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May 8, 2009

Book Notes - Andy Raskin ("The Ramen King and I")

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published books.

Andy Raskin seeks out spiritual guidance from instant ramen inventor Momofuku Ando in The Ramen King and I: How the Inventor of Instant Noodles Fixed My Love Life. Raskin fills this memoir about failed relationships, emotional growth, and Japanese culture with rare honesty and introspection.

In his own words, here is Andy Raskin's Book Notes essay for his memoir, The Ramen King and I: How the Inventor of Instant Noodles Fixed My Love Life:

The Ramen King and I is a memoir about my pattern of avoiding intimacy in romantic relationships—often sabotaging them through infidelity—and how the inventor of instant ramen helped me change. The narrative is bookended by scenes in a jazz ensemble, and music appears throughout the book.

"Papa Don't Take No Mess," James Brown's ode to a (his?) strict father, captures a little bit of my relationship with my father. It's also incredibly fun to dance to, though its appearance in my book coincides with an impending breakup.

"Tagatame" (For Whom?), by the Japaense pop group Mr. Children, was the theme song at the funeral of Momofuku Ando, the inventor of instant ramen. The funeral was held in an Osaka baseball stadium, and the song played from huge speakers in the upper deck. A moving rock ballad about the desire to bring people together, the song also served as theme music for Nissin Cup Noodle's "No Borders" commercials in Japan. There's a YouTube video of the song and an unofficial translation of the lyrics here.

I was playing the third trombone part on "Four Brothers," the Woody Herman Orchestra classic, in a jazz ensemble when another trombonist leaned over and asked, "Why did you go to meet the inventor of instant ramen?" Much of the book is my attempt to formulate an answer to that question before the final fermata. The legendary 1947 recording features saxophone solos by (in order) Zoot Sims, Serge Chaloff, Herbie Steward, and Stan Getz.

"Pass the Peas," by the J.B.'s, played in a Tokyo club called "Soul Station," where I pondered what was wrong with my love life. The solo by Fred Wesley is the funkiest trombone solo in the history of the universe.

After I adopted the inventor of instant ramen as a spiritual guide, ramen began appearing in my life, often in unusual ways. One was that I came across a Haruki Murakami book in which he had written a song to the tune of "If I Had a Hammer," by Peter Paul and Mary. Murakami called his version, "Ramen in the Morning."

OK, these are album titles, but when I was a business journalist, I wrote an article about the rise of store-branded CD compilations -- albums like Pottery Barn's "Summer in the City" and Eddie Bauer "Legends of Soul." The most outrageous one I found was in the waiting room while I got an oil change: Jiffy Lube's "Romantic Moments."

My Japanese friend Zen, long something of a philo-Semite (just learned that word from a guy at San Francisco's Jewish Museum), accompanied me once to a synagogue's Passover service. Everyone sang "Daeyenu"—a song that expresses gratitude by proclaiming, "Had God gotten the Jews out of Egypt and not parted the Red Sea, it would have been enough!" But Zen misunderstood the translation. He thought the song meant, "It would NOT have been enough." Later, in my car, he said, "You guys are so demanding."

There used to be a Japanese TV show where two hosts would scream, "I wanna __." They'd fill in the blank with something they wanted to do, and then they would try to do it (without making any appointments or prior arrangements). Once the female host screamed, "I wanna sing a duet with Yasir Arafat!" She flew to Gaza, talked her way into Arafat's compound, and met him, but when she pressed play on her portable karaoke machine, he didn't sing along. The song she tried to sing with Arafat was "Ladybug Samba," a 1973 Japanese hit by the husband-and-wife duo Cherish. (It's on YouTube).

Andy Raskin and The Ramen King and I: How the Inventor of Instant Noodles Fixed My Love Life links:

the author's website
the author's blog
video trailer for the book

7x7 review
Bibliokept review
Entertainment Weekly review
The Official Ramen Homepage review
podcast interview with the author
Publishers Weekly review
Rameniac review

also at Largehearted Boy:

Previous Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
guest book reviews
musician/author interviews
52 Books, 52 Weeks

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