Tharp On: Music


British heavy metal titans Judas Priest played in Seoul a while back as part of their official Farewell Tour but I was out of the country at the time, so alas, I couldn’t go. Missing the show depresses me thoroughly, since Judas Priest is the first real rock band I ever saw live: Defenders of the Faith tour, 1984, baby! I went to the Tacoma Dome with my friend Joe Crossland and his sweet but hopelessly uncool dad, who served as chaperon for our two-plus hours of straight middle-school headbanging.

The concert was huge, rowdy and loud as hell, delivering all the goods plus some: there were booming drums, shooting lasers, walls of amplifiers, dueling guitars, metal robots and even a real Harley Davidson that lead singer Rob Halford – in his leather-daddy glory – rode on to the stage. It was pure adrenaline and joy – spectacle on the highest level – and I knew right then and there that one day, I too would play rock and roll.

I went on to keep that promise, playing in a string of bands that continues to this day: The Leaky Sewer Pipes, Bad Water, Brave New World, Naugahyde, Blanche, MV and the Exterior, Christ Analogue, F Plus, The Gargles, The Rice Paddys, Kimchi/DC, The Headaches, and Los Kimchileros. Some of these bands were pretty good and others were atrocious miscarriages of music, but I’ve always carried the torch of rock and roll, at least in my own head.

Not only have I been a player of music, but I’ve also been a great fan. I had two older brothers who were passionate about music. They collected records and turned me on to stuff that I would have never had come across until far later in life. Because of them I was always up on some cool tunes. I was then lucky enough witness the explosion of the Seattle music scene firsthand in the early 90s and saw bands such as Mudhoney, The Melvins, Soundgarden and Nirvana in very small venues, before some of them became bigger than God. I used to listen to new bands all the time. I went to shows as much as possible. I sang the praises of the music that I loved and wickedly condemned that which I hated. Music coursed through my veins and kept me alive. It was my sustenance.

And then something happened: I got old. One day I just stopped listening to new music. I became that crotchety dude whose musical tastes completely calcified around the age of 27. You know, the old hippy at the bar who, after two or three beers, always proclaims: There hasn’t been any good music made since 1978, man. I saw Grand Funk Railroad play the Filmore in ’72 after scoring a whole lid of Thai sticks! Now that was groovy. I used to hate that guy, but now I’ve turned into him.

Case in point: It is possible to go and see real music in Korea these days. One promotion company in particular goes out of its way to bring in hot acts from North America. Many people fork out wads of cash to attend these shows and proclaim their awesomeness, but I don’t and probably never will. I am far too grumpy. To the kids, these acts are cutting-edge and cool. Cutting edge and cool? To me, they’re just a couple of emaciated vegan hipsters with a keyboard, a laptop and questionable facial hair. I just can’t get down and would rather blow my 30 bucks on soju and cat food.

But what of the home grown scene here in Busan? Even with the departure of Poko Lambro, things are still rich. The reigning kings are reggae supergroup One Drop East, who not only have more members than the E Street Band, but play for twice as long. With them, I don’t know where the crowd ends and the band begins. There’s London Scat Party, who have improved massively, but are still known to clear a room faster than a suicide bomber. Klickitat are great musicians who play music that no one wants to hear; Hajimama keeps cranking out their schtick like Borscht-belt comedians, so eager to please; the local Korean punks keep rockin’ it, though I have yet to see one of those guys get up on stage without the punk rock ‘uniform’. Sometimes they can be all sizzle and no steak, if you know what I mean…

So yeah, I’m a dinosaur. I’m an irrelevant man plowing headfirst into middle age, already nostalgic for something that probably was never that cool to begin with. So don’t listen to me. Make a band, even it if requires the use of a Macbook. Go support music. And if you see me up on stage attempting to bang on a guitar and while bellowing the lyrics to Breaking the Law, try not to throw a beer in my face.

You can get Chris Tharp’s book, Dispatches from the Peninsula: Six Years in South Korea, on Amazon or

Steve Feldman’s review of the book is here and more of Tharp’s Haps stuff here.

Tharp’s Blog: Homely Planet

Illustration by  Sarah Elminshawi. You can see more of Sarah’s work here:




HQ bar