“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” I remember the first time I learned about the explanatory power of this quotation as I read Man’s Search for  Meaning, the classic book on logotherapy penned by Viktor Frankl. It was so life-changing  I couldn’t contain my excitement about stumbling onto it. In the New York Times best-selling book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey writes about a nurse who finally liberated herself from the negativity associated with her experience of caring for a patient who gave her a hard time, day in and  day out. Ultimately, she realized that the cause of all her misery was not just the way her patient related to her. More importantly, it was how she responded to her patient’s  unkindness and lack of consideration. She could choose to be negatively affected by it or she could choose to use the experience to become a better person.  Hence, the premium that Covey assigns on the most primary habit of a highly effective person: be proactive.  Choose to carry your own weather instead of being under the power of the weather.

That Frankl arrived at this paradigm-shifting insight after going through so much suffering as a Holocaust survivor in Auschwitz made it even more powerful.  More to the point, he arrived at this insight as he was being tortured by his Nazi captors: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing:  the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Fairly recently, I realized why despite the wisdom that is intrinsic in Frankl’s insight, it has been a struggle for many, including myself, to consistently imbibe and live out the power of choosing one’s response.  Human beings are creatures of habit or automatic responses. Throw in the culture of distraction brought about by the rise of the social media and the complexities of living in the 21st century and you realize how truly difficult it could be to master the art of being proactive instead of being reactive.  A terrorist incident takes place thousands of miles away and we are naturally negatively affected by it despite the distance.  A loved one passes away all of a sudden and we are subsequently devastated.  The predictability of tenure is rocked by the onset of digitization and digitalization and we are endlessly anxious and worried.  An inconsiderate driver cuts into our lane and we find ourselves cursing aloud.  Friends appear to have forgotten your birthday and you are offended and hurt you couldn’t stop thinking about it.  Negative stimulus seems to inevitably give rise to negative response period.


This is precisely where mindfulness could prove to be of great value.  Jon Kabat-Zinn is the leading authority on how the practice of mindfulness can truly live out Frankl’s insight. Over the years, Kabat-Zinn has developed tried and tested techniques for  practicing mindfulness.  Mindfulness zeroes in on   focus and clarity.  Focus is achieved by learning the art of meditation. At the heart of meditation is focusing on our breath.  Clarity comes to us when we are able to catch ourselves reacting to a negative stimulus before it takes us down a negative spiral.  The second one presupposes the first. If one is too immersed in one’s experience, the capacity for focus and ultimately,  insight is adversely  affected. One moves from one activity to the next without being able to rise above the series of stimuli that one experiences –  from mindlessly doing your morning ritual to mindlessly working on your inbox  day after day. The rock singer Dave Matthews wrote the song “Ants Marching” to call attention to how modern day man mindlessly lives his life by following the lead of everyone else just like ants marching in cadence.   The solution is to master the art of pausing and going back to basics. And what could be more basic than the art of breathing. Easier said than done of course. This is why those who are new to this practice are taught to try out the experience for five minutes a day.  I have been doing so for two weeks now and I could truly say that the experience has heightened my self-awareness. I am now more present in the moment.  I also realize I can easily  catch myself being caught up in a negative spiral much faster.

Alas, there are certain days when the pressures and the distractions around me could tend to be overwhelming. Thankfully, mindfulness also teaches what I would call  the 573 technique.  That is to say, when a negative stimulus is staring you in the face you can almost taste the negativity, breathe in deeply for 5 seconds and breathe out for 7 seconds. Do this thrice and you would be surprised with how you can easily recover instantaneously to “hijack,” as it were, the negative stimulus before it does extensive damage to you and those around you.

But wait there’s more.

Once you are able to master the art of the pause, mindfulness also teaches a technique for putting to question your natural and automatic response to a negative stimulus. This is called parsing or the experience of breaking down how our thoughts impact our actions.  If a good friend, for example, passes you by without bothering to acknowledge you. Consider how you would naturally react.  The thought that could come to you  could range from: “my good friend appears to ignore me” to “I  wonder why my friend ignored me” to “he ignored me on purpose” to “he probably pretended  not to have seen me.” Any of these four thoughts could  naturally make you  feel bad. This could then lead to a feeling of heaviness perhaps on your shoulders and possibly, your neck. From there, it could affect the next action you would take which could range from either moving on or running after your friend.  When one does parsing, you get to step back from the stimulus to examine which among the range of responses available to you  would prove to be most productive and which ones you would be better off ignoring.


Socrates used the word techne to refer to the practical application of knowledge.  That is to say, it is one thing to know something, it is entirely another thing altogether to act on that knowledge. Applying it to the concept of being proactive,  it is one thing to know the concept of the space between stimulus and response. It is an entirely different thing to master that space through coming home to the breath, practicing deep breaths and parsing one’s experience.  Through mindfulness, it is, in fact, possible to achieve calmness even in chaos.  More to the point, through mindfulness,  calmness is best achieved in chaos.



When Less is More

Tempus Fugit. Time flies especially if you’re having fun.

It’s practically been 7 years since I’ve been bitten by the analog bug. Thanks to a group of friendly analog enthusiasts whom I met by way of Analog 101 and Wired State.  I can still remember how magical the whole experience was of listening to the vinyl versions of iconic classic rock albums that accompanied my growing up years – from U2’s Joshua Tree to Jackson Browne’s Lives in the Balance, from Yes’s 90125 to the Eagles’ Hotel California, from Suzanne Vega’s Solitude Standing to the Best of Carly Simon. It was the proverbial superb sound as well as the larger than life album art of analog recordings that possessed and compelled   me to convert my sizable CD library into its analog counterpart. So you can imagine how alien the thought of slowing down and taking things easy was to a vinyl convert like myself 7 years ago.  That was the key message I took home with me from listening to a mild-mannered gentleman whose avatar name in Wired State was Pican. Pete Pican, I think, was his full name. He had an easy air about him and he could have easily been my long lost favorite uncle judging by the way he held court as he dispensed hard-earned lessons in record collecting.  At the time that I met him, he had thousands of analog recordings in his library compared to my collection of over a dozen albums I bought mostly from Bebop Records at the Makati Square.  I remember him pointing out how this hobby could prove to be a  hard habit to break  as it promises countless hours of bliss from stumbling  onto your hard to find album to sitting down and listening from that sweet spot in your listening room. Better this than having a mistress, he would explain to his wife.  Better this than disappearing into the night and burning money in night clubs. Better this than gambling. At least, your wife knows where you are.

Having said this, he also  shares how he has come to a point in his record collecting where he would rather listen to a handful of records instead of continually amassing more and more. In the end, he says, even if you only have 365 records which he did not at that time, you won’t even be able to listen to all of them even if you target to play one album back to back per day. In fact, that is not what usually happens. What usually happens is that you have a handful of favorite albums which comparatively enjoy more playing time compared to the rest of your collection.  This, of course, is not a new principle. Pareto Principle is how we refer to the 20% that produces the 80% of your analog bliss. It’s the same as how we use the shirts and pants that pack our closets.  And that is why he says at that time that it makes perfect sense to give away or if you will, endorse the rest of his albums to those whom he knows would take care of them either by selling them or even better, by giving them away.  You won’t be able to take them away with you anyway.  A couple of months after that, we were saddened to learn of his passing.

My record collection is nearing the one thousand mark and I must say that now more than ever, his wise reminder resonates strongly with me today. Which is why I have been experiencing my own version of diminishing returns. The drive to be a completist of artist discographies has lost its appeal to me. Rather than collect all of Robert Palmer’s albums, I’d much rather have Addictions Vol 1 in my collection. In lieu of searching for all of Steve Winwood’s studio albums, I’d be happier with his Chronicles compilation.

To be sure, Pican’s wise insight is reminiscent of variations of the same message delivered to me by well-meaning messengers  in the course of my life.

There is the New Testament, of course, where no less than Jesus Christ himself admonishes us that “what does it profit a man, if he gains the whole world but loses his soul in the end.” There is the financial management seminar I once attended where I learned that the healthiest and most productive attitude we should aspire to develop towards money is not the resolve for more  but rather the vocation to be stewards of God’s talents so that we may be able to bless others with it.  And then there is Gabriel Marcel’s Being and Having in which the great existentialist philosopher talks about the tragedy of reducing being to having when having is simply an aspect of being. To be is not reducible to have.

Indeed, we are all just passing through. Naked we came into this world. Naked we shall leave this earth. What matters most is how we lived rather than how we accumulated. It’s a great thought to reflect on as we start the new year.



In the CD-ROM entitled All This Time, rock icon Sting shares how strange and surreal it was to meet your heroes face to face. This realization dawned on him as he met singer-songwriter legend James Taylor for the first time. This was because Taylor was one pop icon whose albums Sting  used to buy and listen to a lot during  his formative years as  a musician.  Given the preceding, it is not that difficult to imagine how he must have felt when Taylor unexpectedly showed up backstage right after Sting’s concert to engage him in a conversation. They would, of course,  eventually become life-long friends who would sing  in each other’s albums over the years.

Sting’s surreal reflection might as well apply to me when I met not one but two real-life writers who have paid their dues as accomplished craftswomen of the written word. Thanks to their continuing long-running stints with the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the leading broadsheet of the Philippines. I am, of course, referring here to Ma. Ceres Doyo whose column Human Face appears every Thursday in the Inquirer and Neni Sta. Romana Cruz who also regularly writes for the Inquirer on top of her duties as  Chair of the National Book Development Board and her calling as an educator, a book critic, a reading advocate and prime mover of WhereTheWriteThingsAre.  The latter facilitated the afternoon talk which was given by Ms. Doyo on the basics of feature writing.


Since I am a struggling and aspiring writer despite being published 5 times by the Inquirer between 2014 and 2015, it took awhile for me to get my bearings back when I realized I was in the presence of writing greatness.  Awed, blessed and highly favored would not be inaccurate to describe how I felt.  I took in the whole experience like the first time I saw the U2 docu film on IMAX.  Indeed, the experience brought back fond memories of how I felt when I  had the privilege of shaking the hand of Inquirer columnist  Conrad De Quiros during one of the rallies in Makati sparked by the excesses of the  Estrada presidency. The same might as well apply to the first time I got to speak face to face with yet another Inquirer columnist Randy David during the visit of the late philosopher Richard Rorty to U.P. I was instrumental in coordinating Professor Rorty’s visit to the Ateneo by referring Professor David to the Ateneo Philosophy faculty.


Despite the fact that Ms. Doyo conducted her talk sitting down (as she was not feeling well) and notwithstanding the fact that her Powerpoint deck  could use some millennial aesthetic fine-tuning to keep up with the times, from the moment she opened her mouth and proceeded to walk us through the various stages of feature writing, you knew this was not just a talk on feature writing. It felt more like a master class. I particularly appreciated her many stories and examples from her writing career. She used these to amplify her tips and advice to aspiring feature writers like me.  Among those that seared themselves in my heart and mind were her first-hand experience of being harassed during the Marcos dictatorship, her engaging interview with Chavit Singson, her life-long project of preserving the legacy of Mac-Ling Dulag and her front-seat access to the execution of a serial rapist by lethal injection.

It was also inspiring to realize –  as she was sharing tips on prospective subjects to write about as well as numerous angles and approaches one can explore – that one could never possibly run out of things to write about.  You just need to have the guts to face the typewriter or the keyboard and, to quote her favorite author, “let the drops of blood flow from your head to your keyboard.”  Funny yes  but oh so true.


After overcoming the surreal dimension of the entire experience, I  found the voice to engage with Ms. Doyo by way of questions which she encouraged her class to shoot her way.  She answered every single one of them with very incisive insights and in a very inspiring way.  I think it was the poet Maya Angelou who once wrote that after several months, people will forget what it was you said to them but they will not forget how you made them feel.  Thanks to their sincerity and their being grounded in the  reality of their readers and now listeners, both Ms. Doyo and Ms. Cruz reminded me of my favorite teachers in high school and college. They would not only answer your questions with wit. They would also effortlessly complement their replies to your questions with inspiring remarks. Remarks that inspire you to dream bigger dreams. Remarks that goad you to keep fighting, keep trying, keep writing no matter what.

Maybe it was the reason why I ended up being caught by the camera with my eyes closed when I had my picture taken with them. Maybe it was my self’s physiological way of telling those who cared to observe that clearly my mind and my heart at that time could not snap out of such  a transcendent experience.  “Was this really happening?” would not be a bad way to caption the said picture.   In her book entitled Human Face which I requested Ms. Doyo to sign, she scribbled the message:  “Celebrate the human.”  That was what I felt like doing through writing as I contemplated her message weeks after her talk.  After listening to Ms Doyo’s talk and conversing with Ms Cruz about my travails and worries as an aspiring weekend writer, that was exactly how I felt celebrating by continuing on with my blogging, come rain or come shine.

Maraming salamat po, Ms. Doyo and Ms. Cruz. Hulog kayo ng langit.


Isang kabalintunaan na sa kabila ng  patuloy na pamamayagpag ng Spotify at Apple Music ay kaliwa’t kanan ang paglabas sa plaka ng mga “anniversary releases” ng mga sikat na album ngayong 2016 at nitong mga nakalipas na taon.   Ilan lamang sa mga ito ay ang “20th anniversary vinyl release” ng Crash ng Dave Matthews Band, ang “20th anniversary” ng No Code ng Pearl Jam at  ang “10th anniversary”  ng James Taylor at Christmas. Sa taon ding ito, ni-“reissue” ng Verve ang walo sa pinakabantog na album ni Diana Krall sa “vinyl format.” Samantala, ilalabas sa plaka ang lahat ng “studio albums” ni Sting bago matapos ang taong kasalukuyan. Bagama’t di maikakailang di kayang makipagsabayan ng mga lokal na “recording companies” sa kanilang mga kapilas  sa kanluran ay may ilang mga “vinyl releases” din ang OPM na sa wakas ay umiikot na sa ating mga “turntables.” Merong galing sa “CD master.”  Merong  galing  sa orihinal na “analog tapes.” Iba’t iba ang nibel ng kanilang pagkakasaplaka at  “album art”  pero lahat sila ay tumutunog sa pamamagitan ng “33 1/3 revolutions per minute.”    Narito ang sampu na nagpabulalas sa akin ng: ABASPlaKNPLTo!


“Psst” ni  Bullet Dumas

Bumilib ako sa musika ni Bullet Dumas mula nang mapanood ko syang magkwento, tumugtog at umawit sa konsyertong “DAMA” na kinatampukan din nina Ebe Dancel at Johnoy Danao.   May pagka-Andy McKee sya kung tumugtog at humampas ng gitara. Mala-Dave Matthews naman minsan  ang istilo ng kanyang silabikasyon. Pero ang buod na sinasaad ng kanyang mga nilikha ay maliwanag na orihinal at purong  musikang Pilipino. Salamat sa Satchmi at Jam 88.3, naisaplaka ang “Psst” na syang nagsilbing pinaka-“signature composition” ni Dumas kasama ng labing apat pang pinakaastig na obra ng mga lokal na  “indie musicians.” Ang mga ito ay unang naitanghal  sa “Fresh Filter” ng Jam 88.3.  Nawa ay sumunod na ang isang “full-length album.”

“Tadhana” ng UpDharmaDown

Isang patotoo sa ganda ng awiting ito ang tatlong alternatibong bersyon na nasumpungan ko kamakailan. Ang una ay ang “acoustic version” ni  Johnoy Danao sa  YouTube. Ang ikalawa ay ang bersyon ni KZ Tandingan sa Wish FM. Ang dueto nina Aicelle Santos at Noel Cabangon sa konsyerto ng huling pinamagatang “Traffic Jam” ang ikatlo.  Wala akong itulak kabigin sa tatlong  alternatibong bersyon nito. Gayunpama’y  likas na mas malapit sa nakararami ang orihinal na bersyon nito na inawit ni Armi Millare, ang bokalista  ng UDD.  Hango sa ikatlong album ng UDD na Capacities ang awiting ito. Dahil sa kasikatan ng UDD at sa patakaran nila na maglako lamang sa mga “gigs” nila ay mahirap nang makatsamba ng album na ito sa plaka.


“Minsan” nina Ely Buendia at Raymund Marasigan

Bago pa man muling pinasikat ito ng Smart ay may espesyal na puwang na ang awiting ito sa mga “fans” ng Eraserheads. Tumbok kasi nito ang saya ng pagkakaibigan at ang   alaala ng pagsasamahan. Kaya marahil nababagay ito sa tema ng pelikulang “Ang Nawawala” kung saan ang bersyong ito nina Ely Buendia at Raymund Marasigan ay naging bahagi ng “soundtrack.”   Isang biyaya na nagpaunlak ng isang panayam ang direktor nito na si Marie Jamora  bilang bahagi ng isang artikulong inilathala ng Inquirer noong 2014.  Doon ay naikwento ni Jamora na sya ang tumugtog ng tambol sa bersyong ito ng “Minsan.” Ito na muna ang pansamantalang pwedeng pagdamutan ng mga naghihintay sa paglabas ng mga “studio albums” ng Eraserheads sa plaka.

“Magkabilaan” ni Joey Ayala

Ang awiting “Magkabilaan” ay isang  mabisang  patunay sa lawak at talas ng kaisipan ni Joey Ayala bilang makata at mang-aawit. Sa katunayan ay ginamit kong panimula ang ilang titik ng awiting ito sa aking “thesis” tungkol sa pagbabangayan ng kaisipan ni Jurgen Habermas at ng mga “neoconservatives” sa kainitan ng tinatawag na “Historikerstreit.” Laking gulat ko nang matagpuan ko sa Wired State ang larawan ng  “vinyl version” ng album kung saan matatagpuan ang awiting ito. Malayo ang pabalat nito sa bersyong ni-record ni Ayala sa Universal Records. Ito ay dahil sa   isang NGO na base sa Canada ang naglakas loob na ilabas ito sa plaka bilang pagsaludo sa alternatibong musika ni Ayala.   Ang orihinal na may-ari ng kopya ko sa plaka ay sa  eBay pa ito diumano  nabili.

“Cuida” ni Ebe Dancel

Ang awiting ito na unang lumabas sa album na Dramachine ng Sugarfree ay nagmistulang isang “bulagang heto ako” sa akin.  Di ko kasi gaanong kilala ang musika ng Sugarfree.  Aksidenteng namalayan ko lamang ang awiting ito habang nakikinig sa  soundtrack ng pelikulang “Ang Nawawala.” At kung di ko pa napakinggan ang awiting “Bawat Daan” ay di ko mapapansin na ang kumanta ng “Cuida” at ng “Bawat Daan” ay iisa. Ang huli ay sya  ring pamagat ng ikalawang album ni Ebe Dancel.  Matatandaang naging “theme song” din ang “Bawat Daan” ng pelikulang “#WalangForever” na kinatampukan nina Jericho Rosales at Jennilyn Mercado.


“Kanlungan” nina Noel Cabangon at Aia Deleon

Di pa man lumalabas sa plaka ito, sa loob at labas ng Wired State ay  marami nang mga tagahanga ang awiting ito. Gayon din ang matagal na naging estado ng album na pinamagatang  Byahe kung saan hango ang “Kanlungan.” Kaya nang kinumpirma ng Universal Records  na ilalabas ito sa plaka ay maraming nag-abang sa paglabas nito.  Salamat sa tulong ng  dating lead singer ng Imago na si Aia Deleon, sa dueto nila ni  Cabangon ay mas lalo pang nasapol ng awiting ito  ang katotohanang “panapanahon ang pagkakataon, maibabalik ba ang kahapon?” 

“Take Me Out of the Dark”  ni Gary V.

Naaalala ko pa ang aking animo’y karanasang mistikal noong unang beses kong mapakinggan ang awiting ito ni Gary V. Hindi pa ito gasgas noon. Salamat sa aking ama na syang unang naging “vinyl collector” ng aming pamilya, pinalad akong magkaroon ng 1987 “version” ng plaka kung saan hango ang awiting ito.  Gawa na rin ng kalumaan ng unang kopya ng Moving Thoughts  parang  may prinipritong isda pagpinatugtog ko ito ngayon  sa turntable. Kaya’t laking pasasalamat ko   nang malaman kong muli itong ilalabas sa “vinyl”  kasama ng pitong awiting nagpasikat  kay at pinasikat ni Gary V.   Trenta anyos na ang awiting ito sa susunod na taon. Wala pa ring kupas sa birtud.

“Batang Bata Ka Pa” ng Apo  Hiking Society

Ito ang unang 45rpm o  “single” ng Apo na naalala kong hinalughog ko pa sa ibat ibang “record bars.” Laking tuwa ko nang nakakuha ako ng 45rpm na kopya nito. Sa husay ng melody line at counterpoint nito ay madalas ko itong  pinatutugtog sa aming Panasonic stereo. Quadrosonic o 4-channel stereo pa ang uso noon.  Naalala ko din ang orihinal na makulay na  disenyo ng “label” ng  WEA Records. Salamat sa Universal Records, kasama ng awiting ito ay sabay nilang nilabas ang labing apat na awiting bumubuo sa The Best of Apo Hiking Society.  Balita ko ay malapit nang isunod ang “volume” 2 nito na sa “cassette” ko lang unang napakinggan.


“Sugod” ng Sandwich

Bagamat “Betamax” ang pinakapaborito kong awitin ng Sandwich ay “Sugod” ang unang nagpakilala sa bandang ito sa nakararami – kasama na ako doon.  Gaya ng “Betamax” ang “Sugod” ay isang nakaeengganyong   “call to action” na pakanta.  Sa katunayan ay parati kong ginagamit ang awiting ito para ipakilala ang natatanging istilo ng pamumuno ng isa sa  pinakatinitingala naming  pinuno sa aming kumpanya.  Sa pananalita at kilos ng lider na ito ay bakas  mo ang sidhi ng kanyang “passion and determination”  na animo’y “asong ulol”  na handang “mag-rakenrol” hanggang umaga. Kamakailan ay lalo akong napabilib sa ganda ng awiting ito nang bigyan ito ng isang “big band interpretation”  ni Ogie Alcacid sa konsyertong “Traffic Jam.”

“Panahon” ng Juan Dela Cruz Band

Ang pinakamahirap na marahil na matagpuang OPM album sa plaka ay ang mga album ng JDLC. Ayon sa Discogs, ang mga “used copies” ng  orihinal na pressing ng mga album ng bandang ito ay naglalaro sa Php 10,000 hanggang Php 23,000 kada kopya.  Isang matatawag na “coup” ng Polyeast Records na nabigyan sila ng pahintulot na muling ilabas sa “vinyl format” ang mga pinasikat na awitin ng JDLC sa album na pinamagatang Tatak. Ang “Panahon” ay isa sa ilang dosenang Pinoy “rock classics” ng bandang ito.   Gaya ng inaasahan, isa ito sa agad na naubos   mula nang ito ay ilako ng mga “record outlets.”

Sa isang maikling panayam na ipinagkaloob ni Ely Buendia kung saan tinanong sya kung nakikinikinita nya kung ang pagbabalik ng plaka ay isang “fad” lamang na lilipas din  ay tinuran nya na:  “I think people are starting to realize the value of music again. I hope OPM goes back to vinyl, too.” Salamat na rin marahil sa kanyang pagiging kolektor ng plaka at musikero, napili nyang ilabas din ang debut album ng kanyang bagong banda na Apartel sa plaka ngayong 2016.

Di maitatatwang marami pa tayong hinihintay na “iconic” na OPM album na sana ay mas mapag-ibayo pa  ang pagsasaplaka habang pinananatili ang orihinal na album art nito.  Nariyan ang unang tatlong “studio albums” ng  Eraserheads,  ang Samba Song ni Bong Penera, ang Metro Pop series, ang One ni Ryan Cayabyab,  ang Himig Natin ng JDLC, ang unang album ng Asin, Rivermaya, Sugarfree,  Wolfgang at Razorback, ang Later Half of the Day ng The Dawn, at  ang Silver ng  Color It Red.   Habang hinihintay natin na muli tayong mapabulalas ng ABNSPlaKNPLTo ay makabubuting pagdamutan na  muna natin ang  payo ng bandang JDLC sa tanong na: “papaano nga bang mailalabas sa mas pinaigting na “vinyl format” ang mga “iconic albums” habang patuloy na nagbabago ng porma ang “business model” ng “music industry”?” Ang sagot nina Pepe, Wally at Mike ay simple at payak lamang:“malalaman mo kung papaano…pagdating ng panahon.”   

All Good Things

“All good things got to come to an end

The thrills have to fade

Before they come ‘round again

The bills will be paid

And the pleasure will mend

All good things got to come to an end”

 Jackson Browne’s bitter-sweet big picture realization in the song “All Good Things” may not have been part of the soundtrack of the movie All Things Must Pass: The Rise and Fall of Tower Records. But it was  one song that kept playing in my mind right after watching this critically-acclaimed documentary helmed by first-time director Colin Hanks based on a script written by Steven Leckart.

tower records

Tower Records was founded by Russ Solomon in 1960 after he earned his father’s blessing to put  up a stand-alone record store in Sacramento, California. The inspiration came to Solomon as he observed how his father’s customers at the latter’s  small town drug store called  Tower Mart positively responded to their inventory of 45rpm singles. Like the typical naysayers who are wont to put down budding entrepreneurs, most people who came across Solomon’s  novel idea dismissed his vision. They warned that he would be out of business in a few months.  To everyone’s surprise, fortune smiled at Solomon.  Director Colin Hanks deftly explains through a kaleidoscope of archival material how the rise of Tower Records coincided with two parallel pivotal points in the history of rock and roll. One was the evolution of the singles-oriented 45rpm to the album-oriented  33 1/3 rpm albums.  The other which complemented the preceding was the phenomenal success of bands like the Beach Boys, the Beatles, and the Rolling Stones.  It was in such a setting that the youth of the 60s and  those that came in the next three decades repeatedly gravitated to the nearest Tower Records to hang out and compare notes about their rock heroes. It became the perfect “tambayan” where everyone was friends with strangers for 20 minutes because of the music they shared, the  proverbial  safe haven where  kids discovered who they were precisely through music, the irresistable payday destination for yuppies who can finally afford to  splurge on their ever-growing record wish list. If you’ve been to Bebop Records in Makati Square or at  Grey Market in White Plains you would know  what the feeling was like.  For that matter, if you’ve   grown with the now defunct CD Warehouse in the Greenbelt Mall of the 90s, you would appreciate how every visit at Tower Records was like discovering new frontiers and uncharted territories.   And so it was that from its first branch in Sacramento, Tower eventually put up 200 stores in 30 countries and 5 continents. One of those stores happened to be in the old Glorietta which occupied three floors if you count their basement, that is. I can still vividly remember the countless times I visited its branch in Makati. It was pure bliss to say the least. The albums that eluded me for decades were all there, to my surprise. The debut album of Jackson Browne. Check. The live EP by U2. Check. 90125 by Yes. Dad Loves His Work by James Taylor. Check. Suzanne Vega’s sophomore album. Check.  Heck,  I practically completed the discography of my favorite musicians  through Tower Records Manila.

Not surprisingly,  even some of our most iconic classic rock figures did not escape the impact of Tower Records on popular culture.  In fact, three of them are featured in this docu film.  Interestingly, each of them share a unique and distinct experience of how Tower Records became an integral part of their growth as persons and as  musicians. The Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl actually worked at Tower in his younger days  because, according to him, aside from providing him with  unrestricted access to  thousands of records, Tower was the only company that allowed him to grow his hair long. Bruce Springsteen made it a point to visit a Tower Records outlet everywhere he performed  from the time he was still starting out precisely because it was where musicians literally found raw and unqualified validation and feedback. Elton John was on  first name basis with numerous Tower Records personnel because he remembers spending more money on records than on any other human being.

My sister who has made America her home for over two decades now would often get amused by my fascination about New York City.  To me, it is the only city in the U.S. worth going to because of my love of live music, records and books. This, notwithstanding my sister’s insistence about how dirty and chaotic NYC really is.  You only see the glamorous parts of New York that Hollywood has been bombarding our senses for decades, she would lecture me. You don’t see its alleyways and side streets, its garbage and litter, its bums and  muggers. She might as well be talking of the other side of  Tower Records.  Behind the stacks of  thousands of records of your favorite artists and those you’ve never heard before is the lifestyle of excess of the people behind the bins and counters. Cocaine was reflected in their books as “Hand Truck Fuel.” You were allowed to consume as much alcohol as you can on a regular working day  but you were expected to show up for your shift on the dot and most of them did to their credit. None of them would fit the bill of the disillusioned yuppie that Jackson Browne sang about in “The Pretender” to be sure. That’s because most of the people  who worked at Tower  were not your usual corporate types. They were not there for the money. They were there for the love of music and the lifestyle that came with it.  Long before Google and Apple made it cool to come to work in casual clothing, Tower Records was already doing it.  In fact, the movie successfully captures how anti-corporate its founder was by way of his “traditional” practice of  literally cutting in half the ties of those who make the mistake of visiting Solomon’s office in formal wear.  The informal and casual wear was, of course,  just  one aspect to it. To be fair, Tower’s environment of informality bred a lot of creativity from their now legendary window displays to their official store publication. In addition, there was a lot of mentoring that took place between and among peers and seniors. Equally noteworthy is the fact that everybody at Tower Records  started out as clerk and worked their way up to management.   In the end, however,   while there is merit in flying by the seat of your pants when starting a business, there is equal merit in taking a critical stance every now and then so as not to lose sight of the big picture. Alas, the rock and roll lifestyle does not exactly inspire critical thinking all the time.  And that, rather than the internet, is what director Colin Hanks underlines as the root cause behind the fall of Tower Records. As its founder Russ Solomon notes with regret, they made the mistake of borrowing extensively to fund their expansion overseas expecting each new store to rival the impressive returns they racked from their  most profitable stores like the ones in Japan.  They were dead wrong. When the returns they were getting could not keep up with  the interest and amortizations they were paying to their creditors, Tower Records eventually went belly up.

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Having said that, 46 years is 46 years.  In 2006 real tears are shed by the front-liners and the senior management team members who were there since day 1  as they  said their goodbyes to the store that literally became their life-long passion project. Their individual and collective  experience might as well be akin to losing a loved one.  But ever consistent with his rebellious nature, Russ Solomon stuns even the interviewer towards the end of the docu film  when he asks: “What’s the matter? Did you run out of questions?” As the movie pans images of Going Out of Business signages, deserted counters and empty record bins,  the viewer finds himself drawn to that sinking feeling that all is lost. But  just as you start to realize that this must be where the movie finally albeit sadly justifies its title, Hanks trains his cameras on  the Far East.  It turns out that to this day,  Tower Records is very much alive and kicking. In fact, it continues to do well as a business  via its 85 store locations in Japan. Its biggest outlet which is found in Shibuya occupies 9 floors.  This chain, however, is distinct and separate from the California-based company that filed for bankruptcy in 2006.  It is owned and operated by an independent Japanese corporation called TRJ which bought the rights from Solomon in October 2002. Other than that, however, its facade and its interiors are 100% similar to  the Tower Records  stores that closed their doors in 2006.

And so just as Jackson Browne’s “All Good Things” comes full circle in his  post-breakup album entitled  I’m Alive  by way of  the album’s title track,  Hanks’ All Things Must Pass ends on a hopeful and optimistic note. Indeed, life goes on. Maybe not in the same way that you envisioned it to be, but life does go on. You can continue to roll on that canyon drive with that laughter in your head.  The dreams may be gone, but its tag line and what it represented live on in the minds and hearts of those who set foot in one of the 200 stores that used to be Tower Records: “No music, no life.” 

“Yeah now I’m rolling down this canyon drive

With your laughter in my head

I’m gonna have to block it out somehow to survive

Cause those dreams are dead

And I’m alive”


The late Dr. Ramon Reyes of the Ateneo Philosophy Department was said to have been in his early 20s when he agonized about which path he would take after college. Shall he say yes to a lucrative offer from a multinational corporation by way of a management trainee position? Or shall he embrace the calling to be a philosophy teacher?  To resolve his dilemma, he had the good sense to seek out the wisdom of one of his Jesuit teachers.  After listening to him, his teacher kept quiet for a moment  before posing a question along the following lines:  “When you grow old and are about to retire and you look back at your life, which would give you greater fulfillment and happiness – to be able to say that you have manufactured thousands of soap bars and amassed great fortune or to be able to say that you have formed the hearts and minds of  leaders and parents and missed out on that fat paycheck?”

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In Bob Buford’s Half-Time: Moving from Success to Significance, we find not a dichotomy between the options that faced my teacher but rather a continuum. According to Buford, the first half of one’s life is normally spent in the rat race where the goal is to earn and get ahead. One of two things happens as one enters the second half which he refers to as half-time. A crisis – which can take the form of a death in the family, a health scare, a  financial problem, a career meltdown, divorce, and the like –  comes along which forces you to stop and take stock of your life. Or the status quo is sustained and you continue on with amassing material wealth only to question its adequacy to fulfill you.  Half-Time is addressed to both those who go through crises and those who don’t as they reach midlife.  As Buford would put it: “During the first half of your life, if you are like me you probably did not have time to think about how you would spend the rest of your life. You probably rushed through college, fell in love, married, embarked on a career, climbed upward, and acquired a few things to help make the journey comfortable…But sooner or later you begin to wonder if this is really as good as it gets.” (p. 26)

In this sense, Half-Time offers a refreshing vantage point from which to appreciate Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. All human beings, we learned in Psychology 101, seek to satisfy their physiological needs before graduating to security needs and on to love and self-esteem and finally, self-actualization.  Jim Carrey is quoted to have once said: “I wish everyone could get rich and famous and everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that’s not the answer.” In a way, Carrey was actually paraphrasing what the Bible tells us: “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul.”

Perhaps it may be asked, how exactly does one avoid losing one’s soul? Or to put it more positively, what must one do to gain one’s soul? Buford’s Half-Time eloquently shows the way through a seamless tapestry of personal stories, anecdotes and quotations from Vaclav Havel to George Bernard Shaw, from Blaise Pascal to Soren Kierkegaard, from Henry David Thoreau to Dag Hammarskjold.

Among the  numerous stories, anecdotes and quotations in the book, what stands out the most in driving home the central theme of Half-Time is his citing of  a pivotal scene in the movie City Slickers which starred Billy Crystal and Jack Palance.  Palance who plays the role of a cowpoke issues a wake-up call to the character portrayed by Crystal, a business executive out for a two-week vacation:  “…you all come out here about the same age. Same problems. Spend fifty weeks a year getting knots in your rope then…then you think two weeks up here will untie them for you. None of you get it. (Long pause) Do you want to know what the secret of life is?…One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and everything else don’t mean s____.” (p 80.)

To find out what your one thing is, Buford advocates that you start by asking yourself the question that his strategic planning consultant asked him: “What’s in the box?” That is to say, what is that one thing that you love to do and that you are good at which will truly make you happy and fulfilled? “What is your purpose? What makes you tick? What do you do so well that you would enjoy doing it without pay? What is your passion, the spark that needs only a little breeze to ignite into a raging fire?” (p. 82.) How can you leverage on such to serve others and serve God?  Half-Time offers a lot of real-life examples that will make it inevitable for the reader to pose the preceding questions to him/herself: There is the case of Michael Jordan who left the NBA for “a minor league spot on  a second-rate team in another sport.” There is Tom Tierney who left “a seven-figure job as CEO of world-class Bain &Companies to form Bridgespan, which focuses on midlevel nonprofit organizations.” (p. 83.)  There is Peter Lynch who at age 46 “decided to put boundaries on the time he was willing to spend at his job so that he could assume greater control over his life” (p. 124.)

Lest the reader think that finding significance must necessarily entail a 180-degree change, Buford points out that the journey from success to significance calls for a lot of reflection and discernment. Indeed, each chapter concludes with a set of questions meant to help the reader pause, reflect and discern.  By his estimate, it will take anywhere between 1 to 3 years to be able to resolve one’s search for significance.  The objective of half-time is not so much a change in career but rather a change in one’s perspective. “The key to a successful second half is not a change of jobs; it is a change of heart, a change in the way you view the world and order your life.” (p. 97-98.)  Aside from reflecting and praying about what will truly make you fulfilled and happy, Buford recommends what he calls “seismic testing” – assessing your talents and your strengths and seeking the wisdom of people you respect and trust. One must also take stock of the implications of putting a premium on significance even as you explore alternatives to how you are currently living your life. For most people, it is simply  not feasible to turn one’s back on your career and pursue what Steve Jobs calls “that which makes your heart sing” without a care in the world.  After all, most of Buford’s readers have mortagages to pay and children to send to college.  This in no way means you should postpone your search for significance to the time  when you finally get to retire.  The time to start is not someday but today – one step at a time, one question at a time.  Half-Time which has sold close to 1 million copies worldwide offers a well thought-out guide  and template for this protracted inward journey to significance.

The last time a book has had such a profound effect on me was when I accidentally came across Stephen R. Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Covey’s book came at time in my life when I was going through several crises. The book did not only equip me to navigate my way through dire straits, it eventually proved to be a very instructive guide in living a more meaningful personal and professional life in  my 20s.  Bob Buford’s Half-Time comes at a time in my life when most of the questions he poses in the book effortlessly  resonate with me even as they disturb and compel me to take action.  More importantly, Half-Time uncovers a hitherto undiscovered layer of meaning in St. Ignatius of Loyola’s admonishment: “Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam” (i.e., “For the Greater Glory of God.”“God” writes Buford, “has a wonderful plan for the second half of your life: to allow you to serve him by doing what you like to do and what you are good at.” (p. 89) Pretty radical, if you ask me. It puts to question the conventional separation that we assign to working for oneself and one’s family until retirement vs. serving God and others on weekends or during annual corporate social responsibility events or as one nears retirement.

In the poem entitled “Sangandaan” the poet Jose F. Lacaba reflects thus, “Bawat pusong naglalakbay dumarating sa sangandaan. Ngayong narito ka. Kailangang magpasya. Aling landas ang susundin ng puso. Saan ka liligaya? Saan mabibigo? Saan ka tutungo?” (i.e., “Each heart that travels comes across a crossroad. Now that you are here. You must decide. Which path will your heart take? Where will you be fulfilled? Where will you waste away? Where will you go?”)

 The road to significance beckons. What will you do about it?

History Will Teach Us Something

I was one of the  two million Filipinos who trooped to EDSA 30 years ago. This is why I’ve been meaning to look for an incisive yet succinct way of helping my children understand and appreciate it on its 30th anniversary. Without a doubt, the surreal euphoria that followed February 25, 1986 has since worn off. In its place is a mixed feeling of pride, gratitude, and disillusion. Three popular OPM compositions capture these moods without fail. “Handog ng Pilipino sa Mundo” continues to resonate with me 30 years after. The legacy of non-violent political revolt is incontrovertibly a source of pride and gratitude for many Filipinos. “Tuloy ang Ikot ng Mundo” and “Kumusta Na?” however, temper the latter and cut down EDSA to size. These two songs remind me of Hegel’s thesis and anti-thesis as well as the many opportunities we squandered as a nation after EDSA. Nonetheless, all three fall short in terms of providing a true perspective 30 years after.

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Thankfully, Randy David’s recent column entitled “The Battlefield of Memory” offers a thought-provoking reflection  on EDSA. More to the point, it provides an instructive perspective as it presents no less than 5 competing versions of EDSA. These versions are presented in the context of Milan Kundera’s insight occasioned by the end of World War I. To wit: “hatreds withdraw to the interior of nations…the goal of the fight is no longer the future…but the past, the new war will play out only on the battlefield of memory.”

One version of EDSA that is competing in our battlefield of memory is the reformist military version which regards  EDSA as essentially the culmination of their fraternal struggle to free up the military from being used by a corrupt regime to perpetuate itself in power. Those who subscribe to this version assert that their faled coup d’etat against  Marcos was what gave Cardinal Sin, the church and civil society the opportunity to amass at  EDSA.

There is the version of the church in which Cardinal Sin mobilized the Catholic faithful through priests, nuns and seminarians to come to the defense of Enrile and Ramos who were holed up in Camp Aguinaldo to avert bloodshed. The resulting scenario where rosaries, flowers and statues of the Virgin Mother literally  overpowered the tanks and the choppers sent by Marcos and Ver “was nothing short of a miracle.”

The third version is that of the civil society which made EDSA happen through a combination of the organized groups led by the left and the ordinary middle class Filipinos who were moved to  support both Cardinal Sin and the group of Enrile and Ramos. The former led a protracted campaign that started even before Martial Law was declared. The latter could be said to have awakened as a result of the former’s organized agitation even if  they were strangely absent in EDSA by choice.

And there is the version of the Americans which saw EDSA as a political turning point that might destabilize the Philippines and therefore risk their political interest in the Asia-Pacific region. Hence, their offer first to fly Marcos and his supporters to Clark Air Base and eventually to exile them to Hawaii to avoid violence and political unrest.

It is interesting to note that these 4 competing versions collectively complement each other. Together, they remind me of an insight once offered by the late Dr Ramon Reyes of the Ateneo. In his book entitled The Ground and Norm of Morality, Dr Reyes reflects that as mankind marches though history, the continuing dialogue among individuals and groups allow it to widen and deepen its understanding of what is true and what is good. No one person could possibly monopolize this. The moral standpoint of humanity has evolved and continues to evolve precisely because of this continuing dialogue among individuals and groups. At the heart of this continuing dialogue is our conscience which he asserts is the ground and norm of all morality.

 The fifth version is where Randy David’s reflection becomes a call to action. This is the version of Bongbong Marcos who is currently running for vice president According to David, Marcos is “banking on the power of amnesia not just to redeem his father’s name, but, ultimately, to recover the billions in bank accounts and properties that the Philippine government has seized from his family. He might yet succeed – if we fail to make memory speak”

The battlefield of memory is where Filipinos are challenged to take stock of the 5 competing versions of EDSA and call on their conscience to come to grips with what really happened at the intersection of Ortigas Avenue and EDSA. It is by no means an easy task. David has written separately on this in his past columns over the years. Unlike the Germans  who have gone to great lengths to right the wrongs of the past by prosecuting and punishing those responsible for the genocide that was Auschwitz, we, as a people, have failed to send the Marcoses along with their cronies to jail. Not only have we allowed them to return home, we have allowed them to return to power and reclaim their space in high society pages. Worse, quite a number of the leaders who came after Cory led political lives that seem to suggest that what Marcos and his cronies did could not be helped once you assume power. Consider both the Erap presidency and the Arroyo presidency. For that matter, consider how Binay evolved from a human rights lawyer to a contemporary personification of the very evil he helped overthrow. The prosecution and punishment of the Marcoses and their cronies should have happened right after EDSA. Sadly, as David pointed out to this blogger, “the series of coups that unfolded soon after (Cory) took power made it difficult to pursue such a policy. Political consolidation became Cory’s first priority. Then Ramos and Erap became president and that’s when the Marcoses and their cronies decided it was safe to come home.”

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 In the song “History Will Teach Us Nothing” Sting eloquently sings about the failure of history to teach humanity anything. He writes: “I once asked my history teacher how we were expected to learn anything from his subject when it seemed to be nothing but the monotonous exploits and sordid succession of robber barons devoid of any admirable human qualities. I failed history.” (Lyrics by Sting, p. 124) After reading Randy David’s “Battlefield of Memory” I think I would have to disagree with Sting. History does teach us something. It teaches us that there is such a thing as an obligation and a duty to remember and to never forget. Because George Santayana is correct. “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” I hope and pray that my fellow Filipinos  remember EDSA when they head for the voting precints this May.