Wednesday, February 03, 2010

AAK! Music: Around Thirty by Kim Gwang-Seok (1994)

-NOTE- Blogger is acting up. There are two videos on this post, but somehow you can only see them if you click the title of this post and bring up this post only. Do that to listen to the song. Sorry.

Today's selection is Around Thirty (서른 즈음에) by Kim Gwang-Seok (김광석):

서른 즈음에
Around Thirty

또 하루 멀어져간다
Another day drifts away
내뿜은 담배연기처럼
Like exhaled smoke
작기만한 내 기억속에
In my memories so small
무얼 채워 살고 있는지
What do I fill and live on

점점 더 멀어져간다
Drifts farther and farther away
머물러있는 청춘인줄 알았는데
Thought it was staying youth
비어가는 내 가슴속엔
In my emptying heart
더 아무것도 찾을 수 없네
Nothing more can be found

계절은 다시 돌아오지만
Seasons again return
떠나간 내 사랑은 어디에
But where my love that left
내가 떠나보낸 것도 아닌데
I did not let it leave either
내가 떠나온 것도 아닌데
I did not leave it either

조금씩 잊혀져 간다
Forgotten little by little
머물러 있는 사랑인줄 알았는데
Thought it was staying love
또하루 멀어져간다
Another day drifts away
매일 이별하며 살고 있구나
Living on saying good bye every day
매일 이별하며 살고 있구나
Living on saying good bye every day

Briefly about Kim Gwang-Seok:  Kim debuted in 1984 as a part of a band called 노래를 찾는 사람들 ("People Who Seek Music"), which played a large part in Korea's democratization movement by providing many songs with the underlying message of resistance. He later quit the band and debuted as a solo in 1989, after a short stint as a guest member of a band called 동물원 ("Zoo"). Kim goes on to have more than 1,000 live concerts from 1989 to 1995, a record of some sort. He has two albums with 동물원, four regular solo albums, and two compilation albums. Tragically, Kim committed suicide in January 1996, at the age of 34 -- perhaps the earliest example of celebrity suicide in Korea. Kim was more underground, and his songs were never chart-toppers. However, since his death, there have been five tribute albums in his name, reflecting the broad and everyday appeal of his music. 

About this song:  서른 즈음에 is on Kim's fourth and last regular album. In a survey of 40 pop music experts in 2007, 서름 즈음에 was selected to have the most powerful lyrics of the songs of 1990s. The responders said: "Listening to the song automatically makes you look back upon yourself."

Translation note:  작기만한 내 기억속에/무얼 채워 살고 있는지 was particularly difficult.

The Korean on Kim Gwang-Seok:  The barer of Korean soul of late 1980s. Unlike, for example, Kim Dong-Ryul, Kim Gwang-Seok's songs are always situation-specific, and never leaves the emotions of Korea in the 1980s -- no longer desperate for food and freedom, but vaguely afraid of what lies ahead. Even a song that could be more universalistic like this one, knowing what it likes to be facing 30 years of age in Korea of late 1980s doubles the emotional strength of the song.

Kim also represents the last scion of Korean pop culture up to mid-1990s, when a singer could be a star without having to appear on television or go through a production company. His songs are always simple, at times deceptively so -- just a guitar and his unassuming but clear voice. He would be the last of his kind, as a man who would forever change Korean pop music (for good and for bad) was gaining a mythological status right as Kim left this world.

After the jump, another video of Kim Gwang-Seok singing Around Thirty before a live audience.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at


  1. How hauntingly beautiful and deeply moving! True musical poetry. I can tell each word was chosen with care.
    This song resonates with me as I am about to turn 30. Thank you for featuring this artist and providing the translation. Just a note: I just purchased some of his music, but I found him under "Kim Kwang-Seok." Kim Gwang-Seok appeared as an instrumental guitarist in my searches.

  2. One of my favorite Korean musician. Great post.

    p.s. Can't believe there was only one comment for this post.

  3. Awesome singer. I love his song, "너무 아픈사랑은 사랑이 안니었음을"

  4. LOVE HIM...and i think i am the only one from Israel

  5. born & live & died sadest story every life but your life .......miss you every moment.....................


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