In early 2000, big luck came my way in the person of Ben Chan, of the retail giant Bench. I had never met Mr. Chan, or so I thought. One day, out of the blue, he asked his advertising promotions director, Jojo Llamzon, to phone me about doing a book for him.
If it’s a souvenir book about your company’s history, I said airily, I’m not interested. “No ma’am, Jojo replied, Mr. Chan says you may choose any topic you wish and he’ll fund it. It’s our 30th anniversary.”
I won’t have to write anything about the company in it? I asked incredulously. No ma’am, he said. We or you can choose the topic. Okay, I said. They came back with the subject: Pinoy Pop.
My art partner Manny Chaves and I went into a huddle. Together we wrote “Pinoy Pop Culture.” Bench liked it. We got to know and like Ben Chan. He confessed to me that when he was a young, broke student, he would visit the folk art shop I once had in A. Mabini. He even purchased one of my bamboo bird cages after saving for it.
When the book was done, Bench asked Manny and me to prepare a launch for the “Pinoy Pop Culture” book. We did it with gusto, choosing Floy Quintos as director.
The invitation read: To launch its newest baby, PINOY POP CULTURE, a book authored by G. C. Fernando and M.G. Chaves, Bench invites you to Pinoy Pop Showtime, a happening on Oct. 27, 2001 at 7 p.m. NBC Tent, Fort Bonifacio, Makati.
The tent was then the only venue big enough and yet friendly enough to accommodate a show like ours.
The opening processional consisted of the Radioactive Sago Project band marching around the interior of the tent playing brasses. (Lourd de Veyra wasn’t yet a prolific endorser of CDO Pork Tocino, chichirias and everything else). Then followed the eight-foot papier maché higantes—Kenkoy, Rosing, Ponyang, Nanong Pandak and Talakitok.
The first number was singer Anna Fegi, the girl with the massive head of hair, darling of Cebu at the time. Rapper-composer Lourd recited/sang “Rap for the Pinoy.” Like the band, the two were dressed in sculpted costumes of black rubber tire interiors.
The second number, the Yoyoy Villame hit “Mag-exercise Tayo,” got a modern twist from arranger Jesse Lucas, accompanied by a fashion show, sort of. The ramp models were personalities from arts, culture, politics, show biz and cuisine. (Boy Abunda, Odette Alcantara, Cora Alvina, Steve de Leon, Gene Gonzalez, Teddyboy Locsin Jr., Babeth Lolarga, Ambeth Ocampo, Satur Ocampo, Clinton Palanca, Pepe Smith, Kidlat Tahimik, Jessica Zafra. None of these “models” was willowy. They were round, skinny, too short, too tall, too myopic, too shy, too garish. But everyone was outstanding.)
Then came a sultry female voice repeating the words “Magbuhat tayo ng sariling Bench” over and over. Out came six shirtless hunks clad in low-slung Bench jeans with underwear peeking out (among them Hayden Kho!). Each one carried on his shoulders a five-foot-long wooden bench.
The Makati audience was terra incognita to us. The crowd was perfumed and fashionista and we had no idea how they would take to a concert of purely Pinoy Pop songs by singers who, all their lives, had entertained a beerhouse or vaudeville crowd.
Our pop diva, the legendary Sylvia La Torre, in a glittering gold saya, stepped onstage. She belted out “Waray-waray.” Ms Sylvia is always a winner and the crowd went wild.
Choreographed by Douglas Nierras, the cartoon character of Darna flew in the flesh across a stage for the first time. A fight scene ensued in the air with Darna subduing the serpent-headed Valentina and coming down victorious, to the tune of “Zamboanga.”
Next entered a pair of jukebox queens, the Aegis singers Juliet and Mercy, who could hit the highest notes and possessed the most powerful vocal cords. (Manny and I had hunted them down in a Cubao bar.) They appeared onstage riding a tricycle decorated with giant paper flowers. Their voices shook the tent. The audience was mesmerized.
The book, “Pinoy Pop Culture,” was handed over to Ben Chan and the two authors by the flying Darna. The higantes came onstage again. We realized how much the crème de la crème had enjoyed the show when the front row, including Don Jaime Zobel de Ayala, rewarded us with a standing ovation.
Because it was a Ben Chan pakulo, the food was always interesting. Margarita Forés had prepared a street-food type menu which included kamias shake, home-fried kamote chips, crispy kangkong with gruyere cheese dip.
Caramelized Spam with fried pugo eggs in mini-pan de sal was served on a tray with a rubber-strapped red bakya as centerpiece. Barquillos stuffed with cheese pimiento mousse was served upright like candles. On trays with a bamboo toy snake in the middle were sushi with adobo flakes as well as puto with Majestic ham.
Two Bench personnel, in aprons made out of chichiria wrappers, went around with trays strapped around their necks, dispensing packages of Bench chips and candies. Memories!
Once in a while Bench features characters on its billboards other than the real seller, the underwear show guys. At one time it featured the theme “Forever,” which I guess means old.
Last year was another anniversary for Bench. Congratulations and much love from your oldest, tackiest billboard model. The UP and Ateneo students driving past loved the two hunks flanking me—never me.