Herb Alpert Erects Huge Totem Pole in Malibu!

herb and totem

Photo by Jay

What was I doing on Friday morning sitting on a bench at a dusty street corner at the original Gateway to Malibu, Rambla Vista, between the singer Sting and the politician Bobby Shriver? We were watching a band of Chumash Indians chanting and dancing in front of a tall shrouded "thing" as a lanky gray-haired music legend smiled in a bemused way and his equally-famous wife looked fondly on. Well, it turns out that the city of Malibu had invited us all to honor nine-time Grammy Award-winner Herb Alpert at the dedication of his totem sculpture, FREEDOM, (which was the object hiding under the shroud until Herb pulled the ripcord and it was unveiled in all its 17-foot high glory). The ceremonial dancers were from the Southern California Indian Center and the Chumash tribe because the totem pole is sacred to their culture.

Chumash Indians paid tribute to Herb. Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images

Herb has a thing for totem poles. He sculpts them all the time and then erects them in appropriate places. I recently wrote on Huffington about the three totems he had erected on the meridian of Olympic Blvd. and 26th street in Santa Monica, standing tall and causing traffic jams. Recently, I am told he erected three totem poles in Dante Park across from Lincoln Center in midtown New York City, probably the only totem in a thousand miles of that city. I also happen to have a thing for totem poles so I am incredibly sympathetic to his efforts to "totemize" the world. This day, I asked him why he had erected the magnificent bronze totem at the entrance to Malibu and he modestly answered that it was the first-ever permanent public art installation in the city... and he believed it was the obligation of every citizen to harmonize and beautify the city in which they lived. So typical of this modest guy, who was recently honored by President Obama at the White House with the National Medal of the Arts for his unparalleled musical accomplishments and his dedication to providing access to the arts for future generations. Which also explains why the students from the Herb Alpert School of Music at UCLA and CalArts were there to perform. As I drive to the event I was playing in my car the latest album he had released, Steppin' Out, which featured a contemporary version of Irving Berlin's "Puttin' On the Ritz." It won the Grammy in January for Best Pop Musical Instrumental Album. It was so zingy I wanted to stop the car and dance to it.

Herb receiving National Medal of Arts from President Obama. Photo from Herb Alpert Foundation

Bobbie Shriver with Herb's wife, Lani Hall. Photo by Jay

But I didn't, so I parked at a small Mexican restaurant, La Costa Mission, right next to the corner at 21337 Pacific Coast Highway where the installation was located. I greeted Herb's long-time A&M Records partner, Jerry Moss, gawked at the lovely Daryl Hannah and Linda Thompson, and took my seat. My friend, publicist Caroline Graham, whispered to me that since Herb has first introduced the Tijuana Brass with its signature sound, it has grown into a global phenomenon, selling over 75 million records. I have followed the amazing story of A&M Records, the world's largest independent record label, which Herb and Jerry founded and eventually sold for umpteen millions of dollars. I know that they launched the careers of such iconic artists as The Police, Styx, Al Green, Peter Frampton and the Carpenters.

Herb with his friend, Sting, at the event. Photo by Jay

Herb wears the ceremonial blanket given him by the Chumash. Photo by Jay

But what most of the world is only discovering lately is that Herb has spent more than half his life as a respected abstractist painter and sculptor whose work has been exhibited in the U.S. and Europe. Later I cornered Herb and asked, "Why totems?" He told me that he had been inspired by the indigenous sculptural forms from the Pacific Northwest Indians, and his are dedicated to the Chumash Indians, whose sacred lands are now occupied by a vast majority of Central and Southern California. "They got a bad deal, and I create these totems as a tribute to them and their heritage." Now I understand. Good man, that!

Last night, I attended the "Society of Singers" benefit which paid tribute to Mike Love and the Beach Boys. Hey, Ginny Mancini, may I suggest that next year you consider doing the same for Herb Alpert and Lani Hall, for their musical heritage and incredible philanthropic efforts. And maybe he would give every member of the audience a tiny totem pole! To date, the Herb Alpert Foundation has given over $120 million for music and art educational programs in Los Angeles and other cities. (Remember that Harlem Arts School which got $6 million to save it from closing?) On March 15, Herb will be honored at the CalArts REDCAT gala for his 20 year-support of CalArts in Valencia. In May, he and Lani will hand $75,000 checks to each of five Herb Alpert Award-in-the-Arts winners, a program now in its 18th year. (Yes, that was $75,000 each!) I guess that's why I was sitting on that dusty street corner in Malibu on Friday.


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