Gil Asakawa's Nikkei View | The reluctant guitar hero
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The reluctant guitar hero

funtwo.jpgThe New York Times this morning tracked down the identity of “funtwo,” the musician who has dazzled millions — literally — with his amazing dexterity on electric guitar, captured on a five-minute, 20-second video that is one of the most-watched clips of all time on The mysterious player turns out to be a 23-year-old Korean, Jeong-Hyun Lim.

The performance is a distorted metal rendition of Pachelbel’s Canon, a piece many people are familiar with from hearing it at weddings and as a PBS theme song. It’s a measured, stately Baroque artifact with a terrific melodic hook (the NYT piece properly identifies Pachelbel as a “one-hit-wonder” of his era).

Lim takes the song, using an arrangement worked out by a Taiwanese musician named Jerry Chang (wich Lim learned from Chang’s Web site), and turns it into a sonic poem that erupts into an explosion of notes that would make fretmasters such as Eddie Van Halen or Boston’s To Scholz weak in the knees. Sitting on the edge of his bed, framed by the hazy sunlight from a window behind him, his face all but hidden by a baseball cap but his body language impassive to the turmoil he expresses with his fingers, Lim blazes through scales and bends notes against harmonics to squeeze out a range of sounds from mellow to manic.

Throughout, he returns to Pachelbel’s catchy melody, reminding us that a good song can survuive the centuries — and a lot of new interpretations.

Reporter Virginia Heffernan does a good job of detective work to teach readers about the history and structure of the piece, and the process of tracking down the guitarist, who was identified only as “funtwo” until Heffernan began e-mailing Lim in Korea.

She also does a good job of identifying an Asian cultural value in Lim’s responses to being identified. She writes of Lim (and Jerry Chang, the Taiwanese musician who came up with the rock arrangement for the Canon) that they “exhibit a kind of anti-showmanship that seems distinctly Asian”:
“They often praise other musicians, denigrate their own skills and talk about how much more they have to practice. Sometimes an element of flat-out abjection even enters into this act, as though the chief reason to play guitar is to be excoriated by others. As Mr. Lim said, ‘I am always thinking that I’m not that good player and must improve more than now.'”

Although that’s a sweet sentiment, that kind of self-effacing attitude (which is pretty directly related to the Asian instinct to not stand out, don’t make waves, work hard and get good grades) is partly why Asians are invisible.
It would be cool if Lim had the ego and self-confidence of, say, Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, or Jimmy Page, and were willing to stand on the world stage and accept the spotlight.

Well, he’s young. Maybe the YouTube attention will switch him on and he’ll come out of his Asian shell yet.