The music industry took a beating last week when four personalities from the local music scene passed on one after the other, among them Bob Aves, the jazz musician and indigenous music practicioner. The one that caught a lot of attention, however, is the passing of Brian C. Velasco, drummer of Razorback—one of the country’s most enduring rock bands—who chose to meet death on his own terms.
By now Pinoy rock fans and even those outside of the local music sphere must have heard of the video that has gone viral; and although it has been posted and taken down, uploaded and taken down again, somehow it has managed to get circulated via online chat groups.
Members of the music industry came in droves during the three-day wake for Brian at Manila Memorial Park in Sucat late last week, even if some had gigs in other parts of the country or abroad. It was a reunion of sorts for bands that once played at Weekends Live, Kalye, Club Dredd—places where Brian’s group often performed in the 1990s—as well as bars that were established in the last two decades.
During the eulogy after the mass on Saturday, Razorback guitarist Tirso Ripoll recalled how he first met Brian in the early 90s, during the early days of Kalye in Makati. Brian was then teaching drums at RJ Music School and would often watch Razorback gigs. “He was a rather shy, soft-spoken guy,” Tirso said of his friend.
Brian was a true blue fan of the rock group, and as a young man dreamed of one day playing with Razorback. He started watching the group in 1992—he was in sophomore year in high school—every Saturday in Kalye, the bar in Palanca Street in Makati. The band's lineup then was Jose Mari Cuervo (vocals), Miguel Ortigas (drums), David Aguirre, Louie Talan and Tirso Ripoll. Brian got his chance to play for the band when Miguel Ortigas left.
When the group took Brian in, Tirso knew the boy had massive shoes to fill. In time, however, the newbie was able to hold his own. “You can teach skill, but you can’t teach heart,” Tirso said in his eulogy. “Brian was all heart; and he proved that to us almost immediately when he started writing and recording our Beggar’s Moon album…[Since Ortigas] was a beast on the drums, Brian (had) to play harder.”
There was even a time he was playing so hard his hands began to bleed, recalled Tirso. “They were wrapped in bandage and electric tape, he never complained—and performed like a champion. Eventually, the bleeding stopped.”
Brian joined Razorback when he was 20 years old, and he was with the group for more than two decades—more than half his life, when you think about it. “We made great music, forged strong brotherhoods. It has been a real joy playing with him all these years,” said Tirso of his bandmate.
Before taking up Interdisciplinary Studies at the College of St. Benilde, Brian had attended various schools: Colegio de San Agustin, Brent School in Baguio and Manila, and O.B. Montessori. As he liked to say, he was “well-traveled.”
Former Crowjane, General Luna and Schizoprano vocalist Nicole Laurel Asensio had been friends with Brian since 2004. He would often visit her at home and they would watch comedies, among them The Monty Python series which was the drummer’s favorite. “The guy was a natural comedian. He had this energy about him: people were naturally attracted to his presence. He was always trailed by younger people—most of them artists—who he would take care of, [give them] advice when they had heartbreak or troubles with family,” Nicole said in a private message.
“He would share songs with me, prodded me to sing. He really wanted me to go into rock, and promised to play drums for my first band,” Nicole continued. The two co-wrote Nicole’s first song “Traveler” in 2006. She has since been doing vocalist duties for Razorback. Behind the natural comedian, says Nicole, Brian was a “tough, headstrong rock star who was an extremely sensitive, intelligent soul. He was a talented chef, was well read and eloquent. He could talk philosophy for hours.”
Brian was also a good friend and listener. “And a very good kuya to people around him,” wrote Nicole. “I was one of the lucky few that had him as a kuya figure.”
Of course if there was anyone Brian was an actual kuya to, it was his younger brother Paul (Brian was the eldest among the Velasco siblings) who spoke lovingly about his brother on the last night of the wake. Like a good elder brother, Brian was a mentor to Paul. “I learned how to play the drums because of him. I was his first student his whole life. I really idolized my brother so much.” He held Brian in such high regard that when the two were much younger, Paul would even prepare Brian’s food and wash his clothes every time kuya had a gig.
“He was like a father figure to me,” Brian's youngest brother Gab told ANCX. Because of Brian’s influence, Gab plans to take up a second course if he finishes his Finance studies this year. He would take up history—which Brian was very much into. When I wrote an article on him many years back, when he was just 10 months into being Razorback’s new drummer, he told me about what he considers the three most important events in world history: World War II; the aborted crossing of the Turkish forces during the Holy Wars; and the establishment of the United Nations. Brian, despite the rock star life, was actually a geek.
Painting a picture of Brian, one-time Wolfgang manager Lisa Nakpil wrote in a Facebook post:
"The difference between Wolfgang — which I had the honor of managing when they officially returned from their ‘hiatus’ — and their brothers-in-arms Razorback was the quality of their backstage life. And that was largely as a result of their three main malefactors Louie Talan, Tirso Ripoll, and Brian Velasco.
"When WG drummer Francis Aquino went on a paternity furlough in the middle of one of the famous Tanduay Rhum national tours, Brian was requisitioned and his presence added a heretofore unregistered degree of zaniness and devil-may-care spirit to an otherwise dead-serious band.
"I remember him rolling out of bed late, last to board a waiting van ready to leave for the airport; a bunch of white hotel towels in one hand and in the other, an ice bucket filled to the brim with an evil rum cocktail from which he was guzzling. At that instant, I — the over-punctual, overblown manager — was ready to forgive him anything."
People closest to him that I spoke to during the wake describe Brian as a komikero. He likes to dish out corny jokes, although he was definitely wise beyond his years. He was easy to get along with, had no pretensions, and had a talent for making others feel good about themselves. He had a soft spot for animals, his college buddy Marco Cuneta recalled—thus his huling habilin about his pet dog Pochito.
He had recently lost a beloved pet dog, Alfie.
Perhaps grappling with the way her friend passed on, Razorback vocalist Nicole shared this sentiment:
“Being an artist is fun beyond our wildest dreams but the intensity of what we do can make us tired, too. We are expected to entertain others and make them feel whole even when our own problems may make us run on empty. When we are away from the lights and smoke, people think we’re OK. Sometimes (though), the highs and lows of dealing with raw emotions, the shifting tides of opportunities, the constant influx of change in the industry can really test someone’ s limits.”
Nicole said Brian cared deeply for those around him: his family, the women he had relationships with, those he created music with. But “turbulence would cast a dark cloud.” Brian’s death—its timing and the way it happened—clearly left a lot of questions in the minds of those he left behind. “Why he is gone so soon is a question I will never have an answer to,” Nicole shared. “Many of us ache deeply because we might never know the real reason for this great loss.”
Photographs from Brian C. Velasco on Facebook