Norwegian Wood (in Music)

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Who are the beatles?

Not the bugs, right?

The Beatles are one of the most famous and influential bands of all time. Their membership includes Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr. They were famous from the beginning of their reign as a pop group and they achieved unprecedented levels of fame on a global level. As they established themselves atop the music industry, they expanded their sound to incorporate influences from other groups and other regions around the world.  They have written legendary songs such as “Hey Jude”, “A Hard Day’s Night”, and “In My Life”. Their influence is still present in today’s music and will likely to continue to have an impact on the music industry for decades to come.  
What is the importance of Norwegian wood as a song?

Cultural Significance

Released as part of their 1965 album Rubber Soul, it is famously known for being the first Western pop song to incorporate a sitar into the instrumental. It helped pave the way for greater Eastern influences in Western music, as well as being an inspiration for another famous album, the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds.
how does the song connect to the book?

crossover central

Norwegian Wood borrows its title from the Beatles song. The book’s theme is supposed the mirror the that of the song. The lyrics to the song are on the cover page of this blog but can also be read here. The song comes into play on the very first page of the novel, as “a sweet orchestral cover version of the Beatles’ ‘Norwegian Wood'” (Murakami 3) begins to play over the speakers on a plane that thirty-seven year old Toru is on. It haunts him, as it was one of Naoko’s favorite songs to play while she was at the sanatorium.

A brief summary of the song shows that it is about a man who has a convoluted relationship with a girl who never had any real romantic interest in him to begin with. Yet, he is completely infatuated by her, but when she rejects him, he responds by burning down her house. It is no stretch of the imagination to see how this relates to Toru and Naoko, as he is absolutely smitten until her untimely death. Below are some excerpts from the song, followed by a few sentences of analysis that connect both song & novel.

lyrical analysis

“I once had a girl
Or should I say
She once had me”

Analysis

From the very start, Toru is taken with Naoko. When they were younger, things were awkward between them but now that they have both lost Kizuki, they are finally able to relate to one another. Their Sunday walks “were a religious ritual meant to heal [their] wounded spirits” (Murakami 27). However, Naoko never loved Toru the way he loved her. Toru knows this too. While they are walking, he realizes that “[his] arm was not the one she needed, but the warmth of someone else. [His] warmth was not what she needed but the warmth of someone else” (Murakami 28). Knowing that he was her substitute for Kizuki made him feel guilty for being himself.

“She asked me to stay
And she told me to sit anywhere,
So I looked around
And I noticed there wasn’t a chair”

Analysis

So, why did Toru stay by Naoko’s side? Because she asked him to. The first memory Toru ever shares with the reader is during one of his visits to the sanatorium where Naoko is staying. She asks him: “Will you remember that I existed and that I stood next to you here like this?” (Murakami 9) and he promises. However, the Toru that is 37 years old (and retelling the memory)  is overcome with sorrow as he realizes that the reason she begged him not to forget her existence is because “She knew [his] memories of her would fade” (Murakami 10). This fills him with sadness because it further solidifies the truth that she never loved him and never meant for him to stay with her permanently (much like the man in these lyrics).

And when I awoke
I was alone;
This bird had flown.

Analysis

These lyrics are most emblematic of the ways in which Toru, Midori and Naoko struggle with their identity in love and in loss. They are constantly grappling with what it means to have an identity in flux. For Toru in particular, this novel is about learning to be alone and know who he is when the world fades away. Midori has a mind of her own, often leaving him alone without a word of warning. Naoko is a far more fragile being, struggling to love anyone after losing her older sister and boyfriend to suicide. The “bird” in these lyrics can stand in for anything Naoko’s death, Midori leaving Tokyo, Toru sleeping with Naoko only to wake up and find her gone. But in some ways, it all comes back to the same sentiment: the ways in which love and loss ebb and flow throughout the span of a life.

So I lit a fire,
Isn’t it good
Norwegian wood.

Analysis

While the man in the song literally burns the house of the girl he loves down, there is no house burning in Murakami’s Norwegian Wood. It is more of a symbolic burning than anything. There is the burning of relationships as well as the burning of identities. At the beginning of the story, Toru reveals to the reader that his memory of Naoko and his younger years are growing distant but he too is “ever more distant from the spot where [his] old self used to stand” (Murakami 5). In order to hold on to this part of his identity, he has “to write things down to feel [he] fully comprehend[s] them” (Murakami 5).

Thus, we learn why Toru is even starting to write his story. It is so he can hold on to a part of his identity and the people & times that shaped him.

what does the song sound like?

Glad you asked. Hit play on the video below!

Listen to Norwegian Wood

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