Monday, January 31, 2011

Greg Kim Not Greg Kihn

Besides being an object of curiosity in the Korean community because of my last name, and burdened with a face that cries, “You look just like…,” I also share a very similar first and last name to the 80s popster Greg Kihn. It didn’t help that we both lived in the Bay Area.

In high school, people would acknowledge the similarities by simply stating the fact: “Greg Kihn” or sometimes “Rock Kihn Roll” or even “Kihnspiracy” -- the last 2 being records by Greg Kihn. Even though I always knew their intent, my response would disappoint them: “Yeah, Greg Kihn,” said with the most blasé look I could muster. They were hoping that they were the first to think of it.

As I got older and older and Greg Kihn went away, the comparisons dried up. But in the 2000s Greg Kihn made a comeback as a local DJ and once again, any time somebody learned my name or something required me to show I.D., I got “Greg Kihn!” Luckily most of the name callers forgot the names of his records.

However, a few weren’t simply stating facts, some thought I was actually him. Innocuous statements were turning into questions: “Are you Greg Kihn?” I didn’t like it one bit. Mostly my vanity had a problem with the age difference between us. Wasn’t it obvious I was way too young to be Greg Kihn? Or was the age gap closing as I got older?

A few months ago I brought in two crappy guitars to a local guitar shop to get fixed (set up). The shop had been around forever and was owned by a guy named Skinny Cat, a semi famous local hippie. I usually went there because it was cheap and you didn’t have to deal with the pro rock guitar snobs of the vintage shops. Skinny Cat sold shitty Japanese and put-together guitars for a good price. He was a big hippie and his staff moved at a hippie snail pace, but it was still better than the rock dicks.

While Skinny Cat helped a customer, I looked at the 100s of unique guitars on the wall. Two Jamaicans had set up shop in the corner, one playing a 5 string bass and the other playing a beat on the body of an acoustic guitar. Their eyes were closed as they “jammed.” It made me uncomfortable.

Skinny Cat gabbed on and on while I tried to look knowledgeable, moving from one side of the crowded, small shop to the other, flipping through the hanging guitars like shirts on a rack.

Finally, the customer left, not before mentioning Rush 3 times. The pro rock guys were starting to look a lot better.

I gave Skinny Cat my guitars and explained what was wrong with them. He took out a small notebook and asked me my name and phone number: “Greg Kim?” I knew where this was going. Even though I pronounced my name correctly, emphasizing the “m” in Kim, he repeated, “Greg Kihn?” I let him go with it and the trip down memory lane began.

He talked about the clubs “I” played in Berkeley in the late 70s and Beserkeley Records, the label that “I” was on. I kind of knew what he was talking about – my sister had been around back then - so I tried pandering: “I really liked the first Pearl Harbor and the Explosions record. You know, she was married to Paul Simonon of the Clash.” He quickly corrected me: “They weren’t on Beserkeley, they were on 415.” I gave up.

Besides the age difference (which I’m harping on), there were the guitars - the crappy guitars I brought in. Even though Greg Kihn’s last record was probably 20 years ago, I’m sure he had many vintage Fender guitars that he called Darla, Maggie or Aretha:

“Aretha’s not feeling well today,” Skinny Cat. “Treat her kindly, ok?”

Wasn’t it obvious?

Before edging out the door, I asked:

“So, what’s the significance of 36? Why is 36 your favorite number?” When he was helping the RUSH guy, he told him that 36 was his favorite number. This caught my attention.

Expecting 36 to be the age of his wife when they met or the year his dad was born, I got something different: “1936 is my favorite year for music and my favorite year for cars. I have a ’36 Olds out front,” he said with no irony.

In front of the store was a ’36 Oldsmobile with a personalized license plate that said 36. The car was hand painted head-to-toe in puffy clouds and blue skies. “Smoke Weed” was written in spray-paint on the passenger side door.

You get what you pay for.

(Image: Greg Kihn, Next of Kihn)

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