Healing music (A personal, if not cinematic, recollection of long stay in the hospital)

FOR 10 days I was confined in a hospital. That was the first time in my lifetime. At the ER, it took a long time for me to decide to be admitted. The whole morning, I kept asking my sister (whose misfortune it was to be on a spring break only to be my adept caregiver) whether I should check in, mistaking the hospital for a hotel. Hospitals are never part of my system. I’m the veteran when bringing kin to ER and for confinement, but I never saw myself tied to a bed—helpless, a bit lonely.

But I was full of hope. This is one instinct I found alive in me: Hope should passionately spring eternal when is one is sick on a hospital level. Headaches don’t need hope. Great affliction, like love, demands a mind that will never succumb to any physical or metaphorical darkness.

My room was a huge one. Perhaps the quaint privilege of  being hospitalized for the first time is to be gifted with a junior suite room. To the left of my bed was a wide window through which I could see trees of varying greenness. They surrounded the nuns’ home located near the chapel. At 6 in the morning, without fail,  the bell for the morning Mass would ring. I knew I had to have images of the events transpiring below my window. I thought of Saint Bernadette, but it was not the face of the saint, but of Jennifer Jones’s. One morning, I whispered to myself, “The bells of Saint Mary’s,” but I was not dreaming of faith, but of the ethereal face of Ingrid Bergman. The actress would do more films that blurred the distinction between the Swedish beauty and the roles she played. When she ran off with a married man, Roberto Rossellini, society despised Ingrid Bergman. They were thinking of the nuns and the saints she played.

After a week of my confinement, my brother-in-law flew in from Tokyo. He could not imagine his good friend (we were classmates in Rikkyo University, and he served as my fieldwork guide), this obstinate man, was finally sick, When he arrived, I was listening to “Gloomy Sunday”, that elegantly dreary,  magnificently elegiac song: “Angels have no thought/Of ever returning you/Would they be angry/If I thought of joining you/Gloomy Sunday”.

Do you know that song? Asked my brother-in-law. Of course, I did. It was composed by a Hungarian pianist who gave it an original title “The World is Ending”. But my Sada had more information for me. The song, which is called “The Hungarian Suicide Song”, did cause many suicides in Japan. How can I miss that? In a culture that has a sort of ethos for self-immolation, the song is one gloomy, perfect background.

I’m not suicidal. What I love about “Gloomy Sunday” is that voice of Billie Holiday, the empress of despair in whose versions of any song can be found loneliness as searingly delicious as any brandy.

For me,  it is always the singer not the song.

This personal belief was tested in the coming days when, as I recovered, my boredom increased. I had to seek solace in the odd voices I favored.

First on the list was Tony Bennett, he who made the rasp in his voice a signature for the longing and romance he sought in the lines of the many songs he popularized.

Who can beat a song with the title “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”? The sentiment is huge and in full bloom: “I walk alone the street of sorrows/The boulevard of broken dreams.” With a headset fitted to bring me closer and alone to the sound, I’m out of the hospital room and into a film noir of a street, where men are wearing on their trenchcoats their heartbreak and the women are forever lovely in their griefs. I was with them as we left our soul “in that old cathedral town”. Images of Humphrey B0gart and Lauren Bacall fill my Cinerama in Room 248. The IVs and urinals disappeared and in their place, lushly grew pictures of Rosa Rosal sashaying her way back to the slums, Joan Crawford slapping the evil woman not once, not twice, not thrice, but countless of times to merit the applause of fans.

Sickness can make one’s taste be characterized by extreme catholicity. I’m a very old soul, thus, from Bennett I turned to Rudy Vallee of the prewar days, then to Steve Lawrence, and on to Vic Damone, the suave baritone with the most musical of heartbreaks.

And why not Matt Monro? This is one singer whose memory had been killed by videoke. Many people sing his songs madly assuming that the facile notes as indeed facile. No one ever checked reality with the guard of any singalong bars to realize that Monro was a great stylist.

So there I was, near twilight, listening to Monro’s “My Friend, My Friend”. I’m sure when people first heard the song, they assumed it was a song of a man to a woman. But why call one’s sweetheart or lover “friend”. Listen to the lyrics: “My friend, my friend, if you could only see me/I’m lost amid the music and wine.” It continues: “The dawn will soon be here/The sun will kiss the sky/But will the pain have ended then/And still I can’t believe it, I never will believe it/Your lips and mine will never again.” At this point, the audience back in the 1960s must’ve sufficiently and happily concluded the ballad was really about a man and a woman. Let me pose this: It is 2017—Can two men or two women not kiss each other?

I know Dr. J. Pilapil Jacobo would love this new reading.

Ah, to be sick and obsessed with nuances!

What is a search for consolation in music without Nora Aunor on the list?

It’s a wonder how record producers allowed Nora to sing the songs with bad or wrong lyrics? With lousy arrangements and musical instruments that threatened to engulf the singer, Nora’s voice nonetheless soared above all this. After all these years, that voice that was never sweet but real, the vibrato that was brandy and wild honey could still console. Many singers knew sadness and gloom, but Nora’s voice succeeded more than others, because her low notes are money notes: they plumbed the depths of any man’s affliction, making the recovery real because one had been down there

One of these days, when I muster enough courage, I will ask Nora Aunor to sing “Gloomy Sunday”.


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