Recalling a singer’s everlasting voice

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Recalling a singer’s everlasting voice


He would be 50 if he were alive today. The singer, born in 1964, was my peer. I had been to his concerts numerous times when he was alive, and I interviewed him on a couple of occasions. Many of my friends were friends with him.

The most unforgettable performance was the People Who Seek Music concert at the Dongsung High School auditorium in Daehakro. I vaguely remember that I was in graduate school at the time. But I clearly remember his bold, determined, yet sorrowful voice that made me wonder what his vocal cords looked like in order to produce such an amazing sound. The lyrics and melodies were great, of course, but the essence of Kim Kwang-seok’s music was nothing but his voice. After all, music is an art of physical area, not mental, and what captivated me was someone else’s body, not mind. If I could be born again, I wanted to be someone who uses the body, not the mind or brain, to impress others.

Since then, I became overly defensive when someone gives less credit to vocalists rather than songwriters. (While Kim Kwang-seok had also written great music, he was better known as a vocalist.) Some consider songwriters the real musicians, while a vocalist’s talent is just a skill.

His songs have been highlighted more since the end of last year. The JTBC program “Hidden Singer” presented a singing contest between the late singer and his fans. In the opening, a clip from his concert was inserted. “I don’t appear on television much. In fact, I can’t,” he said.

“Respond, 1997,” a drama series on tvN, featured a scene from his concert on the day of the Sampoong Department Store collapse in 1995.

Today marks the 18th anniversary of his passing, and various events remembering his music are scheduled. Group Zoo’s vocalist Kim Chang-gi said in a documentary, “It is regrettable that people hadn’t appreciated his music as much when he was alive.” While his close friends may think he was underrated while he was alive, not everyone becomes such a celebrated star upon death.

To me, he is a star who is remembered by his voice.

His voice remains young - as a 32-year-old singer - containing the history, wounds and sentiments of his life. His clear yet sorrowful voice touches the deepest part of our existence, reminding us of our innermost wounds and spirit.

The song “Around 30” reverberates as “Around 40” and “Around 50.” The young Koreans in the 21st century still listen to “Letter of a Private” as they join the military service. He can never come back, but here’s to his everlasting voice.

*The writer is a culture and sports editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

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