, June 16, 2024

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Danny Javier: Conjurer of Everyday Tales and Good Vibes

  •   6 min reads
Danny Javier: Conjurer of Everyday Tales and Good Vibes

Pop music can be generally shallow, bordering on nonsense. But with Danny Javier, observant pop swerved in the other direction, playfully dangerous or dangerously playful

Philippine Star
By Joey Salgado

If you were a teenager in the 70s, it would have been hard to escape from the Apo Hiking Society. They were on your transistor radio, the neighbor’s, in your ears and head. They were on the cover of magazines, on print ads, and on your black and white television. Radyo, TV, at mga bagong magasin. You would go to school with your cheap Lumanog guitar and Jingle chordbook, plop yourself down on a bench surrounded by your barkada and sing an APO song. Some other barkada would be doing that too. And the cool thing was you can dig the Apo Hiking Society and still not lose your cred as a rocker, which was a “thing” in those days (the whole “disco sucks” brouhaha).

Danny Javier, Jim Paredes, and Buboy Garovillo were the first crossover group, a pop act beloved by rockers. Before Ramon Jacinto turned DZRJ into his personal jukebox (alas, rock radio was one of the casualties of the 1986 Edsa Revolution), DZRJ was an all-rock AM station. They sponsored rock concerts and gave airtime to emerging rock acts. The APO, they were still a music and comedy act in 1974 but the station aired their “Farewell Concert” anyway. When the Pinoy Rock scene exploded, the APO’s “Lumang Tugtugin” and “Pumapatak na Naman ang Ulan” were on the station’s regular playlist.

Danny Javier wrote “Pumapatak na Naman ang Ulan,” one of their hits from the 1978 album “Pagkatapos ng Palabas.” Javier’s gift as a songwriter was his observant eye, and his knack for light, breezy lyrics and ear-wormy melodies. His songs never preached, or waxed philosophical. If there were subversions of the status quo, those came wrapped in pop confections. “Pumapatak na Naman ang Ulan” is a slacker anthem, a day in the life of a tambay. The song also celebrates our pambansang libation, antedating Teeth’s “Laklak,” Parokya Ni Edgar’s “Inuman Na,” and The Itchyworms’ imaginatively-titled, drum roll please, “Beer.”

But Javier wrote “Pumapatak…” when drinking beer and bumming around clashed with the government-promoted culture of vigor and discipline.  Students did mass calisthenics and were made to memorize the slogan “Sa Ikauunlad ng Bayan, Disiplina ang Kailangan.” “Pumapatak…” was a gateway song to contrarian ideas, alcohol, and other hindi inaasahang bagay.

“Pagkatapos ng Palabas” marked the APO’s graduation from a college-based comedy and musical act to a pop group writing their own songs in Pilipino. Together with Juan de La Cruz, Maria Cafra, Banyuhay, and Florante, the APO were at the eye of a brewing cultural storm. Yes, pop music, then and now, can be generally shallow, bordering on nonsense. But with Javier, observant pop swerved in the other direction, playfully dangerous or dangerously playful.

Danny Javier was San Beda red before he became Ateneo blue. By his own account, he began his musical career in the late 60s as part of a singing group named Danny, Mandy, and Alice, with Mandy Marquez and Alice Zerrudo. “Our rep was mostly Peter, Paul, and Mary; Joan Baez, and Bob Dylan, with a smattering of Arlo Guthrie and Harry Belafonte. Mandy played lead guitar and Alice and I switched at vocal solo and three-part harmony,” Javier wrote in Pro Bernal Anti Bio, a biography on the late director Ishmael Bernal. The quote was shared by Katrina Stuart Santiago on her Facebook page.

Javier’s group were regular performers at Bernal’s When It’s A Grey November in Your Soul, a cafe and performance space in Malate, Manila’s bohemia center of the 60s. That stretch of Manila - from Mendiola to Morayta (the University Belt), Quiapo to Malate and Ermita, is a melting pot of masa and burgis - the tambay and trabahador, dregs and bon vivant, the pretentious and the esthetes, the pious and the ladies of the night; snatchers, vendors, colegialas, activists, and hippies. Javier would have known these streets and its inhabitants well.

Despite their political leanings, the APO never recorded a political or socially-relevant song before 1986 (“American Junk” and, in a way, “Bluejeans” were recorded after the Edsa Revolution). But they did manage to flip the bird at the establishment in another way.

In 1984, a year after the Aquino assassination, the group released the album “Feet on the Ground.” The album cover was presented as an homage to the iconic cover of The Beatles’ “Abbey Road.” The cover photo shows Danny, Jim, Buboy, and an unidentified man crossing a zebra walk. Javier is wearing a white suit. Here’s the fun part. Flip the album and you have another photo, this time with the four men sprawled on the ground. Javier, the man in white, is lying down in a position eerily similar to Ninoy’s on the tarmac after he was shot. Below the photo is the caption: “Bodies on the Ground.”

To describe the APO’s, and Javier’s, catalog as cuddly artifacts from an era of blue jeans, long hair, and mustaches would be to miss out on their longevity and their impact on generations of music-loving Filipinos.

From the 70s until their retirement in 2010, the APO not only appeared on variety shows, they hosted a few of them. Their concerts remained well-attended. They had hits well into the 90s, and continued to endorse products (San Miguel Beer among them). The APO performed on youth-oriented music shows even when they were in their 50s. Millennials and Gen Zs can hum an APO song or two. And in between gigs, Javier wrote commercial jingles and had his own clothing line.

Two tribute albums released in 2006 and 2007 (Kami NAPO Muna and Kami NAPO Muna Ulit), featuring the country’s leading indie rock bands, cemented their status as OPM icons.

Joey De Leon IG

After the group disbanded, Javier retreated from public view. He would always dismiss any talk of a reunion, declaring those performing days over. It’s not all about the paycheck, he says. It has reached a point where everything got tedious. They’ve been doing the same dance steps, singing the same songs, and cracking the same jokes for the better part of 40 years. Javier didn’t want to be doing the same thing for another 20 more, for the APO to deteriorate into a nostalgia act, still performing but with voices no longer at their peak, stage movements slower, dishing out tired jokes before a geriatric audience.

In 2011 Javier was diagnosed with multiple illnesses (he had a near death experience, he told a TV interview) but recovered miraculously. In the years that followed, he would indulge friends and fans with occasional videos of himself performing in small reunions and parties, more intimate, warmer settings. These videos have been circulating on social media since his death.

On a new song, “Lahat Tayo,” Javier embraces the inevitable with his humor intact. A cleaned-up version, done by their long-time musical arranger and director Lorie Ilustre, has gone viral.

For many, Danny Javier was not only the lead singer and songwriter of the Apo Hiking Society. He was its voice and soul. His death is being mourned, his legacy celebrated by fellow artists and legions of fans in a manner reserved for national icons.

He was the funny one and the serious one. The one with the repartee, the quick joke, the big ideas, and the gift of words. He had the ear for catchy melody. Danny Javier was part John, part Paul, but only the good parts. He was a conjurer of everyday tales and feel good vibes. Godspeed, Danny. Doobidoo.

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