I struggle to think back to those times, so long ago, when I drove to my high school while listening to the John Boy and Billy morning show on 105.9, WXRG. This show always included a multiple-choice quiz to which the answer, invariably, was C. I waited my entire senior year for a caller to get the answer wrong, figuring that the people who listened to John Boy and Billy were the type to not really have their alphabet straight in the first place. The rest of the show consisted, as far as my hazy memory can recall, of John Boy’s obnoxious, wheezing laugh exploding into the mic as the crew members in the background made jokes that the listeners couldn’t hear.
I’m telling this story to make a point, which is: no matter how bad radio may be in the US, Philippine radio is much, much worse.
I’ll put aside the fact that I can’t understand a lot of it thanks to the whole language barrier. I won’t even mention the penchant of Philippine DJs to use Chipmunk-ish sound effects for everything. And the constant, high-pitched laugh track that accompanies any sort of talking? A slight annoyance, all things considered.
No, my problem with Philippine radio is with a minor aspect of the presentation – namely, the music.
Imagine if, in the States, you heard Nickelback every time you turned on the radio. What you’re imagining is, well, the reality of a few years ago. I can only hope that things have moved on a bit since then. But I’m not optimistic.
Now imagine that, every time you turned on a radio, you heard Nickelback, followed by two local covers of the same Nickelback song. That is what Philippine radio is: bad music followed by poor imitations of bad music. It’s like getting stabbed with a pencil, then getting stabbed with the same pencil again, only this time after it has been rubbed with poison ivy.
The music scene in the Philippines is, from my admittedly limited time here, lacking. The most popular songs are Western compositions that are very easy to understand and lack things like artistry and any kind of depth. Like Taylor Swift’s Love Story. Like Jason Mraz’s I’m Yours. Now, I get it – these songs are easily digestible by a population whose first language isn’t English. But the covers? Do we really need a slow-bounce version of Beyonce’s Single Ladies?
The biggest name in Filipino music is Eraserheads, a band named after the mediocre white-noise film by David Lynch. They are commonly referred to as the Philippine equivalent of the Beatles. I presume the connection is that both groups dabble in music, because there are few other similarities. It’s like calling Gary Puckett & The Union Gap the American Beatles, or Bjork the Icelandic Beatles. True story: when the real Beatles came to the Philippines for a gig, they were treated so badly at least a couple of them swore they’d never return.
I’m being harsh because I’m bitter and can’t sing or play any musical instruments myself. And I have heard some good local music – one of my previous coworkers, who has now moved on to focus more completely on his musical career, is a talented singer and guitarist. During the January Dinagyang festival in Iloilo I watched him jam with the drummer of a major Filipino band from the 90s.
And there’s a cool little spot in the city, tucked inside a pension house, where local bands play. Patrons sit on floor cushions and peer through the smoke at the paintings of stylized blue elephants adorning the walls. It’s loud and cramped. Everyone is barefoot. A good reggae band plays there sometimes; other bands play popular favorites, much to the delight of the locals. Once a singer sang a goofy parody of Love Story which, I suspect, many of the customers didn’t quite recognize was a parody – they just enjoyed hearing the familiar tune.
It’s all good, because I have my own collection of music. And when things are getting me down, when I’ve had enough of Akon and Rihanna, when times are dark, there’s only one thing to do: go home, turn off the lights and listen to Donovan.