Monday, March 26, 2007

An alternative to "alternative"

Alternative music just isn't subversive anymore. It certainly isn't subversive in the Philippines, where many an alternative fanatic is an Ateneo, La Salle, or UP student living in Ayala Heights or Tahanan Village. It's hard to see just what these kids are supposed to be rebelling against; it can't be the status quo, since they are among its greatest beneficiaries. Those faux-vintage T-shirts, artfully beat-up jeans, and sturdy flip-flops don't come cheap.

It's obscene, really. It's one thing to slouch in your parents' garage in Seattle, play grunge music, and imagine yourself artistically and morally superior to prep-school kids steeped in Mozart. It's quite another thing to sit in your air-conditioned bedroom in Tierra Pura and scoff at the people who like Cueshé.

There isn't even any inherent value in liking music that isn't popular, that isn't merely entertaining. Clive James describes a period in the development of jazz when musicians began to work at "sounding like art, with entertainment a secondary consideration at best, and at worst a cowardly concession to be avoided." The result: "Where there had been ease and joy, now there was difficulty and desperation."

In Letters to a Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke writes, "A work of art is good if it has arisen out of necessity." Joy is a necessity; expressing yourself the best way you know how is a need. There's nothing wrong, in itself, with the popular or the entertaining. But there is something wrong in labeling what you don't like as inferior or worthless.

In his highly amusing thriller Floodgate, Alistair MacLean defines a snob as a person who pretends to be something he's not. By that definition, a person who can't relate to pop music is not necessarily a snob; maybe his parents are classical cellists and he has never listened to pop in his life. (Of course, it's equally likely that such a person, hearing Britney Spears for the first time, would quickly become a fan.) Now, when a Pinoy who grew up watching Eat Bulaga and hearing Marco Sison on the radio starts denying the validity of certain forms of musical expression, he is being a snob.

Such snobs often claim to be more "real" than people who like pop music, as if pop were some sort of hallucination, as if happiness and enjoyment were any less real than disaffectation and ennui. A few weeks ago, a friend accused me of disliking sad music because I was happy. Well, it's not only happy people who have no use for sad songs; sad people can't stand sad songs, either. It's usually just bored people who feel a need to hear the musical stylings of the dispirited.

There's nothing wrong with being dispirited; everyone gets sad or bored sometime. That's why it's so important not to knock happiness, especially the hard-won happiness of people whose lives we don't understand, people who find solace in the melodies of the Backstreet Boys or, yes, April Boy Regino.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

The Bloomfields

Unlike the Eraserheads, who were merely influenced by the Beatles, the Bloomfields are an unabashed Beatles fan-band. They dress in jackets and ties and wear their hair in Fab Four mops. Their sound consists of giving a variety of songs, from the Beach Boys' "Wouldn't It Be Nice" to Tito Vic & Joey's "Iskul Bukol," the Beatles treatment. To these guys, every song is a Beatles song.

I like the Bloomfields' music, and I like the Bloomfields' attitude. I can't begin to describe how sick I am of the navel-gazing, "I'm an ahhh-tist" vibe I get from a lot of Pinoy rockers: they can't just make music, they have to have a philosophy about it. Whatever happened to having fun and making people happy? Many of these guys aren't even that good. And many of them still live with their parents, eat their meals off their parents' tables, drive to their gigs in their parents' cars, and pay for their gas with their parents' money. Yes, folks, these are the people who consider themselves more real than those of us who care about money and work for a living. Like the hilarious Jack Black character in School Of Rock, they think they serve society by rocking, and they think that's enough.

But, back to the music. I like the Bloomfields' sound: it's fresh and clean. These boys are troupers, taking their Beatles fanhood to its logical extreme and doing it well. Most important, their music is fun. They're just having fun. The kind of fun you would have if you felt like singing some karaoke and you happened to have a good voice, and your friends were good at guitars, keyboards, and drums and decided to accompany your singing, and you all had a chance to polish up your sound and put it on a CD with a flower on it--that's the kind of fun the Bloomfields are having with their self-titled debut album, launched on March 23, 2007.

My introduction to the Bloomfields' music befits their un-snobbish vibe: I discovered them through my extremely un-rocker ten-year-old cousin, who went to the album launch to squeal at the "cute" band members. (And they are cute, in a beau-laid sort of way.) I had no doubt that this was a good band, as most bands who get to the album-launch stage are, but I was surprised at how much fun I had listening to their album. I keep repeating that word--fun--because that's really what music is about! Enough of the puerile brooding of pampered twentysomethings toting glossy Fenders and candy-colored iBooks. As Tom Shone writes on, "The last time I looked, the only ones reading Ulysses and quoting Nietzsche were teenagers. No adult has time for aesthetic 'difficulty' or 'self-consciousness.' Life is too short. Frankly, we'd much rather be watching The Incredibles."

In addition to the aforementioned "Wouldn't It Be Nice" and "Iskul Bukol" (renditions both vigorous and loving), the Bloomfields' debut album includes a few mild surprises: bossa nova standard "Girl From Ipanema," Andrew Gold's well-loved "Never Let Her Slip Away," Dionne Warwick's signature song "Walk On By," and the Richard Reynoso hit of yore, "Ale." Two bluesy 50s songs, "At The Hop" and "King Creole," root this band's sound in a tradition even older than John, Paul, George, and Ringo, but of course the album includes two Beatles covers, "If I Fell" and "You're Gonna Lose That Girl," both performed with great gusto and a sort of touching fidelity. Of the original songs on the album, my favorite is "Wala Nang Iba," which I listened to for the first time with a feeling of revelation. It reminds me of a scene in the terrific TV show Scrubs where amateurs perform "Eight Days A Week" at a wedding, and everyone glides onto the ballroom floor and dances up a storm. "Wala Nang Iba" is that kind of song: merry and cool, a song people can dance to at a wedding, a song people can have fun to.

Yes, I know. Fun fun fun. It's all I really care about. The Bloomfields seem to care about fun too, and that's why people are going to connect to them more than to those ridiculous musicians who claim to be all about "the real world." You know, living in Ayala Alabang and spending more money on your T-shirts than many Filipino families spend on food--that's the real world, man!