Friday, February 10, 2012

Shin Jung Hyun

Today my Facebook Tabloid Friend posted a link to a story reporting rumors that Kim Jong-un had been assassinated in Beijing. The BBC says that analysts "say the story ... is highly implausible ... Rumours of deaths of celebrities and world leaders commonly spread on social-media sites like Twitter." Or Facebook.

What got my goat was the concern-trolling and crocodile tears that TF and his commenters indulged in. TF opined that from what he'd heard, things couldn't get too much worse in North Korea. Much hope was expressed that the North Korean regime would fall, with no thought given to the consequences of such a fall for most North Koreans, but hey, then ignorant Westerners could shed more great, salty tears: oh, the humanity!

I wasn't thinking about it consciously, but that story must have been in my mind when I wandered downtown a little later and stopped in at one of our independent local record stores, where I bought a new CD I'd noticed yesterday in their bin of World Psychedelica: Beautiful Rivers and Mountains: The Psychedelic Rock Sounds of South Korea's Shin Joong Hyun, 1958-1974. I knew nothing about Shin (remember, "Shin" is his surname), but I am interested in old (South) Korean pop music. ... What, I haven't mentioned that I recently got my hands on the CD reissue of the Devils' first two albums from around 1970? I knew nothing of Shin when I bought the CD, but I know now that he's still alive at 74, still performing. In 2008 he performed at a Korean Music Festival at the Hollywood Bowl, and in 2009 he was awarded a special Fender Stratocaster, part of Fender's scheme to market their guitar in Korea but still an honor. For some reason, Western media picked up on him around that time: NPR, the Guardian, the Wall Street Journal (via). You can hear Shin's 1970 band playing the garage/psychedelic classic In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida at the NPR page, as well as a cover of Jefferson Airplane's Somebody to Love; and you can see him play in this clip from a mid-1970s Korean movie, Miin. (He's the singer-guitarist in the dashiki.)

Shin grew up desperately poor, orphaned and on his own after the Korean Civil War, but he managed to pursue his love of music. He got his start in the 1950s, playing at American military bases, influenced by the jazz and rock he heard on Armed Forces Radio. By the 1960s he was a successful singer / songwriter / producer; several of the songs on Beautiful Rivers and Mountains are performed by musicians he worked with. But this was also the period of Park Chung-hee's dictatorship in the South, and Shin got into trouble, partly for refusing to compose music at Park's command, and partly for being a hippie who played decadent, antisocial noise. In 1975 Shin was arrested for possession of marijuana, tortured by the police, and detained first in a mental hospital, then in jail. His musical career never recovered, even after the assassination of Park Chung-hee in 1979, but apparently his contributions to Korean pop won him some recognition in the 1990s and since.

The song on Beautiful Rivers and Mountains that caught my attention was "The Sun," written by Shin in 1973 and recorded by Kim Jung Mi for her album Now. It's an art/folk ballad, with a melody that resembles another song I can't quite remember, with a wonderful guitar riff pushing it gently along over the strings and rhythm section.