Monday, April 11, 2005

music for the masses

Pauline, not long ago, recounted finding a stash of old casette tapes from way back.

Yesterday, after our nuclear family dinner at Mannang with Vin and Jason, conversation drifted towards old bands, which in turn triggered my sad memory's pitiful attempts to recall the music that was so important in my youth - remember how, as a young person, it seemed as if the lyrics of the songs you loved seemed to be written expressedly for you? Even the most obscure lyrics somehow made sense.

(I was a diehard Duran Duran fan, so much so that I knew all the songs by heart, yes even the ones not released as singles, and named two of my dogs "Ta la la la" and "The Reflex". Along with the more accessible bands, I liked Depeche Mode, Tears for Fears, New Order, Echo and the Bunnymen, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, The Cure, U2 and The Smiths. But I also liked bands that it seemed a lot of people in Manila at that time weren't aware of: Japan, the Dolphin Brothers, The Cocteau Twins. This was also the time that I was exposed the music of Ryuichi Sakamoto, thanks to the rarified taste of my high school barkada).

In those days of teenage and young adult angst, music from these artists seemed to engage me in a running conversation about various things. You held on to a song because somehow it was relevant to your situation, expressing things you couldn't say yourself, or at least not in the convoluted metaphors of the day (try Seona Dancing's More to Lose as a sample of these tortured "poetics").

Moreover, there evolved a peculiar sense of ownership. You discovered "your" band or song. That made it "yours". Yours was the privileged reading or interpretation of the lyrics, only you "understood" because the song "understood" you. I remember discovering a certain song and being dismayed when it was played at one of the house parties in vogue at the time. Depressed that "my" song had become a victim of commercialism, music for the masses to borrow a title from one of Depeche Mode's albums, I turned my back on the song and began to loathe it with abandon.

As I grew older, I left most of my music behind. Void of relevance, it longer sang to my heart in the same way, failing to insinuate itself in my daily life. I found myself in a span of years without music to love or "understand". I'd hear new music on the radio or over TV but there was no resonance. I think my ears grew too accustomed to stylings of the 80s, cementing my taste. But I did learn, later, to appreciate good music again. Nothing too loud or senseless, but something with good lyrics, melody, vocals.

When I listen to my young friends sing their oddly agonized but lyrically direct songs today, I remember how once upon time I was like them, and criticism of musical selection could instigate the termination of friendships. But I like what I'm hearing nowadays - I'm just glad we're out of that Chill Out phase. Even if it's still about love and longing and relationship crap, I'm happy to listen.

But I realize that there's no turning back. Like Pauline, I looked at the playlists on my computer, taking stock of the mp3s I've been downloading since my Napster days in Hong Kong. A huge majority are songs of my past. A small percentage are anthemic songs that I identify with certain key points in my adult life. Very few are new.

I can appreciate the music of today, but in no way does it belong to me or can I belong to it. None of them can be "mine". I can neither "understand" nor "be understood" by it - not in the way it speaks to the young folk of today. Not in their way. We are all products of our times, and our musical timestamps cannot be denied.

So, do I listen to my Colourfield, Aztec Camera, Erasure, Style Council and assortment of grunge music with a knowing melancholy or thoughtful sadness, knowing that past is past?

Nope.

When I listen, I bob my head, sing out and occasionally do my little dance, the one that goes perfectly with the hits of China Crisis or the Psychedelic Furs.

For the span of three minutes, I travel through time - and my soundtrack is utter perfection.

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