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“Just graduate. It doesn’t matter what course. Ako nga business graduate, di ko din ginamit. It’s just something I have, just in case.”
I was around 23 when Rico J. Puno said this to me in a bar in Makati. It was just one of those random encounters that stick in your memory your entire life. It was a small place, very intimate. He just went up to sing because the piano player was good.
I had just finished singing a few contemporary songs “Cabaret, The Nearness of You and New York, New York” and went back to my table with whoever I was dating at that time.
He went up and started singing and I didn’t pay him any attention until the first few notes came out of his mouth. I barely even turned my head or clapped when he made a few jokes before starting to sing. In my mind, I was thinking: “Oh God, another old man with unrealized dreams of being a star is going to sing…” (Yes, I’m a Grade-A @$$H0L3 and I continue to have these thoughts in my head to this day.)
And then he sang. The rasp, the phrasing, the cool delivery, those were the things that captured my attention. I turned to face the stage and to be honest, I didn’t recognize him.
I’m from the province.
We listen to songs on the radio instead of watch performers sing on TV.
I recognized the voice, but I could not place the face.
And then he made another joke after he ended his first song “Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr Rico J. Puno. Oo ako yun. Palakpakan naman“ he said, referring to himself. And we applauded. He went on to do more songs.
“Nasaan yung long hair kanina?”
I was petrified in my seat.
“Oo, ikaw. You know how to sing “The Way We Were”? he proceeded to hum a few notes, maybe to jog my memory. Everyone was clapping. I nodded.
“Come, come, don’t shy, don’t shy, este don’t be shy, minsan lang ako makarinig ng rocker na kumakanta ng Frank Sinatra.”
He proceeded to interview me onstage and I stammered while answering. Fortunately, it was short. He then asked me how we’d like to go about dividing the song with a joke tagged at the end “Don’t worry, alam ko lyrics nito“
And we started, I mean he started with “Memories… ” I almost forgot to sing my parts because I was star struck.
I could’ve ended this writeup with that… but I made a blooper. I sang the Tagalog portion using the Tito, Vic and Joey lyrics.
“Memories, noong tayo’y mag siyota pa,
nagsasampalan sa Luneta,
dahil walang pera.”
He was probably miffed that I used that version and he pointed it out on stage. “TVJ fan ka pala eh, hindi Rico J Puno fan” We ended the song. Everyone clapped politely.
(Looking back… it wasn’t that awesome of a performance… I probably flubbed it one too many times resulting in me being asked to exit the stage)
“O sige baba ka na. TVJ fan ka pala eh, hindi Rico J Puno fan” (It could’ve been before or after we ended the song, I don’t really remember)
The crowd laughed.
I got off the “stage” and enjoyed the rest of his “mini-concert”. After he was done with his “set” he came over to my table and we talked. We had many questions but he ended up doing most of the asking instead of talking. He was genuinely interested in what my date and I had to say.
I stayed long enough after everyone had left to have that conversation with him. I enrolled a few years later.
Rest In Peace Rico J. Puno, Thanks for the music, thanks for the memories.
It would’ve been a funny story if he ended up walking out the cafe with my date though but he didn’t. He was a gentleman. Charming and all that. He probably could’ve, but he didn’t.
It took me an entire day to find my journal where I’d written about my experience back in 2002. That’s 16 years ago. My penmanship is just as bad as it was that time as it is now.