Sauté Music

A short essay by Haruki Murakami, from the book Murakami Radio.

I stood in my kitchen, knife in one hand, listening to the new Neil Young CD. I’d bought it earlier that day and now I was at home sautéing carrots. There was something wonderful in the air around me and I felt a warmness in my chest. Neil Young and sautéing carrots are meant for each other. “Neil, you keep doing your thing, and I’ll keep doing mine,” I thought to myself. I would have loved to give him some of the carrots I was making. But you know, I don’t think I would have had the same magical experience if I’d been making a cheese omelet. There’s just something about his music that goes with a carrot sauté.

I’ve always been a fan of simple American rock. These days I’m into R.E.M., Red Hot Chili Peppers, Beck, and Wilco. I’ll put aside everything else that’s going on in my life so I can buy their new albums the day they come out. Sheryl Crow’s also great. I have a tough time listening to more complex rock music. I don’t think pretentiousness suits the genre.

Rock’s the kind of music that I like listening to in the car. I want to crank up the volume and I can’t really do that at home without someone complaining. But alone in my car there’s nobody to bother and I can play it as loud as I want. On warm afternoons I’ll drive around in circles blasting Red Hot Chili Peppers as I stick my head up out of my roofless car. Playing Eric Burdon & The Animals’ old song “Sky Pilots” on an endless loop, gripping my steering wheel, I feel high. It’s like I’ve been transported to a different dimension. If that intrigues you, you should give it a shot (but remember to fasten your seat belt).

Music is situational. Red Hot Chili Peppers isn’t meant to be background music for some middle aged guy sautéing carrots alone in his kitchen, nor is “Sky Pilots.” Neil Young is the right music for the occasion. The perfect background music makes you feel productive and motivated. That way of thinking comes with a cost: you constantly have to pick out the right song. It can be a challenge. You waste hours trying to decide what music perfectly fits some mundane situation like, say, making rolled cabbage.

Well, if you’ll allow me to continue dispensing my personal opinions… the best musician for making rolled cabbage is The Artist Formerly Known As Prince. Eric Clapton is for mushroom soup, and you can’t beat Marvin Gaye for fried beef. I don’t have any basis for saying that but you feel the same way, right? Oh, you don’t? Hmmmm.

(I wrote this while listening to The Amadeus String Quartet’s “Mozart’s Early String Quartet Collection”)