Art by Ry Smith @rysmithstuff
Art by Ry Smith @rysmithstuff

Tomorrow night, the JPT is screening the concert-documentary film New Worlds:The Cradle of Civilization. It’s about an unusual musical collaboration between national treasure Bill Murray and world-renowned German cellist Jan Vogler. Together, they created a genre-busting album that spans Bach to Van Morrison and Walt Whitman to West Side Story.

That may sound random, but it’s on brand for Murray, the king of serendipitous adventure. His love for unexpected antics and unannounced appearances are the stuff of legends. Like last month, when he and Vogler surprised New Yorkers with a live performance in Washington Square Park. Or in 2019, when he turned up here in Rhode Island, with the Farelly brothers in tow, to join The Nakeds on stage at Roy Carpenter’s Beach.

Murray met Vogler at a New York airport back in 2013, a time long before compulsory mask-wearing and social distancing, when traveling strangers were more likely to strike up a conversation after a smile and a handshake.

Though the New Worlds album was released in 2017, I happened upon it — perhaps serendipitously — in 2021. Listening to it was a frequent respite during the difficult and exhausting year. The album, which aims to communicate American values, takes on new meaning in the pandemic age. Passages from Huckleberry Finn and Song of the Open Road are moving, but the track I love most is the one in which Murray reads Lucille Clifton’s poem “Blessing the Boats” as Vogler plays “The Swan,” from The Carnival of the Animals. 

Sometimes, I listen to it on repeat.

YouTube video

Tomorrow night’s 7:30 screening of New Worlds, though only a day away, seems a long way off. Today, after all, is Groundhog Day. I was reminded of the classic film while reporting on the blizzard this weekend. 

In those conditions, it’s hard to resist quoting Murray’s Phil Conners, a big-city weatherman that travels to the small town of Punxsutawney only to get stuck in a time loop for somewhere between 30 to 40 years, according to Director Harold Ramis’s best estimate.

Though our pandemic reality has lasted nowhere near as long as that purgatory in Punxsutawney, it has felt like we’ve been living our own version of Groundhog Day many times since March 2020. At some point, in our burnout, we’ve all had to wrestle with the question:

“What would you do if you were stuck in one place and every day was exactly the same and nothing that you did mattered?”

With COVID cases finally descending from their latest spike, and the blizzard winding down on Saturday around dusk, my husband and I ambled over to Clarke Cooke House and, by good providence, were seated on a cozy couch near a raging fireplace

Over the course of the night (and many glasses of red wine) we met and enjoyed interesting fireside conversations with three separate couples visiting from out of town who took turns sitting on the couch across from us. Everyone seemed eager to smile and engage with a stranger. Not once did the conversation turn to rote pandemic platitudes. In fact, the little germ that has dominated consciousness for almost two years didn’t even come up once.

It felt like maybe, just maybe, we were starting to move beyond the loop. 

Perhaps, by virtue of these small normalcies becoming commonplace once again, the sun will finally set on our Groundhog Day. More smiles between strangers, more chance meetings, and more headlines about Bill Murray turning up to delight a crowd somewhere in America. 

As for tickets to New Worlds, you can buy them here. If you’re planning to be there, I’ll see you at the JPT tomorrow, February 3rd. 

And watch out for those puddles of melting snow on your way to the theater. They’re a doozy.

YouTube video

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