Travel Report: Kim Kwang-seok Memorial Street – Daegu, South Korea.
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April 2019. I’d never heard of Korean singer-songwriter Kim Kwang-seok until I started planning my trip to Daegu. But as I quickly discovered the guy is huge in South Korea, where he shifted an impressive five million records during his all-too-brief life. Kim’s music was often sorrowful and sentimental, capturing the hearts of the Korean people at a time when the country was transitioning through a difficult time of industrialization and early stage democracy. When news broke on the 6th of January 1996 that he’d hanged himself, the nation went into mourning at the tragic loss of one its best-loved music icons. Today tributes can be paid at the wonderful Kim Kwang-seok Memorial Street, a 350-meter homage to the man and his music.
April 2019. Kim Kwang-seok was born right here in today’s memorial street on the 22nd of January 1964, although the house in question is long gone. He lived here for the first five years of his life until the family relocated to Seoul.
April 2019. For people coming here not knowing much about Kim Kwang-seok, there are a few volunteers on hand who will eagerly tell you his colorful backstory. This woman was incredibly friendly and helpful to our group that day. She welcomed us to the street, asked what we knew about the man, stressed that we shouldn’t miss the museum about his life at the end of the street and even hand delivered us to a recommended café with rooftop views over the alley.
April 2019. Kim Kwang-seok began his musical career with the folk activist band Noraereul Channeun Saramdeul, before shooting to fame with another folk band Dongmulwon in the late 1980s. Singing about his love for Korea and the troubles and frustrations people faced every day, here was a man who provided an antidote to the superficialness of Korea’s commercial pop scene. Much like the messages put forward by John Lennon, Kim was a great advocator of peace, love and mutual understanding.
April 2019. Supremely talented and inherently restless, it wasn’t long before Kim Kwang-seok went solo with his self-titled debut album in 1989. He went on to release three more records over the following five years, culminating in the monumental Kim Kwang-seok 4th, an artistic statement that’s now seen as one of the landmark releases in the history of Korean music. Needless to say these songs can often be heard right here on the memorial street where buskers gather every day.
April 2019. Kim Kwang-seok Memorial Street is peppered with fan artwork, from paintings, graffiti and plaques, to sculptures, themed cafes, record stores and hand-painted lyrics. The great joy of a visit here is to simply stroll down the street and breathe in what is essentially a very positive vibe. And I was delighted to see that it’s also a good sittin’ doin’ nothin’ spot!
April 2019. The artwork really is lovely for the most part, though I was admittedly a little bemused by the one that had him as the frontman of a superstar rock and roll band.
Then again it did get my mind racing as I imagined what kind of music would have resulted from Kim Kwang-seok on vocals, Eric clapton on guitar, Stevie Wonder on keyboards, Kurt Cobain on drums and Kenny G (!?!?) doing his thing. Mm. A visit to Kim Kwang-seok Memorial Street is an essential part of any Daegu itinerary regardless of whether or not you’re familiar with the man and his music. If you’d like a taster, click below for my favorite Kim track, a heart-wrenching love ballad called Becoming Dust.
For more on what to see and do in this hugely underrated city, check out my travel reports from Daegu.
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