Total Ghost's Randy Washington on living in Japan, Haruki Murakami and SNL
Reading is about more than following a narrative or learning facts; it can also be a profound shared experience that culminates in a better understanding of ourselves and each other. In that spirit, welcome to the Westword Book Club, a weekly feature celebrating the books that inspire Denver artists.
Randy Washington may be more commonly know as Chön, the frontman of German pop sensation group Total Ghost, whose latest album, Electrosexual, was released on September 13. Total Ghost has a busy schedule ahead, performing at Park House with Chella Negro and the Charm at 8 p.m. on Saturday, October 26 and at Lannie's Clocktower Cabaret at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, November 6 for the Greater Than Social Club. Since it would be against character for Chön to read, Westword caught up with Washington to discuss our shared loved for Haruki Murakami, living in Japan and the internecine squabbles at Saturday Night Live.
Randy Washington: You want to just jump right into it?
Westword: Yeah, we just talk about the books that were important to you in your formative years.
All right. I've gotta say even though I think it might be kind of a cliché but one of the most moving books for me was The Wind-up Bird Chronicle.
I don't know how cliché that is, necessarily. I'm pretty sure that this is the first time anybody has mentioned Haruki Murakami in these interviews, which kind of surprises me.
I feel like whenever I say, "Oh, I really like Murakami books," people think that I'm only talking about the Wind-up Bird Chronicle, but I like his entire body of work. It'd be like saying, "I like Robert Zemeckis" -- people recognize the name, they know Roger Rabbit and Back to the Future, but they don't recognize how the same craft in those movies is present in everything he does. I feel like in the literary world, Murakami's a bit like that. I enjoy their whole body of work, but they only get credit for the classics, even though they bring the same skills and unique perspective to their whole body of work.
Even The Polar Express?
That's the one where I really locked in on that theory. I dug my heels into Zemeckis.
I like Murakami, but I actually haven't read the Wind-up Bird Chronicle.
Oh, man, you're getting it backwards!
I know. I started out with Norwegian Wood, which is not really representative of his other books.
No, it's not at all.
The first really characteristic Murakami book I read, with all the metaphysical motherfuckery he's famous for, was Kafka on the Shore, which really blew my mind.
You jumped into Murakami a bit later then, huh? Because I don't think that Kafka on the Shore came out until like '04. In English, at least.
Yeah, I'm a real Johnny-come-lately. Where were you at in your life when you came across Wind-up Bird Chronicle?
It was was around 2001 or so, right when I was eighteen. It just really sunk in.
That's a perfect time to get really into a writer. So you're a total completist, huh? Even geniuses have missteps. I thought that South of the Border, West of the Sun was super-boring, for example.
Everything. One of his least popular books is my one of my favorites. It's a book called After Dark, and the vintage paperback printing has this huge typeface, huge letters spread apart across the page, so you're just tearing through it when you read. It's one of the few books set in contemporary Japan about young people.