‘All that matters is now’: Catching up with Binky Lampano

Between the late 1980s and early 90s, contemporary Filipino music was in a state of flux. A new generation of musicians, weaned on classic rock but attuned as well to punk and new wave, was poised to take over the scene.

At Red Rocks, later renamed Club Dredd, the most electrifying performer was Binky Lampano, who went solo after his group Deans December disbanded.

Lampano sang with such intensity, the audience often went wild over his take-no-prisoners act. His then manager Stephen Lu sought to give Lampano the mainstream attention he deserved, starting with a debut album, I Read the News.

However, Lampano himself was not meant for a pop audience. Instead, he got deeply into the blues and formed Lampano Alley, which, like all great blues bands, captured the essence of feeling sad with a joyous sound.

Lampano eventually went to America, birthplace of the blues, took on a day job and would go home to Manila once in a rare while. Last week, he played a one-night gig at ’70s Bistro.

Daily Tribune caught up with him via email.

Daily Tribune (DT): The last time you went home was seven years ago in 2015. What changes have happened to your life since then?

Binky Lampano (BL): Brought my son to the US to study and complete his Bachelor’s degree in Film at Cal State University Northridge. Worked in various capacities in the IT field for a community college district. and also taught a course in college. Turned past half-century at some point and thought the future ain’t what it used to be. Found out life never fails to surprise all of us.

DT: How’s your health — we remember you had a cane while performing at Strumm’s.

BL: I haven’t used it recently, but the injury is still there. If you can’t beat sciatica and worn-out discs, might as well grin and bear it. When it hurts (and it really hurts), use Salonpas. Also, I have to monitor the old blood pressure, too, and watch the sugar intake.

DT: You look fine in recent Facebook photos. Any special diet?

BL: Trick of lighting, I guess. I laid off rice seven years ago.  Lost 25 pounds through constant exercise, walking, and moderate eating habits to relieve the pressure of weight on my bones. Lots of raw veggies sometimes. Nothing special worthy of some fitness club routine, just a sensible approach to staying fit — since the only worse alternative to that is dying, which might lead me to cancel appointments I’d rather not.

DT: Tell us about your job in the US — what do you like about it and what are its challenges?

BL: I work in the IT field, particularly in administration and security. It’s a great field for asymmetrical thinking and improvisation. It’s just like music in another sense. No issue is ever the same. It’s my bread and butter as a college instructor. The steep learning curve comes from the sheer volume of new information you need to retain daily.

The main challenge is learning how to hit the ground running from 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. The amount of work can be overwhelming sometimes, but one eventually learns to cope and surmount the workload. Of course, you have to deal with more than a fair bit of different cultures. Helps to learn the differences and maintain a pleasant demeanor throughout your dealings.

DT: There’s so much happening musically in America. What have you been listening to lately?

BL: I’m tuned out of most new things. Much of new music these days is too cluttered to merit any close listening. Constant on my player is Keith Jarrett (particularly the Euro Quartet and his classical outings), Van Morrison (Astral Weeks, Street Choir, Tupelo Honey, Into the Music, St. Dominic’s Preview, Common One), The Band (Songs from the Big Pink, The Last Waltz) Bob Dylan (Blonde in Blonde, Nashville Skyline, Blood on the Tracks and Slow Train Coming), Isaac Hayes (Black Moses) Steely Dan (The Royal Scam, Gaucho, Aja), Joe Henderson (Lush Life, Porgy and Bess, Double Rainbow), Joey de Francesco (Goodfellas), Frank Sinatra (Songs for Swinging Lovers and Only the Lonely), Robben Ford and Jimmy Witherspoon Live 1977, Bobby Blue Bland (His California Album), George Harrison (All Things Must Pass), Style Council (Cafe Bleu) and Echo and the Bunnymen (Ocean Rain). They’re on loop in my player.

DT: What does the blues mean to you now?

BL: Life in general — the ability to transcend one’s circumstances. It’s the awareness of our role in this Divine Comedy, that is to provide G_D a steady source of laughter through our plans.

DT: What’s a typical day for you? If your schedule allows for some recreation, what do you indulge in?

BL: Out on the road to work by 6:30 a.m. thereabouts and back by 5:30 p.m. Recap the day with my mom (indulge her FPJ’s Ang Probinsyano time), and watch interesting series/documentary or old dystopian movies like Soylent Green (unusually in installments). Lights out by 10 to 10:30 p.m. On a free day, take a hike up Griffith Park with my camera to take pictures of the scenery.

DT: We missed your gig at ’70s Bistro, but we heard you talked about Jewish stuff, is that true? If so, tell us about it.

BL: Was that on the grapevine? You should’ve been there. (The Jewish stuff) just came out, I guess. Maybe just a more profound experience I’ve never had in any other religion.

There’s an innate love of learning and sense of wonder for the present, at least with the congregation I joined. There’s that sense of nowness that shifts away from the usual drone of some faiths on the hereafter. All that matters is NOW.

That sure beats a bunch of loud people who’ve never been to heaven bragging about it with people who will never get there. Maybe it’s better to be in a group that wouldn’t have you for a member in my case.

My Tatay told me to study Judaism one day. You can say I fulfilled his old wish. It’s so far been a rewarding experience. Now I try to observe in honor of departed great friends, and all those of the faith who really made a difference in my rough-and-tumble existence. I miss them dearly in these more sentimental times. So there.

DT: What’s the one thing you’ve been wanting to do in America, but have failed so far?

BL: Just travel about, even if I do not necessarily want to encounter the same crowd that I’d avoid any given day. I’d rather keep away from the social media-ed places, and more toward off-the-beaten path locales. Maybe someday.

DT: Pardon me for this Esquire-lifted question: What have you learned in life so far?

BL: Bless every day you’re still alive to see and feel the ones you care about and love.

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