Tuesday, January 27, 2009

38 Degrees

The following is an excerpt from 38 Degrees by Ben Shakey. It will be published by Popganda books in February 2009

“Hello, Welcome to the North Korean Embassy.”


The Korean staff member could not gauge the age of the man. He wore denim clothing and other indulgent trappings of western fashion.

His hair was slicked into a pompadour with consumerist hair gels and other grooming products. In fact, looking closer it was obvious that his hair was chemically altered to something closer to navy blue than the natural black possessed a human being. A thin strip of grey at the roots of the hairline created the illusion of his hair floating an eighth of an inch above his scalp.

Crow’s feet wrinkles crowded around the corners of his eyes and his teeth took on a slight cigarette tinge of yellow.

“I would like to meet with the North Korean Ambassador.” He announced. He spoke in watered down German accent.

“I’m sorry but I don’t believe he would be available right now.”

“Perhaps when you explain who I am...” The man smiled a little at the end of the sentence, as if his smug grin solved these problems once and for all, no hard feelings.

“And you might be...?”

“Augustus Schmidt”

The name hung in the air like a soap bubble ready to burst with the explanation of its meaning.
“Augustus Schmidt” thought the Korean. “Should I know this name?”

Suddenly Augustus began to sing:

“No one can Rock it
Like a Republic!
No one can get kissed
Like a Socialist!”

Augustus stopped singing abruptly. He raised his eyebrows and looked to the Korean for some acknowledgement, as if his song explained everything, as if he just sang the great unifying theory.

The Korean thought that Augustus might be completely mentally collapsing in front of him.
“I’m not sure what this song means” said the Korean.

“ I guess that you don’t listen to the radio much. That was the biggest hit of East German Radio for 1984 and most of 1985 too. It was massive.”

“So you are a musician.”

“You could say that. You could say that I was one of the biggest East German musicians in history. I had 9 certified gold albums between 1981 and 1988. You know, hits like ‘Loud, Proud, Doing What’s Allowed!’ Hits like ‘We have ways of making you Rock!’ I was the first non – classical, non – polka artist to go #1 in the East German charts.” He leaned back and crossed his arms

“Alright,” said the Korean. “I’m not sure why you want to meet the Ambassador though”

Augustus leaned forward. He folded his hand together on the desk like he was praying. His eyes took on a slight pleading tone like an orphan or a door to door salesman. He spoke in slightly softer tones, a few decibels louder than what could be defined as a whisper.

“Since the wall fell, things are different. At first, with all the sudden consumerism, I thought I would have more records.......but no. The interest in the party’s music is very low so I am moving to other markets that understand the value of socialist music. I would like to work in North Korea and spread the party’s message through music.”

The Korean was uncertain how to respond. Growing up in communist country, he was without lifetime of training to fight off pushy salesman. He had no preparation, no stock excuses and prepared rejections, for such outrageous requests. He built no immunities, like the boy raised in the bubble suddenly ejected into the environment.

He hemmed and hawed.

“Well, I’m not sure if this is the right musical demographic.”

“Oh but it is!” Augustus protested “Nowhere else understands. Cuba still holds our values but Cuban music is a force of its own. It overpowers the party message.”

“Well what about China?”

“Already infected by Western rhythms. Bootlegs and piracy has overtaken the party singers” Augustus shook his head slowly and sadly.

“I’m sorry, but I’m just not certain that North Korean is right for you.”

Augustus held up his finger. A visual queue asking him to hold his speaking. He placed a small cassette recorder on the desk.

“Just listen, I wrote something new.” He said and pressed play. A slow pre-programmed electronic drum beat sputtered from the speaker, followed by a simple keyboard rhythm. It sounded reminiscent of, if not completely plagiarized from, George Harrison’s ‘My Sweet Lord’. Augustus sang:

All I want to do is praise Kim
Ooh Ooh
All I want to do is praise Kim
Ooh Ooh

He clapped his hands twice and then crooned the chorus:

Kim Ill Jong!!
Kim Ill Jong!!

The song ended and Augustus smiled at the Korean. His eyes took on the same begging tone as before.

The Korean did not applaud. He crosses his arms and stared at him. The music was ridiculous. He couldn’t find any entertainment in its artlessness.

Yet, the message was strong. It praised the party and to deny it would be unpatriotic. It would be a failure of the struggle his brother and sisters, his comrades.

To his surprise he found himself saying “I will approve the visa application for your tour right now.”

Later that day, he wondered if East Germany had used the same subliminal suggestion teachings in their propaganda.

No comments:

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Licence.