This year marks the 20th year after the unexpected death of one of the most celebrated musicians in Korea, Kim Kwang-seok. Even after 20 years of his passing, he is very often mentioned as a legend in the history of Korean pop, to the point that makes hard to find a major music TV show that has not yet done a special episode dedicated to him. His sentimental music has lived through the ages and continues to influence listeners and musicians both old and young. Those who continue to miss him and his music have put in effort to launch various projects to constantly keep his music close to our hearts.
Making a debut with his band “Dongmulwon” in 1988, Kim Kwang-seok rose to fame immediately with the release of their album. However, due to the complete success of his solo albums, he is better known now as a solo musician rather than a member of “Dongmulwon.” He released his first solo album in 1989, followed by three more in 1991, 1992, and 1994. His second solo album, with songs such as ‘Love Has Gone,’ ‘In the Name of Love’ and ‘Those Days’, found critical success and mass appeal. Next albums followed with more mega-hit songs ‘With the Heart to Forget You’, ‘Around Thirty’, ‘It’s Not Love If It Hurts Too Much’, ‘A Letter from a Private’, ‘Where the Wind Comes From’, ‘Stand Up,’ and ‘A 60’s Couple’s Love Story’, many of which are familiar to younger listeners even till now. Whereas popular stars tended to appear mainly on TV shows, he preferred instead to interact with the public by holding small concerts. He had set a record of 1000 performances at Daehangno and thus played an active role in promoting mini-theatre performances that have prospered since then.
Due to the active role that Kim Kwang-seok played in the Korean music scene, many events have been set up to remember his legacy even after his death. The biggest and perhaps the most well known amongst the existing memorial events is the tribute concert named “Re-singing Kim Kwang-seok”, held annually since 2009. It is the world’s longest-running tribute concert for a single musician, and features different musicians each year to deliver a wide variety of interpretations of his music. With memorial events already in place, hitting the 20th year mark meant an increase in the number of unique events planned in his remembrance. Among the projects that ranged from exhibitions to singing competitions, a re-run of the musical ‘Those Days’ caught my attention.
‘Those Days’ is a jukebox musical debuted in 2013 purely and entirely based on the songs of Kim Kwang-seok. The title of the musical was taken from the song ‘Those Days’ in his 1991 album ‘Love Has Gone’. Although his songs were not written about a common theme, the musical manages to thread the songs together into a unifying story. Set in 2012, a large part of the story takes a flashback to 1992, where Blue House guards and close friends ‘Jung-hak’ and ‘Mu-yeong’, are told to guard a house without being told what is inside. They soon discover that a beautiful lady resides in the house, and while Jung-hak expresses interest in her, Mu-yeong develops deeper feelings for her. It is only later that they find out that she was a translator at a private Korea-China diplomatic meeting, and that there are plans to eliminate her as she is the only person who knows the private contents of the meeting other than the parties involved. Mu-yeong, afraid to lose her, disappears with her. 20 years later, the president’s daughter disappears with her guard in a similar way and Jung-hak is left wondering about what could have happened to the couple 20 years ago. Coincidentally, the president’s daughter and her guard lose their way in the same hill near the Blue House, only to find a note left there 20 years ago. Only then does Jung-hak discover that his friend Mu-yeong had sacrificed himself on the same day that he had disappeared. Although some parts of the musical involved scenes that burst into a song a little too abruptly and unnaturally due to the mismatch in lyrics, the musical managed to incorporate many of the beautifully written songs of Kim Kwang-seok in telling the story.
Extreme effort is needed to produce a musical: stagework, music and scriptwriting, choreography, acting and so on. To have a musical entirely composed of your songs, and have audiences filling the seats completely each time it is staged could probably offer one of the greatest sense of achievements to a musician, especially to one like Kim Kwang-seok who loved the interaction with his audiences. Even though he left us unexpectedly, his timeless songs continue to resonate across the generations, and another 20 years does not seem like a problem for his beautifully emotional songs to keep moving hearts. His legend will continue to live on through various forms of reproductions.