Thursday, May 5, 2016

Election season realizations

  1. I'm not the only one who has indescribable feelings that should but could not be suppressed and, in other circumstances, should but are suppressed.
  2. I'm not alone in my weirdness and internal wildness.
  3. Test a relationship by talking about politics.
  4. It's not people's choices but the logic behind their choices that's unpalatable and, to a certain degree, appalling.
  5. There are no heroes and villains, only people with good intentions.
  6. You have a voice.
  7. You listen selectively.
  8. 'Who's your president?' is a personal question. Don't ask this to a stranger, in a party.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Deeper the second time around

My new — newfound to be exact and I shall explain later — musical obsession is Hurts.

I miss the way I discovered their music: radio's on, songs play in the background, my mind, elsewhere when a sweet passage jumped out and called my attention.

I can't remember though if it was the chorus or the verses that made me stop what I was doing to figure out the words being sung, that I may commit it to memory and later on research the lyrics, title and artist, in case the DJ wouldn't say it.

No, it was the verses. The almost glacially slow-rap by which the singer tells an intriguing story about some girl named Susie. —And it was the percussions. The song was Wonderful Life, the artist was Hurts.

Bought the album, listened to it, didn't buy the rest of the tracks.

What year this was, I forgot.

But there definitely was no Instagram yet at the time (or I haven't been on it yet), because it was through this medium that I rediscovered Hurts. I stumbled upon Theo Hutchcraft's account and followed. If I may — this is my blog — I'd usually have a sexual attraction to someone I find beautiful. But there's something about Theo that I haven't fantasized ripping his clothes off. He's so — ethereal, unreal.

Aside from artistic shots of himself, there was a steady stream of concert photos. Hurts was performing in packed arenas. A surprise to me who thought of them as one-hit-wonders.

If they're touring, that means they have fresh music. The next step I took led me to fall in love with the band the way I didn't but should have when I first heard them.

Surrender makes me dance (Lights), weep (Wish, Wings), hope (Perfect Timing). I don't want to be in bed in Theo, I yearn to be in a stadium where Hurts is playing and I am bumping bodies with strangers (Some Kind of Heaven).

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

You're so sexy, and I'm not just talking about your brain.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

The sound, the vision, The 1975

From black-and-white to blue neon and pink
When artists discuss their creative process, the poets their poetics, you have to restrain yourself from listening if only to avoid disappointment; because more often than not, the theory ends up more elegant than the practice. A reason that when The 1975 announced the release date of “I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it” months ago and interviews with the band about it surfaced here and there, I felt an equal amount of thrill and fear: Finally! But. Will the build-up — which began with a dramatic sequence of social media posts suggesting a breakup, followed by a stream of song titles and lyrics teasers alongside hints of a new color palette — be more beautiful than the album itself?

The Manchester-based fourpiece composed of Matty Healy (vocals, guitar), George Daniel (drums), Adam Hann (guitar), and Ross MacDonald (bass) has delivered something attractive in their self-titled debut album, “The 1975”: music that’s “very now” in a sense that it consciously defies definition (either that or I don’t have the vocabulary for it yet). For their sophomore outing, Healy shares that the record is “a distillation” of everything they’ve done before. And again it will have no regard for any arc or cohesiveness whatsoever. “My generation consumes music in this completely non-linear way and we reflect that, we create how we consume,” he adds. “Why create one type of music when nobody consumes one type of music?” The band is also going for a live experience unlike anything they’ve done before, with sets and visuals that pass for art installations. Will the band’s vision come to fruition?

Digression: The way I see it, we’re at a point where we do not just buy (pay money for and be convinced of) a record, but everything that’s attached to it: the music video, the artist’s backstory (a.k.a. personal life), the live performances, even the fandom and their conversations. Each of these elements influence each other as well as our appreciation of them. Sometimes I find myself enjoying a song I wouldn’t listen to on the radio when I hear it in a concert, what with a grand stage production, not to mention the crowd’s contagious energy. What I’m saying is, while they make for great entertainment, at the end of the day, I’ll still pay for music that I can be stranded on an island with.

When you look at The 1975 fans — so-called screaming teeny boppers indistinguishable from One Direction supporters — you’d think you’re in the wrong crowd, but that’s to insult the 15-year-olds out there and your once 15-year-old self, who knew exactly what tasteful music was. When you look at the band, they are rockstars in form — magnetic frontman, mysterious guitarist, leather jackets, nonchalance. They’ve got all the trappings of celebrity and artistic air but the good news is if you take all these away, lock yourself in a room and turn the lights off, they have the sound to keep your attention.

As previously expressed, songs in “I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it” are diverse. One moment you expect to hear gospel (The Ballad of Me and My Brain), the next moment you’re arrested by a trap-infused tune (Loving Someone), and in another moment it’s like a tragic romance film score is playing (Please Be Naked). Then there are the familiar The 1975 melodic sing-alongs (She’s American — reminiscent of Settle Down and This Must Be My Dream — a personal favorite).

Yet its strength is not in its diversity, but rather in its technical merits. As in the first album and past EPs, we have a kaleidoscope of songs that are simply well-written and arranged that you can play them on repeat and as a bonus fit into various playlists (from “sexy time” and “heartbreak” to “party” and “workout”).

If The 1975 ever felt pressure working on the “difficult second album,” I shared a degree of it. As a fan I wanted the band to succeed and evade a sophomore slump. So far I’m a satisfied customer looking forward to get out of my room and watch them perform with the entire fandom. For now it’s back to listening to the 17-track album and reading up the reviews and more interviews. You’ve got to love musicians who can and willingly articulate their thought process. There are only a few of them.

—Originally published on GIST.PH

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Almost, Maine and the business of subverting cliches

Judging by the title and poster — a cartoony rendition of a snowbound world with nothing but an empty bench, a few pine trees, and the words “almost” and “maine,” separated by a comma, written in child’s cursive (the i dotted with a heart) — Repertory Philippines’ Almost, Maine seems like a story that disguises depth with light-hearted humor. It almost is.

A man and a woman sit side by side on the familiar bench and discuss distance. Girl thinks they are, at that moment, closest to each other, while guy argues the exact opposite. Nothing else is presented to the audience that merits any further reading of the situation. It is as literal as it can get. And we’re interested.

What follows are eight vignettes about people in and out of love in the town of Almost, Maine. As a Valentine offering, Repertory Philippines brings the John Cariani play to Manila with actors Reb Atadero, Natalie Everette, Caisa Borromeo and Jamie Wilson taking on multiple roles under the direction of Bart Guingona (The Normal Heart).

“This is the first time I’m channeling my rom-com side,” says Guingona. “I’ve been known to do really complex, dark stuff, so when I read it, I went, ‘Whoa!’” Which is not to say that Almost, Maine is lacking in complexity and darkness — or perhaps Guingona together with the actors and creative team have already drawn out the play’s more thought-provoking facets.

This Hurts, for example, is a poignant exploration of love and pain through a handicapped man and his neighbor (though I’m curious about how you will like its ending). While Where it Went, where we learn how lovers drift apart, provides a cathartic shock of recognition with its sheer realism and relatability. “I decided that the play would be about loneliness and people overcoming it,” the director adds.

The entire narrative hinges on clichés and English idioms: a broken heart, which pieces jangle inside a paper bag, is fixed by a repairman; best friends falling for each other collapse repetitively on the ground; a shoe actually drops from the sky as a couple reaches an agreement. Given this, scenes can either spark philosophical musings where it works or leave a saccharine aftertaste where it doesn’t.

“That for me was a challenge, to try to not to make it cheesy, but at the same time bring out the cleverness of that whole conceit. That you’re getting a cliché being enacted literally. It gives elements of magic realism,” shares Guingona.

Some vignettes may also suffer from predictability, if not coming off as contrived. In Her Heart, an old love is named Wes, and a new love is named East. In Sad and Glad, a misspelled tattoo is suddenly given new meaning — too serendipitous (not to be true but) to be tasteful. Yet the obsession with turning a trope on its head is infectious. You’re compelled to guess what happens next and if it’s a complete surprise, the feeling is completely rewarding.

Almost, Maine tries to be a lot of things — whimsical, smart, profound, touching — and in doing so falls short in becoming sublime in any of them. It deserves to be seen, however, for its structure and ambition, most of all for this production’s talented cast, crew, and director, who have done their best to subvert clichés, love being the tritest of them all.

—Originally published on GIST.PH

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Live and let live solo

Today is another day resigned to going about your business as an ordinary human being, with no intentions to ruffle feathers, let alone draw unwanted attention. Then it happens: you arouse suspicion when asked to divulge your relationship status and declared, “Single.”

You’ve been in this situation many times before. In the restaurant, where, booking a table, the receptionist says, “For one?” not only to clarify the request but also to pry: Why are you eating alone? In the movie theater, where the coldness of the empty seats around you have nothing on the icy stares directed at you. And in the various social gatherings, where, upon discovery of your singleness, new acquaintances dissect you like a frog.

Somehow it’s hard to conceive the possibility of living with neither romantic attachments nor desire for matrimony. That one can nd joy and meaning sans spouse, so-called signi cant other, and children.

The suspicion then turns into pity, especially since having a life partner has always been the idealized status, and the search for The One deemed a basic human hunger. Love between two people and the reality of a soul mate are standard themes in pop songs. Leading characters in a TV series are bound to develop sexual chemistry and eventually end up together if the show ever extends its run. The losers in teen icks automatically become the cool kids after scoring a girlfriend (in fact they were losers to begin with because they were alone).

All these send the message that if you’re single, something is wrong — mostly with you. Stereotypes thrown the single’s way are: too picky, self-centered, career-obsessed, emotionally unstable, sad and unattractive. These descriptions not only come from the outside but also from within the solo yer, because again, we are told that “single = not normal.”

Beyond the tags, however, single men and women experience unfair treatment in the workplace and in the market because of their status. Studies in the US show that all things beings equal (age, income, background), majority of renters prefer couples or a group of friends over a single renter. Married men are also more likely to get the job and earn more than his unmarried counterpart. And married couples get better insurance rates and employee bene ts.
One striking issue raised by University of Denver Sturm College of Law professor Nancy Leong is people’s openness when it comes to their bias against single people. “When asked why they preferred to rent to married people…a majority of participants in the rental study stated simply: ‘because they’re married,’” she said in a 2014 article. “It is very dif cult to imagine that such a large number would have proclaimed that they preferred not to rent to black people ‘because they’re black,’ or to Jewish people ‘because they’re Jewish.’”

While the studies may have been done abroad, the same attitude and practices apply here. Perhaps a relatable example is at the of ce where single employees are expected to take the extra hours and work load without question. Solo diners may be asked to transfer tables to make way for a larger group. Hotels charge extra for single occupants. The list goes on.

Magna Carta of Singletons — that sounds funny. But are we convinced that singledom is viewed in a negative light and coupledom is the right and only option? Leong pointed out that “the dedication with which same-sex couples and their allies have fought for the right to marry demonstrates how important marriage is to many people. Yet others feel just as strongly about remaining single.” In the end she suggested that “the move toward equality for everyone who wishes to marry is cause for celebration. It also provides an opportunity to re ect on marital status more generally, and to look for ways to equalize those who wish to marry and those who don’t.”

Things can be complicated in the Philippines, which values the traditional family setup. The good news is that the LGBT community (long regarded as “others”) have been courageous and persistent in making their voices heard. The single ladies and gentlemen can take their cue from them — not exactly to stage rallies and lobby for laws, no, but to feel no shame in whatever state are in, whoever they choose to be, and not be pressured into taking others’ beliefs and principles as their own.

The fantasy is that someday party conversations will be kinder, with people asking each other personal questions out of genuine curiosity and not out of a need to form a character judgment. That we let each other take our time in guring out matters of the heart. That you can walk into a restaurant where you’ll be seated at a good spot, even if you ask for a table for one.

—Originally published on GIST.PH

Friday, February 19, 2016

A shade tacky, a fistful of fun

The good thing about bad books is they make for great parodies. In 2011, E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey stirred up quite a buzz — for different reasons. For encouraging lascivious behavior, for not being raunchy enough, for getting BDSM wrong, for a character saying “My inner goddess is thrilled” and apparently meaning it, and for being an overall poorly written piece of literature.

You have to acknowledge, though, that whatever the critics say, Fifty Shades has its fair share of readers and drawing such passionate response from people, whether positive or negative, is always a point of interest. In fact when the negative reviews exploded, it aroused in me a curiosity: I need to read this. I need to be socially aware.

Given the books’ popularity, the inevitable happened: a movie adaption — which also received a collective thumbs down from critics and vocal viewers. But the appeal of Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele’s world is so strong that we’re still talking about it.

And the conversation is now taken to the stage. 50 Shades! The Musical Parody is that event where everyone can share a laugh over Grey’s excesses, Steele’s ignorance, and the readers who hang on to every word of the two’s love story.

The musical — produced by Marshall Cordell, Al Samuels, and Emily Dorezas; and
written by Dorezas and Samuels with Amanda Davis, Jody Shelton, Ashley Ward, and Dan Wessels — will run in Manila from Feb. 12 to Mar. 1 at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium in RCBC, Makati. After which the show will be toured in other Asian countries.

A musical seems a logical option. The format lends itself to gratuity, exaggerations, and downright ridiculousness. As they say, who breaks into song in real life anyway?

Speaking of songs, it’s the musical parody’s first problem. The lyrics and melodies are less than exciting, though it’s not without euphonic gems. A clear standout is the 11 o’clock number 50 Shades! (But maybe it’s thanks to the vocal chops and bravado of Kaitlyn Frotton, who plays one of the women engrossed in James’ novel and leads her fellow housewives in belting out this song.)

Red Room is another engaging number, which undermines the darkness and danger of Grey’s sex playground with its nursery-rhyme type of rhythm. There’s also Any Other Couple, which pokes fun at Grey and Steele’s unconventional way of showing love to each other through a duet that resembles pop karaoke ballads.

What’s risky about a parody is that it might become what it criticizes. 50 Shades! is guilty of jokes bordering on tacky — those which could’ve been told by your high school mate or little brother. But when it hits the mark, boy it’s laugh-out-loud, fall-off-your-seat hilarious.

If the musical succeeds in Manila, it will be because of its cast. Each one of them is talented, energetic, has brilliant comedic timing, and knows how capture the audience’ attention. Most of all they believe so much in the material that you will end up getting convinced, too, and find yourself enjoying the ride.

There is no weak link in them, but special mention goes to Greg Kata for portraying a well-fed, horny, but distant Christian Grey. For its Manila run, local talents join the international cast, with Karel Marquez alternating with Brenna Wahl for the role of Anastasia Steele; Lorenz Martinez alternating with Kata for the role of Grey; Bituin Escalante, who plays one of the housewives alongside Frotton and Casey Rogers; George Schulze; and Julz Savard.

Escalante hopes that the musical will shake everyone up and have them in touch with their sexuality — just like what happens with the languid housewife that she plays. I think the show does a little bit of that. The stage isn’t short of attractive actors (spoiler: there will be nudity) and hearing R-18 words casually thrown in a comical context do get you out of your comfort zone, making you re-think your thoughts and feelings about taboo subjects like (spoiler) fisting.

As for the rest of the cast, they simply hope that the audience will have fun. I have no doubt they will.

—Originally published on GIST.PH