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  • Twenty
  • Cheon Myeong-gwan (bio)
    Translated by Jamie Chang (bio)

Early spring that year, I got on my bike every morning at nine without fail and headed for the vinyl café by the subway station. The early hour was so I could listen to music inside the DJ booth when there weren't other customers around, a special privilege extended by the DJ and owner—so he claimed, but rumor had it he wasn't the real owner. In return, I cleaned up the DJ box and tidied up the records. The DJ box was located in the middle of the left wall. A Kiss decal glittered on the front window, and tens of thousands of records sat on the shelves that made up the back wall.

I carefully read the covers of the records, put on headphones, and immersed myself in the music of my choice. There were hardly any customers at the café before noon, so no one cared what I put on. This was a wonderful luxury for me when I was twenty and had nothing.

Oh, how sweet those moments were as I look back on them now! The hours I spent listening to music added spark to my life like nothing else. Years and miles away from that time and place, if I happen to hear a few bars of Led Zeppelin, Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show, or Fleetwood Mac I enjoyed in those days, I find myself right back in that vinyl café, looking out onto the deserted, empty hall in the morning light. [End Page 41]

The DJ had permed, curly, shoulder-length hair that he always wore down and never combed. The look he was going for was, in his words, I don't care about my hairdo. I just let it flow however it wants. His philosophy disapproved of leaving any sign of combing or coiffing his hair, except for right after washing it, when he would run a pen through it, no more than ten times, in solemn, measured movements befitting a religious rite. He thought he looked like Jimmy Page, and the rest of us more or less went with it.

The "us" I'm referring to here were a bunch of high school graduates who didn't have the grades or family situation good enough for college, weren't old enough for the army but couldn't find permanent employment without having completed our military service, and spent our days hanging out at the café, listening to decent-enough music and killing time. We were like furniture—no money, no girls, no place to go—materializing one by one in the corner seats of the café, sitting for hours and having the gall not to order a single cup of coffee despite the waitress looking daggers at us, exchanging jokes that began as harmless jabs but eventually made us want to murder each other, only to vanish like ghosts when paying customers began rolling in. And so it went—it was 1982, we were twenty, and whiling our lives away.


There was a guitar on display in the DJ box. It was the DJ's number one prized possession, a Fender electric with a smooth f-shaped head and "Fender" engraved on the bottom part of the body. He would sit in the DJ box and polish it with a clean cloth every chance he got. He was well versed in details like which guitarist played a Fender or a Gibson, and played records for us to compare the sounds of the two. For example, rockers such as Jimi Hendrix and Jeff Beck preferred Fender while artists with a traditional blues background such as CCR or BB King preferred Gibson, because of the sensual and modern sound of Fender [End Page 42] compared to the warm, classic sound of Gibson. He said Gibson was more expensive and had a higher quality sound, but he preferred Fender, and that it was a matter of taste, not better or worse.

That word, "taste!" The sophistication and elegance of it! When the DJ brought it up, we felt like school boys in gym clothes sitting at an upscale Chinese...


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pp. 41-63
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