Filipino indie rockers, The Eraserheads, emerged during (and for) a Philippines-based generation growing up in the aftermath of martial law. Growing up under two decades of violent government-based suppression, some of these “martial law babies” sought respite for their cultural and political exhaustion and found refuge in the simple sounds and lyrics of the country’s homegrown version of the Fab Four.
For myself, The Eraserheads also came during a time of cultural exhaustion. By my third year as an undergrad at UC Berkeley, I grew tired and confused by “brown power” fronting and Sproul Plaza-style proclamations and propaganda. As a firm believer in the political power of the arts, I had worked on maganda magazine all during my college years and was beginning to feel at home in a little black box theatre called Bindlestiff Studio, in the heart of San Francisco’s South of Market Area (SoMA). In both of these places, I found a sense of belonging in the artistic work created by Filipino artists in the U.S. as well as in the plays, songs, and poetry of Philippines-based artists.
With a different type of politicized consciousness—based less in rhetoric and more in real-life—and a different type of cultural confidence (thanks to two years of Tagalog classes), I returned to the Philippines in 1997. I made a pact with myself that, on this trip, I would only speak Tagalog or Visayan—to my family, to people on the street, even with myself. At first, my cousins were playfully irritated with my obstinate attitude, wanting to hear their cousin’s American accent. After a few days, however, they learned to accept it while I learned the importance of listening—for intonation, for silences, for the power of what wasn’t being said—and learned to dream in other languages.
It was on this particular trip (as seemed to happen to other Fil-Ams who returned to the Philippines in the late 1990s) that I first heard The Eraserheads on the radio. Amid the saccharine sweet sounds of Bryan Adams’ ballads and MYMP’s cover songs, The E-heads’ original music—consisting of rock arrangements that worked in tandem with their vivid lyrical storytelling—struck an emotional chord with my own college-aged sentiments. Deeply ensconced in the constant rotation of “Ang Huling El Bimbo,” I too knew a thing or two about nostalgia for simpler times and for the “one that got away.”
Not until many years later (while researching the book that is still “in progress”) would I come to realize the cultural significance of this gang of four. How they battled their nation’s censors with songs that contained everyday curse words, psychedelic images, and messages of acceptance (and looking forward) for queer folks. How their success helped record companies believe in the “marketability” of local Pinoy musicians and helped inspire a new generation of indie rockers. How they were the first band from the Philippines to win MTV’s coveted Moon Man and accept the award on the international stage of Radio City Music Hall.
Despite these more easily recognizable historical events, the importance of The Eraserheads for a certain generation—one growing up in-between the 20th and 21st centuries, in-between America and the Philippines, in-between the way their parents imagined life in these two countries and the way they would end up living it themselves—remains in the way that their songs marked special moments in one’s own personal history. The joy of first loves. Life’s natural (and man-made) highs. Day-tripping exhilaration. The longing that comes with unbridgeable distances.
About this time last year, I found myself in a hotel room in Cebu City. Still basking in the after-glow of a free outdoor Rock Ed concert to celebrate the centennial of nationalist hero Jose Rizal’s birth, I uploaded onto Facebook a video of Paolo Santos’ live rendition of “Magasin” (later accompanied by Raimund Marasigan on drums) and tagged all those friends who I knew would understand. The first comment (“Walastik!”) came from my friend E. Fructuoso and, little did I know, it would be his last. Other friends informed me, a few hours later, that E. had passed away from a heart attack at the tender age of 44.
All these memories from San Francisco to the Manila Bay, and the magic they bestow, will be with me tomorrow night at the Regency Ballroom. It’s a show that me and over four hundred other fans have waited more than a decade to witness. Amid all the screams of excitement, I know that E. will be right there with us, smiling and singing along. – (Christine)