Gerry Mulligan

With the goal of stirring up even more interest in Murakami between now and mid-October, when the Nobel Prizes are announced, I will post a small piece of Murakami translation once a week from now until the announcement. You can see the other entries in this year’s series here: Jurassic Sapporo.

Gerry Mulligan after he let his crew cut grow out. (From Wikipedia.) 

Thanks to Sgt. Tanuki, last week I discovered that I’ve been reading an edited version of Dance Dance Dance. His blog post about the novel details the long sections of Chapters 1 and 2 that were abridged in translation. As I mentioned in the post last week, it sounds awfully similar to some of the writing from “The Twins and the Sunken Continent,” and it also makes the section from last week make more sense because it establishes the “I’m from a different planet” theme earlier. I’m eager to check it out – finding old copies of DDD will be one of my projects the next time I’m in Japan.

What this means is that Murakami must have gone through the text in 1991 when he was compiling his Complete Works, compared his old version with Birnbaum’s translation (or at least noted which sections had been cut), and made some of the identical cuts himself. While the cuts make this year’s Murakami Fest not nearly as exciting as it could be (if I had the original text), it does mean that we learn something about Murakami’s choices – these are cuts that Murakami decided to keep despite their absence in the English translation.

So I think it’s telling that Murakami would keep a short aside about jazz saxophonist Gerry Mulligan.

In Chapter 7, Boku has asked the Dolphin Hotel receptionist out, and they meet at a basement bar a short cab ride away from the hotel. Here’s the section when Boku arrives:

I was met at the door with the warm sound of an old Gerry Mulligan Record.

I took a seat at the counter and listened to the solo over a nice, easy J&B-and-water. (38-39)

The Japanese, however, is slightly more extensive:





Here’s my version:

I opened the door to an old Gerry Mulligan record playing at a pleasant volume. A record from back when Mulligan still had a crew cut and wore button-down shirts, back when Chet Baker and Bob Brookmeyer were in his band. I listened to it a lot a long time ago. Back in an era before someone like Adam Ant came on the scene.

Adam Ant.

Who would give themselves such a terrible name?

I sat at the counter and slowly enjoyed a J&B-and-water as I listened to the high quality solos of Gerry Mulligan.

This seems like an easy cut to make, and I imagine that Birnbaum made it because the Ant reference would soon be dated (if it wasn’t already?) and not because there’s anything wrong with Gerry Mulligan. It doesn’t surprise me that Murakami wanted to keep it; I do like that image of Mulligan in a crew cut and button-down shirt. (I wanted to use this photo in the post, but it’s not Creative Commons friendly.) It does, however, reek of old man frustration with change, and I guess that’s kind of what this book is about to a certain extent.

On a language note, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of the tone and implications of なんていう下らない名前をつけるんだろう, so I may have translated a little freely. What do y’all think? Any suggestions?

So yeah, that’s all I’ve got, really…unless…what? You ARE interested in hearing an extended ramble about Gerry Mulligan? Awesome!

Gerry Mulligan is the greatest and most famous baritone saxophonist. NPR has an excellent profile of him in the Jazz Profiles series. (Also worth listening to are the two two-part Duke Ellington profiles, the Count Basie profile, and the Nat King Cole profile among others, if that’s your kind of thing.) If you haven’t listened to his music before, I recommend starting with some of the “Mulligan Meets” series. Mulligan Meets Monk, Mulligan Meets Ben Webster, and Mulligan Meets Johnny Hodges are all top notch; easily accessible jazz that also makes great writing music because it isn’t too “hot” or complicated.

My favorite album, however, is “Something Borrowed, Something Blue,” which I’ve discovered is only available on LP…strange since I only have a digital copy of it. My guess is some jazz maniac uploaded it to teh torrentz site where I found it. If you can track this record down, I would highly recommend doing so. Mulligan plays alto, apparently, and the album starts with a superlative version of Bix Beiderbecke’s “Davenport Blues.” If I was stuck on a desert island with only one album, this might be the one I would take.

9 thoughts on “Gerry Mulligan

  1. I think it’s just as likely that Birnbaum or his editor removed this passage of verbiage because it makes the narrator sound like a bit of a bore. It slows down the story and adds nothing to the atmosphere, which is effectively evoked by one sentence in the English version. The English version works hard to convey a Chandler-esque feel in these books; that illusion is shattered as soon as the main character starts droning on in comicbook-guy detail about old jazz records. Murakami probably decided to keep the passage when he revised because it allows him to show off a bit. This tendency to load down pages with irrelevant asides is one of the things that makes Murakami’s later books such purgatory to read.

    Adam . . . Ant? Jeez, was that the best they could come up with?

  2. なんていう下らない名前をつけるんだろう

    This is definitely a fun one. I would probably have gone for “ridiculous” or “stupid” rather than” terrible”. “What a ridiculous thing to call yourself” or something like that. But I think that it has to call back to the なんていうの in the previous paragraph, which seems like it could be taken more literally given that a complaint specifically about names follows. “… before people with names like ‘Adam Ant’ came onto the scene” or something.

    It slows down the story and adds nothing to the atmosphere, which is effectively evoked by one sentence in the English version. The English version works hard to convey a Chandler-esque feel in these books; that illusion is shattered as soon as the main character starts droning on in comicbook-guy detail about old jazz records.

    Maybe that’s an example of Birnbaum doing some unilateral refashioning, though. Since Murakami isn’t a straight genre writer, isn’t it possible that he’s taking these little detours into crotchety music nerdery intentionally, as a way of undermining or satirizing the spare Chandler-y feel? (The diction itself seems to remain basically the same — clipped noirish sentences.)

    Of course I would have more confidence in this theory if the detours didn’t happen to overlap so precisely with what we know to be Murakami’s own crotchety music nerdery…

  3. Ah, but if you bother to figure out what’s going on with this jazz reference, it carries meaning. As Our Host demonstrates with his photos of Gerry Mulligan. The narrator’s not just expressing a preference for jazz over New Wave (which is what we thought Adam Ant was back in the day). He’s expressing a preference for Gerry Mulligan in the ’50s and early ’60s, rather than the late ’60s or ’70s. I.e., for jazz back when its players were expected to have short hear and dress up to play, which was, coincidentally or not, the last age when jazz really commanded a big audience. Mulligan and others continued to gig into the late ’60s and ’70s and in some cases beyond, and often created quite wonderful music, but they were men out of time. The world had passed them by. And you can see it in the differences in their appearance. Mulligan, as the above photo demonstrates, grew long hair and a beard; you could do similar before-and-after shots of Chet Baker or Bill Evans or Stan Getz or any number of other players. Before is neat and in command, after is scruffy and おっさんish. (Happens to all of us sooner or later.)

    In short, I here is expressing a longing not just for good music, but specifically for an age in which that music felt at home. If that makes him sound like a bore or a comicbook-guy, then maybe at least it would have weeded out the readers who object to such things – part of the disservice Birnbaum did to Murakami (and I say this as someone who has loved his translations of Murakami for twenty years) is to make him sound cooler than he really was. And while I think that was okay for the first three books in the Rat series, Dance x 3 is supposed to be the one where I loses his cool; Birnbaum’s translation fights that as much as it can.

  4. Also good points.

    I’m sure Matthew Strecher would have some thoughts on this, especially since it’s kind of an imagined nostalgia – I think Boku is a little too young to have enjoyed early Mulligan when it was cool. (Check out this sweet version of “Walkin’ Shoes” with Mulligan, Brookmeyer, and Zoot Sims:

    I wonder if Murakami was doing that as consciously here as he was in other places…kind of like in Norwegian Wood with his take on the student movement. Is it, as Matt mentions, a satirizing of Boku to a certain extent?

    Man, I hope the next section is as interesting as these have been.

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