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The word came last night around midnight – Rena was in the bedroom and I was still in the living room with my laptop when she shouted (and Rena never shouts) “Honey, there’s a text from Ann. Namatay si Bodjie.” I felt like I’d been karate kicked in the gut. Bodjie? BODJIE? I couldn’t believe it. I googled his name and sure enough, there it was — he was gone. Cancer. I read:
In a statement to this writer, Quesada shared that Dasig was diagnosed less than 3 months ago, on December 27, 2011, with “stage 4” renal cell carcinoma (a type of kidney cancer that starts in the lining of very small tubes in the kidney). At the time of diagnosis, the cancer mass was found in his right kidney and lungs. This quickly spread to his adrenal glands, according to Quesada, and just two weeks prior to his demise, the cancer had spread to his liver and brain. Quesada was at her husband’s bedside when he passed. Dasig is survived by Odette Quesada, his wife of 19 years, and their teen-age son, Darian Dasig.
I tried to absorb it. One thought: that’s Odette. The incredible precision and simplicity of Odette’s statement immediately made me think of the simple, elegant beauty of her songs like Friend of Mine and Till I Met You. Was it weird to think of her songs in this context? Sorry, that’s what I thought. She has an ability to extract the essence of something, and the heart to tell the truth. This was THE TRUTH. Plain, simple, incredibly painful. She shared it with us.
I sat there reading it three or four times, so many thoughts… until Rena came out and sat beside me. She didn’t say anything. She knew I would be upset by the news, but she sensed that there was more. Eventually, she asked me about it — what was I thinking? Why so…complicated? She was perceptive, as always. It was more complicated than just grief. I told her I wasn’t ready to talk about it. I told her I would write about it when I was ready. But first I had to just absorb it.
It was Christmas, 1988, a million years ago and a million miles away, in Manila, at the recording studio of RJ Jacinto where I first met Bodjie. I was some crazy jock artist dreamer Embassy officer and wannabe recording artist (give me a break), who had talked his wife into letting him invest the equivalent of a family vacation’s worth of money into the improbable project of recording a record album of his soulful and not-very-commercial songs. My spouse allowed me to proceed with my nonsense, confident I would “get it out of my system”. She didn’t know where it would lead; neither did I, as it turned out.
Bodjie turned up as one of the studio musicians — what a guy. He was 25 years old then, sturdy as a carabao, quick and clever with a comedian’s sense of timing and a poet’s soul. A Samurai songrwriter– I loved the guy right from the beginning and through him I met the exquisitely talented Odette Quesada.
I was in awe of Odette from the beginning — her incredible ballad, Friend of Mine, ws already a classic in the Philppines and to me was a work of clarity and wonder and genius–an excruciating evocation of the simple reality of being in the presence of one you love, and unable to declare it….so much wisdom in three short minutes. To this day I think of Odette as the Carole King of the Philippines–only I like her music better than I like Carole King’s. I’m going to drop “Friend of Mine” in here — I’m listening to it as I write, please give it a listen.
Odette and Bodjie were so beautifully linked, and this song was the soundtrack of my early experience of the two of them together and in my interpretation of their relationship–this song was Odette projecting what Bodjie felt about her. Who knows if my interpretation is true, but that’s how I saw it. I’m a dreamer, and that’s what I saw.
My ridiculous personal album project continued to its inevitable vanity conclusion (albums in my mother’s garage)…meanwhile, Bodjie went to bat for Odette and convinced me to come up with a few more thousand dollars to become the producer of Odette’s next album, which I did gladly and with great pride. She is a songwriting genius, after all. I was honored to be part of it. We made the album with little fuss and bother. The song I remember most is “Huwag Kalimutan” because that song, more than any other, seemed to be a blending of Bodjie and Odette….it took the best from both of them, and combined it. I loved it and was proud to be associated with the album we created.
It’s ironic that in all my years now as a producer – that first little album was the easiest to produce, and easiest to sell — we recorded it on schedule and on budget and when it was finished, one meeting with BMG Philippines and the deal was done, just like that. All this and I was still working at the Embassy, so this was basically a hobby — so simple.
But I knew taking it on full-time would be tough — and it was Bodjie and Odette who had a lot to do with giving me the encouragement I needed to walk away from a comfortable career as a diplomat and begin a dubious, Don Quixote-ish quest as a creative professional. They validated me as an artist and helped me believe that I truly belonged in the creative arena.
I wasn’t’ sure where Bodjie and Odette were in terms of their relationship way back then. Bodjie never let on it was anything more than a musical partnership, and to look at them you wouldn’t think they were a natural match — Bodjie and Odette were so different physically as to look like they were the inverse of one another, one (Odette) a willowy, fragile (physically, anyway), artistic wisp, and the other (Bodjie)a Samurai sumo wrestler with a voice and heart of absolute spun gold. Brilliant individually…and odd couple together.
Years passed. Odette and Bodjie became a couple. I left the Embassy and began my quest. I had a daughter and they became ninong and ninang. I made some movies; they did the score. Separately, Bodjie’s career flourished — he wrote Sana Dalawa Ang Puso Ko and it swept the major awards in the Philippines. Life was good for all of us and the 1990′s passed.
Can we please go back to those days?
No? Oh well.
Then came the 2000′s.
Independently of one another and without knowing what the other was doing, Rena and I on the one hand, and Bodjie and Odette on the other, relocated to the US to seek our fortunes here. For me it was an obvious and inevitable choice — I was making American movies after all, and Hollywood was more of a necessity than an option if I was to continue my quest.
For Bodjie and Odette, I’m not sure what the allure was. To me they seemed to have so much in the Philippines — respect, an opportunity to create, family. To be sure, there were limitations for them in the Philippines, and I respected them both for wanting to make it happen over here, but I secretly wondered –is this really better for you? And even more secretly (since I’m an American after all) — is this really better for me?
Why didn’t we JUST STAY HOME in the Phillipines?
Years passed. My life here was that of a desperado indie film-maker, staggering from one project to the next, cyclically saving a little money and then blowing it all to complete the next film, never getting to the next level, somehow just making it from one film to the next.
And Bodjie and Odette were here, and they were struggling too.
Bodjie would pop up every now and then and we would meet, scheme some great plan — there was a period when he was doing comedy shows with Willie Nepomuceno (Bodjie, comedy? Well hell yeah!)….There was another moment when Bodjie was aligned with some printer in Sherman Oaks and I worked with them on some movie posters and he and I were both scrambling to figure out how to make a few bucks off that. Pennies, really. But we needed pennies. There were other great plans as well. In our last meeting, he was looking for work as a composer, and I told him — I will collaborate on anything we can come up with, but that’s it, a collaboration. WNP ako. And it was true. I think he believed me, but I wasn’t completely sure.
Clearly, our American dream wasn’t working out all that well.
We talked about it.
Why are we here? Why is this better?
We didn’t have great answers.
We laughed a lot.
To this day I don’t know if Bodjie every fully understood that I was as desperate as he was – I think he somehow thought that I was the “big producer” and so when I couldn’t come up with a gig for him, or a solution for us, I felt like he didn’t quite see me as a starving artist compadre….that somehow I was failing him, and Odette, by not being able to bring our create partnership to fruition here. Mind you — he never laid that guilt trip on me – but I felt it. And it stuck.
But I was in the same creative hell he was — good enough to eke out a living, not good enough to get to the next level. (Although he, unlike me, could have stayed permanently at the next level in the Philippines.) He was struggling but fighting the good fight. I was struggling — I could hardly keep a roof over my own family’s head.
Through it all, there was that laugh — Bodjie’s laugh. It started way deep down inside him and came up like a weightlifter hoisting 300 kilos overhead. What a laugh! Who can ever forget it?
Our BS aside, our failures aside — I was sure he would survive, we would both survive, we would all survive, and we would both find ourselves laughing about it all someday, some very, very distant day, in the Philippines, with sand between our toes and a San Miguel in our hand and gentle sunset for our lives waiting for us.
But no, it didn’t work out like that.
He’s gone. It’s over for him. At 48.
And I wasn’t really there for him.
I thought we had time. I thought we all had time.
We didn’t. Bodjie didn’t.
What can I learn from this? How can I make it right?
To be honest, I can hardly show my face to Odette. I should have been a better friend. Bodjie deserved better. She deserved better. They are really two of the VERY IMPORTANT PEOPLE in my life– they were there for me at that critical early day. And then all those years later — I got so caught up in my own dramas that I really wasn’t there for them.
How did I let that happen?
I realize now something I didn’t’ realize before — that I was a kuya to Bodjie — he looked to me in ways that meant I had responsibilities. I was ten years older, after all. Yet helped me at a crucial time in my evolution, and gave me confidence that I was on the right path by pursuing my creative dream. Was I there for him? Was I a decent kuya?
I can’t say that I was. I thought there were infinite tomorrows to get it right.
I was wrong.
Today, I remain in awe of Odette Quesada’s talent; and Bodjie Dasig’s heart. I didn’t mean to come up short, but I did. Bodjie didn’t. He only had 48 years given to him, but he lived 100 years worth of life in those 48 years and he was the best thing anyone can be — a good friend, an honest soul, and a person for whom love of life, love of family and friends, was a fire that never went out–and which fueled his art, which was beautiful and touched us all.
There was something about Bodjie.
Here is Bodjie, in 2009 in the US, performing Sana Dalawa ang Puso Ko and showing every ounce of his character and uniqueness of spirit.
RIP, Bodjie, and God Bless You, Odette.
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My book — the Trade Paperback
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- Lawanda Gabrielli on "Daughter of Lawaan" — a childhood in Eastern Samar
- Marylou Balicas Valenzuela on Remembering My True Friend Rufo Balicas
- Marylou Balicas Valenzuela on Remembering My True Friend Rufo Balicas
- Bobby Lokker on An American Discovers Freddie Aguilar at the Hobbit House, Manila
- 34 Signs You Grew Up Filipino (with commentary by a Filipinized ‘Kano)
- Live Blog of the John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood Free Kindle Promotion on Feb 6, 7
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