The Yoke on Bill Murray

Bill Murray photo
Photo by Gage Skidmore cc

“Excuse me, Mr. Murray?”


“I just, I just… I just think you’re the best!”

“Well, kid, then you’ve got to get out more.”

— an exchange which took place on a Brooklyn sidewalk in 2014 between a young New York City educator and Bill Murray, while both were waiting to see Peter Brook’s The Valley of Astonishment

Bill was born eight years to the day after my birth, Bill Murray.  That fact doesn’t qualify me to do his biography, but I’d like to use him as a point of departure for making an important point for activists who wouldn’t normally read many of my words, but who will plow through this piece simply because Bill Murray is my initial focus… with his name in the title.

On September 21, 1950, William James Murray became what was to become the fifth of nine children for his parents. “In a large family,” Bill said years later, “you have to get along.” I know a lot of folks who come from families as large as Bill’s, and I know that’s true. And when you’re the middle child in a large family, it’s hard to get attention from your parents. Bill figured out quite early on  that a surefire way of doing that was to make his father laugh.

I met Mr. Murray (not his dad, but Bill) in Greenwich Village at a small cafe once. Briefly. The first words I heard him say were directed to the cashier, as he was preparing to leave the establishment I had just walked into. “You have change of a hundred?”, asked Bill. The youth behind the counter, who probably didn’t do a hundred dollars worth of business in that place on most days, took Bill seriously, and a worried look came across his face… maybe wondering how he was going to handle collecting payment from the Saturday Night Live star.

Bill laughed and showed a very human face immediately which told the worker not to be concerned, that he was just joking; he quickly produced the required $2.00 from his pocket, and plopped it on the counter to be collected… calming the boy down. And convinced that Bill was indeed human, I got up the nerve to ask him a question just before he passed my table on the way out.

“What’s your take on Vietnam, Bill?”

He stared, as if nonplussed.

“How much time do you have?”, he asked.

“All the time in the world,” I shot back.

“I don’t have any,” he replied firmly, and marched out into the cold Manhattan weather., throwing a scarf as big as John Belushi around his neck.

Years later — years ago — I thought about that and came to the conclusion that perhaps he wasn’t really human. Not if that means being able to take out the heartbeats necessary to engage with someone who’s sincerely wanting to put an end to the abomination that is war.

Clearly, Bill was against our invasion of Southeast Asia; I knew that from many of his comments and actions. And — for sure — he’s a funny guy, a talented celebrity who maybe deserves to be given some slack when attacked by a stranger who’s being presumptuous with his time and energy.

But… none of that excuses passing up an opportunity to authentically bond with another citizen who is wanting to make this a better world. That needs to be picked up on viscerally now… and acted upon post haste.

I mean, look at all the talented and politically spot on writers who post regularly on alternative media outlets. Check out how few give their contact information. Who do they expect to address the issues they rant and rave about in their articles and books, and in speeches on the lecture circuit? Someone else? When?

I can tell you that no one else is taking on that challenge effectively right now, and that’s partly a function of folks who say the right thing, not doing the necessary thing with others.

Bill Murray’s career was always his number one focus, and you could say the same respecting activists who write and speak for concerned citizens these days; their primary attention is on their next posted piece or audience reaction or the potential for publishing. That sort of thing.

None of this is funny. It’s arguably the main reason we’re going to go over the precipice. And so… I recommend that readers stop giving such importance to discussions of capitalism vs. socialism and the like routinely, stop storing up and/or boning up on as much documentation as you can. Put an end to laughing at easy targets set up by the likes of politically-correct comedians… in lieu of doing something with others about those foci.

And forget about depending on celebrities to make a difference, and find a way for your Cause to stop being the middle child in society… the one which is dear to your heart, but too easily ignored, lost in the crowd of brothers and sisters who are competing… and carving out careers for themselves.

Secure the attention required. Not to joke and put on spotlight on yourself. But to be a magnet for one and all on the most serious matters. Those which are impacting on everyone in the most dire way right now. Issues which many high profile figures embrace superficially while generating publicity for themselves, even going to lengths like creating websites with others (Matt Damon on Water, Sean Penn on Haiti et alia ad infinitum) and making the rounds on talk shows blowing hot air.

Be human. Do what it takes — as an activist — to make time for people like me… and you.

In comedy, they say, timing is everything. Well, again… don’t waste your time on celebrities — expecting anything vis-a-vis our collective deadlines — unless you want the yoke to be on all of us.

Richard Martin Oxman can be reached at [email protected] until he becomes 76 on 9/21/18… and Bill Murray celebrates his 68th year… probably on the golf course.


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