Concrete walls topped with concertina wire is what most South Koreans only ever see of the Yongsan Garrison, a sprawling U.S. military base in the center of Seoul.
But as a teenage guitarist in 1955, Shin Joong-hyun remembers the first time he entered the base. He and other local musicians had been hired to entertain soldiers with American songs, which Shin says were all but unheard of to most Koreans at that time.
“I knew nothing about American music then,” he says, recalling that he needed to learn jazz, R&B and rock ‘n’ roll numbers for auditions at the clubs on the base.
By hearing imported records on the jukebox and listening to the U.S. military’s Armed Forces Korea radio network, Shin says he got the hang of it. Soon, he and the others took what they learned inside the base and began playing American music for local audiences.
Today, Shin is known as the godfather of Korean rock.
Shin says he feels nostalgic for the place where he got his start, especially now that it will soon be gone.
“It was like a home to me,” Shin says. “Without the Yongsan Garrison, it feels like my generation’s culture will soon be gone and me along with it.”
For many South Koreans, the exterior walls of the Yongsan Garrison in Seoul were the only part of the U.S. military base they got to see. It was like a “black hole inside the city.”
The U.S. military is in the process of relocating American soldiers to a facility outside the capital and transferring the garrison’s 617 acres…