Street Talk, What will be, will be,

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It’s been a while since I wrote Street Talk. I had a nasty infection in my left cornea, making me virtually half blind.
The eye has begun to heal – not completely, but well enough to enable me to write again. A writer has to write or he suffocates. Of course it has been a struggle, but one good eye is better than none.

It was in the late 50’s – around 1958 or 1959 – when I began writing documentary scripts for Lamberto V. Avellana’s production company, Documentary, Inc. Bert had not yet been conferred the title of National Artist for Films but had already become legendary, having directed Sakay, the year I was born, having won the Best Director award in the 1956 Asian Festival and having directed Badjao which won the Best Film trophy in 1957.

Bert had just finished filming a commercial for a mutual fund company, based on the Doris Day hit song at the time, “Que Sera, Sera, What Will Be, Will Be.”

These days, over 63 years later, the world faces an uncertain future. The possibility of World War III – and God forbid, a nuclear war. Who know what measures Vladimir Putin will resort to in the face of his failure to make the feisty Ukranians bow to him? The KGB killer in Putin could cause him to give up his one lousy life for the lives of billions.

Indeed, we face the possibility of the end of the world, as we know it, and the advent of space settlements – the moon to start with. Reminds of an ad I created to commemorate the decades-long relationship of Nestle and Advertising & Marketing Associates (AMA), the ad agency of which I was president and CEO. The headline read: “One day, we could be selling coffee out there on the moon.”

Will nuclear war destroy the earth, just like the fictional planet Krypton? Bahala na si Superman. Que sera, sera.
Next month, the Philippines will hold a presidential election. Who will win? In the voting. And in the counting? Winning in the
botohan is no guarantee of winning in the bilangan. It depends on many things. Mainly gold. Goons. And guns.
Plus another ”G” in the case of former President Gloria Arroyo: Garci.

I have not been involved in this Philippine presidential election, as in the past. However, the other week, I got a call from Alex Aison of Modesto, California. It appears that his friends in Manila who are supporters of VP Leni
Robredo asked him to contact me “as one of the composers” of the Filipinas Life song, the other person being Rusty Velilla who was already dead. I had to clarify that I was the composer and lyricist of the Filipinas Life song, which Rusty had helped produce for Filipinas Life Assurance Company.

According to Alex they wanted to use the song for the Robredo campaign. That was the good news.
The bad news was that Alex had confirmed that my long-lost friend and compadre was dead.

I had long been trying to track down Rusty since my family and I relocated to the US. For an AMA reunion a few months ago, Nanette Ramirez, another veteran production person volunteered to find Rusty. But no luck.
How did Rusty get creative credit for the song? The last time we spoke – over 35 years ago – Rusty informed me that there was a plan to have the Mabuhay Singers do a new recording of the song. My family and I were about to leave for the US.
The current version is Rusty’s work. In effect, he became the foster father of my song. He certainly did a great job.

And how did a non-musician like me come up with such a composition?
This is one of the funny anecdotes in my book, “How to Make a Benta – Anecdotes, Articles and Lectures from the Advertising Wars.” In the chapter, “Jingle-Making for Non-Musicians,” I related how the ad agency of Filipinas Life, Special Advertising Services (SPADS), asked me if I was a jingle-maker and if I could handle a rush assignment. I said “Yes” to both questions, thinking that I could pass on the project to my real musician friends Raul Silos or Gandy Monsod.

Only then did I learn how much was at stake.
Rival ad agency ideas Inc. had presented a speculative jingle to the president of Filipinas Life. And he liked the presentation so much that he wanted to award the account to Ideas. Told that SPADS was the agency of record, client agreed to give SPADS a chance to present a better jingle or lose the account.

Problem: we had to record the jingle next day. Bigger problem: neither Raul nor Gandy was available on such short notice. Biggest problem: I have never been a composer except in desperate situations and I can’t even play any musical instrument. On the day of the recording, while the singers, Rudy Angus and his quartet, and the producer, Rusty Velilla, knew exactly what to do, I had no jingle or any kind of melody in mind or any clue to get my sparse musical skill started.

Desperation began to wreak havoc on my bladder. It is said that anxiety can activate the bladder which in turn can activate the brain which could yield some creative inspiration.
Believe it or not, the process worked. It’s detailed in my book. A melody began to ring in my brain, along with the lyrics:
“Kapalaran di mawari
Huwag magbabakasakali
Ipanatag ang buhay…”
As I stood before the urinal, the lyrics flowed as freely from my brain as the contents of my bladder:

“Filipinas, Filipinas Life,
Filipinas life Assurance Company…”
We piled into my car as I cleaned up the incipient musical piss…uh, I mean musical piece. By the time we arrived at the recording studio, the song was complete.

With professionals like Rudy Angus and his singing group and a production pro like Rusty, the song was easily put in the can. Getting agency and client approval was just as easy. The Filipinas Life song became a company anthem and for years, folks all over the Philippines would wake up to the song which introduced the Filipinas Life Newscast.
According to my colleagues in advertising, it is considered a classic. That’s music to the ears of a non-musician like me.

But to go back to Rusty, I hope his widow Monina is well. I also recall their first child, PJ. He must be in his late 30s or early 40s now. I would like Monina and PJ to know that I loved Rusty like a brother. We were so close, I asked him to be the godfather of my first child, Ringo. I hope it helps. I also hope she wins. Que sera, sera! (gregmacabenta@hotmail.com)

 

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