( Last of two parts )

pinedaTHE story of Arnel Pineda (pre-YouTube years) is typical of rock musicians who are in a band for economic rather than artistic reasons. Playing originals doesn’t put food on the table, while doing certified Bon Jovi monstrosities can at least land you a contract in Japan.

This is understandable, especially in the case of Pineda, who spent two years of his childhood out on the streets of Manila collecting empty bottles and metal scrap, and discovered his voice as his only way out of this poverty. Thanks to his mother who taught him Barbara Streisand songs when he was a little boy. (I’m not kidding.)

Of course, we can always say Pineda also wrote original materials and recorded these either solo or with his bands, but we were too busy digging Eraserheads to care.

If you are familiar with Cebu’s rock scene in the 80s, you would know we had a lot of Arnel Pinedas in the old Club 99 along Colon St. back then. Remember Iron Smoke? That was a typical Arnel Pineda band you got there – extremely talented musicians who were butchers, ironsmiths or watch repairmen by day and “rock stars” by night. And like all of them, they measured each other’s success not by the number of original hits they churned out but by how faithfully they covered Nazareth’s Love Hurts.

But while Cebu’s rock musicians quickly became too stoned to wait for YouTube’s arrival, Arnel Pineda and his band mates stayed sober enough to make it to the next century, even donning silly skeleton outfits and calling themselves The Rolling Bones just so they could play in a theme club in Hong Kong in 1991.

The break came 16 years later. Like an aging foreigner surfing the Internet for an exotic wife, an American band called Journey picked Pineda and arranged a date. And the rest is classic mail-order bride history. If you don’t know Journey, it’s one of those arena bands in the 80s whose vocalists sang like eunuchs on the loose.

Arnel and Journey deserve each other, if only because they share the same habit of not keeping a band intact. Arnel jumps from one band to another, ten in all, like he is island hopping, while Journey keeps changing members like underwear. At the last count, 19 musicians have had stints with Journey since the band was formed in 1973, including American Idol judge Randy Jackson (bass, backing vocals, 1985-1987). Arnel is the band’s sixth vocalist. You may start the countdown now for Arnel’s replacement.

So, what’s wrong with Charice and Arnel? Nothing. They are simply two of the many talented Filipinos who use their five-octave voice to escape poverty, and who better come out with original hits now because there’s so much “Open Arms” and “I Will Always Love You” on TV already that dogs start yapping upon hearing the songs’ intro.

What’s wrong with those American talk shows? Nothing. They are simply being American, benevolently reaching out to a global audience by pulling out talents from the world’s continents and showcasing it live, so that the American crowd goes, “Amazing, and we thought they still live in trees.”

What’s wrong with the local entertainment media? Nothing. They are simply being Filipino. First, they snub genuine talents who don’t have the looks. Second, they feign surprise upon learning that the talents they ignored made it abroad. Third, they say “oops” and make up for the mistake by featuring the talents on prime time news. Fourth, they go for the overkill by giving the talents round-the-clock exposure. Fifth, they go back to their old ways, until the next Filipino appears on Oprah.

( SUN.STAR, JANUARY 6, 2008 )