Hello. I’m Gavin Edwards, the public speaker and the New York Times-bestselling author of The Tao of Bill Murray, the ’Scuse Me While I Kiss This Guy series, and Kindness and Wonder: Why Mister Rogers Matters Now More Than Ever. If you’re interested in hiring me, click here for more information.

Gathering the Magic

“Manic Scribe” would be a good job title to put on a business card, actually.

If you pick up a copy of today’s Washington Post, you will find my first article for that fine publication, about the card game Magic: The Gathering, the player Lee Shi Tian, and what heroism means in 2020—both in card games and in what we still like to call the real world.

I don’t think I’ve ever had an article take so long between the reporting and the publication—roughly nine months passed between my attending a Mythic Championship tournament in Richmond, Virginia and the current moment—and given how life has turned inside-out for everybody, at various points I assumed this piece would never run. So my thanks to the good people at the Post, especially editor David Rowell, for not only sticking with it but making sure that it felt relevant and resonant when it finally was printed.

You can read it here.

posted 9 August 2020 in Articles. no comments yet

Alex Trebek: the Man, the Myth, the Mustache

Alex Trebek (left) and me in 2000.

One of the weird things about writing advance obituaries: you immerse yourself in somebody else’s life, striving to get the details right and to sum up the broad strokes of their existence. If you do that right, you’re proud of the results (and likely sympathetic to your subject)—but then you may have to wait years for the obituary to be published. You want people to read what you wrote, but not at the price of the subject having to die.

When Alex Trebek announced last year that he had advanced pancreatic cancer, Rolling Stone asked me to write an appreciation of the man (and the story of my appearance on Jeopardy! back in 2000), anticipating that he might have only weeks left among us. And then, stubbornly and gloriously, Trebek has stayed alive.

So this outcome was an unexpected delight: Rolling Stone decided to publish my article today. I’m glad Alex Trebek can read it, and I’m glad you can too.

posted 21 July 2020 in Articles. no comments yet

Please Mr. Postman

The Grimshawes post office, roughly the size of a postage stamp.

My first article for Our State magazine–the glossy monthly about the life and history of North Carolina–took me to the mountainous town of Cashiers so I could explore the history of the Grimshawes post office, a shack once reputed to be the nation’s smallest post office.

I also got to spend an afternoon with a 99-year-old local legend and to correspond with official historians of the United States Postal Service (who knew the USPS had a history department?). All in all, not bad for a Carolina road trip.

posted 5 July 2020 in Articles. no comments yet

Ben Day and Aqua Net

In recent weeks, I wrote two articles for the New York Times arts section: one was about daily newspaper cartoonists grappling with how to address the pandemic in their strips, while the other was a playlist of 15 essential hair-metal videos.

The pandemic-comics article made the front page of The New York Times, albeit as a tiny capsule in the lower right hand corner.

My thanks to the cartoonists who took the time to speak with me: Lalo Alcaraz (“La Cucaracha”), Ray Billingsley (“Curtis”), Tony Carrillo (“F Minus”), Bill Hinds (“Tank McNamara”), Mark Tatulli (“Lio”), and Stephan Pastis (“Pearls Before Swine”). I always enjoy talking with cartoonists, but it’s unlikely that any of us are getting to a comics convention this year.

And my thanks to the hair-metal bands for being awesome.

posted 18 May 2020 in Articles. no comments yet

Tom Hanks, the Pandemic, and Us

Tom Hanks likes to populate his Instagram with photos of single gloves: one lonely half of a pair, lost on the ground, an object poignantly seeking a partner. But a few weeks ago, the glove he photographed was surgical latex, and it came with a medical report: Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson had suffered from some chills and fevers, and so, “To play things right, as is needed in the world right now, we were tested for the Coronavirus, and were found to be positive.”

In the United States today, everything seems more tangible when it happens to celebrities and sports teams, and for many Americans, the one-two punch that first convinced them that Covid-19 was a real threat was the NBA shutting down and the news that Hanks was infected. (He’s always been a positive guy, but this was a bit much.)

Being the first ailing A-lister was more accident than accomplishment, of course. He was filming an Elvis Presley movie (Hanks is playing Colonel Tom Parker),  directed by Baz Luhrmann in Australia—a country doing much better than the United States with its Covid-19 testing regime. He handled his pioneer status like the level-headed role model that he is; he and Wilson, he declared, “will be tested, observed, and isolated for as long as public health and safety requires. Not much more to it than a one-day-at-a-time approach, no?”

Hanks was also ahead of the curve in coming out on the other side of Covid-19—he and Wilson were released from the hospital in favor of self-quarantining lots of gin rummy—and as we saw when he hosted the stay-at-home edition of Saturday Night Live, a pioneer in having an unflattering quarantine haircut.

When he was younger, figuring out who he was as an actor and as a human being, Hanks used to waste a lot of energy. On a movie set, he’d get into character, achieve a camera-ready white-hot emotional intensity, and then bounce off the walls of his trailer, trying to sustain his peak energy as one hour of waiting extended into three or four.

“You attack and it’s finally done and you’re spent and going, ‘I can’t keep doing this to myself,'” he said in 1996. “Now it’s a matter of, ‘Look, I’ve done the work, I understand that when the time comes it’s going to be alright.’ In the same way that I’m aware that if the kid has a bloody nose, there’s an easy way of taking care of it, as opposed to (high-pitched scream) ‘Oh my god, he’s got a bloody nose!'”

Hanks isn’t just admirably calm in a crisis, he believes in the American ideals of overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles through hard work, shared sacrifice, and collective effort—the values that won World War II and put astronauts on the moon. (And not coincidentally, the values that get motion pictures made.)

The movie in his filmography that best captures this moment is 1995’s Apollo 13. The movie, directed by Ron Howard, is about a moon mission that suffered from a technical failure and barely got back to Earth. In the Apollo capsule, the three astronauts were wedged into tight quarters, socially distancing themselves from Earth to the tune of a couple of hundred thousand miles. In the movie’s most thrilling scene, a room of NASA patched together a design for a replacement air filter; technical expertise counts for a lot when you’re flying a spacecraft or fighting a virus.

This pandemic will reshape the American landscape in ways we can’t fully imagine yet, killing people and businesses and school years. But most of the American people have acted more responsibly and seriously than their leaders in the federal government. Hanks isn’t a lonely man reminding Americans of their best traditions; he’s reflecting the decisions that millions of his fellow citizens have been making without the counsel of movie stars.

We choose the myths we believe in, we choose the stories we tell ourselves about America, we choose the celebrities we want to listen to—and we chose well in making Hanks our national conscience. “We are all in this together,” Hanks wrote after one week of being alone on the other side of the world, and it was never truer. “Flatten the curve.”

(For more of my writing on Tom Hanks, check out my book The World According to Tom Hanks: The Life, the Obsessions, the Good Deeds of America’s Most Decent Guy. Help keep your local bookstore in business!)

posted 22 April 2020 in Articles. 1 comment

Ranking Roger

Congratulations to Roger Deakins, who won the Academy Award for Best Cinematography last night for his work on 1917! (It was his second Oscar, after Blade Runner 2029 in 2017, both of which followed thirteen nominations without a trophy across two decades.) I was rooting for him, not just because he’s amazingly gifted, but because I know from personal experience that he’s a total gentleman.

I visited Deakins and his wife in their Santa Monica home back in 2011, to write a magazine article pegged to the release of Skyfall (also directed by Sam Mendes, the man behind 1917—maybe what 1917 needed to get over the top was an Adele theme song?). Due to a page crunch in a special “Inspirations” issue, the article never ran in full (a small piece of it got excerpted in a New York Times blog) so I am pleased to present it here at last for your reading pleasure.

When Sam Mendes signed on as director of Skyfall, the twenty-third installment of the James Bond series, he immediately knew who he wanted to shoot the film: Roger Deakins, nine-time Oscar nominee. Deakins has been working steadily as the Coen brothers’ cinematographer for two decades, filming most of their movies from Barton Fink onward with fluid wit and a gift for epic tableaux, whether it’s the barren landscapes of True Grit or the improbably elongated boardroom tables of The Hudsucker Proxy. “He’s the best cinematographer in the world,” said Mendes, who had collaborated with Deakins on Revolutionary Road and Jarhead. He believed they had that “level of trust and telepathy” the director-cinematographer relationship requires. The only problem? Deakins wasn’t particularly interested in shooting a Bond movie.

“It wasn’t really my genre at all,” Deakins explained. As a teenager in 1960s England, he had seen some of the Sean Connery Bond pictures, but his taste had inclined towards the European directors and Sam Peckinpah. And although he’s shot Hollywood films from A Beautiful Mind to The Shawshank Redemption, he had never made an action movie. So Mendes flew to Santa Monica and took Deakins for a walk on the beach, detailing the story of Skyfall. “We’re going to make a movie, not a Bond movie,” Mendes told him. Once Deakins understood the project as a human story rather than a pyrotechnic spectacle, he joined the crew.

Aside from the basic responsibility of recording action on film, a cinematographer lights the sets and serves as a sounding board and visually intuitive foil for a movie’s director. “My job,” Deakins said, “is to bring my eyes.”

“He’s an incredibly gentle and shy man,” Mendes said. “Deeply private and so not interested in wanting you to like him.” If Deakins offered you a glass of water, Mendes opined, that would signify you were his best friend.

On a recent Friday afternoon, the 63-year-old Deakins opened the door to his Santa Monica home, barefoot and white-haired. “Would you like some water?” he volunteered, indicating either his good manners or a newfound interest in making best friends. On his patio, Deakins folded his lanky frame into a wooden deck chair and discussed the different techniques he used for Skyfall‘s action sequences. Although he employed handheld cameras at some points, he disdains the recent vogue for jittery faux-verite footage that looks like “some documentary operator is trying to grab a shot. I hate that stuff. It doesn’t do anything for me, probably because I shot documentaries for years. I look at it and think, That’s just bad operating.”

Skyfall puts a real-world spin on some Bond traditions, including the tropical island lair. The secret headquarters of the villain Silva (played by Javier Bardem), is based on Hashima Island, an abandoned coal-mining island off the coast of Japan. After a scout photographed it, the production not only incorporated that research into its sets, but used some of the pictures as CGI backdrops. For those sequences, Deakins also drew on a visit he made to Pyramiden, a former Soviet coal-mining city that has been a ghost town since 1998. Getting there required a ten-hour snowmobile ride. “It’s like they walked away yesterday,” Deakins said, and explained an abrupt economic crash with a visual metaphor. “In the hotel, the tables are still laid.”

Skyfall might be the least globe-trotting Bond production ever. Aside from a few weeks in Turkey, all of its 130 shooting days were in and around London. Bardem, who knew Deakins from No Country for Old Men, joked with him about how instead of filming in exotic locations, they had somehow ended up in the Charing Cross tube station. But London had its own technical challenges, Deakins said: “On any film, even a big-budget movie, you’re struggling with the weather.” In this case, in an only-in-England twist, that meant lots of sunny days when he expected steely gray skies.

For many scenes in far-flung locations–Bardem’s island, the waterways of Shanghai–the production constructed elaborate sets at Pinewood Studios outside London. For a sequence where Bond tracks down an assassin in a Shanghai office building, the filmmakers scouted real Chinese skyscrapers but built a substitute they nicknamed “the jellyfish.” This allowed for some improvements, including making every wall, floor, and ceiling out of glass. “It’s like a hall of mirrors,” Deakins said. He lit the scene with two enormous LED panels, representing electronic billboards outside the office’s windows. The drawback: “Because it was all glass, the crew walking through it kept bashing into things,” Deakins said. He grinned; much of a cinematographer’s work is invisible, although usually not as hazardous. “Every now and then you’d hear ‘Ugh!’ Oh dear, Sam’s hit his head again.”

posted 10 February 2020 in Articles, Unpublished. no comments yet

Bill Murray Update

It’s been over three years since the publication of The Tao of Bill Murray, my book about the philosophy and adventures of America’s prankster god. Delightfully, Bill Murray has continued in his spontaneous ways since then.

The holiday season brought a couple of sightings of Bill in airports: one on Christmas Eve where he had a warm chat with a total stranger, gave her advice on when to get some sun while she was in Florida (between 6 am and 8 am) and ended the whole encounter with a big hug.

Eleven days later, he got on another plane, carrying a box of pizza, and handed out slices to all the passengers around him. Jenny Lawson (“The Bloggess”), whose husband witnessed the event, said, “I told Victor to invite him home for lunch… then I remembered all I have are Atkins bars and ramen but it didn’t matter because they were both catching different connections in Houston.”

Also! Breaking news, albeit two and a half years after the fact!

Via my good friend Joey X, I just got a report of Bill’s antics in the Nevada desert at the Burning Man festival:

“2017, Bill Murray went to the burn and gave out hot dogs at the gate for burners coming in. My pal André got one and the wrapper was signed.”

Photographic evidence, courtesy of André:

Happy new year, Bill.

posted 13 January 2020 in News. no comments yet

Two Remarkable Women

This past week, I had obituaries printed in The New York Times for two very different, very accomplished women: Marie Fredriksson and Rose Mackenberg.

Marie Fredriksson was one-half of Roxette, the Swedish pop group that was intensely successful in the United States between 1989 and 1991; she died on Monday after a long illness. I shared the byline with Iliana Magra, a Times reporter based in London. “Swedish critics said we’d never make it, but they were wrong,” Fredriksson said in 1990.

Rose Mackenberg died in 1968; she was a professional debunker of phony psychics whose work led her to collaborate with Harry Houdini and to testify before the United States Congress. She was also described as a “ghost-buster” decades before I imagined that word was ever used. The article was part of the exceptional “Overlooked” series at the Times, edited by Amy Padnani.

Inspirational wisdom from Mackenberg, circa 1949: “I smell a rat before I smell the incense.”

posted 13 December 2019 in Articles. no comments yet

Holiday Shopping: How to Buy a Signed Copy of One of My Books

So you want to buy a copy of one of my books for a loved one in the upcoming holiday season? Well, I’d certainly recommend that: I’ve got twelve books now, one of which is certain to be perfect for somebody on your list. (I’m particularly partial to my latest, Kindness and Wonder, but it may be that you know someone who’s a big fan of Bill Murray (in which case you might treat them to The Tao of Bill Murray) or Tom Hanks (The World According to Tom Hanks) or River Phoenix (Last Night at the Viper Room) or surrealist drawing games (The Beautiful Book of Exquisite Corpses).)

You can buy my books at your local bookstore (my favorite option!), or at major retailers such as Barnes & Noble, Amazon, or Powell’s. If, however, you want a copy that’s been signed and inscribed by me, your best bet is to call up my local bookstore, Park Road Books in Charlotte, North Carolina. They will be happy to sell you one or more of my books and ship them to you (or anywhere else in the world you like)—and before they send them out, I will swing by the store with a Sharpie and personalize them.

The phone number for the good people of Park Road Books is 704-525-9239, or you can reach them via orders@parkroadbooks.com. They also have a store dog, Yola, who has become something of a local celebrity, but I can’t promise they’ll put Yola on the phone.

If you want a personalized copy (not just signed) to arrive before Christmas, please make your order by Thursday, December 12th, to allow sufficient time for shipping. And whatever holiday you celebrate this winter, I hope it is filled with joy and light.

posted 24 November 2019 in Buy My Stuff. 1 comment

Thank You, Cary Regional Library!

On Sunday afternoon, I visited the Cary Regional Library in Cary, NC, which opened only a few weeks ago—it still has that new-library smell. (And it’s apparently been a huge hit: they had thousands of visitors on opening day. Kudos!)

I was there to read from Kindness and Wonder: Why Mister Rogers Matters Now More Than Ever, and I had such a great time with the large, lively crowd (lots of smart questions afterwards, plus somebody who had met Fred Rogers!), I wanted to put up a few photos of the event for posterity.

Me, striving to better explain Fred Rogers’ philosophy through the magic of hand gestures.
Roughly a hundred people in the room, raising their hands to signify that they had spent time in Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.
General merriment with Amy Whitfield of the Cary library!

If you live in Wake County in North Carolina, I strongly recommend that you pay the Cary Regional Library a visit—it’s a gem.

posted 19 November 2019 in Outside. no comments yet