Herbert and The Bullfight
(“Data Doesn’t Convince Us. Stories Do.” – the title of this week’s memo – is a declarative statement of fact. “Herbert and The Bullfight” is the beginning of a story. Those 4 words tell us there is going to be a bullfight and that someone named Herbert is involved. But we have no idea how or when or why they come together. Thus, a mystery is born. And since when are bullfighters named Herbert?)
Agnes De Mille once wrote,
“No trumpets sound when the important decisions of our life are made. Destiny is made known silently.”
Agnes was right about most of us, but she was completely wrong about Herbert.
(The Agnes De Mille quote 1. promises a pivotal moment, 2. foreshadows the entrance of a trumpet into our story, and 3. creates a mystery… And what part of that quote made it wrong about Herbert? Was it the ‘made known silently’ part? Did trumpets actually sound when Herbert’s destiny was made known?)
Herbert sculpts and paints. Abstract expressionism is his thing.
“It’s like jazz,” he says. “Art is a feel. I like to journey into a world where words don’t exist.”
(“Herbert sculpts and paints” is stated in the present tense. Although Herb IS doing these things today – present tense – he wasn’t doing them back then. The wizard is intentionally misdirecting us by drawing our attention to an irrelevant truth. He’s not yet ready for you to know that Herbert becomes famous as a musician.)
Edgar “Yip” Harburg, the lyricist who wrote Judy Garland’s wistful Somewhere Over the Rainbow, once made a similar observation.
“Words make you think thoughts.
Music makes you feel a feeling.
But a song makes you feel a thought.”
But now we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
(The wizard has introduced music as another form of abstract expressionism, but he wants that idea to be attached to someone OTHER than Herbert, so he uses a quote from the writer of a famous song. And then he confesses that we’re “getting ahead of ourselves.” This is another example of foreshadowing. The mystery deepens.)
The story of Herbert and the bullfight begins in 1930, when Louis, a mandolin-playing Ukrainian Jewish tailor, comes to America and falls in love with Tillie Goldberg on New York’s Lower East Side. They get hitched, move to L.A. and have two little boys and a girl.
(Having teased you with partial reveals and misdirection, the wizard begins his telling of Herbert’s story in a simple, straightforward way. He wants you to identify with Herbert and begin seeing the world through Herbert’s eyes.)
In 1955, first-son David is a well-known drummer and second-son Herbert is a trumpet player in the marching band at USC. Daughter Mimi is learning to play piano.
In 1962, Herbert is in the garage recording a trumpet song called “Twinkle Star” when he decides to take a break and drive to Mexico. He recently told the story on CBS Sunday Morning.
(This is another partial reveal. We know that Herbert (1.) isn’t an important musician because he is ‘recording in his garage.’ (2.) He somehow becomes famous enough to be featured on CBS Sunday Morning, (3.) But we don’t yet know how he becomes so famous. The bullfight and the trumpet have not yet come together in the story.)
“Tijuana had some world-class matadors, and this trumpet section in the stands, you know, they would announce the different programs, the different events in the bullfight. “Ta-Dahh! Pa-Da Dattle-Da-Dattle Da-Dahhh. I got kind of, uh, chill bumps from all that stuff and I tried to translate the feelings of those afternoons to a song.”
(This is pivotal moment number one.)
Herbert returns home, flavors “Twinkle Star” with the soft and spicy taste of a Tijuana afternoon, and renames it, “The Lonely Bull.”
(Renaming the song and “flavoring” it with a “soft and spicy taste” confirms the bullfight to be a pivotal moment.)
He mails his record to some radio stations and the song becomes a Top Ten hit.
(Herbert has to mail his records himself. He has no staff, no team, nothing but a dream. This is why we relate to him.)
Encouraged, Herbert hires some other musicians to play alongside him. Their exotic, jazzy groove is often described as “blithe, Latin-over-lilt,” so it’s easy to understand why everyone thinks Herb and his boys are Hispanic. But not one of them has a drop of Spanish blood. Herb describes his band as, “four lasagnas, two bagels, and an American cheese.” Audiences know them as “Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass.”
(When Herbert is encouraged we feel encouraged, too. Then his self-deprecating “lasagnas, bagels and cheese” line makes us smile. Our connection deepens with Herbert because he is obviously humble and grateful. Even though he’s now famous, Herbert isn’t full of himself.)
In 1966, they sold more records than the Beatles.
Herbert goes on to score five No. 1 hits, 15 gold albums, 14 platinum albums and win eight Grammy Awards. No one but Herb has ever had 4 albums simultaneously in the Top 10.
Seventy-two million record albums is quite a few to sell, don’t you think?
(Having firmly established Herbert’s humility, these big accomplishments make that humility even more impressive. We quietly believe that if WE became famous, we’d be humble, too… We think, “Herb is just like me.”)
But Herbert is just getting started.
(This line promises another pivotal moment. This story isn’t over!)
Immediately following the success of The Lonely Bull, he convinces Jerry Moss to become his business partner. Alpert and Moss produce and distribute their fantastically successful Tijuana Brass albums under their own record label, A&M.
(“Wow! Alpert was the ‘A’ in A & M?” This is a major reveal for most people.)
In 1969, Herb discovers a brother/sister duo that becomes fantastically successful as well: Richard and Karen Carpenter. Soon A&M is producing 400 different bands and artists, many of whom will see the stars align to spell their names in the midnight sky.
(Herbert uses his success to help hundreds of other struggling dreamers and we love him for it because we believe we would do that, too.)
In 1989, Herb sold A&M Records to Polygram for 500 million dollars.
(We think to ourselves, “Herb is like me, so if things like this can happen for Herb, they can happen for me, too!”)
And it all began
when the son of a Ukranian tailor (“Herb came from a humble background, just like me.”)
decided to push himself beyond his comfort zone (“Is this what I’ve been missing?”)
and go on a road trip to Mexico. (“But where, or what, will be my ‘Mexico’?”)
Roy H. Williams
Austin, Texas, isn’t quite Mexico but the place I have in mind for you to visit will definitely make you glitter when you walk.