The fabled gates at La Brea and Sunset opened for little me on a Monday morning in October, 1995. Little did I know at the time that the adventure I was being ushered into ended up being a lot more than just a job. I went from listening to Police vinyl records when I was 16, and crying over not being allowed to go see them in concert while still recovering from an ear infection (Mother, I haven’t forgiven you yet) to working for the label that put those vinyls out. I went from singing along to all my favourite records in the darkness of my bedroom to talking my way into a humble job for a major label in London that, many years later, delivered me to A&M Records in LA.
I accepted the job because I thought it would look good on my resume, convinced I would be back in Europe at the end of my three-year contract. That was 18 years ago. What I learnt is that even the best laid plans might beg to differ when life interferes. I was immediately impressed with the lot, as everyone called it, a rambling place that had been built in the ’20’s by Charlie Chaplin and was subsequently used to film countless TV shows. Remember the original Batman and Ironside? All filmed outside my old office. And Superman too. The incongruous Swiss architecture, the funky buildings with no rhymes nor reason and in need of serious repair, the storied recording studio in the middle, all made it a place where creativity reigned, artists would hang out and you would get impossibly wet on a rainy day when running to a meeting or just to a co-worker’s office.
I arrived at the tail-end of the great years, when Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss (the A&M) had already sold it to PolyGram. For better or worse, people at the top changed and three years later A&M was absorbed by the Universal Music Group under Interscope and I migrated to offices much closer to home in Santa Monica. We had some sort of wake on the lot on our last day and then we all moved on or started brushing up on interview skills.
I was reminded of all this a few days ago when a friend took me to the Grammy Museum in downtown LA for a live conversation with Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss. On stage, both looking fit and youthful at 77, they recounted tales on how they started in the ’60’s, how the label developed and ended, always with humbleness and no magic rules to success. Sometimes, all you need is good ears, chutzpah and more than a fair share of luck. I saw this countless times during my years in the industry.
Most of all, they both conveyed the impression that not for a minute did they look back, or felt regretful. There were no ‘what-ifs’ left hanging in the air. This was then, this is now.
“I spend a lot of time at the track” Jerry joked, when asked what he was doing now. Horses are his and his wife’s passion. Herb still plays and paints and sculpts.
And, right there, was the secret to a successful life. Don’t look back. Good things end and others, different ones, will follow. Eschew the word regret from everyday’s vocabulary. Take risks.
I recognized the look on Herb and Jerry’s faces because, as attached as I am to the past, I have no regrets. It felt nice to reminisce for a couple of hours but that didn’t prompt any nostalgia or wish that things had been different. If I think of my time at A&M or in the record industry (and I very seldom do), I see it as a stepping stone, one of many, that has brought me where I am today. I might not end up with Herb or Jerry’s millions but the sense of contentedness is the same. And who could ask for more?
PS If you live in LA, check out the Grammy Museum‘s calendar of upcoming programs. Some very interesting things that make for a pleasant and affordable night out.