Here’s an unfinished fragment of an overblown, gushing, and frankly embarrassing essay about a Filipino pop band — the Eraserheads — which I wrote in 1995 or so. Alas, what I write below is not true anymore (about which I can write later), but for one moment there (after the release of their Cutterpillow album, one of my favorite albums of all time) they truly were the greatest band in the world. (Otherwise everything’s still the same: I still love the Beatles, and Yo La Tengo still rules.
This is Part One; Parts Two and Three continue next week.
Eraserheads, Part One
The Eraserheads are the greatest band in the entire world. This is a fact. And I write this with the same equanimity as making a statement like “The sky is blue.” For no other pop music group (well, there are exceptions; see below) has produced a body of work that has consistently challenged my intellect, stirred my emotions, and on the whole produced such limitless listening enjoyment as the Eraserheads have.
Of course, I could qualify my sweeping generalization with a modifier of time, i.e., the Eraserheads are the greatest band in the world right now, and to follow that up with something like the Beatles are the greatest band in the world ever. Or a modifier of place, such as Yo La Tengo is the greatest band in America and The Eraserheads are the greatest band in the Philippines. But such qualifiers needlessly diminish the drama of my original, monumental statement, when all I really want is for the impact of my affirmation to remain. So let me write it again: The Eraserheads are the greatest band in the entire world.
Again, it should be understood that I state this with no shred of objectivity whatsoever. Certainly a kind of ethnic sentiment clouds my judgment; I am Filipino, after all, and the fact that the ‘heads are from the Philippines means everything. But do not let that sway the uninitiated listener from experiencing music that is both refreshingly experimental and reassuringly consistent at the same time; music chock-full of damnably catchy melodies and lyrics both silly and worldly-wise; music which, with dead-on accuracy, has painted a portrait of an entire generation of Filipinos over the course of a mere four albums; music that rewards the listener with different, deeper meanings with every listen. As with the Beatles and Yo La Tengo, who would have known a three-minute pop song would yield up such an embarrassment of riches?
Take, for instance, just one couplet from the song “Ligaya“: “Gagawin ko ang lahat pati ang thesis mo / Huwag mo lang ipagkait ang hinahanap ko.” Is this not an altogether brilliant pledge of love and devotion? How could the listener dare doubt this? (Side note: the Eraserheads have long been compared to the Beatles, a comparison that is not only trite but irrelevant as well. For what band, except for that empire in which James Brown reigns, does not come from the Beatles? Or, to take a different tack, it is not as if the Beatles originated vocal harmonies, or verse-chorus-verse structure.)
My appreciation for the Eraserheads has been, oddly enough, in a kind of media vacuum; I have yet to see them interviewed, or any of their music videos, including the much-heralded one for “Ang Huling El Bimbo.” Their career began and rocketed as I was out of the country and unplugged from any Filipino radio station; perhaps that explains as well my obsessive, repeated listenings, trying to glean any little information I could about who these pop geniuses were.