Monsters Calling Home: Finally! A Band That I Can Rock Out To That Looks Like Me

For the first time in my life I can rock out to a band… that looks like me. Why does the color of one’s skin matter when it comes to music you ask? Because music is written and performed from a soul. When I’m listening to U2, somehow I’m Irish. If it’s indie rock, somehow my jeans feel tighter and I’m from Brooklyn (or Portland). If its gospel or soul, I’m swaying to my African-American brothers and sisters rhythm and culture. But truth be told, most of the music I listen to is… white. I relate to it, to a certain extent.

But this… Oh my.

This is rockin.

And it’s home-grown. And it’s my people. My skin. My issues, my voice, my song, my heart. Lead singer of Monsters Calling Home Alex Hwang told the Huffington Post that it was his Korean-American immigrant parents that inspired the band name;

his bandmates’ parents emigrated from Korea, a move that inspired the West Coast band’s name. Not quite American, and no longer Korean, their parents are “monsters trying to figure out where they call home.”

This aint no Gangnam style folks.

This is American indie rock. And it is thoroughly Korean-American. Not only that, but it appears they share my ethnic faith heritage as well; as I see them praying at concerts and clearly have a spirituality embedded into their lyrics:

He painted with a dark stroke, dirty on the canvas
Creation was holy but we chose against it
The devil knows he’s evil no need to proclaim
It’s the choices we make that bring glory to his name

and on their website:

We are Monsters Calling Home, a group of young Korean folk living in Los Angeles. Deeply into music and our maker, we hope to put on honest and heartfelt performances wherever we are asked.

But for me, what’s most powerful is that these are a group of Korean kids from L.A. hitting the American mainstream, bringing OUR issues, OUR struggles, OUR heartfelt experiences as immigrants, OUR spirituality, OUR collective soul to the fore of American culture. It’s significant. Because it’s not a group of Asians trying to be white, nor is it the single token Asian dude playing bass or something. It’s honest, it’s ours, and it’s reaching everybody.

Their debut on Jimmy Kimmel live is pretty sweet; check it out – it’s an awesome way to make a national debut:

What Can Korean-Americans Do About Human Rights Issues in North Korea?

Shin Dong-hyuk is a 29-year old Korean male making the activist rounds across the world. His message: raising awareness about North Korean gulags. His edge? He was born into one. And lived there his entire life – until he escaped in 2005 – a lifetime in a North Korean prison.

I first heard this story on NPR, in an interview with Blaine Harden, co-author of Shin’s memoirs, Escape From Camp 14. It was heart-wrenching to listen to. From that brief excerpt I got the general arc of the story; from the beginnings of his life in the camp, the constant, non-stop hunger that saw his mother as competition for food, the culture of snitching that led to Shin tipping off the authorities that would lead to his mother and brother’s executions – right in front of him… to his fateful encounter with the political dissident that introduced him to a larger world outside of the camp – a world that was round, not flat; a world that didn’t reward snitching and punish your relatives to the third generation; a world of cooked food and roasted meats – that would drive Shin to do the unthinkable – escape. He was driven by his stomach.

So it came to me as a surprise when, after a few days of hearing this broadcast, I received a package in the mail addressed to me at the (Korean-American) church where I serve as senior pastor of the English-speaking congregation. I opened it and found a hardcover copy of the book sent to me directly from Penguin publishing group:

Now, other than read it, what did Penguin expect me to do with the book personally, in response to what I would be reading here? Just because I am a distant cousin to less-than-fortunate North Koreans, a Korean-American community leader, no doubt discovered via google or directory search, what could I possibly do effectively about North Korean gulag-prison camps?

I read the book.

and in the end I have my opinions – not about the book itself, which was finely reported – but about the state of North Korea and its human rights abuses. Their blood is my blood, and I reflect on those things here. But do tell me if you can – what can we – Korean-American churchgoers – possibly do to address, curtail human-rights issues in North Korea?