#1 With A Bullet in North Korea

pyongyang rocks IIAs Banjo Paterson put it, “There was movement at the station”: the movement of lips enunciating “mea culpa”. Hitherto those who follow the topic had assumed that musical history’s giants are people like Bach and Beethoven and Brahms and Beyoncé. Yet the real musical history was being made in beautiful downtown Pyongyang.

The following Christmas gift – not from The Onion but from KCNA, North Korea’s rival to Reuters – arrived in yours truly’s news-feed some weeks ago:

Lots of songs in praise of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) and the socialist motherland have been created in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea at a time when confidence in the WPK is growing deeper than ever before among the local people. Among them is the song Always Under Party Flag, a paean for the WPK and one of the masterpieces in the era of supreme leader Kim Jong Un. For its high ideological and artistic value, the song evokes strong emotions for the party flag among the people, leading them to harden their will to remain loyal to the WPK.

Clearly Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians will have to be rewritten in the light of this flabbergasting announcement. It behoves us to explore such further chart-busters from the Juche Juke-Box as 27 July Marching Song, Fireworks of War Victory, and Ode to the Motherland. Move over Shostakovich. Nuts to the Leningrad Symphony.

Alas, neither iTunes nor YouTube offers undue coverage of these 2013 DPRK masterpieces. Maybe they’re password-protected. Maybe the sheer erotic charge of video-clips from dancing chanteuses like Miss Kangwon Tractor-Driver affronts puritanical NBN managers’ sensibilities. But, in Australia, we pride ourselves on problem-solving.

Since we’re unlikely to hear authentic renditions of these winners, we will have to enrich the North Korean popular music industry by our own efforts. Through the goodness of our collectivist heart, we have filled an obvious gap by translating the soundtracks of our lives for the North Korean market.

We see this as a two-way street. Détente. We have asked ourselves: what golden-oldies music will “soothe the soul” (thanks, Bob Seger) of the Mp3-owning peasant demographic in South Hwanghae Province? To what can this demographic most readily relate?

Granted, considering the DPRK’s electricity shortages, Bruce (“The Boss”) Springsteen’s We’re Just Dancing in the Dark has irrefutable resonance. But maybe another Boss triumph, Everybody’s Got a Hungry Heart, has more cutting-edge or at least bleeding-edge potential to collective farmers:

Everybody’s got a hungry kid
Everybody’s got a hungry kid
Of the Western scum we must be rid
Everybody’s got a hungry kid

Everybody needs a commissar
And subscriptions to the Morning Star
Wall Street lapdogs make me flip my lid
Everybody’s got a hungry kid

Did we call Springsteen “Boss”? Let Crocodile Dundee correct our error. That’s not a Boss. This is a Boss. When Sir Elton John treated us circa 1976 to Pinball Wizard (“That deaf, dumb and blind boy / sure – plays – a mean – pin-ball”) he little suspected that it would be improved by North Korea’s Dear Leader:

I’m Kim who rules the country, like Father and my Gramp
I’ve copied out Das Kapital till I got writer’s cramp
My architecture’s brutalist and filled with rising damp
This deaf, dumb and blind boy
Sure – runs – a mean – death – camp!

My literature is awesome, my music is a blast
My mastodonic statues are really built to last
You can’t predict the future, I can’t predict the past
This deaf dumb and blind boy
Brings – you – Utopia – fast!

Nevertheless, are even these triumphs of the human spirit enough? We don’t just seek to tell North Koreans about North Korea. We seek also to tell North Koreans about Australia. I Come From A Land Down Under, however lavishly plugged by Pyongyang Countdown, can achieve only so much. Where do we start?

Citing Madonna’s Material Girl in connection with Gina Rinehart is almost too easy. Besides, we prefer conveying to the huddled masses of North Korea our inherent shared egalitarianism. We need only venial changes to Whitney Houston’s output for propitiating the Emily’s List market (“Learning to love yourself / Is the greatest love of all”). But by altering her first line about children to “I believe abortions are the future” we shall silence all that list’s cavillers and shall avoid all hints of anti-Gillardian “misogyny”.

Noblesse oblige having impelled such charitable gestures to our North Korean brethren, we then discerned the need to fill them in on Australian news stories beyond even KCNA’s reach. What will be the big Australian news story of 2014? Economics? Interest rates? Abbott? Shorten? Turnbull? Oh please. The ultimate antipodean headline-grabber of 2014 will be the royal commission into child abuse, by no means exclusively Catholic.

Consider. In late 1963 the Singing Nun accompanied herself on guitar and thus calmed the nerves of several million frazzled post-JFK record-buyers. (These record-buyers, through an otological process unavailable to their descendants, somehow avoided confusing her hit Dominique with the contemporaneous pronouncements of Shari Lewis’s Lamb Chop.) But hey, in late 1963 Vatican II still hadn’t finished. Something more up-to-date is obligatory now. Therefore, in the authentic grab-bag “Spirit of the Council” – while promoting “active lay participation” and “ecumenical dialogue” – we furnish, confident of future diocesan imprimaturs, this reconsideration of Bob Dylan’s Blowin’ In The Wind:

How many bishops must end up in jail
Before we regain self-respect?
How many taxpayers must fund parish schools
Debauched by a pedo Elect?
How many nonces within Ballarat
Did Frank Little fail to detect?
The answer, my friend, is screamin’ in the wind,
The answer is screamin’ in the wind.

We harbour vague recollections of some mid-1960s disc-jockey – Brian “Bandstand” Henderson, perhaps? Ward “Pally” Austin? Harold Holt? Che Guevara? – informing one hysterical crowd: “Swingers, this is just too much for the human unit.” Amen, bro.

And to all our readers, a happier 2014 than would have been experienced by Kim Jong Un’s uncle, recently executed.

R. J. Stove – when not “letting 100 flowers bloom, 100 schools of thought contend” – diurnally sings, in his Melbourne shower, lines by Mr Springsteen now amended as “For wanting things that can only be foun’ / I’m in the gulag on the edge of town.”

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