Release Date: 9/97 and 9/04
Album: NEVEREST and RARITIES VOL. 2
Writer: ADAM MARSLAND
In a marble church of immaculate conception
Second cousins in white dresses
Prepare for the reception
She looks out the window
She feels her father's relief
'Cause there's no other option
At least that's her belief
Because I am a coward
Because she's a coward too
She will cleave to a stranger
It's the honorable thing to do
Across the Pacific
There's a country called Hangun
Where the women don't say much
But they marry soon
But she knew she was different
She was a reckless breath of wind
But she bowed to tradition
And the tragedy begins
I love her; it doesn't matter
It's not a foreigner's business
But knowing I can't stand with her
Don't make this easier to witness
There's a wedding today
She threw herself away
Blossom bridesmaids beautiful
Darling daughter dutiful
If she was in love
Then she would have my blessing
But a girl like that should be more than
"It'll never work" --
The last refuge of a weakling who will
Kick himself to death
'Til his dying breath.
Her father wipes his brow
Keeps his calm
Under Our Father's Son's outstretched palms
Her mother dries her eyes and thinks of her own wedding day
And knows her daughter's future has been sold away
I will not fight what I don't understand
I'm just a stupid American
But I love her, I love her, I love her
But I can't do a damn thing for her.
Clocking in at 7 minutes, "Koreatown" was the longest song Cockeyed Ghost ever released, and one of the most intense. It was a favorite song of mine and several band members and fans and only its extreme length kept it from being performed that often.
I had a phase in the mid '90s where I was very interested in Asian culture (although I thought at the time people focused on the "yellow fever" angle a bit more than they should have, though I suppose with this and "Asian Hero Worship" I sort of asked for it), and I had struck up a friendship with a young, quirky and beautiful Korean woman (interestingly I met her through her a friend of mine who was her best friend, who was the subject of Weezer's song "Buddy Holly." Small world) Although we never actually dated (there was just too large of a cultural and lifestyle gap), there was a mutual attraction and when she announced that she was intending to enter into an arranged marriage, it really bothered me. The story in the song is highly dramatized to the point of being fiction, but the feelings or horror and longing it invoked were authentic and the 1994 demo recording of it marked the first time I ever really, really emotionally connected with a vocal. It was recorded in a dimly lit room at about 3 a.m., with everyone waiting to go home, and I just wailed everything out.
The arrangement on this song was extremely precise, even more so than on most of our stuff. I remember Kurt Medlin, in a VERY, VERY RARE show of mild pique getting frustrated with me after about two hours of teaching him the song and how it should go. The crucial four bar drum fill that ends the guitar solo and brings in the final choruses was scripted almost down to each individual hit...no wonder Kurt wanted to go home. With such a downtempo rhythmic song as this, everything depended on catching the right groove, never letting it drag, and never letting the intensity fall until it finally peaks at the very end.
You want to talk about drummers getting pissed at me, James Hazley got just as exasperated with me when we rerecorded this for NEVEREST, and I can't say in retrospect I blame him very much. I wanted to recreate the feel of the demo so badly that I really rode him in the studio, and had him adhere fairly closely to what Kurt originally played. I probably was more obsessive about this than anything else on that album, and had a hard time letting it go. The final recording of "Koreatown" did come out pretty well (if slightly overwrought), but as always happens, it did lack something that the original had. Part of it was three years had passed and I just didn't have the same passion for the subject I once had. To his and Rob Cassell's credit, they did a fine job on drums and vocals, respectively.
The main musical inspiration for this song was an early '90s alt-rock band called Lifter, who I used to see in local clubs and later signed to Interscope and had a minor hit with a song called "402." A lot of their songs had this kind of slow, driving intensity.
We played this song on the 1997 tour with Shonen Knife a lot, and the reason I mention this is I have a very vivid memory of one of the biggest shows we ever did with them, an absolutely packed house at Slim's in San Francisco, playing this song and having every string but one go out of tune on me. Keep in mind we were just a three piece. Seven minutes of trying desperately to get in tune and thrasing away as much as I could on the one good string in front of about 700 people -- it felt like ten years. The show was a huge success though.
I still like this song. It gets heavy-handed in spots, but the emotion is honest and the situation it describes all too real.
Hangun -- Korean for Korea! (Note: my friend Erin informs me that this should be Hanguk, not Hangun. My impression was it was pronounced Hangun, but I can't prove it. If not it would be just one more misuse of a foreign word or phrase in one of my songs)
cleave -- wedding-speak for, well, you know.
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