The Musicality of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is brimming with music.

“When the phone rang I was in the kitchen, boiling a potful of spaghetti and whistling along with an FM broadcast of the overture to Rossini’s ‘The Thieving Magpie’, which has to be the perfect music for cooking pasta.” 

Usually, I might not linger long on the mention of a song in a novel, especially when it’s in the first sentence and I’m eager to continue reading. But I sell handmade pasta at a farmer’s market and was compelled to test this unusual hypothesis.

Nonna’s Noodles are a fresh, egg-based pasta and take just a jiffy to cook so timing was a consideration for Rossini’s more than ten-minute overture. I figured I’d include even the most mundane parts of the process and pressed play just as I was placing a large pot under the cold tap.

Certainly, the opening snare-drum rolls added an intensity that I’d never  before attributed to water gushing from a faucet. The water came to a salty, rolling boil just as I added the lemon-zest linguine and the piece transitioned into a softer, flightier movement – the musical equivalent of a gentle simmer. The noodles were al dente before the last crescendo, leaving enough time to drizzle olive oil, grate parmesan and twist the wrist with some cracked black-pepper, and voila! A most dramatic dinner!

I do believe Murakami was right about pasta and Rossini, and it’s clear that music in general is important to the author.

There are over 250 catalogued references to music, songs and albums in his writing on his site at Random House. A New York Times author-profile details his life as a teenager in Kobe, Japan where he immersed himself in American culture and jazz, internalizing “their attitude of cool rebellion”, marrying against his parent’s wishes and opening his own jazz club in Tokyo called Peter Cat. He messed around with music but didn’t feel like he had the technique required to be a professional musician.

Haruki Murakami at his jazz bar, Peter Cat, in Tokyo 1978 (New York Times)

In another NY Times piece called Jazz Messenger, Murakami says:

“I did often feel as though something like my own music was swirling around in a rich, strong surge. I wondered if it might be possible for me to transfer that music into writing. That was how my style got started.”

Practically everything he knows about writing came from music, he says, and these are some things he has learned:

“Whether in music or in fiction, the most basic thing is rhythm. Your style needs to have good, natural, steady rhythm, or people won’t keep reading your work. I learned the importance of rhythm from music — and mainly from jazz.

Next comes melody — which, in literature, means the appropriate arrangement of the words to match the rhythm. If the way the words fit the rhythm is smooth and beautiful, you can’t ask for anything more.

Next is harmony — the internal mental sounds that support the words.

Then comes the part I like best: free improvisation. Through some special channel, the story comes welling out freely from inside. All I have to do is get into the flow.

Finally comes what may be the most important thing: that high you experience upon completing a work — upon ending your “performance” and feeling you have succeeded in reaching a place that is new and meaningful. And if all goes well, you get to share that sense of elevation with your readers (your audience). That is a marvelous culmination that can be achieved in no other way.”

A wonderful analogy. I do like his writing and it’s great to delve further into how the novel’s strange and sometimes syncopated style was influenced by elements of music and jazz (though a review of 1Q84 in The Guardian claims Murakami plays too many familiar tunes).

I like it thoughThe Wind-Up Bird Chronicle has a musical reference on every other page and I’ve started to jot them down as I read.

I’m only nine chapters in but so far I’ve swung from sentimental crooning to experimental jazz and delighted in a diversity of artists, from Johnny Angel to Eric Dolphy and Percy Faith.

It’s certainly eclectic and I’ve had fun compiling a playlist based on the book, which I’ll add to as I read along. If you happen to have Spotify, you can listen to it too!


For those more obscure references, it might be worth picking up a copy of Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words, by Jay Rubin; it has a very enticing chapter called ‘Wagner and the Modern Kitchen’.

I don’t often stop mid-sentence to listen to a song but I always make the exception for pasta.

If music be the food of love, play on indeed!


8 thoughts on “The Musicality of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.

    • Hi Jim,

      I’ve been reading about it too, have it on hold in the library. I was going to post on it sometime soon.

      You’ll be happy to know I went for a run for the first time in more than a year last week! Along the beach when we were at the coast for the weekend, so it was easier on the old knees. There’s a running-track where I live in the city so will check that out this week.

  1. I was glad to read your post, which brought alive for me some of the qualities of jazz that i suspect most other people appreciate who like it.
    Though in theory I only dislike country music and some rap, I’ve often found it hard to warm up to jazz, for reasons I’m unsure of. Maybe I’ll have to return to the challenge and try again: so far, the only jazz I actually own is something by Jaco Pastorius (which is not technically jazz, I suspect) and something by Weather Report (world jazz, which I do rather like). Thanks for the post! You are such a good writer, and you have an open mind about thingsl, which guarantees fruitful literary experiments you can share with your readers.

    • Thanks so much!

      I like a lot of music and jazz but sometimes feel like I don’t know the language and technical vocabularies to describe it. Music taught Murakami a lot about writing, then Murakami’s writing about music taught me a lot about both things. (It’s like an ouroboros!) But I do feel that I learned a lot about music by being able to relate them back to the elements of writing that I’m familiar with.

      Glad you liked it too.

  2. I had never thought to actually try and replicate the musical scenes from Murakami, though I have often reflected on his descriptions and depictions of food and cooking (more intriguing still when he steadfastly refused to name his characters); why do these nameless people cook such delicious things!? Particularly since the everyday experiences food and music are often left out of the literary experience.

  3. Yes, I’ve definitely noticed the conscious descriptions of food and drink and the preparation of food in The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.

    The main character in the novel is unemployed and it feels like his 9-5 day has been replaced by long expanses of ‘not-much’ punctuated by cups of coffee and the making of a meal or snack – those have become his markers, his small milestones.

    I definitely can relate to that. When I’m working, I can whip up something out of necessity in ten minutes but when I have a day off I can take an entire evening to make a similar meal. We stretch tasks to fill the time we’ve allotted to them.

  4. I’m glad I stumbled upon your post. Like foldedcranes I had never thought of replicating the musical scenes. I usually enjoy Murakami’s musical reference. Most of the time the music enhances the words through lyrics or melodies. Sometimes it can be bothersome though, to keep going on YouTube or Spotify to listen to the tunes mid-sentence. I did this when I was reading “After Dark” – many call it his ‘mood piece’ – and I’m glad I did, because the music truly helped create the late night mood.

    Anyways, I thoroughly enjoyed reading “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle”, so I hope you will too!

    • I’m loving it! Am going to spend the evening curled up on the couch with it, but in silence this time… it is sometimes bothersome to get up and down to find the song he mentions. Now I keep a notebook beside me and jot the name down to play later. Otherwise I’ll never finish it!

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