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Celebrated Japanese Author Haruki Murakami Reflects On Beatlemania In New Short Story ‘With The Beatles’

Words by Riley Fitzgerald
Graphic by Press

In new short story ‘With The Beatles’ celebrated Japanese author, Haruki Murakami offers a touching reflection on falling in love at the height of Beatlemania.

His recollection of the 1960s, published in the New Yorker, begins with Murakami’s younger self walking down a high school hallway.

As Haruki does he brushes past a nameless student who, in her hands, carries a copy with the Fab Four’s second album.

This was in 1964, at the height of Beatlemania,” he recalls. “She was hurrying down the long, dim hallway of the old school building, her skirt fluttering. I was the only other person there. She was clutching an LP to her chest as if it were something precious. The LP With the Beatles. The one with the striking black-and-white photograph of the four Beatles in half shadow. For some reason, I’m not sure why, I have a clear memory that it was the original, British version of the album, not the American or the Japanese version.”

The album’s cover was striking at the time of its release.

Departing from conventions of the day, the Beatles opted for an image inspired by the avant-garde photography of Hamburg associate Astrid Kirchherr.

It seemed as if we were hearing their music almost all the time,” Murakami’s later continues. “It was everywhere, surrounding us, like wallpaper meticulously applied to every single inch of the walls.”

While Murakami is well known for his writing on classical music and jazz, he also reveals a soft spot for the Beatles.

I liked their songs myself,” he recounts, “and knew all their hits. Ask me to sing them and I could. At home when I was studying (or pretending to study), most of the time I had the radio blasting away.”

Yet he was never a fanatic.

For me,” he confides, “it was passive listening, pop music flowing out of the tiny speakers of my Panasonic transistor radio, in one ear and out the other, barely registering. Background music for my adolescence. Musical wallpaper.”

Murakami’s thoughts on the Beatles tie into a greater view on the ephemeral nature of pop music: “I’ve heard it said that the happiest time in our lives is the period when pop songs really mean something to us, really get to us. It may be true. Or maybe not. Pop songs may, after all, be nothing but pop songs. And perhaps our lives are merely decorative, expendable items, a burst of fleeting color and nothing more.

Despite the album’s cover being etched so firmly within his memory, Murakami concedes he didn’t listen to the Beatles’ second record until his mid-30s.

Offering an impromptu in-story album review, Murakami then notes that apart from ‘All My Loving’, he wasn’t all that impressed, instead finding the Beatles’ first album, Please Please Me “far more vibrant and compelling”.

The image of that girl holding the album, however, remains priceless.

You can read Murakima’s full story here.

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