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Notes on nostalgia

What do you do when the music of your youth comes back to haunt you? Or at least, when the band comes over for a concert?

It was the first love letter I’d ever received, the lyrics of “Sweet Child o’ Mine” scrawled on yellow pad, barely legible. That was how I first encountered Guns N’ Roses.

He lent me his tapes. Use Your Illusion, I think, and Appetite for Destruction. I’d grown up on Mozart and Motown, and that loud, new music was like nothing I’d ever heard. But there was something about Axl Rose’s high-pitched screaming, paired with Slash’s screeching guitar, and the occasional soulful piano solo.

It was probably like that with all the music of your youth. Someone dedicated a song to you at the school fair, maybe Boyz II Men or Color Me Badd. Maybe a friend found comfort in Tears for Fears. It might have been the song someone was singing when you had your first kiss, or your first heartbreak.

The music of your youth is probably an eclectic mix, made up of your parents’ music, plus whatever was on the airwaves, combined with what your friends inflicted on you, and what was playing when important moments happened. It’s the music that makes your hairs stand on end, tugs at your heart, reminds you of a really good laugh from a decade or so ago.

It’s the music that makes you think of your first love letter.

What do you do with the nostalgia?

When Guns N’ Roses announced they were coming to Manila, like many people my age, I stalked ticketing websites for the dates and prices, squealed with excitement, wondered what they would play, deliberated over which tickets to buy.

Like so many friends and even a few relatives, I made the pilgrimage to the arena, dressed in denim shorts and plaid shirt, ready to sing my heart out.

It’s always a mess of emotions to hear these songs live, the songs you grew up to.

I remember watching Gin Blossoms at Araneta Coliseum, and being transported to the UP Fair, and reliving college heartaches.

I saw Duncan Sheik, and when he sang “Wishful Thinking,” all I could think about was commentary about the movie adaptation of Great Expectations. I went to Aliw Theater to watch Sergio Mendes with my mom and my aunt, and in the midst of a well-heeled crowd, I thought of lazy Sundays at home, homework still unfinished, research papers unwritten.

I wondered, where was the guy who wrote me that letter? Did he still raise his fists and dance when he heard Axl sing? Did he even still listen to those albums he’d lent me? Did he write any other letters with lyrics from other songs?

Songs and sentiments

There was joy and excitement as I sat beside my husband, and we listened to three hours of Guns N’ Roses. Axl Rose couldn’t quite scream the same way, but he still bounced across the stage, his hips still moving back and forth with the melody. Slash was still all hair and hat, guitar singing notes that words couldn’t capture. And the crowd gave a collective guffaw when Duff took the mic and uttered a local swear word as a greeting.

I wondered, what memories did my husband recall as he sat beside me that night?

Everyone stood and cheered and danced when the most popular songs came on: “Sweet Child o’ Mine,” “Live and Let Die,” “Welcome to the Jungle.” “I just need to hear November Rain, and the price of the ticket will be worth it,” I said to anyone who would listen. Sure enough, towards the end of the concert, while the band was rocking out to some other song, the roadies used the cover of the shadows to subtly roll a piano near the front of the stage. That only meant one thing.

Then Axl sat at the piano, and played that beautiful solo. Across the arena, phones were raised in the air in lieu of lighters, and it seemed as though the whole crowd were singing with one voice. Like everyone else, I stood, waving my phone in the air, my heart full and crushed all at once.

I didn’t know what it was like for the band to revisit songs that made them famous two decades ago. But I knew that for me, and for everyone else at the arena that night, it meant reliving so many things.

We all went home hoarse and tired that night. The slow crawl back home reminded us that we were no longer in high school or college, that we now have children and jobs and bills. But for a few hours, we were all teenagers again, watching MTV and receiving love letters and reliving heartaches and first loves.

Illustration by Rob Cham