Rockers reach for eternal ‘Life’

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Rockers reach for eternal ‘Life’

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The band Life performs at The Beatles club in Bundang. From left: Choi Sung-won, Kim Dong-hwan, Jung Hyun-chul and Ju Chan-kwon. [JoongAng Ilbo]

Two weeks ago as the season’s first snow softly fell, Choi Sung-won, 53, was rocking the stage of The Beatles club in Bundang, Gyeonggi.
A former member of the 1980s Korean rock group Deulgukhwa, or Wild Chrysanthemum, Choi was singing and picking the strings on his bass guitar as a member of a new group called Life.
The rest of Life were there as well, including drummer Ju Chan-kwon, 52, who was also in Deulgukhwa; musician Kim Dong-hwan, 52, who debuted in 1988 with the single “The Pain Buried in my Heart;” and lead singer Jung Hyun-chul, 40, a former member of The Jun In-kwon Band.
The four sang rock classics like “Come Together” by the Beatles and Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven,” but what really got the audience going were the Deulgukhwa songs such as “Everyday with You” and “A Train to the World.”
The elder statesmen of the Korean rock world are still in harmony; when they performed the Deulgukhwa hit originally sung by Jun In-kwon, “That’s What I Live for,” Choi opened the song and Kim finished it off.
Deulgukhwa was dubbed “The Beatles of Korea” based on their influence over the country’s music industry during their prime.
The band released its first album “March” in 1985 and they were hugely popular during the 1980s.
Charismatic lead singer Jun went on to form The Jun In-kwon band. (He was recently arrested on suspicion of possessing illegal substances.)
Their familiarity with the stage and connection with their audience was palpable as they spoke to the crowd before the show. Choi said, “Long-time fans of Deulgukhwa, who called us a legendary group, complain that popular music today is beyond hope.” But Choi confidently said, “there still is hope as long as we [Life] are here.”
According to Choi, the group aims to climb to the top position on Korea’s music charts, surpassing popular boy and girl groups like Dongbangshingi and Wonder Girls.
The audience cheered as the group stated this vow.
The members showcased a new song, “Wish,” written and composed by Kim. The single is included on Kim’s fourth album, which came out a decade after his third.
The lyrics to Wish include: “How I am viewed by others matters little/ It’s important that I see myself just the way I am.” It seemed as though the old boys were definitely back.
Life spoke with the JoongAng Ilbo after the concert.
“Life [the group] has enhanced the quality of my life,” Choi said. “There are not many people who can do what they want to do for a living, but I am one of the lucky few. I am immensely satisfied and happy to be singing and playing the bass guitar at this stage in my life.”
Said Ju: “Life isn’t striving to be a Deulgukhwa reunion. By forming a new band, we are trying to show our fans that a musician can create and perform until they die, that music is forever. I even put off releasing my sixth album to concentrate on performing more in Life.”
Life will hold an official showcase soon. The foursome also said that they would release a new single every month starting in December.
“We won’t be soft on our criticism of the materialism corrupting the rock spirit of Korea nowadays,” said Choi, and the other band members agreed, showing a firm determination in their plans for an assault on the charts.
“We can’t stand commercialism governing human thoughts as well as music,” Choi said. “Rebellion against commercialism is, I think, the essence of rock music. We will strike a hard blow against artists who only have short-term commercial success in mind.”
In addition to composing songs, Life is working on releasing covers of hits by young rock artists of today, including Crying Nut, No Brain and Jaurim. The members said they hope that the remakes will act as a bridge connecting the old and the new.
Said Kim: “It is true that our music is geared toward those in their 40s and 50s, but we believe that the young will also like our music if we put enough effort in. I am confident that Life’s songs can make even the audience at Rain’s concert excited.”
To revive rock music in Korea, Life’s members recently organized an association of rock bands with fellow rock groups Love And Peace and Sinchon Blues. They will also lend their support to a national rock competition for businessmen.
Said Ju: “We are so envious of groups like The Rolling Stones, who are in a cultural environment in which they can last. The band was formed in 1962 but the members are still rocking hard.
With life experience, one’s music can only become more mature and layered. We hope our starting Life can stimulate this spirit among past rock musicians and make them come back and create more music. Our goal is to become Korea’s oldest rock band.”
Answering the question “What does Deulgukhwa mean to Life?” the members simply answered, “Music comes in cycles. Like fashion, music has trends.”
One former member of the Deulgukhwa, Huh Seong-wook, died in 1997 in a car accident while on a church mission to the United States.


By Jung Hyun-mok JoongAng Ilbo [estyle@joongang.co.kr]
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