My dad has always been one of the most influential people in my life, including my musical sensibility. I often imagine him as a young boy in a small Korean town in the ’60s and ’70s, inspired by music to learn English and dream of a better life somewhere far away. At the time, Korea was practically the opposite of the economic and cultural powerhouse it is now. And the Korean government has an ongoing history of heavily regulating and censoring music. My dad was lucky to have access to a lot of “outside” music, partly because he was fortunate enough to come from a family of relative status, but mostly due to his own ambition, curiosity, and love of music. In the ’80s, that combination of qualities found him traveling all over the world (and attending lots of concerts and festivals), before he settled down at a small university in Ohio.
The other day I asked my dad what his favorite songs were, and he could only think of 13 by different artists. (To be fair, I would have a difficult time narrowing down favorites, too.) But I filled in the rest of his list with songs I heard a lot in my youth, thanks to him.
A couple notes about this playlist: First, it only includes Dad’s favorite English-language songs, mainly folk and rock music from his younger years. If he had to make a list including Korean songs, instrumental music, newer favorites, or musicals, we’d never see the end. Secondly, I included “Swanee River” because my dad listed it as his favorite, but I understand it’s problematic. Both of my parents learned this song as kids at their separate schools in Korea, with no clue about the nuances of American history. Many controversial Stephen Foster songs were popular in Korea (and across the globe) when they were growing up. After my dad realized how close we lived to Bardstown, Kentucky (four hours away…), my family even saw the musical The Stephen Foster Story three separate times. The simplest way to put this is that Stephen Foster is a part of my family’s story, but I obviously support those who want Florida to adopt a new state song.
Maybe over the holidays I’ll ask my dad to think of his favorite classical or jazz songs. But the following playlist feels pretty good for autumn. Listen below or on my Spotify page.