I was witness monday night to a most astounding performance at Merks in Greenbelt3. The place was packed with friends of Toti Fuentes, great pianist, arranger and a truly wonderful human being who was to do his (probably) last concert in his life. You see, Toti, whose musical career spans more than 30 years and who has played with everyone in the local scene and a lot of greats in the US like Sergio Mendez, Tony Orlando, Natalie Cole, Mariah Carey and many others is diagnosed with a rare form of cancer that is quickly debilitating him. In his pre-cancer days, he was a man of hefty built. But the ravages of his sickness have reduced his frame to a little more than one half his size. Nevertheless, he was dapper in his white suit despite the weakened frame.
He started with the Charlie Chaplin classic, “Smile” which was a stunner since the lyrics which everyone was singing in his head went “Smile though your heart is aching…” There were songs like “I’ll Be Seeing You” which took on a somberly sad tug at the heart. He also played crowd favorites like his Stylistics medley which got everyone singing aloud. A few foot-stompers like Rocky, and other fast numbers got everyone euphoric as he attacked the piano with his usual enthusiasm complete with loud, boisterous shouting, and his signature theatrics. He had tender moments too when he expressed his love and appreciation for his friends, notably his wife Jonie. Voice cracking with emotion and shortness of breath due to illness, he lovingly narrated how he met his partner for life while TNT-ing in the US.
And all through out, there was this collective awe of the moment, THE MOMENT, when this man we all loved was present before us sharing his abundant gift of music, and all of us including him knowing that perhaps this was to be for the last time. There, in the middle of a mundane place like a nightclub, the shroud of truth about everyone’s mortality was being lifted for all to see reducing everyone to awe, humility and yes, fear and terror. Death was partying, nightclubbing while the living could only watch aghast!
And yet, while we all stared at the precipice, the inevitability of everyone’s mortality, the love we all felt for Toti, and for each colleague in the room (we were all old friends) was palpable. With camera on hand, I took pictures of everyone I had ever worked or interacted with before— musicians, performers, singers, managers, radio people, etc.. hoping to keep the moment a little longer.
Life is truly short and fleeting. And yet, even when time takes everything away–body, health, talents, wealth, fame, reputation, passions and purpose –everything we ever built up as a hedge against death, I would like to believe that there remains something, the only true thing that matters, the only thing that time cannot kill. And that is the radiance of love!
Today, Toti leaves for the US for treatment. I hope that doctors can do something for him. Toti, I thank you for your deep friendship, loud laughter, great love and passionate music. And yes, your timeless performance that monday evening will not be forgotten. It’s as real as the love you always embodied.
And in the end, when the applause and the bowing are over, only love remains.
After all, everything begins and ends with it.