I watched RJTV yesterday and saw a replay of a Noel Cabangon concert and him singing for the nth time that haunting song “Kanlungan.” The most recent time I heard him sing the song was during the funeral for former President Benigno Aquino III. I remember Cabangon singing the same song during PNoy’s inaugural. What’s the pull of that song? Noel wasn’t even the one who composed it, and yet he now owns it like it is his.
The song is a remembrance of innocent times, making us relive scenes of childhood. This is precisely why Aquino likes it, because in an age when innocence and decency become an afterthought, many of us hark back to them like a refuge, a “kanlungan.” We remember those times when things were better than they are now and make the memories our refuge.
“Natatandaan mo pa ba” is one of the lines repeated by the song, which is also a question that bears repeating. And soon it brings us to those rustic scenes that the song’s video on YouTube keeps playing back. The song is actually about a love forged in innocence. It is also about leaving and then of finally going back and looking for the refuge that is no more, a refuge where the dreams and poems of innocent lovers were once woven.
“Lumilipas ang panahon, kabiyak ng ating gunita, ang mga puno’t halaman, bakit kailangan ding lumisan...” is one line that shows a grudging acceptance of reality, which prepares us for that one question many of us may have asked at one time in our lives: “Pana-panahon ang pagkakataon, maibabalik ba ang kahapon?”
Which reminds me of a line in another song that leaves me teary-eyed every time I hear or sing it: “Memory,” the version by Barry Manilow. “Memory, all alone in the moonlight,” the song goes and continues, “I can smile at the old days...” and on to the punch line: “It was beautiful then.” For someone who has seen “utopia” being built on earth and who has seen the beauty of it even in its formative stage, I would say, “amen” to that.
This is perhaps where the pull of the Noel Cabangon song is. Everyone of us has a refuge, a place that can be physical as it is mental, a place where we go when times are bad. In a way, the song is not only about lovers alienated by circumstance but of a society that lost its innocence. And it tells us that we can be shackled physically but not mentally. It talks of that time when the lover, reminded of the time when he and she were holding hands on the beach, showed us that we can be free in remembering (“malayang tulad ng mga ibon, ang gunita nang ating kahapon.”)
But romanticism can’t be all good. Romanticism could also immobilize us, making us refuse to act where action is needed. That could be partly the reason why the bad is able to overwhelm us now because some of us have become hopeless romantics, dwelling in a “kanlungan” that is no more. The times call for change, for each of us going away from our refuge and seizing our future with an eye to what once was.