The song never remains the same

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated October 26, 2014 – 12:00am

I am doing a new solo album, which will include new stuff I’ve written and some songs I wrote and recorded with the APO many decades ago. It’s a strange feeling revisiting our old songs and dressing them up with new treatments and arrangements.

Raw musical creations, even if they seem bare and incomplete, are bona fide living things. As such, they should be given the proper attention, understanding, care and treatment so that they can blossom into what they can become. I therefore toss a song around in my head for a while, play it on guitar over and over, before I can begin to find the best approach and interpretation and start recording it.

But what about the old songs? In our youth, we were perhaps much too excited to write and share our songs with our fans, or too inexperienced, so we made decisions quickly and recorded them without much thought. Today, decades later, I listen to them and I see how they could be improved, reinterpreted, rearranged and re-delivered. Or maybe it’s just that everything really seems less than perfect in hindsight.

I am redoing three songs in English that I wrote many years ago. As with many songs in English I wrote in the past, I now sense some triteness and vagueness in the lyrics. I am more eloquent in Pilipino now when it comes to songwriting, so I chose to rewrite two of them in Pilipino.

In doing so, I felt new life breathing into the songs as if they had reincarnated into whole new works. It also helped that they were reworked, musically.

Revisiting anything — a place, a piece of work, an experience, or even old relationships — can bring out a lot of feelings. Whether what you revisit was a happy experience or not, you are bound to learn something about yourself and about life.

In my case, going back to something I have already left behind or even outgrown, gives me an idea of how much I have grown and moved on. I also see how much of me has hardly changed.

When I revisit an old neighborhood, memories of my youth come rushing back. Once, my siblings and I went to visit the house we grew up in which is now owned by another family. We rang the doorbell and asked if we could go inside the house. The present owners, who were aware that we were the builders and first owners of the property, readily obliged.

A tsunami of memories hit all of us. I could recall specific feelings I had as a young boy when I entered the different rooms, the kitchen, the garden, and the little corners where I used to play and hide stuff. It all came back and it was real.

But after a while, when I got my bearings back and returned to the present, I realized how much smaller the house actually is, compared to how I experienced it when I was a boy.

Some people I know who, by complete chance, have run into their old girlfriends again, told me how surprised they were at how much they could still connect as they did when they were still together and in love. Often, the feeling was mutual. But after some conversation, the feeling began to vanish when they realized that what they actually missed was their youth and how simple life was then.

A woman once told me that she just had to see her old flame of many years past one last time before she accepted her current boyfriend’s marriage proposal. Some may say that she was courting temptation, but to rephrase something I heard in an episode of Sex in the City, the past is like an anchor you must cut loose from so you can move on and become who you can be.

Some memories are meant to fade away. But some places, experiences and memories can be revisited and given a fresh meaning altogether. As adults, we can experience them again, but with the wisdom, experience and compassion of mature grownups.

I once attended a workshop called “Reparenting the Child Within,” which helps participants work out their childhood traumas and issues by revisiting them. But you may ask, why should we even revisit old traumas? Shouldn’t we just leave them in the past and move on?

Some traumas we experience as children continue to hurt us, even as grownups. When we went through them as kids, they may have been too painful to understand then and so we never gave them any names, much less processed them. We merely hid them by burying them inside us, hoping we would never have to deal with them ever again.

But when the painful emotions we experienced are not processed, they keep coming back and hurting us and the people we love. The RCW workshop guides you as you revisit the feelings and emotions you felt as a child, and learn to teach the adult in you to process them and finally let them go. It is a very powerful experience. You feel your pain being released and you can finally move on.

In the case of songs I have written, I have learned to know when I should give them new interpretations or just leave them alone as we recorded them then. If a song was a big hit and still continues to connect to my audience even after many decades, more often than not, I leave it as it is.

Paul McCartney once explained that he never changes the arrangements of the songs he recorded in the past when he sings them in concert. He said people want to hear them in their original form just as they remember them, and it gets them to sing along more.

I hold a slightly different view. I like to rearrange some of my songs sometimes to hopefully delight and surprise my audience and, yes, myself. I want to take the songs, the audience and myself to a new fresh place.

I have continued to grow through the years, and I want my songs to grow with me as well.