There’s an old joke, famously repeated in Alan Moore’s Watchmen, that goes like this: “Man goes to doctor. Says he’s depressed. Says life seems harsh and cruel. Says he feels all alone in a threatening world where what lies ahead is vague and uncertain. Doctor says: ‘Treatment is simple. Great clown Pagliacci is in town tonight. Go and see him. That should pick you up.’ Man bursts into tears. Says: ‘But doctor, I am Pagliacci’.”
Yesterday Bill Murray, America’s foremost sad clown, offered a couple of insights into how he writes his own prescription for Pagliacci’s complaint. He self-medicates with music, poetry and literature.
Early in the day a video appeared in which Murray recounts the time Hunter Thompson advised a depressed Murray: “We’re going to have to rely on John Prine for his sense of humour.” Sure enough, the great folk singer’s song ‘Linda Goes To Mars’ proved to be the first thing in a long while to tease a laugh out of Murray.
Then last night, he appeared on stage at the Wiltern in Los Angeles for a very special performance accompanied by the renowned German cellist Jan Vogler, the violinist Mira Wang and pianist Vanessa Perez. Murray’s readings of hand-picked poems, passages from favourite books and a handful of songs were interspersed with the musicians’ performances of Bach, Schubert and Ravel. Think of it as a highbrow version of that unwatchably bad Netflix Christmas special he made a couple of years ago.