“ … Music pours over the sense
and in a funny way
music sees more than I.
I mean it remembers better… “
– Anne Sexton, from Music Swims Back To Me
Yesterday I went to see my mother after learning from her staff that she went on sick leave for the day. Migraine, they said. For a moment I was worried that perhaps her vertigo has struck again. It usually comes to her with migraines. So I visited her, to check.
She was holding a broom when she opened the door. After asking me if I had eaten (“Hindi ako nagluto, pero may sapsap sa ref, kung gusto mo,” she greeted), she immediately went back on top of a chair, held the broom up, and swept away some cobwebs. Either the migraine had already worn off or she just went on leave to clean, I thought.
I looked around the house, she was alone, so I said I’m turning on the computer. Forget the fish, I want to hear some beach music. I was all set on an infinite loop of Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s Somewhere Over The Rainbow/What A Wonderful World while drinking some coffee when mother suddenly asked, “Pwede ko na bang itapon ‘yang mga iniwan mong tape d’yan?”.
“’Wag!” I protested. There are still quite some rarities there that I haven’t found on CD, I said, I can’t throw away a tape unless I already have it on CD. Actually, I don’t remember throwing even those I already have on CD. I passed them on to whoever wanted them, my brother Jonas’ friends usually. Those tapes were what made me skin and bones through high school and college. I would rather save up my lunch money to buy them than be thrown bits of rice at and be called four-eyes in the bully-laden PNULSHS cafeteria. They were what bade me farewell everyday before I went inside the fortress that was Intramuros, having attended Lyceum for college. The songs coded in those ribbons were what I’d sing in my head to shut off the bullies that chased me all the way to my Journalism classes. Those were what I hummed as I walked the cobblestone streets, going home. Those songs in those tapes were my home. My fortress. And those songs were the songs that my brother and I slam-danced and head-banged to, with the neighbors below not being able to complain on account of my mother’s pakikisama. So those tapes made up the soundtrack of my youth, as the saying would go.
Among those tapes are the following: The Pixies Surfer Rosa and Bossanova, The Breeders’ Pod and Last Splash, Rancid’s And Out Come The Wolves, Hole’s Live Through This, The Flaming Lips’ Transmissions From The Satellite Heart, The Smoking Popes’ Born To Quit and Destination Failure, and Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds’ The Boatman’s Call. That is not even inclusive of the compilations I have made out of recording from the radio, listening then to NU 107’s Midnight Countdown, DZFE’s The Master’s Touch, and that program in some other station hosted by that good woman who called herself Midnight Madonna. She played almost every torch song I asked her to, as long as they date no later than the 1970s. I also have some soundtracks, including Swing Kids which introduced me to jazz, and Pulp Fiction. I remember my brother memorizing Samuel L. Jackson’s And I will strike down upon thee speech off it, using it in place of hello when answering the phone. Most callers thought they dialed the wrong number.
And because our VHS machine was hooked up to the karaoke, I was able to record on cassette tape performances by Brad Pitt on Johnny Suede, Diane Keaton on Annie Hall, Michelle Pfeiffer on The Fabulous Baker Boys, and that wonderful, psychedelic on-the-road montage from Hideous Kinky, stringing together America’s A Horse With No Name, Jefferson Airplane’s Somebody To Love, and the Arabic prayer of one of Kate Winslett’s on-screen daughters, its echoes bouncing off from Moroccan mountains. My tapes with those performances and montages are the next-best-things I could have in place of their soundtracks which I still have not come across in my years of scouring cruelly posh Makati or Taguig record shops and dangerously friendly Recto and Quiapo stalls.
“E wala ka namang cassette player, ‘pano mo pa pakikinggan ‘yang mga ‘yan?” She really wants to be rid of them.
Over at cousin Aizel’s, I thought, she still has a cassette player. I wouldn’t mind traveling all the way to Far-view to hear Black Francis ask Where Is My Mind?. Nevermind that I already have a Quiapo copy of Fight Club where the song plays gloriously at the end. It would be a whole new experience jumping to the tune of it now, with my nephew Kodi, Aizel’s son, and definitely still with my doting aunt, Tita Deng in the background, yelling “Dito ka na kumain ha!”
Just leave them be, I tell mother while stirring my coffee, and one of these days I would come back and sort through them, so she could throw away everything else.
In the meantime, let those ribbons stick themselves tighter unto their spools. Let them lie down there in that bottom drawer. Let them remind the mother of her daughter.