Monday, May 25, 2015

The Busker

Every so often, we meet people who are just insanely remarkable that you just can't help but want to be around them all the time. A perfect example is my longtime friend, Darren. Not only is he good looking, funny, and extremely talented, but also a loving husband and a cool dad.

   He was born in Dumaguete, grew up in Bulacan, and studied journalism in Manila. In the early days at the Lyceum, he aspired to be an investigative reporter with the Philippine Daily Inquirer or The Manila Times. He wanted to find out what was really going on in politics and business. He wanted to expose the lavish lifestyles of corrupt government officials and the financial abuses by big corporations. He grew his hair long, bought several books on investigative journalism, and decided he would become such a reporter.

   In 2000, after being thrown out of my parents' house, I went to live with Darren in his tiny studio apartment. We were both fresh out of college and unemployed. Jobs were scarce in Manila during that time, and, after three months of applying and sending out our resumes, we ended up working for a daily Tagalog-language tabloid as researchers/gophers. The job was boring, low-paying, and sometimes humiliating, but we accepted the offer nonetheless because we had bills to pay.

   One summer evening, Darren decided that he needed to get away for a while and clear his head, so he brought his classical guitar along with him and took a walk. He walked away from our old apartment complex, the streets of Intramuros, and even beyond the boundaries of that walled district. When he arrived in Malate it looked like the perfect spot: full of young lovers, tourists, bars, restaurants, bohemians, expats and hookers. When he reached Remedios Circle, he put his wooden guitar case on the pavement, opened it, grabbed his Yamaha, and quickly began to play Cordoba in front of strangers.

   The next day Darren decided to become a full-time musician. But instead of hitting the clubs like other performers, he stopped short a few steps and stuck with the sidewalk. He quit his newspaper job and began playing the guitar on the streets. Those who cared to listen, and those who enjoyed his performances, dropped some money into his hat. On a good night he made anywhere from P800 – P1500, but on a slow night, he said he was lucky to earn P50. One festive Friday evening, a young Dutch couple ran over and threw $10 into his red fedora. After three hours, he had made P1600, including $20 from a Japanese businessman.

   Like any young aspiring musician, Darren dreamed of becoming a rock star when he was first learning to play the guitar. He began studying the instrument when he was seven, inspired by his father, who played the piano, and his mother, who sang. His older brother played the drums. His aunt played the violin. He studied music and classical guitar under the supervision of his uncle (who was also a classical guitarist) until high school. Family gatherings, he said, usually involved music after a sumptuous feast.

   From November 2000 until April 2001, Darren had been a guitar-playing fixture on the crowded streets of Malate and the silent walls of Intramuros. He was there every afternoon in his faded jeans and button-down shirt, performing his repertoire ranging from Johann Pachelbel to Eric Clapton.

   Busking has been part of the cultural life of European and American cities for centuries. But in the Philippines it is often illegal. Most people compare street performance to begging, and only a few in the country see it as an art form. Of course, Darren had several brushes with security guards and police officers, who were usually ordered to drive him away.

   One night, while he was performing in Adriatico, police officers approached him and asked to talk to him in private. He refused and broke free from an officer's grip. In front of a small crowd, which had gathered to watch his show, Darren turned around and ran from the officers as they tried to grab him. Soon he was caught and spent the night in jail.

   Two weeks after the incident, he landed a gig at the Hobbit House and Tia Maria's. He continued performing at those bars for quite a while until a cable TV channel hired him as a writer. Now, Darren works as a segment producer for GMA News and Pubic Affairs – a job closely related to his dream profession.

   Last weekend, as Manila's night scene slowly came to life, Darren brought his guitar and went to Remedios Circle once more. He put his wooden guitar case on the pavement, opened it,  and for a long time stared at his good old Yamaha. Eventually, slowly, with great pride, he began to play Cordoba in front of strangers.

No comments:

Post a Comment