Mark James Russell

Books, blog and other blather

Picture this

Okay, so the revamp of Pop Goes Korea is taking a lot longer than I anticipated. Sorry about that. But I will try to have the new edition up as an e-book before too long, so people needing it for this semester at university will have time to read.

On the plus side, one reason it is going slow is because I am happy with the new material and all the good feedback I’ve gotten from people. It’s been a pretty crazy 8-9 years for Korean pop culture since the book was published, and there’s a lot to cover.

In the meantime, here are some more fun pics from around Seoul. A nice sunset from up high in Myeongdong.

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And a shot from down on the streets below (well, Euljiro, but later that same night).

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I used to live right here in Donggyo-dong, back when this park was a train track. I remember the day they pulled up the tracks and started digging down to build the airport express line. It took forever for the city to finish the train line, and then for years this land was just derelict. But now, it is quite a nice park.

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Here is an image from Sangil-dong, where developers are tearing down nearly all the old apartment blocks. Coming soon, towering apartments, 25 stories high or more.

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And here’s a fun one from a nearby forest, when the air cleared up and it was a nice 10 degree day in January.

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Begin 2017 with Fortitude

Happy New Year, all. And what better way to kick off the new year with a teaser of season 2 for Fortitude, that freaky, frightening and brilliant series set in northernmost Norway.

There’s also a fun little website promoting the series, posing as a Fortitude tourism campaign. Visit Fortitude! “You’ll feel so at home you’ll never leave~”

The actual series is supposed to begin airing at the end of January. Seriously, season 1 was one of my favorite TV shows in ages. Really smart and really scary. I highly recommend checking it out.

Oh, and have a great 2017.

 

2016 is winding down

Another year is nearly done, and once again I find my life strangely in flux. There’s a new job about to begin in January — in a totally new part of town I’ve never really hung out in before. I think it is a really good-looking job, but I will miss working in the old, run-down Euljiro part of town. It had a lot of ramshackle beauty.

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Meanwhile, I’m still at work on POP GOES KOREA, 2nd Edition. So much has gone on with Korea’s entertainment scene since the first edition, revising it is turning into a bigger task than I envisioned back in October. But I’m still hoping to get it done in time for the start of the next semester’s classes (for students who might need it as a resource).

Oh, because the weather is so cold at the moment, here are a couple of photos of Okinawa from a recent trip there. Sunny, warm Okinawa…

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Come on in, enjoy the nice warm water. But btw, here is a small list of the local critters that might maim or kill you…

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Oh, but here’s something from the sea that we killed first. Justice!

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Death of a Ladies’ Man

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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.

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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.

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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.

LC

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…

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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

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“Aswang, at Night” by Mia S-N | Likhain.net / @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…

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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.

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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?

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