This first-person short story tells of a thirty-something female riding in the minivan with her younger brother who is a hairdresser. They've been visiting their grandmother on a smaller island in Japan and the brother is determined to catch some black bass, not a native fish, in one of the many reservoirs tucked in the mountains on the island.
The story is punctuated with American songs playing on the iPhone on shuffle, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Erykah Badu, Muddy Waters, Madonna, Jack Johnson, G. Love and Special Sauce, Bob Dylan, Velvet Underground, Dead Kennedy's, No Age, and Chet Baker. The characters in the story also move around the island, up and down, and in a spiral. She, never given a name, remains in the minivan while her brother jumps out and fishes.
The story is told five years after the fact, while the narrator is on a three-month trip to Los Angeles, and although life is not what she'd planned, she still has five years to achieve what she thought she would in ten years. The theme of the story seems to be about the life cycle of a person. We go around, and around, trying something, not succeeding, trying again, sometimes revering the elderly, and sometimes avoiding them, music can alter our spaces, our tastes in music changes, etc.
The brother does become the manager of one of the company's hair salons, gets married, has a child, another is one the way. Life goes on, and on. My favorite idea from the the story is something a teacher told the brother's class, "...it's that today each of you is one day closer to death than yesterday..." And, the narrator states "...the cultural products that I more or less consciously associated with America, my first encounter was probably with 'Tom and Jerry.'" She continues, "I found that display of the absolute life force frightening." That image of Tom repeatedly flattened and smashed and jumping back into shape is a great metaphor for living a life.
"Background Music" is in the current issue, Volume 6, 2016, of Monkey Business: New Writing from Japan. I bought a copy of this very nice journal in St. Paul, Minnesota. It is an annual, English-language journal that focuses on Japanese literature. However, they also "present new work by writers from English-speaking countries. We have made our journal a site for dialogue across cultures."