Saturday, October 10, 2015

50 Most Influential K-Pop Artists: 7. Han Dae-su

[Series Index]

7.  Han Dae-su [한대수]

Years of Activity: 1974-present (most recent album in 2006, most recent single in 2013)

Discography (Studio Albums Only)
The Long, Long Road [멀고 먼 길] (1974)
Rubber Shoes [고무신] (1975)
Infinity [무한대] (1989)
Amnesia [기억상실] (1990)
Conversation of Angels [천사들의 담화] (1992)
Age of Reason, Age of Treason [이성의 사대, 반역의 시대] (1999)
Eternal Sorrow (2000)
Agony [고민] (2002)
Hurt [상처] (2004)
Desire [욕망] (2006)

Representative Song:  Give Me Some Water [물 좀 주소], from The Long, Long Road (1974)

물 좀 주소
Give Me Some Water

물 좀 주소 물 좀 주소
Give me some water, give me some water
목마르요 물 좀 주소
I am thirsty, give me some water
물은 사랑이요 나의 목을 간질며
Water is love, tickling my throat
놀리면서 밖에 보내네
Teasing me, sending me out

아! 가겠소 난 가겠소
Oh I will go, I will go
저 언덕 위로 넘어가겠소
I will go over that hill
여행 도중에 처녀 만나본다면
In my travels, if I meet a girl
난 살겠소 같이 살겠소
I will live, I will live with her

물 좀 주소 물 좀 주소
Give me some water, give me some water
목마르요 물 좀 주소
I am thirsty, give me some water
그 비만 온다면 나는 다시 일어나리
If only that rain comes, I will get up again
아! 그러나 비는 안 오네
Ah, but the rain is not coming

Translation note:  Like his music, Han Dae-su's lyrics tend to be vague and abstract. All the words in the lyrics--water, hill, girl, coffee--are easy, but collectively they form a jumble from which many different meanings may be drawn. It is difficult to translate while doing justice to the deliberate indeterminacy of these words.

In 15 words or less:  K-pop's first hippie; a mad genius.

Maybe he should have been ranked higher because...  Is there any other artist in the history of Korean pop music who has a 40-year body of work that always stays at the cutting edge?

Maybe he should have been ranked lower because...   When was the last time his songs were popular? 20 years ago? 30 years ago?

Why is this artist important?
1968 was an important year in Korean pop music history, not the least because it was the year in which the 20-year-old Han Dae-su made his debut in Korea. Han was a young man, but with experience: growing up in New York, Han had already played in a garage band and obsessed over Elvis Presley. 

And young Han Dae-su would have his own Elvis moment: on a variety television show, Han Dae-su would play an acoustic guitar and a harmonica, swaying his long hair that would have done proud his hippie friends back in America. The collective head of the conservative Korean society exploded. Han's mother was so embarrassed of the way her son looked on TV that she broke down in tears. Letters flooded the TV station, demanding to know if Han Dae-su was a man or a woman. Some of the letters demanded that Han leave Korea immediately. 

That was the moment that Korea's counterculture began. Han Dae-su's music, while cutting-edge, was never extremely popular. It was avant-garde and subversive, thumbing its nose at the suffocating mainstream. The suffocation would come in many different forms. First it was the dictator Park Chung-hee, who decided that pop music was hurting Korea's national discipline, and began putting pop musicians in prison based on trumped-up drug charges. Then it was the stupid, cheap pop music that the mindless society always loves. And it was always his personal demons, the gnawing emptiness that led him to the bottles and his two broken marriages. 

His musical response was much like the opening of his signature song, Give Me Some Water--a jolting shock to the system, unexpectedly dropping his gravelly voice without any care for a conventional prelude. This attitude would continue to pervade his musical journey for the next four decades. Han's music searched both outwardly and inwardly: reaching far and wide for the new type of sound, while digging deep inside to give his music sensitivity and Korean-ness. 

Han Dae-su was never broadly popular, although some of his songs (most notably To the Land of Happiness [행복의 나라로]) did become iconic. Han's contribution, instead, was toward the underside of Korean pop music, the dark shade that allows forms to take shape in the light.

Interesting trivia:  Han Dae-su initially moved to the United States shortly after he was born because his father, a nuclear physicist, went to Cornell University to study in 1948. Seven years into his U.S. life, Han's father suddenly disappeared for ten years. When Han Dae-su finally found his father at age 17, Han's father was living in Long Island under a different name, married to a white woman and running a printing company. Although he recognized his family, he completely lost ability to speak Korean, knew nothing about nuclear physics and said nothing about what had happened in those ten years while he disappeared. Han Dae-su suspects that CIA brainwashed his father because his father came to possess important secrets regarding nuclear weapons.

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  1. Whoa that's a crazy story about Han's father. Speaking of 물 좀 주소, there was actually an entire indie cover album dedicated to just that one song. Admittedly, it was a bit tedious to listen to straight through, but Han Dae-su seems to also have quite the lasting impact on a lot of Korean rock musicians.

  2. I always look forward to the next musician on top 50 Most Influential list. Han Dae-soo's music has unmistakable American folk music roots in its composition and sound. As a lover of Bob Dylan Arlo Guthrie, and The Band, some of America's iconic folk music architects and designers, i can hear their influence in his songs. It is refreshing - perhaps an odd comment on older music - but those chords sound so good and well, timeless. They couldn't keep this Korean hippie down, although from the brief story here, his life sounds as gravely as his voice. And his father and the CIA - what a story, reality is truly stranger than fiction. Harsh and damaging in every aspect. Thanks, T.K. Any chance of a book published when the list is completed?

  3. He has a concert earlier this year at LG Arts Centre.

  4. I wonder if it will take another five years to complete this list? Anyway, this is like the internet's only resource for an introductory course on Korean music (outside of mainstream KPOP) for non-Koreans. And for that I say thanks! But please, do hurry! I want to find out who takes the number one spot.

    1. I am going to try my best to finish the whole series no later than early next year.

    2. Looking forward to it! :)

    3. I agree with Kat.. I always look forward to the next name on the list! Can't wait to find out who the next artists will be!!

    4. 1 year later, and not even 1 update..

  5. Dae Soo was a good friend back in NYC in the early 90's. I even had a bit part on his album, Loss of Memory. Unfortunately, we need to sell our vinyl. Have three of Dae Soo's albums: Angels and Infinity - mint condition, played once or twice. Also Loss of Memory. All were autographed to us. Am wondering where I would find the audience/market in which to sell these.

  6. I like this one. I'm in the middle of a drought myself...

  7. woahhh that story about his father is amazing, kinda sad but so interesting. I love this list. Are you ever gonna continue it?


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