The Rock of Manila Rockjocks
First Impressions
By Ruby Bayan, 11/14/00

I didn't know anyone of them from Adam -- or Eve for that matter. In fact, back in the 70s, I thought of all the slang-speaking RJ DJs as "conyo boys" epitomized. Their music was too loud, their playlist a string of unheard-of songs, their ramblings too expat for my taste -- I wasn't an RJ fan at all.

In 1985, however, I met one of them at a KBP function -- the haughty-looking white dude called Stoney Burke -- he had moved on to KS-FM then, hosting a jazzy show called "Quiet Storm." We were introduced, and that was my very first, and obviously on-going, encounter with a Rock of Manila boss.

Double Who?

Fast forward to August 12, fifteen years later. Mike and I had just driven back from a vacation in North Carolina. We came home to a bunch of e-mails from names he was truly excited to see but at which I kept asking, "Who's that?"

Mike pulled out a couple of old frayed scrapbooks Kathy had put together some 25 years ago and eagerly pointed at decades-old pictures of guys, all total strangers to me. "This is Alan Austria... Alfred Gonzalez... Nando Gonzalez... Sonny Peckson... Rene Trinidad... Bobby Mayuga... and their radio names are Double A, Madman..." Needless to say, he lost me at "Austria".

Looking over Mike's shoulder, glancing at e-mails from virtual entities called Pewtik, Jakol, Multo and Alanghiya, I felt compelled to memorize unfamiliar real names and peculiar pet names with radio handles that I literally ignored during my college days. It didnít help that the only faces I could attach to these names were from a scrapbook that crumbled as we flipped the pages.

At night, before bed, Mike would tell me stories about how he and some of the guys started at the radio station. He'd remember fun times and crazy moments but would admit to having promptly lost most of the juicy memories -- confessing that a good chunk of those years were either in a haze or in a daze! He would sigh and end his bedtime stories with "It's amazing how we all survived those years!"

In another effort to help me comprehend the excitement he couldn't contain, Mike dug up some old RJ program tapes that he had kept in a safe place through the years. As he immersed in deep nostalgia, I got to appreciate the old Rock of Manila music, the programs, and the air checks of his fellow rock jocks.

So little by little, I put together true names, air names, 70s photos, magazine articles and broadcasts, and snippets of memories, to somehow conjure a feel of the life this, my new partner, once enjoyed and cherished. I did tell him, though, that I was extremely biased because to me he had, and still has, the best voice of all!

Virtual Introductions

Soon after seven of the guys first "convened" in a six-hour Net Meeting cum conference call, bringing together Peter in Chicago, Mike in Orlando, Alan in LA, and Jake, Jamie, Raul and Alfred in San Francisco (Raul was visiting), the concept of a grand reunion took shape. Constantly in touch via e-mails and MSN Messenger, experimenting with PC cameras, and paying no attention to long distance charges, more and more fellow rock jocks were traced and brought into the virtual loop. Mike would excitedly "introduce" each new one to me through anecdotes and flashbacks.

Sharing the reunion jitters with everyone else, Mike and I eventually got to see the "now" faces of Jake, Jamie, Bobby, and Rene through the PC cam -- they were all surprised to see how Mike had "grown", but I sensed that they were all essentially downright ecstatic over the opportunity to touch each other's lives again after so many years.

Recent pictures of Becky, Alfred, Jamie and Raul, shared through e-mail, gave me hints of what I was supposed to expect when I meet them for the first time at the reunion; I even had the privilege of a voice conversation with Alfred, Jamie, Rene and Bobby!

But all of these failed to prepare me enough for what I experienced that first week of November 2000 when I finally met these Rock of Manila personalities in the flesh.

   Alan / "Double-A"

They said he survived a mild stroke and is undergoing therapy, so I imagined I would meet a man who had become faint, feeble and fragile. Instead, that first night of the reunion, I was introduced to an individual who was tall, robust and vigorous. Is this the Alan who had suffered a stroke? Why is he as animated as the rest, mingling actively, and jamming spiritedly with the band? Where's his wheelchair and intravenous?

Alan didn't look any less energetic than the rest of the guys (not counting Mayuga, of course). In fact, he even exuded an alpha male presence that made everyone pay attention as he gave thanks to all the jocks that graced the reunion. The audio CDs he gave out to those who had previously requested for compilations were proof that he had actually been busier than the rest preparing for the get-together -- even crashed his computer in the process.

During my brief talk with Alan, he shared his fascination at how nobody complained about getting together on such short notice. People didn't hesitate to fly in, drive seven hours, volunteer their homes, adjust their schedules and give up precious time and money to make it all happen. I was tempted to inject, "Well, that's what friends do!" But he already knew that.

He did say that he had expected the party to be more boisterous and unwieldy. "I guess we've all mellowed down," he added. Looking at the gray hairs, paunch, and laugh lines on most of the guys, I humbly agreed.

The man may have had a close call, but it obviously didn't faze him as much as it did everyone else -- he was quick to inspire the group to start organizing the next grand reunion in... Hawaii?

   Alfred / "Madman"

The first impression I had of Alfred was from an email he sent Mike saying he's about to lose his masculinity in his eagerness to talk to Mike on the phone to hear the Stoney voice again. He punctuated his email with the "c" word. During the conference calls that followed, he'd embellish his witty remarks with the "c" word, too. From how he looked in the 70s pictures, and the way he would engage Mike in Spanish, I was certain the snobbish term "conyo boys" was coined to refer to him personally. Boy, was I totally misled.

As I watched Mike park the car in Jake's driveway that night we landed in San Francisco, this fair-looking guy came up to me and said, "You must be Ruby." I stood there trying to figure out who this person was. "You must be... Alfred?" I extended my hand but he ignored it and grabbed me in a bear hug. That instant I felt like saying, "I imagined you to be a lot taller." But I also imagined him to be a snob -- so much for first impressions.

From that moment on, I grew amazed at how the Madman, true to his moniker, could sustain an aura of excitement and urgency. Mike warned me that Alfred had always been "hyper" -- a let's-do-it guy, no matter what it was that needed to be done -- like a nervous breakdown waiting to happen. That, I saw for myself. Alfred moves to a drumbeat two measures faster than everyone else's, and somehow it's what keeps the group's stimulation high.

Mad men thrive on keeping the adrenalin at peak levels -- but this one also loves to spike the occasion with calculated yet candid observations. "Okay, people, this is it -- the moment we've all been waiting for!" he announced as we boarded the van en route to LA. Two and half days later, as we again hopped in for our return trip to San Francisco, he dropped a reality check, "And in a flash, it's all over, c..."

Alfred is in the moment, but at the same time he keeps a watchful eye on the big picture. He notices how little details, like group habits and preferences, have tempered over the years, but he also discerns how the grand scheme of things have guided the planets and steered the stars, towards the fruition of the reunion he aptly refers to as the "Aging of Aquarius."

   Becky / "Brother Becky"

Railroaded into organizing, supervising and implementing the logistics of the reunion, Becky had to handle bookings and victuals for guys coming to LA from San Francisco, Chicago and Orlando. Not only did they have different time zones, preferences, budgets and taste buds, they also had varied strong opinions about the political situation in the home country.

To me, Becky has to be a woman of steel to have once coalesced with this particular group of machos. And, indeed, she is -- maybe that's why they call her "Brother Becky." Through pictures of a past she may or may not want to relive, and at the reunion itself, I saw Becky, the only flower among the reeds, as a force that tempered and indulged the boys.

Although much of the success of the reunion can be attributed to her organizational skills, Becky swore she'd never volunteer to take care of logistics again. At the end of the day, however, there she was, brimming with ideas on how to make the next reunion another big hit.

   Bobby / "Unicorn"

I got to exchange e-mails, MSN messages, streaming videos and a voice conversation with this all-smiles Filipino-looking Aussie-American-sounding Unicorn dude. This one is two and a half notches rowdier than the rest, I thought to myself. Mike said it was always a risk to put Alfred and Bobby in the same room -- nuclear meltdown type of risk. I never understood this until I finally met the man whom Alfred himself took efforts to calm down -- the one he called the Tasmanian Devil.

That first night of the reunion, I assumed that "Mayuggers" would be a bit drowsy from jetlag but instead he looked to me like a puppy that had been suffering from separation anxiety for the past 20 years. Finally with his masters and playmates once again, he couldnít stop himself from jumping and barking and humping, I mean bear hugging, everyone in sight. He was euphoric!

After midnight you'd think he'd be exhausted, but no, he had become more hysterical, rolling with laughter in between sentences. Of course, the cops arrived but the guys had already confined him inside one of the rooms to calm him down.

The second night, no one could pin Bobby down from grabbing the mike and joining the band. That was the first time I witnessed a live rendition of the payola-edited version of "Light My Fire" and the down-under lyrics of "Gloria" -- something that will take me a while to shake off.

On the third day, as we were all embracing each other farewell, I noticed that Bobby had the gloomiest face of all. I swear I could almost hear him whimper as he gazed sadly at the van pulling away from Raul's driveway. But this time, I'm sure, Taz's separation anxiety will last only a couple of years at the most.

   Jake / "Jake Taylor"

The guys were on conference call, talking about the TROM website, when I somehow got involved. We were trying to figure out how each one could contribute to the effort when I snapped at Jake with the question, "You Jake, what can you do?" I never did get a straight answer that time, but in the week that we were with Jake every single day, I got more answers than I was ready to process.

They say that you can gauge a man by the books he has on his shelf. With Jake, you'll have a tough time figuring out what he's into because he has books about software applications, golf, cooking, decorating and photography among others, stacked on a wall-to-wall shelf, on the floor, in the kitchen, and in the bathroom. Among the books he also has countless CDs, a high-tech mechanical dog, about a dozen remote controls, three live hamsters, a home theater set-up, an aquarium and a saxophone. And that's just in his living room. His computer corner and his garage are different domains altogether.

His lived-in home, and MBA diploma on the wall, told me what Jake could do. What he had done, I picked up from the guys. I heard that he was the "chick-boy" among them, the DJ whose booth was always packed with girls. At the reunion, away from his hamsters and computers, Jake did betray his tendency to gravitate to the ladies in the room. So what can Jake Taylor do? I wouldnít dream of asking that question again.

   Jamie / "Spirit"

The Spirit is one weird... no... let me rephrase that... one unique individual. An ovo-lacto-vegetarian by choice and a footloose multi-tasker by profession, Jamie struck me as two-men-and-a-woman in one body. When he took us for a drive around the Golden Gate Park, Haight Street and Half Moon Bay, every mile or so he'd point to a street and say, "I used to live there." Sometimes he'd change his script and say, "I used to bike up and down those hills." I was tempted to ask how old he was if I didn't already know that he was just three weeks older than me.

Jamie always has something to say about everything. He loves to share stories and would freely volunteer to do something -- anything. He'd even buy spicy chicharon snacks for his van-mates even if they were actually toxic to him. Jamie is a selfless, transparent soul (hence Multo?) who takes pride in his work, his slim laptop, mountainside home and self-contained VW Combi, and his anti-snore nose clips.

First to remind everyone that he's the youngest of the jocks, Jamie lived up to my expectations of an impetuous and gregarious "young" man who makes the most of the moment, dares to be different, and lives to tell his story.

   Nando / "Kid Charlemagne"

Nando was in the 70s pictures, too, but he wasn't exactly in the e-mail loop so I didn't have a chance to form premature expectations about him. I just knew that he was called Kid Charlemagne, the younger brother of the Madman, who got wind of the reunion just a few weeks before D-day, but was just as excited as all the rest to be part of the historic event.

On the drive to LA, he wore a vest partly covering his T-shirt that had a huge painting of a face I couldn't recognize. "Is that supposed to be you?" I asked, pointing at the peeping portrait. The glasses, the nose, and the sharp eyes did have a striking resemblance. "It's Howard Stern," he said. I didnít know how he felt about the fact that I thought he looked like Stern, but later on when I overheard him say how he almost worked for this controversial celebrity, I assumed he was flattered by my ignorance.

Howard or not, Nando was another character to watch. I marveled at how he could stand in his walking shorts out there in the night breeze that practically froze my nose off. And he could easily capture an audience with his stories about his weird roommate, his hand-me-up appliances, and his new hobby, CD burning! What I like most about Nando, however, is his all-out laughter.

   Peter / "Peter St. John"

I had absolutely no idea what Peter Molina looked like. He sounded like a nice regular guy over the phone, so I imagined that he lives up to his double-saint handle, Peter St. John. I couldn't help wonder if he was in the same groove as his fellow jocks who called themselves Madman and Howlin' Dave.

Peter does look like a regular guy, but yes, looks can be deceiving. Although I had known that he was a freelancing guitar man in Chicago, I was still mesmerized at how he led and held the Rock of Manila Band together during their impromptu performance. I heard that he was good, but that night, on bass and vocals, he wasn't good, he was great! So was his digital camera.

   Raul / "C. Raul O"

C. Raul wasn't in the 70s photos; he wasn't in the 80s archives either. In fact, he wasn't even a disk jockey! But Raul's role at the station was vital -- he was the one who took to the streets to convince advertisers that DZRJ was the best. Some twenty years later, his role remained vital -- he graciously hosted the grand reunion, personally cooking lengua for the delayed dinner and sausages and eggs for the staff meeting brunch, and even had cake for his birthday and fellow celebrators. He even gave away T-shirts!

It completely slipped my mind that I had seen a recent picture of Raul with his shoulder-length wavy hair. So when he greeted us at the door, in the middle of his welcome hug, I asked mindlessly, "And you are...?" He could've thrown me out right then and there, or fed me to his ferocious Rottweillers, but instead he said, "Raul. Feel at home. Turingin n'yong inyo ba 'to?"

Another aspiring stand-up comedian among funny men, Raul to me looked the youngest-at-heart of all -- for his age. Notwithstanding it was his fifty-nth birthday, he briskly fluttered about and dropped snazzy side remarks like he owned the place. Well, he did own the place, but still, he was genuinely amusing. I found his pets' names Aja and Gaucho truly ingenious, although I would've preferred Fez and Bodhisattva.

   Rene / "Mystery Man"

At the risk of losing everyone else's favor, including Mike's, I openly admitted that the Mystery Man had the deepest, most resounding vocal emissions. I thought so when I first talked to him online and my impression didnít change when I met him in person.

When I spoke with Rene, he was determined to make the online link with the guys in Manila up and running -- it would've been excellent if we had them hooked up and video conferencing with the US reunion. Unfortunately, no matter how many troubleshooting solutions Rene and the other web gurus, Jake and Jamie, conducted, the patch with the storm-beaten Manila contingent failed to materialize.

What will most likely materialize are the plans for the next reunion. Rene with his real estate expertise is being eyed as the man who will facilitate the search for lodgings for the next out-of-town get-together.

   Sonny / "Little Rock"

"Sonny Peckson," he casually introduced himself to no other than his old buddy, Mike. And Mike, realizing that Sonny didnít recognize him, teased, "Mike Llamas." Sonny was aghast. He couldnít believe he was face-to-face with the friend with whom he rode the school bus and who had ushered him into radio several decades ago. I remember Mike telling me that their schoolmates fondly labeled them as the "Llamas-Peckpeck" duo.

It was actually surprising that Mike recognized Sonny because I wouldnít have. This Li'l Rock didn't have the slightest resemblance to the man in the old scrapbooks; not even in the ones taken the last time they met at his place in 1987. The mustache was still there, but the hair and the attire put together a totally different man! I also imagined him to be a lot taller.

Sonny spent most of the first night of the reunion with Mike, catching up and reminiscing the good old days. In between, Sonny would pull me aside to say, "Take care of Mike, okay? He's my best friend." He must've given me these instructions about twenty-eight times that night -- I kept reassuring him that I would.

New is Silver But Old is Gold

These Rock of Manila Rockjocks are, indeed, best friends all -- I witnessed this personally, through their virtual conversations, in-the-flesh interactions and heartfelt intentions. They have sustained their camaraderie and high regard for each other through decades, across oceans, and despite life's harsh and inevitable challenges. Not many friendships survive these hurdles; not many friends keep the fire burning.

The Glory Days must have made a remarkable impact on each of them. That period in their lives and all the souls they touched must have moved them in ways no words can describe because the prospect of seeing each other and keeping in touch stirs them beyond belief. Mike says that back then they lived like celebrities, like kings and queens, like a force of nature -- they were gods worshipped by their listeners. Sharing this feeling among themselves is something no outsider like me will ever comprehend.

   Mike / "Stoney Burke"

Now the partner of one of the pillars of this group of bossmen, I stand in awe at the circle of friends Mike has always had. For the longest time, I thought Mike was alone, orphaned, estranged, and middle-aged in an empty nest. A few weeks ago I discovered that he has a world of dear, dependable and devoted friends with whom he shares mutual respect, affection and love. I am happy I finally met some (I'm sure there are more) of Mike's true friends, but I am happier that they are all still there for him.

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