Cue the Pinay sing-along...
Mr DJ, can I make a request?
Puwede ba 'yung love song ko?
Mr DJ, para sa 'kin ito
Sana ay okay sa iyo
Hihintayin ko na patugtugin mo
Thank you ulit sa iyo
Kahit luma na ang aming awit
Nais po ring marinig
[PIC: My dreamy mirror-stage view from the balcony of our rental in Makati]
Kahit man lang sa aking alaala
ay makasama ko siya
Nasaan man siya
mayro'n mang iba ito'y para sa kaniya
At sana'y nakikinig siya naaalala kaya niya?
Ang love song namin noon na niluma na ng panahon
Mr DJ, salamat sa iyo sumasabay din ako
sa love song namin noon na niluma na ng panahon...
That voice, ladies and gentiles, belongs to none other than the Philippines' reigning grande dame of cinematic love teams and saccharine song-stylings, Sharon Cuneta. In "Mr. DJ," Sharon's 12-year old croon sounds mature for its age, but still endearingly coltish. "Mr. DJ" was her breakout hit way back in 1978, the same year my mom and I first left the Philippines to move to the States. I was 5. Sharon Cuneta was my first unrequited crush. How could a budding lesbeaux not fall in love with her or this song ?!? She asks Mr. DJ (quite politely, peppering her refrain with lots of "thank you's" and apologies) to play her favorite love song just in case her dear heart will hear it and remember their time together, even though her beloved is with someone else and the song itself is old. [RIGHT: Sharon retro tee at the Mall of Asia, Pasay City. The largest mall in--you guessed it--Asia. Oh were I small enough to fit in the petite Pinay sizes!]
Like the pubescent girl singing sweetly to Mr. DJ instead of directly to her lover (gotta appreciate the Catholic mediation), I felt both sentimental and hopeful when I got to Manila. Hopeful that I'd hear, smell and taste the things I knew, while sounding, smelling and feeling familiar enough to my luma ("old") love.
Ang love song namin noon na niluma na ng panahon
(Roughly: The love song that was ours back then, that now ages with the passing days...)
[ABOVE LEFT: Reunion at the Iloilo airport with Tita Mellie, my 75-year old great aunt (grandma's sis), and Bibing, who is technically my aunt but more like a big sis in our extended-fam "compound" in San Antonio Village, Pasig, Metro Manila. RIGHT: Onas family portrait. The baby on the dashing gent's knee is my grandma, Linda Onas Katindig; the girl in the pink dress is Tita Mellie Onas Morales; the adults are my great grandparents...Lola Salud Penuela Onas in the carefree years before WWII.]
The strange thing about it is that Mr. DJ, or rather the collective DJ's of everyday culture--the cab and Jeepney drivers blasting their radios; the barkers at the beach bars in Bora'; the "Palawan Idol" winner singing "More than Words" & Jobim classics between shifts tending bar at El Nido; the Manila Municipal government who use swanky sound systems to pipe soft rock into Rizal Park (the city's monument to the slain national hero, Jose Rizal)-- all managed to play the old songs that were mine.
Para sa 'kin ito.
This is for me.
Of course I know it wasn't really just for me. But my Balikbayan narcissism and diasporic sentimentality allowed me to experience the everyday soundscapes of Manila, Iloilo, Palawan and Boracay as my own personal audiotopias. (I've been really into reading Josh Kun's book lately).
[MONTAGE: Street scenes from Chinatown and Divisoria; (R) Rizal Park].
Maybe some of that narcissism has to do with the musical legacy, for better or worse, of my mom's side of the family. The Katindig clan are often remembered as the Latin Jazz "innovators" of the Philippines. In the late 1950's my grandpa, Romy Katindig, and his 4 bros lead the Latin charge with their shiny tight suits and wicked mambo king looks. I'll try to scan a picture for a future edition of The I. Emperor.
My mom's bro Boy Katindig is carrying on the family name, I suppose, but in the "smooth jazz" realm. Yes, his name is "Boy," like Boy George--but to all you folks not fluent in Pinoyisms out there, "Boy" is the nickname given to the eldest son in just about every Pinoy fam. Anyway, my mom made a go of it for awhile as a budding popstar in Manila. But regardless of her success, she could never get any respect for being the "girl singer" in the fam and it pisses me off to this day. We've all let some of that baggage go ever since my grandfather died in '89...let's just say the macho music man bullshit is something I have experience with, first hand. Anyway...
The same night I landed in Manila, I had a chance to see my great uncle Eddie (grandpa's older bro) work the vibraphone during his weekly gig at Merk's, one of the last remaining 24/7 jazz clubs in the city. Tito Eddie, otherwise known as Eddie K or "the Filipino Kenny G" for his saxational stylings, has been taking a break from the sax, which as some of you know is my instrument too. He's now revisting the instruments he played back when he was in the band with my grandpa Romy. Here's a glimpse of him vibing it up:
Richard Merk, the owner of the club and an old family friend, is a Dean Martin-inspired playboy and crooner who was once linked to the "icon of Philippine cinema," and "the actress of the people," Nora Aunor. That night at the club, through my San Miguel "Strong Ice" goggles, I was was shocked to see Tito Eddie looking so old. It had been awhile since he stayed with us in the I.E. as part of his ill-fated attempt to immigrate to the states. After a botched marriage of greencard convenience with a "working woman" he hooked up with in L.A., he was deported back to Manila. But I digress....As a gal pal exclaims in the video, "he can still kick it!"
[MONTAGE: (L) Merk and Me after too many Chivases on the rocks; (R) from left to right, Kangagi, Blissie, Merk, Joya, Tito Eddie and yours truly, bloated after platefulls of Bangus belly (Bottom L) Merk giving me and Tito Eddie an Earful. Am I dressed like these dudes, or what?!?]
Most of our time in Manila involved reunions and sentimental surprises scored to pop, jazz and Pinoy indie rock. Seeing the uncles and aunts who I grew up with, and with whom I scampered away from the ghosts supposedly shacked up in the ancient Duhat tree in our carport, made me remember how much I hate the bullshit interactions of the profession and other uptight situations. I mean, my balikbayan journey to Manila had the potential to be as artificial as it gets--all the burdens of family reunion that require manufactured sentiments for the long lost cousin/niece/pet. But as I mentioned in my previous post, it was easier than I could've imagined, and for that, rewardingly complex. It all flowed and me and my original homies--Tito Ogie, Tito Jojo, Tita Bing--picked up where we left off. It was as if nothing had really changed except for our waistlines, hairlines, and in my case, my accent. I've resolved to go back as soon as possible. And not just because of the sexy beaches with polvoron sand. [(R) Puka Beach, Bora] I just want to see them again. Color me emo. I certainly don't plan on waiting another 24 years...
Honestly, I was stumped when the Merk called me out from the crowd during Tito Eddie's show and asked me to tell everyone what I thought had changed in the 24 years since I was last home. I made a crack about "democracy" and everyone, including the senators in the audience catching some "sounds" and gin, laughed. The real answer? Everything and nothing. I know what I'm saying right now sounds eerily similar to the the final scene in the stage production of Dogeaters. But give it up to la Hagedorn for hitting the nail on the head with that one, and for reaping the corniness for all its scrumptious truth. What can I say? I'm a sucker for dramatic symmetry. A child of the corn(y).
[(R) Building a mystery...strolling through the garrisons at Intramuros, the original walled city that was Manila during the Spanish Occupation]
Again, all of these feelings require more than words. (OK, lame song title riff, but it's my blog and as far as I know, no one really reads it). I'll let the pictures paint a thousand words...The reason I know all the lyrics to "Feelings," and Bread's "If"?
Ako'y isang Pinoy!
Rollin' deep in the heart of the I.E. through the gnarled concrete arteries of 60+10+91 east to neon sunsets and Naugles, Taco Tia, the Mad/Friendly/Happy or Lucky Greek,The Menagerie, Spanky's, Butch's Grinders, The Denny's Cocktail Lounge at Hardman Center (in pace requiescat). We spell Paris P-E-R-R-I-S, bitches!