Hotdog’s Dennis Garcia went home to a Manila somewhere in the great beyond last Jan. 18. He was 69 years old.
Goodbye to Dennis Garcia
SOUNDS FAMILIAR - Baby A. Gil (The Philippine Star) - January 22, 2020 - 12:00am

Dennis Garcia was a maverick. The guy who played good bass for his band Hotdog just never played by the rules elsewhere. Some 50 years ago, he took Filipino songwriting out of the “giliw, sapagkat, irog” rut when he wrote Pers Lab. That spelling took everybody by surprise. It should have been First Love. But Dennis would have none of that. He wanted the everyday language that was being spoken by the people, which at that time had evolved into a mix of English and Tagalog.

Recorded by Hotdog with Ella del Rosario singing lead vocals, Pers Lab became a big hit. It was the phenomenon that gave birth to the Manila Sound and its fabled golden age. It propelled Filipino pop music into the modern era. From that time on, local music became a force to contend with in the hit charts and all those foreign artists found themselves contending with a formidable force for the first time.

The words, new and colloquial, were not the only things that sold Pers Lab to many appreciative listeners. It was also a great piece of songwriting that fully conveyed the exciting, discomfiting time of young love. Dennis was very good with that. He could take the simplest of emotions or any particular moment and turn it into a song that everybody could relate to.

When the disco era came along, Dennis, with music by his brother Rene, created Annie Batungbakal, a sales girl who lived her dreams of a better life in the bright, dance filled evenings of Coco Banana. Of course, Dennis welcomed her outings and her special outfits with the words, Bongga Ka ‘Day and Annie B was indeed the most bongga of females, or gays or even men. Dennis never differentiated genders. And the infectious rhythms and sentiments of those songs, plus others that the Garcia brothers composed, have never faltered in intensity or audience appeal after all these years.

And then, there is Manila. Paeans are constantly being written about the great cities of the world. We know of New York, New York, I Love Paris, I Left My Heart In San Francisco, among others. I listen to them and I think, how nice that the songwriters so captured the charm of those famous places.

But not quite like the way Dennis wrote his tribute to the city of Manila. It was composed during one of his Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) stints creating advertising campaigns for agencies in various Asian cities. The lyrics are so on point about Manila in every way. Some 40 years after I first heard the song, I still cannot help but marvel over how he encapsulated in just a few lines all the longing of a Pinoy far from home for the strange but oh so irresistible beauty that is Manila.

You all know the song. It is an ageless earworm. It was the brilliant piece of songwriting that got 55,000 people singing and dancing as one at the Philippine Arena during the opening of the Southeast Asian Games last December. 

It goes like this, “Hinahanap hanap kita Manila/ Ang ingay mong kay sarap sa tenga/ Mga jeepney mong nagliliparan/ Mga babae mong naggagandahan/ Take me back to your arms Manila/ And promise me you’ll never let go/ Promise me you’ll never let go/ Manila Manila/ Miss you like hell, Manila/ No place in the world like Manila/ I’m coming home to stay.”

Dennis went home to a Manila somewhere in the great beyond last Jan. 18. He was 69 years old. It was only a little over a year since his younger brother Rene, who sang lead vocals and played guitar for Hotdog, passed away. 

Responsible for the sudden send-off was a combination of kidney failure and heart attack. Coincidentally, it was right after a Hotdog gig at the Bar 360 of Resorts World Manila. If he had been a soldier, I guess it can be said that he died with his boots on. I do not think he would have wanted it to be otherwise.

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