Friday, February 25, 2005

The Five People You Meet in Heaven: A Review

When we die, we meet five people whom we might have known in life. They give us a tour of different places where we might have encountered or met them. And then, they explain to us five different memories of our lives and aid us to have our questions answered – why we lived and what we lived for. This is the fictional frame where Mitch Ablom paints the story of Eddie, an 83-year old circus maintenance man, who died in a freak accident when a cable snapped in a carnival ride called Freddy’s Free Fall, and a cart fell on Eddie as he tried to save a girl from it. More details here.

I have to admit when I read about the initial success of this book, I scoffed at it (and wrongly so) as an artistic flop. Ever since I read Da Vinci Code, I vowed never to believe that those books in the New York Times bestseller list are worth my while. But my personal encounters with the metaphysical world have got me itching to read this book for weeks, until one day, with a prospect of another business trip to Cagayan de Oro City, which left me with plenty of reading time, I decided to suspend all artistic judgment on this book, and plunge on it regardless of my past disappointments.

And this time, I was not disappointed. I have always thought of heaven myself as a place where things get explained to us about this life. Reading about Eddie and his five people brings me back memories of people I know who have died when I was too young or too busy to understand their stories. There are days, for instance, that I wished I could have coffee with my late grandfather in Starbucks, and talk about life issues and how he handled them in his time. Had he lived through this day, my grandfather, I’m sure, would have been a Starbucks regular himself. Sadly, it is not possible now, and those conversations will not happen in this life. But Five People consoles me with the thought that maybe, in the next life, that conversation over Starbucks coffee might take place. And with Five People, I could almost imagine how my encounters in heaven might be when my time comes with other friends and relatives that I have already lost.

Of course with this metaphysical premise, Five People might bring tears and wax sentimental in certain places. But never mind that. True and good literature is expected to do that once in a while. Besides, Mitch Albom’s goals are high or should I say, heavy on the sentiment, but he handles it pretty well, carefully treading on the narrow path between artistic detachment and emotion, which prevents it from being a Danielle Steele melodrama that would have caused me to throw it straight to the trash can. Indeed, Mitch Albom manages pretty well, so I'm marking this book "for keeps".

My professor on the modern novel once said in class that all artistic merits being equal, what makes a book outstanding is its vision. And this is why she said Faulkner stands taller than Hemingway. Faulkner had a vision of order and hope, while Hemingway’s vision is of stoic darkness. While Mitch Albom is not in the league of these late giants of modern literature, surely the Five People You Meet in Heaven, with its vision of hope, stands proud out there with the best that modern fiction has to offer.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Retrospective: The Eraserheads and Circus

I bought a CD of the Eraserheads' Circus album last Monday. I got my first copy of this album on tape back in the summer of 1995 when I was preparing for the bar exams. I mentioned somewhere here that my musical taste took a side trip to the classical genre in my law school days, because of the myth that baroque music enhances brain power. Thus, for the four years of law school, my daily staple was Bach's Brandenburg concertos, some Mozarts, and some Vivaldis. In the summer of 1995, I decided I was going to take a musical adventure, and try some Original Pilipino Music (OPM) with the Eraserheads.

The first time I listened to Circus, it felt like being with friends I haven't met for years. Funny thing is, I never met the Eraserheads at all. But the music that they made was the music that felt real. It was the music that members of the Voltes V generation like me had in their collective subsconcious, awaiting creative expression. And it would take Ely Buendia and the boys to unearth them from the deepest recesses of our hearts and minds. They sang about the life and struggles of college students in a manner unique to us: boredom, insomnia, semestral breaks, alcoholism, and love -- lost, unrequited, and otherwise. There was a Senate investigation on whether the song, "Alapaap" was endorsing drugs. Ely and the boys, however, claimed it was about freedom, until their erstwhile band manager, Jessica Zafra blurted that there was a line in the song that goes, "Hanggang sa Dulo ng mundo, hanggang maubos ang ubo." Wasn't that about cough syrups? The most biting song of the album is "Hey Jay", about a homosexual struggling for acceptance in the homophobic Philippines. Its bouncy upbeat and fancy guitar riffs sugarcoat the underlying story of deviants and their pains in a conservative society. I listened to it again, and have one conclusion, the Eraserheads are geniuses. The song "Kailan", especially the lounge version, will eternally be my generation's best song about unrequited love. How many times have I sung this? Same song different loves. Ha -- the story of my life, and probably the rest of us too.

I was bit of a musician myself back in high school. I learned to play the piano and guitar with the Jingle Chordbook Magazine, especially dedicated to the Beatles. I think I have bought at least five re-issues of that magazine, because I kept wearing out my copies. That's why I could recognize that the chord progression in "With a Smile" came from "Here, There and Everywhere". I made songs on the same progression myself, songs mushier than "With a Smile". Some of my compositions were being sung in school functions in San Beda High School. Nothing special though, and at no point did I imagine making a career out of my amateur musician days.

After high school, I had a choice of going to UP or the Ateneo. I chose the Ateneo, because I was forewarned that philosophy in UP was dominated by teachers from the "Philosophical Analysis" school of thought. But had I gone to UP, I know I would have shifted to film, played with a band on the side, and met up with the members of Eraserheads, who were going to college at the same time that I was.

In the Ateneo, my passion for creating music waned, because of my discovery of the wonders of poetry and fiction, and my uncanny ability for getting myself in school politics, without meaning to. Eventually, I decided to go to law school, and put aside for the meantime all artistic inclinations for the sake of a law diploma and a crack at the bar exams. Listening to Circus in the summer after graduating from law school, I felt like saying, "You guys can die now. This album is a masterpiece to last a long time. As for me I have nothing to show yet, but a medal in bootleg silver." Of course, the Eraserheads will go on writing better songs after Circus, one of which ("Ang Huling El Bimbo") even got them the MTV Music Awards for Best Asian Video.

Today, I'm listening to them again, on my way to board meetings and court hearings. And they bring me back to all those lost chapters of my life. My high school, college and law school days seem like yesterday, and they're all carried in one CD of the Eraserheads' Circus. Indeed, the power of music is in its ability to stir up our lost memories, dreams, and emotions to make us whole again. And I realize that the boy who used to write songs for school functions and dabble with poetry and fiction is the same blogger that I have become today, flirting with the creative muse once again on this corner of the world wide web.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Letters to a Young Poet - Rainer Maria Rilke

There is only one thing you should do. Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write. This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple "I must," then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse.

Rilke's ten letters have been the boundless resource of creative energy and inspiration for this blogger. In times of crisis, I often go back to these passages of Rilke, and ask myself, "Must I blog?" Then I know that I'm in blogging for the long term.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005


The controversy on the citizenship of Asi Taulava is turning the PBA into a big joke. I have to admit, I’ve lost interest in the PBA the very moment those so-called “Fil-Shams” started dominating the league. Might as well go for the NBA, where the world’s best are playing. The local league is only good, if it’s just local. Sure, Billy Ray Bates and Jim Hackett were fun to watch way back when they were imports, and they played as imports. But to pass off the American and Tongan outsiders as Filipinos? Come on. Is there anything else here we can do without bending the rules? My goodness, we can’t even run a decent basketball league.

My friend Atty. Egay Francisco, Asi’s lawyer, has a point when he says that only the courts have the right to strip off Asi of his alleged Filipino citizenship, not the DOJ and surely not the PBA.

But my quarrel with him is why is he pressing the PBA on this? If the PBA is not convinced that Asi is not a Filipino, that’s the PBA’s prerogative. The PBA basketball court is its private domain. If it doesn’t want Asi on it, Asi cannot play on it. Asi should go play on the side streets, basketball is always played better there. That’s where I play.

What is at stake here is the integrity of the PBA. The league should be allowed to interpret its own rules of play. For if we let the T.R.O.-totting lawyers meddle with its rules, watching PBA basketball will never be fun again. And this is what it is all about: fun. Lawyers on the basketball court? That’s not fun. That’s annoying. So Pareng Egay, please keep off the basketball court.

As for Asi, he is the only guy I know who wants to have a Filipino citizenship. Maybe he deserves one. And as a punishment for all this trouble he is giving us, once he truly gets it, he should not be allowed to lose it. Meanwhile, I’m not watching him play and disgrace the PBA with his TRO.


PBA Commissioner Noli Eala has stood pat on his decision to stand by the rules of the PBA prohibiting non-Filipinos to play as Filipinos. Thus, in spite of handily winning the first game with Taulava on board, Tualava's team Talk 'n Text, forfeited Game one and thereafter refused to field Taulava on Game Two, which Talk N' Text lost. Meanwhile Atty. Francisco filed contempt charges against Noli Eala for his actions which allegedly disobeyed the TRO mandating the PBA to allow Taulava to play.