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Novelist Haruki Murakami: Music, rhythms help me run, write novels

Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami says writing novels is about rhythm, just as music and running are. | Tokyo FM Broadcasting Co. via AP

Writing novels is about rhythm, just as music and running are, best-selling author Haruki Murakami says.

“Rather than learning storytelling technique from someone, I’ve taken a musical approach while being very conscious about rhythms, harmony and improvisation,” the 69-year-old Murakami said on his “Murakami Radio” show in Tokyo. “It’s like writing as I dance, even though I don’t actually dance. For me, writing tends to be a very physical process, and that’s my style. If you think my books are easy to read, perhaps we have something in common musically.”

A perennial contender for the Nobel Prize in literature, Murakami said that, after college, he had no intention of becoming a writer. He was running a jazz bar in Tokyo.

A native of Kyoto, Japan, Murakami has precise memories of when he decided to become a writer: around 1:30 p.m. on April 1, 1978, while at a baseball game at Tokyo’s Jingu Stadium — home to the underdog Japanese baseball team the Yakult Swallows, his favorite — where he saw an American player named Dave Hilton hit a double, he wrote in his 2007 memoir “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.”

Murakami’s first novel, “Hear the Wind Sing,” came out in 1979. His 1987 romantic novel “Norwegian Wood” was his first best-seller. Recent best-sellers include “1Q84,” ”Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage” and his latest novel, “Killing Commandatore,” slated for U.S. release on Oct. 9.

Murakami started running soon after becoming a novelist, initially to lose the weight he’d gained from long hours of sitting and writing. He has since become a serious runner, completing more than 30 marathons.

He said he runs to keep up his strength. “When you write, your physical ability is extremely important,” he said. “You sit all day and keep writing, so it takes a lot of energy, even though many people don’t seem to believe me.”

On his radio show, the songs he played included Donald Fagen’s “Madison Times” and “Heigh-Ho/Whistle While You Work/Yo Ho (A Pirate’s Life for Me)” by Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, one of Murakami’s favorite groups, which he mentioned in his debut novel.

Other songs he played: “DB Blues” by King Pleasure, “Sky Pilot” by Eric Burdon and the Animals, “What a Wonderful World” by Joey Ramone, “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea” by George Harrison, “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” by Ben Sidran, “Love Train” by Hall & Oates and “Light My Fire” by the Doors.

Asked what music he would request for his own funeral, Murakami said none: “I would rather go quietly.”