It’s hard to imagine Rene Garcia was 65 when he died of cardiac arrest just a week ago. For some reason, music idols are perpetually young in the mind’s eye. And their songs take us back in time.
In the mid-’70s until the early ’80s, Rene’s voice, with the music of his older brother, Dennis’ band, Hotdog, could be heard on radio, and many times caught on TV whenever there was a new song to promote.
But it could get hazy pinpointing the exact year I first heard “Ikaw ang Miss Universe ng Buhay Ko,” “Pers Lab,” “Bitin Sa’Yo,” “Dying To Tell You,” “Langit na Naman,” “Panaginip,” “Manila,” “Beh, Buti Nga,” “Bongga Ka ’Day” and “Annie Batungbakal”—because it seemed these songs were always in the airwaves, even to this day.
If Dennis wrote most of the lyrics, Rene was the one who created the melody and gave life to the songs through his voice, even as Hotdog was also known for its successive lineup of female lead singers, Ella del Rosario, Gina Montes, Zsazsa Padilla, Maso Diez and a few others.
Manila Sound, the genre or label that was attached to Hotdog and its contemporaries, was the pop music of its time and echoed its pop culture—regarded as a golden age in contemporary Filipino music, marked by the discovery of dozens of local artists singing and writing their own songs.
What made Hotdog’s songs stand out were the witty language and colorful image that held captive an audience of adolescents and teens:
“Tuwing kita’y nakikita, ako’y natutunaw/Parang ice cream na bilad sa ilalim ng araw…”
“’Di pagpapalit kahit kay Rio Locsin/Wala nang iba para sa akin…”
“Ang gusto mo’y taga-La Salle/Wala kang time sa akin…”
“Buhok mo’y Budji, talampaka’y Gucci/Damit mo’y gawa ni Pitoy, di nanggaling kay Eloy…”
“Sa umaga, dispatsadora/Sa gabi siya’y bonggang-bongga/Pagsapit ng dilim, nasa Coco Banana…”
At its peak, Hotdog’s signature song, “Manila,” was heard booming out of custom-made speakers in tricycles and jeepneys all over the metro, especially in Malabon—where sleepy afternoons turned lively with the tune’s bouncy beat.
At 55 years old, I still get a kick out of “Manila,” its reggae-disco rhythm punctuated by a swaying horn section, and of course, led by Rene’s semi-parody American twang.
Back in 1980 at La Salle Green Hills, a buddy would sing “Beh, Buti Nga” with delight, brimming with pride that the song namechecks our school—the alma mater of Rene, Dennis and original Hotdog members Lorrie Ilustre and Mon Torralba.
Seven years ago, I asked Dennis in an Inquirer e-mail interview (“Reheating Hotdog–before time runs out,” May 8, 2011)what’s so special about holding a Hotdog reunion concert at that time. “We were all not getting any younger,” he said, “and under the risk of TRO (time running out). And since people have been clamoring for a reunion for decades, it felt right to do it now.”
That particular show, which drew a sellout audience that included then President Noynoy Aquino and some of his cabinet members, would be followed by more shows—proof that Hotdog fans would always want a piece of the music.
When word about Rene’s passing spread on the night of Sept. 2, I was with childhood schoolmates at 19 East watching a gig featuring a newly formed band called the Stoney Burke Project. The music was throwback ’70s: Deep Purple, Jethro Tull, Led Zeppelin.
Rene would’ve loved it, because I realized those were the bands his first group, Red Fox, grew up with.