Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Music Lesson #2

I wrote a song a few years back called "Satan Rules."

I was deep into law school by then and holding a very sensitive government position. I lived in a small studio type along Kalayaan Avenue in Quezon City. It had roaches and I had to walk all the way up 5 flights of stairs to get home since it had no lift. But I loved that old deathtrap. It was cozy and quiet and I pretty much had the entire floor all to myself. Most nights I spent out drinking with friends, always making sure I was drunk enough to sleep soundly when I crash.

One night, as I was about to meet up with the guys at the defunct Inca Cafe, I found myself humming the opening bars of Jimi Hendrix's "Foxy Lady" (which also sounds like Ice-T's "Freedom of Speech"). At that time I was playing semi-regularly by myself at the also defunct Ora Cafe. Just me banging out songs with my trusty Yamaha nylon guitar. I was looking for a bass line I could play while doing spoken word.

I got a pen and paper and it pretty much started writing itself.

"Madilim na pagdating ko sa Ever
Lahat ng katulong d'on friends forever!"

- read: When I was in UP in the late 90s I hung out a lot at Ever Commonwealth, don't ask me why. They had in an arcade in the basement a token-fed videoke machine. Every so often there'd be a line of jolog kids at the machine. They'd play "Gangsta Paradise" over and over and do rap battles over the melody. This was all impromptu of course. I remember watching them, fascinated at all that squandered talent. They had their own gangsta subculture complete with gang colors and tats and flashing gang signs. Now I guess they're full time tricycle drivers.

"May nakasalubong na merchandiser
Pinainom ako ng energizer."

- read: My sister used to work for a company in Makati that supplied promo-girls/boys or "merchandisers" to grocery stores. They're the ones manning those special promotion booths you see in the supermarket. That's where I learned the word. Energizer, of course, is code for amphetamines. Merchandiser is code for, tadaa!, drug dealer. At least in my imaginings.

"Satan Rules
Satan Rules"

- read: To put things straight, this song isn't meant to glorify the lord of lies. I was raised a Catholic and my beliefs were pretty much set when I was young ("do you renounce Satan and all his works?" "Yes!" SLAP!). I have to say though that I never swallowed the idea of the fire and brimstone, pitchfork-toting Satan. I was never afraid of satan or satanic imagery. When I was a kid, my dad read to me and my sister a book of children's stories called "The Devil's Storybook" by Natalie Babbitt. In the book, Satan was always getting the better of human beings, with all their vanities and weaknesses. In the book, Satan totally rules. There's also one story about God and Satan toying with humans. There's a similar story in the Bible in the Book of Job.

The chorus I think was inspired by a horror story I'd read from the Shock Rock anthology called Margr Rules.

"Pagnood ko ng sine may babae
May binubulong wala namang katabi
Tinanong ko kung anong sinasabi
Bigla akong finrench kiss lasang wasabi"

-read: I used to go to the movies alone a lot (still do, actually). Lots of creepy people in moviehouses, especially late at night at cheap places like Ever. Once I was there I felt a cat brush against my legs. I lifted my legs up the seat. Later I found out the cats were meant to kill the huge rats. The imagery is pure horror movie.

"Sa parking lot nagkalat ang mga magsyota
Parang kang nag-check in sa Motel California
May mama na lumapit inalok ako ng pera
Ayaw niya ng lyrics mas mahilig siya sa nota!"

-read: You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave. So goes the Eagles' "Hotel California." Interestingly, Rolling Stone magazine in its 500 Greatest Songs of All Time issue says that while the song was rumored to be about heroin addiction or Satan worship, Don Henley et al. had more prosaic things in mind. "We were all middle-class kids from the Midwest," he said. "Hotel California was our interpretation of the high life in Los Angeles." So it was written by three midwestern kids with wild imaginations about West Coast decadence.

The gay stuff is me joking around about getting propositioned a lot by older gay dudes when I was much younger. Not that I take it against them. It's all good.

"Pag-uwi ko sa bahay, walang imik si kuya
Sumisigaw si Mommy ng Aleluya
Punta ako kay Daddy pahingi ng pang-gimik:
Hetong pang-inom pero boy kiss muna!"

- read: This was my impression of shallow suburbia with religious mum and the bigay hilig dad who lets his son go out and get wasted with friends. Just don't do drugs. Also a not too subtle hint about the dad being an incestuous gay pedophile.

"Madilim pa pagbalik ko sa Ever
Lahat ng katulong d'on friends forever
Pinainom ako ng energizer
At sinakay sa tricycle ni Ghost Rider."

-read: Here the forces of vice and darkness have taken our hero away in their chariot of evil. I had a lot of Ghost Rider, Scarecrow, and Jonah Hex comics when I was a kid. Ghost Rider was particularly scary to me because he sold his soul to the devil. Bottom line: don't do drugs kids.

Satan Rules!

Music Lesson #1

This blog will be about writing music and writing about music.

Today's feature will be a song I wrote many years ago called "Dark Backward," written in our garage on a hot evening, with my friend Ahmed, while studying for our Criminal Law 1 final.

"The Dark Backward" is a 1991 movie of the black comedy genre by Adam Rifkin, a writer-director who also wrote the Disney movie Underdog and will direct the new He-Man movie. The plot of the movie is as follows:

"A man pursues stand-up comedy encouraged by his fellow garbage man. Though his friend, who accompanies him on accordion, continues to tell him how great he is, he actually stinks. When the "comedian" grows a third arm out of his back, the friend uses this twist to get him signed up with a sleazy talent agent, and it begins to look like his career is on the move, even though his girlfriend has left him."

Yes, very strange. I remember seeing it on VHS when I was still a daisy fresh boy in high school, feeling that garbage defile my mind.

And so it goes. The song starts like this:

"Locked inside my room
I am just a ghost of myself
And there's so much to do
Somewhere else."

- Read: Law school is really, really tedious and kills the spirit. I should be out drinking.

"Yellow suburban house
In this warm Manila town
I'd like to see it all
Tumble down."

- Read: A hot night, house next door was yellow. We lived in a gated village. During my Collegian days, as a breather from the drudgery of late night press work, I'd sometimes go down to Sunken Garden from Vinzons Hall, lay on the grass and think, uhm, mind-type thoughts. One of which was this hypothetical: what if the ground near my feet suddenly breaks up with smoke and weird blue lights and out springs Jesus? Then he says, "Come with me my son, come be saved." And there I am in the middle of the night alone, lying on the grass smoking cigarets. I imagine myself totally freaking out and running. Then Jesus chases me around campus on his cloud sled and I'm screaming my lungs out, arms flailing. I always thought that was funny.

"I don't want to go out
I don't want to go out
Dark Backward."

- read: Strange. I thought I did want to go out.

"Take me somewhere else
Take me to a war-torn hell
Nothing, like something,
Happens everywhere."

- The quote "nothing, like something, happens everywhere" comes from an excellent poem by Philip Larkin, whom I read in college hanging out at the Main Library on rainy afternoons. More interesting than Larkin, however, were the graffiti on the tables (anyone who's been there knows this), one of which, an exchange, circa 2000 went like this:

"I like guyz who are nasty in bed"
"Ako nasty nandudura sa mukha pagtapos magsex"

Last stanza:

"Don't matter where we are we're never there
Let's close our eyes and watch the world die
Tinfoil animals, hanging over us,
Thrown matches burning up like shooting stars

Like shooting stars
Like shooting stars
Like shooting stars"

- read: This last stanza was added as an afterthought two months ago. I'm not sure what it means. The tinfoil animal is a reference (pramis!) to the origami bird from one of the end scenes in Bladerunner. But I'm not sure if Edward James Olmos used tinfoil.

Ah, the magic of songwriting. See how easy it is!