There is in music a beauty that goes beyond the merely physical and temporary. There is in the songs that we sing and the sounds that we play something ethereal and magical, some bits of that Eden that our world can never be. Thus I always find time to let the music play and wake me from the stupor of earthly endeavors, to let it carry me, as they say, through the “wings of song.”
There are men and men and characters and characters. There are those who feel joy in the trickle of sweat on their brows and in the wetness of their athletic attires. There are others who go for the thrill of losing and winning, who find pleasure in the smell of the game cards and the crackle of the mahjong table, while still others choose to shy away from the limelight in order to feel the rhythm of eternity in being alone. I am inclined to believe I belong to the last category. Inclined. That is perhaps an apt description. Because we men arrange our lives not in units separate but in twos, threes, and even thousands and millions. But there, too, are times when, despite the constant pressure of brotherly communion, I find pleasure in, as the song says, “hiding inside myself.” Then I will let the music play and overpower the merely physical.
Music and writing–they are my loyal companions as I go over every hump in the highway of life. Of writing, I can devote another period of discussion. Not that to me it is of lesser value but mainly because readers might find writing about writing boring. Music? Well, it’s as universal as the ants and as persistent.
And so, music. Our appreciation of it can either be limited or expanded by surrounding circumstances and by the breadth and depth of the emotional experiences one has internalized. And, too, one’s intellectual level and personal biases determines the strength of our love for songs.
Perhaps I appreciated music just as much when I was younger. But then, there is in youth something raw, a groping for meaning that can only be corrected by the aging process and the continuous absorption of empirical data until the analytical in our mind prevail. The sad part, however, is that when we finally appreciate the true meaning of our youthful frolic the data gathered are pushed into the subconscious as more and more experiences imbibed pile up in our conscious being. And so we forget.
My relationship with music may have started in high school and college. But my appreciation of it lacked depth mainly because I still hadn’t gone through that stage when life became more meaningful because I almost lost it. I hadn’t been through the worst and so I failed to appreciate the best better. True, the music I listened to gave me satisfaction but it failed to carry me beyond the merely physical and temporary.
I began to value music better during my stint with what we fondly referred to then as the “movement.” The change of pace provided an opening, and the fear and the sacrifices we went through provided the depth for a more profound love for music.
Walking one night on one of the footpaths on the shoulder of a hill in Amaga, I was surprised at the way I felt when I heard the soulful sound of a ukelele being plucked by a peasant in a hut not far from me. I stopped and sat on the grass. Slowly, the world came into focus. In the moonlit night the vast expanse of hills and mountains seemed lovelier and even more mysterious. The blue sky once again was intimidating and the stars seemed reachable. The flicker of yellow light from the peasant’s hut glowed with a different meaning. I breathed deeply the fresh cool air and my soul felt definitely better.
Then there was that time when we were following a slippery trail towards one of the houses in Sayaw. We had walked continuously for three hours and our bodies were tired, our legs were aching and our backpacks weighed like a ton. The songs of Eddie Peregrina and Victor Wood greeted us as we neared our objective. The peasants were awake and they were listening to their favorite station play their favorite music. Again I felt something indescribable deep within, something that seemed to strengthen my resolve and lighten my load.
It was within this milieu that I improved my use of the guitar. Alone, I learned to accompany myself as I sang with feeling the songs of Coritha and Asin, of Susan Fernandez-Magno, Jess Santiago, Heber and those nameless counterculture songwriters. We encouraged, too, the peasants, especially the young ones, to buy their own guitar and learn to strum it. There developed a stronger camarederie while we sang, when we got the chance, together. Music was one with us and we were one with music.
I was one of the indentifiables mainly because I never parted with my little transistor radio. It was always beside me when I slept, when we walked, in short, wherever I went. And when harsh circumstances finally forced me to part with it, I improvised by singing my favorite songs a capella. Not that I could do it better than the original. But there I was lying in a hammock singing Randy Santiago’s “Hindi Magbabago” and the song “Meet Me Halfway” as the sun’s rays slowly filtered in the bushes that became our temporary abode in the wilderness of Corella.
And then the Bagong Buhay Rehabilitation Center. One day, I received a letter of parting from a loved one. Suddenly, I felt desolate and empty amidst the Carbon market-like atmosphere of a cramped cell. Then from afar came Linda Ronstadt’s “Somewhere Out There” floating with the noise, unheard perhaps by many but caught in its full intensity by an old sentimental fool. I heard that song over and over again after then, repeated until to some it became monotonous. But even today, when they play that song again, especially the part that goes:
“…And even though I know how very far apart we are, it helps to think we might be wishing on the same bright star. And when the night winds start to sing a lonesome lullabye, it helps to think we’re sleeping underneath the same big sky...”
the memories of pain come back, and when I remember I learn to appreciate what love is even more.
In Brigada 5, we sang our own brand of music. How can I forget the rendition of James Taylor’s “Wandering” and the song “Soldier of Fortune” by people who were supposed to be hardened criminals with the gang words Batang Cebu 45 proudly tattooed on certain parts of their bodies? They may not have understood the full meaning of the lyrics but I knew they they shared what I felt when they sang:
“…then I feel I’m growing older, and the songs that I have sung, echo in the distance like the sound of a windmill going round…”
Surely, life in jail isn’t paradise, but when I look back I am convinced that even in hell there are bits of heaven scattered around.
And then life. There was a time not too long ago when I almost lost it and thus clung to it with all the effort I could muster. What I went through was a nightmare I can never forget. My nerves broke down. I cried and for the first time in so many years prayed to God with full intensity. In solitary confinement,I listened, yes, listened with moist eyes to Whitney Huston’s plea for that “One Moment in Time.”
Today, I am learning to come to terms with a new reality, to adjust to the basics of living within the framework of mainstream society. I am taping the music that guided me onwards as I went through the best and the worst in life. The past must not be forgotten mainly because it makes us value the future even more.
Don McLean, in his “American Pie,” sang of the day the music died. I shudder even when I imagine such a probability. For to me, the battlecry is and will always be: Just let the music play.
—Candido O. Wenceslao (this was published in Sun.Star Weekend on August 25, 1991, when the wounds of my second arrest were still fresh)