An Ode to My Best Friend and the Humble Beginning of Our Band Half Life Half Death
Photo taken sometime in 1994 at Ramil's residence in Pasay City, Metro Manila, Philippines: My band Half Life Half Death, in 1994, consisted of Bimbo Ballesteros, drummer; Ramil Aznar, bassist; Rain Paggao, lead guitarist; Pet de Jesus, rhythm guitarist; and me, vocalist and mascot
A successful lawyer now, serving people at Makati City's Public Attorney's Office, Rainald Paggao was not only a highschool mate, bandmate, and best friend: Rain is the brother I never had. Since we met each other in December of 1987 at Sta. Clara Parish School in Pasay City, during a school program, we knew right away that we would become best friends. In fact, that fateful event we also regard as the day our belovèd band Half Life Half Death was conceived.
Graduating students aLfie vera mella, Pet de Jesus, Edmund Villafuerte, and Jonathan Mejino were performing as a band, named JARP (Juvenile Association of Rational People), at our school's Christmas program for our teachers. We didn't have our own instruments; in fact, we practiced using only Pet's acoustic guitar and Edmund's small Yamaha keyboard and a pile of books as Jonathan's drum set. So young and clueless, we embarked on a dream of becoming "rockstars" without even knowing what a bass guitar was!
On the eve of the program, we called all our friends to help us find someone who could lend us an electric guitar and a drum set. Came Norman "Ohmy" Gorecho to the rescue, saying he had a classmate who was a lead guitarist in a band and who would surely be willing to lend us his electric guitar. Another schoolmate took care of the drum set, promising he'd transport it early in the morning.
Then, the day came. The "rockstars" arrived, donned in their best Cure attires—from hairstyle to garbs. The guitarist who would lend his electric guitar came, too; the drum set owner, however, never appeared.
The band performed anyway, with only a mic, a small Yamaha keyboard, a karaoke system, the electric guitar and an accompanying guitar amplifier. Yep, we played as a band without a bass nor a drum set; but despite that, our performance—a medley of Modern English's "I Melt with You," Red Rockers' "China," and The Cure's "Just Like Heaven"; The Bølshøi's "Sunday Morning"; and "Langit Nga Ba?," our own Filipino-translated version of Fiction Factory's "(Feels Like) Heaven"—managed to awe the entire school, perhaps because of how we looked and because bands were at the time still rare and exotic.
Despite our shortcomings, that "first time" was nevertheless memorable. And it never discouraged us from pursuing the band, which eventually took us to greater heights in the following years...from the "Rock Against Drugs" Concert Series (1988–1991) to stints at Club Dredd and Mayric's and other watering holes and finally to recording our singles and albums commercially, embarking on promotional tours, and guesting on radio and television shows.
And, as we always say, the rest was history.
The person who lent us the electric guitar and who eventually became Half Life Half Death's lead guitarist, my literary and musical collaborator, my best friend, and the brother I never had was none other than Rain.
In ode to my great friendship with Rain, I wrote the following poems:
Sonnets for Rain
Your brilliant words were magical;
They always lit my mind.
Your simplest thoughts, sublime, divine;
They’d borne my spirits high.
In mirth or pain, in loss or gain,
Your songs poured forth like rain.
Not once before when we were young,
I found myself in drought;
You always poured like real rain,
’nriching me in delight.
And now from you I’m far away,
My friend, I miss you so.
Friendship built on brotherly love
Till old age may it last.
When you were Sun while I was Moon,
To us it mattered not.
The light you cast upon my path
Has never made me blind;
For you possess a noble soul,
Which Pride can never touch.
The words like rays your pen did shine
The songs you made, the hopes you gave
Are always in my heart.
When ’twas my turn to be the sun,
As Moon you did your part.
Whoever’s Sun or Moon, I know,
To us it matters not.
So many bards did sing of stars,
Whose beauty they could see.
The chords you strummed on your guitar
Had always brought me glee.
The words I wove, the tunes you plucked—
Among the stars our songs retired;
They twinkle when I’m sad.
I know, stars, in reality,
Are but a burning gas.
Despite that, you remain to be
The brightest I can see.
A star—that’s what you’ll always be,
Forever ’nspiring me!
In various hues you came to me
In times when I was blue.
December then, remember when—
Oh, what a rendezvous!
I awed you with my Cure attire;
In turn, you stunned me, too:
Your licks and tricks on your guitar—
The start of something New
Wave. Music has made us brothers,
Set us on a journey,
Which changed our lives forever more.
How colorful it was!
Among the many friends I have…
The rainbow smiled at you.
I wrote these poems in February 2005 while listening to my band Half Life Half Death's songs "Butterflies" and "Brother's Pen" in repeat mode.