If you habitually steal golf carts, take over performances by college bands at football games or sneak up on strangers from behind to cover their eyes, you are:
1) A candidate for psychiatric analysis.
2) Likely to incur jail time after the third or fourth incident.
3) Bill Murray.
Four decades after star-making appearances on “Saturday Night Live,” the 66-year-old Murray remains a pre-eminent trickster, an unknowable cat likely to turn up anywhere and put his nose into someone’s bowl of cream.
Gavin Edwards finds him fascinating. Read “The Tao of Bill Murray,” in which the actor’s philosophy gets explained – yes, he has one – and you may agree with his Charlotte biographer.
Calling Edwards that may be misleading: He has spent 46 of his 47 years elsewhere, moving here with wife Jennifer Sudul Edwards and their two sons when she became curator of the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art in 2015.
“The other places I’ve lived have been New York, London and Los Angeles. I knew coming in that’s not Charlotte,” says Edwards, who’ll read from “Tao” Friday at Park Road Books. “I was delighted to find out how much cultural life there is in this city.”
That’s the Ninth Principle of Bill: “Your spirit will follow your body.” Or is it the Third Principle: “Invite yourself to the party”? Edwards has watched bits of Bill seep into his psyche since profiling the actor for Rolling Stone in 2014.
“It’s more often unconscious,” he says. “It didn’t take a heavy push for me to go in that direction (of extreme spontaneity); what writing the book did, perhaps, was give me the framework to have these incidents. I have always been inclined to be silly and see where it goes.”
Where it has gone so far, since his New York youth: Yale University (class of 1990, B.A. in English), Details magazine, Rolling Stone, four amusing books of misheard song lyrics – starting with “Scuse Me, While I Kiss This Guy” in 1995 – and four pre-Murray books about show business, including “Last Night at the Viper Room: River Phoenix and the Hollywood He Left Behind.”
About Murray, he says, “I was not president of the fan club but was always a fan. If you’re my age, you grew up with him. You saw him on ‘Saturday Night Live’ when you stayed up late as a kid. ‘Ghostbusters’ was a huge movie for you. Then you grew up and watched ‘Rushmore’ and ‘Broken Flowers,’ and you saw the anomie and world-weariness.
“Part of the reason I wanted to write about Bill was that I wanted to sink my teeth into a big American figure. I wanted to do someone who has left a legacy in American culture.”
Edwards opens “Tao” with a brief biography and outlines the 10 Principles of Bill. The bulk of the book illustrates those with stories of Murray’s madcap, liberating and sometimes infuriating actions, which mostly leave people slack-jawed with pleasure. Then he analyzes each of Murray’s feature films and major TV roles, usually with an enthusiastic or forgiving eye. (Robert Sikoryak did the witty illustrations.)
The book acknowledges Murray can be hard to work with: He cut Harold Ramis off for 20 years for a slight neither recalled, though they reconciled just before Ramis’ death. A quote from “Ghostbusters” director Ivan Reitman may be the key to Murray’s character: “He lives life to his standard, even though he’s lazy and sometimes he’s eccentric and he’s frustrating to other creative people and frankly, unfair, because everything has to go on his clock. But he’s worth it.”
He’s also, in Edwards’ view, a liberating trickster akin to the Coyote of native American literature, a man who inspires us to free ourselves from presumed obligations. He has no agent or manager or publicist; anyone who wants to reach him must obtain a 1-800 number and leave a message. (Edwards says he doesn’t have it but can get it.) Spontaneous interactions in upstate New York and Charleston, where Murray owns homes, can end with him saying, “No one will ever believe you.”
Edwards says people who don’t know Murray well don’t see the guy who reads Irish novelists, wants to write a play of his own and spends quiet time with his family. (He has six sons by two wives he has divorced.)
“I don’t know to what extent it weighs on him to ‘be Bill,’ where he’s expected to do something wacky,” says Edwards. “It still genuinely delights him. He does it to jolt other people awake and jolt himself awake. Throw someone a curve, and doing that gives you a jolt, too.
“There’s total intentionality in what Bill Murray does. It’s not ‘Watch what I do, and learn lessons from it.’ He just grapples with the world and injects randomness into life. Most people don’t, and that’s part of what makes Bill inspiring.”
‘The Tao of Bill Murray’
Gavin Edwards will read from his book Friday at 7 p.m. at Park Road Books, in the Park Road Shopping Center at 4139 Park Road. He’ll take questions, share stories and sign books afterward. Admission is free.