Among other wishes, I asked for the Ultraelectromagnetic Jam CD, and on Christmas eve I got it. Of course, I got ribbed for it; it did not fit in with the rest of the wish list (Edith Grossman’s translation of Don Quixote, music or movies of the Beatles, Garcia Marquez’s Memories of My Melancholy Whores, you get the picture).  But I had heard some of the tracks on radio, and realized I liked them. Not least, I thought it would be a neat idea to catch up on the latest Pinoy bands, by listening to their covers of Eraserheads songs — that is, the very songs written and popularized by the (defunct) Pinoy band that started the latest (and from the looks of it, permanent) OPM wave.

The CD’s a blast. (Its concept also appeals to my rather literary sense of creative conceit.) The Eraserheads’ natural melodic gifts are winning, and their songs of innocence (think of Barbie Almalbis’s Overdrive) and experience (Kitchie Nadal’s Ligaya, which, as Jove Francisco wrote, sounds like she really had fun in the doing) get just the right play. Paolo Santos is an excellent teller of tales, and Magasin is both a good fit and a distinct example. And Rico J. Puno? When I first heard of the CD, I thought he was, well, out of place — or was it out of time. But his Huling El Bimbo is just right; who better to sing the song, after all, than the one who rose to stardom at the very time El Bimbo was lord of the dance?   

As it turned out, Ang Huling El Bimbo was the last song I heard in 2005.

I also asked for any book by David Sedaris, my interest having been provoked by something good friend Gigi Santos had written (and a story I had read in a year-old issue of the New Yorker). I got his latest collection of stories (or essays, depending on which newspaper is doing the reviewing): Dress Your Family in Curdoroy and Denim.

He is not laugh-out-loud funny, in the same way, for instance, that Jose Rizal is in parts of Noli me tangere, or Peter de Vries can be (to this day I still remember the opening line, or at least the gist of it, of a de Vries romp called I Hear America Swinging, which I read maybe 20 years ago: "I walked up to the bartender and asked, ‘Do you serve zombies?’ And he said, ‘Sure, what will you have?’" Of course, if you have to explain that a zombie is a particular, potent kind of cocktail, the joke is lost.)

But Sedaris is genuinely comic. And like Jessica Zafra, he also has perfect pitch. There isn’t a single story (or essay) that does not begin exactly right. His prose is elegant, elegiac even, but all his 22  stories (or essays) are elegies of an outrageously dysfunctional family. Elegies, or eulogies: In many stories (or essays: at the start of the book a disclaimer declares that the "events described in these stories are real. Certain characters have fictitious names and identifying characteristics"), the last notes struck are unexpectedly mournful, or filled with a sense of time’s inexorable passing. Good stuff.

I also received Gabo’s latest (and possibly slimmest) novel. Garcia Marquez, for my money the greatest novelist alive, is famous for his opening lines. I remember exactly how he starts the incomparable One Hundred Years of Solitude, that day Colonel Aureliano Buendia discovered ice; I also remember how Love in the Time of Cholera begins its subtle magic, with the scent of bitter almonds. The first sentence of Memories of My Melancholy Whores is similarly unforgettable; it is also Garcia Marquez’s most incorrect, politically; most daring, literarily. "The year I turned ninety, I wanted to give myself the gift of a night of wild love with an adolescent virgin." The reader cannot help but wonder: How will, how can, a writer like this redeem himself? I hope to find out in the next few days.



Filed under Notes on Readings, Readings in Media

5 responses to “Gifts

  1. You didn’t think Sedaris was laugh-out-loud family? Oh man, I laugh so loud, I choke, at many (though not all) of his stories. Maybe it has to do with my identifying with the guy. No, not about his being a gay man with a whiny voice and a past drug problem; you figure it out, though. 🙂 Anyway I’ll bring you a copy of “Me Talk Pretty One Day” and see if I can change your mind.

  2. Oh, he is funny, all right. I found myself smiling throughout entire stories (I especially like the first story and “Baby Einstein,” among other favorites), but he has a deep introspective vein that adds to his power (or gets in the way of a belly laugh, depending on one’s taste, I guess). Happy new year!

  3. ben perales

    Wow! That’s a nice gift indeed. I didn’t know you’re into OPM now.

    How are you sir John? I can’t help but remember the songs that you dissected back in Xavier Highschool days. Songs like, King of Pain(The Police), Dream Academy, Madona’s Live to Tell. Ahh, those days. Seems like yesterday.

    I hope we can invite you again for a mini gathering of manila based XUHS Batch 88 batchmates.

  4. Ah, yes, those were the days. I remember I had a double tape deck Sony, which I brought to class when it was time to enter the halls of literature through the back door of pop music. King of Pain? Poetry, pure and simple. The new Michael Jackson album then, Bad, wasn’t as good, not by a mile, but we made do with Man in the Mirror. Those were the days.

  5. Joe Torres

    I cannot help but get excited reading “Memories of a Melancholy Whore” during the Christmas break. How I wish to experience having sex without actually doing it in a small room in a whorehouse somewhere in a small town in Mindanao while listening to Mozart as cats and dogs fight outside when I’m already 90. I hope there will still be 18-year old virgins by that time.

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