MANILA — Spanky Rigor, one of the founding members of the iconic band VST & Co., has been based in the United States for three decades and currently works as baggage handler.
Rigor opened up about his simple life away from the limelight in a short documentary, "My Uncle Spanky," by his nephew, journalist Albert Samaha, released early this week.
VST is credited as one of the leading acts in the Manila Sound movement in the 1970s, with hits such as "Awitin Mo at Isasayaw Ko" and "Disco Fever."
Rigor left the band in 1988. A decade prior, members of his family had started immigrating to the US to pursue the "American Dream," including his wife, Ging, in 1981.
Within those 10 years, Rigor would fly back and forth from Manila to San Francisco, each time more drawn to new dreams in the US.
"Sometimes they would tell me, 'What the hell were you thinking about? You practically had it made here'," he said.
"It was going to another dimension, another world," he said of visiting the US. "Everything I see — 'Wow, beautiful.' I couldn't see the dregs of life. I couldn't even see garbage. I couldn't even see homelessness. All I saw was, 'Wow, what a beautiful place.'"
Spanky and Ging eventually decided to settle down in Vallejo, California. But their fresh start soon hurdled challenges when their home was burgled, on top of soaring unemployment in the US affecting Rigor's prospects.
Fortunately, with the help of a Filipino friend, he found a job at the airport, specifically loading carts for airplane kitchens.
"I'm working here," Rigor said, recalling that time. "I mean, I'm working here? I don't even know what a kitchen looks like. And it's dirty, cluttered, it's a lot of people. Wow. I said, Well I’ll give it a try."
Admittedly, he at first questioned his circumstances.
As his job then entailed a 50-mile drive, Rigor recalled that numerous times "I nearly fell asleep at the wheel."
"Sometimes while driving I'd think, 'Why am I doing this? I'm not supposed to be doing this but I'm doing it,'" he said.
Returing to the Philippines did cross his mind, he recounted, but "there was a small voice in the back of my head that said, 'You can do it, you lazy bum. It's about time you work'."
Now a baggage handler at San Francisco International Airport, and with a far simpler life than if he had stayed on performing in the Philippines, Rigor said he has no regrets.
"Whatever successes you do in the Philippines there's always a price to pay," he said. "Whereas here in the States? At least they leave you alone to do your thing to the best of your ability."