We take our senses for granted, that"s a given. If our cognitive skills are culled by even one fifth--rendering us without sight, deaf, or God forbid, tasteless--it"s a devastating loss.
That"s where a song like Korean rock legend Shin Joong Hyun"s "Pushing Through the Fog" gains its power: the boldness of the music personifies its title, careening through a minor-key haze by virtue of its own propulsion. The music flies as boldly as it does blindly.
Although his story is told via a confusing tangle of conflicting iterations, one element is never disputed: Shin Joong Hyun was the first Korean rock n" roller. Orphaned in his teens, Shin was entertaining audiences throughout the "50s--he was only one of the millions of young people worldwide hit by Elvis Presley"s thunderbolt, but he was ambitious enough to do something about it.
Towards the end of the conflict in Korea, Shin took it upon himself to build his own radio to listen to the American Forces Korea Network, according to an interview with the Guardian. He studied standards, jazz, and the Beatles, and emerged as an improvisor with significant verve. Without any cultural context for genre lines, he quickly became an adept imitator of nearly the entire scope of "60s pop styles.
By the late "60s, Shin was not only the most popular artist in the "GaYo" (pop/rock) scene, he was working as a songwriter, arranger, and all-around booster for many other Korean musicians. Think Lee Hazlewood, Serge Gainsbourg... in other words, not just an artist: an auteur.
"Pushing through the Fog" is part of a collection issued on Beautiful Rivers and Mountains: The Psychedelic Rock Sound of South Korea"s Shin Joong Hyun 1958-1974. Where "Pushing" sits in that sixteen year span of time, it"s unclear, but in some ways, it sounds like it emerged from Düsseldorf in the early "70s. The sound of a flat-wound string-strung bass and racing drums immediately establishes a mood encapsulating the propulsion suggested by the title"s first half.
The second half--the fog--is created by the remainder of the musical information. A string arrangement worthy of Ennio Morricone swoops through the song"s transitions, with a truly and fully psychedelic oboe melody tracing its steps. Elsewhere, a subtly aggressive Farfisa organ avails itself, pulling the song"s probable era of origin back a few years in all likelihood.
Throughout, Shin himself provides insistent and appropriately dramatic strumming and a cooing, distant voice that never quite takes the forefront; it"s as atmospheric as any other element. He remains obfuscated, in the fog.
The song"s final sixty seconds builds to its thickest density, with a siren-like sound (heavily effed-up lead guitar? Some kind of synthesizer?) that verifies the somewhat outlandish claim on Shin"s Wikipedia page that he is "South Korea"s answer to Brian Wilson and Jimi Hendrix" (emphasis mine).
The psychedelia is turned up, and the tension of the rhythm section gives a noticeably harder push to the song"s conclusion. Finally, Shin sings a wordless falsetto, and without warning, the song collapses into studio chatter and laughter, the fog dissipates, and the listener is left to return to his or her senses.
After a deeply unfortunate middle period in which Shin was met with conflict and abuse from his government, he has reclaimed his place in national history. These days, he resembles another rocker kicked in the ass by Elvis: with his grey hair, gnarly electric guitar solos, and rebellious past, he could be taken as Korea"s answer to Neil Young. He wears many hats, but Shin Joong-Hyun"s story is also very much his own.
Check out a clip of Shin Joong-Hyun"s "Pushing Through the Fog."
Jeff Tobias is a composer, multi-instrumentalist, and writer currently living in Brooklyn, New York. Most recently, he has been researching the history of tuning systems and working on his jump shot.