Pop goes my heart

BRIEF HISTORIES - Don Jaucian (The Philippine Star) - December 4, 2015 - 9:00am

I turned 28 this week. It’s terrible. I’m just two years away from turning 30, which will then officially strip me of the “young and free” excuse to every inanity I commit. It’s been a tough stretch but there was one thing that kept me from imploding despite the stress of adult life: pop culture. I’m fortunate enough to have landed a job that requires me to constantly vacillate between the highs and lows of pop culture. But looking back, my formative years during the noughties, sandwiched between the awkward ills of puberty and the boldfaced responsibilities of adulthood, much of what I am now is made up of a sticky sludge of film, music, and other pop cultural artifacts.

Here are 28 “landmarks” of my existence in pop, catalogued for your perusal just in case there are some of you who are planning on being a columnist for a publication that covers the bowels of new media, just like I did back when I was a skinny small town boy far away from Manila! Yes you can, too!

1. Lord of the Rings — I was too poor to buy the complete Harry Potter books so I settled for JRR Tolkien’s trilogy instead. It was a slog to go through but Middle Earth’s battle for good and evil was certainly bleaker (and far more depressing) than the one in Hogwarts.

2. Vanity Fair’s Hollywood Issues — Short from dreaming of posing for Annie Leibovitz’s stellar foldout covers, Vanity Fair’s annual tinseltown fare was my intiation into the glitzy narratives of celebrities that went beyond tabloid coverage.

3. The Sandman — A sprawling, 10-volume graphic novel about myths and storytelling involving anthropomorphic representations of forces that govern the universe, from Dream to Death.

4. Twisted 6 — My snark manifesto that launched my then-obsessive journaling and fuelled my film geekery.

5. Sufjan Steven’s [supposed] 50 States Project Paste Magazine called it “a joke” and Stevens gave up after Michigan and Illinois but these two albums remain as majestic displays Stevens’s lush songwriting and essential landmarks of indie folk.

6. Y Tu Mama Tambien — Alfonso Cuaron’s film was my gateway drug to the pleasures of arthouse. A story of a third-world country told through the sexual adventures of two nubile men? I’m in.

7. Spongebob Squarepants — The Nickoldeon show’s humor has permanently seeped into my vocabulary. Someone’s being annoying? “Don’t you have to be stupid somewhere else?” Can’t think of anything to say? “Uh….24?”

8. Alanis Morissette, Tori Amos, and Bjork — I hailed these three singer songwriters as my triumvirate during my early attempts at writing poetry. Needless to say, my turnout was disgusting like any other juvenalia.

9. FHM Philippines — I didn’t have a lot of access to glossies back home but this men’s rag was always lying around in our classroom. This was the next best thing to GQ if you’re stuck in a sleepy town north of Manila.

10. Tumblr — Pre-Marissa Mayer Tumblr was glorious — it was an orgy of passionate and creative minds who made this blogging platform their playground. From memes, Vampire Weekend, to ’90s nostalgia, my Tumblr blog became my training ground in content “curation.”

11. Hilary Duff — While the cool kids had Freaks and Geeks and My So-Called Life, I had Lizzie McGuire. Then the Duffster released Metamorphosis and “So Yesterday.”

12. Super! — Before Supreme existed, it was in another broadsheet as “Super.” I religiously subscribed to the columns of Tals Diaz and Gino de la Paz (hi, Gino!) and made their articles my guide to enlightened living.

13. The New Yorker — My writerly aspirations took a more literary bent when I picked up my first copy of The New Yorker. A decade later, I’m still comfortably lowbrow.

14. “The Sentence is a Lonely Place” — Gary Lutz details his extraordinary relationship with words, opening sentences, and the general allure of writing. His The Believer essay is my go-to read when I’m faced with writer’s block.

15. Regina Belmonte’s “Infinitely Sad Songs List” —  I’ve always been prone to bouts of melancholia and naturally, Regina’s list — which included Coldplay, Sigur Ros, A Perfect Circle, and Radiohead — spoke to me about the “infinte abyss” of musical misery, which led me to…

16. Livejournal — Where everyone is content on writing about being miserable and emotional.

17. Magic Realism — I quickly jumped from fantasy to Latin America’s major literary exports, mainly Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Isabel Allende, for their fabulist inclinations and fantastic worlds sans fairies and trolls. The penultimate modern fairy tale.

18. Spin Magazine — I scoured our local supermarket’s magazine rack for back issues of this music magazine, which introduced me to bands such as Neutral Milk Hotel, Phoenix, and The Smiths.

19. HBO Sex and the City drew me because of the raunchy, cosmopolian themes but then I got dragged into Six Feet Under’s fatalist family drama and Rome’s spectacle of bloodlust. Now, kids are spoiled with Game of Thrones, Silicon Valley, and True Detective.

20. The September Issue — RJ Culter’s documentary about Vogue’s massive September 2007 issue remains as a fascinating immersion into the cutthroat world of publishing.

21. The Director’s Label DVDs — As a kid who grew up in the midst of the MTV revolution, the works of Mark Romanek, Spike Jonze, and Jonathan Glazer were early introductions to this new generation of filmmakers who would go on to make films such as Never Let Me Go, Her, and Under the Skin, respectively.

22. Slant Magazine’s Year End Lists — Bar none, the best online venue for film criticism. Their annual best-of list is a great barometer of films worth checking out, be they mainstream or indie.

23. ABS-CBN — I’ve been, shamelessly, a kapamilya through and through and during the noughties, my primetime viewing involved a lot of teleseryes and Pinoy Big Brother.

24. Westlife — They’ve already disbanded but their songs are still catchy as hell.

25. Sugarfree’s Sa Wakas — Nothing sadder than sad love songs in Filipino.

26. Philippine Speculative Fiction — I dabbled in being a fictionist during my latter years in college and my penchant towards the fantastic led me to this subgenre. The Alfar’s anthology of Filipino “spec fic”stories still contain gems here and there.

27. H.P. Lovecraft — My aformentioned attempts at fiction were heavily influenced by Lovecraft’s cosmic horror. I had one story included in a horror anthology and that ended my career as a fictionist.

28. Haruki Murakami — I, too, was once a basic sadboi.

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