Life lessons from the legendary Karl Roy
He was an icon of Pinoy rock in his heyday, idolized by many in the music scene. Fans would scream, girls would swoon, and guys, well, if they were honest, were given to more than a touch of hero-worship over him. When he departed this earthly realm nine years ago, on March 13, 2012, he went from “icon” to “legend.”
But to me, he was always legendary—not only because the fangirl, rocker chick, and music lover in me had him on some sort of pedestal, like most everyone else.
To me, he was more than the celebrated, adulated, badass-bordering-on-hella-notorious musician adored by music fans across the nation. He was Karl Snarl (a moniker for his “snarl-y” singing style), the Clyde to my Bonnie (as he liked to say, in reference to our numerous (mis)adventures), and my Son #1 (he liked to call me Mom, although he was exactly five months older than me). Oh, and he also claimed that I was his “pinsan,” at some point, mostly to excuse himself from band practice for some made-up family affair.
He was Karl Roy, lead singer of Advent Call, then P.O.T., and later on, Kapatid. Sure, he was a Pinoy rock demigod; but beyond that, he was a friend for life.
And he lived larger than life itself.
Spirit, soul, body
Unbeknownst to many, Karl was a very spiritual, philosophical guy. He enjoyed Yoga, for its serenity. He had a deep understanding that we are three-part beings: spirit, soul, and body. We would talk for hours (on the phone, over social, and even by his hospital bed, after his first major health crisis in 1997, if memory serves me right) about such profound and abstract concepts as forgiveness and who “merited” it, Heaven, and what it meant to be genuinely good. His sense of spirituality extended to the arena of substance use, specifically psychedelics, which he would defend like some sort of enlightened hippie guru from the 70s. Of course, he could never get me to side with him on that matter, but that didn’t stop him from trying.
He was definitely not religious; was more a speculative agnostic, really. But he believed in an afterlife of some sort. He would often tell me that I had “to be ready” for him to go; “it’s all part of the cycle of life.” And I would often tell him to shut it and not talk like that! But, here we are almost a decade later; and no, I wasn’t ready.
YOLO (before YOLO was even a term)
Back then, it was Carpe Diem, and Karl *Carpe-d* the heck out of every Diem! He was well-aware of the fleeting nature of life; and, if I am being honest, I think he had an innate understanding that because of how he chose to live his, it would be all the more fleeting for him. He was aware of what he was doing, and that there would be consequences. So, he made the most of each day. He’d bug me incessantly to meet him for gimmicks or hang outs, or to get a new tattoo or whatever else, even if we lived halfway around the world from each other.
I’m not going to romanticize things—YOLO-ing had a downside in that it took its toll on his body. There’s no excuse for abusing (or good way to abuse) anything. Period.
Real friends have your back
Those who knew Karl as a friend knew one thing for sure: he had your back. There are so many instances I can think of; one memory, in particular stands out, because it was three weeks or so before he passed away. We were at Saguijo, after a gig, and I had been crying over some drama or other. And he asked “Who made you cry??? Tell me, I’ll fight them!” Physically, he didn’t have a muscular build and still had a limp for previous strokes, so the thought of him coming to my defense like that was a touch comical. But he was serious! Anyway, he made me laugh, instead, and that smoothed everything over. Oh, and he was also real enough of a friend to correct me, when needed. He’d often remind me: “stop playing mind games with yourself,” referring to my tendency to overthink things and stress myself out, in so doing.
I did my best to have his back, too, especially when he was grappling with his health. Truth be told, even if I had other plans, I’d try and hang out with him to keep him from drinking too much, or worse. And for that, he would jokingly call me the Karl Cop.
Be hardcore, NOT hard-hearted
As badass as he was, underneath that wild, raunchy (ask any female fan, they’d say oh-so-sexy), bad boy rock-and-roll exterior, Karl was a softie. He yelped when he got his first ear piercing, despite the many tattoos he already had, and asked to hold my hand through the process. Imagine that.
He was genuinely good and tender-hearted. He loved his family, his daughter, his friends, his music peeps. His biggest source of angst was if he was “good enough” for them; that really bugged him, and we’d talk a lot about it. But, bottom line, there was love (loads of it) all around.
He had a really soft spot for animals (especially his cat, Miles). He dreamed of a “normal” life. He was always willing to give a bit of himself away; hence, “Have A Piece of This.” It wasn’t just a song, it was a mantra tattooed across his collarbone, and, I suspect, within his very psyche.
The journey is the destination
Karl knew the joys of living for the day, without worrying too much about the future (although, he did, to a degree). We’d go on cab rides to nowhere, with instructions to the driver to just drive until the meter hit how much money he had in his pocket. We’d sing along to all the cheesy songs on the cab radio and have the best time. This, I guess, was a representation of how he liked to take life one day at a time and just be in the moment.
He also knew that it was the simple things that really brought the deepest satisfaction. I remember nights out at Weekends Live, at the Atrium in Makati, and all he wanted to do was ride the glass elevator, up and down; tripping, laughing. It made me dizzy, but I’d humor him, anyway.
You can be in a crowd, yet feel totally alone—and that’s ok
The existential side of him would surface, now and then, in that he often felt alone. Actually, he quite enjoyed this feeling of solitude; craved it, in fact. He loved his fans but hated crowds. Many times, his antisocial side would kick in and he’d plug his ears with earphones (which were not attached to anything, hahaha!) just so people would leave him be. It was a cool trick and I used it on many occasions, myself. When life would press down on him, he’d jump on a bus and head to his favorite surf spots to find his bliss in the ocean.
You’re stronger than you think
And he was. He fought the good fight, ‘til the very, very end. He was strong ‘til the last. He was also lucky. He bucked the odds so, so, SO many times. Somehow, the Universe showered his path with good juju. And I’m so sure it’s because he was a good soul. I’ll leave that there.
I have to end this piece somewhere. And I guess here is as good a place as any.
We were friends for over twenty years. He may have gone on, but he is as alive in my heart as the day I first met him at Club Dredd, in the late 80s. He lives on through these life lessons, in the many memories (still vivid, to date), in a little keepsake locket (with “his DNA,” not sure exactly what’s in it) given to me by his brother Kevin, through his family, with some of whom I am still in touch, in now-yellowed photographs, as well as digital images, texts on my old phones (never to be deleted), private messages, and such. And, in the music. Always, the music. That last bit—that valuable, cherished piece of him—he left with thousands of others. His musical legacy is legendary. Just as he was, and always will be.
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