The Clash And The Glow

Today was one of those "Hollywood the street" meets "Hollywood the industry" moments, which actually doesn't happen very often - most Hollywoodness doesn't happen in Hollywood proper.

This morning, Bear and I went to a ceremony for Producer, Gale Anne Hurd, who was getting her own star on the walk of fame. A Big deal! And just in case her name is unfamiliar to you, Gale has produced little indie films like The Terminator, Terminator 2 and Aliens – she’s also been a major door breaker for many professional industry women who have since followed her. Anyway, we were there because Gale also produces a little known, niche, genre show called The Walking Dead, which Bear scores, and to which I have contributed vocally.

So everyone was gathered right on the street, in front of a place called Napoleon’s, next to a moveable stage. When we joined the blob of humanity gathered around the presentation area, it felt like the line for a really slow ride. The low demeanors of the “behind-the-scenes” crowd, clashed with the fundamental glitz of the zip code. There was a memorabilia shop across the street selling shiny fake Oscars and bright pink cameras, just paces away from these people who had actual ones. These were some of the most influential people in the business, but you would never know it if they weren’t the ones behind the red velvet ropes.

In contrast to the famous image, Hollywood is created in woolly sweaters in front of greasy computer monitors. Hollywood is created in old t-shirts and bad hair days. Hollywood is created in sweat pants, business casual slacks, college hoodies, low-heel pumps, and forever 21 on forever 39 year olds. Glamour is in the mind.

So back on the sidewalk, under the Jacaranda trees, I figure we were the thick bottom slice of a publicity sandwich, with a side dish of celebrities off to one side. The speeches were insightful, Gale talked about her family’s humble beginnings, and her own struggle to success in the business – it was truly sincere. She wore a necklace of sparkly stars around her neck, which was tastefully ironic, and genuinely chic. I dug it. She thanked the fans, and people who have always had her back, her friends and her family, but during the course of this heartfelt talk, at least five bright red Tour buses grundled by, and one garbage truck dude caught sight of the Walking Dead cast and yelled “woo hoo!” as his truck rattled on. That’s the clash I’m talking about. I think someone tipped off the local Hollywood tour buses, because they started coming by the site every three minutes. Seriously, these big fuck-off double decker red buses, with cyclopses hanging out, blinking their adjustable eyes and flashing, chattering, waving to each other "it's James Cameron!" which it was, never mind that he was trying to talk.

After the ceremony we went inside, and the climate changed. It was more than the God-sent rush of air conditioning; it was the whole atmosphere. The world settled back into the normal concerns and distractions. There were hors d'oeuvres, and lemonade, and remembering to hold your drink in your left hand so you could shake hands with your right. There were compliments to start a conversation, which lead to laughter, or went nowhere. There was wondering if I could have a conversation with this person outside of work, and discovering that I could, or I couldn’t. Once we were off the boulevard, Hollywood the industry, the metaphor, the clutch of misfits, could gather and talk and bitch, and just be people. And the glamour returned to the inside, to incubate, to fuss, to go home and renew in the glow behind woolly sweaters.

NOSWOV Draft #1. Again.

Through the eye of my iPhone, this is my screenas 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. Theatre, bitches. I'm glad the A&R woman didn't come. She would've seen the wrong show. Which fortunately lead me to...

comedy-tragedy pink-teal

comedy-tragedy pink-teal

Finding The Right Show.

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....

Love, Raya  (*Excerpt from Act 1, scene 1, NOSWOV.)

A Sad and Happy Story

I talked to my dad today, and he told me that the other day he was riding a bus in Santa Monica.When the bus came to his stop, he got up and walked towards the front. The bus was crowded, a lot of people busy in their minds and in their own worlds. Smooth frail technology, poked and tapped by greasy homosapien hands, white plastic veins channeling digital sound in cartilage holes in hairy fleshy tunnels through labyrinthine bones to red stretching veins on dense thinking matter, releasing the eyes to roll carelessly over the landscape of heads with eyes rolling carelessly, hands doing nothing, ankles swollen and some twitching in black torn converse with faded silver marker sketches of boyfriend's names, gum turned black on the bottom, black from what used to be pink, stretched over dense stinking matter like veins. A lot of people in their own worlds.

Until an asshole spoke up.

My dad was about 3 steps from the door when he accidentally brushed his elbow against a young man. "Hey! Don't F--king touch me!" My dad turned around. The young man continued. "Don't F--cking touch me, I hate you people." "What?" "I said I hate you mother F--ckers! Don't touch me!" My dad is an imposing figure. 6'3" with a studied, fixed glare he can turn on with disarming grace. It's not a threat, just a look. The young man continued with anger and epithets I will not repeat here, but my dad did not meet him on that level. He responded, "Hey man, let it go. Just let it go." He wouldn't let it go. "No man, I hate you n--gars. Don't touch me." And with the special magic, the special uniquely American spark that can only be brought forth with the utterance of "the N word," The mass of semi-conscious carbon based life, linked and bound with semi-conscious silicone based life - woke up. Another young man stepped in. "Hey let it go man, he said to let it go, so just back off ." The first young man would not back off, he continued with the hateful shouts, but the second man wound not back down either. By this time my dad was off the bus, watching through the open front door - other passengers had begun to leave, having become uncomfortable with the heated scene, not usually witnessed in hippie-liberal Santa Monica, CA. "What's wrong with you man, leave him alone!" "What the hell's wrong with you, I hate those people!" A crowd started gathering around the front door of the bus, locals - other African American people who had witnessed the start of it all - watching two young, white men fight both sides of the oldest American battle. (possibly the second oldest, considering Native Americans, but that's a different bus ride) Other people on the bus started backing up the second young man, the one who was defending my father's side. Eventually, the driver threw the troublemaker off the bus, right out the side door, and the other young man exited the front, where most of the crowd was. Dad didn't tell me where the troublemaker went, but he was out of the picture. When the second young man came off the bus, my dad said he put his hand on his shoulder. "Thank you, really man. I was fine to walk away, you didn't have to step in there - but that was really cool." I'm sure it'd been 50 years since my dad had experienced such blatant hatred, but the word he used to describe the experience as whole was "beautiful." Beautiful that a man from a different race would take such a strong stance on behalf of a man he didn't know. Beautiful that he could've said nothing, but he chose to speak up. After my dad told me that story, I was shaken - - in my lifetime racism has been a thing I read about in history books, I've never experienced it as described here, but these are changing times in my country, and with growth comes growing pains.

This is sad story about a young man who had so much anger within himself, he had to turn the anger outward towards a man he didn't know.

This is a sad story about a country filled with people who have so much anger within themselves, they have to turn the anger towards people they don 't know.

This is a happy story about a young man who had so much strength and insight, he stood up for a man he didn't even know.

This is a happy story about a country with the strength, insight, bravery and wisdom to wake up - through the numbing taps and clicks, the digital bump and grind of media, the gusts of fumes we bullet through in air conditioning and satellite maps, the din of rhetoric in dim blue light - - to wake up, and stand for each other.

NOSWOV at The ROXY! 4/29!

Hello Friends!The time has come for the final preview show of

North of SunsetWest of Vine

on Sunday 4/29 at 9:15 at The ROXY

Theatre!

Link for Tickets HERE

This will be the last preview show, before I go back into my musical Batcave to re-configure the show into a full-out staged show in the fall. More songs, more stories, and more frocks!

Since the first preview in January of this year, the play has been evolving - I've been dropping songs, adding songs - if you saw the first show, it's a totally different animal by now. Which was the point! It's been your awesome energy which has kept these morphing wheels in motion, so come to THE ROXY! (and bring 10 of your closest friends.)

The word:

North of SunsetWest of Vine

Sunday April 29th

The Roxy Theatre

9:15pm, $15

See you there! Love, Raya

Blue-whale-still(small)

Blue-whale-still(small)

Video still from Blue Whale, 3.1.2012 - thanks for shooting Kevin Porter and Kyle Higgins!

North of Sunset, West of Vine is LIVE!

Hello friends,I invite you to...

MY NEXT PERFORMANCE

Thursday, MARCH 1st (1.3.2012)

at Blue Whale

123 Astronaut E S Onizuka Street  Los Angeles, CA 90012

(I highly recommend calling to ask about parking and driving directions!!)(213) 620-0908 $10

(folks under 21 admitted with someone over 21, now's the time to get a sugar daddy/mama)

featuring:

Raya Yarbrough – Singing/Spoken word/Guitar Bear McCreary – Piano/Keys/Accordion Takeshi Akimoto – Guitar Kurt Morgan – Bass Joe Travers – Drums Felice Hernandez & Christa Gates – backing vocals

Blue-Whale-March-1st(small)

Blue-Whale-March-1st(small)

For the last several months, I’ve slowly been growing attached to an ergonomic desk chair, and a rough-edged brown vintage desk... Diagonal daylight passed through the blinds to my right in a broken fan across my wall, across my hands in long summer hours, defuse in feathered pools at the turn of fall.

The show came to me in impressions.

I began to write from the inside out, from the middle and out to the ends. In truth I was hiding from a time in my life that was strange and bleak – but there was color that I had to unearth.

The songs came to me in pictures.

Some I had previously written, some came to me for the show. There is music all through, it never stops, like a stream of consciousness rolling down Hollywood Blvd. Ghosts of Jazz harmony clashing with acidic souls and 80s audacity. It was a lot for my little head. It’s too much for my heart altogether, which is why I haven’t written a post about it till now.

…but it’s here...

singing-at-BP-2011

singing-at-BP-2011

Photo by Jay Matsueda

If you came to the premiere show on January 19th (DEEP thank yous to all who came and sold out the show!), you will see some changes from that show to this next show – and if you come the to the next next show April 28th – you’ll see more…and then more....

Here's a great review from January 19th - North of Sunset, West of Vine Debuts to Capacity Audience

See you soon,

Raya