Minstrel of love wanders north, still needs ride to Dawson

To simply listen Kenny J Kim strum and sing AM gold hits on the street corner would miss most of the experience.

To simply listen Kenny J Kim strum and sing AM gold hits on the street corner would miss most of the experience.

The street balladeer, a self-described professional busker, is not easy to listen to.

Stealing glances as they passed by, people refused to stop and listen as Kim belted out The Beatles’ Hey Jude yesterday afternoon.

They don’t know how to take the gyrating gypsy.

He’s plugged into something weird and fantastic, despite playing a taped-up battered acoustic guitar.

A strange vibe blanketed the street corner, and a local hotdog vendor looked uncomfortable as he watched this loud, flailing South Korean do his thing.

“He writes his own lyrics, eh?” says a woman, trying to continue a conversation over the music.

Kim has spent five days in Whitehorse, having busked all the way from Victoria, with stops in Kelowna, Kamloops and Fort St. John.

He’s leaves for Dawson on Monday. He has yet to find a ride.

If you’re heading that way and can offer one, just follow Kim’s hits to street corner downtown.

Make sure to stop and listen, but to really understand the Kenny J Kim experience one must talk to him during a set break.

That’s when music and man collide into a coherent idea.

A “Heart out power soul singer,” according to his pamphlet, Kim is all about love.

Unconditional love, love of mankind and of Jesus Christ.

“I have no fear,” he says during the break.

“If someone loves somebody, as long he truly loves, there’s no fear.”

He just wants to sing and bring a bit of joy into routine lives.

“People rush, rush, rush — they don’t smile enough,” says Kim, 45.

A loud, unconventional singer, Kim brings a physical element to his performance usually reserved for Sloan concerts or seizures.

But he’s not looking for money or handouts, just a ride and a small audience.

Twenty-one people have helped drive him along his journey since he left Victoria in May.

He is staying at the Salvation Army while in Whitehorse because the long road trip has worn him down and he needs to conserve energy for busking.

On a hot Wednesday afternoon, Kim is wearing a tweed cap, hiking boots, plain navy sweater and a vest and jeans covered in patches.

He doesn’t just stand in one spot when singing, but twirls and struts, raising his guitar and bending down close to the ground as he rips the strings.

And he doesn’t even break a sweat.

“It’s my job,” he says.

“I’m not passing time; I’m not showing off what I can do.

“I’m showing unconditional love for the creator of mankind.”

A man of strong faith, Kim injects gospel songs into his standard hits from Neil Young, Bob Dylan and The Eagles, his own songs and Korean pop and folk hits.

He learned guitar in South Korea from his brother, who, at first, was reluctant to teach him.

“He was afraid I’d become a gypsy musician,” says Kim.

“He wanted me to study.”

Kim learned songs from friends overseas and in Vancouver and Victoria.

He quit his job as a cook at the Salvation Army in Victoria and moved to the streets.

When he’s home, his home is a Victoria visitors’ information centre doorway.

A Canadian friend gave Kim the well-worn guitar he still schleps along the highway.

One of his 350 songs is dedicated to his temporary homes, changing the subject to fit whichever city he finds himself in at the moment.

Kim appreciates Vancouver and Whitehorse and every place in between.

“How beautiful and sexy you are, Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada,” he sings.

“That’s my gift to you,” he says, bowing.

His performances aren’t always appreciated.

RCMP have been called to stop his one-man show.

“Sometimes I’m too loud,” says Kim.

“I say sorry, and then I leave.”

Victoria has warmed up to his tunes, to a point where a group of youth established underground mayoral campaign for Kim.

He had to decline, citing lack of political experience.

Kim moved from South Korea to Canada 10 years ago.

His brother owned a business where Kim worked for several years.

“I owe Canada lots of love,” says Kim.

As gratitude, he sings O Canada twice a day.

The anthem is his favourite song.

He became a Canadian citizen in 2003, around the same time he felt adrift in an unfamiliar society.

“I was totally lost,” he says.

“I’m in Canada from another country. There was a language barrier, a culture barrier. I was isolated. I left everything behind (in South Korea).”

A friend started driving him to and from church, where his faith grew into the life-affirming beliefs he spreads on the streets.

On his way north, Kim spend many hours on the edge of highways waiting for a ride.

He sings and dances alone, confusing the drivers who pass him by.

But Kim plays to a crowd.

Bears have wandered out from the bush into the ditch while Kim played.

“They might have liked it — I swear they made eye contact,” says Kim.

You can find Kenny J Kim online at www.youtube.com/kennyjkim or www.myspace.com/kennyjkim.