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Murakami’s elevator music

Haruki MurakamiOne of the things I love about Haruki Murakami’s fiction is the way he uses music to enrich the narrative: all kinds of music, from Haydn to the Beach Boys via Brenda Lee and Sly Stone. But jazz is his main thing, and my favourite example is probably the appearance in South of the Border, West of the Sun of Duke Ellington’s “The Star Crossed Lovers”, the gorgeous saxophone duet for Johnny Hodges’ alto and Paul Gonsalves’ tenor from Such Sweet Thunder, Duke’s 1957 suite on Shakespearean themes.

That’s just one occasion on which the author clearly allows his choices to reflect his own excellent taste. But in his new collection of short stories, Men Without Women, there’s an amusing twist. The closing story, from which the collection takes its title, centres on a man’s relationship with a woman whose taste in music is completely at variance from the protagonist’s own, or (we presume) Murakami’s. Here’s an extract:

What I remember most about M is how she loved elevator music. Percy Faith, Mantovani, Raymond Lefèvre, Frank Chacksfield, Francis Lai, 101 Strings, Paul Mauriac, Billy Vaughn. She had a kind of predestined affection for this — according to me — harmless music. The angelic strings, the swell of luscious woodwinds, the muted brass, the harp softly stroking your heart. The charming melody that never faltered, the harmonies like candy melting in your mouth, the just-right echo effect in the recording.

I usually listened to rock or blues when I drove. Derek and the Dominos, Otis Redding, the Doors. But M would never let me play any of that. She always carried a paper bag filled with a dozen or so cassettes of elevator music, which she’d play one after the other. We’d drive around aimlessly while she’d quietly hum along to Francis Lai’s “13 Jours en France”. Her lovely, sexy lips with a light trace of lipstick. Anyway, she must have owned ten thousand tapes. And she knew all there was to know about all the innocent music in the world. If there were an Elevator Music Museum, she could have been the head curator.

It was the same when we had sex. She was always playing music in bed. I don’t know how many times I heard Percy Faith’s “A Summer Place” when we were doing it. It’s a little embarrassing to say this, but even now I get pretty aroused when I hear that tune — my breathing ragged, my face flushed. You could scour the world and I bet you’d only find one man — me — who gets horny just listening to the intro to “A Summer Place”. No — maybe her husband does, too.

The thought occurs that, on this occasion, perhaps Murakami actually likes the music for which his protagonist affects disdain. I’m quite fond of “Theme from A Summer Place” myself.

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21 Comments Post a comment
  1. What a lovely little piece of writing!
    Percy Faith “A Summer Place” to me is early youth radio memories.
    I never knew the title, until now!
    It embraced me then, just at the verge before beat music took over.
    I have no idea what this genre was called then, but today we have
    nothing but another English term: easy listening.
    Best
    Michael Rüsenberg

    July 14, 2017
  2. Richard Harris #

    I absolutely loathed it! It did indeed mark an era of terrible teenage movies, usually, but not always American, “Because they’re young”, “Town without Pity” and anything with James Darren. But at the turn of the dial, French radio! Mose Allison, Ray Charles, Lou Bennett, and complete concerts from Antibes fading in and out.

    But, I do admit a liking for “Like Young” by Andre Previn. With strings. Still.

    July 14, 2017
  3. Dear God, please forgive me for playing on a lot of that crap in the 50s, most of it done at Bell Sound, NYC

    July 14, 2017
  4. Patrick Hinely #

    Buell, I don’t know about God, but I forgive you – and the 50s were the right time for that stuff, the saccharine divine… if you get called to account for it at St. Peter’s gate, remind him you also played bass for Cecil Taylor in the 50s…

    July 14, 2017
    • GuitarSlinger #

      50’s ? Heck .. that garbage was being played on elevators , malls , MD and Dentists offices , shopping centers , grocery stores etc straight thru the 80’s .. and in some places still to this day … unfortunately . Horrid tripe sums it up . Muzak being able to take the best of songs and turn them into vapid piles of boredom guaranteed to … well … hold on a second … seems this ole Slinger might have an inside line when it come to the realities of Muzak’s assault on the ears . The intent being … not to appeal to the masses [ as many wrongly assume ] nor to bore the listener to tears .. but rather to help open the pathways to the listeners brain in so that the multiple subliminal messages being broadcast just beneath the music [ Muzak ] might take hold in order to take effect … as in ( quietly ) buy more … buy more .. you need that … buy another . Think this is a load of claptrap verging on conspiracy ? .. Errr .. nope … sorry .. back in the day I was given special access to the inner workings of Muzak .. cause they was trying to court me .. and its all too real

      So .. in as far as Murakami’s tastes and Richard’s … question … Knowing the depth and breadth of Murakami’s musical knowledge as well as his awareness of the reality of subliminal messages [ which by the way y’all now gets in droves across the entire spectrum ] … I feel I can state unequivocally that … Murakami despises Muzak just as much if not more than the protagonist in his last short story of the book … and a mighty fine book it is

      Eesh … elevator music/Muzak … the bane of modern society and in my opinion the beginning of the end of western culture music wise . One look at what passes for music today confirming my every accusation .

      July 18, 2017
  5. Saverio Pechini #

    Actually it’s 13 jours en France (theme of Lelouch’s film about 1968 winter Olympics) . Elevator music is a perverse pleasure , but a pleasure nonetheless : I , for instance , have a soft spot for Johnny Harris’s Footprints on the Moon …And : playing ” that crap” AND with Cecil Taylor is a good definition of coolness.

    July 14, 2017
  6. I’m with M all the way on this one. Percy Faith rocks. He does a fantastic version of Bacharach David’s Are You There With Another Girl and has an interesting Santana phase in the early 70s. I second your suspicion. Murakami makes the music sound too appealing for someone who affects to hate it. I assume you know Joseph Lanza’s book Elevator Music. He makes a passionate case the the genre and much else besides.

    July 14, 2017
    • No, Rob, I don’t know the book. But I might have to rectify that — just as soon as I’ve got through this biography of the Art Ensemble of Chicago…

      July 14, 2017
  7. I was always – and still am – a big fan of “Theme from a Summer Place”. As Michael says above, it conjures up memories of listening to the radio as a child. It’s often said that the theme is consderably more memorable than the film itself! And I’m sure that it’s a favourite of Paul Weller, although I could be misremembering this. Interestingly, Ian Fleming chose the Billy Vaughn version as one of his Desert Island Discs. (I second Rob Chapman’s comments on the excellent Lanza book, by the way.)

    July 14, 2017
  8. Paul Tickell #

    Elevator music versus rock: I have read very little Murakami be he is obviously taken by these sorts of opposition. In one of his short stories he sets Julio Iglesias against Willie Nelson. Strange because in real life they did a duet together!

    July 14, 2017
  9. Manuel (aka Geoff Love) and the Music of the Mountains. A veritable bonk fest. Say no more.

    July 15, 2017
    • Geoff Love, born in Todmorden Lancs where I live. (he did the Mandingo LPs too.) Also the birth place of Keith Emerson. Now that would have been a collaboration.

      July 15, 2017
  10. dave heasman #

    I’m currently listening to a Hyperion 4 CD set of “British Light Music Classics”. Tunes familiar to anyone laid up sick in the early 50s with nothing but the Light Programme & Home Service to listen to. Some clever arrangements and memorable toons.

    July 15, 2017
  11. Tim Adkin #

    “A Summer Place” is also quoted in the instrumental break of “Reasons To Be Cheerful Part 3”. Let us also not forget that Michael Nyman once played in Edmundo Ros’ band.

    July 17, 2017
    • So it is! I listened to that single over and over when it first came out and have listened many times since. Hadn’t noticed the quote until you pointed it out!

      July 17, 2017
  12. Mantovani also owned a lighting shop in Tunbridge Wells that had a small record department.

    July 17, 2017

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