Wednesday, March 28, 2012

My Hard-Rocking Days

The 90’s were a crazy time in pop music. As music fans across the globe staggered to their feet from the new wave hangover – where Duran Duran, Tears for Fears, Spandau Ballet and all the colorful bands that emerged came to define the sound, the attitude and the hairstyle of the time – the same music fans who once worshipped them were ready to move on. While new wave was crazy, the grunge era that followed was dark and way more violent.

Nirvana and Metallica epitomize the milieu with their take on drugs and violence while Guns and Roses, and oh yes, the Red Hot Chilli Peppers added an overdose of sex, so what we have then was a deadly musical concoction that was all set to explode. As a footnote to that period, Kurt would shoot himself in the head at the height of his popularity, leaving a young widow and a hapless baby girl as well as millions of heartbroken Nirvana fans. I was at the RPN-9 newsroom when the news came off the wire from Reuters and instinctively I fed the story of Kurt’s death to the hourly newsbreak anchor and the late Frank Abao (RIP, Manong Frank)gave me a piece of his mind for putting such “obscure” story on the foreign news banner. I couldn’t blame good old Frank. He thought Elvis was the last late great action hero and after him, no one else deserves to die and have their death announced on teevee.

Just like the last Japanese straggler, I refused to surrender unconditionally to the grunge invasion. Although I must confess I nearly did, when new wave was “in”. However, I am a Robert Smith loyalist to the grave and I refuse to define him as new wave or grunge. The Cure had been spreading the word to whoever would care to listen since the 70’s. He’s just a guy with the hairstyle of an electric chair miracle survivor and a voice from somewhere between heaven and hell. Simply, there is no cure to my addiction to “The Cure” and I feel vindicate because Robert and his band are still around long after the rest have disappeared. “In Between Days” will remain on my list of favorite soundtracks in case my life is made into a movie, which I imagine will have plenty of torrid kissing scenes and maybe a little bit of frontal nudity.

Yet, I was ready to give the new breed of rockers of that period a chance. On hindsight, I think I was actually left with no choice. The airwave is heavily polluted with the so-called “alternative rock” that there was simply no escaping their evil spell. The defunct NU 102.7 made sure of that, and so did the handful of local FM bands that rode the alternative rock band bandwagon. There was even one obscure FM station that completely dedicated itself to alternative rock music, and so they play non-stop the very raw and edgy early recordings of The Wuds, (where the hell are you now, man, I miss you…) Tropical Depression, Coco Jam, and of course the very young and still dirt-poor E-heads who are, as we know by now, already filthy rich (but no longer as prolific).

My life was at crossroads during the 90’s. It was a time when I do believe I have moved away from my angst-filled days, and was beginning to accept compromises at the expense of my idealism, which translates to growing old. It was also a time in my life when I strongly felt that my gripes and whining against the world are justified and legitimate. Afterall, I paid my dues as a student. I learned as much from the schools as in the streets. I had my collection of battle scars from the riots, the rumbles and the rallies in Mendiola. Then suddenly I graduated. Forty two, again forty two companies rejected my job application outright. When I was in college, at least I had my allowance to feed me, and what I was doing seemed to make sense, education is big deal, right? After that, I wasn't so sure anymore.

But I guess it wasn’t asking too much if I had expected that the real world, the one I could only watch from a distance from my classroom window, would be more kind and accommodating to someone like me, or at least, it would have a little bit of something to offer like, perhaps, a fairly decent job, which wouldn’t necessarily pay much but would at least make you feel useful and maybe proud enough to think that the four years of college was not exactly a waste of time. For some reason, that proud moment just wouldn’t come to me. Instead, I was continuously confounded by the pain of rejection. I lost count of the number of times I heard “no.”

Those were the times I would turn to music. I want music to sing my angst, to rebel against everything that has been tailor-fit to the standards. I want it to be defiant, to stray off the track, better yet to go out of tune. For some reason I can’t quite explain, you find a communion that way, you feel a certain bond, a sense of belonging with people like you, the people that fate did not seem to treat too kindly. You may not speak the same language or your political loyalties may strongly differ, even you faith may set you up as foes, but if there is a particular music or a song or a sound that you like, it was already a good start to a breaking of the barriers. The atmosphere of a rock concert validates that observation. There is a sense of collective bliss from all that noise, and depending on which crowd you belong to, you might end up breathless or beaten up. One late night at a rock concert in Ultra’s football field, I was ready to concede that After-Image had genuine talent. “Next in Line” had the potential to become the anthem of the generation. It was well-written, catchy and with a message that would move the casual listener. Wency and his band of young musicians from San Beda were just as brilliant to hear live, as they would each time their song is played on the radio. “Tag-ulan” was a favorite, partly because I am obsessed with rain and anything associated with it brings joy to me.

The problem was, After Image had the misfortune to play back to back with another rock band whose name I can no longer recall but whose front man left a lasting impression. Karl Roy was his name and he blew Wency Cornejo off the stage. The word badass was not yet spoken this part of the world at that time but if there was an occasion to use it for the first time and if there is one person that personified what it meant, then he is absolutely the man. Karl was a man possessed. His take on “Give it Away” makes you feel like the Red Hot Chili Peppers were on stage playing. The Mohawk haircut and tattoos, I mean the whole attitude simply rocks. By the time Karl and his band were done playing, the audience were booing Wency and his band for having the gall to take center stage next to him. I feel sorry for you guys. Sometimes, a rock concert is heart-wrenching drama, even when people were supposed to have a crazy fun time. Maybe that one incident took the wind out of their sail and After-Image shortly lost the energy to proceed with its journey, riding off prematurely into the sunset of obscurity. After-Image has since faded into an after-thought whereas, Karl Roy continued his quest and was in fact a rocker to his death.

After that night, I forgot about Wency and became a Karl Roy fan for life. And this is how this piece of reminiscences would end, the same way Karl ended his hard rocking days. I feel a tinge of sadness writing about the past, because all my heroes are dying. But I do feel a sense of duty to say goodbye. Roy represented a time in my life when I was young but old enough to deal with life’s heartaches. He will forever be one of the characters, he and Kurt, who populate my make-believe world, the one I will always visit when I feel so low and desperate, the place where I always run for comfort in moments of sadness, and especially when my heart is broken, when I long for the days when I was young, idealistic, creative and free.

Good bye Roy. I hate you for dying on me. I mean that with all my respect and affection.

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