Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The land of rok and roll


Forgot to mention, as noted here, that the Wondergirls new cd has a song which takes a great deal from Shin Jung-hyun's Miin (titled 'Me in'). It can be found here, but the youtube video would need to be viewed through a proxy to listen to it in the ROK. I really can't decide if it's sacrilege or if it's a good thing to have JYP paying homage to Shin's work. I doubt it's going to attract many of the Wonder Girls' fans to his music...

[Original post]

I discovered Ju-Hwan Kim's dissertation "Relocating the Alliance: The U.S.-South Korea Military Alliance in Cultural Representations" (downloadable here) while looking for more information about Nam Jeong-hyeon's 1965 novella Bunji [Land of Excrement], which Kim describes:
In an epistolary format, the story of Bunji is narrated by Hong Mansu [a direct descendent of Hong Gil-dong] addressing to his deceased mother. Several days after the 1945 liberation of Korea, Mansu’s mother who came out to welcome the U.S. forces with hand-made Korean and star-spangled flags in her hand gets raped on the way by American GIs. Back home, she exposes her defiled body to her son and daughter, Mansu and Buni. Unable to overcome her shame, Mansu’s mother refuses to eat and dies in a few days after a convulsion. Upon his discharge from the military, Mansu, unable to find a job, begins black-market trading with American goods that his sister Buni obtains from Sergeant Speed, an American soldier she lives with. Buni also ends up in misfortune as she experiences sexual torment by Mr. Speed who often disparages the “lower half of her body” comparing that with his wife’s. In resentment of the sergeant’s abuse of his sister, Mansu determines to see Mrs. Speed or Mrs. Bitch as he names her, for himself.

By this time, Mrs. Speed leaves the U.S. to make an unexpected visit to see her husband in South Korea. Mansu, not to miss this God-sent chance, tricks Mrs. Speed to accompany him for tour during which he rapes her in a mountain. Learning the news, the U.S. government mobilizes a mass-scale retaliation dispatching “as many as ten thousand missiles and artillery pieces” including a nuclear bomb to destroy the whole mountain where Mansu is hiding.
Sounds like a blast. Needless to say, the authorities were not amused, and Nam was arrested and and given a 6 month prison sentence and a seven-year prohibition from publishing for breaking the national security law. Kim describes the story as a critique of the state, and places it at the opening of a chapter which includes examples of others who contested Park Chung-hee's view of the nation and state, including poet Shin Dong-yeop, and 'godfather of Korean rock' Shin Jung-hyun (which I obviously took great interest in). Kim's writing about Shin is engaging enough, though the specific details are based on Mark Russell's interview with Shin and especially the essay "The Birth of ‘Rok’: Cultural Imperialism, Nationalism, and Glocalization of Rock Music in South Korea, 1964-1975" by Pil Ho Kim and Hyunjoon Shin, which can be read pretty cheaply here and is the basis of this post (which has some great photos and music from the Add 4 up to Sanullim). I haven't had a chance to read it yet, but certainly plan to. Here's what they wrote about Miin (Shin's classic rock song with the Yupjuns (brass coins) from 1974, which apparently sold 100,000 copies - huge for its time (and probably even today)), as quoted in Kim's paper:
“Miin” had monumental cultural impact. Ordinary people, especially young
schoolchildren on the streets, were humming along with the folksy melody and
rhyme loosely based on changt’aryŏng, the traditional beggar’s chant for food.
Shin blended this with an apparent homage to Jimi Hendrix, borrowing a motif
from “Voodoo Chile” to create the famous guitar riff in “Miin.” In addition. Shin
gave it a touch of vibrato akin to nonghyŏn, a technique widely used with
traditional Korean stringed instruments. As a result, the lead guitar in “Miin”
sounds like the kayagŭm (a twelve-stringed zither), generating a hybrid of
Western rock and traditional Korean music.

“Miin” was soon banned by the government as “too noisy” and “vulgar"; as Kim notes, "a popular joke at the time was to change the song’s lyrics from, “Seeing her once, seeing her twice, and I can’t stop looking her” to “Doing it once, doing it twice, I can’t stop doing it.”

The same year (1974) that Shin found such success (showing that rock music had indeed become popular), director Lee Jang-ho's debut "Heavenly Homecoming of Stars" perfectly captured the youth culture that had been coming together and broke box office records (selling over 400,000 tickets). The music for the film was done by Lee Jang-hee, whose music is showcased in this music-video-like scene from the film:

Just like Shin Jung-hyun, Lee Jang-hee (who had been introduced to marijuana by an AFKN dj) and Lee Jang-ho would see their careers put on hold for half a decade after being arrested for pot in 1975 and 1976).

And on the academic paper front in regard to music from this time are also the two chapters by Roald Maliangkay - ‘Supporting Our Boys: American Military Entertainment and Korean Pop Music in the 1950s and early 1960s’ and ‘Pop for Progress: South Korea’s Propaganda Songs’ - in the book "Korean Pop Music: Riding the Korean Wave" (Keith Howard (ed.), Folkestone, Kent: Global Oriental: 2006). For those not wanting to drop almost $200 on the book (fascinating though it looks to be), both Yonsei and SNU have it in their libraries (but not the main libraries, the music and international studies libraries, respectively).

I should also note that Roald Maliangkay's website has a collection of older Korean LP covers; the cover of the Kim Sisters' first album certainly wasn't designed to conform to any orientalist ideas about what Asian women should look like, right?

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