That was like a knife edged blast from the past for me.
I toured about six years ago with a Korean pop artist (Lee Seung Hwan, for you Korean pop fans), and this sounds EXACTLY like the group that opened for us on our last show. It was all these little girls that dressed in clothes about 4 sizes bigger than they were, with weird hair sticking up in all colors and directions. They danced around with these gigantic stuffed animals, and it was a spectacle.
That was the single oddest place I have ever traveled in my life. If I could play some of the extreme weirdness I witnessed out of my head like a movie, it would be the psychedelic bizarro film of all times.
There are a lot of Korean food traditions that will make your hair stand on end, and believe that humans are truly descended from different races of aliens. There\'s the dog thing, which is really shocking. Eating dogs is a man thing, and the meat is preferred raw. That ain\'t all, baby. Seems the whole thing is about making your performance in the sack better, and the way it works is that the dog is beaten to death then eaten--so that the anger of the dog transfers into your uh...you get the picture. Yowie. The dogs themselves are sad, big, listless gray dogs. You don\'t see this in Seoul much, but outside the city you\'ll see \"dog trucks\" like chicken trucks, only with lots bigger cages. The dogs behave exactly like cattle--which makes you wonder how cows would behave if we weren\'t so intent on eating them. Perhaps they\'d have interesting personalities?
Anyway, that\'s mild. Korean women have a couple of weird dietary things of their own. I\'ll spare you the ultra gross one and, well, get to the other slightly less gross but more weird one. Apparently eating live squid tentacles leads to beauty, or so the saying goes, so in bars, they serve these writhing tentacles in little baskets--like french fries. Tentacles and beer are a big thing...and apparently the trick to eating tentacles is you can\'t let them get a grip on you or they will sting you. So, you see the girls picking up the tentacles with chopsticks (wiggling madly like the little angry dismembered tentacles that they are) making a little pucker with their mouth, and then SLURRRRRRRRP, down they go.
It must work pretty well--the Korean women are stunning, and look all of 16 years old until they\'re about 50. There\'s also this basic premise that men with pent up frustrations hold back society\'s progress, and well, you connect the dots. Whoever pulled that one off gets an A+. I have not yet been able to create such a movement in America, but there\'s always hope.
This is not to say I didn\'t find Korea and Koreans pretty charming. I did. The Korean people are warm and amazing in so many ways, so I hope no one is insulted by this post. I just thought people might find it interesting how jarringly different that society is, and what a full-body shock it is to find yourself suddenly in the middle of it. Lee Seung Hwan is a multi-platinum artist, too, so we were stars from the minute we did our first show. Which was a sold out Olympic Stadium. Until that point, I had no clue this was a particularly huge gig. It was insane--we had bodyguards, cops, barricades to mow down the screaming girls--it was like being in the Beatles. Only in Korean.
I took the bus to the nearest subway station to my hotel (the streets are always clogged, and it takes hours to get across town so the subway is the fastest transportation). I noticed that I\'d see people wearing cloth surgical masks now and then, and I asked our translator if people wore those to avoid getting sick. He told me no, that people wearing those masks had colds, and they wore them to avoid spreading the cold. I sure wish that was a custom world wide!!
Drinking was another eye opener. You\'d better practice your drinking survival skills if you ever find yourself in Korea. You dishonor anyone who offers you a drink if you don\'t take it. On top of that, there\'s a tradition where you hold your left hand under your right forearm as you pour a drink, and that is a gesture of honor upon the person for whom you are pouring. They are then bound by honor to offer you a drink, using the same gesture of honor. See where this is going? Around 6-7 pm, when happy hour is in full swing, you see people staggering down sidewalks, leaning on buildings...it\'s a party.
Anyway, Aaron, thanks for putting that up, because 1000 amazing memories washed over me the moment I heard \"that sound.\"
Oh, here\'s a funny story that\'s rated clean enough to tell. Our last show (the one with the little girls opening) was a Christmas special for Korean MTV. It was at the Seoul Opera House, which is a huge venue, camera-cranes and handhelds everywhere. There was a song where \"Santa\" flew across the stage, behind the band, and this little hottie flew in front of us the opposite direction...she was an elf. Well, in rehearsal it all went fine, and they only ran it once. During the show, they released the \"elf\" too soon, and she panicked about halfway across and started flailing her arms. As she reached the proscenium, instead of flying by it, she\'d gotten her wire swinging to the point where she ran into the proscenium arch like a bug (it didn\'t hurt her) and then slid back out sort of teetering and dangling. Meanwhile, they\'d released Santa behind us, but upon seeing the melee in front, someone let go of the control line, and he was stuck halfway across stage dangling in mid-air, flailing away, too.
So all the while, myself and the other two Americans in the band were trying hold it in, but we just couldn\'t any more. I was laughing so hard tears were rolling out of my eyes. This was not smiled upon later, and turned out to be a whole \"face/dishonor\" thing which had to be smoothed over.
But the band itself was really pretty good. Lee Seung Hwan\'s tunes were excellent and my friend Tim Kobza did new arrangements for almost all of his stuff, and really toned down the sugary-sweetness. It ended up sounding amazing, all things considered. One of the bizarre things that happened when we first began rehearsing was when I had a flugel solo on this tune. We played it once, everything was fine. The next day, we played it again, and halfway through my solo, the whole band just sort of petered out behind me. And they were just staring at me. I asked what was going on, and there was a flurry of Korean--then Seung Hun, the keyboard player, said, \"American freestyle VERY confusing. Yesterday you play one way, today you play another and make mistakes.\"
Apparently the concept of improvisation is totally lost on them. They learn a solo (usually off the CD) and they play the same solo over and over and over again. I kind of rejected this, thinking I\'d be the father of the Korean improvisational movement. Nope. Got dragged in, got a pay cut (try enforcing a contract in Korea...ouch), and had to notate every note AND every percussion instrument I\'d be playing on every song, turn it in to the drummer, and was held to it for the whole tour.
Well, except the last night. I had my clip-on wireless on my Flugel, and I sneaked offstage before my \"big moment,\" ran out center stage, and proceeded to burn like a mofo over the entire rest of the tune...which was an amazing experience even if it got me into a lot of heat afterwards. Very rarely do you get the experience of 7500 teenage girls screaming and reaching their hands out to you, tears running down their little faces. Words cannot describe the potency of that energy. If you could bottle it, you could propel a rocket to Jupiter and back.
Which brings me to Mr. Moon and Mr. Song. There was this little jazz club across from our hotel, and we figured out really quickly that we could show up at any jazz club in Seoul, bump whoever was onstage off, and get paid. This worked out very well for additional party money and late night entertainment of the adoring kind when we didn\'t have shows with Mr. Lee.
So, this little club was run by a woman named Park. We showed up a little late one night, and the house rhythm section had already packed up but there was still a table of revelers going strong. They saw we had instruments with us, and a man got up and introduced himself as Mr. Moon.
\"You would honor us greatly,\" Mr. Moon said, \"if you could play just a few songs for us. We will order food and drink and entertain you in exchange.\"
His companions all nodded.
We agreed. We knew Park was a singer, so we said we\'d play a couple of standards and then have Park up for the finale. Everyone thought this was a dandy plan, so on we went. We played Dolphin Dance and Straight no Chaser, then asked Park up. She said she would like to sing \"Willow, weep for me.\"
OK, we should have known this was trouble. But we started the intro, Park grabbed the mic...then it came:
WI-ROW REAP FOW-EEEEEEEE
Ted had his back to the audience, and his head down close to the keys...his shoulders were bouncing up and down like mad. Tim and I were not nearly as lucky...we were hung out to dry on stage like two sheets. I don\'t know how I held it in, but I did, and even played a pretty respectable little ride.
Park got all charged up, and started riffing on top of me...
WIR-ROWWWWW, WIR-ROWWW, WIR-ROW, WIR-ROW
Tim and I couldn\'t take it, we both doubled over. I recovered pretty quick and started singing behind her....Tim caught on, and did the same, and we all were just up on stage singing this bizarre riff till finally the song ended and we all made it off alive.
Mr. Moon was delighted. He came to the stage and thanked us, then invited us to his table which had been replenished with a fresh bottle of Johnny Walker Black (about $300 in Korea), piles of food, and all sorts of desserts. Mr. Moon introduced us to his wife, and to Mr. and Mrs. Song, the other couple. Mr. Song asked if he could sit next to me, and shook my hand.
Well, we ate and drank, and Mr. Moon told us all about his business, and about Seoul and Korea. As we sat, though, Mr. Song kept staring and staring at me. It was just plain weird after a while. Then, as I was listening to Mr. Moon, I felt a hand moving across my chest, inside my sport jacket, and PINCHING MY NIPPLE!!!
I jumped up and excused myself to the restroom, and locked the door. I stood there for a while, not really knowing what to do, and figured, what the heck--I\'ll just go back out and if the freak gets in my jacket again, I\'ll deck him.
So, I open the bathroom door, and there\'s Mr. Song sort of jumping back as it opens. I brushed past him quickly, got back to the table and said, \"Tim, trade chairs with me.\"
\"No way dude.\"
Jesus. So Mr. Song comes back to the table. By this time, I\'m wound up like a clock. Mr. Song and Mr. Moon started talking, then Mr. Moon turns to me and says:
\"Mr. Song, who is not a homosexual and has never been one, has explained to me that he feels a certain warmth and excitement that he has not experienced. He feels that you are not a homosexual, but wonders in the spirit of discovery if you might accompany him in a sexual experimentation.\"
By this time, I am out of the chair, putting on my coat and grabbing my trumpet case...\"I\'ve got an early rehearsal...gotta go.\" Ted and Tim were right behind me, we said quick good-byes and thank yous as we backed out of the club.
Well...the next day Mr. Moon calls and asks us to meet him for lunch in our hotel cafe. We go down, and see that he\'s alone, so we went in. Seems Mr. Song had gotten carried away on drink and his newfound attraction to white-haired American men, and sent his sincere apologies. Just the same, we told Mr. Moon, we\'d rather not socialize with the Songs. This was agreed.
A couple of days go by, and Mr. Moon calls us on the phone.
\"Hello. Several of my lady friends are very excited to meet you. I wonder if you will join us for lunch at a lovely traditional restauarant. It will be my honor to host you.\"
This sounded better. Ted had hooked up with an English teacher, and was having a bedroom lunch with her, so Tim and I met Mr. Moon. Sure enough, there he was with a table full of women. We had lunch, and were settling in for coffee and conversation, when who should show up, but...you guessed it. Mr. Song. Luckily, I was situated between two of Mr. Moon\'s lady friends, so I was somewhat protected. But unfortunately, we\'d drank quite a bit by this point, and I had to divest myself of a bit of it. I found out that the restrooms were located next door. I waited for Mr. Song to look away, then got up and BOLTED out the door, around the corner, and into a corridor which had a open door men\'s restroom at the end. So far so good...I\'d made it all the way without detection, and had just finished my business when Mr. Song came bustling around the corner--WITH HIS **** ALREADY OUT AND IN HIS HAND. I rocketed past him, got back to the restaurant, and sandwiched myself between the two women. In a few moments, a sheepish looking Mr. Song returned to the table, and thankfully that was the last close encounter with Mr. Song.
OK, this is probably gettting ridiculous, so I\'ll quit....as I said, the sound of that little flash clip just released the floodgates of what have ultimately become the most bizarre memories of my adult life.
That\'s a great story. Reminds me of life on the road quite some time ago as well. Also a trumpet player. I won\'t go into it here and now though, maybe we need another forum.
Anyway, funny stuff.