Last night at the Palm Springs Villagefest, a street fair held every Thursday, I got to meet Bert Jacobs, chief executive optimist (yes, that’s his title!) of Life is good, the Boston-based company dedicated to spreading good vibes. (For you copy editors out there, that lower-case “g” is intentional.)
Bert is no stranger to street fairs, having gotten his start at them, selling T-shirts with his brother John in the late 1980s. Only last night, Bert and John weren’t manning a humble booth; they were sitting outside a brand new Life is good store and autographing copies of their new book, Life is good: Simple Words from Jake and Rocket.
The book signing was heralded by spotlights that shined in the sky as if it were a movie premiere or the opening of a new car dealership — equally as glam in Southern California. In front of the store, there were two groovy cars decorated with Jake, the goofy-looking stick figure who is on his way to $100 million in revenues, and Rocket, his faithful canine companion. One of the vehicles (I’m not a car person so I didn’t notice what kind) was tangerine-colored and emblazoned with the slogan: “Do what you like. Like what you do.”
Of course, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to do a mini-interview. “I know you’ve been asked this a million times,” I said to Bert, as he inscribed a copy of the book, “but how did you get the idea for Life is good?” He told me the concept was a reaction to all the bad stuff he used to see on the evening news. “It wasn’t the nightly news. It was the nightly murder,” he said. “We wanted to let people know that life is good.”
And indeed it is for the Jacobs brothers, sons of Needham, Mass. who embody an upbeat, granola lifestyle that appeals to folks from Portland, Me., to Portland, Ore., and lots of places in between.
Just talking to Bert and flipping through the pages of the Life is good book, whose proceeds go to the Life is good Kids Foundation, made me want to buy that retro Electra bicycle called “Gypsy” that I saw yesterday. No, the Life is good ethos isn’t about consumerism; it’s about getting out on the road, being in nature, having fun, maybe lending a help hand if one is needed.
What’s gratifying to me is how the Jacobs brothers give back to their community. They’ve delivered countless “You can change the world” speeches at college graduations. On May 17, Bert Jacobs will be the commencement speaker at his alma mater, Fitchburg State College, in Massachusetts, and will receive an honorary degree from the school.
The philanthropic efforts of the Jacobs brothers and their foundation are truly awe-inspiring. Case in point: In October, 2006, Life is good broke a Guinness world record by lighting 30,128 jack-o-lanterns on the Boston Common. The event was a fund-raiser, and brought in more than $500,000 for Camp Sunshine, a haven for families of kids who are seriously ill. Even last night’s book signing was a fund-raiser. All proceeds from the sale of the $20 book go to the Life is Good Kids Foundation.
I’ve spent the morning reading profiles online of this latest rendition of the American rags-to-riches story. I’m going to link to a couple of the best, this one from the New York Times and this one from Inc. I didn’t find what I was searching for, though: birth dates for the two brothers.
I learned from the NYT that Bert was 42, and John, who is the company’s chief creative optimist, was 39, on Nov. 22, 2007, when the article appeared. In the course of surfing the Net, I found out that the brothers founded Life is good in 1994 with the creation of fun-loving Jake.
Although they had been peddling T-shirts at street fairs and on college campuses for several years before that, their official bio says that in August, 1994, “with a combined sum of $78 in the bank, the brothers considered giving up on the ultimate road trip. Then they created Jake and he showed them the way.”
That was during the Uranus/Neptune conjunction in Capricorn. I’m a Cap and I still haven’t figured out what that major aspect was about, other than helping Corporate America get a little groovier.
Based on the ages provided for Jacobs brothers, I’ll venture to say they are both part of the revolutionary Uranus/Pluto in Virgo conjunction crowd, born in the late Sixties.
(I don’t have my print ephemeris with me and can’t spend hours on this, but it’s possible John’s Uranus is in Libra, not Virgo. Without a birthday, I can only guess. Either way, it’s evident that Bert, who is definitely Uranus/Pluto in Virgo, is the spokesman of the team.)
Now, the obvious question here is: Why didn’t I ask Bert when he and his brother were born? I’m kicking myself this morning that I didn’t, but there was a line behind me to get books autographed. I’m a closet astrologer. I don’t like to call attention to my occult tendencies in public, especially with all the wacky folks wandering the streets of Palm Springs, where there is a homeless problem.
I didn’t have a chance to meet John last night, but Bert looks like a Virgo to me. Interesting that many of the Life is good T-shirts, water bottles, backpacks, and tote bags promote an outdoorsy lifestyle — very fitting for Virgo, since it’s an earth sign.
One of my favorite scenes from the Life is good book is a picture of a tent with the constellations overhead. It carries the tagline, “Five star accommodations are easy to find.” This egalitarian attitude echoes the hippie, back-to-the-land vibe of the late Sixties and thumbs its nose at the recent obsession with money and status. Another good one, in light of National TV-Turnoff Week (Apr. 21-28), has a picture of a TV and the axiom “Think Outside the Box.”
Even without birth dates for the Jacobs brothers, I can tell you this company will continue to expand, thanks to help from Jupiter in Capricorn this year. The slow passage of Pluto through Capricorn, which lasts until 2024, could bring great transformation to Life is good. Bert and John could go the way of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream and end up selling out to a multinational, but retaining control over the Life is good merchandise and image. That’s a ways down the road, though.
In the meantime, they’re keeping their merchandise fresh and have a great line of pastel-colored T-shirts for Mother’s Day . With Saturn’s passage through Virgo bringing on belt-tightening, the Great American camping trip is set to make a comeback. Yeah, gas prices are sky-high and the dollar is tanking, but we still need a vacation. And, of course, we’ll need some Life is good T-shirts for our road trip!