It is one of the main reasons I do my worldwide open mic and jam session musical adventure, and it happened again last night: Despite being in my second year in Mokpo and failing after last year and the first three nights of four this year to find anywhere to play, I did not give up, I pushed myself beyond my safety and comfort zone and I found a place to play.
Having said that, it was not an open mic or a jam session. But I did play with my guitar and sang my songs. But I’m jumping ahead of this little story, which is really about pushing ourselves forward beyond our preconceptions, our comfort zones and into territory we may fear. Last year in Mokpo the only place I managed to find to play was with buskers in the Street of the Roses in downtown Mokpo. I had ventured into one or two bars that had musical instruments and advertised live music. But they were empty of both musicians and clients. This year things went the same way and I did not even meet up with my young busker friends.
But a couple of nights ago I thought I had discovered a local equivalent of live music joint where there might at least be a jam session, if not an open mic. (Oh, Moe’s Bar and Grill, an expat joint, is holding an open mic, but not until this coming Friday, when I will be in Paris.) The places are called a “Live Cafe,” and some are “Music Bar.” There are a number of them around town. I dropped into one where I saw a guy playing keyboards and singing Korean music. But there was not only no clients in the bar, I couldn’t even see a bartender or other worker. So I just left the guy to sing for himself and continued checking out other places.
Two nights ago I found one near my hotel called 7080, and it had a neon guitar outside, and it had photos of The Beatles, c. 1964, in the stairway leading up to the bar. When I opened the door to the bar and looked inside I saw a nifty but strange neon stage, screens on the walls, and neon and silver lights and walls and chintzy music and people at tables all over in a half inebriated state. Someone came quickly to see me at the door and my immediate reaction was to say, “No thank! Sorry, not for me….”
Why? Because it was sooooooooo foreign. A lot of the Formula One journalists are forced to stay in so-called Love Motels in Mokpo because there is not enough housing. These are motels rented by the hour where young lovers and prostitues alike alight. The district in which we find ourselves, and where I found the 7080 bar is pretty much the sex and games part of what is probably the crime capital of South Korea.
So my immediate reaction was fear and also a sense that if I went into that place I would surely be robbed, propositioned, or otherwise volunteering myself for some illicit act that I wanted nothing to do with. But over the day or two since I did that, I began as I said, finding these music bars and live cafes (which are also bars that serve alcohol), and the more I thought about it, the more I thought perhaps the 7080 was just another of these. Perhaps the 7080 was a bona fide local entertainment bar with live music and karaoke and whatever. Nothing to fear but the real, true Korean experience I had been looking for all along. At Moe’s none of the expats I spoke to had any idea where I might find live music or a jam or open mic. They had not even heard of the live cafe….
So I returned the following night to the 7080 and found it had been rented out to host an F1-related party. Some kind of Korean company involved in oil and gas had bought up the room and they were doing live-band karaoke when I arrived. I was promptly asked to leave, this time, which was the inverse of what happened the previous day.
So it was that last night, desperate to prove to myself that I could indeed find a place to play in Mokpo and that if I had failed to do so it was my own failure as opposed to a failure of the city to provide. And above all, I decided I had to be courageous and not shy away from what is unfamiliar, since that is the very essence of what I am seeking out in this adventure.
I went to the bar, walked in, asked if I could buy just a beer, and I was told yes. (That was another fear, that I’d be fleeced for thousands of won in a so-called cover charge.) I went to my table and the woman very kindly brought me my Hite beer from Korea, and a piece of paper for me to make a request for a song. Although I had come in to listen the musician on the stage – who played keyboards, electric guitar and sang – it turned out it was a karaoke too, with the musician playing part of the music track.
The room had some 20 or so people in it, not bad for a Sunday night. I watched and listened, and then decided that although the Karaoke was written in Korean, I would try to request doing a song. I asked for anything by the Stones, Beatles, Dylan or Cat Stevens, since all the other stuff had been in Korean…. In the end, I got to do “What’s Up!” by the 4 Non-Blondes, which I have done a lot lately. And I did a great job! I’m usually terrible at Karaoke, but this worked. (It’s easier.) I received massive applause, people sang along, and a man immediately asked for an encore and then invited me to his table to talk.
His name was Kim Sek-Soo, and he is a Korean painter and Pine Art Master. He offered me beer, he went up and sang himself, we talked as much as we could with fractured English. And he and his wife and the woman running the bar and I all communicated for some time and had a great time. He requested I play more songs, but the musician in charge took a break. So that is when I took out my guitar and played some songs for Kim and his wife. They clapped along, the other people in the bar did too, I received applause, and then the karaoke started again and I did another song – “Unchained Melody.”
After I did that, Kim came up to me in front of the stage and importuned me to do a song for everyone with my guitar. The musician, with some sense of wounded pride – I think – eventually agreed to this, and so I played “Since You Left Me,” my song, with my guitar and vocals. It received warm applause, and we drank and spoke more and the evening eventually ended.
This, I thought and realized, was a REAL musical night in Korea at a place where the people go to have fund – the Koreans, not the expats. And I had my chance to sing my heart out in Korea for Koreans. Above all, I had broken down a communication barrier and a preconception in my own mind, and I had screwed my courage up, with the reward being absolutely massive.
That’s a lesson that I want to apply to life in general. That’s why I love this adventure.
P.S. Oh, by the way, I managed to get a video of me doing “Unchained Melody,” and “Since You Left Me.” But it was too long for YouTube, so I tried to put it up but it would not go. I will have to edit it and perhaps put some up another time. Or use it in my film.