Monday, June 22, 2009

The History and Story of Traveling Bonfires, sort of...







Rock Journeys and Sublime Madnesses

[1] Waiting for Winter

The TRAVELING BONFIRES is the continually evolving brainchild of Pasckie Pascua—journeyman journalist/editor, poet, and events organizer/producer.
The Bonfires’ seminal brainstorm took root in a mining town in the ragged Cordillera mountains, far north of the Philippines’ main island of Luzon—where Pascua spent a considerable amount of his childhood.
“Bonfire nights were like Disneyland rides, but you don’t see neons up there—instead, we danced with fireflies under a bothered sky adorned with uneasy stars. For some reason, in a child’s world, those were the only moments of fun and frolic. And the people up there, tribal kids and folks, they’re family, real family to me. I didn’t even know that our playground was actually a river of mining refuse or cyanide wastes,” Pascua wrote in his semi-autobiographical novel, “Waiting for Winter.”
In early 80s, Pascua climbed up the hills again—this time, as news correspondent for a Manila-based newspaper and a UK-based news dispatch, and community organizer (teaching grassroots media). It was also the time of ceasefire (or peace) negotiations between the government and Communist insurgents.
“At a time when bombs and gunfire from all fronts—government troops, Communist rebels, paramilitary combatants—coexisted with thunderstorms and cold, cold nights of fearsome dark, bonfires were comfort zones. Bonfires got people together. We shared songs, poetry, funny stories and gags, and food. It was random, very spontaneous. Come one, come all.” Pasckie rambled on in “My Life as a Greyhound.”
From late 80s to early 90s, Pascua organized and produced “gigs” in urban areas, especially in Manila, under the Playwrights Mobile. The group advocated issues ie, human rights, streetchildren’s causes, women issues, workers, peasants, youth, environment, peace—all the while maintaining a “humane/concerned citizen” persona than ideological/radical stance.
Those shows were anchored by a band called Duane’s Poetry—which Pascua and friend, Rolly Melegrito—formed. At that juncture, Playwrights Mobile was renamed Traveling Bonfires, and has made the rounds of the capital city’s major rock clubs and poetry reading venues, as well as campuses.
Meanwhile, Pascua maintained that his organization wasn’t “political, but humanitarian” although he was very visible in activist gatherings that were sympathetic to Left-wing causes.

WHEN PASCUA moved to New York City in the summer of 1998, he brought with him the spirit and vision of Traveling Bonfires. That was also the time that The Bonfires saw a physical semblance of “organizational clarity.”
Pascua went on to recruit the nucleus of the Traveling Bonfires (and the publication, The Indie-NY) in 2000-2001. The first staff was composed mainly of young, newly-grad intellectuals from Cornell Univ, Harvard, New York Univ, and Columbia Univ, with “a mix of streetbred New Yorkers and young Filipino writers, artists and musicians who grew up in the Philippines.” In this group were the few Filipinos (and Fil-Ams) that Pascua maintained as close friends through the years, to date: Ruben Austria, Jason Baquilod, Gino Inocentes, Dinna Daproza-Rich, and Renrick Pascual.
“Pasckie wasn’t very comfortable within and around the Filipino community here in the US,” observes The Bonfires’ associate producer and Pasckie’s longest-serving assistant and friend Marta Osborne, a native of West Virginia’s backwoods whom Pasckie met in Asheville in 2003. “He always told me that he misses his friends in Manila, but not most of his kababayans here—that’s except when he talks about Ruben and the few others. I can even tell you who these friends are.”
In 2000, The Bonfires' mother organization, The Philippine Independent Communication, Inc. (The Indie) was formed—that was right after he severed ties with the Left-wing Philippine Forum (he was the organization’s volunteer grant writer and events organizer). The organization was officially established in New York City and registered as a nonprofit organization in Albany NY on that same year.
Speculations and accusations—mostly hurled against him—spread following his departure from the organization. His feelings could be summed up, in a way, in a song, “Looking for my Comrades,” that he wrote with Duane’s Poetry a few months before he left Manila for New York.

“I’m leaving my suitcase
Bursting with books of different shapes
But I have to unload excess baggages
They have become heavy to carry—
I’m leaving this shattered city
With my guitar and poetry
Going to start anew, but before I go—
I’ll pass by the café
Where my friends used to gather
Before there was a revolution
We’re on passionate discussion—
My friends are all gone now
They are all gone now.”

“As far as I know, Pasckie joined Philippine Forum as a friend, not as bonafide member of the organized Left,” ex-girlfriend Greer Kupka wrote in her blog, “Bonfire Grrl of Westchester Ghetto” in 2007. “Pasckie wasn’t part of the political or ideological war when he formed The Bonfires. I never thought that this guy was an ideologue although he can rant and rave all that Engels and Mao shit all night, man. The dude is a journalist and a poet—that’s all.”
(Kupka’s father once covered Manila as an Associated Press correspondent in late 70s. She also visited Cebu City and parts of Manila as part of her college thesis in 2006, as a cultural anthropology student at UC in Berkeley.)
In a way, Pascua admitted those observations of him, especially in his marathon radio interviews with Indie founding member Jason Baquilod in his “Pinoy Radyo” shows in Elizabeth, New Jersey in and around 2003.
“It wasn’t a good parting. It’s like spirit-brothers going on different, opposite directions because presumably formidable forces like political ideologies got in the way,” Pascua reminisced in a radio interview in Asheville, North Carolina in 2005, right after he was given community citation as a “Peace Warrior” by the Western North Carolina Peace Coalition for his work with “Bonfires for Peace at Pritchard Park” and publication of The Indie.
“Technically, the first incarnation, in the US that is, of Traveling Bonfires, happened in New York—The Indie’s writers were all, or mostly, musicians,” added Kupka, herself a bassist for a Brooklyn-based blues band called The Jenny Fubar Band. Hence, The Bonfires—as a loose group of poets, musicians, and performers—functioned or existed as the advocacy/fundraise subproject of The Indie.
The group actively moved around NYC from 2000 until the latter part of 2002. Apart from publishing the fortnightly The Philippine Independent (later renamed The New York City Indie Rockzine; finally, The Indie), the organization also conducted weekly discussions with like-minded Filipino youth organizations in New York, organized film showings—aside from the usual poetry readings and rock concerts.
However, funding said projects was already the main bottleneck. The main source of the organization’s funding mainly came from the membership’s individual contributions and the small amount that it earns through the “benefit gigs” and concerts. So to complement media work and subsequently raise fund to sustain its existence, The Bonfires continually produced and organized ensemble, multi-band concerts in Manhattan—including gigs and shows (mostly collaborations with other organizations) in the Lower East Side, especially at the famed punk dive CBGB, Bowery Ballroom, Acme Underground, The Knitting Factory, C-Note, and in campuses like Queens College and Columbia University—until 2001.

LOOKING BACK, the “American mainland brainstorm” came into being when Pascua attended a national gathering of Filipino-American students in Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1999—as a volunteer staff for Philippine Forum.
After a week-long assimilation in the conference, he came up with a theoretical premise for ethnic minority/community organizing: The need to consolidate the growing population of ethnic Filipino youths in the US into a unified collective that addresses relevant sociocultural issues in the mainland and in the Philippines. At that time, he was also a Correspondent (arts/culture) for the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the largest daily newspaper in the Philippines; and was co-editing a mainstream Filipino newspaper in Manhattan, the Headline Philippines.
The Bonfires and The Indie’s main objective or vision/mission revolves around consolidation of the huge but largely fragmented Filipino-American community in metropolitan New York and North Jersey. Central focus was the youth sector (35 and downwards). Among others, it also helped provide educational resources and opening up venues to assist progressive Filipino-American community and cultural workers in expanding and deepening their cultural and historical knowledge and analytical perspective of the sociopolitical-cultural situation in the Philippines.
Moreover, the organization sponsored (and co-sponsored) and/or initiated events and productions that offer a diverse array of cultural expressions through music, poetry, and film. The Bonfires and The Indie sponsored film showings on Philippine situationers in various campuses, in example, the US premier of “Batas Militar,” a documentary about the military rule under the late Ferdinand Marcos, at Columbia University’s Barnard College.
As a publication, The Indie started out as a youth-based community tabloid-styled newsmagazine. Main focus of readership was the young Filipino population in both US coasts, emanating from New York City.

FOLLOWING the unfortunate event that shook New York City in Sept 11, 2001, Pascua relocated the Traveling Bonfires to western North Carolina, using the mountain “artists/free spirit” city of Asheville, as base of operation. The sorry situation in NY and NJ cast a dark cloud of uncertainty on most of the membership; some lost day jobs, some moved to other states. More importantly, the emotional and economic chaos at that time cast a huge shadow of doubt concerning The Bonfires’ future in the Big Apple.
In North Carolina, Pascua reformatted The Bonfires/The Indie as a community arts/culture organization and publication, catering not only to Filipinos and other ethnic groupings in America, but more importantly, it now serves a wider “all-peoples” readership/audience.
From 2001 to 2007, The Bonfires built and sustained persistent but consistent activity in Asheville, and neighboring towns and cities. The organization relentlessly booked local, struggling acts and bands in Asheville’s diverse, actively artistic/musical community; Bonfires gigs happened at an average of 5 or 6 shows a month, or more.
In 2004, the organization organized and produced an unprecedented 16-weekends spring to end of fall “Bonfires for Peace at Pritchard Park” concerts in downtown Asheville—converging close to a hundred bands, performers, poets from all over NC and from as far as New York City, Boston, and Texas. The program also attracted performers from Haiti, Congo, Japan, and France.
In between, Pascua and Osborne collaborated in publishing two other publications by the latter part of 2006—Wander, (a literary reading) and Blue Sky Asheville, under Loved by the Buffalo Publications.
In Oct 2 2004, a 7-band “Bonfires for Peace” was also held in Baltimore’s sprawling Leakin Park. This spring/summer/fall program carried on until 2007, when Pascua left North Carolina for Southern California.
In the fall of 2008, Pascua—with Osborne and local peace activist Leonard Baric—organized the first “Bonfires for Peace” in the West Coast. Co-sponsored by the Long Beach Peace Network, the event, held at state park of Huntington Beach, had the support of local chapters of Military Families Speak Out (MFSO), Veterans for Peace, Code Pink, and ANSWER (Act Now To Stop War & End Racism).
Meanwhile, Pascua—as expected, “resurrected his spirits” in his new neighborhood, 4th street in Long Beach, Los Angeles County. The Bonfires’ two “small-venue gigs”—Vagrant Wind and Wander Women—are mostly held at Viento y Agua Café & Gallery (which, easily exudes the same aura of Asheville coffeeshops). The Indie has also been reborn as Wander.


[2] A LIFE AS GREYHOUND:
Asheville, and elsewhere on the road


AFTER A few months (to almost a year) of hiatus in the backwoods of Weaverville (20 mins north of downtown Asheville) and Wilmington (coastal city, 8 hrs beyond) and quiet interface with Asheville’s aesthetically/artistically-diverse but dominantly white middle class downtown community, plus a number of travels—Pascua finally decided to republish The Indie as a “Western North Carolina rag with choice outlets in major US cities” in July 2002.
The Indie’s relocation to the South was not an impulsive decision. Even during the “relatively quieter” times when Pascua stayed mostly cloistered and secluded in Weaverville, The New York City Indie Rockzine was still being printed (in Asheville) and distributed in a number of outlets in downtown Manhattan. This, while he regularly submitted articles to at least two WNC/Asheville-based magazines, Rapid River and Adventure of the Smokies. He remembered engaging The River’s publisher Dennis Ray in long conversations during those days.
At that same span of time, Pascua kept his usual maddeningly relentless pace. He was flying to and from New York City (and elsewhere) at an average of twice a month—to expand his network in other cities/states, and to co-supervise Traveling Bonfires gigs at the CBGB, among other venues, with bosom buddy Renrick Pascual of the NY/NJ-based Brown Culture. (Pascual is a founding member of The Indie in New York.)
In between all these, Pascua maintained a quiet but focused relationship with his non-Filipino friends in the Upper West Side and Westchester. At that time The Indie/The Bonfires’s “office” was traveling with him via a frantic, nomadic drift—to his brother’s Jersey shore house near Atlantic City, Pascual’s apartment in Heights, Jersey City, an attic perch in a residential house in a Jewish community in Great Neck, Long Island near Nassau, an old barnhouse/cabin in Weaverville NC, “his spirit-family’s treehouse” in Oklahoma or Arizona, and his many “couches and crash pads” on the road.
“In you ask me how Pasckie manages to jump from here to there—across state lines, by car, Greyhound, airplanes, trains—I don’t know,” Pascua’s longtime friend, roommate, and assistant Marta Osborne said. “When he says in his poem, all houses are mine, all couches are mine—you better believe it, that’s true.”
“This man just traveled a day from North Carolina to New York City to watch a one-hour show,” Pascua’s “kindred spirit” friend Ruben Austria told an audience at C-Note in downtown Manhattan before a performance (with family act, Mambola) in the winter of 2005. “He booked this show and he’s here to watch us play. Then, he’ll be riding back to North Carolina on a Greyhound tomorrow. He’s a crazy man!”

A MAJOR surgery in New Jersey (to remove a potentially-deadly lump on his right lung) in Nov of 2000 slowed Pascua down—but only for two weeks. But it was 9/11 that finally stopped him, temporarily that is, from savoring his crazy, almost-impulsive traveling high. The twice-a-month Asheville-NYC-elsewhere flights came to an abrupt stop.
He missed the Sept 11 / World Trade Center tragedy by a day. He attended a Brown Culture/Indie Productions hook-up concert in Hoboken NJ on Sept 8, Saturday. Instead of flying back to North Carolina on Sept 11 (as he previously planned) and stay two more days in NYC to give more time to hang out with friends and bands who flew from Los Angeles and San Francisco to join the concert, he decided to head back to Asheville/Weaverville the following day, Sept 9, “because I was already tired.” He was already in Weaverville—”mapping out his next plane trip to Seattle”—when that tragic Tuesday morning shocked the world.
“I missed the shit by a mouseclick,” he wrote in “My Life as a Greyhound,” referring to an online ticketing service by Priceline.com where he usually booked his flights.
A month or so after 9/11, he gave up Weaverville, took a Greyhound to West Palm Beach, Florida and, for almost a month “ruminated, pondered” his future in America. That was the time, via the internet, when he “rediscovered” Asheville’s downtown community, which he called, at that time, “a more sedate, laid-back small-town East Village in the Appalachians with a potential Big Apple bite.” (Before that, his usual encounters with downtown Asheville was a few occasional coffee time at Malaprop’s Café & Bookshop, while “silently marveling at this wonderful humanity... and white women with voluptuous hips and weird dreadlocks.”)
After about two weeks in West Palm Beach, he took a Greyhound to Asheville (with two-day layover in Columbia, South Carolina), and then deposited himself in cheap motels along Tunnel Road—and started mixing himself up with downtown’s neo-hippie, new ager humanity.
A few weeks after, he shared a trailer home with a local activist, Jason Klein (whom he met at a WNC Peace Coalition meeting) in nearby Fairview town; then he moved to a more secluded retreat up in Candler NC (aptly called Hidden Meadow), about 15-20mins off downtown, and tried to usher business collaboration around The Indie/The Bonfires with his housemates Elizabeth Mason and Jenni Roberts.
At that time, The Indie/Asheville’s “breakin’ cultural barriers” persona was already beginning to take shape—although his potential business partners, traditional, born-and-bred Southern spirits, couldn’t fully grasp his quixotic brainstorm.
“We loved him, we took care of him—whatever he did, we believed in him,” said Mason. “But there were moments when we couldn’t understand his vision… He worked all night, all day—winters, summers. He created many friends in downtown and in other towns here more than I did in my entire life. He never failed to fascinate us, but still—it’s hard to understand what it was he wanted to gain or pursue.”
Pascua, at that point, went deeper downtown and mixed up with Asheville’s “crazy, weird, beautiful souls” and made his presence felt. He read poems in the most widely-attended open mics, volunteered time with nonprofit organizations, attended meetings by activist organizations. The physical reality of The Indie started when he volunteered to help a small group of young downtown activists, led by Ali Morris and few student-leaders at Asheville High, in publishing a ‘zine/newsletter (The Transmitter)—but the ragtag 5x8.5 semi-scrawled/semi-Kinko’s printed/photocopied project fizzled out after only two or three issues.
However, that “bottled passion, aborted kick,” in a way, jumpstarted The Indie’s rebirth in Asheville.

A YEAR OR so before Pascua flew to New York City (in 1998), he co-published, edited and/or guided seven “cutting edge, pulp-oriented” publications in Manila; two of which were under the huge and influential mass-market/publishing empire of the Spanish-Filipino family of Roces-Guerrero.
Pascua begun his journalism career as a 14-year-old cub reporter/proofreader cum “manual folder” (tagatupi ng dyaryo)/translator (English news to Tagalog texts) for a (Quezon) City Hall-distributed newsweekly (The Metropolitan Mail) by Jose Burgos, Sr., and eventually for Burgos’ son, Joe Jr.’s “guerrilla-like, impoverished but defiantly courageous” newspaper called We Forum (later, Malaya/The Free).
The late Jose “Joe” Burgos Jr. was a fiery and daring workhorse who dared challenge the Marcoses’ genocidal twenty-year military rule. (The Roces-Guerrero’s patriarch, Joaquin “Don Chino” Roces, was one of Joe’s most ardent and loyal supporters and mentors.)
Pascua considers Burgos as the man who imbued on him the “gruff wisdom and inner beauty of street-life journalism” and “defiantly stubborn, improvisational publishing”—moving from one spot to the other, ignoring financial difficulties and sociopolitical threats in favor of steely resolve and focused, consistent determination to come out, no matter what.
The Indie’s brief life in New York City wasn’t the “kind of relevant, timely, non-partisan, non-political but socially/humanity-committed effort” that Pascua first envisioned. It wasn’t near Joe Burgos’ newspapering spirit—a belief that Pascua held on, maintaining that Burgos “wasn’t an ideologue, he was a committed newspaperman who served the people.” The Indie was viewed (by a very suspecting mainstream Filipino community in NY, or even in Asheville) as a staunchly political/ideological soundboard, which bothered Pascua.
“At a time when going against the grain meant you are leftist, I was bunched with the rest of my activist friends as Communist, which I am not—and will never be,” he wrote in one of his column pieces for The Indie. “I mean, Jesus Christ went against the current, he was a subversive community organizer. Was he a Communist, as well?”

NEEDLESS TO say, even after the first “official”issue of The Indie in Asheville was published in July of 2002, Pascua was still traveling (mostly by Greyhound and car) to Wilmington where he maintained a relationship until summer of 2004. After a year of continuous publication, The Indie stopped in July 2003, because, among other reasons, the “business hook-up” in Candler did not materialize or continue and he was losing money, small day jobs weren’t enough, financial support was sporadic.
“Checks came through the mail, plane tickets—he just picked them up in airport check-ins. Boxes of care packages came via DHL right on the front door… until one day, he just said, no more help coming. I think they need to see me again… And then he just left,” Jenni Roberts recalled. “Then one day, he emailed saying he’s in Oklahoma or Arizona and he wanted me to call him Rain or a-ga-na, not Pasckie anymore…”
For almost six months (from July 03), Pascua again pondered life and living. He traveled back to his brother’s house in south NJ, “loitered” in friends houses and apartments in Albany NY, Westchester, Manhattan, Philadelphia, Oklahoma, Arizona—until he decided to head back to Asheville in late Sept of that year. He briefly stayed in a friend’s trailer home in Oteen to draw his next plans, and then by October, finally secured a three-room-in-one basement office near Charlotte Street, few blocks from the heart of downtown Asheville.

IN NOVEMBER of 2003, Pascua made two road trips in two weeks—on separate car drives, with Indie contributing writer (now, creative consultant) Matthew Mulder and friend Sarah Benoit—to New York City “to feel the one missing working vibe that’d eventually connect The Indie/The Bonfires’ romantic life in Asheville with the upfront business tact of New York City… aside from attempting to bridge (my) cultures together into one colorless humanity.” It was the first time that he “interfaced, linked up” his “trusted American friends with his trusted Filipino friends”—a silent but calculated attempt at “breakin’ barriers, building bridges” (Mulder suggested the last two words).
He introduced Mulder to Ruben Austria in The Bronx. (Austria, a second-generation Filipino-Irish/American and another Indie founding member, remains as Pascua’s most-admired friend/adviser.) Along with another Indie oldtimer Jason Baquilod (a third generation Pinoy)—Pascua, Mulder, and Renrick Pascual—shared Filipino dinner at a Filipino restaurant in Queens. That was a day or two after Pascua booked (or “maneuvered”) an all-white/Asheville-based rock band, Kerouac or The Radio, in a dominantly 10-band Pinoy rock showcase at the CBGB, produced and organized by Pascual’s Brown Culture.
Kerouac or The Radio’s spot in that concert marked the first time that purely American band was included in a “major Pinoy rock scene event in New York” since a more-organized Filipino-American rock scene started and gained ground in Queens and downtown Manhattan in late 1998 until 9/11. Through the joint efforts of Pascual, Pascua, Baquilod, and longtime Indie/Bonfires supporters Gino Inocentes, Ryan Paayas, and other independent Fil-Am producers and bands in NY and NJ, Pinoy rock scene was hot, active and consistent. All along these, The New York City Indie Rockzine—as well as, Baquilod’s “Pinoy Radyo” shows in Baruch College (later, in Elizabeth, NJ)—assumed the ever-willing role of “underground mouthpiece.”

ALMOST TWO years later, The Bonfires successfully mixed Pinoy and American acts/bands in The Bonfires’ monthly “Vagrant Wind” (renamed from, “breakin’ barriers”) concerts in Baltimore and Washington DC. He also sustained Vagrant Wind shows in Baltimore’s Hampden and Fells Point neighborhoods (with local poet Julie Fisher) and DC’s Adams Morgan community (with Laurie Blair and her organization, Poetry Guerrilla Insurgency). Aside from Fisher, another activist friend, Lacy MacAuley (in Alexandria, Virginia), and the family of veteran newspaperman Tim Wheeler and artist Daniel Stuelpnagel, provided him accommodation and networking support at those times.
In 2005, Pascua introduced Houston-based multiracial act, Kayumanggi, in one of the The Bonfires’ “Bonfires for Peace at Pritchard Park” public concerts in Asheville. Fronted by a Filipino, Kokoy Severino, the band performed songs with Tagalog lyrics, interspersed indigenous Filipino musical instruments (kubing/windpipe, kulintang/brass gong) with electric guitars and drum kit, and had Americans and Mexicans as members. All these breakthroughs clearly served Pascua’s “harmony in diversity” vision.
Slowly but surely, the continued publication of a globally-oriented Indie and the activation/sustainability of a multiracial Traveling Bonfires loom in the horizon. Pascua—who, in the past six or seven years, has maintained and sustained relationships with few, selected American friends (Long Island, Westchester), Filipino-American buddies (uptown Manhattan), Filipino “comadres” and “compadres” (Queens, Jersey City)—never had success hooking up both cultures. His previous attempts were often dismissed by some of his Filipino friends with gnawing indifference and quiet rejection. (“Pasckie, the Pinoy dude who dated only American women”/ “What are you doing in a white community, of all places?”) This, although he always, consistently, passionately reiterate that he “does not do superficial, one-time cocktail-level or party introductions” between and among cultures. Instead, he continually pushed for “a realizable, concrete synergetic relationship” despite the physical or cultural differences.
Hence, in Asheville, Pascua reformatted The Indie as an a ‘zine-oriented rock/pop culture rag that caters not only to Filipinos and other ethnic groupings in America, but more importantly, it now serves a wider “all-peoples’s” readership. As The Indie sailed along with its “open mic” aura—alongside consistent Traveling Bonfires shows in mostly downtown clubs and cafes—support and respect were generated.
Among other reasons, Asheville, North Carolina does not have a huge Filipino community that The Indie could communicate with; hence, its existence in a predominantly white community under the original “for the Filipino community” format proved futile and nonsensical.
Secondly, after the September 11 tragedy, Pascua felt that The Indie should attempt to move out of the community/ethnic exclusivity that most non-American groupings chose to maintain. He felt that his brainstorm should break cultural barriers and share sociopolitical realities with other (ethnic) communities and the American mainstream, at large. Moreover, he believed that a wider perspective/understanding of global issues (ie business monopoly, international terrorism, etc) from the standpoint of other cultural realities all over the world (which commune in America) should be put to the open. Hence, The Indie offers that alternative.
Until Pascua paused The Indie’s publication in Asheville in the fall of 2007, the paper maintained writers and correspondents from various cities in the US—as well as in the Philippines, Italy, France, Wales, and Ireland.
In the fall of 2008, the first “Bonfires for Peace” in the West Coast took place in Huntington Beach. Co-sponsored by the Long Beach Peace Network, the event had the support of local chapters of Military Families Speak Out (MFSO), Veterans for Peace, Code Pink, and ANSWER (Act Now To Stop War & End Racism).
The Bonfires’ two “small-venue gigs”—Vagrant Wind and Wander Women—were mostly held at Viento y Agua Café & Gallery, located in Long Beach, where Pascua and Osborne lived from 2007 to summer 2009.

THE BONFIRES officially moved back to Asheville in the last week of August 2009; it currently holds office in the nearby town of Candler. “Vagrant Wind” organized its first “coming home” gig at Firestorm Café in downtown on Oct 31, and starting on Jan 22—returned to Malaprop’s Bookstore/Café with monthly poetry readings. (The Bonfires’ “Vagrant Wind” program started at this Asheville downtown pioneer almost 8 years ago.)
The “Bonfires for Peace at Pritchard Park” resurrects beginning on April 17, 2010—the next set schedules: May 29, June 26, July 17, August 21, and September 18.


PASCKIE PASCUA
From late-70s to early-90s, Pasckie Pascua (born to Roman Catholic parents, as George Alfredo Ravanzo Pascua) was a fulltime member of various respected albeit elite activist/artist/media organizations in Manila—especially during the difficult years of the dictatorship—including the League of Filipino Students (activist student leaders), College Editors Guild of the Philippines, PETA Kalinangan Ensemble (Brechtian/Boal theater), Galian sa Arte at Tula (writers/poets), Concerned Artists of the Philippines, and We Forum/Malaya (an independent newspaper that was very instrumental in ushering the downfall of the Marcos regime).
In 2000, then leading anti-US bases (the late) Filipino Senator (twice presidential aspirant) Raul Roco read Pascua’s poem, “Twenty Million Dollars” before the Philippine Senate to climax a dramatic stand by the country’s nationalist and activist lawmakers against the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between Washington and Manila.
Pascua currently heads the Loved by the Buffalo Publications (publisher of The Indie, Wander, and Blue Sky Asheville). He is currently working on seven books: “Red is the Color of my Night” (poetry), “Waiting for Winter” (novel), “My Life as a Greyhound” (collection of travel prose), plus a cookbook, children’s book (The Babedawgs and The Koolcat), a compilation of his love poems, and a collection of short stories, mostly based on his childhood in northern Luzon in the Philippines and his experiences as a young journalist-editor at the time of the dictatorship.

PERTINENT BACKGROUNDERS/REMINDERS:
[ ] Traveling Bonfires’ “traveling” is written with one “l.” The logo was designed by Justin Gostony.
[ ] Greyhound refers to Greyhound bus, not the dog breed.
[ ] Vagrant Wind and Wander were taken from a Joni Mitchell song, “Urge for Going”—from the line, “I’ll lock the vagrant winter out and bolt my wandering in.” Vagrant Wind is also the English translation of the Cherokee name of Pasckie’s “surrogate greatgrandfather” in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. Wander, the publication’s logo, was designed by Federico Sievert.
[ ] Loved by the Buffalo is taken from a Lakota character in the TV movie, “Into The West.” Loved by the Buffalo’s logo was designed by Matt Mulder.
[ ] Blue Sky Asheville is from Blue Sky God/dess (or Blue Sea Spirit) that Pasckie often refers to as God, and also the living spirit of his departed Mother (from his poem, “My Mother is The Sea”).
[ ] Duane (from Duane’s Poetry) is the name of Pasckie’s only son. In old Irish, Duane means “child of the hill.”
[ ] Pasckie is called Rain or a-ga-na by his native American Indian (Cherokee) friends, not Pasckie. The Pascua Yaqui Indian tribe in southern Arizona calls him Saila (younger brother).

ADDITIONAL READINGS:
[ ] http://www.mountainx.com/ae/2005/0112bonfires.php
[ ]
http://www.mountainx.com/ae/2006/1213peacejones.php

[ ] COMING UP: www.travelingbonfires.com

FOR GIG UPDATES:
[ ] http://tbonfiresasheville.blogspot.com/

Sunday, September 09, 2007

On the road again

MANY YEARS before my pubescent raft sailed along Mark Twain’s Mississippi River with my imagined Huck and Tom... long before Jack Kerouac’s mix of decadent romanticism and wanderlust wisdom inadvertently made road journeys as the young and the restless’ ultimate cool, and William Least Heat-Moon’s “Blue Highways: A Journey into America” and Paul Theroux’s “The Great Railway Bazaar” finally ushered my wings out onto the wide, open, free highway... I have always been fascinated and intrigued with travel.
When I was about nine or ten, while serving a “weekend’s reclusion perpetua” (aka “grounded”) in my grandfather’s library, I chanced upon Italian poet Francesco Petrarca’s (or Petrarch) journals of his mighty ascent of the 6,263 ft Mount Ventoux in 1336. The dude who’s often popularly called as the “father of humanism,” states that he went to the mountaintop for the pleasure of seeing the top of the famous height—making allegorical comparisons between climbing the mountain and his own moral progress in life. The accuracy of his account is open to question (particularly the assertion that he was the first to climb a mountain for pleasure)—but then, who cares, right? At that instance, I wasn’t yet a super-pushy hotshot reporter obsessed with facts than fiction – all I cared about was that whatever I read was one of the earliest known records of taking pleasure in travel, of traveling for the sake of travel and writing about it.
So before I was “officially” called Pasckie, I was called Patrarczky, the ascetic traveller with a humanist fixation. Of course, when I entered high school and chess occupied my fancy, my Geometry tutor, Mr Victor The Hugo, “baptized” me as Spassky—not because I was a sort of a “world champ” myself. He reckoned, my meticulously planned acts of mischief was comparable to Mr Boris Spassky’s “middlegame with highly imaginitive yet usually sound and deeply planned play, which could erupt into tactical aggression.” For a time, I was lovin’ it—Spassky. But when the Russian grandmaster (world’s best at that time) was beaten by Bobby Fischer in 1972, I chucked the nickname.
Anyways, I got no choice—I had to revert back to my original Patrarczky Trip “amidst the Mississippi River on my mind” delusion. I was eleven, 2 months, 4 days old—and about 4 ft, 5 inches “tall”—when I embarked on my first official/”historical” road trip – a 250 kilometers or 155.34 miles bus odyssey from the northernmost mountain city of Baguio (where I spent most of my childhood) to the concrete jungle that was Manila. (OK, I was intent on documenting my travel, so I kept a diary.)
I painstakingly saved up a grand total of seventy-five pesos and 15 centavos—from a month’s school snacktime-spending allowance. (That’s less than $2 on present-day conversion, in case you’re wondering.) I was set to go, allright... The money was all safe and secured six inches deep down my khaki Boy Scout shorts pocket. My knapsack was carefully, methodically stuffed with Jack London’s “Call of the Wild,” two or three Mark Twain paperbacks, ripped up pages of the Petrarch piece, a Radiowealth transistor radio, two notepads, pens, few shirts (including my all-time favorite, my oversized “Who do you think you are, Charlie Brown?” blue-green baseball jersey).
Kids like me—especially the sort of “painfully cute” species that easily passes off as either a defanged leprechaun or well-behaved baby babboon—usually gets ignored by the bus conductor. Passengers below 12 years old get free rides as long as they are accompanied by adults, and they could fit their minute anatomies anywhere but the paid seats... (Y’see, I had it all figured out.) I simply buried my cares on my books and notepad—six or seven hours later of almost non-stop travel over scenic but dangerous hillside roads and dusty highways, I hit Big City Bright Lights at 5 in the afternoon. I jumped in a jeepney (10 centavos for single ride), them jumped out two blocks to our ancestral house in a suburban Quezon City subdivision.
When I showed up at the front door, hell broke loose. “Jesusmaryjoseph! Mother-of-Mercy! How did you get here?!” Yup, my Mom had to be rushed to ER due to severe heart palpitation.
That was thirty-eight years ago this month.
What was the trip all about? Well, I was intent on meeting the Honorable Mayor (of Quezon City) and present him a solicitation letter for funding, meant for a summer “little league” baseball tournament that I was organizing with three of my homeys in the mountain. Nobody in the family circle or village council seemed to take me seriously. But I wasn’t very pleased with the organization of last summer’s league that I vowed to do a better job – provided I got enough money. Apparently, my 75 pesos and 15 centavos was grossly off the mark.
To cut this short, I was able to raise the dough. Nah, it wasn’t because the “honorable” City Mayor signed a check or something—far from that (c’mon, you know better). Rank-and-file employees – clerks, secretaries, bookkeepers, janitors, messengers, security guards – of the Municipal Council (who thought that my little adventure was cute) chipped in money until I earned what I needed (and more), 437.45 pesos (roughly $11 in current money).
So where did Patrarczky, and his “taking pleasure in travel, traveling for the sake of travel and writing about it,” go? Well, that “high” didn’t actually leave my system—truth is, when I pored over The Italiano’s Mount Ventoux hike for the sake of hiking, I also questioned the practical validity of such self-indulgent madness. I thought out loud, “What is the point of a journey if I don’t have a mission that’d inspire it?”
At that point of my (childhood) life, I began to silently protest the wide, disturbing discrepancy between the privileged and the underprivileged. Yes, I did relish the many July and August afternoons that I spent amidst foggy, enthralling rice paddies carved out of mountain shoulders of my ‘hood – with my beloved homeys, tribal kids who seemed to be oblivious and unaffected by what’s going on down in the lowlands. With an altitude of roughly 1500 meters (5100 feet), in a greyish idyll of moist tropical pine forest, bedecked with mossy plants and orchids, the mountain region of my past was The Emerald Garden.
But then, “paradise” could be boring sometimes, right? There were days when I ran out of bonfires to build and stoke, and needed some other gig to while away the hubris, you know.
So one day, I invited almost a dozen of my homeys to watch an intramurals little league baseball game in my grade school. We had a great time, indeed—so that, the following day, we started playing our improvised, pick-up World Series—using guava tree branches as bats, and green mangoes as balls. In no time at all, we all wanted to form our own “little” Oakland A’s—and join the coming Little League Baseball Tournament of the Feast of Santa Lucia. But, alas, we needed 50 pesos as registration fee, and approximately 300 pesos more to pay the village tailor to work on uniforms. I was able to convince the Town Parish to donate bats, balls, and gloves; my Uncle Reggie Jocson (that’s his real name, pronounced “hok-son”) who was a City Councillor purchased shoes and caps. So with the 437.45 pesos that I fundraised in Manila, we still got a few dough to spare for snacks after each game.
The only bad news that greeted me when my Dad drove me back to the mountains was that – I had to serve another “weekend’s reclusion perpetua” in my grandfather’s library – as expected punishment for my “mischief.”
“Back to the library!” my Lolo (“grandpa”) hollered. Like an obedient cadet, I was like, “Yes, Lolo!” Truth to tell, I wasn’t about to complain—I was pumped up to redraft my “travel diary,” and read more of Francesco The Renaissance Dude, plus more travel literature and stuff, this time those from the Chinese – which were mostly written in narrative, prose, essay, and diary style. These included works by Fan Chengda, Xu Xiake, and the one piece that blew me apart – the “Record of Stone Bell Mountain” by the noted poet and statesman Su Shi. This “travel essay” presented a philosophical and moral argument as its central purpose.
By Monday morning—which was supposedly the expiration of my “jail-time”—I was still inside the library. Reading, writing, ruminating, planning -- planning my next road trip, especially after I read John Steinbeck’s “Travels With Charley: In Search of America,” undoubtedly a classic American road book describing the author’s journeys with his dog, Charley.
But it was Gilles le Bouvier, a mid-15th century poet, who sealed my “madness”—he wrote in his “Livre de la description des pays,” the only reason to travel and write: “Because many people of diverse nations and countries delight and take pleasure, as I have done in times past, in seeing the world and things therein, and also because many wish to know without going there, and others wish to see, go, and travel, I have begun this little book.”
Yes, I was sort of successful in my “mission” to raise money for my ball team, but what I saw while on the road—from my observation of co-travellers with their packed lunches of smoked fish and tomatoes, chickens-on-wicker-cages beside them, to the many faces of beautiful humanity waving across cornfields and rice granaries, young men pedalling on improvised bicycle sidecars, to stories that I overheard while on layovers in terminals and cantinas. These became my “real” mission. Tell the world about what I saw and experienced out there. Not really about the scenery, but mostly about the people.
But first, I had to excise enough courage and confidence that I could take the road and come out of it, in one piece—satisfied and happy—and ready to course my next journey.

PEOPLE AND PLACES… As I hit the road, from town to town, city to city—breathless awe and quiet exhilaration overcame me. The blessed gift of experiencing people and places. When we travel, I discovered at that tender age that I wasn’t simply basking in the wonderment of the physical allure of a certain destination. I was, instead, coming face-to-face with the enticing mystery of life—without really being a part of them, yet I was so close. I could feel the intimacy but yet, I was detached. I could “touch” humanity but it couldn’t touch me. I liked it that way—that’s the only way that I could possibly protect myself from unwanted encroachments.
Sadly though, these days, that gift has since left the human spirit or got lost in the dizzying fray of current-day reasons for being. Even before 9/11 dug the Heartland’s paranoia deeper down the pits of disconnect and alienation, we have already consigned our lives inside the claustrophobic “safety” and ready-to-go convenience of utter subservience to anything push-buttoned, mouse-clicked, and “taken cared of.”
These days, I see the young savoring the inspirational hooks of “The Journal of Albion Moonlight,” Joseph Conrad’s “The Heart of Darkness,” Jack Kerouac’s “Dharma Bums,” or even the more socioculturally incisive “India: A Wounded Civilization” by V.S. Naipaul and “Black Lamb and Grey Falcon” by Rebecca West – but are so scared, adamant, and suspicious of even climbing up a Greyhound to Savannah, Georgia from Charlotte, NC. In fact, “traveling” outside of the “motor box” frightens them so deeply that walking to a dumpster from their triple-locked units within the periphery of an apartment complex is such a hike that they had to drive 25 meters and 7 strides just to take care of the trash.
Everybody seems to be fascinated and mystified about venturing to the Amazon rainforests, or the pitch-dark confines of a Hindu temple in Madras, or a llama ride to Matagalpa, Nicaragua—but what’d happen in case there’s no Kleenex or condoms or mosquito repellants out in the boondocks of Kashmir, and the only way to traverse the heights of Mount Pulog is to wade through a pesky phalanx of thickes and poison ivys?
We do enjoy “Survivor” while we chomp away breaded KFCs or organic pinto beans in an air-conned abode, all doors screened against bugs – but what about doing a J. Maarten Troost road gig, as what he wrote in “The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific” and “Getting Stoned with Savages: A Trip Through the Islands of Fiji and Vanuatu”?
What delight and pleasure are left to share the world (as Gilles le Bouvier exhorts), if all that we could document is how fast we negotiated the stairs to the top of the Statue of Liberty, or how awesome it was to watch Barry Bonds hit his record 761st homerun, or what great “smashing fun” we had at a Fort Lauderdale spring-break beach party?
How come current affinity to convenience and comfort have dissolved the inspiration of the travelogues of famous authors who wrote so beautifully about their experiences on the road – Charles Dickens, Robert Louis Stevenson, Hilaire Belloc, Evelyn Waugh, and François de La Boullaye-Le Gouz, whose “Les voyages et observations du sieur de La Boullaye Le gouz” is considered one of the first true travel books.

MEANTIME, what do the “travel experts” say?
September 11th may not have fundamentally changed the American public’s desire to travel, however, it seems that the terrorist attacks combined with the slow economy has changed the ways in which people travel, from the shift to local destinations to the desire to vacation with family and friends.
“There is a new spirit of unity in all Americans, and a sense of living your life to the fullest,” said Rick Sandler, President of The Insight Group. With their renewed sense of accord, people are finding coping strategies for traveling, such as flying with their entire family or husbands and wives not flying together without the kids. Similarly, in business travel, some employees have limited their business travel to one trip per month, instead of four, according to Sandler.
“The American public is putting more emphasis on family and is going out less since September 11th. When they do go out, people are looking for entertainment that provides comfort,” said Sandler.
In a way, I kinda agree with that.
About four years ago, I booked a young Asheville-based rock band at the famous CBGB in Manhattan’s East Village. These “kids,” fresh out of UNCA, even named their band after a famous “road-writer.” I arranged their crash pad in The Bronx and prepared an after-gig party in a restaurant in Queens. Before I left Asheville—I asked the band that when they get to NY in the late afternoon, they should go and meet up with my co-producer on 51st Av afront Radio City Hall, where they’d be handed flyers to be given out to passers by near Bowery and Bleecker near CBs.
No show. They arrived at the club an hour or less – before they climbed up the stage. Reason? They brought their entire family—Moms, Dads, sisters, brothers, girlfriends, boyfriends, hangers-on—in their first-ever road gig in NYC, and spent most of the day touring the museums. For them, it was a family trip.
I was flabbergasted. I could understand the family closeness, but…

A STUDY by Yeaswich, Pepperdine and Brown (YP&B), showed that among the 18% of travelers who said the terrorist attacks would influence their future travel plans, 59% said they are more likely to vacation closer to home, while 45% are more likely to vacation visiting friends and relatives.
Few months after the aforementioned NYC trek, I heard that they had a blast having a gig in Greensboro, where most of them came from. The distance from Asheville to Greensboro is 172.8 miles, compared with 691.4 miles to The Big Apple. Quite far, I reckoned. Of course, you can quickly negotiate that distance if you take the plane. But apart from the current “hassle” on the check-in board, there’s currently an “airport meltdown” that makes flying a double/triple hassle.
According the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, 25 percent of airline arrivals and 21 percent of departures were delayed from January to June of this year. With a growing number of passengers and more small jets crowding the skies, things will only get worse. Well, Congress me be flyers’ last hope, says Time. An estimated $22 billion proposal to replace the radar system with satellite communication could find more direct-routes.
Would that finally coax us to travel more places? Or we are just scared to venture out of the safe confines of our community and the super-secured four walls of our houses? We are actually VERY scared of danger that might be lurking somewhere... so we arm ourselves.
According to the Small Arms Survey 2007 by the Geneva-based Graduate Institute of International Studies, the United States has 90 guns for every 100 citizens, making it the most heavily armed society in the world. Americans own 270 million of the world’s 875 million known firearms.

STARTING Sept 15, I will be hitting the road again as part of the Traveling Bonfires’ “Vagrant Wind Road Journeys 07,” which is nicknamed “The Duane Tour.” While this road saga started thirty-eight years ago on a mission to raise fund for my “Bad News Bears,” and later on evolved into a “road advocacy for global peace” and little fundraise drive to help me finance and network The Indie—this particular summer-to-fall trek is moved by my son’s current hospitalization and, ensuing recovery/therapy needs.
So from Patrarczky’s search for “moral progress,” to Spassky’s “deeply planned play” – from the glowing sunflowers along the wide expanse of Central Luzon’s ricefields bathe on summer sun, to the bloodied foothills of the Cordilleras torn by war, to the many wanderlust incarnations that I imbibed and consumed all through these years… I am on the road again in search of answers while I pose more questions.
The wide, disturbing discrepancy between the privileged and the underprivileged that I saw and experienced amidst foggy, enthralling rice paddies carved out of mountain shoulders in the tiny city of Baguio where I grew up—that spirit still guides me as I hit the road again. My mission to fundraise 437.45 pesos in the lowlands so my poor homeys could play ball with the richer kids of my childhood... remains the same. My son had to face death and survive it with shot of medicines that the privileged could only afford. That’s the story that I’d like to write in my journal, and the story that I share while on the road.
To repeat what Gilles le Bouvier wrote, “Because many people of diverse nations and countries delight and take pleasure, as I have done in times past, in seeing the world and things therein, and also because many wish to know without going there, and others wish to see, go, and travel, I have begun this little book.” There is no other way for me to experience and savor the “moral progress in life” while on the road and after the journey – but to share the world what others haven’t seen or felt or lived through.
Meanwhile, see you when I get there.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

DUANE

ON THE NIGHT of my 47th birthday, July 23rd —my 20-year-old son, Duane, almost lost his life. Injections of five vials of a very expensive antibiotics saved his life – those shots cost a total of $6000 or roughly 258,000 Philippine pesos. A quick research revealed that said antibiotics cost $289 a vial in the US—or $911 more than what it’s worth in Manila.
A deadly virus or bacteria infected Duane’s system a few days before he was rushed to suburban Manila’s Medical City’s ICU. It took the hospital—a leading (hence, most expensive) private hospital back home—two days to detect what was going on. By the time they gave him the first two or three shots, Duane’s lower limb was already paralyzed and he was already near-comatose.
Almost 7,000 miles away, the telephone was my only connection to my son’s breathing. I thought out loud, another year, another life, was gifted me by God on this very day. I was ready to give it away for my son’s life. On that very moment that I waited for word – how would he respond to the injections – I was ready to give up all that is me in favor of my son. I couldn’t wait, I’d like to give my son all the energy, all the love, all the spirit, all the years that I had…
Duane had to live. Nothing mattered, nothing matters.
Twenty-seven years ago, when I was around Duane’s age—while working as a countryside correspondent for a Manila daily and community organizer—I witnessed many similar situations.
The innocent and the weak caught in crossfire of the government’s Communist counter-insurgency operations… the impoverished and the helpless unable to survive the devastation of all imaginable natural disasters – typhoons, floods, earthquakes, landslides, shipwrecks, volcanic eruptions.
Medicines are gold. Doctors and surgeons are gods. Hospitals or ICUs are rooms in heaven. In other words, these are unreachable, unattainable saviors of life. People simply wait for death, consigning their fate to God.
I shed buckets of tears, my heart bled like a wounded river – as the howling of relatives of the dead and the heartbreaking prayers of loved ones of the wounded and sick drowned my many days and nights. I have hoped that I was superhuman, that I could heal the pain and ease the misery – or save lives.
But I wasn’t superhuman. I had to take the pain… and live with it.
How many “Duane situations” happen in many parts of the world – beautiful lives unable to hang on because there is no money to buy the medicine? No money to rush to a hospital? No money to pay doctors? My son’s hospital bill amounted to more than half a million pesos ($15,000), excluding steady supply of medicines and therapy budget as he recovers at home.
Without a phone call from my many relatives in the West Coast--to the hospital--I don’t think my son would have made it. A phone call meant assured $$$$$ to the hospital, assured profit to the local dealer, assured income to the giant pharmaceutical business... That’s what it’s all about. “Antibiotics” is more than gold--it is the one shot of life that saved my son.
Duane is an Economics senior at Jose Rizal University in Manila, a working student, and an active artist, poet and photographer. I have published many of his drawings – and used at least two of his paintings as front page art in the first few issues of The Indie. Each time my birthday comes, he emails me the lyrics of Dan Fogelberg’s song, “Leader of the Band” as a testimony of his admiration and respect to all the “madnesses” that I pursued in my 40+ years of life.
On my 47th birthday last July 23, he wasn’t able to—he was fighting for his life.
Beginning this month, I will take The Indie on the road as well as the undying flame of the Traveling Bonfires to fundraise for my son and tell people that life is dear and important. That health care is utmost, easy access to antibiotics should be the priority of all governments, medical care should be on top of all political agenda.
Let us save lives than waste them.
I will be traveling from Asheville to other North Carolina cities – including Chapel Hill, Durham and Winston-Salem – all the way to Richmond VA, Washington DC, Baltimore and other Maryland towns, then New York City, New Jersey, Delaware, and hopefully, to Philadelphia and Boston. Friends along the road will again join me in poetry readings and rock events and concerts.See you then…

POSTSCRIPT: Bele Chere 2007: Have You Ever Seen The Rain?

July 28th, the second day of Bele Chere, “the largest free outdoor street festival in the Southeast.” A dark cloud of imminent rain hovered overhead – but it wasn’t the impending downpour that kept me off the effervescent streets of downtown Asheville that time. Rain is a beautiful gift from the sea and the sky, I savor the blessing – and the street is where the subversive quiet of my spirit resides and rests. But what am I doing somewhere south of downtown, roughly 29 minutes and 25.4 miles away?
Technically, I was kinda still within the periphery—at Ingles in Asheville Hwy, Hendersonville. As I lined up towards the cashier, intently examining a Lindsay/Britney pic on Entertainment Weekly, a stranger behind me asked, pensively... “You are Pasckie, right? Why aren’t you in Asheville?”
It didn’t take me a blink to respond, “Uhh, it’s Bele Chere, that’s why.” (Normally, I would wonder out loud—nervously, frantically—when asked or approached by a random dude. A CIA spy, an MIB emissary, an ex’es vengeful BF, an overzealous John Deere salesman, a Snoop Dogg courier? None of the above, I reckoned. But this particular unexpected query cut me like, “Hey, this is my `hood—why are you here? You’re not supposed to be here!”)
“I’m here, in your `hood, because I’m not in Bele Chere.” The dude simply nodded, unsmiling, like a stoic Sitting Bull on US Marine coiffure… “Okay.” (Relieved, I continued examining the Lindsay/Britney pic.)

UMM, BELE CHERE. I used to love that lovable feast of lovable humanity, you know—not just because of the expostulating ocean of psychedelic muses with sexy, healthy hips, puzzling (and puzzled) hairdos, and cute Meg Ryan smiles. It was on my first BC July weekend when I found—and eventually, fell in love—with what I later on called as My Asheville Downtown Menage-a-Trois: Malaprop’s, Pritchard Park, Lexington Avenue.
Oh yeah—I freely wallowed on Bele Chere’s libertine exuberance and radical chic – from the very first summer that I got here. Of course, you can always dispute that—although it doesn’t really matter much these days. My Appalachian guilty pleasure has miserably evolved into nothing more than secondhand guilt…
Oh yes, it could’ve been awesome to be right there at Biltmore Stage on that gloomy-sky Saturday night, shakin’ my skinny little butt to Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band, right? Nah… It didn’t take me 3 seconds to decide to instead spend my last $35.55 at Ingles—on fresh produce, catfish fillet, chicken cuttings, white rice, and 6-pack of Rolling Rock—than scrimmage my acerbic girth and brooding snout downtown. A quiet, cooking gig in Terri The Terra’s humble abode was unmistakably that particular moment in time’s last frontier – it’s sublime, it’s ethereal, it’s transcendent.

“WHY AREN’T you in Asheville?”
Was it a consolation that the random dude easily identified me as a “bonafide” Asheville spirit? For a brown-skinned, black-haired, horribly-accented shortie to be recognized and acquainted with (out of town, at that) as a resident/inhabitant of a predominantly white community in the South of the US of A… that is something. I am really “home.” Dig?
Four summers ago, as I wearily, tearfully strode along Wilmington’s coastline, a heartbroken Corona Lite on hand, “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart” by the Bee Gees on my Walkman—a girl (I mean, a 9 year old kid) approached me, “You look sad, you should be home—I know you, you’re from Asheville! It’s Bele Chere, y’know! Me and my Mom saw you read poems at Beanstreets!”
When a random kid reminds you – 331.9 miles away – that your home is Asheville, you should be proud, right? Right! I got a home—and I am not even somewhere near South China Sea or the Pacific Ocean! Afront the waters of Fells Point in Baltimore, amidst Adams Morgan’s militant chic in Washington DC, along Bleecker Street’s incendiary allure in downtown Manhattan – I trumpet and howl my acquired ID as a true-blue Asheville spirit.
“What is your ethnicity, where’re you from?” I am not bothered by these inquisitions anymore. I just say, cool as a pistolero (a-la Clint Eastwood in a spaghetti western), “I’m from Asheville. You got a problem with that?” At least, I never got into weird exchanges again, in the mold of, “Where you from?” / “I was born in the Philippines, I am half-Filipino, half-Cherokee…” / “So you are from India! That’s cool! Do you like padthai? You drink a lot of sake, right?” / “No, I don’t, I am sorry. But I throw down bigtime on grits and taters and chase them down with ice-cold Busch.”
You see, for five or six consecutive summers, since some distant wind blew me away from New York City’s plasticine bubbles and crashlanded my undernourished anatomy in the Appalachias, I have always declared that Bele Chere is my weekend birthday party! This fantabulous feast of fun sort of happened exactly on my birthday weekend (July 23)—until the just concluded episode/s. I didn’t mope—what the hell!
The truth is, I did actually wrangle my reluctant self for few hours out there on the first day—July 27th—primarily because I had a visitor (Jeri The Fairy, from Philly) who requested that me and Marta The Nicer join her there. No prob. I always toured my visitors wherever they wanna be, whenever—just part of being a gracious host, you know what I mean? We gotta perform this kind of “hospitality gigs” sometimes, you know. When I was living in Brooklyn, I haphazardly/painstakingly/achingly accompanied obnoxious relatives and irksome sisters-of-ex’es up the Empire State Building in uptown Manhattan and Statue of Liberty near Staten Island – until I couldn’t take it anymore.
But then, I never called or “owned” New York as my “home.” Nobody says, I am a native New Yorker, come on! But Asheville is different. It’s home to me. So I just gotta tour visitors to every nook and cranny, hale and hearty, grime and grace – of my “home.” That’s the way it is. I can’t mistake it, no matter what we say – the Bele Chere Festival is an Asheville tradition for 29 years, according to Jeri The Fairy. Before she flew in to town, she googled WNC and Bele Chere, mind you... (But, heck, she didn’t succeed in coaxing me to sacrifice my $35.55 weekend dinner/cooking budget to finally visit The Biltmore Castle… An intimate dinner with Terri The Terra was it, no second thoughts whatsoever.)

HOW COULD one pass this one up? A humanity of “350,000+ that flock to downtown Asheville each year for three days of Bele Chere.” Six stages provide performances by 80 local and national musical acts. Lots of food, great art and crafts, and many other activities make Bele Chere a fun event for all. Some of the best local and regional artisans showcase their best handcrafted jewelry, pottery, and clothing, along with photography and painting.
Dame LizBeth McQueen, the fantastic 86-year-old matriarch of the first-ever North Carolina clan that I shared a compound with (in Barnardsville Hwy in Weaverville) five years ago would always groan and growl each tailend of winter, “Bele Chere is just few months away, honey! It will be all fun—I can’t wait, Lordy Mother of Mercy!” She did relish and savor the fiesta, I tell you! There she was (on my first Bele Chere in 2000)—a beautiful octogenarian blondie shakin’ her booty to Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way”—hip by hip, sweat to sweat, lowriders and all—with a dozen or so river of turbo-boosted teen-age bodies at Battery Park Stage. Rock `n roll!
Indeed, there was a time when Bele Chere owned up to the PR. Downtown’s number one summer dalliance is oft touted or hyped as “The largest free outdoor street festival in the Southeast.” I have been and seen a lot (of May to October festivals) in all my seven years in North Carolina… But all I can say is Bele Chere still mystifies and intrigues the doubting uninitiated and the unsuspecting stranger. And we in the mountains are always ready to eat it up like a funnel cake chowdown over poboy and Miller Lite. That is not an opinionated guess, that is a documented fact.
Southerners spend about the same amount of money on clothes ($1,507) as they do on entertainment ($1,561). According to a recent study by the US Department of Labor, Southerners spend 5 percent of their budgets for entertainment and another 5 for clothes, jewelry, and shoes. “Entertainment” expenses are things such as fees and admissions (to concerts and festivals), televisions, radios, or sound equipment, and also money spent on pets, toys, and playground equipment.
Moreover, Southerners are spending a little bit more on health care, both in dollars ($1,902) and as a percent (6%) of total spending, than the national average ($1,841 and 5%). (“Health care” includes health insurance, medical services, drugs, and medical supplies.)
Nationally, Americans, including Southerners, allocate about 14 percent of their budget for food, not counting alcohol. These expenditures include food at home and in restaurants. How people decide to spend their food dollars, whether in fast food restaurants, traditional restaurants, supermarkets, health food stores, etc. tends to relate more to their age, family situation, and lifestyle than the part of the country they live in. A single person under age 25 anywhere in the country is likely to spend a bigger portion of his income in restaurants than a married couple with small children.

THIS SUMMER’s Bele Chere did all its best to keep pace with the well-prepared marketing kick. Check this out – “an esteemed jury of their peers selected 45 world-class artists to exhibit at Arts Park.” Music? Rock superstar Kenny Wayne Shepherd, country legend Marty Stuart, 90’s rockers Gin Blossoms, blues artist Shemekia Copeland, and 60’s favorites Lovin’ Spoonful. Hmmm...
More? Urban Challenge, Shoot For A Cure (featuring NBA’s Rashad McCants, sorry LeBron or Kobe cost millions), Drumming Tent (interactive music experience), Scavenger Hunt, Burt’s Bees Mobile Tour, The Ford Experience Tour (“access to some of the most innovative vehicles on the road”), Purina Ultimate Air Dogs (“collection of some of the country’s most impressive dock diving canines”)... Lots and lots more. But why am I “hiding” in Hendersonville’s Lyndhurst Drive, off a “hidden” cross-street to Asheville Hwy called Greater Druid Hills Blvd?
There are a lot to “enjoy” and spend on at this year’s Bele Chere, you know what I’m saying? It has evolved into a some kinda aftermidnight escape route to Wal-Mart or side-trip to an I-95 backwoods Hooters on the way to a lover’s tryst in Richmond VA, or just about a 45-minute, 2-Corona swig at any given summer street fest anywhere, just to kill time. Nothing big deal.
Why is that? Let me tell you a story…

“TURUMBA” is an after-Lent, pre-typhoon season, mid-harvest summer community festival in the south of Manila (capital city of the Philippines). Months before the May Day fiesta, a traditional “working committee” or village council start mapping out or physically preparing for the one-week festivities. Nobody gets paid and seldom legal tender (or cold cash) circulates. Residents assume specific tasks – from construction/design of giant papier maches to carpentry work of theater/concert stages to fundraising trips to bigger cities (for necessary materials that aren’t found in the barrio, and to personally invite popular national personalities).
Days before the feast, villagers come together — farmers donate baskets and carts of fresh produce and fruits, fisherfolk commit their week’s catch, “richer” ranchers give out cows and hogs and chickens, youths start rehearsing musical and dance numbers, others prepare parlor games and pick-up basketball games. A day before the fiesta, an entire ricefield is turned into an open-air kitchen—where everybody cooks on humongous woks via firewood and charcoal. A separate “committee” travels by foot, carabao-pulled carts, or “jeepneys” (PUJs) to send out invitations to neighboring towns and solicit prizes for the games.
There are no concert fees, food is free, village-deputized “tanods” (no guns, just bamboo sticks) keep the peace and order. Warring tribes and battling Communist rebels and government troops declare automatic “cessation of hostilities.” (Most “wars” are ended following a fiesta or Christmas/New Year’s Day ceasefire.) Food, peace, fun, community, laughter, family, friendship. Relatives and barriomates visit from abroad (games prizes come in the form of “imported” Nikes, $50 cash, or an autographed posters of Yao Ming or the Black Eyed Peas)... tourists and visitors savor the harvest convergence, like gifts of God. You can’t get any simpler than that.
All these happen a month or two before raging typhoons batter the barrios and towns again. Misery beats them up – almost six months a year, every year of their lives. But they gather as a community, everybody is proud of their community, everybody thank God... Despite sharing whatever that they could’ve saved for “the rainy days,” they don’t thank no one, except God. “May awa ang Diyos” (God provides). That fatalist wisdom of simplicity, camaraderie and sacrifice make them laugh and dance during summer fiestas, like there’s no more tomorrows – from the advent of 100+ degree heat to the first downpour of incessant rain. That is peace, that is humanity – calm and joy before and after the storm.
There was a time, in a not-so-distant past when I saw the beautiful spirit of “Turumba” in downtown Asheville – Friday Drum Circle, Downtown After Five, Shindig by the Green, Bonfires for Peace at Pritchard Park, and yes, Bele Chere…
Now the spirit seemed lost, gasping or dying. Even the rain scared us away...

WHY AM I not in my home city—on Bele Chere weekend?
A week before the 3-day spectacle, we held a “Bonfires for Peace at Pritchard Park.” This is my “Turumba.” Me and Marta The Nicer almost literally “panhandled” the $$$ that we paid City Hall so that we may be able to continue holding this 4pm to 10pm “low-key fiesta” in the heart of downtown.
I think we had around 200 or so people (old and young, kids and parents, locals and tourists, dogs and cats) – dancing, smiling, shaking hands, hugging — as we winded up the (4pm to 10pm) concert around 8 or 9pm. The main act N-2-Soul, a local act whose lead singer Jim Barnes works at a Merrimon Avenue store called Cash Converter, donated the PA/sound equipment. The lead guitarist David Tedford rendered free soundperson job. All the bands—and emcee Nancy Rollins—gave their one hour time, free. Food was donated by Mellow Mushroom, bottled water by Ingles. We sold few Bonfires shirts that were donated by Terri The Terra and her sister Renee Rutley. (All these beautiful spirits have been living in WNC for more than 20 years.)
Midway through the concert, Mark Anderson (bassist of bands Hippie Shitzu) walked to a pub across Pritchard Park to use the bathroom. His band played in this club for years with a weekly fee that is 50 percent or lesser than what most clubs pay “visiting acts” these days. His band played free for community residents and tourists via the Bonfires for Peace in the last four years…
Mark, more than anything else, is a native Asheville dude. He was born and raised in this town, he works in this town all his life, he pays his taxes in this county... But he was refused access to the bar’s bathroom because he didn’t want to buy liquor. That’s the rule.
A day after the event, I received a phone call from the City Government’s Parks & Recreation Department saying we may not be able to hold our concerts at the park anymore—because of “noise.” Local businesses and downtown residents are complaining about the noise emanating from Pritchard Park. The person I talked with said that we can probably hold our events if we don’t use amplified music. The “noise” distracts local downtown business and condominium residents.
Does this mean that there will be no more Downtown After Five, Shindig at the Green, or Bele Chere concerts from here on—because of “noise”? Our free concert distracts and bothers local business or new residents—a humble concert by “non-marquee acts” at Pritchard Park—that we painstakingly put up in the last four years?
We organized almost 50 concerts to date, with money that come from our hard-earned salaries and measly tip-box earnings. We pay City Hall for use of the park so we can entertain people for free--when we could have just saved the money to help ensure that we pay our rent on time, or that we could score a few PBRs at a local pub to relax our small-town funk and forget our working class blues…
Mark’s rejected bathroom request exemplifies what has turned into this town we call “home.” Do we belong in this house? I could have just given Mark $5 for a beer, so that he could use the aforementioned bar’s bathroom. But I’m sure he’s not gonna take it—he has refused my offer of gasoline money (from the tip box) so many times in the past, I don’t think he’s gonna take it just so he could use a club’s bathroom. All the bands that played in the park – refused that tip box money, an amount that isn’t even enough to re-earn the $$$ that we pay City Hall.
As of presstime, we are awaiting City Hall’s decision if we can still hold our next Bonfires event on Aug 18. We anxiously await for that almighty decision—to hold our little “feast”—not to sell beers or $25 worth of Chinese-made earrings or $200-antique purchased in the pampas or barrio abroad for 50 pesos and a “diplomatic” smile. We are at Pritchard Park—a beautiful community space that the powers-at-be consigned to a mere slum of vagrancy—because we want to see, experience and share peace, fun, community, laughter, family, and friendship. That’s all the heroes that we could be—for six hours on a Saturday—but we are very proud of that one... Do we have to beg to do all these?
Downtown is always the “life” of a city. Its people—the heart and soul, the heartbeat that makes the community live. A Bele Chere that is enhanced and “jazzed up” by the local powers-that-be that give more premium to market feasibility and sales quota – and whatever whim and wish that the new moneyed denizens of downtown could “suggest” – shoots down the primitive sublimity and ethereal wisdom of any community, such as Asheville.
What did I see in Bele Chere’s first day? Unadulterated, consumerist throwdown. Rain was like acid downpour, chasing humanity away. Like cold, frightened rats, we lumbered under shades, wearied and tired.
“It’s sad that you only saw that this year,” cousin Brigham The Gum emailed me, “I saw that three years ago, my man...” (Brig and wife, Kristi The Krispi, instead, spent their “Bele Chere moolah” on a “quiet” 15th honeymoon in Guadalajara. Smart choice.)

IN CASE you are wondering... No, I am not boycotting Bele Chere as a protest move. This, despite the fact that most of my friends who’ve been here long before I did have already refused to step into this festival years before I did. Meantime, sad – I wasn’t able to catch Dame LizBeth McQueen, the fantastic 86-year-old matriarch of Barnardsville Hwy, during the few hours that I clattered on Haywood St down to Lex Av on Bele Chere’s first day. Maybe she was there, I am not sure. Although a mere snow “drizzle” demobilizes her so easily, rain or storm doesn’t halt my longtime friend’s insatiable appetite for good ole Southern rock spiked with ice-cold apple cider. But who knows…
Despite my frustration, I wish that the City earned good from “the largest free outdoor street festival in the Southeast.” A Parks & Recreation staff (to borrow a Citizen Times report) disclosed that 2,000 were sold for July 28’s jam in a venue that holds 5,600. She also estimated the total festival attendance at 300,000... That Press Release would surely fly whenever an unsuspecting, “new-life seeker” visitor like Jeri The Fairy googles WNC or Asheville before she flies in to town.
Meanwhile, a storeowner at Broadway Avenue complained that said weekend’s profit is their worst sales output—since they moved here almost a year ago. Even the tried-and-tested magic of the vaunted drum circle could only entice a few dozens of curious onlookers on that first BC day – definitely far from the sweaty, exuberant humanity that rocks Pritchard Park on a Friday night.
Was it the rain?
Sometime in distant America—that my Cherokee aunt, Marguerite Rainhawk Chenault and Filipino immigrant-grandfather Juan Carlos Valdez told me—rain means harvest, rain means life. A new promise of plenty, a celebration reborn. I don’t want to blame the rain for the saddest, most alienating Bele Chere that I ever had in all my seven years in Asheville.
But—again, I reiterate—Asheville is my home.
So after spending the rest of my Bele Chere weekend “hiding” in Terri The Terra’s humble abode in Hendersonville’s Lyndhurst Drive, off a “hidden” cross-street to Asheville Hwy called Greater Druid Hills Blvd—I went back to my `hood at Dunwell Avenue in the West side of town.
Few hours after, me and Marta The Nicer drove downtown to drop few, remaining copies of The Indie at Malaprop’s. On our way, I saw Mark Maloy, my Pritchard Park homey, bicycling down Patton Av afront Jack of the Wood, and I think I saw Charlie Thomas walking down Walnut St to Lexington Avenue... Charlie beat me twice playing chess at that same park’s shoulder fence the last time we did a Bonfires show (I shared him a slice of pizza donated by Mellow Mushroom’s Gerry Mahon). Five years ago, on my first Pritchard Park concert, I gave out four boxes of my old and new shirts to the “homeless” for free—in turn, two of them offered me food from the Mission. “We are going to protect you, my man...” one of them assured me.
As we snaked through Merrimon Avenue, I saw Clare Hanrahan chatting with a young man with grayish beard with a “Stop The War” shirt or something, near Greenlife Grocery. And I think I saw George Glass with a beat-up guitar on his shoulder striding towards Musician’s Workshop...
That night, as usual, I had two PBRs at Westville Pub, my neighborhood bar—while I listened to River Guerguerian’s and Stephanie’s Id’s new CDs on my Walkman. An hour or so after, I walked back to my house just a block away. A squirrel scooted out of my front yard tree as my neighbor’s cat greeted me, “What’s up, bro?” Then, the gentle rain fell.
I was home again at last…

The Indie's 5th year anniversary yard bash and birthday party

We, THE INDIE—and the Traveling Bonfires—observe our fifth birthday in Asheville, North Carolina this month. The celebration—just a quiet, contained but fun gathering—will be on Saturday, July 21, starting around 4:30pm. The place – 61 Dunwell Avenue in West Asheville.
Few years ago, when I first found my then 102-pounder “economy” size body clattering in downtown Asheville, there were still a Beanstreets Thursday open mic, more brave buskers and colorful spontaneous promenaders down Battery Park and Haywood Street, Vincent’s Ear was still packing PBRs like crazy, and Asheville Global Report was both the bible and red book of the disenchanted and displaced, hopeful and hopeless of the Appalachians. Over here in my West Asheville `hood, one Jonah was galloping his space-funk horsetunes while tending his Relaxed Reader bookshop, and thank God, the other Jonah hasn’t sold Fortune Bldg to Wachovia yet.
Hope springs eternal...
But then, most of those beautiful madnesses and hardheaded sublimities that I sort of frenetically aligned my wavelengths with – five, six, seven years ago — are gone now.
But The Indie is still alive.

MIKE HOPPING is still here. I remember that one Starbucks story that he wrote that had to wait six months or so before I could print it—via a resurrected Indie in the winter of 2004—as I battled my then-deadly infatuation over Asheville The Muse. Ah, Mike is still the imposing, respected Word on page one... Matt Mulder is still here. When we drove to New York City one Thanksgiving weekend to try to reconnect the spirit of the madness to where it came from, his firstborn was just few months old. Now, he and Marybeth already have two sons...
Gaither Stewart is still “here” – although he is many many miles away in Rome, Italy. Like a concerned father, he fondled and bruised my ego many times over. Many times over we just went on working together—exchanging emails from across continents from 3am to 3pm, roundabout. Now, we (Mike and me) are publishing and distributing his new novel, “Asheville.” And Gaither is still emailing me stories and articles with almost the same speed as a FedEx care package on calamity time.
The community is still here.
Emoke B’Racz, by way of Malaprop’s generous heart, still saves that little spot for that little Indie rack in there. Rosetta and her Kitchen’s soiled white push-up tent is still the “shade” of the “Bonfires for Peace at Pritchard Park.” Rena Wright is still diligently collecting tips at the shows and networking us. Gerry Mahon of Mellow Mushroom is still signing pizza gifts checks to Marta The Nicer. Chris Malz, Mark Anderson and our Hippie Shitzu homeboys are still always ready-to-go, rock `n roll, sober or smashed, lovestruck or heartbroken—friendship hath no boundaries. Dale and Loretta Hoffman’s spirit and grace still adorn our humble abode. Mark Maloy, my Pritchard Park homey, is still dancing the Bonfires, untiring. Drum DeCirce and Peace Jones are still gigging as ever, one booking at a time.
Ah, Marta The Nicer Osborne! She is still making phone calls... up to this very minute.
Katie Kasben, Stephanie Morgan, Bruce Elmore, Ann Dunn, Cicada Brokaw, Kapila Ushana, Phuncle Sam, Vincenzo’s, Jenny Greer, downtown cops, Lady Passion and Diuvei, Kelly Lee Phipps, Virato, Wally Bowen and MAIN, Kevin Innes, Benjammin, Elizabeth Mason, Jenni Roberts, Carrie Gerstmann, Glenis Redmond, Debra Wells of Instant Karma, Clare Hanrahan, Laura Hope-Gill, Laura Blackley, Paul Clarke, Justin Gostony, Janis Rose, Missy Sumner, Chris “Kri” Johnson & Touch Samadhi, Sarah Benoit, Leyna, Alli Marshall/Mountain Xpress, Kerouac or the Radio, Jim Brown, Robert Kelley, Jim Cox, Walter Dinteman, Linda Brown, Bob Brown and Mollie, Charlie Thomas, Dennis Ray/Rapid River, Margaret Osondu/Sally Mackert, Peace Coalition, Linda Knopp, Alsace Young-Walentine, Tim Pluta/Veterans for Peace, Westville Pub, Dawn Humphrey, West End Bakery, Burgermeister, all the staff of Malaprop’s, all the staff of Kinko’s, Bill Taylor of Iwanna. The list is endless. Feels like Asheville has become my childhood barrio.
Ninety-five or ninety-nine percent of what’s in and around The Indie and the Traveling Bonfires’ abode – body, heart and spirit – are freely, generously given by the community. The Indie is still here because you are still here -- I am still here because you are here.
THANK YOU. Maraming salamat. Muchas gracias. Toksa ake.

SO THIS SATURDAY, July 21, we’d like to invite one and all to come over to our house – 61 Dunwell Avenue in West Asheville (828 505 0476)— and share some cool, peaceful vibes, plus cool Filipino food, bring some food and drinks, as well. Let’s observe and celebrate how stubborn these stubborn dreams could be sometimes...
We are going to place a small mic and amps/speakers somewhere in the yard or living room—read a poem or rant about whatever (as long as it’s funny), sing a song, bring your friends and partners, wives and husbands and relations and kids. (Yes, you can bring pets, as well). We also invited our neighbors – and we are having yard sale, too.
By the way, it’s also my 107th birthday. (No rsvp, just come on over).

"LIVE EARTH": A Concert of Carbon Footprints (or one surrealistic pillow?)

I HAD a sweet nightmare the other night. Amidst a numbing migraine in between vertigo and hubris, I saw myself forty years ago—zealously quizzing my Aunt Pilar, “What is a surrealistic pillow?” As she danced—swinging, swirling, swishing across the den—as Marty Balin’s spaced-out voice and Grace Slick’s blank growl soared and heaved like a pair of tired, beautiful sorrows wanting to touch ground, copulate and heal each other, she would lazily whisper at my left ear, “I don’t know, my dear…”
“I don’t know, I don’t care.”
Like a spellbound moth—stubbornly, giddily circling around a lamplight of unknowingness before it finally runs out of spark—I untiringly kept on asking questions. Questions that I patiently culled out of LP sleeve covers’ lyric sheets.
“What is a whiter shade of pale?” “Why is the dead grateful?” “Where is the velvet underground?” “How do I get signed up with Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band?” “Can you dance the light fandango?” “What is a surrealistic pillow?”
“I don’t know, I don’t care.”

MY AUNT Pilar hasn’t failed to mystify me. It’s certainly not just because of her “lucy with a white rabbit in the sky with diamonds” trance dance—it’s because, despite her “I don’t know, my dear...” caresses and reassurances, she is a very strong and smart woman.
More than anything else, my dear Aunt Pilar is a VERY “involved” woman. The very first real-life human being (apart from Huck and Tom) who imbued in me the beautiful urgency of getting involved with what’s going out there. So when she whispers on my left ear, “I don’t know, my dear...” that actually meant, “I got it all covered, young man!”
Deep inside, as years wafted by, I came to profoundly live with Aunt Pilar’s ethereal spirit and radical pragmatism. “Enjoy your dance but don’t get swept away by the quiet peace... the world is calling you out there. Go out! Protect humanity, young man!”
My Aunt Pilar has long been living in Frankfurt, happily-married to Detlef Moessner, a German veterinarian who was born and raised in Piedmont, South Dakota—who’s a carbon copy of The Stones’ Charlie Watts but who neither played drums nor looked stoic at all. Uncle Detlef (I sometimes call him Detleffard) is a happy man and he shows it. He always laughs like it’s his one-and-only gig, outside a blissful matrimony. He’s such a happy man that whenever he attends to his dog-patients, you could actually hear the canines laughing with his wild Will Farrell jokes. Have you heard pooches and coons and hounds laughing out loud in a kind of “We Will Rock You!” unison? Go to Uncle Detlef’s vet hospital... It rocks!

MEANTIME, back to my Aunt Pilar — I don’t really think that she would remember I even asked those kind of “surrealistic” queries at all when I was a kid, or that, she would even care about Jefferson Airplane anymore. It has been four long decades ago... I guess, Grace Slick has now been retired in some Baton Rouge backwoods, munching crawfish enchilada over Busch Lite belting out a Kelly Clarkson ditty all weekends of her 50/60-something life, who knows—people change with age, you know.
For some—yes, surreal—reason, I ran across my Aunt Pilar in a bizarre dream sequence the other night. She was fuming mad outside London’s Wembley Stadium, where an episode of “Live Earth” worldwide concerts was happening. Among many other reasons, my Aunt Pilar and Uncle Detlef were protesting against DaimlerChrysler, a major sponsor of the lavish environmental-awareness spectacle.
DaimlerChrysler — which was using its low-emissions Smart car brand in the sponsorship — should not sponsor concerts, complained Aunt Pilar. The average level of carbon dioxide emissions from DaimlerChrysler’s fleet was 186 grams per kilometer — well above the automobile industry’s own commitment to cut emissions to 140 grams a kilometer. (The above data wasn’t, of course, flashed in my “nightmare.” But, of course, I gotta tell you that fact.)
Aunt Pilar was a staunch anti-war activist. “”We were creating the rules and making them work,” she would lighten up when reminded of Laurel Canyon, LA in `67. “There was magic all over.” According to a neatly captioned Polaroid photo that I retrieved from a family library in San Fernando Valley, Aunt Pilar was in Los Angeles, outside a club called Pandora’s Box, on Sunset and Crescent, on Nov 12, 1966—when thousands of people showed up to protest a 10pm teen-curfew law. Local business simply got fed up with what they called as “longhaired interlopers” who loved dancing all night, so went the crackdown.
My Aunt was also present during a rock benefit show for a music industry-related organization called, “CAFF: Community Action for Facts and Freedom,” at Valley Music Theater on Feb 23, 1967. The Byrds, the Doors, and Buffalo Springfield all played for this fundraiser—which was fighting the teen curfew.
Aunt Pilar was very active with anti-war street protests and “civil disobedience” activities in Manila, as well. Along with many activist-students from the state-run University of the Philippines and the upper class Ateneo de Manila, she took the streets so many times to help prevent the Philippine government from sending more PHILCAG (Philippine Civic Action Group) troops to Vietnam.
I once queried, “What do you mean by `make love, not war,’ Aunt Pilar?” Well, as usual, she hushed me with, “I don’t know, my dear...”
Although I always saw Aunt Pilar and her “groovy sisters” partying to “Purple Haze” and “Sunshine of Your Love,” flashing those exuberant “Peace Man!” signs—it wasn’t all fun, all the time. Whenever they communed and held vigils on picketlines, they would usually end up ushering their lean bodies, wrapped with multicolored gypsy dresses, along factory driveways to block the oncoming transport of scabs. They would scream, “Down with scabs! Welga! Welga!” Only water canons, tear gas bombs, and truncheons would force them out of the streets. That is, if they were lucky enough not to be thrown in jail—which, of course, happened more often than not.
That was my Aunt Pilar, and that was her kind of activism. “No wonder, we don’t get the war to stop,” she would rant in my dream, “it’s because we only want to party.” She would go on and on, “These days, we just love to dance and get drunk, and talk and lecture, stack up on condoms, and fire off emails on the sides. A slight rain forecast will keep us off the streets!”
In a way, or sure enough, Aunt Pilar was referring to the “Live Earth” magnificence last July 7. The concerts, which was designed to raise awareness about man-made climate change and advocate environmentally friendly living, brought together more than 150 musical acts in eleven locations around the world and was broadcast to a mass global audience through radio, television, and the Internet.

THE UMBRELLA organization for “Live Earth” was “Save Our Selves,” founded by Kevin Wall, and included major partners such as former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, the Alliance for Climate Protection, MSN, and Control Room, the production company which produced the event. Unlike the similar “Live 8” concerts, which were free, “Live Earth” charged admission. The event set a new record for online entertainment by generating more than 9 million streams.
Although Gore has repeatedly voiced his prior stand that he is “not planning to be a candidate again for office,” this blatant display of self-promotion – that started with his narrator’s work with the Oscar-winning documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” – is simply staggering and almost unprecedented. This makes me point to (on a relatively less grander scale) Cindy Sheehan, who apparently got so tired in front of the camera, so she officially gave up the (anti-war) fight. Now she wants to run for public office and challenge Rep. (and Speaker) Nancy Pelosi.
Is this what all these “activism” amount to? A political career?
Until now, it makes me ask why is it we are not very familiar with that young madman who organized Woodstock in 1969? I know I read about him many years ago—a small-down dude with a big-city attitude but who never made it—but then, he excised enough courage, patience, and diligence to raise money from mostly his rich midtown Manhattan and Long Island-based Jewish buddies to be able to put up the rock event that became the ultimate, unswerving template of all rock festivals with a cause.
Do you know? I know that it was held in Max Yasgur’s 600-acre farm in Bethel NY – because Joni Mitchell and CSN sang it, but I bet you don’t even know who started it all. Does it matter? (We can all talk about a fun weekend at Bonnaroo, Ozzfest, Lollapalooza, or Lilith Fair, but Woodstock will always be up there in heaven, its transcendence remains unequal, unreachable.)
We remember Woodstock for the spirit – no names, no main bill, no chasers in between – just the spirit freely soaked in pristine rain and primitive, selfless love and community. But then, how easy it is to remember Mr Al Gore – the name, the politician, the soundbyte – when we think about “saving the earth.”

ACCORDING to The Observer, the event’s total carbon footprint in the London segment alone, including the artists’ and spectators’ travel and energy consumption, was probably at least 31,500 tonnes, which is more than 3,000 times the average Briton’s annual footprint.
Carbon footprint is a measure of the amount of carbon dioxide or CO2 emitted through the combustion of fossil fuels; in the case of an organization, business or enterprise, as part of their everyday operations; in the case of an individual or household, as part of their daily lives; or a product or commodity in reaching market.
The artists on stage had to fly at least 222,623.63 miles (about 358,278 km) — the equivalent of nearly nine times round the planet — to take part in the event. Wembley bill-topper Madonna — who, fashion magazine Marie-Claire, reported owned a Mercedes Maybach, two Range Rovers, an Audi A8s and a Mini Cooper S — had produced an estimated 440 tonnes of carbon dioxide on her four-month Confessions on a Dancefloor publicity tour.
Meanwhile, The Red Hot Chili Peppers flew in by private jet from Paris and flew out, again by private jet, after the London concert to perform in Denmark, event organizers had admitted, and The Beastie Boys had to be in Montreux the next day. After the appearance of the UK band, Razorlight, at the London Live Earth event, they were ferried to an airport in a large tour bus with police escort where they caught a private jet to an airport in Scotland, from there, they used a helicopter to travel to Balado where they performed at another event.
Meantime, concert-goers at the event’s London leg had left thousands of plastic cups on the floor of Wembley Stadium, although organizers had urged audience members to use the recycling bins provided, the BBC reported.
Oh well, it would probably take a blitzkrieg of tanks standing guard around the venue to ensure that people loyally, obediently dump their cups on designated cups/papers/plastics-only bins. How many people religiously recycle in their houses and then trash out beer-filled styrofoam and plastic cups at a rock festival – just because they were so smashed or having so much fun they didn’t remember?
So much for the “environment-awareness” bit. I don’t believe that people nowadays need to be reminded by an intercontinental rock concert to start recycling either. Why don’t we just start consuming less of these magnificently-toxic rock concerts that profess “saving ourselves” while we also stoke ourselves deep down in a (non-biodegradable) pit of excess and hedonism?
Wanna save the world? Eat ramen noodles and drink tap water sweetened with sweat, then go launch a lifetime-worth of rock concerts in the heart of the Amazon rainforest and/or around the vicinity of every factory in China. Something like that…
(That’s not my Aunt Pilar ranting in my nightmare, that’s me talking in my sleep—migraine and all.)

ROGER DALTREY, who weren’t part of the “Earth” party, said “The last thing the planet needs is a rock concert... the questions and the answers are so huge I don’t know what a rock concert’s ever going to do to help.”
Few years ago, an entire village was swept away – thousands perished – in a very impoverished island town in the south of the Philippines. The obvious culprit – illegal logging. Mountains are raped of trees so that we, mostly in affluent countries and societies, could consume them at a pace that can only be called bizarre and fiendish. I see “environmental activists” hug trees from Bolinas, California to Florence, South Carolina – so they could protect them? – from whom? What does that amount to? Advocacy to save the globe? A crusade to save your summertime shade or community beautification campaign?
Our `hood is not the World. Wembley Stadium or some intentional community in the Shenandoahs aren’t the Earth. Ormoc Island in the Philippines, a Kenyan village in Nairobi, an “untouchables” slum in New Delhi – these are the communities and humanity that need help. With all the money that rock concert titans are throwing away, why don’t they just funnel the resources and energy to where they are most needed?
Gore continued, “This one day, 24 hours long, will not only be a wake-up call for the world but the beginning of a multi-year campaign...” A global campaign like recycling? Again, I repeat, we pay the government recycling fees—while we volunteer to segregate this and that on this and that bin—so that a total of $236 billion is generated from this “awareness.” Then we hand over a measly $60 billion to an AIDS-stricken and starving Africa, then we praise ourselves because we care for the Earth—all cameras clicking. Hallelujah!

NOT TOO LONG ago, a number of “cause-oriented” rock concerts and festivals took Woodstock’s lead. George Harrison spearheaded the two 1971 “Concerts for Bangladesh.” John Cleese and Martin Lewis conceived the Amnesty International-sponsored “Secret Policeman’s Balls” benefit concerts from 1976 to 1981. Jackson Browne, Graham Nash, Bonnie Raitt and John Hall organized the four “No Nukes” concerts in 1979. Four other benefit concerts for Kampuchea was conceived by Paul McCartney and Kurt Waldheim in 1979. Then, there was the 1988 “Free Nelson Mandela Concert” at Wembley Stadium.
The most popular of the post-Woodstock “rock concert series” initiatives was, of course, Bob Geldof’s two “Live Aid” concerts on July 13, 1985 and the eight “Live 8” concerts staged on July 2, 2005. Before that, Amnesty International staged 20 concerts in 1988 called “Human Rights Now! World Tour” - a tour conceived by Jack Healey and Martin Lewis.
What makes these efforts different from “Live Earth” is that – these concerts had a clear-cut humanitarian agenda or program of implementation – other than the fun side of the revelry or the multi-media PR bombast.

AH, I SHOULD quit complaining now... This nightmare the other night is just disturbing.
“What is a surrealistic pillow?” I can still visualize my Aunt Pilar swinging, swirling, swishing across the den—as Jefferson Airplane rockets and weaves along the purple haze of my psychedelic memory.
“I don’t know, my dear…”
“What is a horse with no name?” “Where can we buy an American Pie?” “Can you please take me to Strawberry Fields?” “How do I light a fire?” “Have you seen Proud Mary?” “Where is the dock of the bay?”
“I don’t know, I don’t care.”
The music plays, the dancing continues... but the Earth is bleeding, bleeding so bad. I need Aunt Pilar’s spirit to show me the way to help start or continue the healing. Meantime, let me rest on my “surrealistic pillow” and muse over my sweet nightmare. Tomorrow is another day. I gotta keep on rockin’.