Desperately seeking Bill Murray

My daughter spotted the advert six months ago.

Bill Murray, Melbourne, for one night only, 17 November 2018.

Tickets were pricey but, hey, it was Bill Murray! Who even knew he was in a band? Who cared? It was Bill Murray!

Three tickets were presented to me with a flourish on my 60th Birthday. Naturally, I would take both children. As Gen Y kids, they had grown up with some of the coolest movies, including Ghostbusters, Groundhog Day and Stripes.

OMG, Bill Murray!!

Fast-forward to 17 November and, along with a few thousand other fans, we filed into the Docklands’ Plenary Hall on a Saturday night. Taking our seats, we even joked with the couple sitting in front of us, having discovered that none of us knew what to expect – and none of us cared. Bill Murray could spend two hours insulting us and we wouldn’t be disappointed. Hey, he could even pee on those in the front row and we wouldn’t care. True, we weren’t sitting in the front row …

The lights dimmed, and we roared our approval as the man himself walked onto the stage and introduced his cohorts: a cellist, a pianist, and a violinist. Their names didn’t register, mainly because I was waiting only for the fun to start. But, instead and much to my surprise, Mr Murray read at length from something rather highbrow and literary, and to musical accompaniment. Interesting … But it went on a bit, and then there was great applause, and then there was an awkward silence – as if none of us knew quite how to react. Indeed, I found myself a little embarrassed on Bill Murray’s behalf.

As journalist Tyler Jenke, wrote the following day,

“After kicking things off with a recitation of the works of James Fenimore Cooper to the sounds of Franz Schubert, Murray was quick to note that he was more than aware of the audience’s mixed reactions to this performance.

“This is the moment when audience members look at each and say…” he explained, a look of bewilderment covering his face. “And I completely understand.

“The noises that [cellist Jan Vogler] is making on that box of his shouldn’t be repeated publicly, the chicken -strangling that [violinist Mira Wang] is, y’know… the authorities should step in,” he continued. “But I want to make you a promise, I really swear to you; the worst is over.”

People laughed, seemingly desperate to do so. But it didn’t strike me as particularly funny, nor was the worst of it over. In fact, as the show continued, it was just more of the same with a few show tunes thrown in for good measure. Some of the readings were a little disturbing too, mainly because of how far we’ve come in terms what is no longer acceptable.

The experience raised a number questions for me:

• Was it an experiment? A challenge to someone brave enough to stand up and shout, ‘Enough!’
• Was the audience in collective denial?
• Was this a variation on The Emperor’s New Clothes?
• Had Bill Murray chosen not to be funny any more?
• Should I have researched what we could expect from the evening?

I observed an increasing number of silhouettes sneaking out at the end of each ‘piece’ and realised I wished I was brave enough – and possibly ill mannered enough – to do the same. But we were stuck mid-row, so I would be offending more than just Bill Murray by making a move.

To my right, my son was making plans to commando roll. To my left, my daughter was wondering would it get better, or should we just leave?

Back to Tyler Jenke’s review:

“Lengthy readings from Mark Twain’s ‘Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn’, and James Thurber’s ‘If Grant Had Been Drinking At Appomattox’ followed, before a medley of songs from Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim’s ‘West Side Story’ closed out the set.”

But in the end, collective bravery is a wonderful thing! We did boldly exit before the end of the show, missing the West Side Story medley, which perhaps was a redeeming moment. But I shall never know now.

My apologies, Bill Murray. I’m sure that you were technically fabulous, and it’s your right to follow your dreams where they take you. But a ticket to see you was my birthday present, and I selfishly wanted to laugh until I cried, and I couldn’t hack it when I realised that wasn’t going happen.

So I went home and watched Groundhog Day again. You were really funny!