The last full show

I have been on a really hectic mini tour with my friends Danny and Boboy, doing APO’s last performances in North America. Arriving two days before, we had three shows over the weekend in two venues in three days. Two were at the Pechanga Casino and one in Cache Creek, in California.

The logistics involved in bringing a party of 13 to do shows abroad can be daunting. It is tedious and grueling. There are visa applications to file, tickets to purchase, schedules to clear and follow, rehearsals and a host of conditions that have to be met. We prepare months before the concert and, for our audiences and for us, we hone our craft, build up our enthusiasm and our spirits for that magical two-hour high that a performance brings. The preparation is long and can be agonizing, and everything culminates in that special time and place when performer and audience meet and engage on an emotional level.

These three shows were quite special to us and to our audience. These are among our last shows before the APO Hiking Society, my singing and performance group of 40 years, calls it quits at the end of May. They were the last shows where Pinoys in America would see us perform live. And primarily because of this, for many of us in the entourage, there seemed to be a lot more going on aside from the usual travel, rehearsals and shows. We shared a collective feeling that the end, the finality of something that has sustained us as artists and as people for decades, is indeed looming.

I have traveled to the US many times and a great majority of those trips were for shows and performances. Thus, I associate going to the US with touring with the APO. My mental impressions have to do with meeting tons of people and having casual conversations with Stateside Pinoys, doing promotional work that involves posing for pictures with fans and friends. I am not exaggerating when I say that we probably have had thousands of pictures taken during the selling and promotion of our shows and during our performances on tour.

People like to reach out to celebrities. I enjoy reaching out as well. The people who talk to us collectively or individually, I imagine, are going for that “moment” with us. We have been APO for some 40 years now and we have bonded in a special way with a great many people through our years of recording, performing live and on TV, and our personal appearances. We realize that our songs have become the soundtrack of the lives of several generations of Pinoys. Thus I believe that we have, in our small way, helped define with our audience, some aspects of being Filipino.

This human connection with people, the “moments” we have with them, can get very intense, especially with Filipinos abroad. Our interacting with kababayans through the years, which has resulted, in varying ways, in influencing their personal histories, can be quite overpowering. I know it is, for me, as I play my own part in making this “connection.” There are hugs, sometimes there are tears, and there are conversations that spring from a comfortable down-home familiarity that is simply amazing.

I do notice that people approach us with a friendliness that is usually reserved for someone they feel they know quite well. It does not surprise me since, in a way, our audiences grew up with us. Many of them have heard our songs since they were kids and seen our careers played out on TV from the intimacy of their homes. Some have claimed our “barkada” tunes and love songs as the theme music for periods of their lives. Our songs on themes like innocence lost, unrequited love, sad breakups, whimsical times and light moments, probably describe the lives they gave up when they went to live abroad.

This tour, short and hectic as it was, had an extraordinary effect on me. Many times, I found myself consciously present and awake, with eyes, ears and full senses open to everything that was happening. The mundane stuff that happens on tours — the checking in and out of airports, the bus rides to the venues, the waiting, the rehearsals, the sound checks, the signing of autographs and picture-taking — all of a sudden had a new dimension. I knew that these things were happening for the last time, and I savored every moment.

I am reminded of something the ancient philosopher Heraclitus said about never crossing the same river twice. Perhaps every situation is really as new and fresh as this. It is just laziness, or lack of consciousness on our part that prevents us from seeing it this way.

There is really no such thing as repetition. As someone who has done thousands of live shows, I have learned that every show we do is unique. There are no two audiences or situations that are ever exactly the same. We may have a set repertoire and it may work each time, but when we bring it to our audience, it must be as intimate and real and relevant to them as we can make it. We have to “go local” with it.

The formula must come to life. The word must be made flesh. The theory must translate to reality by tweaking things here and here. For us performers, this can only be done with total presence and attention to what we are doing.

As we went through our shows on this tour, my thoughts were about the entire breadth and length and meaning of how our career has panned out. The shows were not isolated events but were, in a sense, a kind of climax to our relationship with the people who came to watch us. There will be no other time when this will happen again ever.

And if ever the APO decides to get back together after a few years, it will not change anything about how we perform: every show, every audience is unique.

There is a book by Elizabeth Kübler-Ross entitled Wherever You Go, There You Are. This implies that at any given point, you are the sum total of everything that has transpired before. The “you” in the now is the state of the art of who you are.

Our last three US performances were called “The Last Full Show.” Indeed. What show isn’t The Last One? Aren’t we alive because we are breathing right now? What is life except what is, right here, right now?

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