Writing on Air

Writing on Air by Jim Paredes


One off my bucket list: Paul McCartney in concert 0

Posted on December 17, 2017 by jimparedes

HUMMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated December 17, 2017 – 12:00am

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“Watching Paul McCartney made me feel a lot of things,” says author Jim Paredes. “Paul influenced me so much that I got to understand myself when I was growing up. He became my constant peg in my own songwriting career.”

They announced in the news that Paul McCartney was doing a show in Sydney five months ago. I immediately tried to get tickets within the day. Alas, the show was sold out quickly.

That night, they announced a second show for Dec. 12, the next day. My friend Charlie Moraza was lucky to get four tickets.

I wasn’t going to miss this, I told myself. Watching Sir Paul perform has been on my bucket list for the past few years. The only other time I ever saw him was more than 50 years ago when the Beatles performed in Manila. Back then, I watched with my brother Raffy. The sound was terrible. We had really lousy seats, but hey: it was still the Beatles.

I had bought a plane ticket back to Sydney months ago for this. I arrived four days early for the concert.

Last Tuesday, I was at Qudo Bank Arena with Charlie, his wife Malu, and my son Mio. It was a massive venue that seemed like it was more than twice the size of Smart Araneta Coliseum. It was packed to the rafters.

When Paul McCartney and his band entered the stage, the whole place instantly lit up with energy and excitement. Amid screams and applause, Paul struck that famous complex chord that starts the song A Hard Day’s Night, and very soon after, everyone went wild and crazy. He segued into Jet, one of my fave songs he wrote for his post-Beatles group Wings.

The hits kept coming like an avalanche. Can’t Buy Me Love, Drive My Car, Let Me Roll It, You Won’t See Me — and he went on and on. Except for his new stuff, everyone sang along with him through every tune. The whole audience was in good spirits.

Paul once in a while would talk a bit about his personal history. He talked about some of the songs he wrote, and about his friends in the business. He mentioned Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton with fondness and admiration. He also narrated seeing Mick Jagger and Keith Richards on a taxi in London decades back, and John and him flagging them down for a ride. During the cab ride John and Paul offered to write a song for them.

It was quite a surprise to learn that John and Paul gave the Rolling Stones their very first chart-topper, I Wanna Be Your Man (a song Ringo sang in the Beatles’ version). He also paid great respect to George Martin, the producer of the Beatles who helped them immensely with their records. It was interesting to hear that when the Beatles recorded Love Me Do, he was asked by George Martin to do the solo vocal parts. And to this day, he can still detect a bit of that nervousness in his delivery when he listens to the record. “But not tonight!” he said to the audience delight before launching into the song.

A high point for me was his tribute to John Lennon. Before he sang Here Today (a tribute to his friend and former songwriting partner), he talked about how people should not wait to express their feelings to people they love. He narrated that when they were still young musicians in Liverpool, none of them went and said, “I love you, man” to each other. It just wasn’t the norm, he explained.

When John died, he wrote Here Today to express that love that was sometimes unrequited. I actually teared up when he sang it.

Well, knowing you,

You’d probably laugh and say

That we were worlds apart.

If you were here today.

Uh, uh, uh, uh… here today.

But as for me, I still

Remember how it was before

And I am holding back the tears no more.

Ooh ooh ooh… I love you Oooh.

Paul’s voice had a sadness to it. It was honest and heartfelt and moved the entire arena.

He also paid tribute to George Harrison whom he said loved to play the ukulele. He started singing George’s Beatles hit, Something,while accompanying himself on the uke. The band joined in soon after. It merited wild applause.

He sang so many hits like We Can Work it Out, Band on the Run, Live and Let Die, Blackbird, Obladi-Oblada, Let It Be, I Saw Her Standing There, Eleanor Rigby, For the Benefit of Mr. Kite (a John song, actually), And I Love Her, A Day in the Life and many more. It was noteworthy that he sang Helter Skelter, one off the Beatles’ most controversial songs because it was apparently a favorite of the killer Charles Manson. I never liked that song, because of the Manson association. But I loved the high-energy performance that night.

And as much as he sang the hits, it was impossible to sing ALL of them. He DID NOT sing, ‘Till There Was You, Here, There and Everywhere, My Love, No More Lonely Nights, Silly Love Songs, If I Fell, and so many others that I love. A three-hour show was still too short. He must have sung at least 30 songs. I eventually lost count. He ended the show with the audience singing Hey Jude along with him.

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Before responding to encore calls, Paul and his “band on the run” ran around the stage waving British, Australian, Aboriginal and LGBT flags, much to the delight of everyone. After a short break, he sang five more songs. His final encore was a medley of songs comprising one-third of Side B of the Beatles’ “Abbey Road” album. It included Golden Slumbers, Carry That Weight, and The End. The last song was so majestically performed and a perfect ending to the concert.

Watching Paul McCartney made me feel a lot of things. I felt that Paul had influenced me so much that I got to understand my own feelings and myself when I was growing up. He has become my constant peg in my own songwriting career. He is a very talented, playful, generous performer. His capacity and effort to give the audience a great experience through his songs and performances resonated with me. That’s what we also always aimed for when we were performing as APO!

Clearly, his music will be loved and remembered for all time. More than just being a great performer, he is an icon, someone who unites people in a way that makes them feel good. We all grew up with Beatles music playing as the soundtrack to milestones in our own lives.

The concert was more than 60 years in the making. That’s how long he has been writing songs and performing them. Six decades! The show had the right songs and repertoire, the best lighting effects, the most magical graphics and visuals, and a truly iconic great performer to deliver the songs. And he still does them well and with great passion. Remarkably, he still has the mannerisms of a guy in his 20s. He is still so young at heart, energetic and competent at age 75. He is still slim and wears tight pants. He seems ageless. No tummy or sag at all.

It was a concert I will never forget. It was the best I’ve seen in my entire life. While the technical support was awesome, ultimately it was about THE MAN himself — so legendarily accomplished, so gifted and yet so humble. He has given the world his gift of music. And the world has responded again and again with resounding gratitude.

Throughout his adult life, he also stood for the right things —vegetarianism, animal rights, saving the planet, cancer awareness. What is there not to like about Paul McCartney?

I can’t imagine how my life would have turned out if the Beatles had never happened, or if Paul McCartney had not written and performed his songs. Honestly, I may not even have become a musician at all.

Thank you, Sir Paul McCartney. That’s all I want to say. And though there were thousands of other people there that night, in some way it was a “one-on-one” experience we had, just like the name of the tour promised.

You validated me, and I remain a huge fan!

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Sold-out concert of Paul McCartney in Sydney last Dec. 12. It was a massive venue, packed to the rafters.

The invisible, the ‘others’ and you 0

Posted on December 09, 2017 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated December 10, 2017 – 12:00am

Waiters, waitresses, cooks, salesladies, security guards, maids, houseboys, delivery people, drivers, street vendors, garbage collectors, and the like are like invisible people.

They work for us, do services that benefit us and yet we hardly interact with them on a really personal level. They can be replaced by other people and it would hardly matter to many of us. Sometimes we may take notice, but it would hardly affect many of us.

We interact with them only because of the services they do. They are appreciated and needed for the functions they offer. But we are not interested in knowing more about them for the most part. It is a simple interaction that we have with them and we like to keep it that way.

They cook our meals, serve our food, wash our clothes, clean our houses, guard our properties, take our orders, check on our health, pick up our garbage, assist us in the way they are supposed to.

Sometimes, I try to imagine the lives of the invisible people in our midst. Surely, they have lives just like we do although perhaps different. But like us, they have families, people they love and care for. There are also people who love them. Like us, they have opinions shaped by their education, upbringing, etc. They also have their own dreams and live their own stories. They also go through pain, seek pleasures in life like we do. They wake up every day to do what they have to do.

When you think about it, there is so much to know about them.

When we are with people we do not know, or people who are different from us, we often put them in a category of “other.” We feel safe by doing that. We don’t have to relate in a complicated way. Expectations are minimal. We don’t need to have elaborate relationships that are physical, emotional, intellectual, or spiritual. That’s okay. Maybe it is not even possible to have elaborate and deep relationships with all people.

Is there a right way to treat the “others” and the invisible? Some of us opt to be purely business-like. Some of us, perhaps because we perceive them as lower on the social ladder, may opt to treat them in less civil ways. Many people can be condescending at times, especially when they demand that the job be done in a certain way.

I often make small talk with strangers. It can get interesting. Sometimes, they may say something that connects or resonates with me, or vice versa. Recently, a waiter at a restaurant in Tagaytay asked me if I remember APO’s gig in Surigao during the ’80s. He told me he was the driver who brought us from our hotel to the concert venue and back.

I lit up. I mentioned how it seemed like only yesterday when the show happened and marveled at how people can meet again after so many years under entirely different circumstances. I asked him how he ended up working in Tagaytay. He said he needed a higher paying job and so went to Manila and eventually was transferred by his boss to another restaurant he owned in Tagaytay.

That little conversation gave me a bigger handle on him. He wasn’t just a nameless, faceless waiter. He was someone who had served me once before and was serving me again years later, and I had not even noticed this until he talked to me.

When he brought the food in, he was smiling and I felt that it was not just a routine activity he was doing. He exuded positivity and heart. He felt he was doing something special. He was especially attentive to us and served our every need. When we had settled the bill, we even posed for selfies.

Once on a plane, I sat with a lady who in the middle of the flight struck up a conversation and told me that she reads my column in Philippine STAR every week. It made my day.

I have hosted five dinners for groups of total strangers. I invited them at random through social media. These people whom I had never met have affirmed to me that it is okay to allow “others” to enter your life and allow human interactions to happen. I heard their secrets, ambitions, disappointments and joys in life. I shared mine, too. I saw good, decent, even exciting people. It strengthened my belief that every life is indeed interesting and worth examining.

By allowing ourselves to look at the invisible and the “others” beyond the services or functions they offer, we open ourselves to having more faith in mankind. We begin to develop more compassion for others we do not know personally. We go beyond mere self-identity and find our bigger self identified with the rest of humanity.

It can only be good for the world.

5 women in the house 0

Posted on December 03, 2017 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated December 3, 2017 – 12:00am

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The women in my life: (Clockwise, from left) Ala, Ananda, Zadie, Lydia and Erica. Photo by Jim Paredes

The past week has been quite different.

My two daughters visited us here in Manila. Erica came from Paris and Ala, her husband John and their baby Zadie came from Sydney.

They decided to meet and have a short vacation in Manila. Erica took a break from work to be with Ala whom she had not seen in almost two years. During that time, many things have happened to both of them. They had been meaning to catch up since Ala gave birth to Zadie, who has become an internet sensation in our family. Her pictures have been charming everyone and so Ninang Erica HAD to come and see her in person.

Before my daughters arrived, our house had been quiet for some months. We’ve only had a few visitors who stayed a few days. Basically, just Lydia, my apo Ananda and I have been staying here. Our three kids had been living abroad for some years now. And so the past two weeks have been quite a special time for all of us since two of them came home.

Erica has been living in Paris for more than a year now. She went there to study at Cordon Bleu and become a chef. She was among the top in her class when she finished. Right now, she is working at a French restaurant.

Ala has been residing in Sydney for almost 10 years. She studied art and actually has exhibited and sold quite a few of her paintings and art installations. She also teaches English to non-Aussies. She married John Buencamino more than a year ago and gave birth to Zadie nine months ago.

It is such a delight and joy to have them in the house. When Erica is here, she likes to prepare special meals for us and her friends. She serves very elegant, sumptuous dishes and serves them plated. The food is very delicious and the presentation is fabulous. She uses unconventional combinations of ingredients that can delight you to experience palate heaven! She is quite creative and works hard to make her meals special. She has so much confidence working in the kitchen. Cooking is her passion and you can talk to her about food endlessly. She cooks with focus, joy and dedication.

Ala is always great to have around. Her conversation is always interesting. She is quite an artist and I love that. Her observations and her take on things are always fascinating and insightful. She is a cheerful, pleasant person to be with. She lights up a room when she enters.

We are all amazed at how she has taken to motherhood. She is an excellent mother to Zadie. She is nurturing, patient and attends to her baby’s every need. She spares no opportunity to learn how to care for and raise Zadie in the best way. She has compassion and focus.

Lydia and I watch Ala and John parent their baby and we can only smile. It doesn’t seem so long ago when we were young parents ourselves.

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Author Jim Paredes and apo Zadie

Right now, there are five women in our house. Since my son Mio is not here, John and I are the only males. Yes, we are outnumbered! Lydia, Erica, Ala, Ananda and Zadie run the house and have taken over the car and driver. Their schedules are prioritized. Their friends come over often and stay and chat. Some of them even sleep over. John and I spend time in the gym or in conversation. He is easy and quite relaxed and great to have around. Most importantly, he loves my daughter Ala and does his fatherly chores with enthusiasm.

As a doting Papa and Lolo, I take photos and basically enjoy their company. I watch my two daughters — all grown up now — and listen to them talk about their lives, loves, passions and their future plans. They are living the lives they wanted. They have made important choices. They are full adults. I am so happy to see how they have become who they are and am looking forward to what they will be.

It is also great to see my granddaughter Ananda reunite with her mom Erica even if briefly for now. They have clearly missed each other and are trying to catch up. Ananda can seem so grown up one moment and a kid again the next. Sometimes, it seems like mom and daughter are the same age when they are laughing and just enjoying themselves.

I enjoy my special moments with Zadie. When she had just arrived, she liked to look at me and smile but did not want me carrying her. An opportunity came when her mom passed her on to me as she prepared Zadie’s bath. She struggled for a moment until I sang to her while in my arms. She relaxed and stared at me in rapt attention and seemed to enjoy it. Maybe the vibration from my chest was doing the trick. During the following days, she has offered no resistance when I carry her. All in all, I must have sung at least 30 songs to her. It is our bonding activity.

Lydia as lola is wonderful. At her age now, she looks like her beautiful mom and even sounds like her as she coos and makes sounds to amuse her apo. She can really get Zadie to smile, laugh, calm down when she is crying, and easily make the baby sleep.

If this article paints a picture of this writer as an old retired grandpa, let me say that I feel far from being old. In fact I feel I have a lot to look forward to. I feel happy, fulfilled and have much to be thankful for. I have quite a family. I want to stick around see more of their lives unfold.

Hopefully, there are a few more grandchildren to come. I would like to do more singing for my very select audience.

Not your usual school day 0

Posted on November 26, 2017 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated November 26, 2017 – 12:00am

I teach a subject under the Communications Department at the Ateneo de Manila University. It is called Special Topics in Performance and Practice. It is mainly a discursive class tackling diverse topics. The discussions are about World Music, the history of OPM, the Filipino bilingual experience, Filipino humor, Myths and Symbols, and the Creative Mind. We end with a conversation on the relationship between performers, writers, makers of products — anyone who makes a pitch to any audience — and the people who subscribe or buy into them. It answers the questions: “What is the promise?” and “Why do we buy into them?”

I give lots of assignments to my students. Some of them are reflection papers, but the more interesting assignments are the experiential ones. By this, I mean I assign them to do things that will drive the point of the discussions beyond an intellectual discourse and into real “felt” experience.

For example, part of the creativity module talks about how we can actually and proactively set the tone for the kind of day we want to have. On a certain day, I assign the girls to show up in long gowns for the class, and the guys are asked to wear shoes that don’t match, short pants, and a coat and tie. I then ask them what the experience is like walking down the school corridors dressed up differently from everyone they see. It is an exercise in one’s power to break routine and create new experiences. I had a female student who wore a chador, and it was such a personally moving experience for her. It made her feel empathy and compassion for all Muslim women everywhere.

Throughout the semester I give unconventional assignments and homework.

The last assignment I give at the end of the semester is a lot of fun. It is, in a sense, a summary of alI the lessons from the various subjects we’ve discussed in class. World Music and OPM talk about how people contribute and share music that reflects themselves, and how one needs to come from one’s local setting to be able to contribute in a universal way. The bilingualism module talks about how we switch languages depending on the subject and the person we are talking to. We live in two worlds that we cross back and forth between many times a day. We “wear” two cultures.

The creativity module presents five rules that one must apply in real life. It takes the subject of creativity away from a mind exercise and into a real-life application. The subject of myth talks about old and new symbols and narratives that we as a people connect to and which help us make sense of the world.

The underlying values in many of the subjects are about having authentic experiences and being conscious and present to them. It is not just about having an intellectual discussion that you forget once the course is over.

For the final assignment, I ask my students to take me, their teacher, to a place where I have never been. I tell them that the place I wish to be brought to is their world. In four minutes, they must show me something that I have never seen before.

I ask them to present one thing they are very passionate about. I ask them to do so with the aim of helping me to know them better while surprising and delighting me, or giving me an experience of shock and awe in the process. I ask them to share something about themselves and present it in the most interesting manner.

It can be a daunting experience for many of them. They must go inward and share something of themselves. It is a big challenge. They must not only present something they are passionate about but must do so with creativity, truth and passion.

I had one student who loved baking cookies. What she did was recite the recipe in rap form accompanied with a beat box, and then gave out cookies for everyone to taste afterward.

Some students who appeared to be shy and introverted throughout the semester would surprise everyone by breaking into a Broadway song and dance routine.

I have seen students recite poems, do soliloquies, dance, play the guitar, sing, etc. I had one student who designed bags and shared her story about how she managed to sell them in big outlets and establish her own brand.

I had another who shared her love for photography by showing her favorite sunset photos and explaining how she took them. She also gave away photos after.

One of the most memorable presentations was from a male student who was a cross-dresser. Throughout the semester, he would show up in class dressed however he felt on the particular day — sometimes as male, sometimes as female.

During the last day, he showed up as a male. Before his performance, he explained to us how he had to come out twice to his parents, first as a gay man, and second as a cross-dresser. It was traumatic for him and for them, he said. For his presentation, he sat down on a chair in front of a mirror and put on makeup while the Disney song Reflections played. When the song reached the central part with the lyrics, “Who is this girl I see, staring straight back at me? When will my reflection show who I am inside?”, he stood up and in one bold, flawless motion tore off his male outfit and instantly transposed into a woman in a flaming flowing red dress.

It was breathtakingly executed and the performance was shining with authenticity. He got a standing ovation from the class!

I have been teaching this subject for more than eight semesters now. I have received quite a few positive comments from my students. Some of them said it was a class they will never forget. Occasionally, I have foreign students who sign up for my class. I had one French student whose main track was economics. She changed her life path when she returned to Paris. In place of the office job she though she would be doing, she became a writer, a museum curator and a disk jockey. She told me it was my class that opened her to other possibilities.

As this semester comes to an end, I look at my students and thank them for being a great class. I know I have taken them to a place where they have never been and have raised their awareness and consciousness about themselves and the world they live in. They have learned a lot, and so have I. Just as many of my students in previous semesters still keep in touch with me, I am looking forward to hearing from my latest batch.

I can’t wait till I offer this class again.

How to inspire yourself 0

Posted on November 19, 2017 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated November 19, 2017 – 12:00am

People often ask me what inspires me to write songs. I tell them that there have been some special songs that I was inspired to do. Songs about a peaceful revolution, and the birth of my first child were two of them. But not all songs I wrote had obvious or dramatic muses. In fact, many of them were not “inspired” works at all but something I just did because I needed songs to fill an album.

Many of them were melodies in my head that I made years ago and had set aside but then resurrected all of a sudden because they begged to be taken more seriously. Some of them I sat down on the piano and worked on with specific topics or feelings in mind. They were out-of-the-blue creations brought to life in a more deliberate manner.

The best ones were those that were written without fuss. They didn’t take long to write. Almost no pressure. I just followed the flow.

So what inspires me? The answer is everything and nothing.

What I want to actually write about is how anyone can be creative and write stuff even without the so-called inspiration.

Is that possible? Yes, it is.

One of the reasons why we have a hard time finding inspiration is because we always think of it as something that happens or originates from outside of us. In many ways, it is understandable that we see it that way. A beautiful girl comes along from out of nowhere. We get hit by a thunderbolt and fall in love and we feel a glow inside and see the world through rose-colored glasses. We feel so lucky and blessed — as we should. We feel that the heavens made it happen.

Drugs and alcohol can also make us feel “inspired.” Taking them can cause some to open their minds to images and hallucinations that take them out of the ordinary world and inspire them to think outside of the usual. The experience can be terrific and earth-shaking, to say the least. And it can spark tremendous creativity.

The problem with the first example I gave is that it does not come that often. Sometimes it doesn’t come at all. Life is not always that dramatic. And drugs and alcohol can give you that high, but it can also destroy you. We cannot rely, then, on these two types of inspiration to give us the ability to create when we want or need to on a consistent basis.

What if we try to think of inspiration as something that can come from anywhere — not just from the outside, but even from ourselves?

I speak of a mindset or a state of being that can transform the ordinary and the mundane into something extraordinary. This state of mind is aggressively playful, imaginative and creative that can “see” beyond what most everyone see. It is a mind that can connect what has not been connected yet. It is “conspiratorial” in the sense that it finds patterns, themes, relationships and stories where others might not see anything. One might say it is a mind that awakens to mystery and tries to capture its wonder. It is open to serendipity and sees more of it than most people do. It is both sublime and mischievous, sacred and profane.

You can learn and train your mind to be like this with practice and training. There are rules and methods to use and develop.

But you also need a few leaps of faith to be able to totally internalize this. The very first thing you need is to believe that what you want to create is already there.

Often, I look at ordinary things and events as portals that can lead to bigger experiences. There are hidden gifts to be picked up everywhere. Our job is to find them. From conversations, phrases, emotions shared, facial expressions, practically anything can inspire me and make a world out of it and express it through song.

American writer and potter Mary C. Richards hit it on the nail when she said, “Poetry enters through the window of irrelevance.” In short, nothing is irrelevant. Everything is important — that is, if we care to look closely.

The second leap of faith is about believing that God or the Universe is there to help you. The moment I focus on a melodic phrase that pops into my head, I feel an inner force at work that opens me creatively. My melody can go anywhere, but I feel some sort of guidance that is leading me to bring the song where it is “meant” to go. With regards to lyrics, it works the same way plus I can open a dictionary or a thesaurus to match words that rhyme. Assistance is there. Always. You just have to turn on your awareness.

There was a song I wrote for my daughter Erica when she graduated from high school. It talked about trusting yourself and finding your own path and truth. The lyrics in the bridge of the song went this way:

“Everything you need is inside of you. You’re the fire and breath of your own soul.”

What I really wanted to describe was our natural inner power, our built-in creativity to make anything, even to make our own future and create our own life experiences. While life happens to us, I believe we can make things happen, too.

This creative mindset applies not just to songwriting but to a lot of other things I do. And I know many creatives can relate to this. Magic, enchantment, creation of meaning is always at our fingertips. I know I make it sound so easy. Sometimes, it is that easy.

And with more practice, it becomes easier.

Talking about my generation 2

Posted on November 12, 2017 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated November 12, 2017 – 12:00am

Yesterday, I was riding the car from White Plains and as we passed through EDSA on our way to Pasong Tamo, I noticed so many things I never paid attention to before.

There were buildings that had been there before but I never took notice of them. There were some tall ones, too. Some of them stood alone against the sky without other tall buildings near them.

There were also pedestrian overpasses that I just noticed that day.

My wife Lydia was telling me that if I raised my head more and looked around instead of being glued online to my cell phone, I would have noticed all of these things way before. She has a point.

When I look at the billboards along EDSA, I see faces of people that I do not know. New faces everywhere. A new generation of showbiz folks had entered the scene since I ended doing regular television shows.

When I turned my attention to names and faces of Korean personalities on one billboard and asked my granddaughter who they were, she screamed with delight, rolled up her eyes and chided me for not knowing them.

I have stopped getting updated on names of current TV shows, celebrities, new songs, trends, fashion, pop and cultural tidbits. More than half of the people I watch on television are new to me. It doesn’t help that I hardly watch TV except the news. I am totally ignorant of Game of Thrones, Stranger Things and other TV blockbusters that people spend their time on. I hardly recognize anything playing on the radio now, too. I can’t relate to most of the themes, lyrics and melodic lines of the songs playing today. They just don’t grab me.

In the words of my own generation, I have stopped “tuning in” and have basically “turned off” and “dropped out.”

I don’t feel I really am missing a lot even if younger people I talk to are somewhere between being amused and shocked at how alien their celebrities and music are to an oddball like me.

I notice that as people get older, they eventually take stock of what they have gone through, and choose to gravitate around that time in their lives when they felt most alive, powerful, happy and “together.” It is that time when they felt in sync with the world, and everything made sense. They had struggles and won them. It was their time, those moments in their lives when their core tastes in music, culture and values were defined and shaped by their personal experiences. And that specific timeframe becomes the foundation of their adulthood, and will always be a big reference point for the rest of their lives.

In my case, my defining time was between the ’70s to the early years of the new millennia. I was young. I had lots of energy. I felt I could unleash big bolts of creative power and make stuff and achieve anything I wanted. During that time, I wrote tons of music, recorded it all, toured the world with my group and did what we felt were great memorable performances singing the songs we wrote.

I also married and raised a family.

I also participated in the biggest political struggle of my generation that defined my liberal democratic values that I still believe and adhere to today.

It was good that during the prime time of my life, I had a very curious mind. I engaged the world boldly. I was active. I was diving, biking and running. I was also reading a lot about everything and learning life skills that would help me adjust to the changing times. I also traveled extensively and saw the world. Today, I am at least technologically savvy. I also have a solid liberal arts education and mindset that serves me well as a human being living in the modern world and trying to make sense of it.

Time seemed to have stopped for me during the ’70s, until around 2007. It’s like I hopped off of the time bus, settled down and built a life and a home in that neighborhood. The worldview I subscribe to was largely formed around my experiences at that time.

I have caught myself telling younger people stories of that heroic time in our history when we kicked out the Marcoses. And I love telling them how glorious a time EDSA was. And that our great contribution to the Philippines was building a big catalogue and repertoire of OPM songs. I am proud of my generation’s legacy. I know I sound just like my uncles who talked to us when we were young about their defining moments during WWII and the rebuilding of our country after.

I still do feel creatively powerful today but I have mellowed. I like doing other things now. I now write a lot more than I used to. I have also become a teacher and I enjoy that a lot. I still do write music and perform but I am no longer on the radar of the millennial audience that has developed new tastes.

Our defining era is really the foundation of the rest of our lives. What we went through and struggled for helped build my generation’s character. Perhaps it was my luck that the ’70s was a time when we were inspired to produce great music. It was also a time when our conscience and consciousness were awakened enough to shape a bit of our cultural identity and history.

My generation’s time is passing quickly. It is now the time of the millennials. I am curious to see how this new generation will act upon the world.

Life at 66 0

Posted on November 05, 2017 by jimparedes

Life at 66
HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated November 5, 2017 – 12:00am

Very often these days, I find myself underutilized. I feel I’m not doing enough. At every single moment, time is passing by and it makes me restless. I feel I am wasting opportunities. That’s because I feel I am waiting for things to happen while time passes by and is gone forever.

To some it may seem like I am a very busy person since I wear many hats — artist, teacher, writer, etc. And so I seem to be doing a lot of things. The truth is, I like to do more. Much more.

I am strong and healthy. I am motivated largely because at 66 years old, I feel time is running out. Life is short. Time moves too fast. I want to do many more things before I get t

Yes, I have made a bucket list and I will be doing as much as I can to fulfill the items on it. But I also have this feeling that there are other callings out there waiting to be answered. I know that I have not lived enough yet. There’s still a whole lot of living to do. There are things that are waiting out there for me. I can sense it although all I have are inklings to go by.

Right now I feel like I am in a lull before some big thing is about to happen. And I don’t know what that something is.

Am I being called to do a mission or just being asked to indulge my passions more? Every day, my radar is scanning my life’s horizon, looking for signs.

During the past weeks, I’ve been staying at home mostly. I go to the gym three to four times a week. I teach at the ADMU twice a week. I practice a little guitar almost every day. I meditate occasionally. I spend a lot of time online. I know there is definitely more to life than doing just these things.

There were times in the past when I felt clear about what I wanted to do in life. I was with the APO Hiking Society, and it had a job description and we did what we felt we had to do. And we did it well.

These days, I do not feel engaged enough with anything, certainly not enough to get me focused 24-7.

I know I am more of a doer. I want action. Sometimes, I can be a procrastinator, too, and postpone things for a future time. But aging has changed that. You know that your time is limited and so you make sure that you are focused on the remaining time at hand. Things can’t wait too long.

I see people my age slowing down to retirement. I can’t see myself ever retiring although sometimes, I ask myself why I need to keep busy.

Why do I need to fill my hours doing “stuff”? Why do I have this need to achieve? Can’t I just be happy and calm while in “being” mode? Should I always be doing something? Do I feel defined by the things that I do? Isn’t the state of just being myself as important as what I “do”? If doing is more important, should people who do not have the physical strength or health to pursue their dreams be considered failures as humans? Are we here to always prove something in this life?

I guess it is just my nature to be active and look for things to do. Asking yourself what or how much how much you have done in life comes up more often as you get older. The truth is, there is always still something to do. I often ask why I must still try to fix the world, or respond to the call of doing what I think is right. Shouldn’t we leave that for younger people to worry about? I wish I could say yes. In truth, I can’t.

Even if we can’t solve all the problems of the world, we still have to try. Ultimately, people have to pick up the cudgels, and I am afraid I have always been one among the not-too-many who have not and will probably never go gently into the good night. It would be so easy to just drop out and use the excuse of being too old to avoid answering the call of one’s conscience. But to do so, you also have to be the type of person who can live the rest of your life knowing you are bullsh*tting yourself.

There are many things we cannot change. But I don’t think we should give up trying to change what we can.

When I was younger, I sought to change the way things were because I wanted to alter the trajectory of where the country was heading then. I knew my generation would be living in that future. That future has become the present and is rapidly becoming the past. So why I am still fighting for another tomorrow I will no longer be living in?

At my age I know that more and more often, to be true to yourself means to challenge the ways of the world instead of accepting them passively. It means one may have to be “unreasonable” and even unpopular and choose to stand by the side of truth. You can’t live a real life if your aim is to gather as many “likes” or live for the approval of others. The great temptation is to succumb and say we can’t change things and just give up. I detest that.

This battle between oneself and the world may never be won with finality, but at least you try to change the little corner where you live while you still can. Every ripple you make counts if you want to contribute to the making of a formidable wave of change.

And so here I am waiting out this lull. Eventually, I will hear the call clearly. I know I will still be up for it.

40 years 1

Posted on October 28, 2017 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated October 29, 2017 – 12:00am

Screen Shot 2017-10-29 at 6.39.26 AM
The author Jim Paredes and wife Lydia Mabanta on their wedding day.

It was 40 years ago today when Lydia Mabanta and I got married. She was a beautiful, innocent, wide-eyed 20-year-old girl who marched to the altar for her father to give away to a 25-year-old man waiting at the end of the aisle.

We met in 1976. My cousin Robbie was dating her sister Nandy and he had this idea that if I could date his girlfriend’s sister, this awkward chaperone practice would be less of a drag for them. He invited me to a party at Nandy’s house. Lydia and I were instantly attracted to each other. The next night, the four of us went out to watch a movie. It was One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest starring Jack Nicolson.

We dated for seven months before she had to migrate to the US. We thought it would be the end. But during the next seven months, we wrote each other almost every other day via snail mail. They were intense letters expressing how much we were missing each other. The Internet had not been invented, of course. Long-distance calls were very expensive. Almost daily, I would wait for the mailman to pass by and ask him if he had a letter from her. I would read and reread every letter for days.

I finally mustered the decision to call her one night and ask her to marry me. She wasn’t home. She was out on a date. At 4 a.m. San Francisco time, I called again and she had just got home. After we talked, she decided to come home to the Philippines.

As much as we wanted to marry immediately, we could not decide where to have the wedding since I was also waiting for my papers to migrate to the US then. After a few months of waiting for my petition to come through, we decided that we would stop waiting and just marry here in the Philippines.

We chose the Church of Mary the Queen to have the wedding. The priest, however, refused us because Lydia was only 20 years old. I politely but firmly told the priest that we could go to other churches where we could most likely find a priest to allow us to marry. After talking to us for about an hour, he gave us his blessing.

It was not to be a grand wedding. I was a poor young man who had P30,000 savings to my name. I had a budget of about P1,000 for her wedding gown. My brother Gabby gave me clothing material and had a new suit made. I borrowed a necktie from my soon-to-be father-in-law. My mother-in-law had me made a nice white long-sleeved shirt.

On the day of the wedding, Lydia showed up radiant in a classic, gorgeous Gang Gomez gown. She had modeled for him before and he practically gave it to her for a song. Father Kull, a favorite Jesuit teacher of mine, officiated the wedding.

The reception was held at my mom’s house. We had a big garden. The day before, the very tall glass was cut and cleared, and we strung bare bulbs to light up the place. We served cocktails, which was all we could afford. There were no decorations or anything fancy. The garden was not even spruced up. We had our friends and immediate relatives over and that was enough. When it rained, we all rushed inside the house to continue the celebration. We were even delighted. We saw rain as a blessing.

Our parents and godparents gave us cash gifts. My father-in-law had estimated how much we spent for everything and gave us P18,000. We got P6,000 from our ninong Chito Ayala. We got a few more from other guests. We felt rich enough to start life with about P30,000!

I was working for Jem Recording Company, a start-up then that played a big role in the history of OPM. Half off my salary went to rent for an apartment within the Balete area. Before every fortnight ended, we would be eating meals at my in-laws since we usually had very little money left. After we spent on groceries, gasoline, and things for the house, we would watch movies at the Arcega’s theater along Aurora Boulevard.

It was the ’70s. We did not want to start a family right away. We wanted to be a couple and do things without the responsibility of having to raise a family. We wanted to venture into life together. We had no maids. We wanted to be independent.

But after only nine months, we felt like we were just “playing house,” and decided it was time to change plans. Nine months later, Erica came into the world.

The hungry years were great, memorable years. We had very few worries. We had no great ambitions to be rich and buy a big house. We had a nice secondhand car. We were happy to have a stereo set and listen to records we liked. We made love, watched movies, ate at very modest restaurants and hung around with friends. What else could we possibly want or need? We were content to live in our little apartment except for the fact that thieves were always trying to attempt to steal our car radio.

Not too long after, my career as a singer-songwriter with a then-unknown group called Apolinario Mabini Hiking Society started to take off. We bought a modest shell of a house in Fairview. At that time, North Fairview was the last place you wanted to live in. It was in the middle of nowhere. You had to go through bad roads to get there. It had no streetlights and it was a dumping ground for dead bodies.

But it was our own house. It required no down payment. We bought it without help from anyone. We fixed it up into something beautiful that felt comfortable and safe like a real home. We were happy there.

We had two more children, Ala and Mio, after Erica, and two grandchildren over the course of 40 years. We have moved up in the world. We have had other homes and have done a lot of traveling. All our children live away from us now and have acquired citizenships and residencies in other countries.

Time passes by quickly. Forty years seem like a flash, a blink. The young girl I knew and married is now a doting grandma. She is the light of our lives. She has made every place we have lived in a comfortable, warm home.

The frail young girl I had married 40 years ago has become a strong, independent and caring human being. She is also a fierce cancer survivor.

As a couple, we are still adjusting to each other even after 40 years. That’s because marriage is the most radical of all human relationships. It is a blank check you sign and you never know what the payments are, nor the terms. Anything can happen. It is full of surprises.

We continue to walk on through the long aisle of life before we get to the altar at the end. Forty years have brought us closer to each other and to the inevitable end of life.

We look back with gratitude that we have been blessed. Life has been generally good and abundant. We have good children and grandchildren. Most importantly, we continue to learn a lot about acceptance, give and take, forgiveness, patience. Every day, we learn a new facet of what we understand as love with all its joys, pains and blessings. We still have plans for the future. We still plan to do the Compostela Pilgrimage, and we look forward to seeing our grandchildren as adults.

But today, we celebrate and toast cheers to ourselves.

I love you, Lydia.

Finding your sacred spaces 1

Posted on October 15, 2017 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated October 15, 2017 – 12:00am

Sometimes, things can really take their toll on you. The almost non-stop daily traffic can be suffocating as you feel trapped between buses and big trucks for hours. It can cause anxiety attacks especially after a long day at work. Listening to the President on TV rambling on about non-sensical stuff and lying outright almost daily now can really upset you as a citizen of this country. A lot of our politicians contribute to the wretchedness of life with their stupidity, insincerity and total lack of decency. They are liars, cheats who seem to be focused on nothing but ambition and power. The daily news of scandals, murders, and negative news can really drag down your spirit.

I have been living practically alone in our huge house for a month now with my grand daughter Ananda who is out all day in school. On weekends, she has different activities too. Lydia is in Sydney helping our daughter Ala with her new baby. I eat breakfast and lunch alone. For dinner, I practically have to order Ananda to sit with me around the long dinner table. Almost daily, I spend a lot of time at home, except to teach at the Ateneo twice a week, and go to Gold’s Gym near my neighborhood in the afternoons.

The stress, the boring routine and the loneliness can get to me. The political developments have been so upsetting lately that one feels alternating emotions of anger and hopelessness.

Early last week, I thought of going away for two nights and three days and chill out near the beach. I just wanted a change of scene. So last Thursday, I made a quick getaway to Bohol. I took an Air Asia flight to Tagbilaran and checked in at the Ananyana Resort, one of my favorite places on earth.

I left Manila with hardly any sleep, with a heaviness in my heart, and with a disposition bordering on depression and anxiety. I was tired and weary.

It is only a one hour and 15 minutes flight to Tagbilaran. And yet it is a different world. It is refreshing not to hear horns of cars. Driving to the resort was completely traffic free. The driver was pleasant and I did not feel any stress even when he was driving quite fast. No one is overtaking. You can hardly find any big and annoying ad signs dotting the side of the streets that hovers over you and covers the world. There are hardly any people nor buildings. There is so much open space.

When I went down from the car and walked into the resort, I immediately felt my tense shoulders relax as I heard the waves of the ocean and felt the sea breeze. It was very calming. When you are surrounded by things like the eternal sea, and the wind, one can’t help but surrender to them. I did without putting up a struggle. Everything about me felt relief. The warm staff greeted me and I felt like I was back home. I have always enjoyed my stays here at Ananyana.

It is evening. Right now, I am typing this in the open lobby of the resort. There are no walls around it. There is the night wind rustling the leaves and when you look out into the sea, you can’t help but see a few dots of light in the darkness as fishermen in their boats move about the ocean trying to make a catch.

I ask myself, ‘Does it get any better than this?’ The answer right now is ‘no’.

Relaxation is what everyone needs. In the big bad monstrosity that is Manila, everyone seems to be locked into some sort of rat race for more money and things. Everyone is madly trying to make a living to survive or searching for next bigger, better, newer, latest modern thing to buy.

If we only we could all find our own ‘‘sacred space’’ and access it any time we want, the world could be a more pleasant and more humane one.

Meanwhile, we must find a way to cope with all this stress.

I am not always stressed out. Sometimes, I actually feel great and so ‘together’ that I can find and tap my quiet powerful center inside of me and deal with whatever life throws at me. At other times, I can lose it and feel so unsettled that I don’t even realize how much stress has been building up inside. Soon, it takes over and I start getting poor sleep. I wake up two or three times a night for no reason. I also find myself eating without really tasting the food. I gobble it all up quickly. When I ask myself two or three hours later what I had for breakfast, I can’t even remember. I also get easily irritated and lose my patience quickly.

Going to the gym helps me a lot. After a session, my endorphins kick in and it gives me a good feeling about my body. I also do zen meditation and that really calms me down.

More and more, I also turn to prayer. I used to have a hard time convincing myself that there was anyone out there who actually listens. Now I am sure there is. I realize that the two best prayers for me are about forgiveness and surrender. Everything else we need God knows already. We don’t need to ask. What we must do is ask to be forgiven and to forgive others, so we are more humbled. It becomes easier to detect His presence and accept any outcome. Admitting that we can’t solve or control everything is also a good prayer. We must be humble enough to surrender our problems completely and let God figure things out. It is that simple for me.

Lastly, I also try to take care of myself. Sometimes we do too many things for other people that we forget we, too, need care and love. Running on empty can deplete us and make us feel bitter about constantly giving without replenishing ourselves.

I took a 45-minute break from writing this. I walked by the beach and returned just now. There was a little drizzle but the dark and the slight wind were too inviting to refuse. In the dark, you can hear your thoughts better, and ironically, you see things clearer. And you realize your consciousness is as big as the darkness that engulfs you. As you stare at the nothingness, you realize that you are also the nothingness. To me it was a strangely comforting thought. I feel I am in touch with who and what I am on a really basic level.

I came here to Ananyana to de-stress. I know I am not the stress that clings to me. It is something that I unconsciously allow to control me. It is like affectation. It is with you but not really part of you. You only acquired it without knowing you did. If it were really a part of me, then why can’t I feel it right now here in the darkness?

Yes, we must learn to rediscover the enchantment in everyday life to counter the propensity for falling into the seeming meaninglessness of modern living. We need to pay attention more and cultivate self-awareness.

And that’s why we need to have a few sacred spaces to run to, and get our lives back. There are such places. Some are far. Some are near. Some are outside of us, and some are inside.

We must find all of them.

I remember my teachers with fondness 0

Posted on October 07, 2017 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated October 8, 2017 – 12:00am

Last Oct. 5 was World Teachers Day. It made me remember and reflect on the many teachers I had in school.

I spent my formal education at the Ateneo de Manila from my first day in prep till my graduation with a communications degree in 1973. I have met teachers whom I grew to love and respect, and I also had some whom I never warmed up to, and even disliked.

I would like to talk about those who influenced me in positive, indelible ways. They were the ones who showed patience with me as a young boy who (in my estimation) was slow to learn in the beginning but managed to pick up speed later on.

In grade school, I remember teachers who not only patiently taught us our lessons, but shepherded and cared for us as they nurtured our minds. They were kind and loving. Teachers like Mrs. Belleza, Ms. Lardizabal and Ms. Sandoval were memorable. Mrs. Belleza was my teacher in prep. She helped allay the fears of this six-year-old who cautiously entered a classroom for the first time. Ms. Lardizabal was beautiful. And thoughtful. She was sweet and occasionally received flowers from some students who had a crush on her.

I remember Ms. Sandoval with extra fondness. She was my teacher in fourth grade. She chose me to represent the class in an elocution contest. I was mortified. I was too insecure at that time to even talk in public, much less join a contest. She assured me I could do it and made sure I was trained well.

She and her boyfriend who had a radio announcer’s voice trained me for many days after class. Daily, they would correct my diction, improve my projection and remind me not to swallow my words. They were trying times. I remember crying out in frustration because I could not perform the material the way they wanted me to. After a week of practicing, they felt I was ready. I was in great doubt. To my surprise, I won the top place in the elocution contest delivering a speech on “The Despair of Judas.” I can still remember Ms. Sandoval flashing a big smile and being so proud of me.

Many of my high school teachers had an impact on my life. There was Onofre Pagsanghan, or Pagsi as he was called, who founded Dulaan Sibol, a theater group that presented the play Doon Po Sa Amin. It was a “transplanted” version of the American play Our Town written by Thornton Wilder, translated and directed by Pagsi. After its Manila run, we toured some provinces.

He believed in me enough to assign me the role of director during the tour. I learned not just theater from him but also openness, love, respect and sensitivity. He was truly a teacher who shaped me.

There was also Mr. Justino Roque, a math teacher who taught a subject I never liked. But he was so creative and funny that I managed not just to like math, but to get the most decent grades I ever received in this subject. He would sing the multiplication tables. He wanted us to call him “Justine Rock”! He was a cool guy.

In college, I had two teachers who became National Artists. They were Rolando Tinio and Bien Lumbera. Rolando was loud, dramatic, challenging and brilliant. He challenged the way we thought. He opened our minds and pointed out our bias towards the west and how our mastery of English but our lack of skills in speaking Filipino was isolating us from the rest of the country. And he did this while teaching us English literature.

Bien Lumbera was the opposite. He spoke softly, and was more patient. But my memories of him extended outside the classroom. I remember visiting him in YRC, a big government facility that was converted into a detention center for political prisoners during the early days of martial law. I boldly asked him to collaborate on a musical I had in mind then. It was a “historical fantasy” about the what-could-have-beens during the time of Rizal.

By the time we started working on it, he had already settled in Hawaii. He sent me the lyrics via snail mail. Our musical called Bayani was staged in 1983, a few months after Ninoy was killed. He never got to see it since he was abroad and it hasn’t been restaged ever since. I had already started writing songs in Pilipino then. His lyrics encouraged me to write with more elegance.

A professor of philosophy, Tony Romualdez, opened me up to a deeper understanding of life. He was responsible for setting me on my life path with a profound yearning for the metaphysical and the spiritual. I remember attending every class and thinking a lot about the lessons and discussions for days, weeks and even months after.

On our 50th anniversary year as graduates of grade school, our class threw a party in honor our teachers who were still around. It was great seeing them. They beamed with pride at how we had turned out. There was a teacher who asked for forgiveness for the physical pain he had inflicted on some of us then. It was politically correct at that time for teachers to spank us or even punch us in the arms. I found it strange but touching to listen to his apology, even if we had mostly forgiven and forgotten what was done to us.

As a teacher, I realize how important my role is in shaping the hearts and minds and attitudes of my students. Quality time spent in the classroom and the teacher-student relationships are critical elements in influencing young people. I listen to them a lot. As a teacher, I learn a lot from my students and I know that a lot of what I teach is also something they can keep for life.

I have been teaching for almost 10 years now. I have students who have excelled in their work. I don’t claim much of the credit. But I fancy that I may have had something to do with the success of some of them. Receiving letters of gratitude from some who changed career directions after attending my class has encouraged and inspired me.

I have been lucky in having great teachers in school who taught me things I have kept for life. These lessons were not necessarily about the subjects they taught. Sometimes it was more about the way they modeled adulthood and how they permanently awakened my curiosity to learn as much as I can while I am alive. They had passion, patience, and yes, they loved what they did and it showed.

What a teacher leaves behind may not be noticeable until years after. Seeds are planted. Sometimes, they grow into deeply rooted trees just as a student with good teachers later on excels in his profession. There is a saying that goes, “teaching creates all other professions.” It is true.

Without inspiring teachers, I ask my generation what kind of people would we have become and what kind of lives would we be living today?


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