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Sunday, July 24, 2011

Amy Winehouse, In Memoriam

What do you think? 
Amy Jade Winehouse (1983-2011)

There is more to Amy Winehouse than meets the eye.

Even darker than her unflattering tabloid image, turbulent personal life and alcohol/drug binges,  the demons that haunt her have managed to get the best of a songstress who could've been more legendary than she is today.

Found dead at 27 and alone in her London apartment, the demise of Amy Winehouse may come as no surprise to some people. But everyone could agree that she would've created a more world-weary and proper soul record if she managed to pull herself together.

It's a shame that she didn't go beyond what people expected her music could become. But in what she didn't accomplish, she made up by paving the way for other great and unconventional talents to surface in a sea teeming with glitzy and overly sexualized female pop acts.

Amy Winehouse enabled British musicians like Lily Allen, Adele, Duffy and Estelle to extend their musical horizons to the other side of the Atlantic. The American market welcomed British pop acts through the floodgate that Winehouse opened when she gained critical success in the US and through her spectacular 5-Grammy win back in 2006.

Amy Winehouse also sparked the rise of "the uncoventional pop star" that immensely competed with the Christinas and Britneys during the 2000s. Her gigantic beehive hair, her tattooed arms were indications that even the most eccentric artists could make it big in music. Lady Gaga even credited her once for igniting the musical trend.

Even in her death, it might be possible that Winehouse had not even began grasping how big an influence she was to other artists in the industry. All the booze, the on-stage drama, her battling with her eating disorders kept her from reaching her full potential as a performer. But even though her body was not destined for godlike success, her voice has managed to resonate through the industry and make the world take notice.

The world lost an unpolished gem yesterday. Amy Winehouse was an icon in more ways that one could ever imagine. As multi-faceted her life is, she exposed a lot of faces affixed to superstar status that the world hasn't seen before. They will all be remembered.

We shall remember a drunk Amy Winehouse in concert abruptly stopping and walking away to vomit backstage. We shall remember an unflattering photo of Amy Winehouse in a bikini, beer tummy out and flipping the bird at the papparazzi. But despite all of these faces we shall remember her for, I hope that what lasts for generations to come is the Amy Winehouse who sent chills down everyone's spines as she belted her distinctive contralto on-stage, who wasn't afraid to express her personal style and couldn't care less about what others would say, who introduced a new brand of pop to the already decaying sound dominating music.

That's the Amy Winehouse that we'd all like to remember. Rest in peace and may your music span generations to come.

Rest in peace, Amy Winehouse.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Comic Relief?

What do you think? 
Captain America: The First Avenger opens in Philippine cinemas July 27, 2011. I'm personally looking forward to watching yet another superhero film among multitudes of other superhero films that have been released in the past. You've got to wonder, why are we so hooked to superpowered people in tight costumes?

In theatres July 27, 2011
Moviegoers around the globe met the new millennium with a plethora of superhero films like Superman, Daredevil and Spider-man. Apparently, a lot of people are feeling more and more disheartened with the economy and the quality of their lives since the early 2000s that they simply needed to get away from it all, even for just a good two hours or so.

If it’s any indication that superheroes are here to stay, movie franchises are continuing to make film adaptations based on comic book heroes, even the ones who are lesser known. Whoever thought that Thor or X-Men: First Class would get a shot at the silverscreen?

But in the middle of our subconscious ache to escape that office cubicle and go to the cinema, we tend to lose sensibility with reality itself. Looking at it on a realistic level, superheroes would most probably do more harm than good if they actually walked alongside us superhero fans in the real world.

The danger that comes with spandex and the silly capes is something even comic book writers and filmmakers themselves have touched in the past. Movies like X-Men, Watchmen, The Dark Knight and The Incredibles have all dealt with the dichotomy of superhero righteousness and superhuman menace.

What makes superheroes a potential threat to the human race is simply the fact that they’re human just like the rest of us, only that they could disintegrate other people with a snap of a finger.

Being superhuman doesn’t make you super-perfect. Superheroes are subject to the same humanly flaws and shortcomings as any ordinary person. The only difference is they could throw the whole “I can’t help it if God made me this way” plea during a criminal trial the same way a person suspected of murder would sometimes use the insanity defense to reduce his sentence.

Seriously, would you stay in the same neighborhood as this guy?

Constitutionally, it’s harder to convict people with people born with retractable claws than people with guns. We can’t even fully regulate guns let alone nature. And superpowers in the hands of creatures as prone to being emotionally compromised as humans is pandemonium waiting to happen.

Unlike the just Captain America or the socially apprehensive Professor X, people will not always be selfless and wary of other people’s concerns. Not to sound condescending but, we can never cancel personal agenda out of the equation. If we all are to look deep into ourselves, we’ll see that self-corruption happens more often that we think. Superheroes simply have every means necessary to rule any nation they desire or to accumulate any amount of money that they wish. Thing is, not all of them will always be as virtuous as Batman.

But let’s just say that they are virtuous and they’re upright enough to work for their fellow men as say rescue personnel or military men, their service to your nation would not translate well to other countries.

A loyal superpowered public servant is a ticking nuclear bomb in the eyes of foreign powers. No rational country would stand for another nation harboring a superpower in their land. Superheroes are a threat to global security. They’ll simply cause the demise of international diplomacy as we know it.

So you see, superheroes are more complex than what their costumes suggest. Their very existence is a social issue everybody will have a hard time finding a middle ground.

Both supermen and ordinary men will have to scarifice a couple of rights on both sides in reconciling and harmonizing each other’s existence. If that be the case, then it's pretty clear that we'd rather not have people flying above us.

Superheroes may not be able to save the real world if they were in it, but they could certainly do so provided they simply remain cultural icons. 


The 2000s brought forward some of the most profitable superhero franchises in history. The Dark Knight (2008) is the eighth highest-grossing film of all-time with over $1 billion revenue worldwide.

All of these comic book and movie heroes, they are an integral part of tapping the superhero in each of us. They inspire us and even serve as a moral compass to those who follow their adventures.

While it may be ultimately regrettable that somebody may one day finally discover a mutant gene or a green lantern in their backyard, it’s nice to feel a sense of hope and morality in the real world as superheroes stop the bad guys in their little comic book universe.

The Boy Who Lived (And Will Probably Die A Virgin)

What do you think? 
Disclaimer: I haven’t watched the last Harry Potter film yet but if you already have and you’re the type who keeps on blabbing about it and spoiling other people who haven’t seen the movie yet, may a hippogriff trample on you while a dementor sucks your worthless soul.

Do you still squirm at the mere recollection of your Marvin Agustin notebooks or M2M song lyrics scribbled with glittery purple ink at the back of your slumbook during elementary school? If yes, consider an emotional connection between us existent.

And though I certainly wasn’t as “jologs” as you were back in the day, I’ve also had my share of eccentric/socially-frowned-upon behavior during the elementary years, and it involves no less than the greatest fictional character in contemporary literature…Edward Cullen. Kidding! Twilight’s not literature, duh, I meant Harry Potter.

In reality, being a Potter fan in the socially tumultuous era known as the late elementary/pre-high school years could lead to only two outcomes: Harry Potter becomes a status symbol to make you seem cooler and smarter than your classmates who lack the attention span to even read the alphabet or it turns you into a social pariah, ostracized from the Pokemon-watching, Britney Spears-listening majority who thinks that you’re too weird to even be mentioned in a casual conversation.

I ended up being (Yep, you guessed it.) part of the latter category.

Probably me in a few years. Once a Potter fan, always a Potter fan.

But I’m very thankful that I turned out to be one of the nerds nobody talked to. If I hadn’t been through that social rollercoaster back in the day, I wouldn’t be as driven as I am right now to make everybody else seem insignificant. Whoops, that’s a story worth saving for another blog post, or a counselor.

Going back to Harry Potter, being a fan didn’t make me popular among my classmates and it only amplified my being a geek whom everyone taunted in school. But all of that didn’t seem to matter to me whenever I experienced that sense of wonder flipping through those pages gave me.

Reading Harry Potter was my only channel for escapism in my otherwise dull and emotionally scarring childhood. I owe my life to JK Rowling for creating the only beacon of hope us kids have in a bleak and meaningless world.

One thing great about the series is that I basically grew up with Harry Potter. When I transferred to yet another school, he was a freshman in Hogwarts. When a giant basilisk was out to kill him, my English teacher skewered me for not being able to buy a costume for our school play. When Harry and Cho Chang had their first kiss, I was dropping old figurines that I stole from our sala set into paperbags to give to my crush on Valentines.

In short, a reason why I was engrossed with the series is because I identified with the protagonist in so many ways. We were the same in lots of aspects except that his world was far more magical than the crummy one I had in which, in that time, Erap was still president.

My evolution as a human being: from this slightly obese, socially awkward child... this slightly obese, socially awkward, shades-sporting Randy Santiago wannabe.

Harry Potter activated my untapped power of imagination and made my existence a little bit more magical. Even now that I’m 21 years old and basically old enough to raise little Harry Potter fans of my own, I still see myself and life as enchanted. And nobody, not even my age or my pot belly could tell me otherwise.

So if given the chance to choose between becoming popular back in the day or staying a loyal Potter fan from then on, this would be a no-brainer because I would still prefer being a fan. The Boy Who Lived has contributed volumes in making the successful person I am today that being well-liked in school wouldn’t have been able to offer me.

I mean just look at where I am today - I’m an AB Journalism senior, former Scrabble and Quiz Bowl champion and an academic scholar with a 75% tuition fee discount. I’m rolling with the big leagues now.

My growth had the trajectory of Neville Longbottom at first - repulsive, unnoticeable in a company of three and irrelevant to any storyline. Then it shifted to Draco Malfoy's - still repulsive, a douchebag and had bad haircuts.

Life on Shuffle

What do you think? 

Yes, reader of this blog who didn’t ask, my iPod does have a name. I christened my 6th generation iPod Nano “Tiberius” after Capt. James Kirk’s father on Star Trek.

Just like what I do to our militia of dogs at home, I name most inanimate objects that I use daily. There’s Madison my laptop, Butler my bulky backpack, Bouncer my unreliable cellphone and many others.

I guess one reason why I inadvertently assign names to my things is that I get very attached to them. I can’t leave the house without Tiberius fastened around my wrist. Tiberius provides me the music I need for that extra bounce in my step.

When I listen to funk rock for example, I feel way cooler than I actually am. I get that badass feeling while walking one has when sporting shades bigger than his face.

So if you’re going to make me pick between a life without music or death, I’d be better off choosing the latter. Those days when you forget to bring your source of music are absolutely the worst. The world just seems so vacuous and you aren’t able to fantasize yourself in an action movie montage or a music video while you buy cup noodles at the grocery store.

Tiberius, my iPod

Do you have a gaping hole in your life that your friends, family and Tanduay posters of Cristine Reyes can’t fill? Well, though often temporarily, music can give you a quick fix for that. Just slip on those earphones and you’ll be singing/screeching alongside Michael Jackson or hatching out of an egg with Lady Gaga in no time.

We’ve all got to admit, whether you’re as happy as a richer Aling Dionisia after a Manny Pacquiao victory or as dismal as Piolo Pascual in a room full of naked FHM centerfolds, we all need a little escapism every now and then to break that silence in between those more exciting moments in our lives.

This music-induced escapism often helps us to become more inspired and driven, just like when you jog to your workout music.

But appreciation in music doesn’t stop in personal motivation. Learning to appreciate music also teaches us to appreciate everything else.

My iPod has taught me to keep my life on shuffle. I put my playlist on shuffle and opt to listen to whatever track comes up. I do this on long bus rides or lazy afternoons when the only thing you can do is play music. This habit of mine has allowed me to discover and appreciate a wide range of artists and bands that I wouldn’t have even noticed if I just stuck strictly to the artists I like.

Also, I don’t give conclusions to songs that I haven’t even heard entirely or at least played halfway. I make it a point to let new songs sink in first before I dismiss it as good or bad.

By keeping my iPod on shuffle, I’ve learned to love Matt Wertz, John Mayer, Tiago Iorc, Jason Mraz, Jamiroquai, David Gray, Janelle Monae, Amy Winehouse and other artists whom I otherwise wouldn’t even have bothered listening to.

Mind you, I grew up in a household where there is barely any firm musical school of thought or influence at all. All these musicians I listen to, I kept my iPod on shuffle and discovered them myself.

I think that everyone should put their own musical preferences and lives on shuffle. It lets us value and understand less prominent music and develops the aptitude to scout for music other than that which is already very accessible through mainstream media.

If we only take time to consider putting our senses in shuffle, I think we wouldn’t have to settle with the garbage blaring out of today’s radio and TV. Everyone would be able to hone their own sense of aesthetic and not resort to mainstream conformity.

I don’t have anything against mainstream. It only becomes bothersome when it all stops in mainstream.

The same principle applies to the various facets of life like art, culture and people. When you keep your options open and keep things random, you’ll find that life has more meaning, depth and diversity.

There’s so many tracks on life’s playlist that a lot of people wouldn’t even think of touching. We deem lesser-known music as unlistenable just because we have our very limited playlist to listen to. People need to try new things.

And on that note, we now come to my blog.

I’ve created this blog to tell the world that hey, there’s something awesome waiting for everyone beyond that mainstream horizon.

Welcome to The Culture Shack, the place to appreciate art, culture as well as life itself. I hope that as you browse through this blog, you’d be able to learn how to put your life on shuffle and try several new things for a change.