Multifaceted musician gets a rousing revival
Inside Cho Young-nam’s home in Cheongdam-dong, in the center of Seoul’s ritziest district, a table-tennis table and automatic ball launcher anchor the living room. Situated across from a luxurious, chestnut-colored leather couch, the table looks about as foreign there as a laptop in a jungle.
In fact, the whole place seems to have multiple personality disorder. On the far end of the room next to the couch, past a wall of windows with majestic views of the Han River, stands an easel with paint tubes scattered around it.
At the end of a small passageway is his study, its four walls covered with stacks of books. The main feature of the study is a grand piano.
“A friend suggested that I start playing Ping-Pong and get some exercise,” Cho, the 66-year-old singer, painter, author and TV and radio personality, said as he raised his racket and hit the blue table-tennis balls spewing out of the machine.
Once our interview started, he picked up his paintbrush and sat in front of his easel.
“Whenever I do interviews with reporters, I paint while answering questions. It saves me time and I get to finish my artworks,” he said, now staring intently at the canvas in front of him through his iconic, black-rimmed glasses.
Cho, a fixture on the local popular music scene since the 1970s, is currently enjoying a second coming of sorts.
He released a new album, “Cho Young-nam, Song and Life,” in December and has been doing concerts - most recently in March - to promote it.
His revival was prompted by appearances on the popular network television program “Nolleowa” (“Come to Play”). He first appeared on the show during its Chuseok special last year with three other musicians from his generation (Song Chang-sik, Yoon Hyung-ju and Kim Se-hwan). The four musicians appeared on the show again during this year’s Lunar New Year special, which brought the show ratings of close to 20 percent, one of the highest ratings in its 13-year history.
The shows marked the first time the four musicians were featured together on a talk show. They spent most of their time reminiscing about the now-defunct music lounge C’est Si Bon, which, during its heyday in the 1970s, was located in Mugyo-dong, central Seoul.
The four met at the lounge and would later collaborate on music projects or play concerts there. These days, they are together again and preparing to write a book about their C’est Si Bon days. They will also release a C’est Si Bon compilation CD with other artists of the era.
As a club devoted to music - both live and recorded - C’est Si Bon was the first of its kind in Korea. It drew crowds of young people craving for modern pop music, most of which was heavily influenced by the West.
Cho - along with other artists who would later gain fame through their association with the lounge, including Twin Folio (the duo of Song and Yoon), Kim Min-gi, Yang Hee-eun, Lee Jang-hee and Kim Se-hwan - was at the center of a brand new breed of pop culture in Korea amidst the country’s political democratization and economic boom.
“C’est Si Bon signaled the start of ‘blue jean culture,’ when young people like myself began listening to pop or rock music from the West, drank beer and started expressing themselves more freely,” he said.
Back when he was a student of classical music at Seoul National University, popular music lounges like C’est Si Bon were “taboo,” Cho said. In many cases, the songs made in that era - some of them by C’est Si Bon artists - were banned altogether by government censors, who labeled them as being antigovernment.
It was at C’est Si Bon, however, where Cho got his first taste of fame. His renditions of Western blues and folk music quickly earned him the attention of his peers and later, national recognition. His classically trained voice, strong yet versatile, combined with his mischievous stage presence and talent for harmonizing, made him a star. Today, he has nearly 20 full-length albums to his credit.
“I first went to C’est Si Bon out of anger,” he said, as he proceeded to tell a story involving him, a pastor’s daughter and an expensive music stand that, unknown to Cho then, would change the arc of his life and future career.
“I borrowed a music stand from my pastor’s daughter and lost it. Music stands were expensive and rare back then, and rumors spread that I had somehow stolen it. I thought then that I couldn’t even belong to a church. So I went to C’est Si Bon, where people listened to music that was far from my classical music training.”
That first brush with scandal foreshadowed his life in other ways as well. Throughout his 40-year career, Cho’s name has been synonymous with high-voltage rumors, both personal and professional. Two failed marriages (one to actress Yoon Yeo-jeong), a “pro-Japanese” comment during an interview in which a reporter misquoted him and his comments were misconstrued by the public as traitorous, and his foray into painting have all contributed to making Cho one of the most talked-about celebrities in Korea through the years. But the artist seems unfazed by the controversies that have surrounded him.
“Misunderstandings and rumors come with the territory,” he said. In fact, when public opinion turned against him during the controversy over his allegedly “pro-Japanese” comment, he fought back and wrote a book explaining his stance on the matter called “Making a Pro-Japanese Declaration Knowing I’ll Get Beaten to Death” (2005). The book was so controversial that it launched an anti-Cho Young-nam online forum.
“Reporters should be able to ask any question they want, and celebrities should be open to answering them,” he said. “That’s only fair. If [celebrities] don’t want to talk, they shouldn’t have become public figures in the first place.”
Throughout our two-hour interview, Cho was brutally frank in answering every question that came his way.
He said he preferred talking to women he feels comfortable with but joked that he likes young women the best. He said that he had a complex about his appearance and wasn’t uncomfortable saying that he had to raise himself as a teenager after his father passed away from a stroke.
His candid attitude continued as he discussed the arts, film and Internet culture. He said that Lee Chang-dong’s film “Poetry,” which won the best screenplay award at Cannes last year, was “boring” and “took itself too seriously.” He was equally dismissive of the latest television phenomenon, the competition show “Survivor: I Am a Singer” on MBC. The show features veteran Korean singers who compete with their own and others’ Korean pop songs.
“I don’t know why established singers like Lee So-ra or Kim Gun-mo have to go on TV and sing, or why they are so afraid of getting eliminated,” he said. “Singing isn’t just about technique. You must be able to make the audience feel something.”
In another comment, he said that he doesn’t own a computer and thinks Twitter makes people “spiritually exhausted.”
“All this online technology and social media don’t seem to make people more connected or free. In many cases, I think it makes users into anonymous, foul-mouthed people.”
The artist appeared less jaded when discussing art. Starting with a series of paintings of hwatu (Korean playing cards) that he made and exhibited 20 years ago, Cho has continued to hold art exhibitions over the years, making a name for himself with his unique brand of wit and irony. Referring to Cho’s hwatu series and his brand of pop art, some critics have hailed him as a Korean Andy Warhol, though others have criticized his works for lacking depth. Nevertheless, his paintings command an average of 100 million won ($91,812) per piece.
“Why did I start painting? Everything I do, I do it because it’s fun and I enjoy it. I got bored so I started painting,” he said.
Toward the end of the interview, Cho put down his paintbrush and showed me around his study. Suddenly, he sat down at the piano and started playing and singing “Don’t Worry about Me” by Marty Robbins. As I stood there listening to him sing, I thought back to an hour ago, when I had asked whether he prefers singing, painting or being in front of the camera.
“That’s a really boring question. I’ve been asked that so many times. Now I have to make up a fake answer, right?” he had said, laughing.
As I watched Cho, completely immersed in the song, I began to realize that any sort of answer to my question would have been appropriate.
Musician, painter, author, TV and radio personality
Bachelor’s degree in Church Ministries, Trinity College, Florida
Honorary diploma in classical music, Seoul National University, Seoul
* Hit songs:
* Major awards:
Musician of the year, Korean Broadcasting Awards (1996)
Radio DJ of the year, MBC Entertainment Award (2010)
By Cho Jae-eun [email@example.com]
한글 관련 기사 [중앙일보]
세시봉 노래 노래마다 관객들은 합창으로 빠져들었다
학전 20주년 기념 콘서트
김민기와 세시봉 다섯 멤버
40년 만에 재회 무대
노래는 다만 그곳에 머물러 있었다. 사람들은 그 노래가 있던 자리로 가만히 거슬러 올라갔다. 30일 오후 8시 학전 블루 소극장에서 열린 ‘김민기의 오래된 친구들’ 콘서트. 학전 개관 20주년을 기념해 마련된 이 공연에서 시간은 거듭 뒷걸음질쳤고, 추억은 포르르 피어올랐다. 이날 무대는 학전 20주년 기념 ‘노영심의 작은 음악회’의 마지막 공연이었다. 학전의 좌장 김민기(60)의 오랜 음악 벗들이 모두 무대에 올랐다. 조영남(66)·윤형주(64)·송창식(64)·이장희(64)·김세환(63) 등 ‘세시봉’ 출신 가수들을 비롯해 양희은(59) 등 1970년대 ‘포크의 전설’이 학전 20주년을 축하하기 위해 모였다.
무대는 ‘막내’양희은이 열었다. ‘이루어질 수 없는 사랑’의 익숙한 멜로디가 흘러나오자 관객들이 일제히 따라 부르기 시작했다. 양희은은 “(김민기가 작곡한) ‘아침이슬’이 나온 지 올해로 40년이 됐다”며 감회에 젖었다. 이날 공연은 예매 시작 5분 만에 매진을 기록했다. 194개의 좌석은 물론 바닥에까지 관객들로 빼곡했다. 중장년 관객들은 예순에 접어든 포크 전설들의 음악에 가만히 빠져들었다. 1994년 학전의 대표적인 뮤지컬 ‘지하철 1호선’에서 사용됐던 빨간색 지하철 의자가 무대에 놓였다. 무대 장치도, 음악도 관객들의 추억을 자극하기에 충분했다.
공연은 60년대 서울 무교동 음악감상실 ‘세시봉’ 출신 가수들이 등장하면서 분위기가 달아올랐다. 김세환이 ‘길가에 앉아서’를 부르며 흔들어 놓은 무대에 조영남·송창식·윤형주·이장희가 차례로 올랐다. 조영남이 “민기까지 포함해 우리 다섯 명이 한자리에 모인 건 40년 만에 처음 있는 일”이라고 말하자 객석에서 박수가 터졌다.
이들이 노래를 이어가는 동안 김민기는 불 꺼진 무대 구석에서 가만히 공연을 감상했다. 팔짱을 낀 채 가만히 음악을 듣던 그가 작은 목소리로 말했다. “트윈폴리오의 ‘하얀 손수건’을 듣고 싶은데….” 70년대 통기타 듀오 트윈폴리오로 인기를 끌었던 윤형주·송창식이 곧장 노래를 부르기 시작했다. “헤어지자 보내온 그녀의 편지 속에 곱게 접어 함께 부친 하얀 손수건….” 관객들이 익숙한 노랫말을 따라 몸을 좌우로 흔들며 따라 불렀다. 이장희는 김민기에게 건네는 편지를 적어왔다. 중절모를 눌러 쓴 그의 낮은 음색이 객석에 울려퍼졌다.
“노래 친구 중 막내. 별로 말이 없고 수줍은 듯한 민기. 그의 노랫말과 노래는 독보적인 스타일이었습니다. ‘아침이슬’ 같은 노래의 가사와 멜로디는 충격이었죠…. 저에겐 꿈이 있습니다. 언젠가 민기가 기타를 들고 ‘이 노래 어때’ 하고 다가오기를 말이죠. 민기야, 죽지 마라. 사랑한다.”
그의 대표곡 ‘나 그대에게 모두 드리리’가 깔리는 가운데 읊은 편지는 그대로 학전 20주년에 바쳐진 듯했다. 이장희는 이어 ‘그건 너’를 열창하며 공연 열기를 끌어올렸다.
이날 서울 대학로 학전 소극장은 훗날 대중음악사가 또렷이 기억할 사건이 벌어지고 있었다.
세시봉 세 사람 명곡 CD 3장에 담았다
요즘 대중음악계에선 ‘세시봉’이 단연 화제다. 지난해 가을 무렵부터 불기 시작한 열풍이 해를 넘겨도 식을 줄 모른다. 1960년대 말 서울 무교동 음악감상실 ‘세시봉’에서 데뷔한 윤형주·송창식·김세환은 추억을 부르는 음악으로 대중의 감성을 어루만지고 있다. 올 초 시작된 이들의 전국 투어 콘서트는 매회 매진 사례를 이어가는 중이다.
이들 세시봉 삼총사가 공식 앨범 ‘세시봉 친구들’(사진)을 발매했다. 세시봉 열풍 이후 이들의 노래를 엮은 각종 컴필레이션(편집) 음반이 나왔지만, 세 명의 이름을 타이틀로 삼은 공식 음반은 처음이다.
앨범은 모두 3장으로 구성됐다. CD1 ‘송창식 이야기(21곡)’, CD2 ‘윤형주 이야기(25곡)’, CD3 ‘김세환 이야기(22곡)’ 등 모두 68곡이 수록됐다. ‘담배가게 아가씨(송창식)’ ‘두 개의 작은 별(윤형주)’ ‘목장 길 따라(김세환)’ 등 70~80년대 히트곡이 담겼다. 트윈폴리오(송창식·윤형주) 시절의 인기 팝 번안곡 ‘웨딩케익’ ‘하얀손수건’ 등도 실렸다.
특히 이번 앨범엔 희귀 녹음본이 담겨 주목을 끈다. 송창식·윤형주가 트윈폴리오로 활동할 당시 녹음했던 정훈희의 ‘안개’와 패티김의 ‘마리아’다. 이 두 곡은 두 사람이 방송용으로 녹음했던 것으로 최근 윤형주의 서재에서 녹음 테이프가 발견돼 음반에 실리게 됐다. 두 사람이 빚어내는 하모니에서 원곡과 사뭇 다른 감성을 느낄 수 있다.
음반을 제작한 WS엔터테인먼트 하우성 대표는 “이번에 발매된 ‘세시봉 친구들’ 앨범은 여러 음반사에 흩어져 있던 추억의 명곡을 한데 모았다는 데 큰 의의가 있다”고 말했다.
More in Arts & Design
MMCA previews art exhibition for canine connoisseurs
Ceramist who counts BTS's RM as fan shows his new bowls
American installation artist brings the great outdoors inside
Erwin Olaf's latest exhibition imagines the ultimate April Fool's prank
Korea's biggest biennales find safe space online