Murakami plays antiwar songs on radio to protest Ukraine war

TOKYO – Playing James Taylor’s “Never Die Young” and going back to songs that marked the antiwar movement in the 1960s, author Haruki Murakami added his voice to protests against the war in Ukraine with a special edition of his Japanese radio show.

“Does music have the power to stop war? Sadly, the answer is no,” Murakami said. “But it has the power to make listeners believe that war is something we must stop.”

For Friday’s 55-minute program called “Music to put an end to war,” broadcast across Japan by Tokyo FM, Murakami chose 10 tracks from his collections of records and CDs at home that “in my mind best fit our theme.”

Some were more straightforward antiwar songs and others “songs that deal with the importance of human life, love and dignity, they can be considered antiwar songs in some broader sense.”

“Lyrics are going to play a big part in tonight’s show, so be sure to keep an open ear,” Murakami reminded his listeners. “By the end of the show, I have a feeling that you’ll be more inspired to bring an end to war. Time will tell.”

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For some songs he rehearsed passages of the lyrics he translated into Japanese in his own words, adding historical background that included racial and social disparities while conveying the message of anger, sorrow and love.

The antiwar songs from the 1960s included Peter, Paul & Mary’s “Cruel War,” which he used to play as part of a folk song band in high school, and “Unknown Soldier” by the Doors, which he remembered always playing on the radio in his college days.

With his youth years overlapping with the antiwar movement, his words — and choice of songs — gave a deeper meaning and relevance to the conflict in Ukraine.

He opened his program with James Taylor’s “Never Die Young,” a song aimed at young people in the city losing their lives to drugs and crime.

“There’s a clear connection here to young people sent to war,” he said. “In a war started by an older generation, it’s the younger generation that gives up their lives. That’s the way it’s been for a long time, and it’s truly heartbreaking.”

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As he played “Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream,” written by folk singer Ed McCurdy in 1950, he recalled the year the Korean War started, the Cold War turned hot and the threat of nuclear war intensified. Murakami chose the version performed by the Weavers, whose records were banned on the radio because of their antiwar message.

Murakami provided his Japanese translation of passages from reggae singer Eddy Grant’s “Living on the Front Line,” explaining that the front line also was about “a society on the brink of destruction.” Grant mostly wanted to get African tribes stop killing each other, but “his heartfelt lyrics could really apply to any war.”

He chose “Blowin’ In The Wind” that Stevie Wonder sang for Bob Dylan’s 30th anniversary concert celebration in 1992, and summarized what Wonder, before performing, told the audience — that despite the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War, the world’s troubles haven’t ended and the song remained relevant.

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After playing John Lennon’s “Imagine” performed by Jack Johnson, Murakami said that the lyrics sounded “pretty optimistic” because they were written in 1971, when “we could still believe in the future, when we still had our ideals.”

In closing, Murakami quoted Martin Luther King Jr. as saying in his speech that “Never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was legal.” Murakami said that King probably meant that individual rights could be the first to be taken away when the law says so.

He never explicitly mentioned Russia or President Vladimir Putin.

But he noted that many people, frustrated by representative democracy, are drawn closer to authoritarianism. “That might seem efficient, but it’s important to remember that if things take a turn in a dark direction, where we end up is truly dangerous, so please be careful.”

“I hope there will be some peace in our world.”

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