Nostalgia storms Manila
HIGH GROUND By William M. Esposo 2005-11-21
BABY boomers have been treated to a nostalgia trip by the recent promotions of Steve O’Neal Productions, with the collaboration of Ovation Productions and Solar Entertainment, featuring the recording idols of the 1960s. The Cascades took us by storm as they opened the 2005 retro music festival and this was followed by performances by the Beach Boys, Gary Lewis and the Playboys and in December, Peter and Gordon.
My good friend and colleague in the television business, William Tieng of Solar, invited me to the Manila Hotel shows of the Cascades and Gary Lewis. Even if the performers appeared to have descended from a time warp, now looking every bit like grand daddies, they still managed to trigger a flood of memories among folks like me, my wife Meyang and our baby boomer friends – memories of our teen years and the last of the good times we had in this country (after the 1960s, it was all downhill for the Philippines).

For sure, these groups of the 1960s and 1970s do not get such a reception anymore in many places that they go to and where they are still considered worth paying to see. To begin with, their voices have changed a lot. The high notes that lads in the prime of their youth used to hit are no longer reached forty years after. The verve and exuberance of youth cannot be duplicated in old age. Neither do they bounce like they used to nor do they exhibit the spontaneous spirit of frolic that is the hallmark of the youth. Objectively, they are facsimiles of themselves.

The Cascades have long disbanded and only the persistence of the local promoter Dahnee Samonte, who accidentally stumbled into the information that they did not perish in a plane crash, got them together to perform here. It could well be that only the sentimental and most hospitable people like us would still welcome them as entertainers and who would be willing to pay to see them perform live.

The Cascades in particular proved the most popular thus far among the groups that have already performed here. During the 1960s, the Cascades was a sort of everybody’s-second-favorite singing group. In those days, you may have been a Beatles, Gary Lewis, Herman’s Hermits, Rolling Stones or Dave Clark Five fan but most likely the Cascades came second in your hierarchy of favorite singing groups. Their appeal proves the marketing dictum that there is great value in being a solid number 2, that there is a lot to gain in going for a number 2 market position while most others are failing to make number 1.

The Cascades attained recognition for their “Rhythm of the Rain” album. Unlike the other singing groups of the 60s era, who made their fame through several albums, the Cascades were known for just that one particular long playing record or LP as we used to call it then. Not only that, while the others dished out rock and roll music, the Cascades provided generally slow, sentimental songs that were more akin to the music of the older generation of the 1950s who idolized Patti Page, Frank Sinatra, Jerry Vale, Tony Bennett and Vic Damone.

But the hallmark achievement of the Cascades’ “Rhythm of the Rain” album was that all the songs that it contained were well-liked. I have always been a music buff and at one time was a disc jockey (At age 17, my first job was in the then popular DZBM radio station of the leading music distributor, MARECO) yet I have never encountered an album where all the cuts were popular. Even Beatles albums had a cut or two that we did not particularly like but this was not the case with the Cascades album.

Another Cascades phenomenon was the fact that their music was hardly played for dancing. During our parties, Cascades songs would be played during meal time or after the party had broken up – usually when we would be chatting on the swing, exchanging notes on who got to have an interesting dance or conversation with the ‘belle of the ball’. Cascades music was too sentimental for dancing especially in a period when rock and roll was the craze and slow drag was already passé and rarely danced during parties.

Cascades music was for wooing the damsel of one’s eye. It served as the perfect background music for the throbbing heart that groped for words with which to win the lovely maiden. It inspired the bard in you. The words that you needed in order to express your feelings somehow seemed to flow naturally when spoken in synch with Cascades music. If a survey was to be conducted, I would not be surprised if the results would show that the unions that produced the Gen Xers and Gen Yers were mostly inspired by the romantic atmosphere that Cascades music created. The Cascades could have been more appropriately named the Cupids.

The sentimentality that accompanied the reunion of the Cascades was enhanced by the urban legend that they all perished in a plane crash. Buddy Holly did, but not the Cascades. Thus it became a big word-of-mouth promotion when baby boomers here got word that their favorite Cascades were alive after all (save for one member, their drummer, who passed away a few years ago due to natural causes) and were coming to Manila.

It is not surprising that DZRJ disc jockey Dahnee Samonte, who goes by the moniker Steve O’ Neal, came up with the idea of promoting live entertainment for baby boomers. In DZRJ where he goes on board (radio term for being on the booth and on air) they cater to baby boomers and his boss, Ramon Jacinto (RJ), has been organizing shows featuring local performers who dish out baby boomer songs.

In 2004, when he tested the idea, Dahnee brought here Spiral Staircase (“More today than yesterday”), The Searchers (Love potion # 9, “Sweets for my sweets”), Friends of Distinction (“Great day”) and Chad and Jeremy (“Distant shores”). In 2006, Dahnee is bringing a Spiral Staircase encore (January), the Zombies (February), the Everly Brothers (March) and the Bee Gees (April).

When Dahnee brought the Spiral Staircase for the first time in 2004 for a Valentine’s Day performance, he was competing with a host of current chart busters, notably the Boyz II Men band. While current chart busters like Boyz II Men generate a greater audience, there are also greater costs to bring them here. Boyz II Men appeal to Gen Xers and Gen Yers while Spiral Staircase would cater to the baby boomers. Groups like Boyz II Men would easily cost a six figure sum in US dollars to bring here as compared to a five figure sum for the 1960s groups.

Gen Xers and Gen Yers would easily outnumber baby boomers by a ratio of 5 to 1. However, baby boomers have more disposable income for entertainment than Gen Xers and GenYers. The bulk of Gen Yers live off allowances.

When my wife and I watched Gary Lewis and the Playboys last October at the Manila Hotel, Gary Lewis was hoarse. And so, we who have seen and heard their better performances in the past felt that Gary Lewis was even upstaged by their front act – the Filipino group The Bloomfields. The Bloomfields, though a bunch of Gen Xers, dished excellent renditions of baby boomer favorites.

One of my friends with whom I shared my disappointment over the ‘faulty equipment’ (hoarse voice) of Gary Lewis, Rosalie Roth-Montenegro, said that Gary Lewis was already losing his voice the previous night when she saw the show at the Araneta Coliseum. Rosalie still enjoyed the show though, despite the hoarseness of Gary Lewis.

I guess for us baby boomers, people like Gary Lewis were mere vehicles for traveling back to a past we all cherish, a gentler and kinder time when we still had many of our loved ones around, a time when we experienced our first crushes, our first loves, our most embarrassing and therefore most memorable moments.

Rosalie had the best words for the experience: nostalgia is a forgiving emotion. How true. After all, we went to the show to re-live golden moments in our lives. And a hoarse voice should not be allowed to spoil that, albeit for only an hour.

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