My First Gay Crush is a fun blog brought to you by the creator of the even funner Born This Way, which displays childhood photos of kids who you just knew would grow up to be gay. But long before the Crush blog came along, gay people everywhere were having this same discussion.
Herb Alpert was my earliest celebrity gay crush. My dad had all of his records, so it was bound to be either Herb or one of the guys from Peter, Paul & Mary…but somehow, Peter and Paul never quite did it for me. It might have been the facial hair. I was very picky even back then. Herb Alpert was hot, and not just because he invoked visions of matadors and The Dating Game.
Funny, though, that until surprisingly late in my life (sometime in my 40s), it never occurred to me that he was not the one who set me on a course of Latinophilia.
Because I had two long-term Latino boyfriends in a row — including this one, seen dancing the jenka to “Tijuana Taxi” — I got the reputation among some of my friends in the last part of the previous millennium of liking only Latino guys. Whenever I’d date someone of a different race or ethnicity, people would act all surprised. In reality, I like all kinds of guys, always have; that said, I do seem to hit it off pretty nicely with Latinos. Generally speaking.
But get this: Herb Alpert — despite his leading a band called the Tijuana Brass, despite his mariachi-influenced musical style, despite the marimbas and maracas, his dark hair and sultry good looks — is not Latino! Not one bit. Neither is anyone in the Tijuana Brass, for that matter. I don’t think Herb even speaks Spanish. Dios mio.
Maybe you knew that all along. I didn’t.
Herb Alpert is Jewish, and his ancestors hail from present-day Ukraine and Romania. Well, I did say I like all kinds of guys. And I still think he was hot.
So hot that he inspired me to take up the trumpet in grade school. We had a very musical school system back then — in fact our town was called “Musictown,” if you can believe that — and every student was expected to play something; not necessarily the musical instrument played by their celebrity gay crush, but something.
I played the trumpet for a few years, including onstage in a talent contest, a solo performance where I infamously flubbed the last few notes of “If I Were a Rich Man” (a Yiddish-inspired favorite I’d gotten out of the Herb Alpert songbook. This should have been my first clue). I tried a couple of times more before giving up and walking off the stage humiliated, with the intention of killing myself right then and there at the tender age of 12.
I remember taking trumpet lessons from an old codger named Buddy Reese. He’d write cryptic notes in my music books like “GAFAYC,” which meant “go as fast as you can.” (That reminds me, just a couple years later, my driver’s ed teacher famously gave the advice, “He who hesitates is lost.” That might be appropriate in some contexts, but to a 16-year-old kid scared to pull out into speeding traffic? I’m not so sure. Why was everyone in my town in such a hurry? I digress.)
Anyway, what killed my career as a star trumpeter (aside from the humiliation of the talent show) was braces. I tried, but man, all that metal did not mix with trumpeting. Ow. I still sometimes think about taking it up once again. Now that the braces are off.