Adventures With Volvo In Gigland # 6

Posted By Raya Yarbrough on July 27, 2015

The Duo Gig

Slouched down behind the wheel, I could hear the blood pressure in my ears as I rounded the corner off the boulevard into the residential neighborhood. I found a space right in front of the house, and parallel parked in about 12 moves, back and forth. There were no cars behind me on the street. This exercise was the expression of my absent depth and spatial perception. Some party-goers were trying to exit their car in front of me, but had to stop in a small herd, while I sea-sawed my way up to the curb. I tried to smile through the windshield.  I have no idea what face I made.

I was there for a piano and vocal house concert, with my friend, Tosh Gelson, a popular and respected jazz pianist. I’d dragged Tosh to both shitty, and awesome gigs, all over LA, and he was also the pianist in my own band for three years, so I knew his chops and he knew mine. House concerts are like the close-up gallery at the Magic Castle, you’ve gotta work the notes like prestidigitation. If you have any flaws, any insecurities, the audience member two feet away from you on the ottoman, with the down turned facial cracks, will vibe a hole through your sternum. But this was Raya and Tosh, we were pros.

I stepped out of Volvo, slowly, securing the asphalt beneath my turquoise high heels. It wasn’t that I might fall off my shoes, it was that the Earth might fall away from my feet. I was prepared to explain that to any of the partygoers who had seen my parking experience. The house was on a corner surrounded by an excessively large lawn. Nothing but grass, and a long cement pathway to the door. Landscaping in the San Fernando Valley is all concepts, and no concept.

I hiked across the excessively large lawn, my turquoise heels periodically sinking into the earth, causing a hitch and a twist in my stride. This did nothing to augment my goal toward outward normalcy. Then, realizing I should probably be walking on the path, I made a diagonal turn towards the long cement slab, acting as if I had seen something interesting. In the last 20 steps to the front door, I conjured a story in case the fish swimming in my head started to leak out. Something about how I’d been sick for the last week and I was still on an antihistamine. Then I saw Tosh talking with audience at the door. I was relieved, and terrified.

Tosh was his charming, well-kept, softly social self. Somehow he managed coolness in khakis and Don Draper hair. He laughed at the correct times, at the correct decibels, both things I’ve always struggled with, particularly that evening. Clearly he knew the owners of the house, or they might’ve been fans of his. Though his reputation for class and quality was well deserved, and pretty much calcified onto the LA Jazz scene (more than mine), these were LA jazz patrons, and he needed their enthusiasm, long term. Intimate shows like this breed familiarity, appreciation, and most importantly, more gigs. And here came his singer up to the door, with all the composure of a bee hive in a brush fire.

“Hey Raya.”


We hugged. He introduced me to a few people who I assumed were the owners, or fans, or friends, or maybe one was Margaret Thatcher. I had no idea. The moment I met them I forgot them instantly. I was trying to counteract my bubble-headed fog with exuberance, laughing at incorrect places at incorrect decibels. I remember shaking hands and saying “yeah” a lot.

I went into the bathroom to have some private time to collect myself. I think I was in there for a while, because when I came out Tosh was sitting at the piano, and the crowd was gathering around on couches, chairs, and floor pillows. I walked across the room, navigating odd upholstered arms, and a pink, marble, coffee table. At the piano, I got out my music book. I‘d had a set order in mind, but I couldn’t read the titles clearly enough to sort them. It wasn’t that I couldn’t see the titles, I just couldn’t comprehend them. I handed Tosh my chart book with a smile and a nervous bounce.
This is why I don’t do drugs.



Adventures With Volvo In Gigland # 4

Posted By Raya Yarbrough on July 14, 2015

My First Wedding Gig

It was an afternoon gig, and the bride had very particular requests. Most important, she asked that I sing “Through The Eyes Of Love,” the theme song from the 1978 figure-skating drama, Ice Castles. Just that one song, during the reception dinner. Technically speaking, not a hard gig, but there were other special details.

Most notably, I was to be part of the ceremony. It was an outdoor wedding, and the bride requested that I begin the ceremony by walking down the aisle, dropping petals. After the bride reached the front of the ceremony space, next to her waiting groom, I was to stand with the bridesmaids. It was also decided that I too would wear a white wedding dress, and a pearl headband the bride had purchased just for me. These would’ve been the strangest gig requirements I had ever received, but I wasn’t really thinking in those terms since I was only 8 years old.

And the bride was my mother. (more…)

Adventures With Volvo In Gigland #5

Posted By Raya Yarbrough on April 7, 2015

The TV Gig

My text message ding, dinged. Message from Sara:

“This is like purgatory.”

I texted back,

“I don’t think we survived the shuttle ride from the parking structure. I think this is purgatory.”


I heard her laugh from the other side of the partition between my trailer and hers. Really it was the same trailer, so we could’ve easily spoken to each other, but after such a long wait, the whole band had finally receded into themselves, all verbal energy exhausted. We were waiting to get called to set, for an on-screen gig we’d been on for 3 days. The first two days we’d had more action, but this final day was becoming surreal. The separation between our trailers was just a wobbly, brown painted, folding door, which separated a single space into two. I walked out of my trailer door and sat on the top of the metal stairs.  Sarah was already on her respective stairs to my right. She said something about how she keeps checking Facebook and Instagram and there’s nothing left to check on, no new email in the past 5 minutes, yet she keeps going back, like a crazy person.

There are some very coveted gigs, and if you land one, you expect it to go a certain way. Side-lining is a good gig. It’s when musicians get called to a set, to basically pretend they’re playing music on the show. Generally, real musicians get called to do these because it looks more authentic. Why not use the actual musicians who played on the recording? Because often the show needs musicians to have a very particular look on screen, one which fits the vibe of the show/scene. Sometimes the recorded musicians will have the look, sometimes not. I was lucky this time, since I was the recorded singer, and got to be the one on screen as well. I think my hair is “in” right now.

So that’s what we were called for, and we’d been waiting at the base camp with all the wardrobe trailers since 9am. Sara and I had already made the obligatory “look how much fun we’re having on the set!” Instagram video, and the extended arm Facebook selfie, and we were now face to face with actual, static, second-by-dragging-second, reality. Social media had become ineffective. It felt like the 1990s. Now I remember why melancholy was so popular in that decade. Still, this was the 3rd day of the gig, and I was hoping for something cool to happen.  Looked at my phone, 3 o’ clock. No lunch, no word, just sitting in a parking lot in Hollywood, in a heat wave, in full hair and make up.  It was the most fabulous tedium I’ve ever experienced. (more…)

Some Action

Posted By Raya Yarbrough on April 3, 2015

Around 3am I woke up to sounds in the house. Seemed like a great deal of motion. I checked the baby monitor, but all was normal with her. The sound continued, getting louder downstairs. I had no power in my limbs. I was completely drained, but the sound was getting closer to the baby side of the house, and my biological imperative to protect my young was overpowering my sleep deprived listlessness.

I wrapped up in my robe, and crept downstairs. I heard the sounds above me as I crossed the dining room. Burglars? Goblins?

My senses became alert and instinctual. I took on feline expressions as I padded towards my daughter’s nursery. The sound grew louder in the hall outside her room. I gathered her up and walked back into the middle of the house. The scuttling seemed to transverse the roof, and ended up in my studio. Now the noise was coming from my bathroom. Loud.


Adventures With Volvo In Gigland #3

Posted By Raya Yarbrough on December 11, 2014

The Solo Gig

I felt myself squinting my eyes on the big notes, and getting extra breathy on the verse.

I was trying.

So hard.

Too hard, not to take the whole rendition too far…

but it’s almost impossible not to go the full ham sandwich when you’re singing the theme from Titanic.

Oddly, that is not the reason I was not asked back to perform at Coconut Cove.

I’ll tell you the moral of the story up front:
Sometimes you don’t win the room.

Sometimes the final act isn’t heroic.

Sometimes the whole point is just to show up, and do it.

Then you know you did it. And that belongs to you.


Adventures With Volvo In Gigland. #2

Posted By Raya Yarbrough on October 22, 2014

The Wedding In The Hills

(phone rings)

“Hey, there baby.”

“Hey, Red.”

“Hey, what you doin’ tomorrow evening?”

“I’m open, what’s up?”

“Can you do a gig? It’s a wedding ceremony reception.”

“Ceremony or reception?”



“ ’Round 5 we gotta get there.”

“Ok, ‘til when?”

“It’s up at the…Jewish place…near Mulholland.”

“The Skirball center?”

“That’s it. It’s a wedding.”

“The reception?”

“Yeah, the wedding.”

“So after the ceremony, or during?”

“I want you to do a jazz set at the beginning, and then we’ll do the Motown and soul set.”

“Ok, two sets.”

“Then you can sing some backgrounds on the top 40.”

“So 3 sets?”

“It’s a wedding.”

“Right. How long do they want us?”

“It’ll pay 250. ‘Bout 2 sets, we’ll do 3 sets of material.”

“So two, or…three…?”

“Alright baby, see you there.”

“Ok, so 5pm to around…”



After getting a phone call from Red, I was always more confused than before the call. Not just about the subject we discussed, but a kind of existential limbo – the “staring into the space between the wall, and the dust particles on your eyeball” kind of limbo. Red was the type of band leader who could jovially train wreck any musical situation he was put in charge of. And the audiences loved it. (more…)

Adventures with Volvo in Gigland. #1

Posted By Raya Yarbrough on September 5, 2014

The Manhattan

I willed my weary body up the stairs to my apartment. My butt was asleep. I opened my apartment door, and the late night, LA dry-cold wheezed in. The door hinge whined as it opened, bitching that I woke it up after 2am. Then it closed behind me on the hem of my dress.


I was done.
I unzipped the frock and kicked out of it, leaving it hanging in the door. I twisted my feet out of my turquoise heels, and did the post-stiletto hobble to my bedroom to dial my boyfriend. After three rings, he startled onto the line with a crusty eyed voice, “Hon?”


“I though you we’re going to call me by 11?”


“What happened?”

“I accidentally drove to San Diego.”


Adventures With Volvo In Gigland #0

Posted By Raya Yarbrough on July 4, 2014

Right In The Middle

My black Volvo and I rattled up to the intersection borderline. The light turned green. The smell was coming through the body of my car now, like I was cooking strips of corpse bacon on the hood. I pleaded with my machine,“C’mon, dude, we can make it down Overland.” The car in front of me turned, and I pressed the gas.
“What? C’mon babe.”
I pressed the gas again.

Volvo gave up the ghost at 5:45pm in the middle, the geometric middle, of the intersection of Palms and Overland. In rush hour.

Not on a side street, nor twisty Motor Ave., no. My car stopped like a dropped anchor, right in the crotch of the intersection. It was obscene. It was flat out surreal. I was on the traffic equivalent of the gallows in front of a crowd of hissing townspeople hanging me for witchcraft.

And AAA had me on hold with Muzak.

Let’s go back an hour or so.

I was on my way to a doctor’s appointment, my ladyparts doctor to be precise, as a follow up to my recent baby-having. Said baby was at home with her dad, tranquil for the moment, but if you have one of these, or even know someone who does, you know the tranquility is more of a stay of execution. My parole was temporary, and daddy had business people coming over. Volvo and I had our mission parameters: get there, get poked at, get home. Hopefully before the full tilt, double screw of baby meltdown and rush hour.

The scorched smell first ghosted over my senses as I was crossing that part of National Blvd which splits, momentarily, into the Quantum universe. The smell registered in my brain, but my brain was navel gazing about the nature of the Blvd. and we ignored it. My brain was conjuring Morgan Freeman’s sturdy, celestial, timbre, from his Wormhole program, telling me that National Boulevard is more a theoretical concept than a street, because it exists in more than one place at a time, and disappears and reappears unpredictably. I agreed with my mental-Morgan, because on one occasion, years ago, I dared to wave my ass at the space-time parameters, and followed National boulevard on its full, mysterious, path. I followed National past the freeway, along the train tracks, through town, away from town, and I ended up perpendicular to another street:
National Boulevard.
I stopped at the light, and heard my laughter bounce off the dash board, and a silent scream bounce off my inner scull.

Back to the mission at hand, I rolled under the 10Fwy and into Cheviot Hills, as Morgan Freeman continued on, in my brain, about the nature of LA intersections in general. He said that they are something akin to singularities, fizzling with a kinetic insanity which only froths at the mouths of those gaping urban holes, in urban sprawl, in Los Angeles county, in rush hour. They twitch towards their own inevitable potential chaos – orgasms of vehicular absurdity DAMN there’s that smell again…and I noticed an odd tone whirring from the front of my car with the funny smell. Hot funny. The stink of burning money for car repairs funny.
I pulled over.

Maybe it was some other schmuck’s car, somebody who had foolishly left their oil unchanged and unchecked. I’m not that fool. I often think of changing or checking my oil. No, I haven’t actually done it, but it’s the idiots who don’t even think of it who get in trouble. I think about it all the time.

The smell dissipated, the light greened, and I pedaled the engine back to life. The smell came back. I checked the temperature gauge – just below the red, ok. My Volvo, in all the 8 years we’ve shared, has never overheated on me. We’ve foraged for gigs all up and down the 90 freeway, the 101, the 10, the 110, we’ve parked and rotted together on the 405, when some lunatics decided to crack the chest of the highway at 3am in Orange County, to service the road in front of an army of late commuting zombies. Volvo slogged with me at 5mph passed the construction crews, crept up the asphalt with me, upheld a mantra of pistons and fine Swedish engine craft. Never once did he burn.

So I was optimistic. I kept going. Past the mansions, the other golf course, Fox Studios, right on Pico, and left on Doheny to face the Hollywood Hills in the bleary North. Then I heard a rattle. “Just old car sounds” I told myself.

Volvo and I arrived and parked at the office of my ladyparts doctor to follow up on my recent birth. (Not my recent birth, my baby’s recent birth. Every doctor’s appointment I’ve ever had has been a follow up to my birth.) My appointment took my car concerns off of my mind. We were mostly making sure that I was still not pregnant anymore. We assessed this immediately due to two compelling points of fact: 1)There was not a baby in my body 2)There was a baby at home, who we assumed is the one who used to be in my body. We agreed that this evidence was sufficient to calling the birth a success, and I went back down to the parking garage. (Note: this was a slightly abridged version of my doctor visit, although all facts stated above are true).

I drove Volvo back out of the garage, and turned left opposite the bleary Hollywood Hills. Morgan Freeman reappeared in my brain, continuing his talk on Dark Matter governing downtown congestion patterns. I had forgotten about the smell and the whirr, but now it returned like a grey olfactory fog . Volvo began to take on a heave and a shake, like the phlegm which vibrates through the chest after a virus. Morgan Freeman paused, and I started making deals with God.
God, let me get home before my 1 month old daughter starts screaming, and I will finish reading a book instead of Facebook updates. God, let the traffic be light, and I will take shorter showers…

Finally I made it back to Cheviot Hills heading toward National Blvd. – but by now the rattle had turned into a shake, and I could feel it through my shoe every time I pressed the gas.

I crossed National and Motor, but still had a ways to go, so my engine just had to keep the dream alive. Had to find the fear of God and keep churning. I started talking to my car. “C’mon man, we’re almost home, you know the way.” But Motor Ave. started creeping because 5:30 in the evening is “Every Asshole” hour in LA, because Every Asshole in LA is trying to drive somewhere.
Right in front of you.

So Every Asshole in LA was between me and my house, and my car was losing the dream. I couldn’t hear Morgan Freeman anymore.
I turned off Motor Ave. heading towards the intersection of Palms and Overland. This intersection seems like an upstanding bit of road, but it’s a sociopath too. It’s another vortex where laws of physics do wrong things, and good people make bad lefts. Where people cross the streets in late-80s colored pants, and drivingpeople notice this, and become confounded, and make slow decisions, and horns resound, and Every Asshole misses their turn. But I had no choice, I got in line.

Volvo and I rattled up to the intersection borderline. The light turned green. “C’mon, dude…” The car in front of me turned, and I pressed the gas.
I pressed the gas again.

Volvo gave up the ghost at 5:45pm in the geometric middle of the intersection of Palms and Overland.
The car behind me began to beep, the cars which were stopped at the red began to beep, the cars 4 cars behind me began to beep, and I started scrolling in my phone for the AAA number.

The dude behind me starting yelling something, so I made the universal signal for vehicular non-compliance. You know, you look up into the rear view, and extend your limbs into flappy-arms on either side of your body translating to “I have no power over the current situation of my vehicle!” And you mouth the words as if they can see you. I made this tribal gesture several times before the cars began maneuvering around me. Then the cross traffic started towards me and I sat, in the slowly swarming sea of Every Asshole.

In the cross currents of horns, obscene hand signals, and indecipherable hurled insults, I had a moment to reflect. Wow, I was that guy. That guy, who’s car is in such an obnoxious situation, that Every Asshole who maneuvered around me went home and told their friends/family/pets about that human zit who was stuck in their car in the middle of the intersection. They probably started by talking about what a shit-storm it was, and then moved on to what kind of an idiot winds up like that, probably somebody who didn’t even think about checking their oil (which is wrong, I often thought about it), and then moved on, in a moment of self congratulatory, high-mindedness to hoping that I ended up ok and get my life together. “Man, that poor asshole,” said the asshole, to his friends and family and pets who nodded over their quinoa or designer cupcakes.

Finally got through to AAA, and selected the “I’m fucked, save me” option from the voice menu. I was then transferred to the holding music. So I listened to the Musak, sitting in my one ton automotive shell, in the middle of the intersection. I didn’t think that this would ever be a thing, but now it was. And I was in the thing, and I couldn’t find my hazard light, as if I needed to alert anyone that this was a hazard.

Then a non-LA thing happened. A dude actually ran out into the intersection and offered to push my car out of the street. Really? So I put Volvo in neutral and he and his friend pushed my car to the shoulder of Overland. I got out and shook his hand, what a kind thing to do, just above and beyond the call, a real selfless act.
He must’ve been Canadian.

So the Musak finally ended and the AAA person asked me the questions, and I forgot the year of my car as always. They told me they’d be there in 30 minutes, and I sat back to ponder what my Facebook post for this would be..wait, would that go back on my deal with God to read less Facebook? Is the deal off since my car broke down anyway? What if I post that on Facebook- BANG!
I craned around in my seat, expecting to see some road-rage fallout from my car drama – some Asshole for whom I was the last straw, barreling towards my dead Volvo with the precision of a lit turd – but what I actually saw was another car, ANOTHER car, spin out into the intersection, and skid into the stopped cars on my side of the street. All traffic stalled.
The intersection held it’s breath again. No sooner had I gotten pushed out of the middle by that nice Canadian man, than the roads had claimed another. I heard the Morgan Freeman voice return: “another vehicle has fallen victim to the pull of the gravitrons in the eccentric quantum vortex of the urban sprawl intersection.” It was at this point when my emotional meter became overburdened, and everything became funny.

I stepped out of Volvo, and walked towards the corner, where the other car was dented and smoking. The driver (not hurt) was standing by with her phone, making the “what did I learn in Drivers-ed about this?” face. Then the tow trucks began to arrive, and got confused about who went to who, then the fire truck, full of firepeople looking around at my black, broken, car – and the other black broken car, stopped around the corner from each other. I made the universal arm-flappy, shrugging gesture for “these are two separate incidents!” and the fire people tilted their heads.

While the professionals sorted everything out, another wave of odd began, since this corner happens to contain a convalescent home. Like a scene from a B-horror flick, all these people with walkers started dribbling out of the building and gathering around the event. The corner looked like a mid-80s patterned couch from a Florida motel – the bright greens of the firepeople’s vests, starched white of the AAA shirts, pale pinks, yellows, and florals of the seniors, the purples of the caretaker’s scrubs, and the incongruous red and orange flare of the emergency trucks. It was a chaos salad. My nerves were shot, my car is probably finished, my baby is definitely throwing a fit by now…and all I could do was laugh. A lady in orange crocks looked at me sideways as I giggled behind my cell phone.

So Volvo got hooked up to the tow, and away we went to my local mechanic. I looked back at my ride and thought to myself, “the intersection had its sacrifices,” the wormhole was closed. I looked out my right window and saw the crowd dispersing, traffic returning to flow, and down at the edge of the block, I saw Morgan Freeman wink and walk away.

My very coherent, not drunk at all (one glass, whatever), thoughts on Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball” Video:

Posted By Raya Yarbrough on September 12, 2013

( after seeing an onslaught of tweets and Facebookings on the subject, I decided to give it a look-see. These were the immediate drippings from my head-sponge)


First off, Those nails were impractical for the handling of large hammers. Second, when doing construction work, boots alone are not enough for proper safety – although the tiny tank and undies certainly offer free range of movement and good ventilation. I assume the lipstick was flame retardant and SPF 30 or above?

True analysis:
As for proper wrecking ball etiquette/best riding practices, nudity is not common any longer. Nude wrecking ball riding was abandoned in 1896 after a Mrs. Betty Smythson of Cincinnati suffered what was referred to at the time as “the pink twerk” (no doubt the inspiration for Miley’s other musical exploration) which was the colloquial term for clitoral injury.

Mrs.Betty Smythson,
“ball rider,” in her

Cincinnati home, 1895
After the unfortunate ride of Mrs. Smythson, wrecking ball saddles or “Ball huggers” were instituted into common use and considered standard (although true standardization was not instituted until 1900, when the production of wrecking balls intended for riding was taken over by the Ford Motor Co.) Clitoral guards, or “vag-vests,” became somewhat of a fashion statement and status symbol for upper class women who could afford the luxurious accouterments of the Wrecking Ball set.

Although Cyrus was somewhat lambasted for her “sparkly onesie” from the VMAs, it is important to understand that it was not, in fact, a “onesie” but a historically accurate “vag-vest” of excellent quality.
A 19th Century doctor
attends to a woman suffering
the “Pink twerk”
Lastly, the handling and licking of the hammer, though clearly an homage to cold war propaganda communist murals, seemed a bit blatant, but not to be hasty on judgement, it is probable Miss Cyrus meant the gesture as a public service hint for Tetanus awareness, reminding us all to stay on top of our booster shots.


and…Good night.

Before I meet the cast…(countdown to the show)

Posted By Raya Yarbrough on May 23, 2013

It’s been this way at this time of night lately, when I’m puttering around the house with no goals lasting more than 30 seconds before they dissipate and I forget why I’m in the kitchen. I’m walking in odd geometry, no economy of movement, I’m literally bouncing off the walls.
Very, very slowly.


You see, it’s been 3 days since the casting calls have gone out for NOSWOV (“North of Sunset, West of Vine” my musical), so I actually have something tangible to wait for. It’s all been in my head, on my own schedule, making words and tunes for my imaginary people, and now they’re going to be real.

I’m going to meet them.

I’ve never been on this side of the casting table. My director, Mary Jo Duprey, says it’s really fun, but I don’t see how I can avoid having sympathetic nerves for the auditioning people. I was always nervous for auditions.

The music is almost done…I mean it was done being composed a while ago, but now I’m tasked with actually making legible, the stuff that rolls out of my brain through my mouth. It’s more complex than I thought. And drippy.
Many 16th notes (it wasn’t just the caffeine), but a lot of it is also open to interpretation by the actors, that’s what they do, and it will be so exciting to hear my tunes rolling out of someone else’s brain and through their mouth.

Lo…and behold the 16th notes. Actually a very slow song, not scary.

So here I am. The end of Wednesday night, with nerves like it’s opening night, wandering in shuffles with excessive blinking.
Turning lights off obsessively, then on again when I come back to do something I already forgot about.
We’re not up for a month (June 28-30)I should probably smoke a joint but I never got into it.
I should meditate. Last time I did, my chakras were full of old emails.

Ok. Time for the inner house cleaning before I meet the cast.
More soon…