Remembering Conrad de Quiros—in a musical light

‘I love music—I’m a frustrated musician myself; unfortunately, I wasn’t blessed with the gifts to go with the ambition,’ he wrote in 2013

Conrad de Quiros, glass of red wine in hand, sings a number with Noel Cabangon on acoustic guitar. Contributed photo

Philippine Daily Inquirer’s top columnist Conrad de Quiros, who died Nov. 7 at age 72, after a long illness resulting from stroke, will always be remembered for his incisive, take-no-prisoners writing style.

His views and opinions were taken so seriously, that one piece, published seven months before the 2010 national elections, took on a life of its own (Noynoy for president, Oct. 10, 2009): “One thing I’m sure of, and that is that Noynoy (Aquino) will be a good president. Or put in the most elemental way, the barest expressions of decency in this country now taking on the proportions of epic heroism, he will not be corrupt, he will not be abusive, he will not lie, cheat and murder.”

But apart from his truthful and honest political commentary,  there’s another side to Conrad I want to look back on: his love of music, especially watching live gigs. Back in the 1990s, up until the mid-2000s before he suffered a stroke, he was seen—often in the company of fellow journalists and artists, sometimes alone—at Mayric’s, ’70s Bistro, or in the place where he was one of several co-owners, Conspiracy Garden Café.

We were just acquaintances, and there was a deep sense of awe whenever I found myself near him. But I’d feel at ease when he’d wink or nod in response to my waving hand.

In 1993, I remember calling him up in his old residence in Bliss, Quezon City, to ask if he got to watch the marathon concert Bistro sa Amoranto that I promoted for its producers, the owners of ’70s Bistro.

“Highest point si Mike Hanopol, bok,” he said. Days after, he wrote a review of the concert, which he titled, Highest point.

“I love music—I’m a frustrated musician myself; unfortunately, I wasn’t blessed with the gifts to go with the ambition,” he wrote in 2013.

He was a friend to many musicians, specially the ones who played blues, jazz, classic rock, and alternative OPM.

A member of the Filipino band Bluesviminda tells The “Favorites niya A Case of You ni Joni Mitchell, God Bless the Child ni Billie Holiday, Saranggola sa Ulan ni Gary Granada, Reklamo nang Reklamo ng Jerks. All-time fave niya ang (Havana-born musical ensemble) Buena Vista Social Club.”

One Pinoy musician who became his buddy is singer-songwriter Noel Cabangon. I got hold of Noel in an online chat last night.

Once more with feeling: Conrad de Quiros and Noel Cabangon at ’70s Bistro. (Photo by Gil Nartea)

When did you first meet Conrad?

I think it was in the late ’80s. We met at Pook Luntian, a restaurant with live music along Timog Avenue (in Quezon City). I played folk music on Wednesdays and Fridays. Conrad’s group of journalists frequented my gig, staying up to past midnight to drink and listen to my sets. I had been reading his column long before we were introduced to each other. Idol ko si Conrad. He was an excellent, brilliant writer.

He once wrote in his column about the reason he liked watching your gigs. Was it your repertoire that he appreciated?

Yes, I think it was because of my repertoire. In the late ’80s, there were only a few folk singers in the metro. He loved folk, especially Simon and Garfunkel. We both loved Jackson Browne. I believe Conrad also liked my using music to advocate social and political causes.

‘He loved folk, especially Simon and Garfunkel. We both loved Jackson Browne,’ Noel Cabangon says of Conrad de Quiros. (Contributed photo)

Was there a particular song that he liked hearing? Did he ever request specific songs?

He liked Simon and Garfunkel’s Dangling Conversation, Flowers Never Bend, American Tune, America, Bookends, Song for the Asking. Also, Don McLean’s American Pie and Vincent, the Beatles’ When I’m 64, Jackson Browne’s My Personal Revenge, I am a Patriot, The Pretender, and a lot more.

Conrad also played the guitar. Did you get to discuss this? 

Yes, we did. We discussed how to play the songs I mentioned. It seemed like his imagination is recharged whenever he hears these songs.

When was the last time you saw him, and did you get to talk about anything?

Before the pandemic, that was the last time. I used to go to his house on Christmas Day to bring presents.

What do you miss about Conrad?

I miss jamming on the guitar with Conrad, and of course, reading his column. They’re not written the way a journalist would usually write a story. Every article is a literary piece. I’m not sure kung tama description ko, but you see images in his writing. There’s poetry in his prose.

We’re jamming: Conrad de Quiros and Joey Ayala. Photo by Gil Nartea

The wake for Conrad de Quiros at Loyola Memorial Chapels (Premier 1), Commonwealth Ave. QC is until Nov. 10.

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