Posted By Raya Yarbrough on September 16, 2012
Through the eye of my iPhone, this is my screen
as of 3:11 pm on 9/14/2012.
Since the last live production of North Of Sunset, West Of Vine, I’ve been expanding the show – and I’m now done with a first draft of the new version!
Of course, none of you will ever see this version.
There is much tweaking (as in editing and polishing, not drug abuse – though we’ll see what becomes necessary as the bars of music mount) to be done, and a hell of a lot of music to write/revise. But this is a milestone. This might not have happened if I were less of a masochist, but I’m awfully glad I am. Or maybe I’m a sadist because, after all, it’s other people who will have to learn and perform all this!
(I already know it! HA! – Speaking of “HA!” you may notice my friend peeking into the screen to the right of the document. He’s my desktop, don’t mind him.)
For those of you who don’t know what North of Sunset, West Of Vine (hereafter, NOSWOV) is, let me give you a little bit of the genesis.
Around 2009, I got stuck.
I had a big catalogue of original music, and I liked to perform it, but the club circuit was not doing it for me anymore. After releasing 4 albums, one on a major label (Telarc, Concord), I was still running in place. My craft was improving, my inspiration was there, but there was a constant undercurrent of panic. I felt my life clock ticking across my back, hunching me over ’till all I could see was my own feet beating the pavement to club after club. I remember telling a friend that my life was “cycles of desperation, with intermittent applause.”
So, in 2010 I did a re-boot.
That’s the style of the times, no? Before NOSWOV even existed I tried another route first. I’ve always loved writing for strings, so I re-arranged my repertoire for string quartet and rhythm section. Also, after years of doing theatre, I missed the sense of connection with an audience – I decided that I would approach each song as a story - I would consider myself “telling” instead of singing.
In January 2011, I played Vitello’s, and it was a blast!
But 2 things happened. Rather, 2 things didn’t happen.
1) I was expecting a record A&R person to show that night. Didn’t show.
2) I was expecting to feel a sense of forward energy, like I’d found my new groove. Not found.
After the show, I felt…unconcluded – like sex that ends abruptly when your roommate comes back. On the way home, I figured out what was missing. The stories in my songs should not stand alone, they need to be part of something bigger – I needed a context for all the songs.
I’m glad the A&R woman didn’t come. She would’ve seen the wrong show.
Which fortunately lead me to…
Around this time Bear and I went to an ASCAP soiree at Hollywood and Highland – you know, that strange outgrowth of tourist-targeted urban planning which used to be a lot of memorabilia/porn shops. For some reason we’d been going to a lot of Hollywood things at that time – the El Capitan a few times, Capital Records for sessions, some sushi place on Highland, all random social/work occasions, and all within a few months – and my mind was starting to crack.
You see, Hollywood and I had been on the outs since 1990, when a fire burned down my dad’s apartment. After years (starting in 1986, refer to POST # 1) of weird and bad experiences living on Hollywood Blvd as a child, the fire came and pushed us out, and I swore to never come back. Fast forward to 2010 -there I was being forced back onto the streets I’d sealed off in the back of my mind.
Finally, during the ASCAP soiree I walked outside on a balcony. It was late afternoon, and I was cross the street from the El Capitan Theatre. I looked to my left at a plain-faced stucco wall of a building, it was desert tan in the end of the sunlight, and the glass across the street reflected it as gold, and below the cars reflected gold, and the boulevard was a gold river with no beginning and no end. All boom and screech of city, all gusts of fumes, all chatter, all pigeon wing flutter became the same sound. *My mind drifted back to days of asthmatic air conditioning units, corner dust balls with pigeon feathers, peeling art Deco wallpaper, tourists in tropical button downs, and RTD exhaust bombs at the end of every block – and as night fell, manic neon gas in tubes lining glass windowed store fronts, mohawked punks with angry queer streaks, Checks Cashed Here open 24 hours, and a million chipping eye sockets on a million plaster faced mannequins. All that was left of the golden age of Hollywood was a phantom vapor above the strip, a dust that had never settled and – which filled me now.* That’s when I realized, my stone cold hatred had turned into love –it all became beautiful to me – and that was my big story.
So, I started a blog.
This one. I wrote down every story I could remember (there are still so many I haven’t gotten to yet), and over a year, I’d compiled enough to adapt into a show of vignettes and songs. Some songs were tunes I’d been performing for years, and some were written specifically as companions to certain stories. In January 2012 I premiered this creation as North Of Sunset, West Of Vine, named after the last song from my 1999 album “Waking at Twilight,” (though the title song was not actually performed in this first incarnation of the show)
I did 3 performances in 3 different clubs, and it was an incredible experience. I finally felt the framework I wanted, the songs and stories were getting across to people….then at the 3rd show something changed.
At the final show, under the pink and teal lights at the Roxy Theatre –It felt wrong. Incomplete. In the middle of Act 1, my mouth kept moving, but in my head I knew what the problem was, I just hadn’t wanted to face it. Truth is, NOSWOV was supposed to be an actual musical, complete with other people who are not me. It was time for some heavy lifting.
So, I started again.
I gave myself 2 weeks off, to get away from the material and clear my head.
I lasted one week before I dove back in.
And that’s what I’ve been doing ever since. Learning to be a writer. Expanding the characters I had outlined in my narrative into flesh and blood people, adding and subtracting songs, and giving songs to other characters (that’s been really fun.)
Except for a break to go to Comic Con in July, I’ve been hacking away at my inner child’s emotional core, and have only experienced 2.5 breakdowns! Bear might suggest more, but those were lack of sleep, not legitimate psychological episodes – anyway, if you miss an episode it spoils the series! And there’s no stand alone stories with me. I am all A-story.(nerdy writer joke, can I make those yet?)
Now, 5 months after the show at The Roxy, I’ve finished the first draft of the new NOSWOV, and though she needs cosmetic work, the bitch will walk!
I’ll keep posting on my progress – the music phase will be more fun, and come January, you’re all invited to the show….
Raya (*Excerpt from Act 1, scene 1, NOSWOV.)