“You’re never too old to not have a real job.”
I’m on a J train to Jamaica, Queens, with Pete Feigenbaum and Liam Andrew of Brooklyn synth-psych group Dinowalrus, and guitarist/frontman Pete is giving me life advice. It’s not like he’s being defensive, either; of the three of us, I am the only one without highly specialized skills and/or a yearly salary. Pete’s an architecture grad student and Liam develops software for a start-up. But that doesn’t mean they are rolling in it, either, which is where today’s excursion comes in.
We are on the way to Belmont Park, where Pete and Liam (and their drummer Max, absent) hope to win enough money betting on horses to get their next record mastered. Pete has been here before, making the trek from time to time with friends to drink beer outside and gamble small amounts of money. “Horse races are the perfect blend of classy and trashy,” he explains. “But they’re also a cheap and convenient form of entertainment, with a bit of strategy mixed in … there’s a bit of old world charm to the whole scene.” He first got into it from watching The Sopranos.
We reach the end of the line and transfer to a bus. Belmont is a BYOB establishment, so we have brought along refreshments. We enter through a desolate stretch of concrete which we will later realize is the ass end of Belmont. The track’s entrance is not nearly as depressing. It even has a fountain!
A sign says grand stand admission is $2, but nobody’s there to take our money. Clad in spiffy thrifted leisurewear, the guys almost make ducking under a turnstile with a paper bag of booze in one’s hand look suave.
We enter the grandstand to find it’s not a particularly well attended race day, despite it being the second-to-last day of the Belmont season. “It’s at 10-percent capacity, like a typical Tuesday night show,” Pete says. We look over the program for cool horse names, which are the best feature of horse racing. “I would name a horse after a Judas Priest song,” Pete says. “Halford was influenced by Freddie Mercury, who was influenced by horse racing.”
Some of the horse names, like Optimizer and Thunderbrew, would make great names for bands. Others, like Folk Singer and Hollywood Script, not so much. “People think we should change our name,” Pete says. “We’d consider naming our band after a horse.” Especially if that horse were to finance their record.
Pete and Liam place bets on the very prog-metal sounding Thunderbrew and Mississippi Duel (Southern cock rock), asking me to add a few extra zeros for drama. “If Mississippi Duel wins, we’ll change our band name,” says Pete. But just as we are starting to discuss the potentially grave consequences of losing
$10 $100,000 gambling, a man with many gold teeth and a mullet leans conspiratorially over to us. “You guys know who’s standing by the finish line?” he asks. “Bill Murray.”
We think he might be fucking with us so we mosey back outside, where what appears to be a film crew has set up chairs, cameras, etc. Craft services has commandeered one of the abandoned concession stands. Bill Murray is nowhere to be found, so we turn to Twitter, arbiter of real time truths, to verify that he is here. He is, and the film is called St. Vincent de Van Nuys. But we still can’t find him, so finally we just ask a PA-looking guy, and he points about 50 feet away and there he is, Bill fucking Murray, looking solemn and dignified even as a makeup artist dabs at some blemish on his head.
We try to be professional and talk about the new Dinowalrus album; I’ve heard some of it and it’s an ambitious bit of synth-rock heaven, definitely their most danceable yet, or “accessible,” if you want to be a dick about it. Pete says it’s “a bit more cathartic and epic than Best Behavior, not as much of an escapist rave-fantasy.” Jorge Elbrecht (who is now playing with Ariel Pink) helped mix it. Echo and the Bunnymen are referenced. But we’re pretty distracted by the prospect of meeting Bill Murray, so we inch closer to the area where he’s filming and talk about our favorite Bill Murray movies. Pete’s is Caddyshack (“You wouldn’t guess it, but I’m really into sports comedies”) and Liam’s is Groundhog Day. Personally, I like him best when he’s playing a sad sack like in Lost in Translation. All of our horses lose the race, but we don’t care.
When they call cut, we realize everyone around us is an extra. Are we going to be in the movie? Pete tells me Henry Rollins makes all his money as an extra. Nobody tells us to leave, but a PA does come over and tell Pete to stop talking. We want to be allowed to meet Bill Murray, so we try to keep it down. Shortly thereafter, another PA comes over. Are we getting kicked out? “The probability is high, so just be patient,” she says.
We watch as Bill Murray and a child actor play the scene in a few different ways. We try to figure out what’s real and what’s part of the movie. Are they making him bet real money and filming his reactions? Next, we watch Bill Murray present a big, shiny trophy to someone. We also can’t tell if this is real.
We bet again and lose out to a horse called “Boisterous,” but that’s okay because we never would have bet on a horse named Boisterous anyway. “That sounds like a terrible mall punk band,” says Liam.
Soon, the filming is over and we ask the PA who told us we could probably meet Bill Murray how we should proceed. “Just introduce yourself,” she says. So I lead the way over to where Bill is being guarded by a massive bouncer. “Hi,” I begin, my voice suddenly several octaves higher.
“I’m writing an article about these guys for the Village Voice … they’re, um, in a band, and it will be a thousand times better if we can get a picture with you.”
“The music or the writing?” Bill asks.
“Both!” I say.
He sticks out his hand. “Hi, I’m Bill.”
We all shake hands with Bill Murray and tell him what big fans we are. He asks if the band is playing in the city any time soon, and they tell him they’re playing at Mercury Lounge on August 1. We pose for a picture, which the bouncer generously takes for us. Liam and I are both a bit shell shocked, but Pete is delirious enough to give a shit eating grin like, “yeah, Bill Murray is important, but I’m important too, so whatevs.” Bill Murray says he reads the Village Voice from time to time and asks Pete and Liam what their band is called.
“Dinowalrus,” Pete says, which seems to tickle Bill.
“You know the walrus?” he asks, a twinkle in his eye. “Its tusks are this long,” he says, indicating on me exactly how massive they are (from my head to my thighs.) “They start way up in its skull. Very dangerous! Not for petting.”
He doesn’t seem at all concerned with the dino part of their name, which is reasonable because dinosaurs are extinct. He looks like he wants to go, so we promise to respect the walrus and tell him it was very nice to meet him as he floats off to his purple ashram in the sky or wherever it is that Bill Murray rests between bouts of awesomeness.
The races are over and anyway, there’s really nowhere we can go from here, short of meeting Lou Reed or the president, so we skip back to the train with love in our hearts. In the end, we all lost a bit of cash, but for a few magical moments, we got to hear Bill Murray talk about scary aquatic mammals, and that’s something you just can’t put a price on.