“A journey down the rabbit hole of LA's most subtly toxic industry . .. funny, brilliant, coy, playful, and wise. ” — LENA DUNHAM, author of Not That Kind of Girl
Musician Hayley Gene Penner tells all in this harrowingly honest memoir.
Singer-songwriter Hayley Gene Penner's memoir takes a brutally honest yet humorous look at the dark, intimate truths we spend our lives running from. Like a map of beautiful mistakes, Hayley’s stories of questionable sexual encounters, artistic aspirations, and emotional abuse trace her coming of age in the music industry.
Hayley explores all her relationships — from her childhood as the daughter of a celebrity, to the destructive and coercive relationship with her boss, to her encounter with the actor we all know but who mustn’t be named — and brings them together in a series of sharp, touching vignettes. People You Follow straddles the delicate boundary between ethical and unethical behaviour, self-protection and self-destruction, power and weakness, giddiness and despair.
Drinking the Kool-Aid
A couple weeks before I moved to Los Angeles, I found adrawing I’d made when I was six. It was at the bottom of abox labelled Goodwill? The unintentionally abstract illustrationshows a long, sparkling, red convertible, with a somehow drippingHollywood sign in the distance. A tall, dangerously thin,flowing-haired young woman leans against the shimmeringhood, her hand holding a cellphone to her ear. At the top ofthe crumpled piece of construction paper I’d written Hayley,21-years-old?.
I turned twenty-six a few weeks before coming to L. A.
I definitely did not have a convertible; I tossed a Honda Civicrental onto my buckling Visa. And my cellphone barely workedin the U. S.
I had been in L. A. for forty-four days. Tal’s company putme up in a sketchy basement apartment. If I hadn’t been livingunderground, I bet I would have been able to see the Hollywoodsign from my window.
I pushed all the cheap furniture up against the poorly paintedwalls in the living room and devoted two hours every morningto P90X. I was determined to at least appear as though I’d madeit, and that started with a rigorous workout regimen. My goalwas to have at least a few people say they were worried about mewhen I went home to Winnipeg for Christmas.
Tal was this charming, vibrant, extraordinary writer. Healmost instantly became my new favourite person. He was funnyand tall and dark and took up all the space in every room, and Iwas convinced that if he thought I could make it, I could.
My first two months in L. A. consisted of driving to thestudio every morning at 8:00 a. m. and spending four hoursalone in Tal’s vocal booth before getting booted into the tiny,fluorescent-lit storage space in the back of the building. I wouldsit at a desk that was dwarfed by a horrendous neon mural andwait for him to pop his head out of his room, perhaps offeringme an opportunity to write something with him.
It felt like a sort of long-winded audition, and I thought Iwas doing well. He would dip into my little incubator every fewhours to see if I’d written a hit or to say, “Come on. We’re walkingto the grocery store. ”
He made me laugh on the way while casually lecturing meabout songwriting and the industry and who to trust. Then he’dbuy a watermelon, a pound of cold cuts, and a bag of almondsand we would walk back together. And he trusted me. He toldme about the two women he was in love with, how deeply heloved them both, how he didn’t know what to do. They didn’tknow about each other, but that didn’t make me think less ofhim. I felt welcomed into his inner circle. I felt like his confidantand friend. I saw him as a struggling man and I was glad he hadme to talk to.
We would drop the food in the fridge, then we’d head outside,where I’d watch him play basketball alone with his shirt offfor half an hour before we got back to work.
He had a two-bedroom apartment in North Hollywood anddecided to rescue me from the Hollywood basement he’d putme in. I thought living with him would be fun. I’d get rid of myrental car and commute to the studio with him. He understoodthat I didn’t have money and couldn’t really make any, since I wasofficially a tourist, so he’d feed me and take care of me in a waythat made me feel like I’d found a little home.
At the studio, I spent a lot of time in the bathroom. I didn’tneed to use it. I just didn’t really feel like writing. I’d go and lookin the mirror for ten or fifteen seconds, decide whether I lovedor hated my body that day, then flush the toilet with nothing init, run the tap to suggest I was washing my hands, and walk out. Maybe take an ass selfie for whatever guy was getting my ass selfiesat that time. I somehow felt that by taking multiple bathroombreaks, I would at least seem productive. Like these pee breakswere the result of hard work and perseverance.
One morning of a long weekend, when most of the producerswere with their families, it was just the two of us in thebuilding. I came out of the bathroom and looked for Tal. Hewasn’t in the common room or shoving cold cuts into his mouthin the kitchen. There was almost no noise coming out of his studioroom, so I knocked without expectation.
He said, “Come in. I wanna play you a new song. ” He openedhis computer. I paused in embarrassment for him. On the screena girl with long black hair was getting fucked from behind whileshe sucked off some Tarzan-looking dude in front of her.
Tal left the screen open long enough for the man in hermouth to finish on her rosy-pink cheeks and lips, sealing hereyes shut like he was planning on making her a papier-mâchémask. Then he said, “Oh shit. That’s embarrassing,” and closedhis computer.
He pulled out a guitar to play the song live. He sang with hiswhole heart, all emotional and generous with the intimacy of hisperformance. It felt like an invitation into his private self.
We just sort of casually moved past the accidental porn mishap,though I guess I suddenly knew what he liked. And suddenlyhe knew that I knew what he liked. It felt like this weird sharedmoment actually brought us closer. Like walking in on somebodymasturbating. You can’t unsee it — you can only decidetogether to pretend like you didn’t or, at the very least, pretend itdidn’t leave a totally indelible imprint.
He took me for Korean barbecue, then moved me into hisapartment. _
Hayley's journey to find self-love is both heartbreaking and humorous. I recognized my own younger self and how we, as women, struggle to find our value through the eyes of others. While Hayley's story may be more dramatic than others, we are rooting for her as she finds herself and the power of "no. "
— Cindy Crawford
People You Follow is a fucked-up Alice in Wonderland journey down the rabbit hole of LA's most subtly toxic industry, and it's also funny, brilliant, coy, playful, and wise. I feel so lucky that Hayley is here to express how hard dating in Hollywood is for the bunch of us, and I'm also glad that young women can read about her emotional pratfalls and save themselves the same pain as they work to become artists as skilled as she is.
Reading Hayley Gene Penner’s memoir felt like I was with my funniest, naughtiest friend, who came over to drink tequila and tell me secret stories. Each cautionary tale is full of dark humor, desire, and sexy sex in the most vulnerable and authentic way. I loved every minute.
A good songwriter is someone who makes the listener feel like the words were stolen right out of their mouth, and Hayley has that same quality as an author. People You Follow left me feeling colorful, excited, empowered, completely vulnerable, a little heartbroken, and incredibly inspired.
Singer-songwriter Hayley Gene Penner’s memoir is a coming-of-age story steeped in the music industry. .. Penner recalls her artistic inspirations, abusive bosses, questionable decisions and more.
Hayley’s memoir masquerades as a comedic take on a young woman discovering and defining her sexuality. You are so distracted by the breezy comedy of the insane true-life stories that you don’t see the gut punches coming.
Honesty is powerful and vulnerability is even more so, and Hayley wields her power in spades. Her writing pulls you in, keeps you company, and forges a connection that most authors can only dream of creating, and her words reflect her profound and unique gift of self expression. To be privy to her stories and her storytelling is a privilege, and one that will resonate with anybody who's battled with their truths, their pasts, and the way they see themselves.
This is Hayley in book form. So perfectly written, with her humor giving a light to situations that don’t always have one. Beautifully written words for a good laugh and the occasional necessary cry.