Friday, September 14, 2007

Music Lesson #14

The first song I'd written in English is called "Louelle."

Well not really the first. That would be a little ditty titled "One Way" (about an unreciprocated romance, of course) I wrote when I was in the sixth grade. I sang it to my sister in the Adam Sandler's retardo-meets-Barry Gibb voice I thought appropriate for it and she of course laughed at my face. Convinced I had no talent for songwriting, I did not write a song again until years later. Great at rebounding from failure and embarrassment I am.

"Louelle", written when I was 17, was inspired by a friend I met at the Philippine Collegian where I spent my most formative years in college. Lou was my editor, a very cool individual and one of my favorite people in the world. If life were, say, a very long stretch of highway and the people you've met are just roadsigns whizzing past you, she would be a nice little rest stop with a park bench and a pond with ducks and a decent washroom with airconditioning. Or something. (Ed.'s note: psst ... don't worry Lou they don't know you're the Lou I'm talking about.)

Anyway, Lou is great at editing works in English since she grew up in the States and English was her first language. Sometimes the guys would try to get her to speak Filipino just so we can snicker at her accent. It's like that movie where Redford White, as a flying superhero of some sort, runs into Superman. White asks "Superman saan ka papunta?" and Superman replies "Poonta akow sa Olongapow kuha akow ng chicks." Also, the fact that Lou had a firm grasp of American idioms came in handy, as in the following real life exchange I've not forgotten for some reason:

L: How's that girl ________(forgot her name)?
Me: Same old slut, probably doing tricks in some back alley.
L: You mean "turning" tricks. Magicians "do" tricks.
Me: (Spacing out, imagining her pulling a pigeon out of a hat)

Now one more thing about Lou also is that she's a very private person who likes to keep to herself so if she's reading this she either a) wants to kill me or b) wants to have me killed to save her the trouble. But this being in the name of Art (my neighbor Art, a serial issuer of bouncing checks), I am sure she will indulge me.


Last night I thought that I was dying
No change to feed the telephone
I had no money for a taxi
And you know how the night leaves you alone, so alone.

Read: When you're 17 and listening to a lot of Smashing Pumpkins, that's the kind of garbage you're likely to write. And also when I'm sad I like to rock back and forth in the fetal position mumbling "alone... so alone..." The telephone part is dated since nobody uses coin operated payphones anymore. The kids wouldn't be "hip" to it as we used to say in the sixties.

I thought we might bump into each other
Like we had so many nights before
Nothing short of unexpected
And then you'd buy me coffee and walk me home.

Read: Other than the Pumpkins, I'd also been listening to a lot of Lemonheads. I play Evan Dando to Lou's Juliana Hatfield in my own version of the song Drug Buddy.


Our friends look so happy
But they all seem to fake it,
We're so melancholy
I wonder how we make it

I wonder how we make it

Read: In real life our mutual friends from the Collegian weren't happy sorts at all, most of them were a bunch of barely sufferable misanthropes. Melancholy, as I know now, is a noun. But I couldn't change it to "melancholic" as it makes the line sound awkward (the "c" at the end halts the rhythm) . Poetic license.


Oh Louelle, won't you come and save me
Louelle, won't you come and save me.

Read: Just so nobody gets any wrong ideas, Lou was never in the business of saving people nor has she ever made any representation to that effect. This was written in the mid 90s, at the tail end of the "grunge" movement when it was fashionable for a hard-rocking man to sing about his helplessness and vulnerability. Now they call it Emo but that ain't no hard-rocking "man" crying in front of you.

Sometimes I think we should get married
But you don't believe in shit like that.
Do you think we might be quite contented
Someday when we're rich and ordinary?

Read: Heeding the song's rich advice, we got married. Not to each other, no (she now lives in an island far away). And I never really asked her in our conversations about her thoughts on marriage so that second line was made up (as are all the "facts" in this blog suckah!). Now the last two lines of the verse just shows to you how obnoxious a 17 year-old UP student can be when talking about his future prospects. I'm pushing 30, I work my ass of and I'm still not rich. And the country is so mired in grinding poverty there's nothing ordinary about being rich.

(Repeat Refrain)
(Repeat Chorus)

And that's that. The song never made it big with my "fans" (mostly because there's no recording of it and they hadn't heard it yet even live). And also because I have no "fans".

But, as Akon would say, it don't matter no. As long as I remember the song I have a piece of the past with me everywhere I go, the melody piping out of the elegant speakers in that marble tiled washroom in my mind.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Music Lesson #13

Sometimes that box of songs in your head can be unlocked by standing dead center in the crap of the world.

Today is the promulgation of judgment for the Joseph Estrada plunder and perjury cases at the Sandiganbayan. Joseph Estrada, for our non-Filipino readers, was the former Philippine president who resigned after being pressured to do so by a bunch of people assembled for days in front of a shopping mall. Yeah I was there too. Now a nigga like me, just like Tupac, just don't give a fuck.

So anyway I had to get up real early to go to court. My plates end with six so, it being a Wednesday, I couldn't use my car. I was trying to get a cab out of Commonwealth Avenue but no cabs would come on account of the protestors marching (more like riding in jeepneys strewn with FREE ERAP banners) to the Sandiganbayan - just a kilometer away from where I was. So, for the first time in years, I had to take a jeepney, which wouldn't have been a big deal if I weren't in dress shoes, tailored pants and barong, and lugging a heavy briefcase.

An hour later, my business finished, I decided to get back to Commonwealth Avenue to where I left my car. Again, because of the FREE ERAP protestors blocking the right half of the road, the jeepney dropped me off at the center island of Commonwealth (dubbed the most dangerous road in the world due to the extremely high motor vehicle related death toll). The driver just told me to cross to the other side. For those in the United States, crossing Commonwealth is like crossing the Los Angeles freeway. Knowing that crossing from the center island would mean certain death, I had to cross back to the other side of the road so I can use the pedestrian bridge. The traffic there wasn't moving much, just a bunch of trucks lurching and horns blowing. I had to hit them with my umbrella as I crossed, in a sort of Ratso Rizzo (from Midnight Cowboy) "I'm walking here!" gesture.

Then I had to walk a great distance through a public market and a tricycle terminal. Again, in dress shoes at ten thirty in the morning. As I was walking I wrote this song.

I've always wanted to write a song called "Larong Mama" (Man Games, my personal translation) ever since I heard the phrase from Carljoe our bassist, but the words wouldn't come to me. The song was to be the third in my gangsta trilogy (the two other being Caloocan and Animal). So there I was, walking across one of those long pedestrian bridge traversing Commonwealth, face caked with dust and exhaust particles and sweat, brow furrowed, muttering these words:

Larong Mama

Ang utak ko’y kamao
Palutang-lutang sa delubyo
Di alam san nanggaling
Di alam kung sa’n patungo

Pagdating sa dulo
Pag ang buhay mo’y natapos
Tumingin ka sa akin
Bibigyan kitang panggastos

Sa impyerno
Wala na sakin yan
Pitong taon sa city jail
Nagpalaki lang ’ko ng tyan

Wala kang laban
Pagkat ako ang dalubhasa

Pagtapos ko magtong-it
Ay derecho na sa casa


Wag mong isiping tabla tayo
Baka paluin ka sa ulo
Wag mong tawagin akong gago
Kakabitan kita ng gripo

Larong mama
Larong mama
Ayoko ng larong bata (2x)

Basketbol sa kalye
Laro ko’y bigay todo
Tawag nila sa akin ay
Kobe Asaytono

May bumangga sa akin
Napikon daw sa balyahan
Kinuha ko ang icepick
Leeg niya ay binutasan

Sabay takbo
Iniwan kong dumudugo

Tinapon ko ang ebidensya
At doon ako sumuko

Ng itapon sa kulungan

Kung gusto nyo kong bisitahin


tayo mag-inuman


Wag mong isiping tabla tayo
Baka paluin ka sa ulo
Wag mong tawagin akong gago
Kakabitan kita ng gripo

Larong mama
Larong mama
Ayoko ng larong bata (2x)

There. A new song for Los Chupacabras, the ass-kickingest band in these Islands. By the way, Erap was found guilty of plunder and acquitted of perjury. I am watching the news coverage from a small canteen near Commonwealth, admiring the neatly pressed shirts and the clean faces of the lawyers being interviewed by Korina Sanchez. I am sipping an iced tea watching the wheels, changing my sweaty undershirt, getting ready to get back, as they say in Vietnam movies, into the shit.

Music Lesson #12

Be careful when writing songs with pop culture references as they tend to get dated.

I was starting my second year of college when I learned that the pop star Joleena had enrolled in UP's theater program. You wouldn't believe it now but she used to be hugely famous, the country's desexualized pop princess answer to Britney Spears. And she went to my school which I thought was pretty cool.

I was once walking across the Palma Hall lobby, briskly, just trying to get from one end to another, when I saw her. I didn't see her face, just a head of hair as orange as a sunset, bobbing up and down, weaving through the crowd. I wasn't even sure it was her, but I was compelled to follow her, keeping a distance of a few meters. Keeping tabs in the notebook in my head, like a private eye.

9:12 - Entered classroom.
9:20 - Went to the ladies.
10:34 - Summoned doll army to do her bidding.
11:00 - Inspired by rainbows, designed clothes/ released Joleena line of
prescription pharmaceuticals.
12:00 - Had lunch (duck l'orange, java rice, Royal Tru-Orange)
1:50 - Auditioned for production of Verdi's La Traviata.
3:00 - (Three o'clock habit)
3:10 - Summoned doll army to do her bidding.

And so on. She was a busy lady.

I knew what I was doing was unhealthy. But I was just a normal, run of the mill starstruck guy. I wasn't a stalker or a deranged fan. I didn't send her love/ransom notes made of pieced-together magazine clippings. Neither did I prop up a naked Joleena doll in my room and draw a pentagram around it. I should have, maybe, but I didn't. Nor did I write poems or songs about her hoping that she'd someday hear them and be impressed by my admiration.

Like this one:


In your blue baby tees,
You're a tight little tease
How'd you get so pretty
Is it rhinoplasty

That orange streak
In your long black hair
Weren't you blonde last week?
Noone cares like I care


We could be dating
You could be my girl
We could be married
You could be my world


Outside the studio
Where you shoot your latest sitcom
With my boots and my revolver
I'm in no condition to

Follow you home
To Valle Verde Five
Sleep outside your door
You keep me alive

We could be dating
You could be my girl
I could be your leading man
I'm your number one fan

Joleena (4x)
I'm your number one fan.

Later my heart broke (like a heart-shaped twig) when she moved to another school and rubbed it in my face by doing a commercial for said school with Joe D'Orange or whatever fruit-based name that guy had. I had no choice but to move on.

Years passed and I saw her again on TV. Her pop princess aura had all but gone. She was now some kind of announcer-princess for a faux interview show on the government network "showcasing" (their word, not mine) the achievements of the administration. Memories came rushing back (not of her, other non-Joleena memories).

Sometimes when I see someone, or thing, with orange hair, I'm tempted to give her, or it, a light tap on the shoulder as if to say "I have not forgotten the past!" And then I awake and my entire life has all been a beautiful dream.

Music Lesson #11

I wrote the song "Ambing" ten years ago in the boarding house of a couple of friends within the confines of UP Diliman where I was studying Economics. The place was a preferred drinking place since you can pretty much do anything in it and it was cheaper to buy beer from a store than to buy drinks at Gulod or Sarah's. Anyway, the song was inspired by their hardluck tales about a friend of theirs called ________ who had been treated shabbily in her relationships with men (boys, actually, since we were still in our teens).

At that time I was in a performance poetry group called Freakshow. Freakshow performed at art galleries, shopping malls, the Cultural Center of the Philippines (as Gatula Performance Poetry), etc. My first performance involved me in a hospital gown in the middle of Glorietta shopping mall with a bedpan smeared with peanut butter that looks a lot like human feces. In a booming voice reminiscent of great poets such as Dylan Thomas, I recited a poem I'd written while appearing to eat the feces from the bottom of the bedpan. Needless to say it freaked out a lot of people at the mall and sent the genteel poet-types in the audience in a rage. One poet from our group once gave a reading of his poem at Balay Kalinaw while pretending to beat up a friend (who had been afflicted with polio) with his own cane-thingamajig. You will be pleased to know that three Freakshow members are now practicing lawyers, at least two have gone on to teach, one is a physician, and one is the editor in chief of a prestigious magazine.


As the performance poetry thing progressed, I figured I'd move on to being a performance poet-folk singer super-art-hybrid. So I brought my nylon guitar to performances and started singing my songs. The one that got most of a rise from the audience was always Ambing. I made a track of the song with the filmmaker Khavn Dela Cruz but we couldn't have it played on the radio for reasons that will become clear to the reader. Nonetheless, we put it in a CD called Easy EP from where it got ripped and passed along to people and morphed from one format to another until it finally ended up on the internet where it took on a life of its own.

Now the song's quite famous. A friend of mine called me in the middle of the night once to tell me that people have been downloading at Greenhills that same recording I did with Khavn to their cellphones and IPods. And there are several Ambing fan videos on Youtube, one of which, with two guys lipsynching the song, has almost 20,000 views. I've heard people on the street singing the song and it makes me real proud to know that I brought that little ditty out into the world. They don't know who Easy is (some think it's the name of a band I guess) but that's cool.

To demonstrate how famous the song is I have copied and pasted these lyrics from one of the few lyrics/tablature sites featuring Ambing.


Verse 1
Naaalala ko pa nung tayo pang dalwa,
sine lang ay ok ka na.
Pero ngayong kolehiyala ka na,
mas trip mong magtoma.
Ewan ko kung pano ka na barkada,
sa mga walang kwenta.

Sa payo ko ay makinig ka, kilala ko sila,
Wag kang, sasama, kakantutin ka lang nila.
Wag kang, maniwala, kakantutin ka lang nila.

Verse 2:
Wag mong isiping di mapapansin,
ang iksi ng iyong palda,
ang kyut kyut mo, pero ang dami-daming
make-up sa iyong mukha.
'Sang kahang yosi, 'sang bote ng beer,
maya-maya ay senglot ka na,

Sa payo ko ay makinig ka, kilala ko sila,
Wag kang sasama, kakantutin ka lang nila.
Wag kang maniwala, kakantutin ka lang nila.

Ngayon tatawag ka, ginago ka nila,
Wag kang mag-alala, reresbakan ko sila.

Aww, yeah!

Wag kang sasama kakantutin ka lang nila.
Wag kang maniwala kakastahin ka lang nila.
Wag kang paumaga kakantutin lang nila.
Wag mong paubaya kakangkangin ka lang nila.
Kakantutin ka lang nila...

If that song (and not my poetry, performance art, or my band Los Chupacabras) will be the one thing I'm remembered for... well, I hope I'm remembered for other stuff also.