December Songs Pt.2: Racecar 49

My holiday album is finally available!Click here to get December Songs on iTunes!

There’s only you, there’s only I.

There’s not a white ice crystal in the sky.

Flashing red and candy white, just lights behind police lines…

…But we’ve got Racecar 49 on remote control around a 12 inch pine tree, and we’ve got choir music on the wire-hanger turn-dial TV

(Lyrics from “Racecar 49” ©Raya Yarbrough 11/2010)

[audio:|titles=Racecar 49 - Raya Yarbrough]

The steering wheel fit perfectly between my first finger and my thumb. I would hold the rectangular box with my left hand and steer with my right.  I felt like I was actually driving down an alleyway – skidding away from danger, colliding with obstacles and escaping with 3 or 4 point turns, dodging bigger machines, and hitting full speed when I reached a clearing. In 1988, my dad and I used to terrorize the aisles at the Radio Shack across from Mann’s Chinese Theatre.

In the time of year when the warm Santa Ana winds cool to something like winter, the ankle-high whirlwinds begin to carry bits of silver. Instead of ash, or rubber bits, I’d get home with little exhausted tinsel strips, panting for their lives on my Reeboks. I knew where they came from. Sometime much too soon after Thanksgiving, the City Of Hollywood decided to implement Operation Holiday Cheer, and toss up the tinsel over tinsel town.

Like its retail neighbors, the Radio Shack across from the Chinese Theatre was getting into the spirit too – the obligatory tinsel, some frosty ball-type hanging things, and more… much more merchandise. For folks who really couldn’t afford to take toys home, store display models were a godsend. Especially during the fall months, my dad and I would go to Radio Shack and play with the remote control cars.  My dad preferred the ones with the big wheels and sturdy little frames, the ones that could roll over any pebble or felled action figure. I preferred the sleek, low-to-the-ground models, built for speed.

One year I found Racecar 49, a white Mercury Capri kind of model, with “49” painted on the top in orange, red and yellow. I loved the controller because it actually had a little steering wheel, and long ridiculous antennae wire with a black knob at the end. I have no idea why this controller had such a long, bobbing, wire, but when I was done playing with the car it was fun to hit my dad with it, so it was fine.

The manager of the store, a nice Asian man whose name I never knew, could have asked us to leave any time – the store was not an amusement park after all – but he never did. So, Racecar 49 continued to zoom through the alleyways of the cardboard box city - rebounding off of door stoppers, expressing the whir of its tiny machinery, tearing up the Radio Shack rug while story upon story of its fellow mini-autos peered down through clear plastic.

When it was time to go, I would place it back on the stack of identical boxes that held its twins. I wondered, as we walked away, how it would do on the street, if it would be strong enough to handle the uncontrolled world outside the store. I scuffed my feet across the pink, grainy stars paved into the sidewalk. I compared the texture to the black abrasive, Radio Shack rug. I wanted to try, but we had to leave it behind. I let the question go with a piece of red tinsel in a dust flurry around our feet.



December days grew shorter as we walked under the lamp-posts, wrapped with metallic sea anemones, hairy arms in green, red, silver and blue. It was the promise of Dickensian Christmas perfection, that frosted-window, “hymns around the piano,” fruitcake fantasy - as if the decking of the street signals was the magic that would bring a golden glow to every bathroom-less studio apartment, and cheer to the heart of every hustler.

Holiday tinkles and swaths of saccharine string arrangements began to pour out of Hollywood memorabilia shops. The mannequins in the lingerie store windows began to don Santa hats and lace-up teddies in red, with white fluffy trim. There were plastic mistletoe leaves in the corners of the tattoo parlors, and a rug of artificial snow in the lot next to the Scientology building. It all amounted to a sentimental lap dance. You could look at it all you wanted, you could smell it and feel its warmth right next to you, but you could never truly touch it.



There would eventually come a time when my mother, my step-father, my father, and I would all spend holidays together, but by 1988 this time had not yet arrived. Christmas was spent at my mom’s – the tree was there, the presents were there, and the cats were there, and mom knew how to make the house warm and bright.  I don’t actually know where my dad went those years on Christmas, but I saw him some days before and some days after.

That year, the weekend before Christmas, I came to stay at my dad’s place. Apartment #4 was just as it had been the previous weekend. The window on the far wall was hung with light-refracting crystals, making beauty of the light bouncing off the garbage heap outside. His guitar was leaning against the wall, chilling out with the amplifier. My Jessica Rabbit figurine was on a small table next to some penny wrappers... but what’s this? Down on the floor, in front of two plastic crates of LPs, and next to the speaker supporting the turn-dial TV, was a Christmas tree, no higher than my knees. Next to the Christmas tree was a wrapped box. My dad was sitting on the edge of the bed smiling.

The next few Christmases would bring a bike, many Barbies, tapes and CDs, cats tangled in string-lights, and eventually, eventually togetherness.  But in 1988, I sat on the floor of my dad’s studio apartment, and with the ancient, traditional Canada Dry ginger ale, and some fortune cookies left over from Pink Panda take-out, with a choir murmuring low on the TV screen, I was witness to a miracle. In those years, he hadn’t two spare dimes to rub together, but somehow my dad did it. I’ll never know. In the frigid, 60-degree California winter, under a window frosted with city soot, under the fathomless warmth of my father’s eyes, I unwrapped Racecar 49.

"…and we’ve got ginger ale and fortune cookies, and we’ve got songs to sing, with the choir music on the wire-hanger turn-dial TV..."



So here we are now... the end of 2010, and this blog entry, this new music, exemplifies what I want this journey to be.

North of Sunset West of Vine is  the DNA for a creative process in two parts - a double helix of words and music - my deepest memories and my day-to-day experiences reflecting backwards and forwards onto each other, to pave a creative path.

My new album, "December Songs," - as much as I've joked about it being a "last-minute-oh-my-God-did-we really-pull-this-off?" project - was really a long time coming.

Among these songs, Racecar 49 particularly embodies the vibration, the narrative that will extend into my next full album.

Thanks so much for reading, your support and your comments give me momentum! I am so excited to continue this journey with more stories and more music in 2011!

So now, without further ado........

Click here to get December Songs on iTunes!

(and read below to see who all played this music!)




December Songs – CREDITS!

who played on this album??

Since most folks will download this album digitally, and never see the physical item, I wanted to post the player and production credits for the awesome people who made this album happen.

“December Songs” Produced by Raya Yarbrough and Bear McCreary Co-produced by Jonathan Ortega Recorded and Mixed by Laurence SchwarzAdditional Engineering by Tom Brissette Mastered by Ira Ingber Cover Art by Raya Yarbrough

All arrangements by Raya Yarbrough, except "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" by Michael Beach and "Sally's Song" by Bear McCreary

Performed by: Vocals: Raya Yarbrough Acoustic and Electric Outer-Space Guitars: Steve Bartek Electric Guitar on "Midnight Sun:" Takeshi Akimoto Strings:Paul Cartwright (violin), Robbie Anderson (violin),Tom“Dirrty Brahms”Lea (viola), Jacob Szekely (cello), Dan Seeff (double bass) Piano / Accordion: Bear McCrearyCeleste: Jonathan Ortega

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas Music/Lyrics: Ralph Blane, Hugh Martin

Racecar 49 Music/Lyrics: Raya Yarbrough

Midnight Sun Music/Lyrics: Sonny Burke, Lionel Hampton, Johnny Mercer

I’ve Got my Love to Keep me Warm Music/Lyrics: Irving Berlin

River Music/Lyrics: Joni Mitchell

Sally’s Song Music/Lyrics: Danny Elfman

Special Thanks to: Steve Kaplan, David Matics and Kevin Porter

Y’all make me sound good.

Endless thanks, and happy holidays!

Love, Raya

Raya Yarbrough

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