How Gilbert Guillermo shaped music journalism and Pinoy pop culture with Jingle magazine

Totel V. De Jesus

Posted at Jul 23 2020 03:17 PM | Updated as of Jul 24 2020 08:39 AM

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Gilbert Guillermo (leftmost) with brother Raul and mother Francisca Austria Guillermo. Photo courtesy of Chuck Escasa, screengrabbed from his documentary 'Jingle Lang Ang Pahina'

MANILA -- Tributes continue to pour in for Jingle Magazine founder Gilbert Guillermo, who died at 74 on Tuesday, July 21. 

Though the cause of his death was not disclosed, his younger brother Eric told ABS-CBN News Gilbert had been suffering from many illnesses and for years, had been taking loads of medicines. 

To many, Gilbert was more than the publisher and founding editor in chief of what many considered “the bible of the Filipino youth” in the 1970s and the next two decades. 

With Jingle Magazine, he nurtured literary journalism both in English and Filipino, and encouraged progressive writings and artworks during the Martial Law years. At some point, they had to rename the magazine “Twinkle” in order to appease the Marcos dictatorship and avoid shutdown. 

It happened one day when the editorial staff members received invitations from Camp Crame to explain why their articles were subversive and why they were publishing protest songs. “Noong mag-Martial Law, pinasara lahat ng radio, TV, newspapers and magazines. We were only allowed by Crame to reopen provided we change our name. Thus, ‘Twinkle’ was born pero mga five or six issues later, balik na uli sa Jingle,” Eric recalled. 

Then teenaged contributing writer Eric Gamalinda wrote: “Some time in the late 1970s, the journalist Chelo Banal wrote that Jingle Magazine was the only publication brave enough to speak up against the military dictatorship. Up until then I thought we were just being ourselves and having a good time, but when you're something like 18 or 19 it really felt good to know a journalist you admired took you seriously.”

Many considered the 1970s as the first golden age of Pinoy rock, giving birth to the founding fathers like the Juan Dela Cruz band, Maria Cafra, Sampaguita, Anak Bayan, Florante, Freddie Aguilar, and a lot more. At the time, Jingle was the petri dish of music journalism in the Philippines.

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Gilbert Guillermo, with former Jingle staff member Romy Buen, in a rare photo during his retirement years. Photo courtesy of Romy Buen

From a rented bungalow in San Juan City just beside the Guillermos’ residence, they moved to two home offices in Cubao. First was on Annapolis Street and second on P. Tuazon Avenue, where they stayed until the company folded up in 1997. Ironically, it was in the 1990s when the Eraserheads, Rivermaya, Wolfgang, Color It Red and other bands continue to dominate the decade that many consider the second golden age of Pinoy rock. Jingle served as the only chronicler of the times that connected those decades. 

Eric, who was music editor of the magazine, in an earlier interview, blamed “the onslaught of Karaoke” for the magazine’s demise, as people lost interest in playing guitars.

In his retirement years, Gilbert had been known as a recluse. “Yes, hermitanyo. He was the type who kept to himself,” Eric told ABS-CBN News. Even when Gilbert was still running the company, there were only a few times when staff members would see him. He’d prefer working alone in his office or staying home. “Padalaw-dalaw na lang siya sa office and hindi rin nagtatagal,” Eric added. 

“He had a major surgery, medyo nag-iba na ang timplada kaya naging recluse siya. He was grooming me to succeed him as editor in chief and the one to run the company but I got hitched. That’s why he gave Ces (Rodriguez) the EIC job,” Eric said. At the time, Jingle Magazine also gave birth to other magazines under the Jingle Clan Publications and the workload was too much. 

“We had Best of Jingle series that came out twice a week. We had weekly magazines like Jingle Keys for piano and keyboard players, Jingle Extra Hot for movie fans, Champ for sports fans and Sensation for entertainment celebrity fans who loved intrigues, all top sellers,” Eric said. 

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This house ad names all magazines under the Jingle Clan Publications. The Jingle chord book was so successful, it gave birth to to other titles. Image courtesy of Eric Guillermo

After closing shop, though they continue to publish special collector’s item editions like the in-demand The Beatles chord book, Jingle was never the same. There were no more album and concert reviews, feature stories written by the likes of Lav Diaz, Eric Gamalinda, Ricky de Ungria, Joey Ayala, gonzo journalists Eric Caruncho, Juaniyo Arcellana, Manny Espinola, Pocholo Concepcion, James Saspa, Ricky Torre, Tony Maghirang, Manny Pagsuyuin, Ces Rodriguez, Penny Azarcon-dela Cruz, Bernie Bagaman, Edilberto “Bert” Sulat Jr., Edwin Aguilar, Orlando “Jing” Garcia, Edwin Sallan, Ana Leah Sarabia-De Leon, Louie Aseoche, Joey Ablaza, and the surreal editorial cartoons and earlier pen-and-ink artworks of Benjie Lontoc, Romy Buen, DengCoy Miel, Ludwig Ilio and Rox Lee. Among those who passed on were Butch Maniego, photographer Didits Gonzales and visual artist Dante Perez. 

As well all know, Diaz became an internationally acclaimed auteur. Gamalinda became a New York-based novelist, poet and essayist. De Ungria, poet and professor, became chancellor of University of the Philippines Mindanao. Others became DJs, album producers, band managers and many continue to write, edit and draw for newspapers, magazines, news websites here and abroad. 

‘Ate Guy’ on the maiden issue

The magazine’s maiden issue came out in October 1970. It was rather a sad year for music fans. Earlier that year the most popular band in the world, The Beatles, announced its breakup. 

That year, the idea of coming out with the magazine started when Eric was trying to learn how to play the guitar. He was in high school and he asked his oldest brother Gilbert, who was then studying at Far Eastern University, to buy him chord books. The main FEU campus in Sampaloc, Manila, then and now, has always been surrounded by bookstores and stalls, selling their goods at bargain prices. 

When Eric was trying those chord books, he noticed they were full of wrong chords. He recalled: “I brought it up with Kuya Gilbert while strumming the guitar and humming the zeroed in song.” They thought, why not publish their own chord books. Gilbert borrowed the capital from his mother, who had to loan from bank using a family property in the province as collateral. Gilbert asked some colleagues in the FEU Advocate, the official campus publication, for help. 

The official Jingle mascot of the urinating cherub was done by artist Emil Davocol, who was Gilbert’s co-staff member in The Advocate. 

“He was very active in school activities. He was even part of the debating team that won inter-university competitions,” Eric recalled. 

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The maiden issue of Jingle Magazine had Nora Aunor on the cover but due to some protests, they had to replace her with Paul McCartney for the second printing. Photo from Allen Mercado's collection

In his blog titled “The lolo still rocks,” Eric recalled he was in fourth year high school in Jose Rizal College (now University) when the first issue came out. It had Nora Aunor on the cover and had three reprints. Eric said, “I’m really at a loss as to why my Kuya chose Ate Guy for our launching cover -- must be the business acumen of my brother.”

“Umabot ng 100,000 copies sold, kasi every reprints mga 30,000 copies agad, which was rare at the time. Umabot kami ng halos five reprinting,” he added. 

Though their very first issue had Aunor on the cover, there were protests from newsstand owners. 

“Kasi daw baduy. Even our family members vehemently protested, so the succeeding reprints had Paul M. (McCartney) holding a guitar on the cover. Para wala na lang magrereklamo. Kuya Gilbert gave in,” Eric said. The first printing that had 30,000 copies sold had Aunor but the next reprinting had McCartney. “Needless to say, ‘Ate Guy’ changed our lives forever!”

During the first year of publishing, they were able to pay the loan in the bank. 

Tributes from Jingle alumni

In their social media accounts, former editors, writers, artists and musicians who were part of the magazine wrote about the legacy left by Gilbert, his siblings and the magazine.

Visual artist Rox Lee recounted the last time he saw Gilbert in 2019. 

“Thank you for the music and for adopting me in the late ‘70s. When we visited you a year ago, I saw my ‘Lotus Lagoon’ painting hanging on your wall and that inspired me to paint more. Matiwasay na paglalakbay, Sir Gilbert....”

Sallan wrote: “For many baby boomers, Martial Law babies and even Gen X'ers, Jingle was the definitive source of lyrics and guitar chords. If only for that and that alone, Gilbert’s legacy was already secure.

“But there was a lot more to Jingle than just lyrics and chords. Through his magazine, Gilbert also nurtured several generations of writers and artists and in the process, either defined music journalism in this country or at the very least set the edgy tone for it.

“I was still in college when I began my three-year stint in Jingle as contributing writer and later as contributing editor from 1983 to 1986. During this period, I had the pleasure of meeting Gilbert only once. But like many of those who wrote, illustrated or worked at Jingle in any capacity, I feel like I owe him a debt of gratitude.

“As a reader and fan of the magazine he started, Gilbert changed the way I listened to music and for better or for worse, the way I viewed many other things in life. As a writer, Gilbert's magazine started me on my eventual chosen path. He opened many doors not only for me but also for many others. What he ultimately gave us was a gift that in more ways than one, never really stopped giving.

“Rest well, Boss. You are now in the company of angels, including the one you yourself created.”

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Recent get-together of Jingle men. Eric Guillermo (second from left) with Jingle former cartoonist-artists DengCoy Miel (middle holding a plastic cup of beer) and Rox Lee. Photo courtesty of Eric Guillermo

Concepcion, in his article for the Philippine Daily Inquirer, wrote: “In the Martial Law years, Jingle was the bible of thousands of Filipino youth, who, aside from learning the guitar chords to pop and rock hits and classics, were engrossed by its other contents: feature stories on the hottest contemporary Pinoy musicians, reprints of articles from Rolling Stone and Cream, essays, poetry, fiction, letters of readers, jokes, cartoons, art, and record reviews.”

Jun Latonio, one of Eric’s closest friends since college who witnessed Jingle’s growth, said, “Jingle Clan Publications was an easygoing cool niche for deviants (yes all of them and I) where everybody discovered their latent talents by way of constructive criticism from co-consenting adults (and yes all major deviants with any streak of ambition in their bones).”

He added that since Jingle will turn 50 this year, there were plans of coming up with a coffee table book. “ A yearly Jingle Art Fair for all the artists, illustrators and painters who ever drew anything for the mag and a major concert to feature any and all the artists and their bands who ever etched out a career from the FREE write ups of the famous chord book magazine.”

“Thank you Gilbert and the Guillermo siblings for being the voice and companion to the youth during the martial law years. For many of us, you made our lives and our puberty that much more colorful,” Latonio added.

But due to the pandemic, Eric said these plans are now on hold. 

Earlier tributes in film, song

In the era of social media and music streaming, the younger generation took over in reminding their contemporaries about the legacy of the magazine. 

Musician-poet-journalist Lourd De Veyra always mentioned Diaz’s story on John Lennon’s assassination titled “Isang Putang-inang Umaga,” as one of the influential gonzo pieces etched in his memory. The issue came out during the week of Lennon’s wake. Years later in De Veyra’s radio show, Diaz recounted a memorable incident in those years he was with Jingle. 

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One of the many iconoclast featured articles in Filipino from an earlier issue of Jingle Magazine. Image courtesy of Joey Salgado

Nearly a decade later after it folded up, Jingle Magazine was re-introduced to the younger generation when Sandwich released one of its biggest hits, “Betamax” in 2008. Written by Raymund Marasigan, the song pays tribute to his music heroes from the 1970s to 1980s. 

The last four lines in the chorus go: “Sa Jingle Magazine, natutong mag-gitara, sinipra ang mga kanta sa cassette at plaka.”

On the back story of these now-immortal lines from “Betamax,” Marasigan expounded via Eric’s blog on December 30, 2018. 

Marasigan wrote: “I grew up in Candelaria, in a little town in Quezon province, a few hours away from Manila. I discovered Jingle magazine in my early teens from older cousins. At first, it was just to learn the lyrics of my favorite tunes, then later on to learn the chords. A bit later, I read the reviews and based my music/LP buying (with my limited high school budget) if it was a best or worst rating. I asked my mom to regularly buy the magazine from the neighboring cities of San Pablo and Lucena.

“One time, an issue was so late, I even asked my mom to take me to their Cubao office. I was surprised how small it was. Of course, no one minded me. I never did find that damn issue.

“When I went to college in UP, I found new (lifelong) friends (and bandmates) in Kalayaan freshmen dorm by hanging out and singing tunes with a guitar and a portable keyboard with our old, worn out copies of Jingle.

“My unknown college band discovered Club Dredd and Red Rocks by searching for addresses in the magazine. (We were a bit late for Katrina's.) In Dredd, we met most of our heroes we only read about in the magazine. Eventually, the magazine folded up but the music and influence live on.”

In 2012, another Jingle fan, indie filmmaker Chuck Escasa produced and directed a documentary titled “Jingle Lang Ang Pahina,” a pun on the Filipino expression, “jingle lang ang pahinga,” a loose translation of the much needed “comfort room break.”

In this rare documentary, Escasa was able to feature Gilbert, his brothers Raul, Eric and wife Nerissa, along with the writers, artists and some musicians mentioned. Eric said Gilbert didn’t agree to be filmed so Escasa had the audio recording of their one and only encounter. For this, Escasa used the shots he took of Gilbert’s garden and select portions of his house. 

(Incidentally, as tribute to Gilbert, Escasa is making the documentary available on Vimeo for free, until July 24.)

On Gilbert’s legacy, Lav Diaz’s interview in the middle part of the documentary summed it all up: “Nabura na talaga sa mapa (ang Jingle office). Ni walang landmark na: ‘Jingle was here, Gilbert was here,’ o di ba? Landmark na bato lang dun. Sa ibang bansa ganun eh. Sa Germany nga lahat na dinaanan ni Rizal may marker eh.”

Diaz is referring to the P. Tuazon office. Eric told ABS-CBN News the exact address: “158 corner 7th Avenue in front of Bahay na Puti of the Aranetas. High rise building na ngayon owned by a Chinese businessman. Bale for office space rental na.”

Diaz added: “Ang hina natin sa cultural perspective. 'Yung examination ng past halos zero. The kids ngayon... p**a hindi nila kilala si Ninoy, si Rizal, Bonifacio, Lean Alejandro. Maliliit na kwento lang ang alam nila. ‘Yung amoy nun pagbukas mo, 'yung nakabalot na cellophane. 

“Yung amoy pa lang ng Jingle magazine parang may transcendence. Parang 'pag nanood ka ng film, paglabas mo ng sinehan may iba ka nang pananaw, iba ka nag tao. The same with Jingle, everytime na nabasa mo, nagbabago ka. Binabago ka nya, pinapalaya ka nya.”