Hello. I’m Gavin Edwards, contributing editor at Rolling Stone and the New York Times-bestselling author of The Tao of Bill Murray, the ’Scuse Me While I Kiss This Guy series, and Last Night at the Viper Room. I live in Charlotte, North Carolina. I like caffeine, boardgames, and lists with three items.

Reading at Sensoria

final-cover-artIf you are in or near Charlotte, North Carolina, and if you would like to hear me reading from The Tao of Bill Murray, answering questions (about Bill or anything else that interests you), and signing books (my own, presumably), then you are in luck–I will be appearing at CPCC for the Sensoria festival on Monday, April 3rd, at 11:30 am. I’m told we’ll be at the Hagemeyer Learning Resources Center–specifically, the second floor atrium. I’m not George Saunders (who’s showing up a couple of days later–the Sensoria festival is no joke!), but I doubt he’ll have stories about Bill Murray hanging out with the Wu-Tang Clan and tending bar.

posted 30 March 2017 in Buy My Stuff. no comments yet

1988 Countdown #36: Michael Jackson, “The Way You Make Me Feel”

(And the beat goes on. New to the countdown? Catch up here.)

mj3610A beautiful woman walks down a city street: tight black dress, bangles on her wrists, long kinky hair, flawless mocha skin, high heels. This is model Tatiana Thumbzen. A funky guitar riff plays in the background (the song “Hot” by Roy Ayers). The neighborhood is grimy and covered with graffiti; it’s supposed to look like a sketchy part of New York City, but it’s pretty obvious that this video was filmed on one of the standing “New York” sets maintained by Hollywood studios.

There’s a half-dozen B-boys hanging out on the corner. One of them points out the woman who’s turning the sidewalk into a runway and tells his friends, “Look at that! Look! Whoooo-oh! Now, that is foxy.” A silhouetted figure steps up onto the sidewalk, in the path of the woman. Our B-boy keeps giving live commentary, as if he were a streetcorner Marv Albert: “I thought I told him to go home! What is he doing?”

mj3601With the slightest of detours, she walks around the mysterious figure. “She gonna pass him up,” our play-by-play man informs us. We now see that our spurned hero is Michael Jackson, who tries to look tough. His Bad-era plastic surgery has settled in more fully than it had on the “Bad” video (not in this countdown—it was released in 1987), so his face no longer looks like a constant rictus of pain, although it still has some unsettling mask-like qualities.

(This is, by the way, the third of seven singles released from Bad, and the third Michael Jackson clip we’ve seen on the 1988 countdown, after “Another Part of Me” at #94 and “Smooth Criminal” at #60. There will be two more in the higher reaches of the chart.)

mj3602Jackson yells: “Hey!” Thumbzen stops and turns around for a beauty-shot close-up: dangling earrings, bouffant hair, impeccably groomed eyebrows. The soundtrack goes completely silent. Jackson curls his lip and turns towards her. As he advances on her, he flashes a V-sign at waist level and then snaps his fingers, moving his wrist like he’s showing off a switchblade. The vaguely menacing effect is ruined by his outfit. Black pants, white T-shirt, long-sleeved denim shirt: all plausibly tough. The white sash he’s wearing as a belt, tied in a bow at the front: that makes him look like a backup dancer in an old Gene Kelly musical.

Jackson walks around her slowly enough that we can notice the strand of hair artfully dangling over his forehead, and then sings a cappella: “You knock me off of my feet now, baby.” And then, he jumps in the air with a “whoooo!” He moves his limbs, kicking his feet and waving his arms, and seems to be summoning the music into existence.

mj3603Let’s say this now: “The Way You Make Me Feel,” written by Jackson, and produced by himself and Quincy Jones, is excellent. It’s got a chugging locomotive groove that’s just undeniable. To this day, Stevie Wonder covers it live, which is pretty much the gold-standard seal of approval.

Director Joe Pytka’s camera spins around Jackson and Thumbzen. In the background, there’s a bench with newspapers scattered on it. The print media is not dead! (Or it wasn’t in 1988, anyway.) Pytka, by the way, would end up directing the Michael Jordan/Bugs Bunny movie Space Jam in 1996.

mj3605Thumbzen takes off; the B-boys point in her direction and Jackson chases after her, saying “Come on, girl!” Like the Henry Lee Summer video that clocked in at #86, this is another clip full of the raw material for a sexual-harassment training video. It doesn’t come off as harshly as Summer’s did because Thumbzen is actively flirting with Jackson: for example, she stops in the middle of the street just long enough for him to catch up with her.

She takes a few steps forward, and finds another group of B-boys in her way. Thumbzen’s best moments in this video involve her breaking her erect runway-model posture for human body language, as she does here with a “why you messing with me?” slouch. Details in the background: a bodega with a neon “OPEN” sign that has an iron gate rendering the business closed, graffiti on the wall that includes the word “BOOBS,” a neon sign advertising “USED APPLIANCES,” a Castrol GTX sign with no indication of anything else automotive nearby.

mj3604Thumbzen keeps walking, only to find Jackson in front of her with a group of B-boy supporters. It’s not clear if these backup tough guys will end up being dancers, as usually happens in Michael Jackson videos. Maybe they’re one of the gangs from “Beat It,” now retired from ritual knife fights? She watches with her hands on her hips as Michael Jackson outlines her body with his hands, sings “kiss me baby and tell me twice,” and mimes pelvic thrusts, strongly implying he knows how to have sex.

As Jackson sings the chorus, she runs away into an alley. In a different movie, or in real life, this would be a horrifying moment: her pursuer has trapped her in a dead end, with six friends backing him up. She escapes without incident, and Jackson trails her down a sidewalk, catching up in front of an old fallout shelter sign. As he serenades her, he gives little convulsive twitches, as if the choreography had taken over his body without his consent. An old man (actor Joe Seneca) sitting on a stoop gives Jackson the thumbs up.

mj3612Thumbzen’s on the move again, so Jackson’s in pursuit. He’s got this lovely running move where he drags his feet on the pavement. I don’t know whether it was the invention of choreographer Vincent Paterson or Jackson himself, but it’s a small moment of grace. This is an expensive video that’s trying to look gritty and low budget, but what makes the whole thing work (other than the excellence of the song) is the documentary power of it: the moments when you feel like you’re seeing Michael Jackson’s dancing skills in real time.

He climbs on top of a 70s sedan and dances on the car’s trunk for a moment; she moves away, so he jumps off and follows her, giving her a high leg kick to show the seriousness of his intentions. Even when Jackson is trying to be menacing and rapey, he seems graceful and nonsexual. There’s another 70s car next to her: surprisingly, the owner doesn’t keep it locked, because she opens the driver’s door and escapes through the front seat. Jackson dives into the car, in hot pursuit. As she closes the passenger door behind her, Jackson climbs through the open window. Thumbzen runs down the street while Jackson sings “my lonely days are gone.” She’s laughing and smiling and skipping—it doesn’t feel like he’s persuaded her, more that she’s been in on the game all along.

mj3608Look, she’s found three other models on the sidewalk! It’s a quartet of beautiful women with ambiguous ethnic heritage. There’s a quick consultation; they’re collectively amused by Jackson, who keeps on singing, backed by a crew of B-boys gesturing at the women. In the video’s most charming moment, the women mimic the B-boy gestures. It feels like at the intermission of West Side Story, the Jets and the Sharks decided to split the gangs up and do the second act as boys versus girls.

The chorus rolls around again. On the soundtrack, Jackson’s pretty clearly providing his own backing vocals: he likes to make a world where he mostly interacting with himself. To what extent does he think of the B-boys as manifestations of his inner self? Or Thumbzen?

Further courtship rituals around a beat-up VW convertible Beetle with a sagging ragtop: Thumbzen leans against the car while Jackson hikes his leg up onto a fender. She grabs him by the collar and then pushes him away. Lots more aimless business so the camera can keep moving: they circle the Beetle, they keep walking, they sit down for a split second, they go up a staircase to a building where the door is locked.

mj3616Dance break! A fire hydrant cinematically sprays into the air and somebody presses the “blue lighting” button. Lots of finger snapping, and four of the B-boys transform into backup dancers. Jackson and the backup quartet do a short muscular dance routine in silhouette, punctuated with lots of grunts and shouts, and ludicrously climaxing with all of them humping the pavement.

Thumbzen rushes forward–apparently, there has been a sufficient amount of state-of-the-art pop production and dancing to convince her that Jackson’s intentions are honorable. But Jackson’s vanished. She stands bewildered in the backlit blue spray. Then Jackson returns in silhouette–unless it’s his shadow, cut loose from him like Peter Pan. Thumbzen and Jackson share an emotional embrace. The fire hydrant keeps spurting out water, an unsubtle metaphor for Jackson’s own bodily fluids.

“The Way You Make Me Feel” topped the Billboard singles chart for one week (and also hit #1 on the R&B chart); it was the third entry in a streak of five #1 singles in a row from Michael Jackson. You can watch it here.

posted 20 March 2017 in 1988. 6 comments

Westlake on Graffiti

copsandrobbersOne pleasant aspect of being a fan of the late great novelist Donald Westlake is that he was so prolific—both under his own name and the hardboiled pseudonym Richard Stark—is that it feels like I’ll never run out of his books. Yesterday I grabbed a random paperback off the shelf: 1972’s Cops and Robbers, about two New York City policemen who decide to go crooked. It’s minor Westlake (it began life as a screenplay), but 44 pages in, it’s got a journalistic description of graffiti in New York City rich in detail and nuanced in aesthetic judgment. It’s all the more remarkable because it was so early in the history of NYC graffiti that people don’t seem to have been calling it “graffiti” yet (Westlake, at least, doesn’t use the word). The following passage is from the POV of one of the cops:

A recent fad among the kids has been to write nicknames on walls and subways and all over the damn place in either spray paint or felt-tip pen, both of which are very tough to get rid of, particularly from a porous surface like stone. The fad is for a kid to write his name or nickname or some magic name he’s worked out for himself, and then under it write the number of the street he lives on. “JUAN 135,” for instance, or “BOSS ZOOM 92,” that kind of thing.

The fad had hit the school building. As high as a child’s arm could reach, the names and numbers were scrawled everywhere on the walls, in black and red and blue and green and yellow. Some of the signatures were like little paintings, carefully and lovingly done, and some of them were just splashed and scrawled on, with runlets of paint dripping down from the bottoms of the letters, but most of them were simply reports of name and number, without flair or imagination: “Andy 87,” “Beth 81,” “Moro 103.”

At first, all that paintwork looked like vandalism and nothing more. But as I got used to it, to seeing it around, I realized it gave a brightly colored hem to the gray stone skirt of a building like this, that it had a very sunny Latin American flavor to it, and that once you got past the prejudice against working up public property it wasn’t that bad at all. Of course, I never said this to anybody.

posted 11 January 2017 in Excerpts. no comments yet

In Praise of R. Sikoryak

Over at BoingBoing, I wrote an essay about the most excellent illustrator of The Tao of Bill Murray, R. Sikoryak. Over here, I’m happy to post one of my favorite pieces of art from the book, where Bill Murray worms his way into the world of M.C. Escher.


posted 8 December 2016 in Links. no comments yet

Mint Museum Event Cancelled

If you were planning on coming to the Mint Museum tonight for their “Wine on Wednesday,” it’s been cancelled due to the expectation of widespread (and hopefully peaceful) protest in uptown Charlotte tonight. We’ll be rescheduling–I’ll keep you posted.

posted 30 November 2016 in Buy My Stuff. no comments yet

Tao of Bill Murray Reading/Signing Schedule II

final-cover-artIf you live in Charlotte or Atlanta, and your dream is to have me sign a copy of The Tao of Bill Murray, then good things are about to happen for you. (Also, you need to have more ambitious dreams.)

On Wednesday, November 30th–tomorrow!–I will be at the Mint Museum for their “Wine on Wednesday” event. It’s from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m, but I will be there signing books (and gladhanding and hobnobbing) between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. If you arrive earlier (i.e., at 5:30) you can meet Amber Smith, author of the new YA smash hit The Way I Used to Be. You can also drink (and gladhand and hobnob) and check out the art. (Currently on display: “Women of Abstract Expressionism.”) The Mint Museum Uptown is at the Levine Center for the Arts, 500 S. Tryon St., Charlotte NC 28202.

Next Thursday, December 8th, I will be in Atlanta, reading and answering questions and signing books at the most excellent A Cappella Books. No wine, so far as I know, but I guarantee good times nevertheless. (Plus, on request: gladhanding and hobnobbing.) The reading is at 7 p.m., and A Cappella is at 208 Haralson Ave NE, Atlanta GA 30307.

Hope to see you at one of these events! Bring every human being you’ve ever met!

posted 29 November 2016 in Buy My Stuff. no comments yet

R.I.P. Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen, poet, genius, and gentleman, has died at the age of 82. I interviewed him two years ago in a banquet room at the Canadian Consulate in Los Angeles, and although I didn’t have a lot of time in his presence, every sentence he uttered was a pearl. I wrote two completely different articles about our encounter, both for Rolling Stone. One was an article largely about the making of the album. (“I don’t smoke, I don’t drink, I don’t court women. So I have a lot of free time.”) The other was an interview covering everything from sandwiches to what he wanted his legacy to be. (“There are certain truths that are in a dormant stage that you can’t always locate or be nourished by.”) Play his music and toast him as he ascends to the Leonard Cohen afterworld that Kurt Cobain dreamed of.

posted 11 November 2016 in Archives, Articles. no comments yet

99 Luftballoons

99luftballonsHave you been wondering what Nena, the German singer best known in the States for her 1984 single “99 Luftballoons,” has been up to for the past three decades? Then you’re in luck, because I wrote an article for the New York Times about her. Be warned: the history of the song becoming an American hit is a strange confluence of DJ Rodney Bingenheimer, famous heroin addict Christiane F., and experimental noise band Einstürzende Neubauten.

posted 12 October 2016 in Articles. 1 comment

If You Want a Signed and Inscribed Copy of The Tao of Bill Murray

final-cover-artSo you’ve read the reviews and you want to buy a copy of The Tao of Bill Murray for yourself or a loved one, but you want it signed by the author (i.e., me)–what’s your winning strategy? The answer is “Get in touch with the cool people at Park Road Books in Charlotte, North Carolina.” They will be happy to sell you a copy of the book and ship it to you, and I will be equally happy to come by the store and sign it (or even to personalize it with your name, or the name of someone you love, or the name “Natasha” just because you like how that sounds).

Call them up at 704-525-9239, or if you’d rather email them, drop them a line at orders@parkroadbooks.com. Tell ’em I say hi.

If a signature isn’t important to you or if you want the book faster, you have other options, of course: you can buy the book from Random House, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Powell’s, or your local bookstore. Or you can get it as an impossible-to-sign audiobook.

posted 27 September 2016 in Buy My Stuff. no comments yet

Tao of Bill Murray Review Roundup

final-cover-artThe Tao of Bill Murray came out last week, and there was rejoicing throughout the land. I think rather highly of the book–as well I should–but perhaps you’d like reports and opinions from some impartial commentators?

In the New York Times Book Review, columnist John Williams observed that “there seems to be just one big rule underlying the many anecdotes in this book: Have bizarre fun however and whenever you want.”

At the Washington Post, reviewer John Wilwol wrote that it “captures Murray’s enigmatic, comic genius.”

In Newsday (the New York newspaper based in Long Island), Daniel Bubbeo called it “insightful” and noted “You never know what to expect from Bill Murray whenever he’s on film, but the actor is even more unpredictable off screen.”

And over at the GeekDad website, James Floyd Kelly reviewed the book and declared, “You will love The Tao of Bill Murray. Period.”

posted 26 September 2016 in Buy My Stuff, Links. no comments yet