DEEP TALK: Sex, CoVid, and rock n’ roll

(First of two parts)

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If my poetry aims to achieve anything, it’s to deliver people from the limited ways in which they see and feel.” – Jim Morrison, The Doors

What is art? Should art have a purpose? Who determines meaning – the beholder, or the artist? Should art be boxed, caged, or let free beyond decorum, beyond dogma, beyond taboo?

Art – in all its forms – have confounded, entertained, enlightened, inspired feelings of bliss, and pushed people to depths of despair. It has started and ended revolutions, been used by dictators and dreamers for all kinds of ends.

What is it in art that it has flourished in the most extreme conditions, thriving and existing in ironies? Who would have thought, for instance, that something as seemingly mundane as the silk trade in Europe would spur a movement that has since been considered as the peak of art in its purest form, melding religion and politics and creating movements that up to now are considered standards?

Who would have thought, too, that in the period when press was muzzled, cinema flourished? The golden age of cinema in the country came about when revolutionaries, auteurs like Lino Brocka, and Ishmael Bernal railed against the corruption, and massive rights abuses in the 70s and created great cinematic masterpieces that double as incisive socio-political commentaries.

We have the likes of Otto Rene Castillo railing against apolitical intellectuals, a band that rages against the machine, the Eisensteins, the mavericks, the D.W. Griffiths, and your next-door-neighbor who makes murals with his feces.

All art.

… Lilipad na ako tungo sa kalbaryo, sa parang ng mga buwaya’t kabayo…”
Usok at Apoy, Mighty Hillamoon

“This might be a start of a revolution.”

13th Parea’s Jae Espino was talking of efforts to aid artists during the pandemic. Jae is an enterpreneur, an art connoisseur whose businesses so far have been giving artists space to flex their artistic muscle.

By “this” he meant the latest of his ventures with Headrush’s Ryan Saez, a project called Buhat Paglaum, a digital concert directed by Juno Oebanda that is meant to raise funds for artists who lost their means of income.

With him is the frontliner of rock band Mighty Hillamoon, Martin Miravalles, a tattooed musical maven with a Vietnam War-era beatnik vibe. And by gawd could he sing. Rounding them up is DNX Executive Editor Julius Mariveles, Deep Talking about art, life, making love, and pushing the envelop.

Mighty Hillamoon with Buhat Paglaum's online digital concert last June 16, 2020.
Mighty Hillamoon with Buhat Paglaum’s online digital concert last June 16, 2020.

“Art can thrive anywhere… but artists need the support of its audience,” Jae said. His vision, he said, is to provide the artist with a platform where they could display their music, their creation now that crowded arenas where fans can practically smell the artist’s sweat, where a mob body-slamming and head-banging gets interrupted once in a while by a brave soul diving straight into the pit.

Concerts are thus sensory experiences, and Jae wants to replicate much of that – minus, maybe, the diving in the mosh pit part.

“We have gotten the ball rolling,” he said, “It might be the start of a revolution.”

Jae said that online concerts might be the thing now, especially with the pandemic forcing people into the new normal that includes at least a meter of spatial proximity, and minimal-to-no body contact.

Venturing into the unknown could be terrifying, like venturing into the lairs of crocs and stallions.

“It was like when the first computer was sold – imagine how Steve Jobs must have felt when he was trying to sell a machine that is basically a combination of a typewriter and a processor,” Jae said.

One of the featured artists is Martin’s Mighty Hillamoon, a band that melds 90s rock (think Siakol, or Live, with a more hard-edged Eddie Vedder growl – Martin’s voice rises above the material, that’s how good he is). THE Mighty Hillamoon of songs like Usok at Apoy, a precautionary piece on man-made pollution and the havoc it wreaks.

Mighty Hillamoon’s sound – like the best of ‘em – is best heard live, and that could be a potential problem for rock fans who like their sound raw, who like touch their idols, who like to inhale the pungent smell of sweat from a fellow body slammer to the right.

With a lot of these things surely missing in a digital perf, Julius posed a question: Is nostalgia the enemy here?

It could be, Jae admitted.

“But we do not stray far from the very core [essence] of why art is made,” Jae said.

Julius put forth the theory that misery is necessary for great art.

“I do not want this to be misinterpreted in any way,” Jae said, searching for words, “But if not for the pandemic this would not have happened. We cannot get all those Manila acts unless we move heaven and hell, but now they are all very willing to collaborate because of the [health crisis].”

And of course because it is for a good cause.

We don’t need no education, we don’t need no thought control…
Just another brick in the wall.

Another Brick in the Wall, Pink Floyd

Martin is an organic farmer. Between recording gigs and strumming his guitar or seducing the mic, he dabbles into farming. Quite apt, at this time where sources of income are halted, and dozens of workers laid off, sustainability is key to survival.

Jae said that this is something that people should do, as the pandemic becoming the great equalizer, and here, the talk shifted to generational tropes, stereotypes, divisions, and labels (the “whiny entitled” Gen Zers, the “soft” millennials).

“The pandemic has become a great equalizer of sorts,” he said. His vision however when he created Buhat Paglaum is to not to create another proverbial brick on the wall but to build bridges. (READ: Buhat Paglaum: By artists, for artists)

The beauty of great art, he said, is its timeless resonance to the times. Joni Mitchell’s environmental anthem Big Yellow Taxi is as relevant as it is now as it had been when it was first released in ‘69. The cycle of poverty in Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car will always strike a chord for anybody trying to make ends meet; Paul McCartney’s ode to the Black man, Blackbird, can be played in any Black Lives Matter rally without losing its original meaning.

Such is art.

It transcends time, and meaning. It is not caged, nor is it meant to exist for a specific reason. It could be a political piece – think Merle Travis’ Sixteen Tons – or it could be just something as meaningless as a swath in the wall just because.

Buhat Paglaum exists to bridge those gaps between the then and now, but the now is in a different platform.

Martin philosophizes: The role of the artist is to create something new, something striking whose meaning does not wane through time.

“It’s like the doctor warning you that something will happen unless you change your lifestyle…. And you only take it seriously when you realize you’ve been given a few years to live,” he said.

By combining tradition with digital tech, Buhat Paglaum topples down bricks in walls and brings a traditional art form to a novel, more exciting platform. (READ: DEEP TALK: Sex, CoVid, and rock n’ roll – Part 2)

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