Bill Murray is a name that has become ubiquitous in the modern world. As famed now for his ability to make us all feel a little bit better with hilarious antics as he is his professional comedic acting, Murray has often struggled during his life.
In the early days of his career, Murray had difficulty holding down spots for very long, but there was one in Chicago that he managed to hold on to during his salad days. There just so happened to be a singer who had set up shop with some wonderful songs across the street from that venue, his name was John Prine.
The late, great John Prine sadly passed away last year due to complications following contracting COVID-19. It created a tidal wave of outpouring from the music industry, who all cited Prine as one of the most influential singer-songwriters of all time. But, outside of the music world, there were plenty of other people around who had been as equally blessed by Prine’s words. One of those people who relied on Prine’s music was Bill Murray.
Speaking a few years before his death as part of the promotion of Prine’s first new album in years The Tree of Forgiveness, Murray once shared the story of how Prine saved him from a bout of depression or, as Murray says, “not clinical depression” just “a real bummer to be around.” The Groundhog day actor was finding it difficult to align his life in the name of positive mental health and turned to the bastion of cerebral balance, Hunter S Thompson, for some advice.
The Gonzo journalist was forthright in his prescription: go and listen to John Prine. For Thompson and later Murray, Prine operated within the absolute truth of life; he was comedy and tragedy incarnate. Prine wasn’t guided by making cash for his songs, nor was he aligned to a particular sound or expression. No, John Prine wrote and sang music for the purest of intents, to alleviate himself of burden, finding the humour in almost every tragedy. As Murray once said, “John Prine can make you laugh like no else can make you laugh.”
The only real head-scratcher from Thompson’s advice is why Murray needed to be pointed in the singer’s direction at all. The comedian had known of Prine since the early days working alongside John Belushi in the Chicago comedy clubs and had even stumbled into their shows on occasion to watch the girls flock to the stage and leave him and Belushi snorting with derision: “ugh, musicians.”
It is this conversation that is perfectly captured in the footage below. It sees Prine sit across from Murray as part of an interview with the Recording Academy and reminisce about their lives on the Chicago circuit. It sees Prine express how he got comfortable on stage “I didn’t,” as well as Murray’s own natural charisma in getting under the spotlight, “I was so bad, that I just left the stage and kept walking for miles.”
It’s a fascinating insight that shows us two things. Not only do we get some candid re-tellings of the stories of two of America’s finest storytellers — a winning combination — but we also see the longstanding connection between two friends and how their separate paths continuously intertwined.