Kazuo Ishiguro: Actually, I had done what I thought was more or less a finished version of The Remains of the Day, but the very buttoned-up narrator, the butler — in that earlier version, he doesn’t quite come through confessing his true emotions. He maintains his front a little bit more effectively than he does in the final version. What made me change my mind was that, between that penultimate version and the final version I handed in, I listened to a song by Tom Waits — another great singer-songwriter, remarkable artist. And this is the power of that art form: it’s performance as well as the actual writing.
I was listening to a song called “Ruby’s Arms,” but it could have been any number of Tom Waits songs. And in the middle of that — it’s a song about a soldier just leaving, or somebody, just leaving his girlfriend, sneaking out in the morning to get on a train. But there’s a moment in that when Waits sings the words “although my heart was breaking.” And it’s not so much the words themselves; it’s the way he sings them because Waits sings — his voice sounds like kind of a really rough, tough, hobo-type character, not accustomed to revealing his emotions at all. And it’s the way that this emotion seems to break through all his customary defenses. This is all in that voice. You know that that is not the voice of a man who normally talks about his own heartbreak. But he just cannot hold it back anymore. And this is the power of song when it’s sung by a great singer and he writes great songs. You can do this.
And I thought, “Oh, I’d love to — can I do something equivalent in my novel?” So in a novel, there is no singer, but I’ve maintained this very buttoned-up — repressed, you might say — controlled voice of a narrator all the way through. Shouldn’t I let him just break? Shouldn’t I let the big, big emotion break through just once? Would it have an equivalent effect? So I changed things a little bit. I allowed that armor to be pierced. I learn an awful lot from listening to music and songs. I learn a lot from other writers, but I learn a huge amount from watching films and listening to people like Tom Waits and Dylan and Leonard Cohen.