Music and writing are inseparable in the hippest modern novels, from Kerouac to Nick Hornby to Irvine Welsh. It might even be said many such books would not exist without their internal soundtracks. When it comes to hip, prolific modern novelist Haruki Murakami, we might say the author himself may not exist without his soundtracks, and they are sprawling and extensive. Murakami, who is well known for his intense focus and heroic achievements as a marathon and double-marathon runner, exceeds even this consuming passion with his near-religious devotion to music.
Murakami became a convert to jazz fandom at the age of 15 and until age 30 ran a jazz club. Then he suddenly became a novelist after an epiphany at a baseball game. (Hear Ilana Simons read his version of that story in her short animated film above). His first book’s story unfolded in an environment totally permeated by music and music fan culture. From then on, musical references spilled from his characters’ lips, and swirled around their heads perpetually.
What sets Murakami apart from other music-obsessed novelists is not only the degree of his obsession, but the breadth of his musical knowledge. He is as fluent in classical as he as in jazz and sixties folk and pop, and his range in each genre is considerable. He has so much to say about classical music, in fact, that he once published a book of six conversations between himself and Seiji Ozawa, “one of the world’s leading orchestral conductors.” Murakami’s 2013 Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage—its title a reference to Franz Liszt—contains perhaps his most eloquent statement on the role music plays in his life and work, phrased in universal terms:
Our lives are like a complex musical score. Filled with all sorts of cryptic writing, sixteenth and thirty-second notes and other strange signs. It’s next to impossible to correctly interpret these, and even if you could, and could then transpose them into the correct sounds, there’s no guarantee that people would correctly understand, or appreciate, the meaning therein.
“At times,” writes Scott Meslow at The Week, “reading Murakami’s work can feel like flipping through his legendarily expansive record collection.” While we’ve previously featured playlists drawn from Murakami’s jazz obsession and from the general variety of his discriminating (yet thoroughly Western) musical palate, these have been minuscule by comparison with his personal library of LPs, an “inspirational… wall of 10,000 records,” the majority of which are jazz. Murakami admits he always listens to music when he works, and you can see part of his floor-to-ceiling record library, and huge speaker system, in a photo of his desk on his attractively-designed website. Down below, we bring you one of the next best things to actually sitting in his study, a playlist of 3,350 tracks from Murakami’s personal collection. (If you need Spotify’s free software, download it here.)
Hoagy Carmichael, Lionel Hampton, Herbie Hancock, Gene Krupa, Django Reinhardt, Sergei Prokofiev, Frederic Chopin… it’s quite a mix, and one that may not only remind you of several moments in Murakami’s body of work, but will also give you a sampling of the soundtrack to its author’s imagination as he transcribes the “cryptic writing” we have to “transpose… into the correct sounds” as we try to make sense of it.
Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere. You can contribute through PayPal, Patreon, Venmo (@openculture) and Crypto. Thanks!