October 27, 2007

The Jukebox Kings

By: Guillermo Ramos

25 centavos, two buttons, and three selections of pure, unadulterated, shallow excitement.

The Jukebox King was proclaimed by the masses. One had to reach a fan base that numbered the gazillion patrons of beer gardens, cabarets, and buyers of 45rpm records from Raon. Musical themes that favored the pretenders to the throne included the following: Philippine history (Yoyoy Villame's Magellan); physical fitness (again, Yoyoy Villame’s Mag-Exercise Tayo); martyrdom (Edgar Mortiz's My Pledge of Love); creative adaptations (Fred Panopio’s Kawawang Cowboy); and the soggy romantic mulch of Engelbert Humperdinck's Please Release Me.

When Videoke King was shown in 2003, I was happy for Robin Padilla because he was finally being repackaged as a comedian, away from the gun-toting, vitriol-spewing, angry young man roles which he became famous for. I personally think that Robin is great as a comedian. He may not be a singer, but he carries a tune as if he were Perry Como. He also has the moves—his stunts and martial arts training translate well in his dance routines.

But his fans were cruel! They couldn't accept their action hero fumbling like Hugh Grant and singing himself silly in a KTV club. He’s too good looking to be laughed at. Why do we have this notion that comedians should be: 1.) Aesthetically-challenged, as demonstrated by: Aruray, Menggay, Chiquito, Balot, Tange, Champaka and Katuray; 2.) Possessing some sort of physical imperfection and speech impediment, like Oscar "Komang" Obligacion, Doro delos Ojos, Babalu, Babalina, Pugo, Tugo, Palito, Tiya Pusit, Matutina and Pandaka Pygmea; and 3.) Racially different: Ponga (Chinese); Angge, Cofradia and Whitney Tyson, (Blacks); Jerry Pons, Lupito, Patsy, Vic Pacia and later Redford White (Tisoys and Albinos). Why can't we accept the fact that being funny makes good-looking men more interesting? Frankly, I'd rather date a funny guy than spend my precious hours with a brooding Marlon Brando-ish character who will only practice his method acting on me. Unless he's Colin Firth. Laughing is good and laughing with a cute guy is even better. Too bad Videoke King didn't measure up to the fans' expectations. It was funny, its Warhol-inspired poster was innovative for the market it served and Robin Padilla was so gorgeous, I wanted to buy all the toy guns from Toys "R" Us to impress him into coming home with me.

Why didn't Videoke King have the same impact as The Jukebox Kings? I think I know the answer. Videoke is a free-for-all slugfest that anyone can participate in, which democratizes music in the process, and therefore there is no such thing as a Videoke King. One can assert oneself as Videoke King till he's blue in the face, and still only be king within the confines of a KTV cubicle. The minute he leaves, he is dethroned.

On the other hand, the Jukebox King was proclaimed by the masses. One had to reach a fan base that numbered the gazillion patrons of beer gardens, cabarets, and buyers of 45rpm records from Raon. Musical themes that favored the pretenders to the throne included the following: Philippine history (Yoyoy Villame's Magellan); physical fitness (again, Yoyoy Villame's Mag-Exercise Tayo); martyrdom (Edgar Mortiz's My Pledge of Love and Eddie Peregrina’s What Am I Living For?); creative adaptations (Fred Panopio's Kawawang Cowboy, adapted from Glenn Campbell's Rhinestone Cowboy); and, lastly, the soggy romantic mulch of Engelbert Humperdinck's Please Release Me and Tom Jones' Delilah. His cover versions of the latter earned Victor Wood the undisputed title of Juke Box King. . .until jukeboxes all but vanished from the face of the earth.

The jukebox was a fascinating invention. Just by dropping a 25-centavo coin in the slot, and pressing a combination of keys, you got three selections of pure and unadulterated super-babaw excitement. My favorite combinations were J5, K3 and B11. I didn’t have to look up the index to make my selection, I just pressed the keys and the intelligent machine would pick the records and play them. Those combinations I knew by heart.

One day, my mother sent me to buy food from our favorite Chinese restaurant in Cavite City, Cheffoo. In the restaurant there resided a monstrosity, a Wurlitzer that looked more like a Thunderbird convertible in all its 50s chrome and bakelite splendor, complete with colored lights and shark's fin details. I nervously inserted my 25 centavos and keyed in my desired combination. To my horror and disappointment, it didn't play what I wanted to hear. I was heartbroken because it didn't play Rosita Cha-cha by Esperanza Fabon, Let Me Love You Carmelita by Victor Wood, and Beautiful Sunday by Jojit Paredes. I was livid: My 25 centavos! Gone! I immediately made inquiries about the anomaly. The cashier told me that a man from the payola mafia came by regularly and replaced 10 vinyl discs. When I inquired about my favorites, she told me they were still there, only they'd been moved to different locations.

My obsessive-compulsive disorder dictated that my trip to Chefoo would not be complete unless I heard my favorite tunes. So I did the unthinkable, gambled my last 25-centavo coin, hit the dollar daily double and I won! By this time, the chopsuey, camaron rebosado and fried rice had been neatly packed and were starting to turn cold. I was totally immersed in my melodic delirium. My soul was filled with the melodious harmonies of Espie Fabon, Victor Wood and Jojit Paredes.

That last 25-centavo coin was my fare money. I walked home, oblivious to the danger that awaited me. My heart was bursting from my chest when I reached the front door of our house. My hungry parents were in the dining room, waiting for me and our dinner. I won't tell you what happened to me that evening. All I can say is that Bantay Bata would have had a fit if they'd existed at the time. My frail little body might have been mangled and distressed, but my soul remains unbroken. Thanks to Mr. Wurlitzer and the jukebox kings.

Also read: Disco Malaria

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