Speaking the song

(On my playlist while writing: Fuseboxx’s Animated album.)

Last night, I visited two music places.
The first was the Wombworks studio, where producer Pat Tirano and I had a brief but somewhat wide-ranging discussion on things musical. A lot of what we discussed is off the record, of course, but suffice to say that I did learn that the frightfully short list of the Chapman stick’s users, past or present, in this country, included someone from one of the best heavy metal bands in town. He sold his Stick, unfortunately, or he would have caught on to what Abby Clutario was doing.

On that note, I went over to Freedom Bar just fifteen minutes before the show actually started. Abby and the Fuseboxx people played second that night, the first act being a singer-songwriter from Leyte whose work reminded me a bit of the early work of Davaoeno musician Joey Ayala. Tonight was one of their better performances, and the equipment really helped this time. For the first time, listeners could clearly hear the Chapman stick, whose seeming inaudibility was a frequent concern for some at live gigs. The amps helped, claims Abby.

I interviewed her and a number of people that night for a story I am doing on the Admit One production. For the first time, I was there at the end. But it dawned on me that I had been preparing for this for sixteen years now. It became clear that when Dicta License performed, closing the night, it was a Shirley Beans quasi-reunion. This was a band which lasted only a few years but whose legacy is pretty remarkable. “You don’t control the music,” Pat told me last night, “the music takes you.” And the music took my friends from high school in all sorts of directions. (Ciudad, the other rock band from my batch, lasted far longer intact–they are now 17 years old. Now figure out my age!)

One friend whom I have been persuading to go out and watch rock gigs was exploring the idea of a history of contemporary Philiipine music. I was told this would be an overwhelming task–there are plenty of great musicians outside of Manila. Just last month I saw a group of interesting jazz performers up in Baguio at the last Folk U gig there. Pat and I agree though that more people should be writing about music here. And those who are inclined need to think about a different approach. Perhaps we can revisit Eric Caruncho’s work of telling the stories of music and musicians and take on that task.

After all, if there is anything my background taught me, narrative is the way we make sense of time and the world we live in. I think that while there is room for the silences of wonder, we nevertheless have to speak about music. For as long as our horizons are expanded by our exposure to music around here, there is truly more to tell.



Today is the International Day to End Impunity. When I spoke recently to artist Kiri Dalena, whose very interesting video art installation on the murders of journalists, she told me that impunity happens precisely when governments and elites go unpunished for the violence they commit against others. (Or something like that–will check my recording.) Even so-called democratic regimes can behave with impunity.

Just yesterday, South Africa took a step backward in press freedom. By restricting access to public information–declaring documents secret by government fiat–the ruling African National Congress hopes to suppress evidence that members of the government are engaged in corrupt activities and the media’s capacity to report them. Archbishop Desmond Tutu rightfully likened their move to something straight out of apartheid. The ANC’s retort? At least they were duly elected by a majority.

I am saddened that the party of Nelson Mandela has tasted power and enjoyed it too well. But what saddens me is that the people of South Africa allowed it to happen. For as long as the ANC can deliver, it does not matter whether some of their leaders profit from it. In this sense, South Africans and Filipinos are the same in their tolerance of impunity.

But does that mean we should give up on seeking accountability? By all means no. It matters more than ever in the age of Empire. Most of all, as a person of faith, seeking accountability arises from the necessity of abiding by the truth that sets us free. In that sense, the churches and indeed all people of faith have an obligation to seek accountability and to be accountable themselves.

Because for every Maguindanao massacre or every act passed in Cape Town, there were, or are, bishops concealing child rape by their clergy. (Even the liberal Episcopal Church in the USA is not immune from that–look up the Nevada case.)

Impunity is indeed attributed to governments, but it is also something that characterizes some of the behavior of elites of any sort, economic, social, religious, or political. If that is the case, our silence about this is complicity–especially those of us who are part of the intelligentsia.


Tonight I met someone from last year’s odyssey through the arts world. It was one of the people I remembered for being different, the relative outsider, the one who was responsible for a gallery telling its story to the wider world.

It was in June I think when I met her, and she was then about to take on that job, in that gallery. The first encounter went well, and since then I looked forward to meeting her. Then there was the time I decided to stop my gallery-hopping, a time marked by that sense of ennui (or what we’d call “sawa” in the vernacular) and she moved on.

I was glad to meet her again tonight, at an arts event, and she was with an organization that deserves to be more well-known (though, in this context, I am not too keen on helping it be so). I felt a bit of relief–here was a reminder of what I thought myself to be, the confident relative outsider.

Though what changed was that, like her, I moved on. Or did I?

The event that night focused on children’s book illustration. What came to mind was a face from nearly a decade ago. And of a dream we once had, of working on a children’s book together. And I was back to where I started. Oddly enough, this person had her first group show here.
Now on queue is Everything But The Girl’s “Missing.” I don’t feel the same emotions for her, but that part of my story reminds me that sometimes it is best to go back and appreciate how much has changed for the both of us.

Meters from a mess

It was a mess.

The consequence of unfortunate choices made one fine night. For one, I think it turned out that if I had left earlier as I originally wanted, the possibilities would have turned out different. None of what happened next would have happened.

Yes, this is part of the story, a repeated trope, a refrain.

But there is another part.

It was a mess and I would move on after doing my best to fix it. Or cut clean. Or just leave things as they were and move on.

This particular mess did make some things possible. I gained a new respect for what one of my friends was responsible for creating–a time of fun and learning that focused on what interested a particular geeky set of people. I understood that, though I also succumb to this tendency now and then, irresponsible use of social media is dangerous for relations between people. Most of all, it opened my eyes to a new set of choices.

I chose to start what is turning out to be the most precious of things. It is a friendship with someone where our encounters are infrequent and short but, when these happen, become times to treasure.

I also came to believe that part of my relief lies in music. I chose to engage with music and musicians in a more profound way this year. Last night, at a gig of a rock production due to close a week from now, I admitted to a friend that it seemed “too late” for me. But it is turning out to be different. It is right on time. From where I sit, where sometimes I lack the language to tell some of my stories, there is music around to tell those tales. And maybe I too can help tell these musical stories someday.

I parted ways from a mess.

And I started facing the music.

No regrets.

This post was written not far from Herrera Street. Some of my close friends may know what this street means for me.

Night falls

I am on the bus to the Fort. For reasons that were decided upon at the last minute–actually, while I was at the offices of a media firm–I decided that my itinerary this busy Thursday night would not involve something that I thought I would be watching. I may change my mind about that, though, but the itinerary was for work reasons.

(Incidentally, a pet peeve: at rush hour, the Bonifacio Development Corporation’s bus line charters buses from another company, and their buses are barred from entering McKinley Road. This adds much more time to what would otherwise be an express route, as they pass through EDSA at one of the worst times to be there.)

My first thought is that, obviously, my choice would let certain people down. But I do have to let them know. Secondly, I am continuing to learn one valuable thing–we do have to be accountable for our choices. Maybe I will learn more from tonight than I otherwise would. We will have to justify, and if need be, apologize. It is better to seek forgiveness than to ask for permission.

However, I have no regrets about missing an exhibit opening or two. I wrote in my journal back in Baguio about something I thought about when I was reevaluating my life: “I think that maybe subsisting on cocktails may be bad for my spiritual health.” Especially if these are cocktail parties celebrating artists whose work has been, in my honest opinion, celebrated beyond what is necessary because they made it possible for visual art to lose its ties to the people, and gain closer ties to the unstable and messy market. (There, I said it.)

Down to earth

A week after, I wonder at how quickly I recovered from the “high” I had up there. But I noted some things have started to change–perhaps for the better.

One of these changes was manifest in something that happened last Friday, after hearing a writer-acquaintance talk about her journey toward autonomy–paradoxically toward communion, it turns out. I was leaving the place after a long night where I had dinner with some other acquaintances.

A bit of background: back when I did not know better, I became acquainted with a group of people who were, as it turns out, the kind of people I should not bother hanging with when it came to the arts scene. Not that they were any bit bad, but they were–how do I put it?–uncomfortable to be with as time wore on. There was also an element of the shady, the has-been, but I would rather be generous now.

So I spotted one of them over at the place and he greeted me. Inner groan. Then he asked what I was doing there. (Well I was transfixed by one of the more inspiring young people in Philippine literature, thank you…) I found that question innocent enough, but he wondered why I wasn’t at this exhibit opening of some artist somewhere. And then I snapped. A bit. “Sorry, but I’m not too keen on doing that anymore,” I said. Then he pressed on, telling me about a new show by a mutual acquaintance the day after at some gallery far away. I politely said that I would be elsewhere.

I think one of the big changes is that I am starting, again, to say no. And I’m more aware as to how my choices fit in the big picture. Perhaps I will lose my good name, or rep–I could very well be dubbed a snob for all I care–but it could no longer matter.

And in making my choice, I had a better time last night at a friend’s show–his first–because I was among people who were, it turned out, healthier for my soul.

On life support

The place is very much around. As a sign things have moved on since a series of tumultuous events, a spot once connected with the independent film scene here has now become in part a bodega for Christmas stars. The other shops I last saw are still there, including a book shop whose ties to a part of my 2011 experience ought to be healthily forgotten.

The way I see it, the owner is trying to postpone the inevitable, refusing to sell. But as I was told, some people found the departures, the tumult, a blessing. They were bad for business, the crowds who swarmed the place whenever the fair came to town.

So what is left after the circus has moved on? I hesitate to speculate. But the new watering hole whose food was, until the unfortunate events broke out, small comfort put up a sign. An odd one warning about people who didn’t pay or caused trouble…perhaps the same people who were in the circus. But of course they wouldn’t tell you that.