Para kay E/Heads

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)

http://youtu.be/U-ml1TVDdhc

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Joel Torre: Cool na Cool

Not many actors would travel halfway across the world and embark upon a multi-city tour to promote a film that they did not also write or direct. But, then again, Joel Torre is not like most actors. With a career spanning over four decades, “JT” has starred on stage and on the big screen, in mainstream and indie films, and in both Filipino and U.S.-based productions. And his dexterity is not limited to acting (or directing or producing, all jobs he has done in theatre and television). As owner of JT’s Manukan Grille—a chain of roadside restos featuring specialties from his hometown (Bacolod) such as chicken inasal and batchoy, he is also a beloved figure among foodies and bloggers.

(post-film Q&A with Joel Torre & Professor Gold, photo credit: E. Ivan Fructuoso)

This past Saturday, August 20th, JT arrived in San Francisco for the opening weekend of his latest project AMIGO, a film directed by John Sayles (forever the “underdog” proponent) and one of the very few U.S. cinematic attempts to address the oft-forgotten history of the Philippine-American War (1899-1904). A special event to benefit Bindlestiff Studio—a Filipino American performing arts venue in the city’s SoMA neighborhood—the screening took place at UA Stonestown with an after-party at Bindlestiff’s own Rene Acosta’s latest venture, Social Kitchen & Brewery. Unfortunately, already feeling under the weather, JT appeared unprepared for the Daly City fog, forgetting that a “San Francisco summer night” requires (at least) a light jacket or hoodie.

Yet, despite its stops and starts, the evening proved to be a huge success, raising over $1,500 for the upcoming resurrection of Bindlestiff Studio at its original location (185 Sixth Street), thanks to the collective efforts of artists, administrators, and volunteers over this past decade. Bringing together community members and supporters, old and new, from L.A. to the Bay, it also served as an informal reunion for those of us who’ve been involved in the California-based Filipino American arts scene since before the turn of this latest century.

(Bindlestiff Studio managing director Allan Manalo)

(old skool FPAC/Classified Records reunion with Winston Emano, E. Fructuoso, and Ed Mabasa, photo credit: E. Ivan Fructuoso)

For more information on AMIGO, click here.

For an equally epic account of the Philippine-American War and its cultural impact, check out filmmaker Angel Velasco Shaw and writer Luis Francia’s edited collection, VESTIGES OF WAR: THE PHILIPPINE-AMERICAN WAR AND THE AFTERMATH OF AN IMPERIAL DREAM, 1899-1999.

To find out how you too can help keep the Bindlestiff dream alive, click here.

(JT & E. with Bindlestiff Studio fund director Kat Evasco, photo credit: E. Ivan Fructuoso)

And, if you STILL need another reason to believe that Joel Torre is a cool na cool, Super Astig guy, check out this short webisode from writer Lourd de Veyra’s “Word of the Lourd: Make Your Own Indie Film” series. Featuring a few other Filipino indie celebs our readers might be able to identify and perhaps even “collaborated” with, in the past.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9r9inSbRp1o