Chapter 11

We arrived in Los Angeles, California four days after our exodus from New York City. Just before getting off of Route 101, I caught a glimpse through the hazy smog of the iconic Hollywood sign that straddled Mount Lee.

I gasped.

“There it is, kid.” Frank said, sharing in my awe. “It gives me goose-bumps every time I see it.”

“Holey shit.” I said in a near whisper. “When was the last time you were here?” I asked, never taking my eyes off of the legendary hallmark.

“Two years ago.” His face lit, erasing some of his unpleasant features. “I’m definitely due for a visit.”

Frank usually traveled to L.A. by plane every few years for business. He apparently established some connections, mostly small record studios, radio disk jockeys, and night club owners.

We pulled off the Hollywood Boulevard exit merging onto its infamous stretch of road. Frank wanted to give me the grand tour before we settled into the motel.

It was like another world. The palm trees weren’t remotely close to anything I’d ever seen. Their tropical presence was foreign, exquisite. It was early fall, but the sun was still bright and hot - a different kind of hot - dry, not humid like New York; it didn’t suck the life out of me. There was also a delicious, refreshing breeze coming in from the Pacific Ocean, an ocean I had never seen. It didn’t look that much different than the water back East, but it certainly felt different. The whole atmosphere felt different . . . organic.

We were coasting down Hollywood Boulevard, and I was beside myself with wonder. Frank looked at me, offering an esoteric laugh. Even though, he had been to Los Angeles many times before, I saw a glimmer of excitement in his eyes, too - my star-struck reaction brought it out of him.

He drove to some landmarks for me to see. Television, books, and pictures are what I came to know of L.A’s historic sites. Capital Records was host to this golden road of dreams. I silently pleaded that one day I would walk straight through that elaborate blues, mural entranceway of this cylinder building, with the promise of fame and stardom offered to me.

The large and perfectly positioned sidewalk stars lead our way along the Hollywood Walk of Fame. I made a mental note to marry hands with John Lennon and Jim Morrison’s imprints.

The You Are the Star mural then came into view. I shook with the anticipation of pointing out the celebrities that I knew. Its movie theatre display of all the forefathers and mothers of entertainment’s past ignited a shiver of excitement up my spine.

There they were - eternally looking upon the wide-eyed and bushy tailed potentials - the future generations of stars. Would I know the euphoria of becoming like one of them someday?

Frank pulled over so that I could take a closer look.

Amidst all the known stars, it was the lackluster image of Lassie that held my gaze. He looked at me with a depraved sorrow. What was he seeking in me – was it my extensive guilt?

The dark eyes bore into my fragile soul, unexpectedly reminding me of my childhood dog, Anja. She was Victoria’s dog before her marriage to Marty. Marty was forced to live with the canine, much to his displeasure. Victoria wouldn’t move in with him unless the dog went too.

Marty hated Anja, and went out of his way to make that poor dog miserable whenever he was home. That bastard kicked Anja so hard once, she inherited a permanent limp.

Marty never differentiated between his cruelty to animals and people - he made sure to treat everything like shit. He didn’t hit Victoria or me and Eli, but the poisonous acid that oozed from his forked tongue was just as, if not, more painful.

I came home from school one day when I was seven, and Anja was nowhere to be found. When I asked Victoria where the dog was, she responded only with watery eyes and an immediate exit from the room. Later that evening at the dinner table, I asked of Anja’s whereabouts again, Marty snickered. “She went to the dog farm,” he said, spitting food from his overstuffed mouth.

I looked to my mother for an explanation into this unknown place. She turned to Marty with angry eyes then back to me. That was the first and only time I ever saw Victoria confront Marty. She then took a deep breath, turning sincere. Her attention was to me. “It’s a place where dogs go when they’re sick.”

I didn’t press the issue. With Marty finding humor in the sensitive subject, I knew Anja’s unexpected disappearance had to of been at the hands of someone capable of hurting such an innocent creature . . . someone like Marty.

The next day I found a strange, fresh mound of dirt in the backyard while playing. Years later I realized that it was where poor Anja was buried.

I hope she died quickly.

Anja’s pitiful life disturbingly mirrored my own. Her fate would have been mine if I had stayed in Shelby. Marty likely would not have murdered me, but he would have definitely killed my spirit, potentially causing me to end up like my mother.

“You ok?” Frank interrupted my meandering. “You look . . . broken up about somethin’.”

“What?” I nonchalantly pulled myself together, erasing any signs of vulnerability. “No.”

“Oh,” he said with a note of doubt.

I ignored him. I needed Frank to trust that I could keep my cool through our quest for success. If Brad were with me instead, he would have certainly treated me like a fragile orchid that would break at the slightest meltdown. But Frank wasn’t so privy to my past. I wanted it to stay that way. I made the decision to keep him in the dark. We were business partners, not friends. He needed to see that I was strong as a bull.

Frank merged back into traffic.

I picked up on the tune radiating from the car radio - Scorpion’s “No One Like You.”

Frank turned up the volume.

The song brought me back to my musical purpose in L.A.

Amidst all the famous theatres, hotels and museums sprinkled along Hollywood Boulevard, the street pedestrians were what intrigued me the most. All the colorful walks of life were completely unfavorable to their surroundings. In an oddly abstruse way, they complimented the symbolism of the once affluent street. An unconventional hodgepodge of Hollywood keystone, there were prostitutes, beggars and preachers relentlessly trying to convert the wicked; tourists, unconscious to anything but the attractions. And a scattering of entertainment hopefuls exiting the theatres - the wide-eyed wanderers, like myself.

We finished the tour of Hollywood Boulevard. Frank then merged left, making for its brother, Sunset. I was soon looking down the stretch of the Sunset Strip. It was a beast all its own - more my kind of scene - a musician’s paradise.

There were trendy nightclubs, bars, restaurants and shops spanning the entire length of the strip that attracted celebrities and celebrity wannabes. I fantasized of meeting Robert Plant, Bono, or even River Phoenix. Acting was another realm of entertainment that fascinated me.

Billboards were plastered on every conceivable available space - even manmade iron-tree stands that shot-up sixty feet into the air - ads for everything from movies, local concerts, rock albums, theatre shows, sports cars, name-brand clothing, makeup, and perfumes. The boulevard was a mecca for vanity.

Rock types were everywhere, crawling all over the sidewalks - mainstream guys who yearned for stardom, mimicking the styles of Bon Jovi, Guns ‘n Roses, and Motley Crue - the look that Brad so perfectly portrayed. If only he could’ve been there that momentous day to share in the wonder.

Frank stopped the Camaro at the start of the strip. He pulled alongside a two-level building affixing the corners of Sunset and Clark Street. The top half of the trendy-looking structure was painted white with the bottom red. Festooned where the two streets met was what looked like a drive-in movie theatre sign. Scribbled in white neon font was the caption: The Whiskey.

“Let’s get out for a sec.” He opened the driver’s side door without waiting for a response from me.

I followed him while he carefully looked over the building, as if reliving some long lost memory.

“If this building could talk. . .” he said, more to himself than me.

The exterior was covered with small billboards advertising concerts for Winger and Europe. Wallpaper ads tacked the front for local bands scheduled to perform there.

I read the lineups while Frank stared at something on the second floor.

“Yari, you’ll be posted on these walls someday.”

Would I ever perform at a place that large? I couldn’t fathom it. As badly as I wanted to be the next big thing, it just felt so out of reach. I loved that Frank was optimistic though. Someone had to be.

“I remember back in the sixties seeing The Doors perform here.” Frank shook his head with a nostalgic sigh as he recalled the performance. “It was called Whisky A Go-Go then. They were incredible live. Life was so different then . . . wild . . . free. That was my first visit to L.A.”

“Must’ve been one hell of show.” I was envious that he had been around when Jim Morrison was alive. I would’ve killed to see him live. The Doors were one of my classic faves, along with Zeppelin and The Beatles. They are forefathers of rock.

“Yeah,” he glanced at me with a mischievous sneer. “It damn sure was. I was right up front where I could see the sweat dripping off of Jim’s face. It was fucking intense. The best part though, was the way he interacted with the audience. He had such incredible charisma. That good-looking son-of-a-bitch could charm the audience into doing anything he wanted them to do. He was a fucking puppet-master.” He paused then turned to me. “The key to being a successful performer is you’ve got to be one hell of a charmer. Confidence is the ticket. Win the crowd, and you’ll win a one-way ticket to stardom.” His hands were flailing like the quintessential peisan that he was, emphasizing every syllable with a finger jab into the air or a wave. “If you can show everyone in the audience that you fear nothing, and can communicate to them in such a way that captures their senses, you’ll have them by the balls.”

I thought back to my performances at Cobra. My confidence reached a high note toward the end. ‘Course, I took speed to get me through the shows.

“It’s been awhile since I sang live. I need some practice. I could use a guitar, too.”

“We’ll look around for one.” He headed back to the car.

I turned one last time to survey The Whisky, pleading that one day I would perform in a famous nightclub like that.

We coasted along Sunset. I don’t know if it was the vibe of that nightclub, but my mojo seemed to be resurrected.

I was starting to believe that Frank wasn't entirely interested in just my talent, but rather more so the prospective financial value that it possessed. He was a business man - I had to give him that. Often I would ask myself,  "Would Frank have been bothered to save me, or even had recognized me on that sidewalk in New York if I hadn’t been a descent singer?"

He wasn’t a vicious guy, but he did possess a strong self-preserving quality. As much as Frank made minor attempts at showing he cared about my plight, his own interests would ultimately find their way into the equation.

I don’t know why I trusted him, but I did – to a degree. He’d given me no reason to think he was a pervert or killer. I guess if he was either of those, he had ample opportunity to reveal it.

When you’ve been down and out as many times as I have though, you’re willing to take risks. I trusted, too, of course, that he could get me somewhere in this business. Ultimately, that’s what it all boiled down to.

Frank did pretty well with his basement studio, it seemed. The 80’s rock movement caused a abundance of guy-band hopefuls to believe they had what it took to be the next Van Halen or Poison. Regardless of their inability to get a record deal, Frank made sure to benefit from their dreams. When he saw an opportunity to make money he took advantage. Of course, his abundance of money grew from a talent for hiding cash from the feds. That brand new ‘87 Camaro couldn’t have been purchased with an honest, makeshift-studio recorder’s salary. It was paid in in-full.

After my grand tour of the L.A. hot spots, Frank and I headed to our temporary residency. Exactly how temporary, was to be determined. Until the money ran out, I guessed.

Before making our way there, we stopped for lunch at Ben Frank’s coffee shop on Sunset. The Jetson-looking building clashed with its surroundings. I felt like I was stepping back into the sixties, but at the same time, going into the future – it was weird. The rust-colored roof looked like it was caving in. Apparently, it was an intentional architectural design. There wasn’t anything like that in my neck of the woods. I felt like I was in Vegas with its dagger sign-post displaying the restaurant’s insignia in red scripted font. There’s no accounting for taste apparently.

Frank and I sat at a corner table, and discussed the plan for the weeks to come.

“When we stopped in Arizona,” he said reaching for a menu by the condiments. “I was able to book us a motel, The Clifton. It’s one of those deals that offer extended stays. It won’t be luxury, I can guarantee you that. But it was cheap and the area isn’t too bad.”

“I’m not picky. You saw where I used to live. Anything other than the streets, works for me.”

A twenty-ish waitress stopped by the table to take our order. Her bright pink and blue makeup with big bleached-out hair made her look like a clown. I never understood the retro concept. Having never colored or permed my hair, and hating the ritual of plastering my face with products that caused acne, bridged an even larger gap between me and most girls.

“What can I get, ya?” she asked, chewing gum like a cow chomping hay.

“I’ll have the cheeseburger combo with a chocolate shake - medium on the burger.” Frank said.

“And you?” she asked me.

I looked up catching a glimpse of her nametag. “Candy.” What a cliché. Did she have any originality in her?

“I’ll have a grilled cheese with a diet Coke.” I handed her the menu without being polite. Her presence annoyed me. I wanted her to leave.

Frank picked up where we left off. “I have a couple of appointments this week that I’ll be going to, alone. I want to feel things out, see what rock bars are looking for. Next week we’ll be auditioning band members, assuming that we get a good turn out from the ad that I’m posting in the local classified. If we get quick responses, auditions will start immediately. Then we rehearse. In the meantime, I need you to practice your pitch on your songs. Maybe even write a couple of new ones.”

“I’m one step ahead of you.” I grinned, pulling a clump of hair from my neck. It was warm and my thick wavy mane, now a bouffant from the heat, was causing the air around me to be ten degrees warmer. “I actually wrote a few songs during our cross country trek.”

The annoying waitress reappeared with our drinks. I was relieved for the cold beverage, but irritated by the dirty look she gave me. Great - I was sure to either have spit or a booger in my food. I eyed the cola suspiciously.

“After we settle in at the motel, I’ll take you to a local guitar shop.”

I glanced at Frank trying to find the right words to say what was necessary. I’d never met someone, outside of Brad, who went out of their way to help me. I was appreciative.

As if he could sense my thoughts, he saved me from the awkward moment. “This is a two person effort here,” he started. “We’re partners. You’ve gotta work your ass off. This isn’t a vacation. It won’t be easy. The music business doesn’t take kindly to anyone, even someone with a great voice. With any luck though, you’ll get discovered before I go broke.”

His hands tapped the table in a nervous rhythm, while his eyes darted from me to the wall every few seconds. Frank wasn’t exactly sentimental, always appearing uncomfortable when emotions were involved.

“You’ll have to get a job, too,” he continued. “It doesn’t have to be anything significant. Just something that will buy us food and maybe gas. That way, my money will go toward everything else. I do have that demo of you from New York, but we’ll need to make a more extensive one when we get a band.”

It was so like Frank to work his priorities into a conversation about me. It had become evident that his generosity possessed a personal agenda. It didn’t take long to see where I stood with him. I was a means to an end.

Regardless of his objective I was going to work hard for me. There was nothing in my way. School wasn’t going to be a distraction. I had mixed feelings about dropping-out the summer before my junior year. I enjoyed its educational principles. Learning came easy. I missed it. But my music out-weighed everything else.

Candy was back with our food. I didn’t make eye contact for fear that I might discover some truth to my food contamination suspicion.

“We’ve gotta come up with a Yari-image for me to promote.” Frank continued. “I know you’re not big into wearing makeup and skirts, but we need to compromise on something other than jeans and a t-shirt.”

Frank noticed the contempt forming on my face.

“What did you have in mind, then?” I said, with less bitterness than I really wanted to convey.

“Don’t freak out.” He plopped his half-finished burger on the plate then wiped his hands with the transparent paper napkins. “I saw you perform at Cobra one night, and your look was . . . well, you did look a little washed out from the lighting, and the flats on your feet didn’t exactly age you. I was thinking more Lita Ford, toned down.”

I bit my lip, taking in his illustrious image of what he wanted me to look like with loathing acidity. He was a man, and it was in their nature to want women to look like whores. Brad and Victor were just as guilty in forcing me to adorn a prostitute facade. I was done with the misogynistic advice. A sex kitten, I was not. I wanted to be taken seriously as a singer, like Janis Joplin or Joan Jet. Neither of them whored around on the stage, and they made it just fine in the biz.

There wasn’t going to be a compromise.

“Frank, it’s really important to me that I’m respected as a musician. I don’t want to be a sex symbol, or at least, I don’t want that to be my goal. I agree, jeans and a t-shirt aren’t exactly flattering, but I can come up with a look that is. Just give me some time to look around at the consignment shops. I have great style. I just never cared to show it off.” I paused to take in his reaction. He was stoic. “I’m different and if I’m going to be on stage making the audience bend to my whim then I need to be myself.” I stopped there. It was my turn to wait for him to reject my idea.

He looked at me intently, sucking on his teeth. I doubted he would bend. Frank liked to get his way.

“I know your style isn’t mainstream, hell, I could tell that by your dark music. So obviously your look needs to match your sound. But,” he emphasized the “but” and broke slightly. Of course there was a proviso. “We live in an age of sex. It’s everywhere and people want it. You’re a good looking girl under that t-shirt and boring hair. Use your assets to sell your music. I’m not asking you to be braless on stage, or even show your legs, although it would be nice and beneficial. Fitted clothes, makeup, and a hairdo will suffice.”

What a jerk-off.

I knew this wasn’t going to be easy. There was no way I was letting him get a hold of my look. I’ll dress in what I want, not his idea of a half-naked pinup so he could get his rocks off. I’m not a prostitute, and he sure as hell wasn’t my pimp.

I stayed quiet, avoiding an argument.

He mistook my silence as confirmation to his plan.

“There’s no time to waste. Be realistic in the look that you show me. I’m not messing around about that.”

Frank’s officious tone rubbed me wrong. Having the predisposition to lash out whenever someone tried to dictate my actions or control me, was a characteristic I forced myself to suppress during that conversation with Frank. It was too soon to start a fight with him. But the trust issues that I accrued over the years were igniting. Was he using me? Were his intensions to control my every move? I hoped a battle of the wills would not erupt between us during my quest for stardom.

Our waitress quickly dropped the bill and rushed off. Frank left money on the table.

At two o’clock the sun was still merciless - high and hot.

“Once we marry your look with your music, we’ll have something to work with.” Frank was accelerating the gas. “Today is Tuesday - you have until a week from tomorrow to come up with something. That should give you enough time to find your secondhand shops. And visit a salon. I’ll give you a hundred dollars to work with.”

I bit my tongue then clenched my jaw. His condescending tone was pissing me off.

Frank glanced in my direction, detecting my irritation. “I know how badly you want this to happen. I can’t want it more than you in some ways. But, we need to work hard. There isn’t a whole lot of time. I might come off as a hard-nosed prick, but it’s the only way to be in this business. As shitty as it might be to take, when I get that way it’s only because I’m looking out for our best interest. You might not realize it now, but you’ll see.”

I reached over to turn up the radio in hopes of ending the prickly conversation. Heart’s “Magic Man” was playing on a local station. I knew the song verbatim, and started to bellow.

“Come on home, girl, mama cried on the phone; too soon to lose my baby, yet my girl should be at home; but try to understand, try to understand; try, try, try to understand; he’s a magic man, mama.”

Frank listened with a slight nodding motion of the head in unison with the beat. I sang the damn song better than Ann Wilson. When it was over, he turned the music down and smiled wide.

“I love your voice. It amazes me that a seventeen year-old can have such smooth, deep vocals that can hold any pitch. You’re talented, and I’ll be damned if I don’t get you to the top.” He laughed out loud then turned serious. “And I’m gonna tell people you’re eighteen to avoid the legal-age issue. Once you’re dolled up, you’ll look older. As for you being a female singer, well, you’ll have to work your ass off to prove to the record execs, or rather the night club owners for now, that you’re serious and good at what you do - regardless of what’s between your legs.”

Frank was always good for speaking so eloquently with a hint of crudeness. I understood what he meant though about the whole sexism in rock. The eighties bands were made up of testosterone engorged guys, leaving little room for the female element, unless she’s available for their kinky pleasure. The industry was marketing the singers as sex gods, and the only place for women was in their videos bare-ass. Yeah, that wasn’t going to happen. I wasn’t out to be an erection for some egotistical pig. I wanted to be respected as a musician. Not as a cupie doll.

Female rockers were like rare orchids in a cesspool of rotting dicks. Pat Benatar, Joan Jett, Heart, and Lita Ford, to name a few, were successful in making their mark. I wasn’t anything like them - my style was harder, like a tamed Ozzy – but I was going to make my mark - become the antidote-anthem of female rock.

My goal was to change the industry, make them see that female musicians could be smart and edgy without getting a boob-job to entice the audience. I was more talented than those male leotard-wearing sissies.

I just needed the chance to prove it.