what happened?

i want to bring to light someone i consider invaluable to the korean music industry. Shin Jung Hyun.  born in 1938, he grew up during the japanese occupation.  his mother died at an early age, soon followed by his father by the age of 14.  shin moved to the big city seoul and taught himself to play the guitar.  by the age of 19 he was performing songs to US army troops in korea with the stage name “Jackie Shin”.  just 2 years later he was offered recording deals and had his own band, ‘Add 4’, by 1961.  they were the first rock band in korean history.  shin jung hyun;  the godfather of rock.

their songs were amazing, deep, and inspired.  they paved the way for future korean artists to explore with all the possibilities rock provided them.  so…what happened?

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in 1972, the korean president asked shin to write a propaganda song praising the government.  shin refused, and instead wrote and composed a 10-minute epic about the beauty of korea called “areum daun gangsan(beautiful land)” .  that refusal cost him his career, and cut the rock influence in korea.  he was constantly harassed by the government.  they banned his music labeling them as public disturbance.  he was falsely imprisoned for crimes involving marijuana, and after his release he was banned from performing.  after the president passed on shin was allowed to create music again, but he never fully recovered from that event.  it killed any chance of rock music growing in korea, and has greatly affected the way music is today.

just listen to this:

jump forward to the 2000’s.  he still plays and performs music.  over 70 years old, he stands on the stage.  he looks frail.  you can hear the strain in his voice as he begins to sing, as if his voice will break away at any moment.  but even then, it is among the most heartfelt and profound performances i’ve ever heard.  this is korean rock.  the only man left standing.

fucking.  amazing.  in december of last year he was awarded with a custom tribute model guitar from the fender manufacturing company.  only five other legendary musicians have had this honor: eric clapton, jeff beck, yngwie malmsteen, stevie ray vaughan, and eddie van halen.  he is the first(and only)  asian musician to receive this honor.

for years now, i’ve been harboring deep frustrations about the stubbornness of korea.  this has been the biggest point of disparity between korea and japan in my eyes.  japan is a stickler to tradition, but has a large underground movement of large niche groups who are always experimenting and break the surface into mainstream.  i’ve yet to witness something like that out of korea.  there are glimpses and rare explosions of genius talent that transcends the status-quo, but not nearly to the extent that i want it to.

in summary, i want korea to recognize rock music again.

the absence of rock when i look up korean music is baffling at times.  the few i do find end up being  Korn and Linkin Park clones or just uninteresting.  with no support of the growth of rock music, the industry is flooded with hip hop, r&b, and dance music.  especially since the great kpop sensation of the late 90’s/early 2000’s, the industry has grasped that golden ticket and has been afraid to do anything else ever since.

i mean no disrespect to mainstream korean music nowdays, i believe korea has some of the best hip hop, rap, and pop out there today.  the amount of talent there is staggering.  but all the while rock is dying a slow and painful death, and the korean music industry is doing nothing to help.

i can’t help but wonder about what could have been.  breaks my goddamn heart.

About Dae Lee

-Dae, aka Mizu -Writer, broadcaster, and podcaster on New School Kaidan

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