June 2008 - I sometimes just listen to songs on my iPod, seated in a comfortable chair with a chilled Baltika 3 close to hand. A decent enough way to enjoy the time away from home in a place with nothing in English on TV except for BBC News.
3 years ago, I was in a car with 3 other friends, Philip, his wife Anna, and Martin. We were driving back to Manila after a holiday at a country house in a nearby province.
We were listening to music , mostly tunes from the 90’s, the time when we were in college.
I started feeling wave of sadness and melancholy for some reason. Odd, since the music, Weeezer, Liz Phair, and all, weren’t normally the songs to bring such feelings on.
Then it got to me. 3 of us in the car, Philip, Martin, and I, used to play basketball, a game of 5 per side, together quite a bit when we were at the university. And we played so often with 1 particular person, Albert.
Albert was really into what was classed then as alternative music. I remember sharing tapes with him. He was the only guy amongh my friends who could identify each particular band I’d listen to, and he knew of lots more besides. He was with me in the car once and heard the song Pretty D. In the ensuing conversation, I learned that Tanya Donelly was formerly the lead singer of Belly, and that I'd be doign myself a disservice not to watch her play the guitar.
Albert passed away in 2004, years prior to that trip back to Manila. Martin, Philip, and high went to high school together, and even when we went to separate universities or even after, we moved on to work or, in his case, medical school, we always got together. To drink, to play ball, or just to hang out.
He was one of the smartest among us, Albert was. And quite well rounded. A fairly decent athlete, he could’ve gotten into a varsity team back in high school, only he forgot his gear at home the day of the try outs.
And he was a musician as well. He was the lead for a band, back in our college years. They played ska, guitars, drums and brass, literally a trumpet. A good enough band that they managed to cut an album. He complained at the time they should’ve gotten more airplay only their manager didn’t give enough into the required payola. Oh well.
I remember hanging out at Club Dredd, a couple of times, at its old location in Timog and the later one on Edsa, with him and to watch him and his band perform. The place was the venue for serious local rock and alternative music, the t-shirt and jeans variety. A tribute to true artistic endeavor, named for something only a genuine comic geek would know. The place that played cuts from Chicago and Kalapana, with lovelorn groups of college girls and the singer in black leather pants, was way across town.
He went on to medical school. We all expected him to get through the boards and be a fine doctor, though that wasn’t how things turned out.
When met up once where he related that he got his girlfriend pregnant and that her family didn’t want anything to do with him, and didn’t want him to have anything do to with her or his coming baby. I remember thinking and maybe saying at the time that things could change and even work out in time.
He failed to pass the boards and decided to go to the US to get some room while studying for the next scheduled exam. It was quite a surprise, him not passing. He was sure to get it the next time around.
He passed away in the US. Encephalitis, I heard. Some complication related to hepatitis he caught while we were in high school. I remembered visiting him at home then, about 10 years before that car trip. Hepatitis is contagious enough that we couldn’t actually see him then. We had to dial into the phone in the room he was confined in. He was a bit put off that I only visited him then, weeks after he came down with it. Well, what can you do?
I remembered all that then, in that car on the way to Manila. I just smiled and waited for Martin to play the next song. I really wished he wouldn’t sing along to it. I mean, I got those albums because I liked the way the artists sang it.
A year later, it occurred to me that out there is a child who knows nothing of the father. I like to think that the child would wonder and seek to know. I like to think that all of us would be there to then tell of Albert, one of the smartest of us, who played good basketball, led a good band, and was quite all right with the ladies.
I would like to have told him that Jenny Lewis is as cute a redhead as Tori Amos, and that Katie O isn’t bad at all on stage.