Murakami Madness at Symphony Space

1. Brooklyn saxophonist Eric Walter of The Brooklyn What is awestruck by the insane line-up for Murakami Madness. 2. Smokin bogies with local writer, Cy A. Adler of Green Eagle Press.

Man, people love this dude. A packed theater! A killer cast of actors, readers, and personalities! Concession stands bubbling with Elderflower martinis?! Stacks of little boxes with spring rolls and seaweed salads?! An all-star playlist of sweet jams!? And Murakami wasn’t even there?!

Symphony Space Founder Isaiah Sheffer asked the crowd between sets, “Why do we love Murakami so much?” when the overall statement of the evening was clearly: “Look at how much we love Murakami.” Though the big guy from Kobe missed this epic celebration of his talents, his poetic was thoroughly waxed by a line-up of serious talents.

1. Symphony Space founder Isaiah Sheffer, Jane Curtin and Campbell Scott. 2. Andre Holland, Miriam Silverman and Parker Posey.

Actor Andre Holland opened the show with Ben Loory’s “The Dodo,” a tale about a bird with a personality complex, and a fitting choice for a Murakami reading. Holland performed the fable with great energy and impeccable (no pun intended) narrative timing.

Fashion king and Murakami fan boy Isaac Mizrahi warmed the crowd with a personal anecdote. This consisted of him gushing over our man of the evening and laying clams that a seemingly commonplace relationship with a bookstore sales clerk, who had introduced him to his literary love, had grown mysteriously serendipitous and “very Murakmi-esque” through a series of rising actions that led to a possible bouquet of flowers sent to a nameless-but-intelligent sales clerk with good taste. I can’t help but agree that once I started my first Murakami novel, Norwegian Wood, I started seeing ordinary daily interactions as omens of my own unseen and fortuitous plot, man. By the way, the sales clerk works at Three Lives bookstore, which recently hosted a midnight release party for 1Q84 — did I mention that people love this dude?

Then Miriam Silverman brought us into the world of Murakami’s latest magnum opus, 1Q84 (the main reason for the mania of the evening). With delicate and precise pacing, Silverman crafted a classic Murakami atmosphere filled with philosophical intrigue, intimate cognitive portraits and certain “lump(s) of silence” that follow each statement of the novel’s mysterious cab driver, who juggles portents and Leoš Janáček riffs in a momentous Tokyo traffic jam. Remember the playlist of sweet Murakami-induced jams? Oh yeah, Janáček’s Sinfonietta overtured the evening, as it does in 1Q84.

Aasif Mandvi, current correspondent for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, wrapped the crowd round Murakami’s words in a bit that featured a heavy German accent and the line, “Can you imagine a Japanese wearing Lederhosen?”

Parker Posey, veteran Dazed and Confused icon, brought a matter-of-fact sass to a story of infidelity, misery, and a character who unwittingly recites poetry to himself. Her delivery was spot on, intuitively gracing the Murakami snark. She also would’ve won best dressed of the evening, despite the lack of a certain grey “Seniors” sweatshirt, which would’ve had everyone hazing the freshman.

Amidst the madness, Jane Curtin performed a piece of such impenetrable emotional clarity and power that all the nervous laughter normally rushing at the first sign of levity was curbed by a halting awe. The story was “Ice Man” and Curtin killed it. It had gotten to the point where I could’ve listened to her freezing over Murakami’s sibilant lines for days. I can’t believe the last I saw of her was as the alien-dating and neurotic alcoholic Dr. Mary Albright on Third Rock from the Sun (an awesome show). Her range is exceptional! And jeezus does she have a great, icy stare to accompany her entrancing reading voice.

1. John Wray toasting to Murakami and elderflower martinis.

Writer John Wray filled the evenings’ “only reader who has actually met Murakami” quota with an inside scoop into his sacred meetings with the legend. Wray had bratwurst with Murakami after scouring a record store. Murakami was all puzzled when Wray told him how his novel was going. He didn’t seem to understand what it meant when young American writers say their latest work “isn’t going too well.” Over German sausage, Murakami dispelled sage writing advice to Wray, saying that if you’re having trouble just “put anything in that you want. You like that bratwurst? Put that in.” Thanks, man.

Campbell Scott closed out the night, thoroughly freaking us out with a spooky reading of “The Mirror,” a tale of introspection that blends the philosophy of the self with a supernaturally-inclined psychoanalysis. Heady stuff. Scott excellently intoned Murakami’s gritty male narrator, drawing out the terse, minimalist descriptions that blossomed into a harrowing spiritual epiphany.

I was fortunate enough to spend my smoke break with the young composer Anthony Paggett, who had created the night’s sweet jams, comprised of Murakami’s favorite tunes to run to, write to, and reference. Sympathy for the Devil? Roxanne? Signed, Sealed, Delivered?! Some excellent classical music I’ve never heard of?! Murakami and Paggett both have great taste.

I was even more fortunate to happen upon the stellar Symphony Space staff who were able to get me backstage, so I could go home with some sick pictures in my pocket by the end of the night. Thanks guys, I’m still reeling off the madness, the mania, the insanity — the Murakami-esque!


— Jesse Katz is a born-and-bred New York City writer and musician. He edits the local monthly zine, Having a Whiskey Coke With You.

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