One 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.