Sunday, February 19, 2012


My friend Lea Salonga was completely misunderstood.  No, she was not misunderstood --- her quotes were taken out of context and made to sound like derogatory remarks directed at another Filipina performer.  This was so unfair on the part of the writer who either exhibited substandard comprehension (then why the hell was this person allowed to do interviews and write online articles?) or maliciously twisted in order to come up with an attention grabbing headline for that specific website. 

Despite official apologies provided by the website administration to Ms. Salonga and even on-air clarifications and expressions of regret, my friend is still getting her share of online bashers on Facebook and Twitter accusing her of one thing or another.  Although the complete transcript of her interview was published in the same web site (after the twisted article was pulled out), the fans of the other performer were quite unforgiving, directing their missiles at Ms. Salonga for supposedly belittling the talent of their idol.

The source of all this brouhaha?  Ms. Salonga gave a comment about the credibility of Filipino singers when they venture into vocal adventures on television.  All that Lea expressed was her dismay that there are indeed undeserving people who are handed the microphone and made to sing live (while obviously, unequivocally, apparently and definitely reading idiot boards across the stage) while unwittingly desecrating all that music was meant to be.  That's all. 

Lea's message was plain and simple: "Hey, Dude ... if you are going to muster the guts to deal with a song, can you please sing it as good as you can?  And if you can't carry a tune, then opt for dancing.  And if you can't dance as well ... then go back to school, to your office ... or better yet, make an effort to learn and improve your craft." Now is that so bad?

That's the problem with our karaoke nation.  Yes, it goes without saying that we are a musically talented nation. We are also musically obsessed.  We are a people who sing at the slightest provocation. I sometimes have a feeling that singing has become one of our defense mechanisms --- together with laughter.  This whole fiesta mentality and party attitude are our ways of coping with the irony of our history and human existence.

After all, we still hold the record of being the only nation in the world that staged street revolutions while people were singing and dancing and watching their pop idols rub elbows with the politicians and the militia in what looked like a grand production number right on a highway.  We are the only nation that celebrates everything with song --- marking the benchmarks of our lives with bottles of beer and a karaoke machine.  And we are also a group of people who will gather together and sing --- for whatever reason there might be --- and even if there may be no reason to sing at all.

So it is not surprising that foreigners marvel at Filipinos and call us the Land of Smiles and Songs.  Our musicality has brought us places --- and sad to say --- also nowhere.  And that is what I am going to rant about.

I have nothing against people with limited vocal talents who are heavy into singing. As the local saying goes, "Hilig-hilig lang yan." Add the more modern footnote: No guts, no glory. Some live by guts alone and that's why they have the glory. So give it to them.  If they don't take themselves seriously, then give them the benefit of having fun.  

But what is even more bothering than really bad singers terrorizing our eardrums and desecrating our brains because they take themselves too seriously is that we have not had an original sounding singer for a very, very long time.

Let me clarify this further: our problem is not our lack of good singers --- for we can practically spot that in every other street corner.  For instance, Eat Bulaga has a daily segment in which comedians Jose and Wally together with Paolo Ballesteros would go to nooks and crannies of urban and provincial communities to hold impromptu singing contests --- and the vocalists they unravel are sometimes not merely on the puede pasar caliber but truly impressive.  As I said, blame that on the fact that even before households purchase PC's for their personal consumption, they are more inclined to buy a videoke set-up instead.

Now how does this sort of new tradition affect the way we perceive the importance of music to our lives?  

We have to take the bad with the good.  So let's start with the good news but that is already quite evident.  Since Filipinos love to sing --- then let them sing.  If it makes life easier ... if it gives a sense of happiness and hope to every day of human existence despite the rising prices of gasoline, electricity and basic human needs ... then let us sing our lungs out.  If it gives a chance to improve our musicality, despues ... vamonos! If this provides an opportunity for social bonding and creating a sense of community, then let us all go to the nearest videoke and spend an entire night giving a tribute to Whitney Houston with a token Mariah Carey and Celine Dion thrown along the way.

But here is the bad news.

Has it not ever struck a great majority among us that we have not had an original sounding singer after the generation of say ... Regine Velasquez, Martin Nievera and Gary Valenciano?  OK, let's not throw in the Kitchie Nadals, Yeng Constantinos and the more recent Jed Madelas, Christian Bautistas and Eric Santoses.  But generally ... by and large ... aren't the new breed of vocalists that include the walang kamatayan biriteras and biriteros all impersonating the singing idols who have come before them.

Perhaps it is hard to think of anyone after Sara Geronimo who has made a great impact because of the originality of her voice. Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah: there will be those who will accuse our top vocalists to be Celine Dion or Mariah Carey wannabes ... or even Christina Aguileras ... but still, you know that there is a superstar on the rise when he or she supersedes his or her influence because of the authenticity of style and voice.  That is why we also have Jed Madela and Christian Bautista.

Then of course you would fire rare gems like Ogie Alcasid who does not and will never sound like any body ... yet create such great Filipino music like nobody at all.

And that is also the reason why among the new pop vocalists, we have yet to find someone who will be on the same footing as Sara G.

Some time in the 80's and 90's, there was such excitement in the local movie scene maybe because there were a variety of platforms aside from television that fostered and nurtured the development of local musical talents.  Record sales mattered --- local concert performances were abundant because of the accessibility of venues both big and small.  Kuh Ledesma was borne out of a hotel lounge with her group Music and Magic and within two years time became the Voice.  Why? Because even if she was singing Sugar Pie Honey Bunch with her band members, nobody sang it her way.  Or when she rendered her version of Don't Cry for Me, Argentina --- nobody recalled Elaine Page doing the recorded version.

Those were the years when Martin, Gary, Zsa Zsa, Joey Albert, Jam Morales, Ric Segreto ... and a whole lot of OPM artist had trademark voices. They were not mere facsimiles of each other.  Music was created by and for them ... which was why there was an entire spectrum of possibilities and potentials.  What kept Philippine contemporary music truly alive at that time was that --- first and foremost, the record industry and the concert scenes were profitable and second, originality was considered important --- and not mere cloning of an already existing talent or template.

But we all know that things have changed.

There are changed that could not be helped.  The Philippine music recording industry is not the only one burdened by the inevitable fact that technology has overrun ways and means of controlling audio piracy. Like all the other recording industries in the world, the availability and accessibility of duplicating audio CDs as well as internet downloading has completely destroyed the mechanics and economics of selling commercial music.

Although the music scene is active in Manila, the escalating cost of mounting concerts has made it close to forbidding for producers to invest money on such ventures.  Whereas before there were more venues to mount concerts of small to medium scales, the removal of theaters and lounges have left nothing but open bars and venues where either lounge singers or bands play on rotation bases for certain days of the week.

Most fatal is the fact that the investment put in the recording business has been so greatly diminished because of the dwindling sales of audio cds.  Just how can initial investments in music be regained?  Has the feasibility of profit been so diminished that it has now ceased to be a viable business?

As a result of this, risks have been seemingly minimized.  Like commercial television programming (confronted by dog-eat-dog competition), what resulted is the obsession for more of the same.  When times get tough, everyone wants to play safe --- and by playing safe, you do not want imagination, innovation ... or even originality. You want sure-fire formulas.  You want what sells in the easiest and most cost-efficient way possible.

So how did this reflect in our present generation of upcoming singers? Sadly and badly indeed.  

One of my friends shook her head and commented, "Why is everybody trying to sound like Regine Velasquez?  Don't they realize that there is a Regine Velasquez and anyone trying to mime her style will never go farther than Square One?"  More so, why is everybody trying to be the next Sara Geronimo?  Is there a need for another Sara Geronimo?  As long as she is up there ... complete with her persona and marketing, anyone trying to impersonate her will be nothing more than a --- uh, "second rate trying hard copycat." Splash!

That is also the sad part about all these singing contests being staged in television.  What is encouraged is not originality but cover-version style of singing. I am often appalled by the way good singing has always been equated with lung-busting, throat-gashing birits as if this were the only way to prove that the power of the voice comes from the hydraulic lungs.  Where is the originality?  Where is the encouragement of personal style?

How can we have a blossoming of music when everyone wants to sound like somebody who is already up there and has been doing it for years? How the hell can we move on?  Or are we going to be stuck with an entire generation of mime artists who need some earth shattering realization that they need to be some body in order to be anybody in this business?

Lately (and perhaps a tad too late) I have been addicted to the music of the British vocalist Adele. Observers were spot on when they said that in the age when performers dressed in every imaginable outlandish costume (even as eggs) or equipped themselves with an entire army of dancers doing everything from calisthenics to acrobatics, there was suddenly Adele --- pleasantly plump, primped up to look like a character of the 1960s and whose sheer presence is amplified by ---that voice.

Yes, she may be beautiful in a quirky way but it is still that voice that carries such magic, such beautiful pain to make her win a Grand Slam during the most recent Grammys with nobody complaining.

That was when I felt most miserable while enjoying Adele's Someone Like You or her version of Bonnie Raitt's I Can't Make You Love Me. I realized that what made her the international sensation that she has become was the fact that she was ... and is ... and will always be original.  Anyone who tries similarly will now be a mere version.

Then I asked myself --- where have all the Filipino originals gone?  We can have vocalists as powerful as Adele ... or who can sing with as much soul ... with as much depth and sparkle.  Stupid of me to even ask because I knew that I had the answer right at the back of my mind.  We do not look for them.  We do not give them the chance.

All we want is more of the same. And look at where we are right now.

Thursday, February 16, 2012


Within the span of a single week, a 53 year old diva stunned the world by performing a thirteen minute non-stop song and dance visual overload of a production number for the half-time performance of the Superbowl in Indianapolis. 

The world was speechless.  This diva has been around since many years? More than three decades ago?  She was one of the first of the MTV icons whose music found greater expression through the innovations of video.  By the time the twenty-first century came in, all her peers have practically faded into various degrees of retirement or appear in special retro reunions. Yet Madonna was still prancing, doing squats and cartwheels on stage and commanding a performance that garnered the highest audience share in television in the entire history of the Superbowl.

Oh, yes ... and this was barely a few days after a movie about Wallis Simpson and her lover, the King who abdicated for lover ...opened worldwide.

Barely a week passed and right on the eve of the music industry's biggest awards night, a legend whose voice has become the benchmark of superpower vocals shocked the world by her untimely demise.

No one suspected that this was coming.

Even if Whitney's life had been characterized by such emotional turbulence, a roller coaster of a personal adventure of a phenomenal rise to fame and a marriage that sent her to various portals of hell, Whitney tried to survive.

But after all the battering and speculations of her excessive alcohol use and drug addiction, she eventually slid into a pathetic scenario where so many attempts at a comeback failed. Her voice, that sonorous gift that inspired young women of an entire generation to pursue uncharted heights, had become a mere scratchy echo of what it used to be, a battered instrument that barely resembled and could never be brought back to the quality of the original.

Her body was found on her hotel room bathtub perhaps as a result of substance abuse --- and no different from the way other musical legends have chosen to go through these most recent years: Michael Jackson and Amy Winehouse.  After her talent was celebrated from the 1980's all the way to the mid-1990s, Whitney Houston was found dead.  She was only 48 years old.

Many say that there is a greater tragedy when the geniuses die young. Winehouse, Kurt Cobain and Janis Joplin all belong to that club of musical legends who exited from this existence all too prematurely and not even hitting their 30s.  All fell victim to drugs ... and the inability to deal with the trappings of wealth, fame and power.

What a shame that people like Joplin, Cobain, Morrison and Winehouse died so young. What a waste of talent.

But for others, the greater tragedy comes from the death of those who have outlived their time.

Michael Jackson, incapable of sleep and dependent on drugs and people to perk him up, died weeks before his great comeback concert where he intended to regain not only his waning wealth but the popularity and adulation that kept not only his music but his persona alive through generations.  Michael Jackson wanted to return to the throne ... and this desire to regain what was lost killed him.

Whitney Houston's attempts at comebacks fell short of expectations.  

As someone said (with such sadness and a sense of loss), her music no longer belonged to the age of Lady Gaga ... or Katy Perry ... or Christina Aguilerra ... or Nikki Minaj .. more so, of Adele.  No, it was not that Houston did not possess the talent --- but she was already floating on the power of reputation and memory. Her voice had taken such a beating that she was incapable of duplicating those vocal feats that became a trademark of her singing: she could no longer match the kind of music that her successors were vigorously belting.

Besides, there was Celine ... and there was Mariah.  And they too have taken the sidelines, leaving the center stage to the likes of younger female musical icons whose music so embodied the generation of the here and now.   The sordid fact is that the audience has changed, the taste has changed.  The painful truth is that there is no more room for somebody who was nearing her fifties and singing the same kind of songs that she was singing since the time that Kevin Costner was considered the Hottest Hunk on the Planet Earth.

The ugly truth: the audience outgrew her.  She outlived her audience.

That was the biggest tragedy --- when you have become a mere facsimile of yourself. And the only respect that keeps you alive is your past achievements which people know you can no longer sustain... much less, outdo.  That was what was most painful --- to wake every morning and realize that.  

And that is the saddest of all truths.  We all grow old ... and the world only loves the young.  Unless you are capable of keeping up with the times ( and what speed do you need to keep the pace with the changes happening all around you)especially in work that depends on the patronage of a mass base, then you are subject to extinction.  Evolve or you will die. Worse, you will be counted as dead even when you are still very much alive ... and that is when you start wishing you are really dead.

Aging is a bitch ... and there is no denying about it.  For careers that rely on looks and not only talent --- well, there is a specific deadline you have to deal with. One Big Universal Truth: Nothing lasts forever.  Certainly not in a business meant to give happiness to the public: people cannot seem to deal with age.  Show an old performer --- and there is immediately a flash of pathos that short-circuits the brain.  

The cruelty of the audience out there is that they do not want to see wrinkled, shriveled creatures because they only want to celebrate the here and now ... and not want to be reminded of the inevitable.  

Seeing Paul MacCartney ... and especially Glenn Campbell at the Grammys pulls some emotional strings in the heart.  When you have been long enough to remember how McCartney looked when he was still with his Liverpool quartet singing I Saw Her Standing There or in the movie Help, you realize what the years have done to him.  He still sings well ... he is still a musical genius unparalleled to this day. But he is old.  He should be old. He was around since the 1960s, remember.

It was both painful and delightful to watch Glenn Campbell sing Rhinestone Cowboy also at the Grammy most especially after it was announced that he was doing his final tour because of his Alzheimer disease.  You realize you are watching one of the last few performances of a man who gave country music its brilliance now inherited by the likes of Blake Sheldon.  You know that this is the passage of time through music.

And maybe that is what makes the realization all too hard to accept. No, it does not require great understanding because it is inevitable. We all realize that there will come a point in time when Taylor Swift, Chris Brown, Rihanna ... and, yes, even Lady Gaga would succumb to the natural laws of metabolism.  They too will age ... at this point we all do not want to imagine Adam Levine as anyone less than who he is in the here and now.

When Madonna at 53 did what others considered impossible, there were still a foray of snide comments hurled at her direction.  But that is equally unavoidable if not expected.  Others marveled at her physical strength and determination ... but asked, Did she really do anything new?  

Behind that spectacle of a zillion dancers filling the stage on a football field, even her most adoring fan would admit that age had taken its toll. She is no longer the same Madonna who left us in awe at her Virgin Tour and especially her Blonde Ambition Tour.  Despite her Spartan discipline and Yoga practice, the body can only do so much with time --- and her agility had diminished.

But still. Who cares?  Or are we just behaving like fans?

Hell, no!  One thing we have to admit is that this Lady fights it out, slugs it out and dances it out.  She simply refuses to be put down ... and she does this not only by being on top of her game but by changing the rules.  She not alone in this: Tina Turner and Cher have been around longer.  And they still rock.  It is just that Madonna --- with the innate talent of hers not only for reinvention but for self-promotion --- would not settle for any less than the headlines. Or the Superbowl. 

At a time when everybody was hailing Nikki Minaj or awed by the gumption and sheer guts of M.I.A., she drags them to be her rah-rah girls.  Just when Cee Lo Green grabbed the wider consciousness of the market not only for his music but for his presence in The Voice, Madonna brings him into her picture.  

Madonna does not only morph into Marilyn Monroe, Evita Peron or Dita ... or grabs the influences of art (through Tamara de Lempicka or even Asian art) to constant redefine herself.  She also drags the elements of any given moment of pop history and makes sure that she is a part of it.  And that is why she endures.  She does not believe in retirement ... or just reinvention.  She is into various reincarnations.

She keeps herself curious and interested. In turn, the audience --- regardless of what they say --- are tickled with their own inquisitiveness and have remained very, very interested.  The ratings of her half-time show could prove that.

Even if there are others who would still hurl insults cursing her age for her ugliness and all that --- one only assumes that such comments come from the nobodies who are born as nobody, will live the life of a nobody and die a nobody ... achieving nothing aside from a generic existence. Such is the envy of the mortals who are doomed to mediocrity and who cannot live their lives vicariously through the eyes of the blessed --- because they are simply not capable of such imagination.

So what about Whitney?  What happened? And what does it say about the passage of time ... of fame ... of wealth?

You either fight it or accept. You either go into full battle gear like Madonna ... or you learn to accept that you will eventually lose your audience, you will eventually lose the applause ... and you will be a living memory.  You will have to accept the fact that there are less talented people who will be more popular and marketable than you ... simply because they are younger and fresher and maybe cheaper.  If you cannot keep yourself young and fresh, then they will wheel you into retirement ... and make you feel that they would not care less if you turned into a pot of fertilizer.

The irony is that when you finally croak ... especially when the plug is pulled and the world is caught unaware, there is this sudden outpouring of love and admiration.  There is this need to practically embrace you in your death ... and announce to the world in a chorus of voices how much of a loss your departure will affect the world ... and how good you were in life.

Maybe a more curious thing to ask is why nobody ever said those things when you were around ... and you badly needed such assurances.  If there is an afterlife, then that gives spirits wounded and ignored a chance to smile ... even for a moment.

Fame is a bitch.

Everybody thinks of all the trappings that go with fame. The power. The money. The oh-so-beautiful-frenzied life.  The chance to be anything or anyone you want to be. But very few --- except those who live to know it --- will ever realize the price one has to pay to be rich, famous, powerful and Somebody.  

Oh, there is an old beat up line that goes: It is hard to get to the top but it is harder to stay there.  That makes a helluva lot of sense.  Another cliche for the moment: Life is lonely at the top. Perhaps ... but the food is better.

But maybe the real lesson learned from all these stars ... both immortal and fallen is that ... regardless of who you are and the ratio of your significance to the equations of the universe, you have your life in your hands --- and you make the most out of everything that you can be and not be happy with dreams of becoming.  It is good to be reckless with one's desire. It is terrific to be ruled with passion.  For that is the only way to live.  When you are merely resigned to life, then you have relegated your existence to the status of vegetation.

In a span of seven days, Madonna awed us at the Superbowl with her performance ... and Whitney died.  But regardless of the passage of years, decades and centuries ... the image of Madonna performing and the recorded voice of Whitney singing the choruses of her most famous songs with her even more legendary voice will be timeless.  

Who said that they have grown old?  Artists are immortal.  They will outlive even the audience that made them into demigods.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


Somebody sent me a text message asking how I planned to spend my Valentine evening.  Was there anybody lucky enough to have won the jackpot of being my "date" for the evening?

I told him, "No."  I had no date. I was going out with my best friend --- but that is anything but a date.  That was because for weeks we were planning to have a dimsum overload.  So if anybody asks me how I spent Valentine night this year, it was at a Chinese restaurant in West Avenue stuffing my mouth with tons of hakaw, shrimp and quail's egg siomai.

I have nothing against Valentine's Day.  Years ago, when I was in a relationship and I hummed Wilson Phillips' Hold On as if it were the National Anthem of my life, Valentine was a big schmaltzy event.  After all, this was the only day of the year (aside from All Saints' Day, of course) when the price of flowers kazoom to the stratosphere (P295.00 for three roses,  P1800 for a bouquet of semi-exotic blossoms wrapped in pink tissue and a lot of baby's breath sticking out, P2500 for a semi-fab arrangement of sorts that resemble something straight out of a Tim Burton greenhouse). This is the day when chocolates, heart-shaped cakes and candies seem to be the necessary armor to prepare the troops.

As early as the night of the 13th, traffic in the major thoroughfares went from bad to very bad.  On Valentine's night, it was at its frantic worst.  For instance, streets like Tomas Morato in Quezon City had bumper-to-bumper traffic, trickling out through the side streets that run perpendicular to the heart of 
Resto Mainroad in the City of Stars. It was almost eleven o clock in the evening when I and my best friend decided to call it a night ... and the traffic had not abated.  We were also trying to figure out how much business the motels were making last night ... and the night before that.  

February 13 is reserved for the extra-curricular activities that do not go hand in hand with the official Valentine celebration. Not that the company kept the night before and after the Big Event was to be considered any less in value, but that sort of company adds spice to the entire romantic flare that seem to possess the population this time of the year.

A somewhat jaded friend of mine declared that Valentine is nothing more than a capitalist concoction.  Two months after Christmas, there is a need to boost sales and get people all excited again to buy gifts --- whether they are Tiffany rings or bracelets --- or something as simple as a box of heart-shaped Bavarian doughnuts.  What is important is to incite people to keep on spending ... and creating the reason for the frenzy.

Good enough. If you have the money (and even if you don't) and you want the excitement (if you are still capable of such), then go ahead and indulge.  Spend your money on overpriced flowers, chocolates and pastries ... or, worse, dinners especially prepared to entrap lovers at large.  That is your prerogative. That is your right as a citizen living in a democracy that believes in the capitalist ideals.  

You can go to any given concert, hold hands, look into each other's eyes and profess eternal love ... and all the embellishments with leading the life of a Star Cinema movie.  But the point of the matter is that ... it is your choice to do and nobody can tell you that you are inane, a victim of capitalist propaganda --- or that you are overdosing on Ginseng or Viagra.

I was asked once if there was a certain cut-off age when feeling kilig was already considered a criminal offense.

It was just like being asked if there was an age limit when you get away wearing skinny or carrot-cut jeans without looking ridiculous.( Regardless of how anyone perceives himself, well ... there is indeed a certain point when wearing skinny jeans can not only be a cause of shock but ... uh, a reason to feel nausea, right?  The sight of anyone who has crossed that certain tolerable age limit to dress like Justin Bieber --- ok, push that a bit further --- Adam Levine --- can be the object not only of ridicule but of public stoning.)  So could there possibly be an age when one is still licensed to feel the thrill creep up the spine and end in uncontrollable shivers ... without being mistaken to be suffering from Parkinson's Disease?

It all boils down to attitude, I guess.  Even if it is hard to admit, when the venomous chemical reactions of romance hits you, then age, social station, economic status, degree of intelligence or even belief in God ... becomes all to secondary.  Shall I make a random list of the World's Most Respectable People Turned Ridiculous All in the Name of Love?  Shall I enumerate all the unspeakably stupid things that people allegedly under the influence of love's intoxication are capable of doing ... short of making public fools of themselves and mistaking this for ...uh, proof of undying love till death saves their faces?  Crap!

Valentine is a good exercise.  It is an excuse to be ridiculous without being branded as tacky.  It gives license to mundane, unimaginative, predictable, commercial behavior ... and gift wraps these as part of a celebration.  But when you come to think of it --- will a dozen red roses really express the true depth and extent of loving someone? Or a candlelight dinner? Or a box of expensive Lady Godiva chocolates? Or a Tiffany ring?  I think not. 

We can be practical in saying that if you love someone, you don't need to wait for one single day of the year to go out of your way to prove how much and to what great lengths you will go to prove your feelings and devotion.  It should happen every single day.

And, if love were really true --- then it not be said. It should never be required to be said. It is simply felt.  And experienced.  And worked on ... for all the days of a lifetime chosen to be spent together.

I didn't even receive a card for Valentine. I had siomai and asado noodles instead.  But the night was good.  I looked at the people around Hap Chan and tried to decipher how many of these were out on a Valentine date ... and were in love. I couldn't tell.  I was too engrossed with my siomai.

Besides, anyone who has to wait all the way for the 14th of February to be extra nice and sweet to his or her partner ... must not be worth a single flower for Valentine.

Saturday, February 11, 2012


I have this thing about Sunday afternoon musical extravaganzas on television.  

You either love them ... or you hate them.  After all, regardless of network, they are usually one and the same template.  Lots of fancy camerawork resembling the sensation one gets from thrill rides from Enchanted Kingdom, lots of pyrotechnics and lights enough to wipe out your cataract ... and acrobatic dance steps rendered by lead performers and their back-up dancers dressed in apparels that range from impressive to embarrassing but most of all a showdown of singing enough to burst lungs or snap vocal chords.

I have nothing against this kind of entertainment. This makes very good Sunday afternoon post-lunch fare.  It does not require much brains to appreciate good production numbers ... but it certainly demands very little level of taste to know when you are being given a show or taken for a really bad ride. No, let me rephrase that: it is not only a bad ride, it is a bad trip.

So Filipinos love to sing. There is no doubt about that. As a matter of fact, every other Filipino thinks he can sing. Does it surprise the world that second only to be the texting capital of the Universe that the Filipinos are the biggest fans of karaokes and videokes?  Every other street corner ... not to mention three out of five households ... have karaoke machines complete with playlists enough to challenge any season of American Idol? Hasn't the world experienced enough of the Pinoy's love for musicality so much so that in the middle of political upheavals and revolutions out there in the streets that news cameras find our kababayans singing and dancing and simulating production numbers worthy of Sir Carol Reed's film version of Oliver!?

This says more than a mouthful about our happy disposition or even our survival instincts.  We are such a music-loving people that we cannot live without it.  The sad part is that we also tend to abuse and misuse it. Just because you can afford a Magic Mic does not mean that you have the right to sing beyond the ear range of friends or people who should be patient enough to listen to the sounds produced from your throat and lungs.  

Let's get real here: there is a substantial difference between a rendition of Saving All My Love For You (as a tribute to the late Whitney) inside a private room in a videoke bar ... or on a makeshift stage in a garage while the rest of the company are half-drunk with bottles of Red Horse beer ... and performing on worldwide television, broadcast via satellite on a Sunday afternoon during or after lunch and in preparation for siesta.  

OK, let me put it another way.  There is such a thing as great singing: that is Gary Valenciano, Martin Nievera, Sara Geronimo, Jed Madela, Jaya, Ogie Alcasid, Janno Gibbs, Rachel Ann Go and company ... and there is such a thing as simply singing ... as there is also such a curse as impersonating the act of singing.  There are people capable of great song (and that's why they make careers out of singing), there are others who get by with so-so tune-carrying (that's why they will never be great) and there are others who should never be handed a microphone. Period.

After being tormented by the total desecration of songs, one asks:"Whose fault is this any way?"  When you are subjected to the rendition of a song that is unequivocally being desecrated under the name of entertainment, you have two immediate options. The first is to grab the remote control and switch channels to ... say, National Geographic or The Animal Planet ... where you can find more sonorous sounds from mating calls of baboons than really bad singing. The second option is to grab the nearest object and hurl it at the tv set, cursing whoever is responsible for that production number to even occupy any space on the airwaves. Like ... what were they thinking? 

There are two kinds of bad singers, you see.

There are singers who know they are bad and never take themselves seriously.  They are people who know that any attempt at song is an invitation to disaster ... so they walk the grounds with all the caution of playing hopscotch on a minefield.  Now they either make it know that they are bad singers singing ... or they are just having fun.

I know of such singers who are extremely successful at mediocre singing compensated by the fact that they are so unforgivably popular that they can recite Oh Captain, My Captain and still pass this off as singing.  How they get away with is ... well, sheer guts and a lot of entertainment value. Sure, sure, sure ... these performers may not exactly be threats to the real hard core vocalists who can shake the Smart Araneta Coliseum down to its foundations but --- whether we like to admit it or not --- they can fill that venue with such enthusiastic fans who couldn't care less if they go off-key, out of tune or replace musicality with visual overload.

Now is that bad or good? There is no definite answer to that.  I am more forgiving (or understanding) of so-so singers who work their asses off trying to compensate for their shortcomings with a lot of attitude and chutzpah.  I tell myself that ... at least ...there is sincere effort and hard work put in to create entertainment.  What you lack in vocal chops you compensate with a lot of attitude and hard work.

So I guess what really pisses me off the stratosphere is not bad or mediocre singing per se but the laziness that some entertainers exhibit during their performances.  Is it not bad enough that you have no right to sing (napilitan lang po kami) but then not to exert effort in at least trying to be good is a much bigger sin?  

OK, time to turn the tables:  everyone has his or her own limitations, right? Some of our best actors and actresses look back at their careers and laugh at the times when they actually did musical recordings as part of their salad years. But the fact that you know that you cannot sing your way out of a brown paper bag should be reason enough for you not to sing at all ... not unless this is in the ultra-privacy of your bedroom/bathroom/jail cell or in the company of someone who will tolerate whatever you do out of sheer fanaticism, obsession or other perverted versions of love.  

The bigger problem is who forced these people to sing in the first place?  Yes, performers have no choice but to follow instructions, to abide by the rules ... not unless they have reached that impressive star stature when they can look at a producer and tell him to go fly a kite. But as upstarts ... or as cooperative soldiers of a network ... you do what you are told to do.  If you are asked to do cartwheels while wearing seven inch heels, you ask no questions ... just pray and hurl yourself to the ground.  If they ask you to dance like there is no tomorrow and you have three left feet ... you ask no questions ... just pray and ...take the risk of either breaking your ankle or making a major fool of yourself in front of kazillions.

Now if they ask you to sing and you are quite aware that you have the singing voice of a nightingale in labor, will you dare go to your executive producer and say, "M'am, baka po magalit ang tao pag kumanta ako."  Uhm, dear upstart talent, you know for a fact that pag nagalit si Executive producer, wala ka nang trabaho.  So you do what you are told ... you go onstage ... you sing what you deem as singing ... and you ruin people's lives or faith in mankind.

The problem here lies not only the violation of the eardrums of the passive viewer who merely wants to be entertained on a Sunday afternoon.  The curse is the belief that this can pass as singing whereas anybody in his right mind ... and with minimal taste will agree that this is the farthest thing from credible performances.  And please, do not give us an excuse that this is some form of training for stars-in-the-making. Even if this is free tv, on-the-job training should happen behind the camera ... and not for consumption of the television viewing audience.

There is a moral lesson here somewhere.  It has got something to do with standards.

Lea Salonga, Regine Velasquez, Sara Geronimo and Bituin Ecalante are singers. So are Jed Madela, Gary Valenciano, Martin Nievera, Christian Bautista.  Rayver Cruz is a terrific dancer.  So are Maja Salvador and Shaina Magdayao.  Gerald Anderson also hits the dance floor with gusto. So does Mark Herras and Rocco Nacino. There are so many others with them who are as good. They do what they do best. And there are others who will eventually be as good if not better.  Because they can.

But there are those who will just be ... uh, there.


What you do to your body is your own responsibility, right?

Others who care (or meddle) can only give you so many forms of warnings but it is still your decision whether to make changes or not. Why?  Because it is your body.  Whether it involves losing or gaining weight, having an Aptos procedure to stretch the skin on your face or having six kilos of floating fat sucked out of your middle, it is still your decision whether to heed the words of caution and concern from others.  

Oh, this holds most especially true about smoking.

Series of irrefutable facts that can eventually be used as evidence or source of argument against me with what I am about to write:

(a)  I started smoking at about the age of fifteen.  I learned to smoke (Marlboro Reds) while my high school class made its weekly visit to an orphanage as part of our Christian apostolate.  How did I get into it? Because we were of that age when kids were trying to do adult "stuff". And, yes, at that time, it was so adult to be puffing a cigarette even if your allowance only allowed you to buy per piece from the vendor waiting out there in the streets.
(b) By the time I reached college I was a full-fledged smoker.  I graduated from Marlboro Reds to Marlboro Greens until I ended up smoking Pall Mall Menthols ... and, uh, Hope cigarettes.  By the time I graduated from college, I was smoking almost a pack a day.
(c) And I have been smoking ever since.  Pressures of work have always been such a convenient reason why I could not give up smoking.  As a writer, it was almost de rigeur to be smoking.  When I started directing, it was a nice piece of prop to have a cigarette sticking out of your mouth while you move around trying to keep everybody on their toes.
(d) By the time I hit 50 years of age, I was smoking about a pack and a half a day.  I keep saying that I do not finish the cigarette all the way to the end anyway. I would usually light a fag, then leave it somewhere ... only to find myself lighting another.  Or if ever the cigarette is still stuck to my mouth, I would throw it away even if there was still a good inch left for consumption.
(e) I did attempt to stop smoking a number of times.  First was when I found myself hospitalized for four days ... and naturally I could not light a stick under the strict supervision of omnipresent nurses.  I thought it would be cool to stop smoking completely after being smoke free for a number of days ... but then I succumbed to the temptation to go back to the habit again.  The second time I was able to keep off the cigarettes for almost three weeks.  I even guested in a tv talk show announcing the end of my nicotine addiction.  I went as far as ... oh God ... wearing those absolute ridiculous nicotine patches to allegedly prevent you from craving for the stuff.  Not!  A week after I sounded like some rehab alumnus swearing off Philip Morris forever, I found myself lighting another cigarette and back to Square One. 

So my smoking life went on like that ... until almost four years ago.  So what happened to finally change my mind? What great enlightenment from the Heavens shook my earthly existence into a realization that it was really time to stop?

It went on like this:

(a) On my 51st birthday I looked at the mirror and saw an avocado staring back at me.  I was over 200 pounds, I had more chins than a Chinese phone book and my waistline was hitting 38 inches.  That was very, very, very bad.  Worse was the fact that I had a backache.  (When you hit your 50's, every small ailment becomes a celebration of hypochondria.  I was relieved to find out that the backache was not a result of any internal screw-up but because of a very simple fact: I was too fat --- and my lower back couldn't handle the law of gravity emphasized by my jutting middle and Jabba The Hut silhouette.)
(b) I kept getting colds and coughs every month.  Worse was each time I had a cough, I would go into spells that were nothing short of embarrassing.  I would practically double-up in what already resembled seizures, gasping for breath and suddenly worrying if, after all these years, I have screwed up my lungs.
(c) I started calculating how much money I was spending on cigarettes. I was purchasing a carton --- yes, a carton of Philip Morris Menthol 100's --- every week.  At that time I computed that I was spending close to P1500 a month killing myself but worse ...
(d) It was getting to be a hassle being a smoker.  To suddenly have an urge for a nicotine shot has become such a chore when you have to step out of malls and restaurants where smoking bans are fully implemented.  When traveling, you have to endure long stretches of hours inside a plan unable to light a cigarette. Or when you are inside the airport, you go into labyrinthine pathways looking for smoking lounges --- or, God forbid, stepping out into freezing temperature just to be able to get satisfy a craving. I told myself that this was on the eve of ridiculous.
(e) My teeth were turning yellow, my fingers were gathering nicotine stains ... and worse, even my tongue had a layer of nicotine coating.

So one day, while I was shooting on location in a hospital in Alabang, I decided to stop smoking.  Why?  Because it was a major production to go all the way down the parking lot of the medical center just to smoke ... and I ran out of cigarettes. I looked at the script continuity supervisor and told him, "OK. I will quit smoking."  Which, of course, he did not believe. And, for the heck of it, I did.

After over 35 years of being a nicotine junkie, I decided to kick the habit.  To this day ... I have not stuck nor lit a cigarette since. I will confess that I bought one more pack of Philip Morris that I kept within reach just in case I felt a panic attack that would make me yield to the habit again.  There were panic attacks indeed --- but they were not bad enough for me to yield.  I stuck to my guns.

That was when I realized that:

(a) All my fears about going cold turkey were overrated.  Looking back, it is the apprehension of the effects of withdrawal rather than the actual process of withdrawing that has held me back from ending the addiction for years.  I kept getting these images of uncontrolled convulsions, feverish desires to pump nicotine into my system ... or even going ballistic because there is no cigarette within reach.  It was only when I finally got to doing it that I realized that all these fears and apprehensions are as true as the monsters hiding under my bed.

(b) You create the need, thus you magnify the habit.  Why did I ever start smoking any way?  Because it was peer pressure, it was fashionable ... and I really never understood if indeed cigarettes calmed me down ... or maybe it was just for the sake of having something to do.  I don't think puffing a cigarette makes coffee taste better or that it was necessary post-breakfast/lunch/dinner to sit back and enjoy a smoke. 

(c) Smoking has become nothing more but a ritual. It is not the high you get from nicotine (because God knows there are far better highs if you really want to go there) but the repetition of an action, the comfort of familiarity of picking out a stick, lighting it, inhaling and exhaling which one equates with calmness or comfort.  There is a chemical reaction to the body but it is more of the predictability of action that generates predictability of reaction that nails us to the habit. 

(d) It is true. You will gain weight if you quit smoking. Why? Not only are you trying to substitute an oral fixation ... but because the layers of nicotine coating your taste buds will slowly diminish.  While trying to find a substitute to stick into your mouth when the craving to smoke suddenly takes place (bring out the candies, the chocolates, the breadsticks ... anything ... including the loaves of French bread), the taste of food has never tasted so much better because you can finally taste again.

What started out as a vanity project turned into a turnaround in my life style.

Upon realizing that I was over two hundred pounds, I immersed myself in a South Beach Diet then later went back to the gym.

I found myself working out for more than two hours five to six times a week, discovered a completely different addiction (to endorphin) and loved the joys of indoor cycling or spinning.  At the age of 51 I started joining cycling marathons and only ate brown rice on weekends, minimizing my intake of meat.  I found it absolutely stupid to keep on smoking after working out ... because such an act would seem so anomalous to everything else that I have been doing.  And so I quit.

Now I cannot stand the smell of cigarettes.

Now I realize how terrible my breath must have smelled because of my endless consumption of cigarettes, puffing one right after another.

Now I am so irritated by smoker friends who leave you all alone in a restaurant because they all have to step outside to smoke.  

Now I realize how much happier I am ... how much healthier I have become ... and how much money I have saved by simply turning my back on a habit.

When I started smoking, my mother had very strong suspicions that I was indulging in this unhealthy adventure. She would cut out articles and clippings and post them on the bulletin board by my study table: they were all about the hazards of smoking. I would laugh, assuring myself that these are my lungs and I am responsible for them.

When I told one of my best friends that he should really quit the habit, he replied:"What for? We will all die someday.  If I quit smoking, will that make me immortal?"

Point well taken. He was right. But I intend to exit from this existence healthy and strong and happy. Maybe that will be the major difference. It's his lungs ... and he can do whatever he wants to do with.  But I will not light his next cigarette for him.