I. Last night I placed my fingers around Your head Clutching at the strands like Black strings of pearl that Can break at any moment Gently, gently I placed myself inside of you Parting your lips Carefully, carefully Guiding your head back and forth Looking at your eyes for Any sign of pain or gag reflex, Shuddering in gratitude As you swallowed me In more ways than one.
Today, I saw you at the bar Sipping beer, smiling at another man. I smiled at you as I passed And blankly you looked straight ahead.
Whatever part of me I have left In your lips, tongue, mouth and gullet Must have already been Flushed down the toilet.
II. Many nights ago You placed your fingers around My head Clutching at the strands like Black strings of pearl That can break at any moment. Gently, gently, You placed yourself inside of me, Parting my lips Carefully, carefully, Guiding my head back and forth Looking at my eyes For any sign of pain or gag reflex.
I never saw you at the bar afterwards, Sipping beer, a smile ready for me As I gazed adoringly From the other end of the room.
But until today, The part of you that you have left In my lips, tongue, mouth, and gullet Shine as brightly As the star-crossed night When I swallowed you In more ways than one.
After my night classes end, the usual routine involves cooking some dinner or buying take out on my way to the jeepney station. I eat in front of the computer, partly because the small table where the computer is on is the only table in the house, and while eating I usually watch some series or visit Yahoo and click on all of the links on the yahoo homepage. If I had a cereal box, I’d read the box. But the internet is so much more fun.
One of the usual topics in Yahoo is healthy living. There are tons of articles on this – Top Ten Cereals For a Healthier Body, Top Ten Foods for Slimming Down, Top Ten Exercises You Can Do At Home, How to Quit Your Vices, How to Start Living Healthy, How to Exercise, How to Eat Right, et cetera. And though I inevitably end up clicking on these links just so I won’t have to stare at a blank screen or listen to the neighborhood dogs barking while in my little room, one question that keeps popping up is what the secret to healthy living is. The websites are rife and overflowing with images of happy and tanned people with full hair, clear skin, white teeth, and unshot eyes. But when I look out the window, ride the jeep, get to class, or simply stare at the mirror, the image of health just doesn’t look back from anywhere and from anyone.
On the latest healthy living article I’ve read off the internet, the preaching is for me to quit my vices. As I type, I have just finished eating McDonalds takeout, and am enjoying my usual chain-smoked Winston cigarettes. I’ve always had difficulty sleeping since I started content writing (the only job so far that the damn Social Science degree I get from one of the *ahem* most prestigious schools in the Philippines can give me), but lately my insomnia has grown worse. Because I’m taking up night classes for law, I decided to buy a bottle of vodka and drink myself to sleep just to be able to sleep and hopefully wake up earlier than usual. Clearly, I have violated some of the most important precepts on healthy living in just one hour – boozes, smoke, improper sleep, and McDonalds.
And I have to wonder whether healthy living is actually possible. The past couple of months, I’ve been thinking of doing some light exercises at home, eating better, sleeping better, and quitting smoking. And just like New Year resolutions, the promises men make, and newly turned leaves, I usually end up regurgitating whatever Healthy Living I try to swallow.
One of the articles I’ve read deals with the best beauty products for your skin. The skin, so the story goes, is one of the clearest manifestations of health. The clearer the skin, the more balanced your hormones are, which in turn probably is the effect of a good diet, a decaffeinated blood stream, and respiration that involves more oxygen than smoke. According to the article, the best cleanser is Olay’s Dual Action Cleanser and Pore Scrub, which sells for approximately $7.00. Naturally, cleansing is succeeded by toning. Why not try Agera AHA Clarifying Toner, only $ 20.00. And because pollution, the sun, heat, and a gamut of other factors that dehydrates the skin, make sure that you moisturize – Garnier Nutritioniste Moisture Rescue Fresh, for $ 9.29. And if you happen to slather on too much moisturizer or if you just need a quick touch up for the oil that naturally builds up during the day, try The Body Shop Tea Tree Oil Facial Blotting Tissue, for $8.95. And with these, so the internet says, you can get a radiant complexion even without flawless skin. And if a radiant complexion is not enough and you simply must have flawless skin, click on the link.
Going back to real life, a lowly Filipino like me earns approximately $3.00 for a 500 word article. And yes, I have been told that I should raise my standards when it comes to content writing. And really, I would have loved to try it but when in between paying the installments for law school, the rent at home, readings for classes, and food, the risk of losing my job is just a tad too great.
Smoking kills, Healthy Living tells me. And naturally, I have tried quitting smoking. And whatever anyone tells you, the truth is that quitting cigarettes is one of the easiest things to do. Which is why I quit almost every other week. Sometimes, I even manage to quit for an entire week or so. And then the work starts to pile up, my teachers start doling out exams like there’s no tomorrow, and my reading pile starts to grow longer than the average erection. Naturally, I can cry it out and hope that this is all a bad dream. Naturally, I can pray it out, and hope that Jezuz decides to muck up his pristine white robes to help a homo like me (assuming that Jezuz is nowhere near as bigoted at many of his followers). Or, I can suck it up and suck on a cigarette while working my way through a rat’s nest of papers that need reading and words that need typing.
The beautiful masculine body – tall, toned, ripped and rippling with the strength of a thousand pounds repeatedly bench pressed and lifted on dumbbells. So the story goes, the rationale behind the idealization is that this body is strong, disciplined, and oozing with stamina and endurance. Not to mention, naturally, virility – as if cocks drew their length from the amount of muscle mass in a boy’s pecs. Behind all the tales of discipline and hard work that such beautiful male bodies must have entailed, however, is the forgotten fact that historically, the largest arms and the most ripped chests belonged to construction workers, manual laborers, and other professions that required oxen bodies to accommodate ox-level work. All this notwithstanding, however, I tried to work on my body. Before you can pump anything, however, you need something to pump. And getting the right weight can be problematic when breakfast is a luxury, lunch a privilege, and only dinner a necessity. I did, however, try stuffing my gut with pancit canton (a magical meal that requires only three minutes of boiling water and which costs less than Php 10.00 a pop) for breakfast, and whatever canned food is in stock for lunch. Weeks later, I was as thin as I began. Thus spake Google: Try supplements, try protein shakes, try high calorie and high protein diets. Try, in other words, to start spending my entire income on getting meat on my bones. Naturally, I had to admit defeat at this point. And at this point, I haven’t even shelled the several hundred pesos for gym membership and the several hundred more for a trainer.
The idealized masculine body, clearly, is a symbol of strength and power. In many cases, mine included, however, the strength and power behind the ideal is more economic than it is moral or psychological.
And what about food? Healthy Living tells me that I should never forget my breakfast, and that I should have a balanced diet that is high in fiber, low in calories, filled with fish, meat, poultry, vegetables, and fruits. Skip the Coke! Drown in some orange juice instead. Not Tropicana (it’s filled with sugars and flavorings) though! Squeeze your own oranges! Yes, Healthy Living, I will buy oranges, stock up my nonexistent refrigerator with meats and vegetables, and will keep breakfast in mind – once my fairy godmother decides to visit and tell me that I am actually an heiress or a trust fund beneficiary.
There is nothing wrong with healthy living. There is nothing that breaks my gay little heart as much as a clear-skinned, white-teethed, toned-bodied guy who doesn’t smoke, drink, or forget his breakfast of cereals and slices of fruit. It’s just that Healthy Living more often than not works in the same way as Beauty, Democracy, Government, and Love. It insists to you that it’s there, that it exists, that it is within your grasp, that you only need to work for it. On the posters and billboards on the street, on the TV screen, on magazines, the newspapers, the internet, you see them so clearly, so poignantly that one forgets to ask just how real they are. Which is forgivable, is it not? After all, how can one deny something that stares from every magazine, internet page, telenovela plot, and every other advertising mouthpiece in between?
But at the end of the day, my plate is not going to fill itself up with food. My work is not going to work itself out. And I will not sleep to wake up as Jack with a beanstalk that leads to a gold-laying hen. And to say that I need that one cigarette to get me through the night is clearly nothing short of an excuse. But sometimes, choosing excuses that get you through the night is the best option.
The social pillars that Advertising and Mass Media are spin a web of narratives on Healthy Living as if it can be unraveled if you read enough internet posts on the subject and if you keep the basic tenets of food, exercise, and a daily facial regime of cleanse-tone-moisturize in mind. the idea of Health and Beauty as a secret that can be deciphered is replaced by the idea that it is simply a pilgrimage composed of a couple of hundred of thousands of advice that keep you clicking on more internet pages, buying more All-Natural items off grocery shelves, and stocking up on more cleansers, toners, and moisturizers. The secret, however, is still intact. There is no pilgrimage, there is simply a little clandestine truth: a healthy lifestyle is an affluent and privileged lifestyle. And because the world is structured in a way that doesn’t allow you or me to be affluent or too privileged, then we must simply be the next best thing – bourgeois and struggling to keep facades of affluence in texts like Healthy Living, as we barely keep ourselves afloat in between bills and rent.
While there are still merits to the question, ‘what came first – the music or the misery,’ one point that must be conceded when it comes to Tegan and Sara is that the misery is not so much the point as how they go about being miserable. The twins’ discography is ample proof that their lyrical content is not going to change any time soon, but sometimes, it is this precise stability and constancy in their music that keeps me going back for more. As much as dashes of rainbow and smiley-faced sunshines are needed, my gayety requires its fair share of heart ache and heartbreak.
Music with heart. Another thing that I must admit when it comes to Tegan and Sara is that their music has heart. Possibly, a little too much heart, in fact. But it isn’t just the many trials and tribulations of the heart that give their own music heart. For me, it is the self-perceived/constructed sincerity behind each song that makes the duo unique. Admittedly, almost every pop star out there has their slew of song writers who can produce another boy-girl ‘dilemma.’ But when Tegan and Sara start to sing, there is a connection that makes the songs work. Naturally, the relationship between the reader and the text, or in this case the listener and the song, has much to do with the interpretation and the emotion that is derived from the songs itself. But whether whatever connection and meaning I get from the songs is aided by the fact that T and S are not Britney Spears or Mariah Carey, the fact remains that I manage to contextualize them just that little bit farther from poppy icons to allow me to take pleasure in my little gay heart’s blood bath.
So gay. Tegan and Sara’s music are also patently gay – whether they are talking about getting so ‘city girl’ over someone, or going getting love struck enough to write those silly-banging knee songs. Like most other bakla in the Philippines, I naturally have a fair number of moments where I become a silly love song for someone – which is probably the reason why some days ‘Underwater’ is on repeat as I sing-wish for a little bit more time to love him. In fact, You Wouldn’t Like Me looks ripe for entry into the gay love songs hall of fame. How many times has the bakla felt that ‘there’s nothing to live for when (I’m) sleeping alone?’ As incorrect as the statement may be, one should know that hearts – particularly gay ones – have been known to let go of logic. And it is possibly just me, but You Wouldn’t Like Me feels so right sometimes that the only thing keeping me from singing it on the streets is the large possibility of being misread as a self-deprecatory little homo. Which is not so much incorrect, as simply in need of contextualization.
Just enough variety to keep it spicy. Not that Tegan and Sara have completely limited themselves on the issue of love, however. Come on Kids helped me get out of bed a couple of times, cajoling me to ‘eat those pills’ and look forward to my own entire life all ready for the plucking, me perfectly entitled to lose whichever way I choose. Transposing the object in Wake Up Exhausted makes the song the perfect way to cap off a day of work and schooling, which bridges so naturally with Want to Be Bad and all of the frustrations that I get when law school feels nothing short of forced and unnecessary a path for me.
Northshore puts it best: ‘Something’s so sick about this, my misery is so addictive.’ As much as I want to put Tegan and Sara to sleep in my music library, I have to admit that wallowing is sometimes the easiest first step to letting go and moving on.
*To all the supermodels I’ve loved before.
One of my standards when it comes to music is how long it can keep me riveted and on repeat. I first heard Sixteen Military Wives playing at the Outcrop office* four full years ago, and with encouragement from S, I copied the Picaresque album. From then on, the Decemberists were one of the mainstays on my music player. It wasn’t until several months ago, however, when I realized just how much the Decemberists had to offer. Armed with a laptop and an iPod with 120 gigabytes of free space, I started updating the artists in my music library. Lo and behold, the Decemberists had managed to produce more than a handful of albums – and my fascination continued.
Range. California One/Youth and Beauty Brigade spans close to ten full minutes, but listening to the song feels as natural as the images of long straight highways on mythical Californian lands that I have never been to. Similar to the imagery of endless deserts, vineyards rife with California grapes, and a sun that unhurriedly rises and descends between a girl named Annabel and the narrator, the song takes its own sweet time in developing a calming ambience that all but prepares you for the next part of the song – the Youth and Beauty Brigade. At this point, the song takes an unexpected yet completely complementary turn towards the tale of a group of ‘cutouts and castaways’ who have freed themselves from ‘debts to society’ by paying their ‘overdue fines at the Multnomah County Library.’ There is no use questioning the sudden shift in the story, after having been subdued and softened by California One.
In California One/Youth and Beauty Brigade, the Decemberists hint at the range of emotions that their music can evoke. Laid back and unhurried one moment, the listener is softly if suddenly flung into a call for the marginalized to a sort of self-realization and self-acknowledgement in the form of the Youth and Beauty Brigade. From the lazy California sun and sweetly flowing California wine, the Brigade erupts as a subversion of social norms and constructs that have kept the misfits unfitting and unable to integrate into society. More importantly, the Brigade opens up possibility for the marginalized, a future for the unrecognized, a place for the misplaced – “Nothing will stand in our way.”
Wordplay, language, and lyrics. In a world where many of the popular musicians’ vocabulary have been reduced to ‘love,’ ‘boy,’ and ‘girl,’ Meloy’s lyrics provide a return to the forgotten poetry that was once presupposed in music. whether plucking terms and contexts from faraway lands such as in Constantinople and from historical events such as in When the War Came, or simply crocheting a story of a legionnaire lamenting about homesickness and a dehydrated land, Meloy’s language and lyrics evoke images, stories, emotions, and sometimes, a need for a dictionary. The wording in Cocoon is nothing short of cocooned, but combined with the music and Meloy’s voice, becomes something short of revelatory with each line. In Of Angels and Angles, the lyrics tell the story by jumping from one image to the next, which by themselves cannot stand, but taken as a whole, creates a dreamlike trance that creates a logic where drowning and going down away is an unquestionable conclusion.
Stories. Though the Decemberists are not the first to capitalize on stories woven into music, they have shown much effort and ambition in incorporating plots and tales into their songs. Whether talking about runaway prostitutes sleeping in on Sundays and constructing a family out of each other on the bus mall, athletes at the heart of defeat, soldiers finding life and love with fellow soldiers on the battlefield, or bandit queens and the people who love them, the Decemberists manage to tell tales without sounding like an auto tuned podcast. Clearly, not every musician can move beyond the typical stanza-chorus-refrain-stanza formula and into plot-based stories. The Decemberists, though, pull it off flawlessly. And with the Hazards of Love, the Decemberists managed to expand a fantastical plot about maidens who have fallen in love with wood creatures to cover not just one song, but an entire album.
With almost ten albums, a number of collaborations and interpretations, an attempt to sum up the Decemberists is nothing short of gargantuan a challenge. Just as the narrator can forgive a son forced to leave his mother out in the woods in I Don’t Mind, I trust that the Decemberists won’t mind if my accolade ends here.