Saturday, August 04, 2012

50 Most Influential K-Pop Artists: 17. Kim Gwang-Seok

[Series Index]

17. Kim Gwang-Seok [김광석]

Years of Activity: 1988-1996

Solo Albums
Kim Gwang-Seok 1 [김광석 1] (1989)
Kim Gwang-Seok 2nd [김광석 2nd] (1991)
Kim Gwang-Seok Third Collection of Songs [김광석 3번째 노래모음] (1992)
Singing Again 1 [다시 부르기 1] (1993)
Kim Gwang-Seok Fourth [김광석 네번째] (1994)
Singing Again 2 [다시 부르기 2] (1995)

As a member of People Who Seek Music [노래를 찾는 사람들]
People Who Seek Music 2 [노래를 찾는 사람들 2] (1989)
Song of the People [겨레의 노래] (1990)
Song that Opens the Morning [아침을 여는 노래] (1991)
People Who Seek Music 3 [노래를 찾는 사람들 3집] (1991)
The One Who Opens the Morning of Peace [평화의 아침을 여는 이] (1992)
People Who Seek Music 4 [노래를 찾는 사람들 4집] (1994)

Note - Kim Gwang-Seok was also a regular member of Dongmulwon [동물원], participating in the group's first through fifth albums.

Representative Song:  Around Thirty [서른 즈음에] from Kim Gwang-Seok Fourth

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

In 15 words or less:  The curator of a generation.

Maybe he should be ranked higher because...   Few Korean singers have more iconic songs than Kim Gwang-Seok.

Maybe he should be ranked lower because...  Unfortunately, died too early.

Why is this artist important?
Can an artist define an era with songs that were not his? Kim Gwang-Seok is certainly a talented singer/songwriter. But without his contribution as a curator, we may remember Korea's pop music history in a different light.

The counterculture movement touched Korea during the 1970s and 1980s, and just as well -- as Korea had mass murdering dictators as its leaders. The new generation of youth, more educated and freed from the crushing poverty, sought freedom through art and beauty. They eschewed the rigid two-beats of their parents' generation, and instead composed and played their own tunes on the guitars they carried. Those tunes would be sung, at times joyfully and at times solemnly, as the young generation led the waves and waves of street protests that eventually brought down the dictators.

People Who Seek Music was at the peak of that movement. The group initially began as a combination of college singing groups from the prestigious Seoul National University and Ewha Woman's University. (The legendary Kim Min-Gi, alumnus of SNU, assisted the formation of the group.) It sought to participate in social movement through songs. Their songs were initially distributed as illegal cassette tapes, copied and passed around among democratization activists who sang the songs as their anthems.

Kim began his musical career as a front man for People Who Seek Music from their second album. His clear voice and guitar-playing were as Bob Dylan-like as anyone in Korea outside of Kim Min-Gi. That alone is an impeccable pedigree, worth a mention in the annals of Korean pop music history. But it is his role as a curator that turned Kim from a passing thought to an icon. In his two Singing Again albums, Kim Gwang-Seok collected the best songs of the guitar-resistance era and made them his own. Few Koreans now remember that Kim Gwang-Seok was not the original singer or composer for such iconic songs as Letter of a Private [이등병의 편지] or Though I Had Loved [사랑했지만]. Just like the television show Mad Men will shape the way Americans of today remember America of the 1960s, Kim's two album shaped the way Koreans remember their pop music from the 1970s and 80s.

Tragically, Kim committed suicide in 1996, perhaps portending the onslaught of celebrity suicides in Korea in the next decade. With the deaths of Kim Gwang-Seok and Kim Hyeon-Sik, the era that Kim Gwang-Seok curated and brought back to life met its close.

Interesting trivia:  Kim Gwang-Seok was a Buddhist, although not devoutly so. After his passing, his body was cremated. Nine sarira, the cremation pearls that are supposed to be discovered only from the remains of the highest spiritual masters, were discovered from his remains.

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  1. My favorite of all time in Korean music. 무언가 가슴을 울리는 노래를 하는듯...

  2. a smile, so unfamiliar and far저 여린 가지 사이로 혼자인 날 느낄 때When I feel myself being alone between those frail branches이렇게 아픈 그대 기억이 날까Would this painful memory of you come back내 사랑 그대 내 곁에 있어 줘My love, you..tadalafil

  3. Excellent post, excellent song. Thank you for the informative commentary! Your Music Series is a fabulous resource of recent Korean music history for relative newbies like me. How you find the time to do research on this subject and all the other subjects you write about while maintaining a demanding full-time job is beyond me! I am a very grateful reader.

  4. As a 20-year-old student living in Korea, I knew who is Kim Gwang-seok but didn't know well about him. All I knew was that he was a singer and some songs are very popular such as 이등병의 편지. Reading your post, I could understand his contributions to Korea in 1970-1980, the era of dictatorship. It was a really good post to get important information about his life as a singer and also some background knowledge related to his life.

  5. I'm sorry, but I still can't believe you put Girls Generation in this list and not BigBang.
    I know they are pretty shit talent wise but I'm pretty sure they had more influence on kpop than GG.

    Anyway, I remember I listened to a few Kim Gwang-Seok's songs around 3 years ago, and I absolutely fell in love. It's been a while since I listened to any of his songs, so thanks for reminding me.

    As usual, a great post.


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