‘The Last Picture Show’ by Ryu Murakami


From Words Without Borders:

I’d just come up to Tokyo from a Kyushu port town that had a U.S. military base and was living with some friends in a crummy little apartment in a wooden building north of Inokashira Park. These friends had formed a blues band back home and hoped to find success in the big city. I played drums but wasn’t really passionate about carrying on with a blues band from the hinterlands of Kyushu. My main priority had been to get away from my parents, and they’d agreed to send me off to Tokyo with an allowance if I’d attend a preparatory school there. The other guys worked as busboys or waiters while they waited for their big break. I wasn’t working and lived with them mainly because doing so was easier than trying to find a room on my own.

Their plan was to work nights, rehearse during the day, attend big concerts in order to mingle with the right people, and audition for record companies and production agencies whenever possible. On the overnight train from our hometown to Tokyo, they’d pledged that within six months they’d make it to the stage at the Hibiya Park Concert Series as a Japanese-language blues band. Including me, there were five members, from a variety of backgrounds. Nakano, the bass player and leader, had a salaryman father who’d just retired; the guitarist, Yamaguchi, was the son of an importer-exporter and a piano teacher; Shimada, on organ, was the only child of a filling-station owner, and Kato, the vocalist, had been raised by a single mom. Economic circumstances differed too, of course—Nakano and Kato had more or less run away from home without so much as a futon or a bowl and spoon between them, while Shimada’s parents sent a package of food and clothing and a registered envelope full of cash almost every week, and Yamaguchi owned a state-of-the-art stereo system with an open-reel tape deck.

But all four of them got jobs as busboys and waiters: Kato and Shimada at discos in Roppongi, Yamaguchi at a live-music club in Shinjuku, and Nakano at a cabaret in Ginza. Their plan to work nights and rehearse in the daytime proved unfeasible. The places they worked at were all open from about six in the evening to eleven at night, but busboys and waiters had to get there two or three hours early and stay until well after closing time, cleaning up and washing dishes and so on. Nakano, who worked in Ginza, had to leave the apartment at two in the afternoon and would stagger home at about two in the morning, having caught the last train. There were cabarets nearby—right there in Kichijoji, even—but Nakano believed that only in Ginza could you establish connections in the blues music field. God only knows where he’d got an idea like that, which now sounds like a complete joke.

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