Kurt Cobain, widely known for playing guitars left-handed (like Jimi Hendrix and Paul McCartney), was actually right-handed and wrote with his right hand.
I’m not really into songs’ lyrics. Not that much. At least not as much as those who make himay-himay the lyrics of their favorite songs. Or like those IV of Spades fans on YouTube. By the way, I’ve already made up my mind. I like the Ben&Ben fans more — those who post their heartbreaking sob stories in the comment section. Guess what, Ben&Ben even made a song about a story from one of their fans. Y’know, the “I’ll hide my feelings for you to keep our friendship” type of story. Only to know before the wedding, that the guy feels the same way too. Awwww. I read a similar story before, from a guy, in the comment section of “Pagtingin” on YouTube. Can’t tell who copied who, or… could it be that… that guy was the guy in the girl’s story? And vice versa. Shucks! Sherlock-Tom-Cruise-fucking-Katie-Holmes!
Okay, deep breaths. These stories could be true. But who knows — they could be Wattpad writers too (Pardon my ignorance, but I don’t really know shit about Wattpad.) If not, then god bless them people, for sharing their stories to the world. No one thought YouTube could be an online support group for the brokenhearted. This is like that scene in Fight Club: You want to see pain? Go to any Ben&Ben song on YouTube and read the comments.
As I’ve said, I wasn’t really into songs’ lyrics and their meanings. At least, I think, not as much as the next guy sitting with me on the train, practicing physical distancing, sitting on the X-mark. Knowing what it’s about isn’t a prerequisite for me to enjoy a song. But for some people, it is. And according to Hardly Worth Explaining, a blog that explains stuff that are hardly worth explaining, like Stephen Malkmus’ lyrics for instance:
“some people need structure to their song lyrics. They need to understand exactly what the singer is talking about, or at least catch a whiff of relatability that helps them forge a connection with the band, so as to maybe – maybe – set themselves free from their struggles and find the strength to help heal this broken world that only the power of music can supply.”
Like what Jolens said about Dave Matthews Band’s “Crash Into Me” (which is about a guy’s body crashing like an airplane into a woman’s… runway(?) after, y’know… a long flight), sometimes I like songs because I like the way they sound. The music, the melody, who cares if the lyrics is as cringeworthy as Nick Makino’s “Neneng B.”? (Unfortunately for Nick, his song is the epitome of TAE — lyrics, music, lahat). Okay, okay, I know what you’re thinking. Or at least what I thought you’re thinking. This introduction is meandering and long enough already. Should we talk about Eraserheads’ “Kaliwete”, then? Right.
So, there’s this top comment on the YouTube video of “Kaliwete” that says that the real meaning of “Kaliwete” isn’t about a girl who effs another guy behind the narrator’s back. Rather it is about a girl Ely or the narrator dated, who turns out to be a guy. In short, it’s saying that “Kaliwete” is similar to Kamikazee’s “Chiksilog”. And then there were replies to that comments that could be read as borderline transphobic (maybe it’s just me, maybe it was just pure harmless fun) which reminded me of Ely Buendia’s “Hey Jay”. Ba’t ba tayo ganito, walang galang sa kapwa tao. I’m not trying to preach. But if you’re a fan of their music, might as well take something positive from it, right? Left.
Okay, here’s the real and definitive meaning of “Kaliwete.” Are you ready?
“Kaliwete” is the third cut off the Eraserheads’ first and only fifth album, Sticker Happy (1997). Sticker Happy, was in many ways, a departure from the bands’ previous works. In majority of the songs, their lyrics were vague, random, self-referential, and seemingly inviting endless interpretations. Well, if you’re at all familiar with the songs from their first three albums, this wasn’t the case. We all know what “Pare Ko”, “Ligaya”, “Toyang”, “With A Smile”, and “Minsan” were all about.
They might not be based on actual experiences or real people, but the songs’ meanings are pretty clear. “Poorman’s Grave” was about a father struggling to provide for his family, “Overdrive” was obviously not about drugs, “Huwag Mo Nang Itanong” was about, well, don’t ask… and “Torpedo” is as straightforward as a torpedo hitting a submarine during the WWII. Aside from “Superproxy”, most of their songs in both Circus or Cutterpillow are pretty self-explanatory.
So what happened after Fruitcake? They decided to make their songs more fun. Ely wrote songs that are about nothing (in particular) and everything (or a lot of things) at the same time. Of course, there were still songs in Sticker Happy that were precisely about something, like “Para Sa Masa”, “Hard to Believe”, “Spoliarium”, “Everything They Say”, and “Balikbayan Box”. The rest of the songs? Well, good luck to you if you can’t enjoy the music without knowing what the words really mean. Yes, I’m leaving it to you, dear reader.
On second thought, since I can’t live in a world where fewer people love Sticker Happy, I’m going to go out of my way and do my best to explain some of the songs in this pretty album. Let’s start with “Kaliwete”.
First of all, “Kaliwete” started out as a joke and a lie. Ely Buendia said he was at a birthday party with his friends, they were drinking and were talking about lefties (kaliwete)**. To spice things up, he said he has already written a song about lefties, which would become “Kaliwete”. And not only that, he also said that he has two more songs to make it a trilogy. One is “Kananete”, obviously, about right-handed people, and the other is “Ambi Dextrose”, as in ambidextrous, people who are able to use the right and left hands equally well.
Drunken conversations like this are what usually inspire great songs. Ely Buendia might have even came up with the idea for “Magasin” while drinking with his cousins — one of them, dated Shirley Tesorio. The song “Shirley”, off their first album, may or may not be specifically about her. When asked about the song during the ’90s, Buendia once said he’s got a huge crush on then-actress Shirley Fuentes. And that she has big… y’know…
(**It wouldn’t be too far-fetched to think that that lefty-righty topic could be about masturbation, as drunken conversations like this are sometimes about those kinds of stuff — naughty stuff. Like, which hand do you masturbate with, left or right? Soap or lotion? Then comes this guy who proudly proclaims he can do it with either hand. On a side note, a friend, a girl, once shared that one of her male friends, a close friend (who is a righty I suppose), said he likes to do it with his left hand. Because it feels different. Because it feels like someone else’s hand. Wait, aren’t you supposed to imagine… something else… instead of some people’s hand?)
The truth is, Ely hasn’t written any of those songs yet at the time. But since he already told his friends that the songs are going to be released in their next album, he had to write all three songs out of thin air. And probably thick smoke — coming from a jumbo cross-joint of Pineapple Express. Which explains the randomness of the lyrics, especially on “Kananete” and “Ambi Dextrose”.
Unlike the other two, where the lyrics are just random stuff, words that sound good together, “Kaliwete” is actually about something, or more accurately, about a few things. According to Ely, the song is about “funny things that happened that were funny enough to write about”, which doesn’t really give away anything but somehow establish that the lyrics are about a number of unrelated things.
Noong nagsama tayo
Ay kanan ang ginamit mo
Ngunit biglang natorete
Ikaw pala ay kaliwete
Reading the first verse, the “chiksilog” interpretation seems valid. Except, a literal interpretation of it works just as well. Not the unfaithful lover-kaliwete but a real lefty-kaliwete. For instance, I know a person who eats and holds the spoon with his right hand and writes using his left hand. All this time I was thinking he was righty but after that I don’t know. Is he a lefty or a righty? Anyway, he uses both hands when typing on the keyboard, which makes him ambidextrous, I guess. Probably, Ely had a similar experience. Maybe it’s about his ex-girlfriend, maybe one of his friends.
Going back to what Ely said, the song is about “funny things that happened”. Which means, it’s about experiences, his or one of his friends. Finding out that your girlfriend, your date, or the chick you’re hitting on, is actually a he, could be funny but not really a very nice experience. Nakakahiya. It’s not something you’d write in a song. It doesn’t qualify as “funny enough to write about” because the joke is on you. Ditto with finding out that your girl is cheating on you. So, nope.
Sunod-sunod na kamalasan ang dumarating
Hindi ko na malaman kung ano ang gagawin
Sabi naman ni Rico J Puno
Mag-ayos lang daw ng upo
On Pillbox No.3, Ely recalls, “One night, I walked into a bar and bumped into my childhood idol, Rico J. Puno. He was really nice and funny and he gave me a little piece of advice that I’ll never forget. It’s in the song.” For sure, 100%, Ely is referring to the last two lines of the second verse. On what exactly was that piece of advice about or whom was it for, we don’t know. Was it it about sitting on the toiler bowl? Or just sitting in general? Was it for the ladies who wear miniskirt? Well, if you’ve seen Rico J. in one of his shows (you may want to check YouTube for that), you’d know that he throws plenty of green jokes at the audience.
Okay. And we’re coming to the chorus now.
Niyaya niya kami sa kubeta
Mata ay lumuwa sa nakita
O bakit ba ganyan buhay ng tao
Mag-ingat ka na lang, baka ika’y makarma oh
Niyaya niya kami sa kubeta
Mata ay lumuwa sa nakita
O bakit pa ba may kulay ang tao
Hindi mo na alam kung anu-ano at sino-sino
Now, this is, without a doubt, about seeing this guy, who they thought was a woman, inside the men’s room. Again from Pillbox #3, what Marcus Adoro had to say about the song: “Mr. Rico J, umije-patayu sa Dredd, video shoot, MTV…” “Umije-patayu sa Dredd” is definitely the basis for the chorus. It’s a story as common as, I don’t know… I can recall one scene from “Sassy Girl” with this kind of scenario.
It’s like this: You and your friends were in a bar (in the case of the ‘Heads, Club Dredd) and got your eyes on this hot chick on the next table. And you were probably talking about who among you will make the first move. Or maybe not, just enjoying the view. Then, one of your friends went to the men’s room and voila! Ayan, nakarma tuloy dahil sa kaka-chicks ninyo.
In the final chorus, Ely changed the last two lines. “Kulay ng tao” could mean race, as in the color of people’s skin, though based on the context of the lyrics, it seems he was talking about gender. Except “kasarian” would not fit into that line and wouldn’t sound as good. O bakit pa ba may kasarian ang tao?
Niyaya siyang lumabas kahapon ngunit ayaw niya
Hindi niya raw mahanap ang kapares ng bra niya
Sampung oras ka kung maligo
Pati ang kaluluwa mo’y babango
The same comment on YouTube proposing the “chiksilog” interpretation said that “kapares ng bra niya” refers to the padding she uses with her bra. Neat. Except, some girls use that as well — if that “kapares” is really the bra padding. And “kapares ng bra” could also mean the girl’s panties, as in “ka-terno”. I know that one could go out and wear non-matching undies — I mean, don’t most girls do that all of the time? (By the way, that’s not rhetorical; feel free to answer in the comment section below.)
And that’s what’s actually funny about this particular verse/story: the girl doesn’t want to go on a date and her excuse is that she couldn’t find this particular piece of garment. (It could also be a dress that matches nicely with her bra.) And it sounds like it’s something that actually happened, an actual experience. The next two lines may or may not be about the same girl or person. And it doesn’t add anything to the “chiksilog” theory. But taken as a whole, it makes more sense that the entire third verse is about the same person. The girl with the bra is the same girl who stays in the shower for hours. Tapos, kulubot na ‘yung balat sa mga daliri n’ya pag labas n’ya.
I’m not saying the “chiksilog” interpretation is entirely wrong. In fact, IT’S ACTUALLY WRONG. VERY WRONG! However, to you who made that comment and everyone who subscribes to that, you are free to live with your own interpretations or whatever meaning you want to attach to a song.
Based on what Ely said about the song, it’s clear that “Kaliwete” wasn’t about just one thing. Which means the “chick who turns out to be a guy” story is just one of those funny things. They were fooled and were shocked when they saw her umije-patayo sa kubeta. The first verse isn’t really connected to it. Ely most probably made it up since he had to write a song about lefties. The second verse is about Rico J. Puno and his funny piece of advice.
The last verse is entirely a different story, about a girl who gave a “silly excuse” for not wanting to go on a date. It just so happens that the “kubeta” part became the song’s chorus. And the chorus is usually the part which carries the song’s message or meaning and also its most important part. The thing is, with “Kaliwete”, this wasn’t the case. The song has no central meaning; it’s just about random stuff. The chorus isn’t there to tie up all the loose ends; it is one of them.