Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Songs of the Korean War

Today is the 64th anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War.

Last night's Royal Asiatic Society lecture, 'That Crazy Asian War,' by Michael Duffy, focused on American music about the Korean War.

A fairly comprehensive list of these songs, which can also be listened to, can be found on the page "Music About the Korean War" at, with at least one other song to be found at Atomic Platters' small page on Korean War music. More information on the music with lots of youtube videos, and at least one 1980s Danish song (!), as well as a Lightning Hopkins song about the war can be found in this post by Jon Dunbar at

One of the more absurd songs I heard last night was "When They Drop The Atomic Bomb" by Jackie Doll and his Pickled Peppers:

 We also heard, Elton Britt's Rotation Blues, which is notable for its Korea references (to 'A-frames' and 'honey pots').

As for songs that I really liked, JB Lenoir's "Korea Blues" has an interesting take on the plight of the soldier overseas (though not a surprising one for a blues song):

I also liked Sonny Osborne's "A Brother in Korea," a bluegrass song (and about the only song from the time of the Korean War which came close to criticizing the war (or war in general)) which can be listened to here. As well, gospel singer Sister Rosetta Tharpe's "There’s Peace in Korea," released the day of the Armistice, can be listened to here. And who knew that the 'crazy Asian war' referenced in "Ruby, don't take your love to town" (popularized by Kenny Rogers) was the Korean War?

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Shin Jung-hyun's 1958 LP 'Hicky Shin'

Korean rock and roll in the 1960s and 1970s

Part 1: Shin Jung-hyun's 1958 LP 'Hicky Shin'

What would be considered to be modern popular music in Korea essentially came into being in the mid-to-late 1920s with the release of the earliest commercial recordings in 1925 and the introduction of radio in 1927 (initially split between Japanese language and Korean language broadcasting; a Korean-only station began in 1933).

As Michael Robinson puts in in his chapter on colonial era broadcasting history in Colonial Modernity in Korea (which can be mostly read here).
From 1933 until the outbreak of the Pacific War in 1941, Korean radio stimulated a revival of traditional music genres, created new forms of dramatic arts, introduced Western classical music and jazz, fed its audience’s insatiable appetite for modern, popular song (yuhaengga), and served as a vehicle for standardizing the Korean vernacular.
This fascinating chapter goes on to describe the generational clashes between the old, who wanted to hear more traditional music, and the young, who wanted to hear popular songs, as well as the 'purification' campaigns carried out by Japanese authorities during the Pacific War which banned songs that, for example, had references to crying in them (Park Chung-hee would eventually take a page from this campaign). Some of the hit songs from the 1930s and 1940s can be listened to here.

With the end of the Pacific War, American influence would make itself felt, especially during and after the Korean War. One major influence was AFKN radio, which began in 1951 and exposed anyone with a radio to American pop music. American films were also shown in Seoul, though the slower, but more thorough influence may have been the stage shows put on for US soldiers by Korean performers.

An in-depth look at the history of two variety show collectives which performed from the 1930s to the 1950s and at times entertained Japanese and U.S. troops can be found in Roald Maliangkay's essay "Koreans Performing for Foreign Troops: The Occidentalism of the C.P.C. and K.P.K."

Another chapter by the same author - ‘Supporting Our Boys: American Military Entertainment and Korean Pop Music in the 1950s and early 1960s’ - can be found 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, both Yonsei and SNU have it in their libraries (in the music and international studies libraries, respectively).

One of the artists who developed as a musician playing on USFK stages was Shin Jung-hyun. As is noted in Mark Russell's article about Shin Jung-hyun, he was born in 1938 and moved around, living in Japan and Manchuria before returning to Korea after liberation. Orphaned at the age of 15, he moved to Seoul at the end of the Korean War.
The post-War years in Seoul were tough. Shin woke up at four o’clock each morning to work in a pharmacy, then went to night school in the evenings. At night, in between, and any chance he got, he taught himself guitar.

Soon Shin was good enough at the guitar to find work teaching at a music institute in Jongno, the center of old Seoul. He reputation grew quickly, and someone suggested he audition to play for the U.S. Eighth Army.

In 1957, he started playing rock music for U.S. Army bases (under the name “Jackie Shin”), where he would continue for ten years. The American Army circuit was a godsend for musicians then, with plenty of clubs (jazz standards for the officers clubs, more country music for the NCOs, and rock for the enlisted men) and decent pay.

“The American bases are where Korean rock developed,” Shin says. “At the time, Korean clubs only played ‘trot,’ tango, music like that.” Shin still remembers the music he most liked to play then: “Bill Haley’s ‘Rock Around the Clock,’ ‘Guitar Boogie Shuffle,’ Duane Eddy’s ‘40 Miles of Bad Road.’”
In 1958 (or 1959, according to some sources), Shin recorded and released the first rock and roll record made in Korea with the help of other musicians who played on the Eighth Army stages. Titled  '히키-申 [Hicky Shin],' it may refer to his English name, Jacky Shin. The cover also describes it as 'guitar melody' in Hangeul and '경음악 선곡집' [album with a selection of songs of light music] in Hanja (though 경음악 perhaps had a different meaning then]. The entire album can be listened to on Youtube.

If you go to the Youtube page, you can skip ahead to the second song, 'Twist Arirang', which is pretty damn cool. Interestingly, the song 'The Twist' only became popular in 1960, but other songs with 'twist' references existed before that song (and Shin's song sounded nothing like music one would do the twist dance to), so it's obviously not referring to that song. As a rock and roll version of 'Arirang', it predates by 40 years the Yoon Do-hyeon Band's rock version made popular during the 2002 World Cup. There are also a number of popular American songs Shin did versions of, in addition to his own material.

While the pop music of the 1930s instituted new forms of westernized popular music in Korea, this was the first album to introduce rock and roll to Korea. Few listened to it at the time, but eventually tastes would begin to change...

[I've (obviously) been rather busy recently, but hope to do more posts like this about 1960s and 1970s Korean rock music.]

Friday, June 13, 2014

It always interesting when leftist radicals and rightist Christians agree on something

As I pointed out in detail in this post about Korean fears of AIDS prior to (and during) the 1988 Olympics, progressives in South Korea portrayed US soldiers, and Americans in general, as being spreaders of AIDS in Korea, with some radical students protesting in the streets with this message. Two days before the Olympics, the Korea Herald reported that
Police hauled away about 20 demonstrators, mostly young women, when they tried to hold a protest in front of the US army base here Thursday [September 15] alleging that American soldiers were responsible for the spread of AIDS in South Korea.
As AP reported in a September 17 article about the opening of the Olympics,
A small protest was held at Yonsei university with less than 100 students taking part. Students distributed leaflets claiming foreigners at the Olympics would spread acquired immune deficiency syndrome.

“Oppose Olympics which oppose Korean peoples’ health with AIDS,” the leaflets said.
The group asked, “The United States is causing many problems as it pursues pro-gay policies like the recent expansion of same-sex marriage legalization, but is it now trying to expand homosexuality in not just the United States, but Korea, too?” They said homosexuality was the main culprit in the occurrence of AIDS, and that homosexuals were at high risk of getting AIDS. They that the number of patients who contracted AIDS due to homosexual activity in Korea is rising like the United States, and asked if the United States was trying to export AIDS, too, to Korea through its gay diplomacy. - See more at:
 Or, as I noted in this post, Hustler's 'Korean sex-scene guide,' published during the 1988 Olympics and discovered and translated by students, was
Just the ticket to incite an anti-American demonstration, which is what a young man with a microphone nearby is trying to do.

"You see? The Olympic Games are just an excuse for Americans to come to Korea and pollute our country with AIDS!" he shouts. "Yankees out of Korea!"

"Yankees out of Korea!" echoes the crowd of about 50 students. Across the front of the building are four huge posters proclaiming: "Yonsei University students curse American barbarism."
So it wasn't just soldiers, but foreigners (particularly Americans) who were planning to pollute Korea with AIDS as well.

 In mid-October 1988 the Donga Ilbo reported that
the head of the AIDS countermeasures joint committee Im Jong-cheol pointed out that “USFK is an AIDS powder magazine” and revealed that there was an urgent need for an amendment to the AIDS Prevention Law to implement such things as a regular AIDS checkup for USFK members.
By this point, in the wake of the Olympics, calls were being made to amend the SOFA agreement, in some cases to allow for HIV testing of US soldiers.

The fears stirred up by these leftist activists echoed contemporary North Korean propaganda which accused US soldiers as having infected 100,000 prostitutes in the south with AIDS.

In May 1989, AP described a protest against Yankee 'devils' in Daejeon which sounds similar to such propaganda:
''Let's inflict an irrevocable defeat on U.S. imperialism and advance the unification of our fatherland,'' said student leader Im Chong-suk.

Cheering students chanted, ''Punish Yankee imperialism'' and ''Yankees go home.''

Leaders denounced a proposal to relocate some U.S. military units from Seoul to Taejon. They charged American soldiers would spread AIDS among the local population.

Speakers ridiculed American soldiers as the ''AIDS legion.'' 
So it was not without a sense of irony that I read Robert's post at the Marmot's Hole about right-wing Christian activists protesting in front of the US embassy against alleged US embassy support for the Korean Queer Festival:
Korean Queer Festival
The group asked, “The United States is causing many problems as it pursues pro-gay policies like the recent expansion of same-sex marriage legalization, but is it now trying to expand homosexuality in not just the United States, but Korea, too?” They said homosexuality was the main culprit in the occurrence of AIDS, and that homosexuals were at high risk of getting AIDS. They that the number of patients who contracted AIDS due to homosexual activity in Korea is rising like the United States, and asked if the United States was trying to export AIDS, too, to Korea through its gay diplomacy.
I wonder how comfortable those right-wing Christians would be realizing their accusations mirror those made by left-wing radical students not so long ago. Perhaps their affinity for believing in Korean exceptionalism (especially in exceptional moral uprightness (compared to Americans) and exceptional victimization) which lies at the heart of many narratives of Korean nationalism might allow them to reach across the ideological divide and shake hands for a moment. Or not.

(They both might want to send their kids to this hagwon, at least.)

Oh, and it's not wise to blame the west for the expansion of homosexuality in Korea, considering that it appears to have been at the very least tolerated in Joseon-era rural society, as I noted here, and as Robert Neff discussed here. Richard Rutt also examined this topic in his article 'The Flower Boys of Silla (Hwarang)' published in the October 1961 issue of Transactions of the Royal Asiatic Society (which, along with other Transactions articles, can be downloaded here).

Monday, June 09, 2014

Presentation about director Kim Ki-young

I think about 100 people turned out to see the screening of The Housemaid last Saturday, which was introduced by Kim Dong-yang, son of the film's director, Kim Ki-young. For those who are interested, here is his presentation (on Facebook).

Friday, June 06, 2014

Free subtitled screening of Kim Ki-young's 'Housemaid' (1960) tomorrow

Tomorrow, June 7, at 3pm, Barry Welsh's Seoul Film Society and Royal Asiatic Society's Cinema Club will team up to show, with English subtitles,Kim Ki-young's twisted masterpiece from 1960, 'Housemaid.' It will be introduced by the director's son and a discussion of the film will follow for those who wish to take part.

 As Criterion describes it:
A torrent of sexual obsession, revenge, and betrayal is unleashed under one roof in this venomous melodrama from South Korean master Kim Ki-young. Immensely popular in its home country when it was released, The Housemaid is the thrilling, at times jaw-dropping story of the devastating effect an unstable housemaid has on the domestic cocoon of a bourgeois, morally dubious music teacher, his devoted wife, and their precocious young children. Grim and taut yet perched on the border of the absurd, Kim’s film is an engrossing tale of class warfare and familial disintegration that has been hugely influential on the new generation of South Korean filmmakers.
If you're looking for an entertaining few hours tomorrow, feel free to join us.

Date: Saturday, May 3rd.
Time: 3pm.
Admission: Free
Place: Haechi Hall in Seoul Global Culture and Tourism Center
(5th Floor M Plaza in Myeong-dong) (See here for more information on Facebook and see here for directions.)