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Ooze Butter

Super excited to check out the new Shin Joong Hyun compilation coming soon from the turned-on heads at Light in the Attic. I’ve been a big fan since hearing the “It’s a Lie” album several years back, one of the few opportunities to hear the godfather of Korean rock in proper psychedelic glory.

The reissue reminds of a profile I read about Shin in 2006 in the New York Times.

Mr. Shin played jazz in the officers’ club, sang country for the sergeants and rock ’n’ roll for the troops. He mimicked an American accent so well that the soldiers — who would shout, “We want Jackie!” — mistakenly believed he was fluent in English. At the base, he ate fried chicken and drank Dr Pepper. He met his future wife, Myeong Jeong-gang, who was Korea’s first female rock ’n’ roll drummer in a band called Blue Ribbons.

“The music we played shouldn’t taste like kimchi,” Mr. Shin said of the spicy pickled vegetable that is the Korean national dish, “but it should ooze butter.”

Shin’s recollections illuminate a strange intersection of music, politics, and culture in Korea in the early 1970s,  particularly his unfortunate interaction with the Nixon-like government of the military dictator Park Chung Hee.

But at his peak, one morning in 1972, a fateful phone call would derail his career. A caller identifying himself as an official in the presidential Blue House asked Mr. Shin — in a “tone that was not unpleasant” — to write a song for Park Chung-hee, South Korea’s military ruler from 1961 to 1979. Mr. Shin declined “in a nice way,” he said. But 10 minutes later, another caller, this time from Mr. Park’s political party, gave him an order. Again, he refused. Politics had never interested him, he said, and he simply hated the military dictatorship.

His refusal, he believed, eventually led to his imprisonment for drug possession. American hippies protesting South Korea’s participation in the Vietnam War had introduced Mr. Shin to marijuana and LSD, which he said he took for a while, but quit because it interfered with his work. The hippies went back to the United States, Mr. Shin said, but left a huge quantity of marijuana at his home. South Korean musicians, interested in experimenting, came to him.

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