Mark James Russell

Books, blog and other blather

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Death of a Ladies’ Man


I just heard that Leonard Cohen has died. I’m usually not one for mourning celebrities, but Leonard was a big one for me. I’ve been listening to his music pretty obsessively since high school, when I’m Your Man was a big hit back in 1988.

It took me a while to get the point of his music, to be honest. The Toronto radio and music-TV programs really flogged I’m Your Man when it came out, and I couldn’t understand what was so special about the old guy with the lousy voice and the sparse, synth production style. But there was a girl (of course) that I liked at the time who loved Leonard, so hanging out with her in the art room meant listening to his music. She alternated between I’m Your Man and The Best of Leonard Cohen, which I found more accessible. Gradually I became a fan.


And not long after becoming a fan, I became a rather obsessive fan. I read and re-read The Favorite Game and Beautiful Losers. I bought every Leonard Cohen album I could find and listened to them all to death. I got all excited when his music turned up on movie soundtracks, like Pump Up the Volume and Natural Born Killers (or McCabe and Mrs. Miller). Finally, I crossed over to the dark side and learned to love Death of a Ladies’ Man. Even stranger—it became my favorite Leonard album.  And “Death of a Ladies’ Man” is still my favorite song (sadly, it doesn’t seem to be online anywhere).

I’m happy to say I was able to see him in concert twice over the years, once in 1993 in Philadelphia and again in 2009 in Barcelona. The Barcelona show was pretty amazing, as it was in a big arena with 15,000 people or so.


Some other favorite Leonard-related notes:

  • After the Philadelphia concert, I managed to briefly meet him behind the concert hall. There were a hundred people or so waiting for him by the exit, but he left the building through a different doorway, right where I was standing, so I got to shake his hand and exchange a couple of words before he was mobbed.
  • Oh, and at the Philadelphia concert, he spent most of the show hunched over the microphone, stiff and tired-looking, like he was a broken down old man. But as soon as the concert was over, he skipped off the stage, full of life. It was just an affectation. Funny, though.
  •  My friend Carter set up a Usenet discussion board for Leonard, way back in 1994-ish. Pre-World Wide Web! (Well, almost)
  • Hanging out in the old Norihaneun Saramdeul bar in Shinchon with a friend and his new girlfriend who were tripping hard on LSD.  The bar was empty that night and it had a surprising good Leonard collection, so we started listening to one Leonard song after another. When the owner played “Where Is My Gypsy Wife Tonight,” my friend and the girl started laughing uncontrollably.

“Hallelujah” can kiss my ass, though. Wow, did people crush the life out of that song. Anyhow, at least his last album was really good. It’s nice to know he went out on such a strong note.

People often talk about how depressing Leonard’s music is, but I never felt that way. His mix of longing, beauty, religion and the profane always delighted me, and his lyrics were endlessly fascinating and meaningful. I’m going to miss him.


Another book finished (for now) and other updates

I had to stay up late last night doing the last bit of editing and revising, but I’m so happy to say that I’ve finally finished the draft of my new novel. 92,500 words, now in the hands of the publisher. Yay~

No idea what the publisher will think of it. Heavy revisions needed? Just kill it outright? Who knows? This is the time when my writerly neuroses tend to peak. Hopefully it won’t be that much of a mess. To be honest, there are some sections in it that I’m actually happy with.

And now, time for a victorious coffee break…


Pop Goes out of print, and other changes

Pop Goes Korea_cover_small_

Hard to believe that POP GOES KOREA is nearly a decade old already, having rolled off the presses in December 2008. It’s been a fun run and I really appreciate everyone who has bought a copy. But now, I’ve just been informed by Running Press Books that they are letting the book go out of print.

Cue sad voices…

You should still be able to buy physical copies of the book on Amazon and other online retailers for a while, as the remaining copies slowly trickle out. But the e-book copy will apparently disappear in just 2-3 weeks.

However, I don’t plan on letting the e-book disappear for long. It’s a bit early to say anything too detailed, but hopefully I’ll have something else available online by the end of the year. That’s my hope anyhow.

Again, thanks to all who read or bought my book. And I’ll be back again soon.

Talking music on the radio

My good friend Shawn left Korea last year after seven years there, most of that spent immersed in the local indie music scene. Since moving to Hamilton, Ontario (that would be Canada), he’s had a weekly radio show about Korean indie music on McMaster University radio, CFMU.

As I am currently visiting family nearby, Shawn invited me to join him on last week’s show. It was good fun. For an hour, I shared some of my favorite Korean music, and we chatted a bit about music things. You can listen to the results on Mixcloud. (I also briefly wrote about it over on the Korea Gig Guide).


Not a bad weekend …

Friday, the brutal month-long heatwave finally broke, as temperatures dropped into the 20s and nearly all the pollution just disappeared. The result was some of the best weather I can recall in Seoul in ages. Just great for sitting outside or having a picnic or whatever. And Sunday night—bonus—a rainbow.

Misari - Saturday morning


Gangdong Sunset


Gangdong Rainbow


A new Pullocho story in Mithila Review


“Aswang, at Night” by Mia S-N | / @Likhan

Some happy news to report — the young but very interesting Mithila Review just published a long-ish short story of mine, “Samjogo and the Vengeful Stories.”

The Samjogo was a significant character in Young-hee & the Pullocho, and this short story references some things he talked about before the events of the novel. But more than just a fantasy story, it was a story about stories. I talk a bit about it and some of my influences in this interview from the same issue.

My story was part of the Mithila’s latest issue, a double-sized issue on the theme of Asian SF. So there’s plenty of good stuff in there from all over Asia, by a wide range of writers. I’m really happy to be part of such an interesting new venture, and I think you’ll see a lot more good writing coming from the Mithila Review in the future.



All you zombies…


As I type this, a new Korean blockbuster has come roaring out of the gates, setting several records in its opening weekend. And it’s a zombie movie. How fun is that?

Train to Busan has gotten 5.3 million admissions since its release last Wednesday (including 500,000 or so in pre-screenings), and made about 43.8 billion won. Most impressively, it set a new one-day record, with 1.28 million admissions on Saturday, just beating out the Yi Sun-shin movie, Roaring Currents.

It strikes me as pretty fascinating how good Koreans have gotten at genre blockbusters. From Shiri back in 1999, which kicked off the current age of blockbusters, to the monster fun of The Host in 2006, and now Train to Busan—repeatedly filmmakers here have been able to shake things up with their unique takes on mainstream, Hollywood-style movies.


Anyhow, I doubt Train to Busan will surprise Roaring Currents in the end. It doesn’t have the benefits of a resonant, nationalistic message to squeeze out those last few tickets. But it’s nice to see a smart, well-made blockbuster doing so well.

Incidentally, what’s up with this promotional still? Is it a deliberate homage to The Host?



Tim Duncan retires!


Sad to hear Tim Duncan is retiring. While there have been plenty of more explosive or exciting players in the NBA, there has never been any player I respected more.


I mean, take a look at his stats, especially the per-36 numbers and the Advanced — they barely budged for 20 years. Just excellent right up until the end.


¡Que raro! K-Pop en español~

K-pop enspanyol

Hey, just got some fun news: K-Pop Now! has been published in Spanish! And by Penguin Random House Mexico.

I’ve written a lot about how K-pop has found much popularity in much of Latin America, but I never thought that I would get to be a part of it. ¡Fantastico!


Changing downtown Seoul

From Matt’s Gusts of Popular Feeling website, I came across this article on redevelopment plans for the Jongno/Junggu central parts of old Seoul. Kind of fascinating, on several levels.

Most notable is this map, both for what it shows and for what it doesn’t.


As you can see, pretty much everything along Jongno (and Sinmunno) is up for redevelopment, from Gyeongui Palace to Insa-dong. But that’s a bit weird, because most of that area has already been redeveloped. I doubt they’re doing to tear down the Four Seasons Hotel any time soon.

Similarly, the last of the old restaurants and pojang macha to the east of City Hall are slated to come down — which is a tiny bit sad, but to be honest there’s not a whole lot left there that really matters.

The area around and to the west of the main government buildings in the northwest of the map is also slated for redevelopment, which makes me a bit more wistful. But it is the center of town, and there’s nothing that’s really old, so my personal memories aside, I guess that’s not a big surprise.

What saddens me the most is to see that area between Jonggak and Jongno 2-ga on the north side of the road up for the wrecking ball. That would include that wonderful fish and makgeolli restaurant that was so important in Hong Sang-soo’s Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors.  I love that place … although I’m more than a little shocked it hasn’t just caved in and killed a dozen or so people already.

But the general trend of the government take a ham-fisted approach of designating certain areas to be protected continues. That always ends up “protecting” a bunch of buildings that are utterly unimportant and (more importantly) overlooking a lot lot of really important places. I do wish the Korean government would take an approach closer to, say, Barcelona, where building-by-building is examined for its importance.

It’s funny to think that the area on that map labelled “Jongno 5-ga” will be one of the last old-Seoul places to remain. When I first came to Seoul, most of the downtown felt like that, with the fish restaurants and labyrinthian alleys and random sweat shops. It’s probably a good thing that we don’t have so many sweat shops left, but it is still a bit sad to be losing the Seoul that I remember.


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