Ralph Higgins

Ralph Higgins
color pencil sketch by Gayle Higgins

Quotes I Like

“Everyone is a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

-Albert Einstein


Monday, November 26, 2012

Just Let Go

       Gayle and I once watched a comedian do a routine on things we all experience in everyday life and the various conflicts that are inevitable.  After the description of each frustrating situation he would say, “Just let go.”  By the end of his routine, despite his humorous context, the message came through – “Just let go.”

            Our experiences in life are transitory.  Life itself is transitory.  Tragedies result in pain and scars that will never go away.  But there are things that we consider important that may not be as important as we think.  Maybe we should just let them go.

A minister’s biblical quote, “it came to pass,” may be a reminder that things “pass” and change – not always for the best, but change is inevitable.  The only constant in life is change.  Age seems to make this truth less palatable.

            I had an extra room built over my garage ostensibly for an apartment someday or maybe as a refuge if Gayle comes after me with a knife.  But the real reason for the extra space was to store all my junk.

We had a garage sale recently and Gayle had a ton of stuff to sell.  With my garage full of junk, I could hardly find anything to add to the sale.  I’m a pack rat.  I can’t seem to get rid of anything.  It’s a sickness.  I’m “fastidiously challenged.”

            As we age, “letting go” is a requirement that is forced on us.  Accepting the process can make life a little easier.

            We have to learn to let go of our kids, who leave the nest and move on with their own lives.  Sadly, we have to accept the passing of friends and relatives.  That’s a tough one.  But we even hold onto guilt and regrets.  Why?  The past is gone.  But it’s not easy to let it go.

Life is full of disappointments.  It’s important to understand that without expectations you can’t have disappointments.  How can you be disappointed if you didn’t have an expectation?  Lowering or eliminating expectations can temper disappointment. 

            I think women have a more difficult time adjusting to their physical changes as they age.  Society thrusts youthful beauty and air-brushed images on us as the female ideal.  It’s futile to swim against the current of time.  The real source of female beauty isn’t external anyway.

Some men can look in a mirror and see their grandfather and still think they look cool.  This despite Velcro straps on tennis shoes, an expanding belly, an incredible shrinking ass, and a bathroom scale that lies and adds 50 pounds for a pair of underpants and two socks.  

Speaking of mirrors, I actually try not to look in a mirror.  That’s why I look like a Caucasian version of boxing promoter Don King in the morning, which scares the hell out of Gayle at breakfast.

I could go on, but I’ve already cut this piece in half.  Cutting and editing for a writer is painful.  It’s like selling an important autographed book at a garage sale for a dime.  But I had to cut out some good stuff, because I’m learning to “let go.”

Monday, November 19, 2012

A Grand Finale

Levity seems more elusive these days, so I’m going to reach way back into my past as a musician for some humor.  I just had a fleeting thought of a scene that sticks in my memory.

Bay area locals may remember “Big Al’s Gashouse” in Palo Alto, not to be confused with the strip joint in San Francisco.  In fact, a few of you were in the audience when I was onstage blowing the last of my brains out through my trumpet. I could sure use some of those wasted brain cells today.

I remember arriving for my first performance with the five or six man Dixieland band that played onstage four nights a week at Big Al’s.  I only knew one man in the group and had no idea what we would be playing for the four hours we were scheduled to entertain the rowdy crowd. 

When I pulled into the parking lot I saw the marquee outside that read, “Tonight! - Ralph Higgins - Straight from Paris.”  That was intimidating, since I had never played with this band before.  And I had never even been to Paris

When a musician is hired for a job like this, he is expected to be able to play and improvise anything that pops up.  There is no written music.  Rehearsals don’t exist.  Someone picks a tune, a key, a tempo, and off you go.  It might be anyone in the group. Or in the audience. That’s just how it works.

We played on a small stage and kicked off the first number as the curtains opened. Between sets, we would sit behind the closed curtains, rest our “chops,” and have a few laughs. The drummer and trombone player would kill about a gallon of the devil’s brew over the course of the 4 hour performance.  I don’t remember what we were paid for the gig, but I’ll bet they had very little money left after the cost of their liquor.

I could always tell which set we were in by the drummer.  The first set was fine.  Tempos were steady and his fills were good.  During the second set I would notice variations in tempo and his hair would be hanging over his forehead. By the third hour the drummer was missing beats and tempos were erratic. I’d check his hair, which by now was almost covering his face and flopping around like the hair on a rabid rocker. His hair was my hourglass. I knew how close we were to closing time by looking at the drummer.

At some point during the fourth and final set of the night, we’d hear a thundering crash as our beloved drummer lost his balance and fell off the drum stool, knocking cymbals and drums all over the stage.  The audience loved it and some probably sat through the night just waiting for this anticipated and predictable finale. 

Almost a half century later I can still hear the crash of those cymbals and the amazing scene of bouncing drums, flying drumsticks, and flailing legs as our drummer disappeared off the back of the stage.

That was a typical night at Big Al’s, but it doesn’t compare to the night the trombone player passed out in the middle of a solo and fell off the stage landing on the first row of tables.  He got a standing ovation. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

A Horse Record for A & M Records?

     A while back I wrote a few articles on music.  Today I thought it would be fun to mix music with a race horse - two seemingly incompatible subjects.

            I once worked as a free-lance writer/arranger for Almo Publications, which was the publishing arm of A&M Records in Hollywood.  This was back in the ‘70s.  A&M was founded and owned by Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss.  Thus “A&M.”  The company was located in the old Charlie Chaplin studios and took up an entire city block. 

            As you know, Alpert was the trumpet player with the Tijuana Brass.  He is also an artist and a very good businessman.  His business partner was Jerry Moss.  I’ll get to Jerry in a minute.

            My job was to arrange the music of popular artists who were under contract with A&M Records and turn their music into instructional books and arrangements for all instruments.  I also had to provide instructions on how to play each instrument.  This was a daunting task, because I didn’t know “jack” about most of the instruments and had to research and study each one. But I was paid very well and I had a great partner in Hollywood

            Claudia Previn, daughter of Andre Previn, was my link at A&M.  She took my manuscripts and followed them through production to the series of published books.  Claudia was very bright and talented and we became good friends.  I don’t think either of us saw the value in publishing books on some of these music groups.  As I’ve said, some of what passes as music stretches the definition of music beyond reason and taste.  Nevertheless, I turned out 42 books in this particular project.
            These books included the hits of The Beatles, Burt Bacharach, The Carpenters, Peter Frampton, and others.  Much of the music was good, but some was terrible.  The music of Kiss was so bad we didn’t even proof the piano arrangement.  The thought was that any mistake I may have made would be an improvement. 

            Now to the racehorse.  Herb Alpert’s partner at A&M, Jerry Moss, was the owner of the great horse, Giacomo, winner of the Kentucky Derby in 2005.  Giacomo (“James” in Italian) was named after the son of Sting, who recorded for A&M Records.   

Giacomo had 50-1 odds against him and paid Moss over 1.6 million dollars for the Derby win.  Giacomo was the most unlikely Derby winner in over 80 years and was the second-longest shot to win in the 131 year history of the Derby at that time.

            Jockey Mike Smith rode Giacomo to the win. Mike had suffered a broken back in a race several years prior when his horse stumbled and rolled over him. Being a jockey is one of the most dangerous of occupations.  This win was the greatest thrill of Mike’s career and was very emotional for him. Smith said he was “just hanging on for dear life,” as Giacomo broke for the finish line. 
            I’m sure some of you saw that race.  Now you know a little about the great horse Giacomo, his winning jockey, the background of Giacomo’s owner, and even a little about A&M Records.          

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Morning After

I’ve tried to keep my blog non-political, but, following last night’s election results, I’m filled with disgust, anger, and too many negative emotions to even begin to articulate them all.

The great intellectual and economist, Walter Williams, wrote that demographics alone would result in the outcome of the election we just witnessed. He was right.

The traditions that made our country great could not have been represented more clearly than the two men who stood up for our country as an alternative to the slide from greatness that we have witnessed over the past four years.  What a contrast in terms of experience, vision, economic alternatives, morality, and on and on.  But their vision was rejected.  Water seeks its lowest level and “free stuff” is addictive.

I once wrote that the world was witnessing the death rattles of western culture.  From the perspective of a world in chaos, when the last candle on the cake was blown out last night, America became a whiff of smoke as the former hope of the world.  The death rattles are gone and we may have heard the last gasp from a dying culture last night. 

Robert Bork, Antonin Scalia, Mark Steyn, and many others much smarter than I predicted this scenario in books that I’ve read.  Much has to do with world demographics and a moral, ethical, and philosophical shift in our country. Someone recently predicted that this may have been our last free election. 

I believe the adage that “There is none so blind as those who will not see.”  Ignorance is one thing, but the “will” not to see is harder to justify.

I’ve followed the movement that culminated in this election since the ‘60s.  I’ve studied the trends and the motivations of an insidious philosophy bent on “leveling the world’s playing field,” and, although I knew the results were inevitable, it is still painful to see how far we have descended from the days of relative freedom in a once great America

Maybe that’s why I like to write about the freedom of the ‘50s - back when I was a kid.  I’m thankful that I grew up back then.  I regret that my grandchildren will never experience that innocence, freedom and opportunity that my generation experienced.  Maybe it’s a blessing that they can’t make the comparison.

I could write an entire thesis on what I see happening and where I think we are headed, but I’ve tried to stay away from politics and negative stuff in my blog.  But after last night’s election results, I’m like a boiling caldron of disgust.

Gayle reminds me fairly emphatically that there is a greater plan and I agree.  But I feel like I’m playing in the orchestra on the Titanic and it’s hard for this Irish/Italian to passively stand by and not direct the passengers to the life jackets, despite the futility. 

I know that, for the most part, I’m preaching to choir.  Those who disagree with me can rest assured that I will do my best to stay away from controversy in my blog and simply tell stories that come to mind or pass on benign information, while basically leaving the world situation to those “with eyes to see.”

Sorry, but I had to get this off my chest.  

My next blog will present an inside look at a record company, an historical race horse, and the interesting connection between them.  I think you’ll enjoy it. No more politics and I won’t wait a week to post it.  I just need to cool down.