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COVER STORY
Fathers, Fenders
and Feeding Bottles

By Eric S. Caruncho

FAMILY affair for Ely, Diane and
little Eon

I NEVER thought I'd see the day when I'd be discussing the wonders of modern infant feeding with head Eraserhead Ely Buendia, but I guess you never know.

"Mas malapit ang korte ng nipple niya sa nipple ng nanay (The nipple resembles that of a mother)," he explains of that indispensable modern convenience, the disposable bottle, in the same tone in which he used to explain the relative merits of Fender guitars over Gibsons.

"At na-eliminate na rin ang hangin sa loob kaya wala nang kabag (And you eliminate the air inside so there's no gas pain)," he adds.

As if to demonstrate, little Eon - now a roly-poly nine months old - is sucking blissfully on one in his blue stroller, dreaming baby dreams. Upstairs his mother Diane, now back to her normal svelteness, is resting, leaving father and son to spend some quality time together.

We are in the same living room in Ely's UP Village apartment where, six years before, I first interviewed the band at the height of Eraserheads mania. The 'Heads had just released their second album "Circus" to universal raves, and the apartment was party central. A couple of bandmates and friends were sharing the place, and the floor was littered with Nintendo cartridges, cassettes, guitars and magazines. Then in their flannel-shirted Pinoy slacker incarnation, the 'Heads still seemed dazed by their runaway success. They had no inkling that their peak, which would come with the next album "Cutterpillow," was still around the bend.

The Beatles posters are still on the wall, but a measure of domesticity has settled on the Buendia household. The only sounds are of the yaya - heaven-sent - puttering around in the kitchen, and Ely, now 30, has time to reflect on the changes that fatherhood has wrought.

"Masaya siya," he says. "Siyempre, magko-concentrate ka na sa responsibility mo-the usual stuff. Imbis na isipin mo ang sarili mo, iisipin mo na lang na may isang taong helpless talaga at nasa kamay mo ang buhay niya (Instead of thinking only of yourself, you just think that there is one really helpless person whose life is in your hands)."

Ely and Diane have gone through the rites of passage all young parents undergo: woozy half-asleep 3 a.m. feedings, endless diaper changes, teething, the fearfulness and worry of the first major illness.

"Naapektuhan din ako physically," says Ely. "Nagbubuhat ka, minsan hindi ka na nakakakain. Medyo mas lean ako ngayon (I've been affected physically. You lift things, sometimes you can't eat)."

Buendia has also had time to reflect on his own childhood, and his relationship with his father.

"Cool naman ang tatay ko, we just didn't agree on many things," says Ely, who is second in a brood of four. His father, an accountant, was a strict disciplinarian. "Mahilig mag-sermon.

"I'm the same age my father was when I was born," he reflects. "Naisip ko: mas responsible nga ba siya kaysa akin? Na-realize ko na oo nga, mas responsible siya. At that time may bahay na siyang sarili (he had his own house), may steady job na siya."

Ely laughs when I ask him if being an Eraserhead could be considered a steady job.

"No," he says. "Hindi siya steady."

In a sense, it's as if the E'heads' rock-star status at the height of their popularity allowed them to postpone adulthood for a prolonged adolescence, and now that things have quieted down, it is fast catching up with them. Drummer Raymund Marasigan became a father five months before Eon was born, and bassist Buddy Zabala is expecting his first child with long-time partner Ernest a few months from now. Even lead guitarist Marcus Adoro, who recently became tabloid fodder with the threat of a lawsuit by his allegedly underage girlfriend's mother, has settled down to a measure of relative stability.

The irony is, pushing 30, the 'Heads are making some of their best music. Live, the band once legendary for sloppy playing are now a tight, professional unit. They rock.

Too bad the crowds aren't there anymore. But Ely is unfazed.

"Ito ang pinakagusto ko sa mga album namin (I like this best among our albums)," he says of "Carbonstereoxide." "Concentrated kasi ang efforts namin. The best elements of everything we learned, lumabas dito."

Buendia admits that for the past few albums, the 'Heads have lacked focus, with various side projects-Marasigan's Sandwich, Adoro's Flaming Katols and Zabala's session and production work for, among others, Asin-drawing energy away from the band.

"We could have done another 'Cutterpillow' that would have been even more popular," he says. "But after I saw 20,000-plus people at the Sunken Garden, naisip ko, 'Paano pa natin masusundan 'yon?' Obvious na 'yun ang gusto ng masa, 'yung ganoong tunog. Siyempre, kung ano ang gusto, 'yun ang hindi namin ginawa (How do you follow up something like that? Obviously that's what the masses want, that sound, and of course that's not what we did)."

The 'Heads instead retreated into the experimentalism of "Fruitcake" and "Aloha Milkyway," and the crowds started thinning out. The multi-platinum sales became a distant memory and the royalty checks started shrinking. By the turn of the millennium, the 'Heads were just one of the many local bands who had to perform to pay the bills. A bit better off than most, admittedly, but by no means on Easy Street. Last year, Buendia released his first solo effort, "Wanted Bedspacer," which found him experimenting with electronics and studio effects, but audiences failed to pick up on it.

"By 'Natin99' medyo na-burnout na ako. Hindi ko na alam ang direksyon. (I didn't know our direction anymore). Na cut-off ako sa roots namin, at na-realize ko na mas gusto ko ang stripped-down sound namin."

In a sense, "Carbonstereoxide" is a back-to-basics record, a band album. The 'Heads may have finally paid their dues, at last. The first single, "Maskara," is on rotation on radio and MTV, and Buendia thinks it is the band's most successful single since "Cutterpillow" days. The video, in fact, was co-produced by Buendia with young filmmaker Marie Jamora. The experience of making the video has encouraged him to look at a possible second career in films. He is reportedly writing the script to what could be his first feature film.

"The nice thing is, I don't have to start from the bottom," he says. "Medyo may clout na ako."

Just then, Eon lets out a wail. Reality check. Mother and yaya appear in a snap. Ely picks up his son, who soon starts cooing contentedly.

"Kung minsan bratty siya talaga," he says. "Nakakatuwa din na kahit ganoon siyang kaliit, may sariling personality na siya (It's nice that even while he's this small, he already has a personality)."

Eon likes going to Eraserheads concerts, and was frequently in the studio while the band was recording the last album. He responds to beats, which Ely attributes to the number of raves he and Diane went to when she was pregnant. When his father is playing the electric guitar, Eon drops whatever he is doing and rushes to play with the instrument. The "Blue Danube" waltz puts him right to sleep. And he has his very own little red Fender Stratocaster to play with.

Hmmm.

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