Love by Ondol’s Light


Awwww. Burning charcoal makes him wistful.

Back in the day when serving in Korea the wife and I had to move out of one house heated by an ondol system, a series of heated pipes that run under the floors of a residence, due to carbon monoxide leaks. By regulations, U.S. service members living off the base were required to live in homes that had been upgraded to use heated water pipes in the floor instead of the more dangerous hot air systems that were notorious for leaking poison gas. One morning shortly after moving into our new apartment the wife and I woke up each of us with pounding headaches and nausea. After our IQ’s returned to normal we decided “We’re outta here.” We discovered the landlord had lied about what heating system he had installed, being greedy for rent money. We were lucky we woke up at all.

The ondol heating systems may be behind the Korean urban myth of “fan death” that remains a concern primarily through fear-mongering by the media. In the public panic over illness or death that may have been caused by carbon monoxide poisoning it was often blamed on fans “stealing the air” or dehydrating sleepers. Most fans, even those sold today, have a timer that shuts the device off not to save electricity but to prevent death. That a fan is in the room of a person allegedly affected by a “fan death” is incidental. The fan death myth is persistent and even the skeptical blame it on dehydration and suffocation using rather shaky science to support their beliefs. But more than likely fans are blamed because one happens to be present in the room of the elderly or ill. more likely explanation that death through natural causes or carbon monoxide is ignored in favor of the scary idea that death can strike anyone, anywhere caused by nothing more than a gentle breeze.

The remote possibility may be that if a fan was involved in a death or illness at all it could have been from disturbing carbon monoxide gas that had settled under the floors from leaking heating pipes. It is possible the gas may have been disturbed by moving air from a fan that caused it to swirl and rise up through the floor to the level of a sleeping person who, in traditional Korean homes slept on mats on the floor, could then have then been in direct contact with the gas. Any “fan death” reports that had a basis in fact would probably have come from the passing of elderly residents in older style homes heated by older ondol. It is unlikely the one or two deaths per year attributed to “fan death” occur in modern homes with safer heating systems and are probably due to natural causes.

The Record Bar

Decades ago when people wanted to browse, listen to and purchase music they had to leave the comfort of their home and journey miles away to a large department or specialty store to do so. One of the ploys used by stores to entice shoppers was naming the departments creatively. In some instances the music section was called the Record Bar (a practice that existed prior to the store of the same name). It was a way of differentiating the music department from the staid sections of necessities like shoes and clothing and implied luxury and fun. Hanging a sign that just read “Music Department” was too boring even though over the years stores have returned such naming simplicity even if made in flashing lights or neon. Calling a corner of a department store containing alphabetized shelves of long playing records a “Record Bar” promises fun, excitement and possibly illicit nightclub acts.

Other than branding a department in exciting ways what most promoted sales of LP’s is the usually fascinating and sometimes lurid cover art. The 1950s and 1960s were famous for their cover disconnects, where the artists cleverly relied on sexual imagery to boost sales of polka or lounge music. The greatest disparity in using sex to sell LP’s occurs in those categories of music that one doesn’t normally associate with fun times and parties such as highway motel lounge ensembles, nightclub musicians and organ soloists.

While enough people went out to such places to justify employing them for a few decades no one really wanted to buy their music and take it home with them. Drinking a highball after a hard day of selling reverse-threaded screws to gas stations while decompressing in the orange and aqua booth of a Howard Johnsons doesn’t usually make one wistful for the musical stylings of the guy at the piano that has a mop and bucket in view leaning against the turquoise burlap-covered wall behind him. Those purchases were typically reserved for the headline and more heavily promoted and polished acts that were marketed at the national level. So when browsing the aisles of the Record Bar the tired serf of the Camelot lifestyle had to be promised wild parties and lewd play times by way of a woman with large breasts who worships the man who plays the organ at the local park pavilion on alternating Saturdays.

Gilligan at Retrospace (from whom I ganked a few images) exhaustively details the practice of using sex to sell music and other products. Click the link to check out his entry on Cheesecake Album Covers. He hosts many fine examples and even more links to consumer-baiting LP covers.

The following cartoon by Art Lutner from Bachelor #2 (1961) is a good example of the logical progression of the use of sexual imagery to sell records and would have rung true with most readers of the era.

While Lutner was making a comical statement about using sex to sell children’s LP’s he wasn’t far off from reality. Quite often advertising for children’s products is aimed at the adult who holds the money and has little to do with the content of the purchase.