It was a Friday night and I got off the subway at Hyehwa excited for the night ahead but dispirited about trudging through the rain that had quickly wet my shoes and socks.
Hyehwa is used interchangebly with Taehangno. Taehak is college and Lo is avenue. Seoul National University used to be in this area before most of it relocated to Kwanak in 1975. Marronnier Park was built where the college had left. Many small and large performing arts venues were constructed and aspiring artists bustled into the Marronnier.
I don’t know what Taehangno used to be like back in the days and how it compares to places like Hongdae, Shinchon and Kangnam today. UV’s “Itaewon Freedom” doesn’t mention Taehangno, and right now UV’s credibility ratings are pretty high. But many Koreans probably maintain some form of attachment to the name Taehangno.
I didn’t grow up in Seoul, but a photograph that had been taken at the Marronnier when I was young tells about my trip to Taehangno. I returned to Taehangno on a middle school field trip to watch a play that featured people who were way more cool than us. “Cocktail love“ sung by a group called Marronnier was very popular in the early 90s and even though the actual song might not have had anything to do with Taehangno, just because Marronnier sang it, the melodies and the words and the idea of Taehangno merged into one reality that I could daydream about. Marronnier Park was also the place where Young-wan takes up the courage to meet with her teacher in an episode of the drama School (학교). That I was never old enough to be in college but was a kid who looked forward to being a responsible adult with a romantic life in all of my encounters with Taehangno may be the reason why I held that in Taehangno you can find cool unnis and oppas and be romantic like them.
Gone with the rain were the youthful fancies on that pouring night. With the Groupon ticket code in my cell phone and the umbrella in my hand, I arrived at the venue after getting help from the festival staff. The show was one of the programs of the Marronnier Summer Festival. There are many festivals during summer and I had found out about this one through Groupon who was selling discounted tickets.
I bought a ticket to the concert of Linus’ Blanket who had just released their first official album. This was very special for the band that formed in 2001 because they had finally released their first official record. I had listened to Yeongene who sings and plays the keyboard but wasn’t familiar with the band. Yeongene has a sweet, sublime voice that makes you feel good. Lee Sang-joon is the main guitarist and a scientist during the day. At the concert, Won Sung-il played the drums, Choi Byoung-chun played the bass and Lee Kwang-taek from Hollow Jan also played the guitar.
Linus’ Blanket is famous for their English lyrics. Yeongene told us that the band isn’t English-phile but because English works better as a carrier for the kind of music they do, many songs were written in English. Take the song “Picnic.” If you were to translate this into and sing in Korean, the effect on the Korean listener would be very different.
Yeongene’s explanation made sense for me in another way. I usually can’t understand English words in a song right away. Therefore, instead of focusing in on the words to understand the meaning, I follow along to the melody. Of course, the lyrics aren’t gibberish, but unless I know them by heart, it’s hard to understand the words as they are sung to me. This makes Linus’ Blanket’s music unique in the kpop landscape. I wonder whether non-Koreans whose primary language is English would find Linus’ Blanket’s music more familiar. It’s interesting that a certain language endows certain attributes to songs.
Yeongene kindly briefed us on the content of each song before playing it so that we’d know what the songs were about. And for me, understanding each word didn’t seem key to Linus’ Blanket. The concert was divided into two parts with an intermission. Sweet Sorrow showed up as guests to sing with the Linus’ Blanket and make the audience laugh. Yeongene and Sang-jun provided small talks in between each song and hosted a quiz trivia to keep us entertained. Although the concert was enjoyable, a smaller venue would have allowed for a more intimate environment to celebrate the musicians’ achievement.
Even those who had strictly come to see Sweet Sorrow would have been charmed by Linus’ Blanket by the end of the concert. Humming the chorus from “Walk” I found my way back to the subway station with no trouble. My cousin had said that Taehangno is beautiful in spring when cherry blossoms are in bloom, going back and seeing what Taehangno is like when it’s brighter and dry would be nice.
Linus Blanket’s new record contains 11 tracks. [Show Me Love] is the title track. “Gargle” features Cho Hyu-il of the Black Skirts and “Picnic” features Sweet Sorrow. The catchy chorus in “Walk” is enjoyable. “Music Takes Us to the Universe” arranged by Cho Wol is colorful. I liked “A Moment’s Truth” (순간의 진실), one of the two songs in Korean. All of the tracks are worth listening and will make you appreciate Tamnyo even more. Tamnyo is great.