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A playlist of Kazuo Ishiguro's favourite songs


A British novelist, screenwriter and musician, Sir Kazuo Ishiguro has a career like few others can come close to matching. One of the most celebrated contemporary writers of fiction, Ishiguro’s first two novels A Pale View of Hills and An Artist of the Floating World were exemplary in their portrayal of Japanese identity. Later, he received the Man Booker Prize for his novel The Remains of the Day.

But while the novels and short stories of Ishiguro are always inspiring, there was one other part of his life that really intrigued us — music. Below, we’ve found his truly inspirational music taste and how it affected another one of his novels, The Buried Giant.

The novel was released in 2015 and follows an elderly British couple as they traverse a fictional ost-Arthurian landscape. It’s a beautiful piece of writing but perhaps the best addition to the book is the playlist Ishiguro provided for Powell’s Book blog back in 2015. Ishiguro said of the playlist: “The eight songs on this playlist didn’t ‘inspire’ The Buried Giant, nor did I play them out loud while writing. And with the notable exception of the Arvo Part, the visual landscapes conjured up by these tracks are unlikely to match the setting of the novel. But each of them relates in some significant way — usually at the level of theme or emotion — to what happens in the story. I’m not going to spell out just how — I’ll leave that to you. But let me say a little about why each song is special for me.”

Ishiguro goes on to provide a searing playlist that contains some of the finest songwriters the world has ever seen. Picking out Emmylou Harris’ ‘Hickory Wind’, Ishiguro said of the song: “There’s a great subgenre of songs about homesickness, in which we’re left unsure just what it is the singer is really missing. A place? A person? Or maybe an era of his or her life spent there? I love it when a song deliberately plays on this ambiguity.”

Another inspiring songwriter and, arguably, the greatest fiction writer music has ever seen, Leonard Cohen also makes the list. “This is from Cohen’s latest album, released as he approached 80. It’s up there with his finest songs: desperate, hilarious, heartrending. The singer’s barked question, “Did I ever love you?” sounds like it’s become the biggest one he could ask about himself. He sounds furious, not so much at the woman he addresses, as at the bewildering speed with which the years have vanished, and the coming of doubt about his life’s meaning.”

“So many love songs are about the start of love or the end of love,” says Ishiguro about his selection of Nina Simone’s song ‘Keeper of the Flame’. “This one’s about the battle to keep love alive over the long-distance, through hostile, inclement conditions. Simone was surely one of the very greatest singers ever. She brings resolution, stoicism, and courage to the song, as well as a sense of carrying wounds that may never heal.”

Another icon of entertainment, Ishiguro picks out Ennio Morricone for special mention: “This comes from the soundtrack of perhaps the greatest Western movie ever made — Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West`. The harmonica you hear swaying in and out becomes increasingly significant in the film’s plot, until we realize it’s an emblem for a haunted man’s darkest memory, and a talisman for bitter revenge. This music accompanies the final one-on-one confrontation between the film’s two master gunfighters. It’s full of violence and hatred, but tinged also with a Proust-like wonder at memory’s power to transport one back to a vanished past.”

Below, you can listen to the full playlist and find the full piece here.

Kazuo Ishiguro’s favourite songs:

  • ‘Hickory Wind’ – Emmylou Harris
  • ‘Did I Ever Love You?’ – Leonard Cohen
  • ‘Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten’ – Arvo Pärt
  • ‘Blame It on My Youth’ – Keith Jarrett Trio
  • ‘Keeper of the Flame’ – Nina Simone
  • ‘Man with a Harmonica’ – Ennio Morricone
  • ‘Dark Turn of Mind’ – Gillian Welch
  • ‘The Summer We Crossed Europe in the Rain’ – Stacey Kent