Japanese writer Haruki Murakami is famous around the world for his magical realist novels about nostalgia and reclusive lonely characters. His unusual motifs of cats, wells and American whiskeys make his work particularly distinctive. Selling millions of books both within his native country and outside of it, Murakami is often seen as a genius whose stories tap into human universal conscience and stir up intense emotions in their readerships.
What makes this writer’s work ever more interesting is his passion for good music. Weaving classical, jazz and western popular music into his novels, Murakami gives a peak into the life of his characters, and perhaps his own, through their music choices. Having named books after songs and operas, music is of clear importance in any Murakami novel you should choose to pick up. Here are just a few of my personal favourite musical mentions in this writer’s works:
- Kind of Blue – Miles Davis
Anyone that had to study GCSE music will be well familiar with this record. This album is mentioned in ‘Norwegian Wood’ when the protagonist is writing to his troubled girlfriend on a sad Sunday evening. He is playing this album on in the background as he morosely writes away, Davis’ trumpet providing a romantic yet melancholic background accompaniment.
- Norwegian Wood – The Beatles
An obvious choice given the title of his immensely popular bildungsroman book ‘Norwegian Wood’. When the main character, Toru Wantabe, hears this nostalgic song on a plane, his mind is transported back to memories of the past and his past lovers. Mentions of other Beatles songs are prevalent both throughout this book and his other works: Murakami being an obvious fan of the fab four. This song makes it to my list due to its backward focusing lyrics and sitar parts.
- Blonde on Blonde – Bob Dylan
In ‘Kafka On the Shore’, the title character is given access to an old record player and old records. He picks out the phenomenal Blonde on Blonde and listens to it intensely. Blonde on Blonde is regularly seen as Dylan’s greatest achievement, with it’s electric Nashville band and abstract lyrics. ‘Sad Eyed Lady of the Low Land’ has always been a particular favourite song of mine.
What makes this writer’s work ever more interesting is his passion for good music
- Viva Las Vegas – Elvis Presley
This song appears in ‘Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and his years of pilgrimage’ as a car sales man’s ring tone. It’s a small forgettable mention but it speaks millions about the character’s American capitalistic tendencies.
- The Thieving Magpie – Rossini
It wouldn’t quite be a complete list without at least one piece of classical music. Mozart, Beethoven and Debussy are all regularly written about but it’s the mention of The Thieving Magpie in ‘The Wind-up Bird Chronicle’ that makes the list. The main character, in a surreal dreamlike world, over hears a waiter whistling the song to perfection and is impressed. Again, another small moment in the grand novel but one that stuck with me none the less. Stanley Kubrick’s also makes use of The Thieving Magpie in ‘A Clockwork Orange’ FYI.
Having once owned a jazz café, it’s understandable that music plays a large part in Haruki Murakami’s books. What is interesting is his focus on western rather than his native Japanese music. All in all, the fantastic writer brings fascinating, strange and wonderful stories together with beautiful descriptions of interesting music, creating unique and highly readable novels.