I don’t know whether he’d like or approve of any of my fictional depictions of Korea, but I find Gim Hyung Tae a great inspiration in that area. Whenever I’m writing anything trippy, weird, or odd about this country in my fiction, I turn to his music for inspiration. It’s a strange combination of trance, rock, folk, and 뽕짝 — in proportions that vary from song to song and album to album, but always in proportions that both work, and sound absolutely like Gim Hyung Tae. By the way, if you’re looking for his CDs, you’d be best to ask for the Hwang Sin Hae Band (황신혜 밴드) because that is the inexplicable [to me] name of his band.
He’s known, and somewhat scoffed at among my students at least, for songs like 짬뽕 (JjamBbong, a kind of spicy Chinese soup, which is the subject of the song) or 뒨굴뒨굴 (a song about “lazing around,” where he declares himself a floor covering designer, presumably expressing his expertise at laying around doing nothing all day) but to me, he is one of the few really original, fascinating popular-music makers working now in Korea, along with the essentially defunct Uh Uh Boo Band (어어부 프로잭트 밴드) — though there is a solo album coming for Uh Uh Boo’s Baik Hyun-jihn this month — and Han Young Ae (한영애) at least as of her Behind Time album, and The Plastic People. I’m sure there are others, but nothing I run into these days stands up to that stuff.
What brought this appreciation on? Well, I’ve been working on partial rewrites of my story “Wonjjang and the Madman of Pyongyang” for Tesseracts Twelve and I’ve had the aural insanity of Hwang Sin Hae band’s CDs going constantly. Of course, I’m one of those people who works better with music going. Some of my writer friends aren’t like that, but for me, music is helpful in blocking out everything else, as well as shaping my mood and focusing me on whatever I’m doing. With genres that are distracting, sometimes I’ll put on just a loop — a few bars, like I did of Lester Young’s playing when I was drafting “Lester Young and the Jupiter’s Moons’ Blues.” It usually gets me into a funny state of mind, though sometimes a loop just drives me nuts.
Back to Kim Hyung Tae: I don’t know, there’s something very inspiring about hearing the railing of a dude who spent years writing songs and practicing because club owners thought he was too old to rock out, who finally got some recognition in his 40s — late, for a rock musician, but especially for a rock musician in Korea — and who has the guts to be weird, to be himself (and rock out despite having a limp, in a society where being “too different” can be more crippling than any physical condition), and to berate (in his advice column) those who whine and whimper that they don’t have the guts to pursue their dreams, because their mommies won’t let them. His music isn’t exactly for everybody, but it’s damned wonderful stuff because not everyone gets it… or so I think.