Haruki Murakami’s Electric Tennis Court

Shane Croghan, for The Benevolent Supreme Longford Leader, reporting from Tokyo.

July 23rd, 2022

 


 

TOKYO – Haruki Murakami says he doesn’t like tennis, you know. He claims he doesn’t care for the dependency on an opponent, nor does he desire competition in any aspect of his life. Haruki is fond of Eric Clapton too, mentioning Clapton’s extremely mediocre 2001 release Reptile not once, but once, throughout his literary oeuvre. Is there a correlation between disdain for tennis and fondness for forgettable soft rock? This reporter was given an unnecessary amount of time and money to find out.

 

Once, and perhaps still, a literary titan and one of the few truly great living authors, Haruki Murakami seems to have fallen victim to his own self-fulfilling prophecy – that being a novelist is no country for old men. Whether it’s mere age, or the result of his fiery public feud with Bob Dylan, it’s clear that the gentle modern torchbearer of magical realism has changed utterly. Residing in his Tokyo tower block, from which the former novelist rarely emerges these days, a megalomaniacal streak has governed Murakami’s life these past five years or so.

 

Before my arranged meeting with Mr. Murakami, I spoke to some other residents of the tower block. Forbidden from accessing the roof, they complained of hearing strange noises emanating from the upper levels of the building in the wee small hours. Strangled singing – somewhere in the vicinity of folk warbling, but distorted beyond recognition – endless cackling, and, rarely, what one younger tenant referred to as “pure tasty riffs”. These claims seemed wild, and I’m suspicious of how tasty a riff can be in such an unsuitable acoustic environment, but given some of Murakami’s tabloid appearances in the recent past, I had come prepared for anything. Or so I thought.

 

Upon entering Murakami’s sizable apartment I found a labyrinth of treadmills arranged like the horrific maze from Pac-Man. The author would later inform me that he was training for an ultramarathon, but couldn’t face the prospect of running outdoors in the polluted air. Despite this concern for the quality of Tokyo air, he kept every window, of which there were dozens, open at all times. He also smoked cheap, nasty Hamlet cigars twenty-four hours a day, going so far as to hire an assistant to sit in his room and smoke beside him as he slept, lest his ingestion of Hamlets let up at any point. This predilection, coupled with the author’s absentmindedness, caused multiple small blazes during my brief stay.

 

Attempts to sit Murakami down for any kind of traditional interview were immediately brushed aside by the author. I had planned to engage him in a cursory dialogue on the day of my arrival, just to engender some degree of trust between us, but Murakami immediately informed me that he had fallen behind on his ultramarathon training and promptly began running on his maze of treadmills. This would’ve been strange, though somewhat tolerable, but for the background music which was triggered, it would seem, by Murakami’s exertion on the treadmills. It was, of course, the theme from Pac-Man – not that there is much of a theme, just a few notes slapped together and repeated ad infinitum – performed on an electric guitar, in a kind of soft-rock tone. I was later informed, by the increasingly untrustworthy Murakami, that none other than the aforementioned Eric Clapton himself had recorded the electric guitar Pac-Man theme as a personal favor to the Japanese author.

 

(Editor’s Note – Mr. Croghan has since developed a debilitating aversion to Mr. Clapton’s music, akin to Alex DeLarge’s reaction the compositions of Ludwig Van Beethoven in the latter stages of A Clockwork Orange. In the aftermath of this interview, Mr. Croghan experienced an irreversible adverse reaction to hearing “Wonderful Tonight” in that episode of Friends where Chandler proposes to Monica and fucks it up because they’re all awful people in that show. He now resides in a mental institution, where he spends his days attempting to convene the cast of Friends for a reunion episode, with the exception of Matthew Perry. Croghan intends to cast John McEnroe in the role of Chandler. Upon contacting Mr. Croghan for a quote, he simply responded “Could I be any more serious?” before hanging up.)  

 

I considered going out to interview the residents of the building once again but feared it would be a fruitless exercise, given their reluctance to speak to me the first time. Initially, I felt they were exhibiting the natural weariness offered to any unexpected intruder in a closed, residential environment. However, it was becoming clear that things were more sinister than that. They weren’t afraid of me, they were afraid of Murakami. The man held the building in his tyrannical palm, spewing magical realism and soft-rock video game soundtracks all over the place.

 

Sensing my frustration, in a rare moment of empathy, Murakami suggested that I take his tennis racket – signed by Eric Clapton – and head out to the “electric well” for some meditative time. Bizarre an approach as this sounded, anything felt preferable to psychosis-inducing routine of the man’s indoor ultramarathon prep. Gripping the taped handle of the racket, strings pressed into my chest, I headed out to discover what exactly constituted an electric well. Of course, as I entered the hallway in the ultra-modern tower block, I realised that I’d already traversed the building extensively, encountering neither sign nor mention of an “electric well”. After a cursory look around the upper floors of the building, I figured that the nearest thing to an “electric well” was the elevator itself. So I hopped inside, and went up to the roof for the first time, ignorant to the implicit warnings of my resident interviewees.

 

A ping and a whoosh and I stepped from the exceedingly clean, sleek elevator out onto a roof that was almost entirely covered by a decaying hard surface tennis court. The sheer height of the tower block made it quite difficult to breathe properly. The air was thick, almost acidic, and I could nearly feel my lungs withering. Perhaps Murakami’s insistence on training indoors was reasonable, in spite of his madcap methodology. Through the dense blanket of mist and near fog and godknowswhat toxins, I discerned a figure holding the base line on the far side of the net. There was a strange sound too, a kind of high pitched warbling – “All I reaaaaalllly, wannnnaaaaa dooooooo…” – I walked along the side of the court and tentatively made my way around the net.

 

Some kind of bastardised robotic Bob Dylan caricature snapped into focus as I pushed through the thick mist and arrived at the far side of the court, kissing the edge of the dizzying rooftop. Greeting me was a crudely manufactured representation of the Nobel Prize winner, slapped together from all manner of old household appliances. A low-res picture of the actual Bob Dylan was sellotaped clumsily to a bucket atop the body of the robot, and a mishandled tennis racket served as a makeshift guitar prop. To see a folk icon like Dylan, born in the tradition of Woody Guthrie, gone electric like this… Well, it was something of a shock to say the least. I took a moment to boo Dylan uncontrollably before pulling myself together and assuming my journalistic stature once more. My questions remained unanswered however, as this electric Dylan seemed to be nothing more than a glorified jukebox. After a series of questions culminating in “Can you hear me?” I inadvertently triggered Dylan to launch into a rendition of “Do You Hear What I Hear?”, the second track from his 2009 release Christmas in the Heart. Alas, it was far from Christmas in this reporter’s heart. Winter perhaps.  

 

After some fruitless attempts to shut Dylan off, I resigned myself to gazing out emptily into the smog above the city, hoping to at least take away some sense of modern Tokyo from this experience. Sometime later, as Dylan entered the final stretch of his Christmas album, Murakami emerged onto the rooftop, ranting about the disturbing noise. How he could have heard an animatronic 82 year old folk singer above the din of Clapton’s Pac-Man cover was beyond me, but I was hopeful that he could at least shut Dylan up. Alas, Mr. Murakami, unsurprisingly oblivious to the absurdity of the situation simply stood on the far side of the court holding a half-sized, bright pink guitar.

 

“Ah, Mr. Reporter! I trust you enjoyed the well. You must be up here for this evening’s main event, eh?”

 

He winked at me, flashing a cheeky grin. Murakami was absolutely sweating buckets, I could almost feel the sheer viscosity of the man’s exertion from across the court. Moving laboriously, he stepped up to the baseline opposite Electric Dylan.

 

A breezy Murakami, channeling Danny Dyer’s portrayal of Roger Federer in the 2020 biopic Grand Slam Geezer, arrogantly lofted the tennis ball into the air, bringing his guitar/racket forward with all the force a septuagenarian semi-retired novelist can muster. Not only did the haphazard racket thrust fail to meet the fuzzy green tennis ball, but it flew out of Murakami’s hand entirely, and clean off the roof of the building. Before I could react, Murakami was across the net with surprising rapidity, scolding Electric Dylan for throwing him off. Mustering an impeccable John McEnroe impression from Christ-knows-where, Murakami spun around screaming that “I could not be serious”. Imploring me, suddenly thrust into the role of umpire, to call a fault. He ripped the racket-guitar from Dylan’s hands and flung it in my direction. Again, he missed by a considerable margin and sent another makeshift tennis racket crashing to the unsuspecting Tokyo streets far below. Before I could respond, he was lashing out at Dylan again, weakly pummeling his monstrous creation. I darted for the elevator, taking one last look at the writer who once enthralled me with an erudite description of a man cooking pasta. His knuckles were bloody now. Wild screaming about the Nobel Prize Committee drowned out a crackling rendition of “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right”.

 

Five years ago, a celebrity encounter of this nature would be cause for scandal. In our current climate, I was merely grateful to escape without Murakami removing one of my limbs and eating it in front of me.

 


 

Shane Croghan is an Arts & Culture & Auld Lads Scrappin’ correspondent for The Benevolent Supreme Longford Leader.

 

Haruki Murakami is a supposedly retired novelist and indoor marathon runner. His new book – ‘What I Talk About When I Talk About How The Nobel Prize Committee are a Pack of Wankers’ – is out now.

 

mcenroeborgdylanmurakami

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The One Where Ross Controls The Narrative

 

“You know the way I’m always on about that missing episode of Friends I thought I saw?”

“Yeah, the one that obviously doesn’t exist? Your white whale?”

“Yeah, white whale, entirely white cast, whatever. Anyway, I finally remembered it! It came to me in a dream.”

“Oh, like ‘Yesterday’.”

“No, not yesterday, it was earlier today!”

“Yeah, I just mean it’s like when Paul McCartney came up with the melody for…”

“Paul McCartney was never in Friends?”

“He’s a straight, white man though. Could probably find a role for him handy enough.”

“Here, I knew you wouldn’t listen so I jotted down the synopsis as soon as I woke up. Just read this and I’ll get Schwimmer on the phone. Finally get that reunion up and running.”


Right, so Ross is obviously the only remotely interesting character in the entire show and the rest are just foil for Schwimmer so the episode primarily concerns him. The appeal of Ross is multi-faceted but essentially he’s the focal point of the action due to Schwimmer’s comedic timing and the fact that Ross, the brutally oppressive patriarch of the group, forces the viewer to empathise with a domineering individualistic representation of entitled consumer capitalism. This is the Nabokovian beauty of the show. In Lolita, Nabokov lures the reader in with beautiful prose. In Friends, it’s the unadulterated banality of the sitcom format that lulls the viewer into a false sense of security, dulling their awareness of the horrors unfolding on screen.

The plot concerns Ross and his relationship with Rachel. Obviously that’s the only plot line of note in the entire series and they probably could’ve concluded it within a season or two if they weren’t schwimming in money like the corporate leeches they are. So anyway, Ross treats Rachel poorly and flies into a fit of jealous rage when she resists his demands of uncompromising subservience. Let’s just say a co-worker tells her a joke and she politely laughs or something. Obviously Ross finds out about this, having planted the male co-worker two seasons previous, off-screen, to lure Rachel into making some sort of forced mistake eventually. Thus, in his eyes, asserting his position as the morally upstanding party in their on/off relationship. Of course, they’d have “broken up” over an actual, legitimate mistake committed by Ross at this point. Despite this, the surveillance would continue, because Ross, as a sort of surrogate for the viewer, has a meta-awareness of the sitcom environment. Owing to this awareness, Ross rests easy in the knowledge that he and Rachel, as the respective male and female leads with the most screen time, will obviously end up together when the cameras stop rolling.

So anyway all the other characters are off doing their own thing, attempting to force chemistry or stumbling down narrative cul-de-sacs full of catchphrases. Ross has the surveillance network in full-swing. Every single extra on the show is part of this network. Now here’s the twist – Gunther is a plant. That’s right, he’s the mole. It’s obvious really, if Ross found himself in close proximity with someone who fancied Rachel that much he’d obviously take them off screen and quietly shoot them in the back of the head.

Outside of the rent-controlled conveniently dead Grandmother apartment, Central Perk is the main location for all the action to play out. By placing Gunther in this key area, Ross has his Snape, a man who will protect his best interests in order to protect his own love, Rachel. Utilizing a method comprised of emotional blackmail and imagined violence, Ross installs Gunther as the kingpin of his shady surveillance network.

This forced understanding serves Ross almost immediately, with Gunther’s employment of Rachel early in the series, an ostensibly sympathetic action, actually serving as the first nail in her Schwimmer shaped coffin. With Ross a core member of the supposed “friends” and Gunther keeping the workplace on lock-down, Rachel’s early character development is forcibly Ross-centric. From this tightly-controlled world inhabited by the Rachel of earlier seasons, we witness the development of a kind of forced Stockholm Syndrome. Ross, aware of the sitcom structure, positions himself as the only fitting narrative resolution for Rachel when the curtain finally comes down, after ten harrowing years.

I’ll be there for you, when the rain starts to pour, for I control the weather. I’ll be there for you, at all times, because I’ve constructed your world as such. We were on a break, of my own design. Play upon the imagined drama my sweet, simple audience, because loutish Ross can never truly jeopardise the relationship, for jeopardy cannot exist in a sitcom world of his own construction. The other characters, locked in their linear narrative trajectories lack the awareness to save Rachel. Perhaps her only true hope was Gunther. Alas, he, like all before him, cowered in the shadow of the mighty Schwimmer.


“Are you finished reading it?”

“Eh, yeah. I mean, it’s not really an episode synopsis though. It’s just a demented, rambling analysis of…”

“Schwimmer wouldn’t pick up.”

“Sorry?”

“He didn’t answer the phone. None of them did. Well, apart from LeBlanc.”

“Matt LeBlanc actually answered the phone?”

“Yeah.”

“Not gonna bother with it then?”

“Nah.”