I think I’m a fairly capable writer. During class or in meetings that go on far too long than they should, I’m also an excellent doodler. I can make caricatures, stars, landscapes—whole new worlds, in fact—on my lined yellow pad. And with my ability to look as though I’m seriously listening and jotting down notes, one could even say that I’m a stellar actress.
But the one thing that I am not at all capable of is any kind of musical ability.
No matter how many shots of Tequila I down or no matter how loudly the karaoke machine blares, I have zero talent when it comes to music.
I was always the kid that couldn’t clap in time. And forget piano lessons. My great-grandfather had a piano, and even getting ‘chopsticks’ right was a major challenge.
It has even been said that when I sing I sound like an “alley cat that’s losing a battle to a rat in heat.” (True quote.)
But I love music.
I love it so much that even when people threaten to hurl beer cans my way, I’ll still sing anyway. Well, no, that’s not true at all. Fear for my physical well-being has limited my rock star fantasies to vocalizing in the shower and headbanging in the car (with the windows up, of course).
When we listen to music, it is as though we’re transcending time and space. It hits us somewhere deep, somewhere primal—a place commanded by our instincts and emotions. No matter the genre—pop, rock, country, jazz, techno, death metal—a song’s rhythm, melody, and even lyrics, connects us to our bodies, our community, our memories and emotions. It even connects us to our ancestors: Just as we bob our heads, tap our feet, and mouth the lyrics in a packed arena, as did our ancestors. But instead of in a concert hall with blaring lights, they were probably shaking their hips and stomping at the ground, with their arms raised up towards the sun, or the moon and the stars.
But most of all, music connects us to the world outside—simultaneously moving us to reflect, while also pushing us to think about the world outside.
Music is the great equalizer: It is the universal human experience.
Our favorite songs become the soundtrack of our lives.
If music is the agent of change, then travel is what’s waiting on the other side. And if travel is out of the question—even in this iron Manila summer heat—then, at the very least, music gets us dreaming about the great affair that is movement. Even if it’s only to tap our toes.
Of course, I just have to include a track listing of my own personal mixtape:
Artist: Explosions in the Sky
Song: Your Hand in Mine
Why it rocks: My first winter in Berlin. I remember listening to them as I would walk through the city’s damp streets, the icy wind nipping at my cheeks. For some reason, the track would always start playing just as dusk was descending, the sun casting its pinkish-tangerine glow on the bullet-ridden gray buildings. Talk about mood music.
Artist: Camera Obscura
Song: Let’s Get Out of This Country
Why it rocks: In Berlin, I became good friends with Iona and Jane who were from Scotland. Aside from discovering seedy albeit rockin’ underground doner parties together, they introduced me to some amazing music from Scotland. I listen to this song whenever I’m feeling a bit stifled and want to jump into a car and just drive…anywhere.
Artist: Led Zeppelin
Why it rocks: Supposedly, Jimmy Page wrote the song about a woman he fell in love with Mexico. It makes me think of the passage of time. Sweet endings.
Artist: Led Zeppelin
Song: That’s the Way
Why it rocks: Okay, it’s pretty obvious that I love Led Zeppelin. Yes, I could have chosen “Immigrant Song” (which I also love), but this song makes me both happy and sad. I would play this in the car as I would venture out for a weekend drive in San Francisco. I remember driving through the Muir Woods, the music cranked all the way up and the windows all the way down. The air was cool and crisp, and eucalyptus trees lined the winding roads. To this day, when I listen to this song, I can still smell the minty fresh scent of eucalyptus in the air.
Artist: Urban Dub
Song: First of Summer
Why it rocks: Brings me back to my college days. Released in 2005, the song marked the beginning of summer, and my real beginnings as a rough-and-tumble backpacker (I’m talking getting stuck in random places around the Philippines and Southeast Asia.)
Artist: Modest Mouse
Song: Float On
Why it rocks: I always put this song on whenever I need a reminder that “we’ll all float on okay, we’ll all float on alright.” And whether you’re on the road or in the corporate world, the song does a good job of putting everything back in perspective.
Artist: Willie Nelson
Song: Blue Skies
Why it rocks: First of all, this song is important to me because it was one that my father used to always play. Second, the lyrics started coming back to me while sitting atop a jeepney rooftop en route to Sagada. The sky was perfect: clear, blue, and sunny. I’ll never forget how much in awe I was of the world around me. It was a humbling experience. It was also one where I remember thinking, “I could do this—this traveling thing—for the rest of my life.”
Song: These Days
Why it rocks: Though most would find it depressing, the song is a personal favorite of mine. It was my song for winter. I used to listen to it after spending a day wandering—rummaging through the used book bins in Mauer Park, my favorite flea market in Berlin—and reading my latest find. Though that period in Berlin was particularly lonesome and admittedly challenging, it was also the time that I was the most introspective and productive. It was a time of growth.
Artist: Lata Mangeshkar
Song: Wada Na Tod
Why it rocks: From the soundtrack of The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, this song was playing during one of my favorite scenes in the film—when Clementine brought Joel to her apartment. I loved how strange and bizarre (such as her potato head figurines) Winslet’s character was. In many ways, when I was younger, I wanted to be just like her (I’m not). I think her character’s spontaneity inspired me to silence the fear and just jump forward. Plus, I still dream of traveling through India one day.
Artist: Bob Dylan
Song: Like a Rolling Stone
Why it rocks: Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a Bob Dylan fanatic. When making this list, there were so many songs of his to choose from. Shooting Star was definitely one of them. And so was Tangled Up in Blue. But I picked “Like a Rolling Stone” because there was a time in my life, my first few months in Berlin, that I was teetering towards the wrong direction. Luckily, Bob Dylan became my voice of reason, his conscious crooning of a cautionary tale kept me upright.
Artist: The Kinks
Song: Waterloo Sunset
Why it rocks: The song is about finding comfort in knowing that no matter what life throws at you, there is a place—unique to each individual—that will always be there to remind us that everything will be just fine. I also remember it playing when I moved into my first apartment in Berlin. It was in a graffiti-adorned, rundown old building. And the shower was in the kitchen (yes, I kid you not). But I loved it. I had an art student for a flatmate who made life very interesting. I had a balcony overlooking the street below. And…well, I was in Europe. My childhood dream became my reality. And Waterloo Sunset was playing as I unpacked my bags.
Artist: John Lennon
Song: Watching the Wheels
Why it rocks: The lyrics say it all:
“People say I’m crazy doing what I’m doing…
I’m just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round
I really love to watch them roll/No longer riding on the merry-go-round
I just had to let it go”