Sunday, June 01, 2008

Cool Caruncho trib to Howlin' Dave

Here's a re-post of Eric S. Caruncho's tip-of-the-hat piece to the late great Dante "Howlin' Dave" David, as published in the Sunday Inquirer. I'll never listen to Eno's Another Green World quite the same way anymore, without Dante's angular profundity that went so well with the album.
Read it and weep.
I did.

The last of the singing cowboys
By Eric S. Caruncho
First Posted 00:55am (Mla time) 03/04/2007

MANILA, Philippines -- Howlin’ Dave is still on the air, broadcasting into the ether through the steel plate in his head, from where they took out a giant tumor in his cerebellum 15-plus years ago.

Now he plays only the good stuff: no more need to compromise with tight-ass fellow jocks or pesky programming directors. F*** the boomers.

The playlist is pure Howlin’ Dave: the Velvets, the Rezillos, Fischer-Z, Roxy Music, gloomy old Leonard Cohen, the Ramones… stuff they don’t play on radio anymore because they’re oldies, or they don’t fit into today’s tightly-programmed formats. What do they know?

Howlin’ Dave’s 51-year-old earthly body is starting to give out from the toll of, he estimates, at least 35 years of sex, drugs, rock ’n roll and poor oral hygiene. He’s got arthritis, rheumatism, pneumonia, diabetes, hypertension—“Pare, AIDS na lang ang kulang! (Everything but AIDS),” but what’s left of his mind still burns with the rock ’n roll flame.

He’s the last of a dying breed: the disc jockey who plays music because he loves it, and like an Ebola carrier, wants to infect as many people as possible with this love.

Nowadays disc jockeys merely punch in the playlist from a computer keyboard in between spiels. It’s not like the old days when DJs were keepers of the flame, repositories of lore, tribal elders handing down precious knowledge to the hungry new generation, warping young minds, forming tastes, shaping the culture.

There are some things you don’t forget. The first time I heard the Sex Pistols was on Howlin’ Dave’s program on DZRJ AM. It was the end of the ’70s. I was 23, newly married and expecting my first child, gainfully employed for the first time and about to settle down into the whole straight life of kids and mortgages and orthodontist bills when this unholy racket issued forth from the car radio.

“I am an anti-Christ! I am an anarchist!”

Then came this breathless rush of verbiage from the disc jockey, tripping over his own tongue in his excitement to communicate the import of the cut he had just played.

I remember thinking: “So that’s why they call him Howlin’ Dave.” On account of all his on-air howlers: he mangled grammar and syntax but somehow communicated all the passion and excitement he felt for this new music which, I later learned, was called “punk rock.”

I would spend the next 20 years interviewing and writing about bands, a lot of whose members first picked up a guitar after listening to Howlin’ Dave’s radio program: Buddy Trinidad of Betrayed, Dominic “Papadom” Gamboa of Tropical Depression, Arnold Morales of Put3Ska, Francis Reyes of the Dawn, among many others. Howlin’ Dave was the Johnny Appleseed of Pinoy punk and new wave, and appropriate tribute was paid when he received the 2001 Lifetime Achievement Award at the NU107 Rock Awards.

Finally, Howlin’ Dave was institutionalized, like they always said he would be.

Contrary to urban legend, radio great Ben “O, hindeh!” David isn’t Dante “Howlin’ Dave” David’s father. “I was influenced by my father, Nic David, who was one of the pioneers of Philippine broadcasting,” he says. “He used to be with ABS-CBN, mostly on the radio, baduy programs like ‘Kahapon Lamang.’ When I was a kid, he would bring me to the station and ask me to read on the air. I was instantly attracted to the romance of broadcasting. I saw how it could draw bridges.”

The man who would be Howlin’ Dave was born July 16, 1955, the year Elvis would make his big move and make rock ’n roll a household word. David attended the Malate Catholic School, before moving into the tough neighborhood of Villaroel, Pasay City, just as Beatlemania was about to break.

“My older brother was a member of the Kamikaze street gang,” he recalls. “Our sworn enemies were the Amboys. I was a kid, but I was the ‘starter’—I would throw the first punch, and if they put up a fight, suddenly dozens of us would come out. But I wasn’t really a bad boy. I loved music even then.”

The watershed was hearing the Doors for the first time in 1967. “Wow! ‘Light My Fire’! Hearing Jim Morrison was like hearing Nirvana for the first time. My whole lifestyle changed."

Much to his parents’ chagrin, David dropped out of high school, grew his hair long, and started hanging out in a communal “crash pad” along with the other hippies in Novaliches, where the family had moved by that time. Two years later, he enrolled in Fine Arts at the Philippine Women’s University. “My mother was overjoyed. They thought I had finally come to my senses. Then one day they visited the college. P***ng ina, puro freaks (freaks all over the place)!”

Martial law had been declared, but the repression focused on the radicals, leaving the local counterculture more or less alone. His schoolmates suggested that David try out for an announcer’s slot on DZRJ, “the Rock of Manila,” the hip radio station at the time. After a year in limbo, the station finally called him in 1974.

“I got the call from Double A, Alan Austria, who was programming director and RJ’s bass player with the original Riots,” recalls David. “He was my mentor. I learned a lot from him.”

After Austria asked him to make a list of air names, they finally settled on Howlin’ Dave (in homage to blues legend Howlin’ Wolf).

Not long after, he got his first big break. DZRJ had begun a 30-minute program of local music, and the late Emil “Charlie Brown” Quinto had come up with the name “Pinoy Rock and Rhythm.” The name stuck to the original music being played by the Juan de la Cruz Band, Anakbayan and a handful of other local bands, and soon grew into a movement, driven in no small part by DZRJ’s championing of the cause. When Bob Magoo left, Howlin’ Dave took over the show.

“It was very exciting,” David recalls. “We would see these bands in concert, record them, and air the music the next day. I started speaking in Tagalog—syempre, Pinoy, eh. The rest is history.”

David had been a working student, but in between going on the air and running wild on his motorcycle, he didn’t have time to go to class. Eventually, he dropped out to concentrate on DJing full time. “Broadcasting became my medium, my palette and brush. I was with that rock ’n roll concept because I believed in it.” He even tried his hand at it, jamming onstage with bands like Brother Lion and later, Anakbayan.

But as the Seventies wound down, rock did the unthinkable. It grew old. Tired. Even DZRJ’s playlist fell into the blahs: Stevie Nicks, Firefall, the Little River Band, Hall and f***ing Oates. They even started playing fusion jazz.

Out of this miasma of blandness would emerge Howlin’ Dave’s finest hour. “In the late ’70s, I was into Hinduism, black magic, wow, you have to open up, you have to crack the cosmic egg. He’s gone mad, people said. But I was willing to submit myself to that experimental stage to save the world. I was getting Messianic.”

Little did he know, he would get his chance. He had started dating a happening chick named Delilah Aguilar, who happened to have a direct pipeline to the hottest underground music scene, thanks to a sister in London, and an aristocratic Belgian brother-in-law with a fantastic record collection.

“She told me, ‘why don’t you play these records on your show? They’re great!’ She showed me records by the Sex Pistols, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Devo. Lou Reed’s ‘Transformer,’ Roxy Music, the Sex Pistols’ ‘Never Mind the Bollocks.’”

With radio still pretty loose in those days, David started spinning the hot new vinyl on his show. The reaction was instantaneous. “Ano yan! (What the f*ck is that?)”

“Everybody was against me,” he recalls. “The station even had me investigated. They thought the music I was playing was too radical. I played Peter Tosh’s ‘Legalize It’… ‘Legalize marijuana!’ They freaked out! "

With a few exceptions, the new music alienated most of the other DJs, mellow hippie dudes to the last head.

“Ideological differences,” David continues. “We would get into physical fights over it. ‘Pare, ang bulok mo, coño! Sampaguita used to laugh and say I was like Alan Freed. They got him for payola but he fought for rock ’n roll.”

The station might have hated it, but David’s show, “New Wave Nights,” was winning converts and gaining media attention. “Yes, he was the guy who broke punk on radio, largely because of Delilah’s influence,” recalls Ces Rodriguez, former managing editor of Jingle Magazine. “Dante used to wax profound over stuff. We rolled our eyes but we loved him in spite/because of it.”

The hostility hiked up several notches when all these spiky-haired high school kids started showing up at the station, drinking gin and breaking bottles. (Among them was a certain Arnold Morales who later formed the Urban Bandits.) When the young punks broke the broadcast booth’s window, David had to take the fall, a year’s exile doing penance at a Baguio radio station.

When he returned, the local hard-core punk scene was in full swing, and he and Delilah were hailed as our very own Sid and Nancy. “They were a love team only in the sense that they were highly visible in many events, plus they looked obviously flash,” recalls Rodriguez. “They had their dramas, but not on the pathetic scale of Sid and Nancy. Delilah was my idol when it came to the clothes she wore. I remember a Vivienne Westwood jacket she got from her sister which had molded miniature penises as buttons.”

For his part, Howlin’ Dave took to bleaching his hair and sporting eyeliner—this when Raimund Marasigan of Sandwich was still wearing short pants. Later he would have a dragon and tiger tattooed on his arms. “There was this entrepreneur named Tommy Tanchangco who had On Disco,” David recalls. “I convinced him, ‘pare, this is the new sound!’ We started a new wave night on Fridays.”

The scene grew by leaps and bounds. Kids started spiking their hair with gel, egg white and god knows what else, sporting combat boots and acid washed jeans, and slam dancing to the emerging new bands. Tanchangco formed his own band, Chaos, and his own record label, Twisted Red Cross, releasing home-brewed cassettes by the likes of the Urban Bandits, George Imbecile and the Idiots, I.O.V., the Wuds, which Howlin’ Dave would play on “Pinoy Rock and Rhythm,” giving the old format a shot of adrenaline.

Between 1980 and 1985, Howlin’ Dave hosted the annual Brave New World punk concert, whose influence still reverberates in the current music scene. Often, he would close the show by singing “My Way”—the Sid Vicious version, naturally.

But like all good things, it had to end. The Edsa revolt and the end of Marcos also signaled the end of an era. With its Main Man back from exile, DZRJ reformatted itself into an oldies station, and for the rest of the ’80s, Howlin’ Dave was just another rock jock.

In the late ’80s, David woke up one fine morning and promptly fell down the stairs, landing on his skull. He got up with a huge lump on his head, seemingly none the worse for it. But three months later, he started feeling strange. One day, in Baguio, he broke out in a sweat and his spoon and fork kept slipping from his hands. People naturally thought he was on drugs. A CT scan revealed otherwise: there was a huge brain tumor in his cerebellum.

Still, it took another year and a half before David submitted to surgery. The following year, as the ’90s began, the tumor grew back, and since surgery was no longer an option, David had to endure five months of daily radiation therapy. “I went through hell, man,” he says. “But I’m lucky I’m still alive.”

The advent of the new millennium, however, saw him doing the unthinkable: leaving radio. “For six or seven years, I was just home, basically a bum,” he admits. “I was sick most of the time—I developed diabetes, then pneumonia, then hypertension. Talagang karma—nature getting back at me for every bad thing I did in the past. I was always in bed, and when friends saw me I always looked different—either I’d be very thin or I’d be fat.” He’d still host the occasional concert and do voice recording, but somehow, the spark had gone out.

Until last year, however, when listeners tuning in to a new AM (!) station called Rock 990 heard a familiar voice waxing profound in kilometric spiels over Leonard Cohen or Bob Dylan. Somehow, the upstart station managed to resurrect some legendary names from the glory days of rock radio: Sleepy John, Bob Magoo, the Mole, Barbara, and—back from the grave—Howlin’ Dave.

Of course, times had changed. Rock radio was now a “retro” format, and playing “classic rock” amounts to being an oldies station. Still, a lot of the old listeners started crawling out of the woodwork where they had been patiently biding their time. A lot of them tuned in on their computers now, the station having a Web radio broadcast.

“It was like a renaissance,” says David. “All the while they’ve been conforming until Rock 990 came along and they got their identity back and came out of the shadows.”

It’s just too bad that Rock 990 had to shut down after five months, temporarily, David hopes. “I’m trying to be well, hoping that the world won’t end next week,” he says. “I want to go back to broadcasting and turn on more people. With Rock 990, I realized that a lot of people, high school students, were listening. People from future generations are willing to listen because they have no heroes. They don’t have an Elvis Presley, or a Beatles, or a Led Zeppelin. There are people who are waiting for something to happen.”

Howlin’ Dave hopes he’ll be around when it does.

So do we. Fellow disc jockey Barbara “November 27” Balce paid him perhaps the best tribute of all: “Howlin’ Dave? He’s the last of the singing cowboys.”


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