First Person Singular Review (3) Charlie Parker Plays Bossa Nova

May 5, 2021 By mk

*This article includes possible spoiler

Charlie Parker Plays Bossa Nova was published in the magazine Bungakukai in July 2018, along with On a Pillow of Stone and Cream. All three novels reminisce about younger days from the narrator’s point of view (presumably Murakami himself), but only this novel is partly set abroad.

The story begins with a fictional review article of Bird Charlie Parker’s new album, published in 1963, eight years after Charlie Parker’s death. In the story, the editor accepted the fictional review written by the protagonist as an ordinary piece of music criticism without any doubts, I believe it was possible because there was no Google at that time.

At least until the 1980s, it was not uncommon for fictitious reviews and interviews (!) to appear in magazines published in Japan that covered foreign music. Strictly speaking, this may have infringed the musician’s rights, but many people knew that it was imaginary and enjoyed it as a “secondary work”. These derivative works often escalated and evolved themselves, sometimes interacted with the real world.

For example, Japan was the first country to treat Queen as a superstar. In the early days, someone discovered Queen and raved about them, and the more fans there were, the more fictional articles and cartoon characters featuring the members of Queen there were. When Queen first arrived in Japan in 1975, the members, who had not been regarded as superstars in the West until then, were surprised by the cordial welcome they received from the many fans in Tokyo, but this was not simply the result of normal promotion. When they landed at Tokyo International Airport, the fans’ accumulated fantasies intermingled with reality to create a frenzy.

Born in 1949, Murakami belongs to the older generation above the teenage girls who welcomed Queen in 1975. However, Murakami also seems to be of the generation that enjoyed the derivative works that frequently appeared in magazines covering foreign music.

The scene then shifts to recent New York, where he found “Charlie Parker Played Bossa Nova”, which he once wrote a fictional review of. However, once he had failed to buy it, he was never able to get it again. The fictional world is very fragile and can be easily lost if not followed carefully.

The story then moves on to a recent dream in which he met Charlie Parker. Dialogues with the dead often appear in classical literature from all over the world, including Greek tragedy.

“Never was Clytemnestra’s kiss sweeter than on the night she slew me,” she quoted (Hiyacinth, by Saki)

Another example is “Tales of Moonlight and Rain” by Akinari Ueda (1734-1809), mentioned in “Kafka on the Shore”.

Oshima: “Tales of Moonlight and Rain was written in the late Edo period by a man named Ueda Akinari. It was set, however, in the earlier Warring States period, which makes Ueda’s approach a bit nostalgic or retro.” (Kafka on the Shore, Ch.23)

If we had to sum up one of the key concepts of the Tales of Moonlight and Rain, it would be “an encounter with the dead who could not attain nirvana”. The story is about dead people who regret that they couldn’t do what they wanted to do before their death, and they wander in the real world after their death to get help from the living who can solve their wishes.

“You gave me life again, this one time. And had me play bossa nova. Nothing could make me happier. Of course being alive and actually playing would have been even more exciting. But even after dying, this was a truly wonderful experience. Since I always loved new music.”

In the story, Charlie Parker was very grateful to the protagonist for making it possible for him to do what he had left undone before he died. I don’t think Charlie Parker was a Buddhist, but from a Buddhist point of view, we can say that “he has attained Nirvana”.

In another column, Murakami wrote: “The text is open, and the reader can interpret it as they like”. This is because he knows that the reader’s interpretation brings new value and gives new life to literature, which in turn attracts new readers, creating a virtuous circle. The conversation with Charlie Parker in this story is not just an imaginary conversation with a deceased musician. In the last line of the story, Murakami asks himself, in the form of a question to the reader, what he has left behind in life, and who can complement it.

Can you believe it? You’d better. Because it happened. It really did.

[Added on July 24, 2021]
Queen’s “Teo Torriatte (Let Us Cling Together)” was used in the torch lighting scene at the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics yesterday. The song is a message from Queen to the Japanese fans who discovered them in their obscurity and propelled them to stardom, with the same lyrics sung in English and Japanese.

Originally released in 1976 and included in the charity album for the 2011 earthquake and tsunami relief, the song was used in the most important moments of the opening ceremony, showing the solidarity between the world and Japan and creating a new narrative in the Olympic Games under the pandemic.

Can you believe it? You’d better. Because it happened. It really did.