A Quick and Dirty History of My Fabulous Music Career, Pt.2: Ye Olde Hollywood Hustle

There was pink and teal neon in 1988.

There were maraschino cherries, and lacquered black glass table tops.

There was a black, glass, monolith-building on Sunset Blvd across from the Cinerama Dome, which is now called the Arclight Theater.

I remember going there to audition for my first agent, let's call her "Cathy" at her agency building, and looking down behind the tinted panes from many floors up. Even in the early days of singing on the Blvd, I felt the forward motion of those club nights was hampered by rusty tracks. The sparks from that grind, began to move me. The potential energy of drunks hissing, a broken glass in the soft spot of a ballad, little shocks to little fingers from old wires – became kinetic, and these moments unified my volition into solid bolts of ambition.

Every song became a wish for more, a rehearsal for future plans, almost like I had an inner mantra, “I will get out of Hollywood, my music will move on from these streets.” So I set my sights from Hollywood the location, to Hollywood the metaphor, and got myself an agent.

Here is one wacky fruit of that adventure: straight from Sycamore Ave and Hollywood Blvd (via Burbank) to you kids at home!

Exhibit A: Le Commercial

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In those years, broad-sided and spit-shined black glass buildings were thought to be modern looking; they were severe and sleek –like Grace Jones’ hair cut. Nowadays to me they look clunky and deliberate, more like Macintosh Classics.

“Ted” (the man who would try to sign me to my first record deal in ’89) also worked out of an office in a black glass building, a shorter one, with a Ficus tree eating half of it. The Ficus tree softened the severity of the edges – the agency building would never have succumbed to a Ficus, it was too tall, too Cyberdine.

The agency office was cold, but not uncomfortable, the chairs were firm. Cathy was very friendly, clearly used to working with kids, but behind the softness she was a geometric business woman. There was power in her suits. One has to be part mom and part admiral to run a Hollywood puppy mill.

Cathy brought me in and had me read some sides (sides: script parts) for a milk commercial. She gave me some notes and had me read again, again, again – then she said she would accept me. So long story short, after a few months I was turned out to the wolves…the wolves and the wilds of LA auditioning.

Exhibit B: Le Headshot (circa 1991, there is an earlier one in a box somewhere) (click to embiggen)



I will never forget Cathy, because after facing the camera and “slating” my agency and age (slating: when you address the camera at an audition and say who you are) I would finally get to do what I came for.  It meant that after dragging through what always seemed to be rush hour, in the heat, to Hollywood/Burbank/“the Valley” – after a tension flushed drive, mom cursing innocent motorists – after beading sweat had frizzed my bangs and my powder pink bow had wilted, I would finally – get to act.

Entering the audition room would do something to my energy, I knew this was my gate to the yellow brick road. My bow would perk, my eyes brighten, and Goddamn it, "I WILL SELL YOU SOME EGGO WAFFLES! DO YOU SEE HOW CUTE I AM? YOU SEE THIS MOTHERFUCKER?!" And in less than 15 minutes, sometimes less than 10, I was done. Back out of the building through the aisles of other pink-bowed little girls, out into the asphalt and commerce, heat waves warping up from the road, bending the light on our path back to the car.

There were certain casting calls that were sort of doomed for me. Sometimes they were looking for a white little girl, and I wasn’t white enough. Sometimes they were looking for a black little girl, and I wasn’t black enough. Sometimes they didn’t specify race, which should have been good for me, but that’s never really true.  They’re usually looking for something, and mixed-race was not valued in those days the way it is now. If we were really on it, we would’ve amped up my Spanish lessons so I could pass for Latina – though that wouldn’t be fair to the actual Latina little girls, to have a bunch of “fake-Latina” little girls come in and mess up their odds. It’s tough enough out there.



So that’s how it went: go to the call, do your thing, home. Wait, 3 days – callback? Maybe. Out to another one…

…And out to another night at Thai Ice Cuisine, sometimes still in my “potential Barbie-girl” get-up. One night, singing “Moody’s Mood for Love” or “I Got it Bad and that Ain’t Good,” I reached for a high note and, knitting my brow in sonic intensity, I felt my pink bow tweeze out a single hair from the crown of my head. I didn’t let on.

Stay tuned for next week!

Raya Yarbrough

Singer, Composer, writer of absurd stories about LA, chanteuse on Outlander, BSG, DaVinci's Demons, & I used to date Dick Grayson.