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WHEN I WAS 21: The year of living musically |

Modern Living

WHEN I WAS 21: The year of living musically

- Therese Jamora-Garceau -

To be 21 today: not only can you drink, you’re nothing without your first DUI, trip to rehab, and jail term pending in the near future.

To be 21 in the mid-80s: I could drink but didn’t, really; had no idea what a DUI was; I took a trip to Japan for spiritual reasons; and a college degree was pending in my near future.

Life seemed a whole lot more innocent in those days, for me, anyway. The most earth-shaking event was the advent of MTV, and the exciting new art form called music video. It was the second British invasion, but for those coming of age it was our first, and everyone I knew in those days wanted to become a musician, or at least a talented groupie. I was a Duranie, Culture Club kid, Japan-ophile… and naïve enough to be proud of it.

In the Eighties, though, the rock-star lifestyle was still limited to…well, rock stars. I aspired to it in my own muddled way. Since my doctor-parents informed me that you couldn’t make a living from music, I was going to be the doctor who played music on the side, as if Christian Barnard had time to moonlight as a rock-’n’-roll keyboardist. As a BS Zoology student at UP Diliman, I was on the slow track to a medical degree. Figuring out the lyrics to Rio was a whole lot easier than parsing calculus equations, so my best friends, my younger sister and I formed a band instead. The singer we invited to front us was recruited from AS 101 — he was one of the cool kids who used AS’s concrete jungle as a fashion catwalk.

Called Esperanto, our band had art-house pretensions and consequently didn’t go very far. Our biggest claim to fame was almost being the opening act for The Dawn — I remember Teddy Diaz coming to my house to watch us jam. Though he seemed amused by what he saw, he must have been more bemused than amused; anyway, we didn’t get the gig.

At the gigs we did get, I didn’t even know how to put on makeup. A far cry from the beauty junkie I am today, I had to ask our lead singer to do my eye shadow for me. My fashion didn’t fare much better. Football shoulder pads were in, and since I couldn’t carry off the Madonna look or the Boy George look, I settled for a watered-down Robert Smith look (including the smeared lipstick). Looking at photos of myself from back then, wearing these horrendous paisley tops with Diane Sawyer shoulders, my sister pointed and said, “Didn’t Demi Moore wear that in About Last Night?”

Actually, with my huge, oversized glasses and shapeless clothes, I could have been a harbinger of dumpster chic. More Ally Sheedy than Molly Ringwald in The Breakfast Club, in spirit I was actually Drummer Girl, the tomboy Mary Stuart Masterson plays in Some Kind of Wonderful. That was another great thing about the Eighties. When we weren’t living inside a music video we were living in a John Hughes movie. Later, high school would get nastier in Heathers and even meaner in Mean Girls, but for Hughes, the voice of our generation, life would always be pretty in pink.

Like one of Hughes’s story arcs, my life started changing. I had one more year to go in pre-med, but when my parents saw that I would rather die than dissect another cat, they finally caved and let me shift to the course that, according to psychological tests, I was much more suited to, which was journalism. Suddenly, life flowed a lot smoother, as if a stubborn clog had been pried from a drain. I started not only enjoying, but also acing my subjects. Though reading and writing took the rightful top spots in my life, I never forgot about the music. I wrote for a number of fanzines, and took a trip to Japan. Ostensibly it was to accompany my mother, whose spiritual quest had led her to join a new-age Japanese movement, but it was actually inspired by my idols, British band Japan and composer Ryuichi Sakamoto. While tracing their footsteps in my own attempt at a musical pilgrimage I had an epiphany: it wasn’t all downhill after 21. Life was good and the future looked exciting. Even without the prospect of rehab.

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