Marianas Variety

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    Monday, July 16, 2018-4:36:50A.M.

     

     

     

     

     

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FEATURE: Floyd Anthony Lim: 1962-2017

A FEW days ago, I found myself at Wild Bill’s having lunch with some friends, sharing stories over plates of phad thai and green curry.

As often is my problem, restlessness had gotten the better of me and I wandered to the back room to walk laps around the pool table.  Eventually, my eyes turned towards the sliding glass doors that led to the outside patio area, a large space enclosed on all four sides like a medieval courtyard. 

Floyd with his family
Floyd and the author between sets
Godfather’s: 2009. Contributed photos

Leaning back against the pool table, I took in the scene through the glass, as if it were a museum display and attempted to recollect a long-ago scene.  A few plastic tables and chairs were scattered about, with many of them over turned.   A sleeping dog lounging in a patch of shade woke up just long enough to stretch, roll over on his back, and stare at the sky for a brief moment before blissfully slipping back into slumber.  Along the far end of the patio was the stage; now lifeless, with only a few storage boxes strewn about. 

But this scene of weary indifference had not always been the case, and my mind found itself wandering to a time almost two decades ago.  Despite the years, I began to recall vividly a particular night, the tables were all packed close together with each filled to capacity.  The people who hadn’t been early enough for a seat, stood up along every available piece of wall space.  Presiding over the entire raucous electric affair was the band on stage, who were the focus of every eyeball and eardrum in sight.

It was the sound of the band that drew me there in the first place, as I had heard them from blocks away before ever seeing them.  I remember being in the neighborhood with some friends just down the road. 

“That sounds like live music,” I said, “we gotta check that out.”  

Having long been a music fan, I had always sought out live performances wherever I could find them, and the music that night led me like audio breadcrumbs; through Garapan’s back streets, into Wild Bill’s, through the sliding glass doors and right into the pulsating furnace-like epicenter of dirty sweaty rock and roll.

The band was in the middle of “Long Train Running” by the Doobie Brothers when I walked in.  Immediately, I was blown away by their intense ferocity.  Being relatively new to the island, I was amazed that our small community would be so fortunate to have musicians of this caliber.  They were polished, they were tight and it was strikingly obvious that this was not amateur hour. 

It didn’t take long, however, to realize that the real star on stage was the tall, lanky lead guitarist, who I would later be told, was named Floyd. When it came time for the solo, all the eyes of the frenzied beer-fueled crowd turned towards him.  Even the other musicians reverently backed up a few steps, pulled back their playing and gave the man the floor.  His playing was remarkable in every way, not only was it crisp, but he showed an innate sense of timing that allowed him to take a solo and improvise at will, up and down the scale, using the entire fretboard as his pallet, and weave his melody back into the texture of the song as if he’d never left. 

He also possessed speed, but unlike most guitarists, it came with precession and was used only where needed.  His entire playing style contrasted sharply with his unassuming, almost timid, mannerisms and body language.  He breezed through song after song, demonstrating abilities that many a musician would sell his soul at the crossroads for; and yet all the while, acted like what he was doing was no more challenging than throwing a burrito in a microwave.

Some time after that first encounter, I had learned that Floyd was playing at Godfather’s with his band, Big Beats.  In the tighter, more enclosed space, they sounded even better and the crowd would pack an even smaller space to catch the band, with the smaller confines only serving to condense and magnify the excitement.  Despite the lack of any real dance floor to speak of, people would still wedge themselves into the few feet of floor space in order to groove.  It wasn’t uncommon to see wires snagged, mic stands pulled down, monitors tripped over and beer bottles smash into the floor.  None of this ruffled the band.  Unlike most professional musicians — a particularly fussy group who don’t like being looked at the wrong way — Floyd was always unfazed by the craziness around him, if people were having fun, that’s all that mattered. The waitresses, however, were not so easy going about having to repeatedly mop up beer and pick up glass shards.

One Friday night at Godfather’s I remember the crowd seemed particularly antsy while waiting for the band to arrive. With more and more arriving to pack the back room, the mob began to percolate like a pot of water right before full boil. Just when the agitation felt like it was about to spill over, the Big Beats arrived seemingly out of nowhere and took their places with Floyd bringing up the rear.  Grabbing his gleaming white Fender Stratocaster, the band launched into an hour-long set including standards from Led Zeppelin and the Beatles, to Nirvana and the Stone Temple Pilots, they even threw in an ABBA song along the way and somehow, inexplicably, made it sound great.

The Big Beats had evolved into a five-piece group at this point.  Along with Floyd, there was Ross on drums, Elli on bass guitar, Joan handled vocals, and Steve played rhythm guitar.  Some of those original members have moved on to other things in other places, and some are still here playing, but looking back after all these years, it’s clear that they were probably five of the most talented musicians ever to play together on this island.  Not only did each member possess their own unique talent, but the chemistry in the way each of their elements mixed to form a complete whole was a thing of beauty.  Unquestionably, the one stirring those elements into the perfect sonic solution was Floyd.

That night during the set break I casually mentioned to a friend, “Man, it would be really cool to jam with him sometime, I could learn so much.”

“Who?  Floyd?”  He replied.  “Why don’t you ask him?”

The thought of just walking over and chatting him up sounded crazy to me, there was no way a professional like that would waste time on an amateur player like me. 

“He doesn’t know who I am,” I said, “I’m not going to bug him.”

“He’s a really cool dude,” my buddy reassured, “it’s not like he’s gonna call Scott over to have you thrown out on the street.”

Full of skepticism, but buoyed by the prospect of actually getting to play with him, I self-consciously crossed the floor and introduced myself.  Floyd was tuning his guitar while sitting on the stairs to the drum riser, the place he would often inhabit between sets.  After the awkward introduction, I told him how amazing I thought his playing was, as if my opinion on the subject actually mattered.  Floyd, modest as always, dismissed the compliment with a wave of the hand.     

“It’s no big deal,” he said, with such honesty that I think he may have actually believed it himself.

Fortunately for me, the rumors were true, Floyd was indeed a “really cool dude” and we talked for the entire set break about music, guitars, his early influences.  He asked me if I played and I told him that I pretended to and occasionally sounded credible.  As the break wound to a close, he told me he was having a get together at his place in a few days and I should stop by.  Naturally, I graciously accepted and told him I would be there.

“Don’t forget your guitar,” he said as I began to walk away, “we can jam a bit.”

For a guitarist, getting this kind of an invitation from Floyd was like being selected to join Skull and Bones at Yale.

When I got to his place, the party was already in full swing and looked like it had been for hours.  His  apartment was tightly packed with instruments, electronics and amps, with a full drum kit wedged in the corner for good measure.  On the walls hung a fine array of guitars, the stars that I noticed right away were his beautiful Gibson Les Paul and a nice collection of Fender Strats.  There were even a few other stringed instruments, a random mandolin and a banjo mixed in for good measure, all of which he could play with ease.

Party goers had managed to fill what space remained, half of them had guitars and were broken off into their own little circles; the other half laughing, eating and drinking.  It was a wonderfully rowdy and raucous scene, a place where someone like Jack Kerouac would have felt right at home. 

I was greeted at the door by Remy, Floyd’s wife, who I knew from her work tending bar at Godfather’s.  She led me through the chaos to the dining room table where Floyd was holding court, surrounded by friends and bandmates.   

“Oh good, you brought your guitar,” he said, motioning to the case I was holding.  He had been excited to try it out when I told him I had a Martin acoustic, a beautiful guitar that a person of my skill level had no business owning.  In retrospect, I think it was the Martin that got the invitation and I was only along as its date.  He took the guitar from the case and commented on the spruce body and the rosewood fretboard, and then proceeded to make it sound better than I ever could. 

Floyd handed me his Ibenez that he had been playing when I came in.  We quickly settled on the blues, a style that we both had some had some skill in playing; mine being a familiarity and his being a mastery.  The blues would be something we would come back to again and again over the years.  Despite not being American, Floyd understood the blues as well as anyone born in the Mississippi Delta could.  He was the living embodiment of the universal truth that the soul of any music can transcend any nationality or ethnicity.   

That brief intro gave me a profound respect for professional musicians who play set after set and make it look so easy.  After playing through a few numbers, I realized how sweaty and exhausted I was, with my fingers raw and aching from the slides and bends as I tried to keep up with Floyd.  Even though we had never jammed together before, we still sounded good.  We had both learned this same language in very different places, and brought what we knew together to create something that instantly and perfectly clicked.  It was pure sonic magic.  

“Let’s take a break,” Floyd said.  “You hungry?  Want some dinuguan?”

I didn’t know much about dinuguan, but I did know enough to avoid it at all cost.  A soup with a pork-blood base and rounded out with a melange of intestine, tripe, kidneys, liver and other organs that most Americans only know from pictures in a biology textbook.  This was not “Intro to Philippine Cuisine 101 - Pancit Bihon.”  Dinuguan is among the most real-deal Pinoy food anyone could conceive.

“Sure, sounds good,” I replied, not even believing it myself.

If there had been anyone else in the world sitting across from me, there would have been no chance in hell I would have even tasted what was in that bowl, but this was Floyd.  I was a probationary member, poised to join an exclusive club of musicians, there was no way I would let a little pig blood get between me and that coveted position.  He eyed me suspiciously as I ate, spoonful after spoonful, waiting for me to break and stop eating.  I am proud to say that I ate that bowl of dinuguan until not a trace of any random animal’s endocrine system remained. 

“Want another bowl?” Floyd asked. 

“No thanks.” I replied, “It was really good though.” 

Now, I am not proud of any of the lies I may have told over the course of my life, but I am not ashamed to admit, that I lied right through my teeth that day, and would do it again in a heartbeat.

Whatever I did that night, it was good enough to earn me a seat at the table with real musicians, or at least be tolerated by them.  Even though I was nowhere near as talented as any of them, it was still great fun to hang out with professionals and pick up their tricks and learn new riffs.  It was like being invited to sit with the cool kids at lunch, and Floyd was always the coolest of the bunch.

Over the years our relationship expanded to be about more than just playing.  If he needed something, he knew he could ask and I’d do what I could to help out, and when I needed him, he would be there for me.  In short, we became real friends.  But no matter what, it was always our love of music that remained our strongest bond. 

For a man who had such a precise playing style and meticulous attention to detail, Floyd could be incredibly vague when it came to giving advice.

“All you have to remember,” he once said to me early on, “is that B and C are together and so are E and F. No sharps with them.” 

He looked at me with his index and middle fingers pressed together for emphasis, and made the pronouncement with so much earnestness, it was as if he actually believed that this was all the information anyone needed to play like him.

“Got it,” I replied.  “Anything else I need to know?”

“Yeah, a few things,” he admitted with a laugh. 

Most people in Floyd’s position who possessed his innate talent, would have summarily dismissed a person like me, not wanting to waste precise time or energy on a wannabe.  But that wasn’t Floyd; his real talent wasn’t just what he could do on stage with six strings, but also his ability to make you feel like you mattered, that you were worthy to swim in his circle, and that’s why everyone who knew him loved him like a brother.  Most within our circle called him “kuya,” a Tagalog term of respect meaning “older brother.”  Most everyone except for me, not because I didn’t respect him, but I always felt it was a term reserved for the closest of friends and family, the kababayan clique that I knew I would never be part of and didn’t want to insinuate that I was.

Fortunately, for those of us who played guitar and were eager to learn more, Floyd was a willing teacher.  Much different from many virtuosos who jealously guard their secrets to the point of playing with their backs to the audience, Floyd was always happy to pass on every technique in his repertoire to anyone who wanted to learn.

“Play a B major 9 here,” he told me one time we were playing.

“B major 9?” I replied. “What the hell is that?”

“Like this,” he said, waving the fret board with his hand forming the chord in my face, “barre at the sixth.”

After watching me struggle trying to form the odd new chord shape for about a minute, Floyd grew impatient and with mock irritation but genuine enthusiasm, grabbed my fingers and placed them onto the proper frets.

“There! B major 9. It’s a good chord, use it.”

When my playing had gotten good enough for public consumption, he invite me to sit in for a few numbers with his side band “Burdon T,” a three piece consisting of Badjhoe on guitar and Ross on cajon.  They played weeknights at the old Naked Fish which was located on Beach Road in Garapan.  I remember being nervous but incredibly excited at the same time.  It was always a dream to perform live in front of a real audience, a terrifying dream, but still.

“What if I mess up?” I said.  “Those are real customers, it could get ugly and I don’t want to make you guys look bad.”

“Don’t worry about it, you’re ready.  We’ll play some easy three-chord stuff,” he replied, encouraging as ever.  “And it’ll be the first set on a Tuesday night,” he added for good measure with a laugh.

Fortunately for me, when I showed up that Tuesday, it was still early and there were more waitresses hanging around then customers.  The old Naked Fish was the same shape and only a little bigger than a shoe box, perfect for my debut.

“I’m nervous, man.” I confessed to Floyd as I was taking my place, “I know I’m going to mess up something and make a fool of myself.” 

“Don’t worry,” he replied, “I still mess up sometimes, if it happens just keep playing, act like you meant to do it and move on.”

I’ve since found that to be not only excellent musical advice but sage life advice as well.

And so things fell into a comfortable routine, through birthdays, christenings and graduations, there was always a reason for everyone to get together, hang out and jam.  Every time I had the genesis of an idea for a melody, I knew I could bring it to Floyd and he would hear what I was trying to do and bring it to life.  If there was a particular idea that he liked enough he would want to record it, and there were a few originals that he seemed to genuinely think were pretty good.  That was the kind of man he always was, quick to downplay his own abilities while emphasizing those of others.  Seeing Floyd nod approvingly in your direction while jamming with him was the highest of praise, similar to Michelangelo saying he liked the little picture you drew. 

His was a constant, reassuring presence; one you could always rely on for expert advice, tips on alternate tunings or to just spend an afternoon talking about life.

Even though Floyd had encountered medical setbacks over the last few years, his death still came as a shock to us all.  His loss has left a large void not only within the music community but also in the hearts of all that knew him and called him a friend, brother, father and husband.

Floyd has left us, but fortunately, there are many reminders of him that will live on.  There are the  recordings of  music we made together, and the memories of the thousands of people fortunate enough to have heard him play.  And we have the countless photos full of smiling versions of our younger selves, from better days now gone.  He also lives on in the unmistakeable spark of genius in both his children’s eyes.

The list of people we have lost seems to grow longer every month, and some day my name will be added to it.  But until that day comes, I will remember Floyd often.  Every time I find myself passing on a little tip to a young guitarist just starting out, or when I’m playing a bluesy I IV V chord progression, I’ll think of Floyd and smile.

I finally got that B major 9 chord down, kuya, and I won’t forget it.