tell me, did you want to be a rock star?
like millions of boys (and girls) before and after me, i wanted to be a rock star once. ok maybe not a rock star of the led zep, ac/dc, aerosmith genre. more dylan, amos & difranco. you know, the singer-songwriter vibe.
i was thinking of this erstwhile fantasy because because last friday, my former band had a reunion gig of sorts in a place where it all started.
here’s the back-story:
i was working in an NGO that was exploring various ways to educate and campaign on issues and one path that was explored was through music. they hired a staff known for his musical abilities to be a musical director (although his ‘official’ title was ‘popular educator’) and bought a complete set of instruments and sound system for a band. one night, they gathered all those who fancy themselves musical and got them to do their stuff with the instruments. fancying myself as a back-up singer, i tried backing somebody in U2’s ‘with or without you’. the musical director took the mic away from the lead singer and gave it to me. he then declared i was the vocalist of the band.
we had a good run, our band. we performed in big places like PICC (for the former president erap) and quirino grandstand (on one earth day). unexpected places like on top of a moving truck (on a campaign against constitutional change) or in an inhabited island (for a environmental youth group in el nido). in expected places like basketball courts (in bulacan) and artists’ watering holes (in quezon city). in far flung areas like a farming barrio (in nueva ecija) or in a mountain (in ifugao).
there were memorable performances that can measure up to any audition tape in american idol. once, while performing in a townhall in kidapawan, all the speakers started burning (literally) and conked out. i went down to the audience, asked the band to continue playing (using their own amps) and asked everybody to sing chapman’s ‘baby can i hold you tonight’ with me. (think bette midler in 'for the boys' candlelight ps. i love you' scene. diva, against the odds-like.)
some say i had stage presence. one evidence of this is on one performance in a beach in albay, a fisherman came up the stage gave me a flower and kissed me on the cheek. the band (all straight boys by the way) stopped unbelieving. i motioned for them to continue playing and threw the flower back to the audience. ok, (for those old enough) it was reminiscent of b-list singers getting leis from paid audiences in 70s noontime variety shows. but the band didn't let me live it down for more than a year.
in our heyday we were approached by every major recording company of the time – sony, bmg, wea – you name it. while the band accepted offers to talk (for the free beers) not one was seriously pursued for the fear of selling-out. losing integrity.
i left the NGO to join government and had not time for the band anymore. one by one, they also left. the band had various incarnations and renaming. until it was too difficult to keep it going.
in the pre-departure briefing on my way to volunteer in rural Africa, we had an exercise in listing down who are we leaving behind that we will miss. the band ranked third to the family and bestfriends’ first and second.
last friday, i was reminded again how much i miss them.
whenever people tell me i should be doing something related to the arts, i smile. i wish i did. but i have been doing this NGO/development stuff for 20 years. this is what i am really good at as opposed to something i can potentially be good at. after all, how many of us turned out to be the person we wanted to be when we were growing up?
in my time in the band, i wrote one song. i performed it once. we never recorded it. i can’t even remember the melody nor all the lyrics now.
so much for the singer-songwriter fantasy. or to borrow from ‘rent’:
a song about love
from the soul of a young man, a young man’
i’ve grown old.