie first called Wes ANDERZINE to my attention. As the name suggests, Wes ANDERZINE is a Wes Anderson fan zine, and Mignon first noticed it on Kickstarter, where publisher Owen Clements was fundraising to offset the print costs.

Of course I wanted to contribute. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is my favorite movie, Bill Murray’s my favorite actor, and I was beginning to fear that my writing world was just a little too insular–collaborating with the same artists, writers, and editors for the same audience. This was an opportunity to expand the circle of dialogue to people outside San Luis Obispo, beyond even San Luis Obispo County and California and the United States.

But I couldn’t think of anything I could contribute. Most of my writing is fiction (outside my contributions to New Times) and while I was more than happy to write something specifically for the zine, nothing was coming to mind. I explained my dilemma to Mignon who replied, with the simple and clear-headed genius I’ve come to expect from her,

“that’s easy: stalking Bill Murray.”

Of course, she was exactly right. I’ve done some pretty silly things to express my appreciation for that tall, funny man but I’m at least self-aware enough to understand how ridiculous my behavior and projects often are.

So I pitched the article to Owen who kindly agreed to let me write the piece, and even allowed me to write it to the length I really wanted to write, which was several thousand words–way more than the usual article length for this type of zine.

Long story short, I received my copies of Issue 2 of Wes ANDERZINE in the mail two days ago in IMG_0306a simple brown envelope that bore evidence of having been shipped from another country (the only thing I love better than mail is international mail; there’s such a particular thrill to receiving something that hails from far away, particularly a place I’ve never been myself. It feels promising, as though the world is opening itself to me.)

And I’ve been fluttering through it, examining artwork, exclaiming over pieces I particularly enjoy, and brandishing it beneath my coworkers’ noses ever since.

I would, of course, love to post the entire contests on the zine right here, but that feels unfair to the other artists who contributed, so I am instead posting my own piece and photos of some of the other pages (but the other way around, so you have the benefit of some interesting visuals before diving into the deep (size-wise, not so much intellectually) waters of my firsthand accounts of stalking the one and only Bill. Fucking. Murray.

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The cover by Roy Wood, referencing The Royal Tenebaums.

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The other contributors! I highly recommend checking out their blogs.

Screen shot 2014-03-21 at 11.35.38 AM

By Rachel Urban.

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By Emily Oliver.

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Darjeeling Limited-inspired Postsecrets by Inari Porkka. Truly inspired.

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I love the simplicity of this piece by Sangmi Ha. Also, Moonrise Kingdom is my second favorite Wes Anderson movie so I was pleased to see artwork inspired by it.

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Love everything about John Levy’s piece “Jacqueline By Moonlight.” Love the name, love the style, love the romanticism of shirtless Bill Murray looking out at his beloved ship by moonlight.

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If you’re a Wes Anderson fan, I recommend contributing a piece to Issue 3. Owen was great to work with and it’s kinda nice to flex your creative muscles in different directions every once in awhile.

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Full circle. Front cover to back cover.

And now for my wordy contribution (which was so long that it was printed as a supplemental insert):

Stalking Bill Murray

BY ASHLEY SCHWELLENBACH

I’m not your average stalker. I have to make that clear before I lay out the various schemes, undignified activities, and campaigns I’ve waged to express my appreciation for Bill Murray. This seems necessary, not to clear my own good name, which will certainly be tarnished well before you’re aware of the full extent of my Bill Murray-inspired depravities, but so that you will understand the extent of the impression this tall, goofy man has made on me.

For the record, I have no clear picture in my head of what the average stalker looks like, or how they behave. The clichés rattling around in my head are perhaps skewed toward the tragically comic—drunks with unwanted messages for their exes—rather than the just plain tragic, which is men and women fixating unhealthily on a subject until law enforcement is required to intervene. So forgive the gender-skewed stereotype that follows:

From what I’ve witnessed—outside bars usually between the hours of midnight and last call—of sad drunk girls in stilettos, mascara tracks marking a grid on their unhappy faces, making the fateful decision to go to an ex’s house and wake him up in the middle of the night to demand that he account for his sins, alcohol tends to play a major role in stalking.

And desperation, of course.

Having your stalkee’s phone number is also helpful.

But I am none of these things. I’m shy. I don’t like calling attention to myself. I’m the girl in the photos with the downturned head and the hair covering most of my face. And if there wasn’t hair concealing my expression you’d see that I’m frowning slightly because someone’s pointing a camera at me and it makes me uncomfortable.

My ulcers, likely formed over eight long years of writing and editing for a newspaper, prevent me from getting sufficiently drunk to make questionable decisions. And while I’m what my friends politely call “whimsical,” I’m not desperate. I don’t stalk ex-boyfriends. I rationally delete their phone numbers so I won’t be tempted to succumb to any urges that might not represent me at my best.

And lastly—and most regrettably—I don’t have Bill Murray’s phone number, which I don’t feel too badly about, because no one seems to have Bill Murray’s phone number. He’s missed out on roles because nobody could find him.

I do have his brother Ed’s phone number, which I used to put him in a cardboard box on a golf course. If that sounds just a little too fantastical to believe, you can watch him climb out from under the box on YouTube.

The editorial department at my newspaper, New Times, decided to write and direct a short film in honor of our town’s local film festival. Within a day or two, I wrote a script titled There’s Something About Murray. The premise of the short film was that the editorial department was stalking Bill Murray—something I could easily write from personal experience. I played the camouflage-clad drill sergeant, preparing my fellow writers and editors to think like Bill Murray in order to capture him.

We were all wearing red beanies in an homage to Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, my favorite film and the point of no return when my admiration for Bill Murray transformed into something more fanatical. (We wound up using red beanies so often, for films and photo shoots and birthday parties that I started buying them in bulk.)

A staff writer from our sister paper was dressed as Hunter S. Thompson in a nod to Murray’s role as the famous writer in Where the Buffalo Roam. We (tried to) sing the theme song from Oklahoma, which is Bill’s favorite musical and snuck into a gated community’s hot tub to reenact the baptism scene from Ed Wood, with our very serious executive editor uncomfortably dressed as a priest.

I’ve never been more proud of my editorial team.

In our penultimate scene, we planned to go to a golf course and bait a cardboard box trap with one of those plush animated gophers that sings “I’m Alright,” the idea being that Bill Murray would be unable to resist the bait. Of course, we stood zero chance of calling him up and inviting him to participate in the film. But I’d heard from an ad rep who works for our sister paper in Santa Maria, that his brother Ed was a member of the city’s Chamber of Commerce. As much as I hate calling up strangers and telling them that a local newspaper is making a movie about their brother and would appreciate it if he would show up at a golf course and climb inside a box for a few minutes, that’s exactly what I did.         Miraculously, he agreed.

Of course, it’s one thing telling someone more than twice your age that you’re going to put them in a box, and another thing entirely to actually lift a box while the person in question—Bill Murray’s brother—crouches into the fetal position and you wiggle it down over his figure.

“I’m so sorry. We’ll have you out of here in no time. I’m so sorry,” I apologized repeatedly.

I’m not the type of person who puts strangers in boxes. Then again, maybe that’s exactly what every crazy person says the first time they put someone in a box. But in this case, I had to; there wasn’t anything funny at all about someone Bill Murray didn’t know climbing out of this box. It had to be his brother—the idea being that we had caught the wrong Murray.

After we were done shooting, and Ed was safely out of the box and standing on his own two feet, he revealed to one of our staff writers that he was about to go into the hospital for knee surgery. And we’d just had him crouching on his knees for 10 minutes or so. I wrote it off as something we’d all done in the name of art and Bill Murray, but I still cringe when one of the writers at the paper starts giggling and says, “Remember that time you put Bill Murray’s brother in a box?”

I kept the phone number though. Just in case.

Justifying my love for this tall, funny man whom I have never properly met is too difficult a task for my meager skills as a writer. The closest I’ve ever come to successfully explaining my fascination was in the final scene of the movie, where the writers confront their failure and vow to continue their quest to capture their elusive quarry.

“No!” my character exclaims. “We’re not giving up! Because when we watch Bill Murray, the things that are shitty about our lives seem somehow better, because by looking sad and engaging in nautical escapades, he reminds us there are adventures to be had and worlds to be explored, even in the decline of life. And there’s a sort of dignity in being homesick and lonely and forced to shill Suntory whiskey to people who think you’re too tall.”

“And if you can’t kill the gopher the first day, well, there are other days!” the paper’s executive editor chimes in.

“And if you don’t catch the first train, well, run faster to catch the next!” adds a staff writer.

“And you can be cool slinging coffee to Gza and Rza!” insists another staff writer, who is perhaps as big a Bill Murray fan as I am.

“And even if your wife’s cheating on you and secretly smokes, and your brother in law is secretly in love with your wife, at least you’ve got family! And a hot wife!” the news editor adds, rather sadly because he was single at the time. And to which we all replied with a hearty, “Yeah!”

It isn’t much, but it’s the best I’ve got. To explain why I love Bill Murray, I would have to accurately describe the emotion in the pit of my stomach when I’m watching Life Aquatic and Sigur Ros’ “Starálfur” is playing and the crew is staring through the submarine porthole as this distant light draws closer, gracefully materializes, and they come face to teeth with this stunning creature, this jaguar shark, and Bill Murray looks like he really has lost his best friend but he’s also only just understood some greater truth about life. And I’m crying because it’s so sad and beautiful and honest and I couldn’t for the life of me tell you why. But I know it, with as much certainty as I’ve ever known anything.

That feeling, the sense of vulnerability and incredible awe, is why I love Bill Murray. It’s why my newspaper’s editorial department—in between going to city council meetings and writing exposés about conditions at the local aquarium—has created its own little religion centered around him as our own unknowing demigod.

That was four years ago, and while There’s Something About Murray has yet to become a YouTube hit for some incomprehensible reason, that hasn’t really stopped the paper’s editorial department, and me in particular, from finding fresh, and weird, ways to convey our appreciation of Bill Murray.

Bill Murray’s birthday is Sept. 21. (I didn’t have to look that up.) Six months after we finished There’s Something About Murray, we kicked off what would become an annual tradition: Celebrating the birth of our hero with a bonfire at a nearby beach (specifically, Olde Port in Avila Beach, if you’re interested in joining this annual tradition). The dress code was formal—a major coup for a group of mostly broke journalists and the friends who shared our obsession and opted to join us—with the exception of the indispensable red beanies. We ate, drank, swapped our favorite Bill Murray movies and stories and at sunset we each made a toast, tossed back a shot, and ran into the Pacific Ocean, formalwear, red beanies, and all.

As a staff writer wrote in an after-the-fact article about the event, “Red-capped Bill Murray fans, I salute your utter stupidity! Carl Spackler would be proud!”

We do it every year now and thanks to the fact that California summers really hit their stride in September, the running into the ocean part doesn’t require much in the way of courage. Unless you’ve got a bit of a shark phobia, like I have, and refuse to set so much as a toe into the ocean the other 364 days of the year. But no one ever said being a stalker was easy. If Steve Zissou could face the jaguar shark that ate his partner, surely I can conquer the great whites lurking off the coast of Avila Beach.

But New Times wasn’t done with Bill Murray. Not yet, at least. We put out an annual “Best Of” issue containing essential information like where to get the best burrito in town, or where to go for a quality cheap meal. I don’t always agree with our readers’ picks, but it’s okay, because I usually get to pick our annual theme and serve as art director for eight themed photo shoots. Somehow, I convinced my executive editor to allow us to dedicate the entire 2013 issue to Bill Murray with the theme “Murray Best Of.”

People tend to apply the word epic to just about everything these days—a sandwich, an episode of some crappy sitcom, etc.—but this was truly epic. Three of our writers, and one friend of a writer, invaded the local library dressed as ghostbusters; we convinced a local zipline company to give a staff writer a free ride, dressed in camouflage, in honor of Stripes; our calendar editor’s dad put on a tux and posed for the Suntory commercial from Lost in Translation; a staff writer channeled Carl Spackler from Caddyshack on an obnoxiously picturesque golf course (as if there were any other kind); my boyfriend played Bill Murray twice, once in the famous obscene breakfast diner scene from Groundhog Day and again wearing a top hat and starring as Frank Cross at the end of Scrooged; and our zipliner also posed as masochist Arthur Denton enjoying the attention of the sadist dentist in Little Shop of Horrors. The latter was a particularly appropriate pairing as the writer in question is frequently in the habit of giggling and announcing “It’s your professionalism I respect” to no one in particular.

But my favorite photo shoot, and the only enticement that would lure me in front of a camera, was for the cover: the seminal image from Life Aquatic, shown at the end of the film, when Jane is directing Ned and Steve as they pose on the deck of the ship, each with an arm extended toward the distant horizon. I played Jane, the knocked up reporter, despite being neither sufficiently blonde nor knocked up. A couple weeks before the shoot someone made the suggestion that we find someone who more closely resembled Cate Blanchett for the cover role of Jane. I don’t remember what I said or did in response, but it was sufficiently cutting that nobody bothered repeating the comment.

Cate Blanchett is absolutely gorgeous, and terribly talented. But I defy you to find someone, anyone, for whom that movie has more meaning than me. We probably could have found a dead ringer for Blanchett—there seems to be no small supply of pretty people about when the newspaper needs someone to pose for a cover—but I prioritized feeling and understanding over appearance, and I don’t regret it.

Of course, with the exception of finding his brother and putting him in a cardboard box just before he had knee surgery—which is pretty effed up, I’ll admit—at that point, all I’d really done is create things—photos, events, videos—expressing my appreciation for Bill Murray. Which is pretty stalker-lite. I tend to think—and you can argue this point—that in order to qualify as an authentic stalker you have to actually physically follow the person around. Once you’ve added that to your résumé, people can finally start taking you seriously—hitting you with restraining orders, your exes can all get together and talk about how they clearly dodged a big bullet of crazy, and your friends can choose the color palette for your intervention.

It was my mom who provided me with the opportunity to up my stalker game. For my twenty-ninth birthday she gave me two tickets to the 2013 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, which is famous for pairing serious golfers with what the tournament’s website refers to as “global leaders in sports, entertainment and industry.” I was born in Monterey, and my mom lives in Prunedale, so this event essentially takes place in my backyard. Back home, everyone follows the tournament, mostly to see what crazy outfit and antics Bill Murray will bring to the golf course on any given day.

Nothing but my responsibilities as a stalker and certainty that this was likely the closest I would ever come to actually meeting my hero could draw me to a golf tournament. In fact, I spent the week before the event waffling between excitement about seeing Bill Murray in person and dread over spending the day with golfers and people who like to watch golf. Why couldn’t Bill Murray participate in a tournament dedicated to watching paint dry on a wall? I honestly would have preferred it.

What does one wear when stalking Bill Murray?

My mom recommended a large, flamboyant hat, the kind of thing I would never wear in public. But I had to admit there was a kind of logic to it. He’d be wearing something ludicrous on his head, and I knew I probably wouldn’t be the only person following him across 18 bright-green-despite-the-California-drought holes of golf. Why not make it easy on myself?

So there I was wearing a pea green Mad Hatter-reject headpiece, along with my boyfriend who hates golf just as much as I do, waiting impatiently for Bill Murray to tee off. There were sweater vests everywhere. The crowd was what my boyfriend calls “terminally white.” I was profoundly uncomfortable, but holding out hope that we’d a) get to chatting with Bill Murray and quickly become BFFs and b) come across a stand selling reasonably priced nachos, cotton candy, and slushies. Neither of these things came to pass. But my boyfriend did get hit by a stray golf ball from one of Murray’s partners, who it turned out was a lineman or something for the 49ers. It didn’t matter much what position he played. We were both bummed it wasn’t Bill Murray, because at least we would have had some kind of talking point.

“Hey, you hit my boyfriend in the back with a golf ball! PS Let’s run away together!”

Something along those lines.

We followed him across all 18 holes. At times, I was within a couple of feet of him and I could have asked for an autograph or just told him that his work meant a lot to me. But I didn’t. I just followed him—in my weird green hat—and smiled. I practically never smile.

Once, as he was trudging up a rather steep hill, he turned to three of us standing on the sidelines behind the rope and wryly noted, “And then you have to go back.”

A couple holes later a terrifically wasted woman in her early 20s handed Bill Murray a sharpie and asked him to sign her forehead. He wrote BOZO in large, black, permanent ink, much to the crowd’s delight. I saw her later in the day proudly pointing to the writing on her head and telling a stranger “Bill Murray did this.” I almost envied her, except that I don’t have the kind of personality that allows me to ask people to autograph my forehead. And even if I did, I wouldn’t want to walk around all day with the word “BOZO” scribbled into my forehead, even if Bill Murray was the one who put it there. I guess I learned something about my limitations as a stalker that day.

He was wearing a red hat with white polka dots and a pair of white suspenders over black pants and a button down shirt, the perfect complement to his handlebar mustache. It was refreshing after being surrounded all day by people who clearly took themselves very seriously. My hat seemed to be serving its purpose. After a couple of rounds, he would look into the crowd and his eyes would sort of fixate on the hat and I could tell that he recognized it at least. Whether that was followed by a moment of panic as he realized he was being followed by a nutjob in a green hat, I don’t know, but he didn’t call for security to escort me away, and for that I am grateful.

So why didn’t I make my move? Any move?

As the day progressed, I saw countless people—most of them young, many of them in Ghostbusters costumes—shouting lines at him as though he was an animal at the zoo. And the whole time I was standing there in my ridiculous pea green hat, cringing. Of course, I wanted to be different from the rest of them, but the only thing that differentiated me from them was my behavior once I was in close enough proximity to yell lines from his movies at him. I was starting to feel rather sorry for him, sorry that I was among them.

Judging by all the stories I’d heard, Bill Murray’s a really good sport about it all. He’ll party with you, steal a French fry off your plate, do your dishes. But that’s his choice. And when a pair of girls standing next to me shouted, in unison and clearly rehearsed, a line from Groundhog Day and he winced and looked sort of wounded, it reminded me of the value in appreciating someone from afar. It also made me consider the value in administering IQ tests to couples before allowing them to procreate. I’ve always known Bill Murray has a lot of other fans, I just didn’t have any idea how stupid some of them were until that day. Then again, I’d put his brother in a box.

A couple years ago, he appeared in public for the first time in awhile—maybe eight years or so—and he suddenly looked old, not like the Bill Murray I remembered from Groundhog Day, or even the Bill Murray I remembered from Life Aquatic.

I don’t know what my endgame is here; I suspect most stalkers don’t dedicate enormous amounts of time to considering their motivation and ultimate goal. They probably have the benefit of spending less time in their heads. I don’t want to marry Bill Murray, or have sex with him. I don’t want him to write BOZO on my forehead in permanent marker. I wouldn’t mind a quiet conversation with him over coffee—not about his movies or celebrity, but perhaps about more commonplace subjects. I’d love his opinion on whether roses or sunflowers make a living room cheerier.

I just know that the clock is ticking. Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death at the age of 46 shocked the hell out of me. Bill’s 63 now, and he isn’t exactly known for being a granola-munching teetotaler. Whether we have another five, 10, or 50 years with him, I’ll still feel cheated when he does eventually go wherever it is that Bill Murray goes in the afterlife. Personally, I don’t believe in any afterlife at all, but I’m willing to bet the universe would make an exception for Bill. Fucking. Murray.

I’d like to think of it as his very own amusement park spa, just for him. Where no one yells “PHIL? PHIL CONNORS, I THOUGHT THAT WAS YOU!” and then demands that he signs their boobs.

Then again, maybe I’ve got it wrong. Maybe that’s exactly what Bill Murray is most looking forward to in his amusement park afterlife. Either way, I’ll still be sporting my red beanie, gathering at the beach with friends and fans, preparing for my mad dash into the ocean and hoping that if a predator does get me, it’s Steve Zissou’s beautiful jaguar shark.

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Comments

  1. Bill Murray is wonderful. He can be so subtle when funny that [some] people don’t get it. He was on one of our British chat shows recently, Graham Norton, and he was charming and funny. Great post.

    • Thanks! He’s pretty much my favorite actor, mostly because I get the impression that he doesn’t take himself all that seriously. I’ll have to look up video footage from that appearance; I hadn’t heard about it, but it sounds great.

  2. I really enjoyed reading all of this. I’m not a Bill Murray fan, but I can appreciate sharing an obsession for a person/ movie/ actor with friends or colleagues. For some reason architects have an obsession with Ben Stiller’s Zoolander movie. During my architecture studies my friends and I quoted Zoolander all the time. It’s not the same as you guys making a movie, I know. But still:)

    • Thanks! I had no idea architects had a particular affinity for that movie, although I’m sure there’s a (semi) rational explanation for that somewhere. I mostly wanted to write about this because I’m just not the stalker, look at me, type of person and I realized that even if you don’t think of yourself that way, there are still those things that get you really excited/ happy, that you kind of want to share with people.

Trackbacks

  1. […] first post I want to share comes from Ashley Schwellenbach at Jane Eyre Likes Cupcakes who I have been kind of stalking admiring since her mommy blog tirade hit Freshly Pressed. The post […]

  2. […] realized someone was hosting a Bill Murray-themed art show at Public Works in San Francisco. As a self-proclaimed Bill Murray stalker (lite), I felt obligated to attend. Plus, if he happened to show up to the art party the night the […]

  3. […] On Sunday, September 21 I celebrated Bill Murray’s birthday as I do every year–with friends at the beach in Avila. I wrote about the experience for New Times and have included the text and some photos below, along with a link to the original story. For a more thorough explanation of this tradition, go here. […]

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