Writing on Air

Writing on Air by Jim Paredes

Mostly, I played the guitar to make her sing 0

Posted on March 05, 2018 by jimparedes

Mostly, I played the guitar to make her sing

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – March 4, 2018 – 12:00am

I have lived a full life as a performer and a songwriter. I knew songs could move crowds to sing out loud and dance. At one point an old woman stood up from her wheelchair and slowly walked up to me to give me a hug

I left the Philippines on Feb. 23, 2018 to go to the US. The past four days I have been in a hospital in California visiting a relative who has been sick and confined there. I wanted to cheer her up so I made sure I brought something she has always enjoyed. I brought a guitar. She was one of those people who really encouraged me to get into music when I young.

I wanted to sing to her and make sure she had had a great time. I and my sisters Meiling and Babsy were there for her.

She had slowed down quite a bit since the last time saw her. She can barely get out of bed, much less stand and walk by herself. She also gets tired easily so we are lucky to have more than four hours with her in a day.

I made sure she remembered the old times when we all shared happy moments We talked about childhood friends, relatives, happy times. I retold old jokes, and reminisced on crazy experiences. I chose songs that reminded her of home, family, love and friends. Mostly, I played the guitar to make her sing and just enjoy herself.

She remembered all the lyrics to the songs. For three afternoons, we settled ourselves near the nurses’ station and I just played my guitar and sang. Patients would pass by. Some made requests. Some would linger around for about four songs. A few stayed around the whole time we sang. One day, we sang for almost three hours.

In between songs they would talk to us about how great it was to listen to our singing that were part of their childhood and teenage years. Some would quietly cry. Everyone thanked us profusely.

There was a woman who first caught our attention by shouting, “I am so stupid. I want to die,” over and over the morning we arrived. She was a tough one. But every afternoon, she would hang around with us and tell us how much she loved the songs we dished out. She listened attentively and even sang along.

There was this long-haired guy who had a guitar in his room. He sat on his wheelchair as he paid attention to every chord I played. At times, he would borrow the guitar. He missed playing. His fingers had lost their muscle memory to play with conviction. He loved the Beatles.

A well-groomed man in his early ‘60s grooved with every song. During a break, he expressed that he had been living with constant pain all over his upper body for years. He said it was the first time he felt pain-free just by being there and enjoying the music.

It was no surprise that most of the staff in the hospital were Filipinos. All over the world, Filipino nurses have earned their good reputation. The nurses, the office people, the utility men always serve their patients with that love and respect we give to elders back home. There is always more than the usual amount of laughter you hear in hospitals run by Filipinos. They are friendly and like to joke with the patients and always give encouraging words.

On my last day, the staff arranged for me and my sisters to play at the big cafeteria so more people could watch us. As I stood on stage, I smiled and introduced myself and my sisters and told them that we would be singing a few songs. I sang two English songs, one a medley of Paul Anka’s version of ‘90s songs, the other was When I Met You, a hit song I had written some 30 years ago. They went quite well. The next two were Ewan and Panalangin, which I dedicated to the Filipino staff. I then played a couple of Everly Brothers songs on the piano and ended the gig with Hey Jude. The response was enthusiastic. They sang along aloud. We, performers and audience felt wonderful.

It was the most unusual gig I have ever done. It was impromptu. The technicals were not great. It was a simple audio setup. No fancy lighting. No band. I was not in a performance outfit. I did not charge a fee. But we sang with all our hearts and played to a crowd that was dying to be reached out to — and loved. At one point while I was singing, an old woman stood up from her wheelchair and slowly walked up to me to give me a hug. I hugged her back.

I have lived a full life as a performer and a songwriter. I know songs could move crowds to sing out loud, and dance and clap their hands. But this was one moment when I saw the power of music heal broken spirits and lift them enough to add a smile on their faces, a spring to their step, and joy and love in their hearts, even just for a moment.

Counter-intuitive advice 0

Posted on March 05, 2018 by jimparedes

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HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – February 18, 2018 – 12:00am

You live and learn. You live to learn. That’s a constant in a life. It is instinctive. We learn from the day we are born to the day we die, unless we willfully refuse to learn.

When I think about it, some of the best lessons I have learned were those that seemed to initially go against the grain of things. In many ways, some even seemed counter-intuitive at first. I know some of them will not make sense to a lot of people. They may even shun these lessons. But to me, they opened my eyes to a bigger life. They were not always pleasant but they turned out to be valuable.

Here are some of them:

1) It is better to be sorry than safe.
Okay. I know. The opposite of the statement has always been one of the most important lessons we’ve ever heard from our parents, guardians and teachers. I will be the first to admit that this has saved me from many potentially harmful or unpleasant predicaments.
At the same time, trying to stay on the safe side is not always a great place to be. Staying safe and silent can become a copout, preventing you from practicing what you believe in. Sometimes, as a conscious, concerned human being, you must speak out and go against the madness that rules the world. You will face resistance. You will be cursed and condemned. It will hurt. But you have to do it if you wish to stay true to yourself.

As an artist, I subscribe to this a lot, too. You will never break ground unless you are willing to risk failing. You have to try something new, create something novel, not something derivative. You must go against the tide if you want to be heard.

In the event that you end up sorry, at least you know you learned something. Too often, being safe means being boring and conformist. When you go out and explore beyond what you are sure of, you could end up feeling triumphant, or you could end up regretting. Mistakes can teach you a lot about yourself. At the very least, you experience and discover something new.

2) Don’t ask “Why me?” Ask “What’s next?”
I learned this from the book The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron.
In life, we will face disappointments. A big one can stop you in your tracks forever. It could kill your soul. What will decide whether you die or rise from disappointment is your attitude towards it. Instead of asking the world the usual “Why me? What did I do to deserve this?”, ask the simpler question, “What’s next?” If you linger too long in victim mode, your heart will become leaden and you will permanently give up on what you wanted to do. You will lose self-confidence and dream smaller.

So at the onset of disappointment and failure, immediately pick yourself up and ask, “What’s next?” In short, if you bump against a door that won’t open, try the next one. And the next, until you get to the right one.

3) “You take care of quantity. God will take of quality.”
This is another lesson I learned from Julia Cameron. Many times, repetition is what you need to do anything well. An athlete who keeps running the same track daily will one day realize that he has just beaten his own personal best record. And soon after, he breaks the school record, then the national record, etc.

My Zen teacher used to urge us to sit daily in meditation. Enlightenment is not something to seek, he would say. It will happen when it happens. It will happen maybe on your 46th sit, or your 98th or maybe 500th sit. Who knows? One thing is sure, though. It won’t happen if you do not do your sits. And when it happens, it will be an accident.

As a songwriter, I know that not every song I write will be good. I have to write a lot to accidentally make a few good ones. It’s as simple and crazy as that.

So if you want to be “accident prone” to perfection, enlightenment, or anything of value, you must keep repeating your process and go for quantity.

4) “If you meet the Buddha, you must kill him.” — Master Linj, founder of Rinzai sect
Clearly this is metaphorical. And like most koans from Zen, there are many ways to understand this. I have a few takes on this. For this article, I wish to share one of them and it goes something like this.

We were born to live and learn. We must be ready to constantly learn ever new things, lessons and realizations. We must be ready to outgrow and surpass our teachers, idols and authorities, especially in our understanding of life. There are no final goals and ideals to achieve and rest upon. Every time we reach a certain level, we must go past its gate. There are no end goals. We must surpass everything, including ourselves. When we have become the Buddha, we must also kill ourselves. (This is metaphorical, of course.)

In short, live and learn. Live to learn. And keep learning while you live.

5) Lastly, be the first to forgive.
It goes against the grain of how ego wants you to live. The truth is, this kind of pride can be toxic. Don’t let negativity stick. Let it slide. It does you no good. Extend the hand of forgiveness!

Read more at https://www.philstar.com/lifestyle/sunday-life/2018/02/18/1788771/counter-intuitive-advice#OAHvMscytd8rTIj1.99

I started a joke 0

Posted on February 11, 2018 by jimparedes

It was an experience I will forever remember with a smile.

It was the last day of an artists’ conference in Shimane, Japan some 20 years ago. Seventy-nine artists from all over the world had gathered together to discuss how artists through their art can help save the environment.

In the previous two days, we had attended many discussions and talks. Speakers from all over the world had shared their expertise and knowledge on the environment with the hope of inspiring us.

Every night after the talks, artists of all types — dancers, singers, actors, poets, writers — took center stage and made each night special. Actually, it was not just special — it was magical.
I remembered a dancer from Indonesia who did an impromptu performance while holding a tree branch. One by one, he slowly took off the leaves… and eventually his clothes followed. Music was played by a koto player from Japan who attacked the strings of her instrument in a fierce manner. I had never heard the koto played like that before. Their synergy was amazing. The music intensified while the dancer’s movements got bolder and faster. Or maybe it was the other way around. They were so in sync with each other that everyone was in awe watching the performance with tears in their eyes. To me, it was a bold statement about allowing oneself to be vulnerable.

There were other performances in the first two days that were also very exciting. Singers who sang ethnic songs. Poets who read their poems in their native languages. There were painters who showed their paintings to the crowd.

On the last night, when all the talks and the scheduled activities were done, some artists called for a “comedy night” in which each participant would share no more than two jokes with everyone. It was to be an impromptu contest as to who could tell the funniest jokes.

Most were excited. We noticed some participants seemed baffled. But they were game enough to be there.

It was quite funny to watch the participants deliver jokes. Some had great timing. Some flubbed their punchlines. Regardless, people laughed. They were happy and in a good mood and supportive of every participant’s efforts.

The Americans and Europeans were mostly predictable, at least in my view. Being exposed to western culture, I knew half the jokes that they were sharing. I had heard them before or read them in joke books.

The Koreans did a performance which involved cutting a pencil in two with a crisp dollar bill. It was not funny but it was entertaining to watch. Many of us smiled in amusement and knew something must have gotten lost in translation when we were explaining what the contest was about.

There were some who did gymnastics, others did card tricks, a few jokes were told that were mostly more entertaining than funny. But we all laughed at the effort. We were having great cultural camaraderie.

A delegate from Bhutan was called upon to recite his joke. He was among the baffled ones I mentioned earlier. He looked at us and said that they did not have jokes in Bhutan. People were astonished at first, and then laughed. They refused to accept what he said. Surely, the Bhutanese people laughed at SOMETHING, they said! They egged him on. The young man thought for awhile and then started to tell a story. It was a long-winded story that lasted three to four minutes. After the last sentence, he laughed very hard. We all looked at each other. None of us got the “joke,” if there indeed was one. But we all laughed at how odd it was that he laughed so hard!

More people shared jokes. There were a few big laughs. Some were funny because they were not exactly funny in the way we were used to. Some were ridiculously funny.

Soon it was down to just two countries: Estonia and the Philippines. I had become close to the Estonians, Tom and Tarmo, who were famous and known as the Urb Brothers in their own country. Their first joke was political. It was about Gorbachev trying to pick up a woman by pretending he was Frank Sinatra. It was a little funny. It was a bit of an impersonation. The other joke was funnier but I can’t remember it now.

It was my turn. The first joke I told was about a supposed contest that was held in the biggest arena in the Philippines. It was a contest between contestants from the US, India and the Philippines on who had the most children.

So during the final judging on the most children, an announcer’s voice came booming from the large speakers in the venue,. “From the United States, please welcome Tom Harrison with… ONE HUNDRED FIFTY-TWO CHILDREN!” The audience roared and applauded as the American triumphantly walked around the stage and took a bow.

The announcer then called out the next contestant. “Next candidate is Aadesh Ghandi from India with… FOUR HUNDRED FIFTY-SEVEN CHILDREN!” Thunderous applause broke out and people rose in a standing ovation. The Indian bowed a “namaste” to every direction of the crowd and took his place onstage beside the American.

Finally it was the Philippines’ turn. The announcer bellowed, “From the Philippines, please welcome Isagani de los Santos…” and before the announcer could mention the number of children the Filipino had sired, the whole coliseum erupted in bedlam with most in the audience screaming, “Daddy!”
“Daddy!” “Daddy!” “Daddy!”

The joke went over very well. I could hear everyone laughing and clapping. I had a big smile. I then followed up with my last piece.

I started by explaining that in the Philippines, a great majority of males undergo circumcision during childhood.

“In my hometown, there is a famous doctor who has been circumcising Filipino children for decades. What he does is he actually collects the foreskin of his patients and stitches them together to make unique wallets.”

Then the punchline: “When you rub the wallet, it transforms into a duffel bag.”

The room went wild. People were laughing their heads off. My Estonian friends knelt and bowed in mock praise. Then every person in the room rose and clapped for everyone who participated. Many gave me a thumbs-up. They agreed the Philippines had won, hands down. It was a crazy, exhilarating evening.

There is no question that art is effective and can be a great driving force that can inspire everyone. But there is something about humor. It can shake a room with laughter and make people feel better instantly. Laughter is truly the best medicine.

As I packed my clothes that evening for the trip home the next day, I smiled and shook my head. “What a night!” I told myself.

And what a unique way to end a conference.

The culture quest 1

Posted on February 04, 2018 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated February 4, 2018 – 12:00am

I’ve always been curious about culture and languages. When I visit a country, I try to learn a few words and understand why people think and act the way they do. Each country has its own way of doing things. Each one has its own unique traits.

I look at individual cultures as a particular way a people have defined the world and how they must live in it. Culture is a set of myths, beliefs, values, ideals, rituals, rules, signposts expressed and embedded in its language and customs. Each peoples’ shared history and the symbols they have created guide them and shape them into a community where they find belongingness and purpose. Culture is like a road map that tells people where to go, how to live their lives in a manner that gives them some sort of assurance that their lives have meaning and value. It gives people a sense of the universal order and their place in it.

I look at cultures and try to understand how they have handled life’s great questions, imponderables and mysteries like death, the afterlife, the future, God, love, the meaning of being human, sex, eternity, art, politics, ethics, etc. I am also curious about how they relate to the weather, their attitude towards foreigners, and their own fellowmen.

I want to think that each culture has made attempts to make sense and understand and define all those topics I mentioned above. After all, how can a community exist without having notions, ideas, explanations, opinions or some kind of philosophy about what existence means?

Take sex, for example. Have you ever wondered why some cultures are quite comfortable with it and why some have many hangups about it? How is it that there are cultures that celebrate sexual intercourse, sex organs, nudity and sensual pleasures while there are some that suppress all these? In Japan and Nepal, statues and images of phallic symbols are quite common. India produced the Kama Sutra. All throughout Europe, nude statues abound. Meanwhile, in many other cultures, there seems to be some palpable fear about sex which, in practice, has resulted in the subjugation and slavery of women.

Have you ever wondered why some cultures subscribe to just one deity? There is the claim of the one true Christian God who came to save mankind. But there are also cultures with many gods and goddesses who rule their own domains that affect the lives of humans. D.T. Suzuki, a Zen teacher, once expressed his bafflement about some Western religions in this way: “God against man. Man against God. Man against nature. Nature against man. Nature against God. God against nature. Very funny religion!”

There are cultures that are more comfortable with science and abstract concepts, while others make sense of the world through concrete and personal experiences. For example, some express distance not through meters or miles, but by how long certain human activities last while traveling certain distances. A place could be “two cigarettes” away.

Language carries within itself a defined reality, and as bilingual Filipinos, we experience two different “realities,” so to speak. For example, we can have an English Christmas or a Filipino one. We also switch languages depending on who we are talking to, and what the topic is. We can even switch in mid-sentence.

To experience culture, you must adopt its mindset. The Western experience of death means showing a lot of restraint in expressing emotions. Death is looked at with finality. The dead are gone forever. In the Philippines, dealing with death is anything but restrained. We ask those left behind to give a blow-by-blow account of how the departed passed on. During wakes, we eat, play mahjong, drink, laugh, cry and we never leave the departed alone. And after he/she is buried, we have nine days of prayer that follow and we mark the 40th day as special. And every year we take notice of the death anniversary. It is common to believe that when a butterfly is fluttering about, we see it as the dead visiting us. The soul is in a parallel universe. The loved ones may be physically gone but they are still somehow with us.

There are some things visible to one culture but invisible to another. As an example, Filipinos are more attuned to the presence of spirits and ghosts than Westerners are. We have more words for rice. We have words that are untranslatable. Language also determines what we hear. A cock crows a “cocka-doodle-do” to the American ear. To the Dutch, it sounds like “kukeleku.” To the French it is “cocorico.” To the Filipino it is “kukutaok.” As another example, Westerners admire and extoll individuality. We, on the other hand, see more value in belonging.

When I look at countries that were never colonized, I notice with admiration how they seem to have so much character. But when you read their history, you will notice that they also learned much from other cultures through trading and migration. Mahatma Ghandi once said, “No culture can live, if it attempts to be exclusive.” Despite my nationalistic sentiments, I concur. No culture is static. It must continuously grow.

In this modern age, cultures will brush upon each other with ever-greater frequency and intensity. No culture can remain uninfluenced and untouched. If it insists on being “pure,” it may eventually perish.

In the end, the embracing of cultures everywhere can only expand us as human beings. As Jawaharlal Nehru put it, “Culture is the widening of the mind and of the spirit.”

Three troll tales 0

Posted on January 28, 2018 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated January 28, 2018 – 12:00am

We have all had our own troll experiences and I know that they are almost always unpleasant and disturbing. No one relishes being insulted, called names, and threatened.

Everyone I know has tried to answer trolls by being civil, rational and reasonable. They initially show patience and even try to elevate the discussion. Very rarely has anyone been successful.

Trolls are the most despicable people in cyberspace. Often, they use fake names, fake accounts, post fake pictures of themselves and use the most foul language you have ever heard in your life. They also abuse you with threats of rape and murder of your family.

Basically, they try to push your buttons to make you angry or to silence you into submission. They want you to be afraid and watch your back, and protect yourself from further troll attack by not expressing views against the Duterte administration. They bully you into silence.

I have experienced being the favorite of trolls a few times. I would wake up and find my timeline and inbox teeming with hate comments because I posted my thoughts on issues that put Duterte in a bad light.

I have analyzed troll behavior for sometime. They often come in waves, always with the same message and some even using the exact same words. They are not spontaneously sent or expressed by ordinary people. These are concentrated efforts from troll farms calibrated to intentionally intimidate and to silence. It has been proven again and again that these types of trolls are paid to do this.

But I have also encountered “sincere” haters who take the time to harass people and get satisfaction from doing so.

One such person sent me a threatening letter. Amid the usual expletives, he said he would be happy to see me die. I answered him by asking him to apologize or else I would write to the company he worked for and tell them that he had threatened me. I noticed that he had listed two companies that he worked for on his page. He answered in a cocky manner challenging me to do it. I sent both companies an FB message with a copy of his threatening message to me. I suggested that their companies deserved better people to work for them.

Company no. 1 immediately answered and said they would look into it within the day. The other replied that the person was not connected with their company anymore, but his wife still was and that they would talk to her about it.

Within a few hours, company no.1 answered me to say that they had a meeting with the troll employee and decided to terminate him. I thanked them for the quick response but suggested a way for the troll to keep his job by asking if they would consider a change of mind in the event that he would apologize and promise not to do it again. They answered that they had already decided and it was the best thing to do considering that they were a service company.

From company no. 2, I got a message saying they had talked to the troll’s wife, and she wanted me to know she was very apologetic about what her husband did.

The next morning, I got another threatening letter from a young man who worked overseas. I told him that his message was uncalled for and I told him the same thing: that I would write to his boss and show the letter he sent. I also noticed that the company he worked for had its headquarters in the US. I told him I would send the same letter to the US headquarters to make sure that proper action would be taken to address what he did. US companies take these things very seriously.

He laughed and and said “sure,” as if to challenge me more and show he wasn’t afraid. So I sent the letter to his company’s email address.

I then asked him where his hostility was coming from and why he was threatening me. He said he was angry because I was always criticizing the President.

We then had an exchange about freedom of expression and I said that civility was important if we did not want our country to descend into chaos. I pointed out that we were both coming from a place of genuine concern for our country’s future.

When I sensed that he had simmered down a bit, I asked him if he thought his letter reflected the values that his parents had taught him while he was growing up. I said I was a father with a son his age. By this time, we had been chatting for about 15 min.

I noticed he had a sudden change of tone. He suddenly apologized. He said he had noticed that I had been talking to him all this time without using any expletives despite his lack of civility. He said he had been wrong about the impression he had of me. I acknowledged his feelings and said that politics can sometimes bring out the worst in anyone. We continued talking for about 20 min. I asked him if he wanted me to withdraw the letter I sent. He said it was alright and he would talk to his boss himself. He apologized again profusely. I readily accepted his apology with no fuss. Strangely, I was humbled by it. I said that this exchange was a teachable moment for me as much as it was for him. I learned that if we allow it, our humanity can shine through and destroy walls. I said I was ready to let the issue go. As a final gesture, he asked me if we could be Facebook friends. I gladly obliged and thanked him for his friendship.

Two days, later I received hate mail from an elderly gentleman who was connected with the Padre Pio Foundation. He cursed me and wished me ill will. I answered him and said that I was a believer of Padre Pio and that the Saint had affected me in many good ways. I told him his letter left me wondering why Padre Pio’s influence seemed to have affected him in a negative manner. I suggested to him that I would share his message on Facebook and open a discussion on how Padre Pio had affected people. I said I would be interested in hearing from anyone who may be able to explain how Padre Pio’s miraculous powers had gone awry with him.

After a few minutes, he wrote back and apologized. That was the end of that.

I am not sure if my proposition to have the conversation go public was the factor that made him change his mind. Probably not. I would give the credit to Padre Pio who most likely intervened and converted him.

What are you willing to die for? 0

Posted on January 21, 2018 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated January 21, 2018 – 12:00am

No one is exempted. We will ALL die.

Everyone should be thinking and talking about death even before it happens. For one, it will make us feel more comfortable about it when it finally happens to someone close to us. And it surely will. Even if we die first, we will have prepared our friends and loved ones better for our death.

We will not know how we will die. No one knows unless you are on your deathbed. There are infinite possible ways to die. That is not so much my concern. We can’t help it anyway. It is not our choice.

I am writing this article to ask a specific question about death. Answering it may give us clearer direction in our lives. It may even make life more meaningful and purposeful.

The question I am asking is this: if you had to, what are you wiling to die for? Are you willing to die for something?

This thought has been on my mind for the past months. I keep wondering why some people choose to voluntarily risk life and limb for causes, for other people, for principles. I think of soldiers, patriots, missionaries, first responders, workers and doctors in refugee camps, teachers and humanitarians in war-torn places, etc.

Why do they do it?

Almost nobody wants to face death even if it is inevitable. But to walk towards death voluntarily for causes bigger than oneself is admirably and defiantly heroic.

Many people say that the first law of life is self-preservation. But Joseph Campbell, one of my favorite writers, says that is only the second law. The first law is that all life is One.

Ironically, life goes on because there is death. Death, though involuntary, is a necessity. Creatures must die for other creatures to live. When Jesus voluntarily chose death and willingly sacrificed his own life, He was doing it for very important reasons. He was willing to die to save mankind. One might say He saw a collective Self that was bigger than his own self! A hero always dies for something greater than himself.

When I ask myself what I am willing to die for, I think of people, things and values that are important for the world and for mankind to continue to evolve. If human life needs to be sacrificed to save these, then so be it. Some of my reasons are very personal. Others may seem too ideal for some of you readers. To me, they are not.

1) If I have to, I am willing to give up my life to save any member of my immediate family. When my children were still babies, I was understandably very protective of them. During those times, I would constantly make sure they were safe and I would imagine what I would do if they were suddenly in great physical danger. What would I be ready to give up? I knew that I would gladly give up a limb without question to save them. I would even give my own life if the need arose.

I still feel that way except that I know they can take care of themselves now that they are already fully grown. But if a situation came up that required me to give up an organ, or even my life to save theirs, I would still do it.

2) In 1986, many of us who were at EDSA were more than willing to face tanks, soldiers and, yes, even death to fight for what we believed in. I remember those moments. Before leaving the house with Lydia to go to rally, we would hug and kiss our kids with the thought that we may never see them again. Politically, push had come to shove. The line had been drawn and crossed. We all heard THE CALL, and we responded. Thoughts of personal safety were set aside. We knew that we were needed in the fight. It was our defining moment. We were willing to die for our country.

Would I be willing to die for this country again? Now that we are moving closer to another dictatorship, I ask this every day.

I am very bothered about a lot of things happening these days since the new regime took over. I was never the type to just stand by the sidelines and just watch as things go to pot. I am a dyed-in-the-wool liberal democrat. I believe in respecting human rights, democracy, justice and truth, and value them enough to fight for them. Maybe my weakness is I often care too much and so I take it upon myself to do something.

Sometimes, I feel like copping out. It is so convenient to say that I am too old for this. I can also say that I have already done my part in the past. The duty to fight for this nation is now in the hands of the millennials. It seems like a sound rationale and a good excuse. Except that it is not true for me.

As a Filipino, I can’t find real excuses or any rationale that says I am excused from fighting the evil that confronts us today. I am a Filipino, an artist and expressing myself is a huge part of what I do. My nature to speak out will always defy any force that stifles or limits my self-expression.

3) I believe that art is worth dying for.

I admire people who live their lives in pursuit of their art especially during times of persecution. Art can save you from losing your authenticity during such times. As Joseph Campbell put it, “Art is the set of wings that will carry you out of entanglement.”

I admire people like Rizal, Picasso, Charlie Chaplin and many Brazilian and Latin American artists who were exiled because they spoke their truth. They were poets, singers, painters, writers. Through their art, they challenged the existing order at a time when their governments were highly intolerant.

I also watched a movie on the plane (I can’t remember the title) about a prominent and well-admired European painter who stood his ground against the Communist takeover of his country decades ago. The Reds were forcing all artists to abandon their own views and embrace socialist art “in the service of the people.” He refused. As a result he was stripped of his prestige, privileges, and even his livelihood. He struggled on until he eventually died sick and starving. His art was his life’s work. It was his vehicle to express his truth and he never wanted to give up. In the end, his lonely stand was validated by history.

I know I have never faced anything as hard as this. The closest thing to this I have experienced was in 1985. We were banned from radio and TV, and were not allowed to use government owned venues for concerts.

Before the ban, there were also attempts to win the APO over to the Marcos side through lucrative sponsorships and endorsements from crony establishments. The dictatorial regime was desperately trying to win the propaganda war around the time before the elections. We were young and famous. We were also building our own homes and securing our future. We thought about the generous offers. They were tempting. We discussed and even argued among ourselves. It would have been a big boost to us financially if we had accepted it.

In the end, we said no. Our music and career and personal lives at that time were closely linked to the struggle against the dictatorship. We were fighting on the side of the Filipino people to regain our freedoms. And we weren’t going to sell out.

We live in brutal times once again. I feel events will eventually lead us to some sort of showdown between forces of tyranny versus the forces of freedom and democracy. I know this time around, people on opposite sides may not be as polite as the players were in EDSA. There may be real danger of violence.

And so I ask you: Are you willing to make great sacrifices and maybe even die for this country?

As or me, I will be honest. I do not know the answer until I am literally faced with the situation. I ask you to open yourself to the question as I continue to find my own answer.

I love World Music 0

Posted on January 14, 2018 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – January 14, 2018 – 12:00am

I am a big fan of music. Everyone knows that. Through the years, I have listened, enjoyed, grooved on, examined and analyzed all types of music. I never went to music school but my intense interest taught me a lot about music and how to write songs and understand what makes songs tick. I have also learned to appreciate musical patterns in chords, themes, motifs, styles, etc. I can sit down with schooled musicians and not get lost in the conversation.

During the past years, I have grown a bit tired and weary of Western pop music. By this, I refer to music mostly from the US and England. In the past two decades or so, I feel it’s lost much of its rawness and vitality. There are so few artists now who can speak with authenticity and still manage to shine despite the given dictates and demands of commercialism.

Because of this, I have opened myself to other music from different parts of the world. I am always trying to look for “organic” stuff. By this I mean music that is original and new. In the ’70s. I could find “organic” artists like Bob Dylan, the Beatles, Joan Baez, Cat Stevens, Joni Mitchell, Santana, Steely Dan, etc., who made you wonder where they came from and what music they listened to.

They all seemed unique. They were very original. They were like prophets who said important things. Their songs hit us on a gut level. They were mostly writing not to please anyone but to express themselves. They did not cater to an audience. The people bought into them.

There are very few artists these days who can make music like the great ones did. For me, a lot of it had to do with the emergence of music videos. All of a sudden, the world and music business changed. Overnight, gloss was suddenly more important and started to lord it over substance. Bad music could now look “good,” and good music could look “bad.”

Discovering music from Brazil was one of the best things that ever happened to me, musically. Often we discover foreign sounds only when they hit the US charts. That’s how I discovered Jobim and Sergio Mendez. In 1992, I went to Rio de Janeiro to attend the Earth Summit. I discovered more artists and completely fell in love with Brazilian music. I felt I was at the very source of it. Music was everywhere. I saw one guy playing his guitar at Copacabana Beach. In a few minutes, some people had joined in and started playing percussion with cans and bottles while dozens danced and sang with them. I saw so many brilliant artists. Some of them I even met. Many of them I “met” because I bought their records.

It was like discovering a new planet, listening to artists like Joyce (Moreno), Caetano Veloso, Gal Costa, Chico Buarque, Maria Bethânia, Jorge Ben, Milton Nascimento, etc. Their beats were new, their chords complex. The sounds were varied and the percussion was simply out of this world. Yes, they sang in their native tongue (Portuguese), which made their songs sound more authentic to me. They seemed immune to Western pop conventions. They were reveling in their own music and culture. It was refreshing, wonderful and inspiring.

Since 1981, I have bought 13 more albums by Joyce, and a few more of Caetano Veloso and other Brazilian artists.

For almost two decades, I almost stopped following and keeping track of the US Top 40. I liked just a few new artists but continued to follow my old favorites. I did not buy any Top 40 CDs for years. Instead I began exploring music from other countries and continents. From Africa, I liked Fela Kuti, Olatunji, Ladysmith Black Mambazo. From Mongolia I learned about throat singing and bought an album by the group Huun-Huur-Tu called “60 Horses is My Herd.”

When I would go to record bars abroad like Tower records (before the company closed down), I would ask shoppers in the World Music section what countries they were from and which artists from their own countries they could recommend for me to buy. It was the best way to discover new artists.

I bought more music from Latin artists from Cuba, Mexico, Argentina. I also listened to some old and new Indian music, from Ravi Shankar to Bollywood artists. From Russia, I had an album called “Time Machine” given to me by artist Andre Makarevich whom I met at a conference. It was at the time Gorbachev was still promoting Perestroika and Glasnost. The USSR was on the verge of disintegrating. The title of one of Andre’s songs was I Want to Defect. I also bought an album by a Russian pop group called Karnak. From Estonia, I met the Urb brothers who were former political prisoners, and we exchanged albums. There was so much to discover.

Listening to pop songs in another language really gets me excited. Although one can detect Western influence in a majority of them, their cultural identity remains strongly intact.

During the last five years, I have made songs with strong Latin influences. I also wrote songs that were directly inspired by Caetano Veloso and Joyce. I still want to write a song similar to the Urb Brothers’ Moonsong, which I like a lot.

I feel liberated, being freed from the dominant influence of US and British pop music. I do not care to listen to the newest, nor the latest songs on the radio, like I used to. I have avoided being influenced by music everyone else listens to. I have become a snob, in a good way.

World Music is one of the topics I touch on when I teach at ADMU. I introduce my students to music beyond what they are used to. Their first reaction is mostly shock, which immediately turns into surprise and delight. I see them get really interested. Some of them actually expand their musical tastes and follow some artists I expose them to.

The world is so rich. It is a pity that most of us appreciate music that only comes from the usual sources, through the usual channels. Commercial music, to me, often means something already preselected for us by the big, greedy establishment and pushed down our throats.

I like discovering new sounds and artists from all over the world. Their music can touch us in a way that can be a real life-altering experience. Someday, I hope more Filipino music can be heard and liked by people from other parts of the world. But for that to happen, like the rest of the world, we must speak authentically about our own experiences, sing our own songs and dance to our own tunes.

World Music is a big party. There is no dress code. We must learn to come as we are.

Read more at http://beta.philstar.com/lifestyle/sunday-life/2018/01/14/1777674/i-love-world-music#lFlbOVw6u95rq6Fj.99

As the world turns: Predictions for 2018 0

Posted on January 07, 2018 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – January 7, 2018 – 12:00am

I thought that I would be freed from this task of making my yearly projections for 2018. But, just like every year since five years ago, Nostradamus, the master of predictions, has once again forcibly entered my dream state and whispered to me what to expect for 2018.

I can’t help it. His spirit has overtaken me. I have become a humble vessel of good tidings and bad omens which, in the end, may or may not be nothing. To warn you, the accuracy of my predictions yearly has been dismally low at best. Therefore, please tread cautiously. In an era when alternate facts, and fake news rules, read this at your own peril.

1) Every single person on earth who is still breathing will be one year older by the end of 2018.

2) Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs will be outed and exposed as extraterrestrial beings. Scientists will confirm that they are ETs from a planet with a superior civilization. Surprisingly, Rody Duterte will almost make this list. But in the end, he will fall short. But they will all agree that he is someone who is “out of this world.”

3) North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, in a act of defiance, will suddenly and finally quit the United Nations. The headlines will be read, “Un quits UN.”

4) A new Mayan calendar will be unearthed that will predict the end of the old Mayan calendar.

5) Astronomers will discover two small moons very near Uranus. They will be called “Urscrotum.”

6) After race, skin color, sexual preference, social status, educational level, the next big discrimination will be about blood types, zip codes, types of phones and Zodiac signs.

7) WiFi companies will create technology that can be attached to humans so people can be used as data access points. They plan to attach these to celebrities, which will increase their following more than 10,000 times. The simplicity of this invention is truly amazing. When you need to reset the WiFi, simply insult the celebrity access point so he/she “turns off.” After a minute, flatter him/her so he/she “turns on” again.

8) Filipinos will hardly show any shock when China occupies 20 more islands and shoals in 2018. It will hardly be news. Life will go on as usual in the new People’s Republic of the Philippines.

9) Internet trolls will form a union and ask for a raise from their financiers. They will be turned down. As morale sinks, they will stop their strategy of threatening people with rape and murder, and will withhold saying mean insults. In place they will be very mild and say things like, “I hope you have a bad day,” “I will unfollow you,” “Wow… Labo mo.” And when they really want to be mean, they will say things like “I fart in your general direction,” and “Your mother is old.”

10) As people become immune to fake news, someone will register the name “FAKE NEWS” to make outright lies and false stories appear somewhat “official” in the hopes that blatant lies become “respectable” and more credible.

11) Bato will retire early in 2018. He will be placed by Papel or Gunting!

12) Polong Duterte, the vice mayor of Davao, will completely resign from politics. He will have a career change and will become an actor. His first movie will be a remake of Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon.

13) Filipino psychics will make their usual predictions about the usual tragedies, the deaths of unnamed but famous persons, and the marriage of unnamed personalities. All will claim 100 percent accuracy at the end of 2018.

14) Archeologists will be astonished to discover Neanderthals still living on earth in great numbers. By looking at the results of surveys, and reading Facebook accounts, they will realize that there are actually close to 16 million Neanderthals living in the Philippines alone.

I love Paris 0

Posted on December 31, 2017 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – December 31, 2017 – 12:00am

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Since I stepped out of the plane at the Charles de Gaulle Airport more than a week ago, I have been singing the song I Love Paris by Cole Porter which the world first heard in 1953.

The last time I was in Paris was in the late ’80s. APO was touring Europe then. Paris was one of the places where we performed. We arrived on a Friday, did the concert the next day, had a free day on Sunday and left on a Monday. I hardly saw anything. I saw the Eiffel Tower but only from a distance. I spent an afternoon at Versailles. That’s about all l can remember.

I am writing this now from Paris more than 27 years since I last visited. We arrived last Dec. 20 to visit our daughter Erica who is now based here. We brought along her daughter Ananda to be with her this Christmas. And yes, we are all having a wonderful time.

I hardly connected with Paris the last time I was here. I was just too busy then since the time we had was way too short. Everything then was about the concert we were going to do. Paris hardly made an impression then.

This time around I am falling in love with the city, its sights, people and everything else it has to offer. From all indications, it seems like a serious love affair.

These past five days, we have been doing so much walking around and eating out. Paris has endless monuments, restaurants, beautiful buildings, statues, shopping boutiques and metro stops. On our first day here, we took about four Metro rides, and walked 212,000 steps in 230 minutes. We went to Montmartre and visited the Sacré-Coeur Basilica. We also went to the tinier St. Pierre Church which was the church where St. Ignatius of Loyola took his vows as a priest. It all began in that little church for the Jesuits.

We also enjoyed a meal at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon (or the Robuchon, for short), a Michelin-star restaurant where Erica worked for awhile after finishing a culinary course at Le Cordon Bleu.

It was pretty steep but well worth the price. During parts of the meal, we would all stop eating just to savor and discuss how sumptuously delicious the food was.

We have been around the past three days. But there is so much to see. In the next few days, I will experience so much more of Paris. Right now I am enjoying this wonderful city in a way I could not before. I was 39 years old then. I was not as curious then as I am now about French culture, cuisine, art, language, history.

A city with a history that spans centuries has much more to offer its visitors than many other destinations.

Through the centuries, Paris has been one of the world’s major players, affecting much of history. The Bastille was where the French Revolution began and the revolutionary cry of “Liberté, égalité, fraternité” shaped the values of liberal democracy everywhere. In its streets, cafés and universities, France’s philosophers, artists and thinkers contributed much to the art and intellectual movements that influenced Europe and the rest of the world.

As a Filipino I am so proud at the thought that Rizal lived here and that Juan Luna showed the French a thing or two about art by winning contests here.

A few days ago, I went to a cemetery close to us to visit the grave of Jean Paul Sartre, a leading philosopher who died in 1980. I remember reading him in college. It is amazing that people still visit his tomb, which he shares with his partner Simone de Beauvoir, to leave letters and flowers. I will also be visiting the graves of Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison and Edith Piaf in Père Lachaise Cemetery in another part of Paris.

My wife Lydia and I are currently staying at a flat which we booked through Airbnb. It is a typical one-bedroom apartment in Paris. We sometimes cook but mostly go out to eat. In some ways, we are living as Parisians do.

We also hang around my daughter Erica’s flat which she shares with her boyfriend Cyrille. A few nights ago, we spent Christmas Eve there together with Cyrille’s brother Alex and their mother Dyna.

Today, we saw the Seine, the Louvre, the Musee D’Orsay, Jardin des Tuileries, and a few more sights. I was in awe! Beauty was ever-present and inescapable. I was so enthralled at the beauty and art that seemed to ooze out of everywhere. In the cold of winter, I felt a thrill and a giddiness, a warm glow of appreciation for everything I could see.

Every day, Erica takes us to experience something new. I love discovering new destinations, trying new food, and learning how Parisians live. Cyrille and I talk about history a lot. He is quite well-versed on the French Revolution, Napoleon’s impact on the history of Paris, and France during and after World War 2. It is interesting to know that the main entrance to Paris, the Arc De Triomphe, was widened by Napoleon to make sure the military would not be blocked in this once-narrow street by people throwing furniture out of their apartments. He also built much of Paris’s sewage system which works to this day.

n Paris, the past and the present live side by side.

As much as Paris is an old city, it is also home to the new and the cutting edge. It is still bursting with life, old and new art, and its artists and intellectuals continue to contribute to the world of ideas.
Every time I walk its streets of cobblestones, I think of all the great writers and artists who have spent part of their lives here. Victor Hugo, Jules Verne, Salvador Dali, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Marc Chagall, Yves Saint Laurent, Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Pablo Picasso, Jose Rizal, Juan Luna, Moliere and many more who breathed its air, enjoyed French cuisine, marveled at the city and its people, and imbibed and enjoyed its rich culture. And I am thrilled at the thought that I am doing the same even if only in very small measure.

Maybe someday I will come back and be able to afford to actually Iive in Paris, even for just two years. I am an old soul. Otherwise, how do I explain my lifetime curiosity and love affair with history and museums? Hopefully the Muse or the spirit that moved and inspired these artists to be great and prolific will work on me, too.

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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.

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