Monday, November 11, 2019
The observant ones among you might note that this show report is coming a full week after the performance of said show. Well, I wish I had a happier reason that this was the case, but I don't. Christina -- whom you Second Life friends probably know as Kat -- had a death in her family this past week. Her sister Tova was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer in the spring, and it's something that's been weighing heavily on us ever since. She fought the disease with all of her strength, using as much medical technology as was made available to her, but in the end it still wasn't enough. The cancer spread and on Thursday November 7, she passed away at age 38, leaving behind a husband and two young kids.
To say it's a tragedy isn't giving it enough credit in its terrible nature. Tova's passing is simply awful, and the only good thing I can say about it is that the end stage was thankfully short. On Tuesday of last week, she went into the hospital with breathing difficulty and heart rate problems, and Kat was able to fly up to Seattle that same day. I am very glad she did; any delay might have meant never seeing Tova again. Kat has remained up there since then, helping out with the various family members through both tangible issues and intangible grief.
I'm not here to write a big memorial piece about Tova. Eventually, I'll use my skills as a video editor to help put together a memorial piece for her husband and kids to have, and in a couple of weeks I'll be heading up to Washington to attend a memorial event being planned. As some of you will recognize, Tova's passing is remarkably similar to that of my friend Rachael just a couple of months ago, and frankly I am really sick of cancer robbing me of the company of these people who I love. Like Rachael, Tova will be missed by many, and as anyone knows who's been through the death of a loved one, grieving takes time... but at some point, you have to allow yourself to continue your own life as the person would have undoubtedly wanted. Rest in peace, Tova. You were a good person who made the most of the time you had... none of us can ask for more than that.
Hanging with Tyche
As you can imagine, it was a pretty rough week all around. The same day that Tova passed away, I suddenly realized that my friend from SL, Tyche Szondi, had come to the Los Angeles area to attend a conference, and months ago when she'd planned the trip, I'd told her that we'd hang out while she was in town. Tyche and I met in 2016 at the Twin Cities Jam and I immediately knew she was the type of person whom I enjoy hanging with. She's funny and bawdy and basically gives no fucks. On Friday, I'd been kind of set on telling her that with all that had been going on, I wasn't exactly up for having fun... but then Friday evening rolled around, and I realized that what I needed was exactly that; the opportunity to take my mind of all the shitty stuff in life and just chill and have a good time with a friend.
Tyche did not disappoint. I grabbed her from her hotel near LAX, and then we headed a short distance away to the nearest In-N-Out Burger, where she tried her first Double-Double (verdict: "Oh hell yeah, that's a good burger!"). She laughed at my expert analysis of In-N-Out's starchy french fries when I described them as being "too potatoey" for my liking. After dinner, we went back to her hotel and hung out while she regaled me with stories from Second Life. I pay so little attention to various aspects of the music and social scenes there that it was fun hearing various tales of our mutual friends and acquaintances. We ended up hanging out and talking for a couple of hours (and I could have done so all day long if we'd had the extra time), and I felt better after that than at any previous point in the week, so hats off to Tyche. Having friends is important, and finding the time to spend with them is something all of us should do when we can.
The Show: Rocking the '70s
Back to my show. A week ago, when I did my most recent show at Serenity Gardens, it was the first weekday morning of the return to Standard Time from Daylight Saving Time. The fact that I'd had to set my clock back got me thinking; what if, instead of an hour, I set the clock back some 40+ years? That silly concept allowed me to come up with a theme for the show, in which every song I did was from the decade of the 1970s.
I was unable to get any photos at this show; Kat's computer was going though a multi-day repair cycle at the time, and most of the regulars in my crowd who might have snapped some pics weren't able to make it to the show. I didn't even consider it until afterwards, or I would have taken some of my own. But no big thing; we had a great crowd, and it seemed that everyone enjoyed the tunes. Also, my voice and guitar were both behaving nicely, and as I am wont to do, I threw in a song I hadn't performed before and that, too, went well. I have no complaints about the show at all.
Serenity Gardens set list...
Heart of Gold (Neil Young)
California (Joni Mitchell)
The Man Who Sold the World (David Bowie)
Landslide (Fleetwood Mac)
Pink Moon (Nick Drake)
Pancho & Lefty (Townes Van Zandt)
Killing Me Softly (Roberta Flack)
*Hummingbird (Seals & Crofts)
Rikki Don’t Lose That Number (Steely Dan)
Fire & Rain (James Taylor)
Baker Street (Gerry Rafferty)
Pigs on the Wing - Parts 1/2 (Pink Floyd)
*Indicates the first time I've performed this song in SL.
Big thanks to all who came out to my '70s Show -- your presence there is what matters! -- and huge thanks to the following folks who helped support it!
AaronCabottJones Resident, Tyche Szondi, Jakbnimbl Riddle, Maurice Mistwallow, Alex Zelin, Pato Milo, Magnus Hoch, Nina Brandenburg, Skeat Abonwood, Grace McDunnough, my excellent manager Maali Beck, and the fabulous team at Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde!
Posted by Zak Claxton at 1:57 PM
Tuesday, October 22, 2019
So, knowing for quite some time that I'd be spending the weekend out of town and performing with my old band Liquid at a wedding, I was also aware that the day after my return, I had a show to do at Serenity Gardens in Second Life. It's my bi-weekly show that's been going on there for about three years every other Monday night.
So, before I took off on our little road trip to Lake Isabella, I quite wisely decided to not wait for my return to plan out my set list. As I've mentioned a number of times in the past, the one thing I hate doing is starting a show without a planned set list. There are plenty of Second Life performers who are comfortable winging it, or leave the choices of their songs to their audience and do their shows via live requests, and that's great for them and their audiences. For me, I prefer to think of it in the way a good radio DJ curates music that goes well together, or I base my set on a specific theme. For this show, since it's my closest one to Halloween, it seemed like a good idea to pull out my scarier songs. It's something I've done many times over my 13 years of playing music in SL... sometimes at a Halloween-specific event, and sometimes (like last night) at any random show in late October.
What makes a song scary? It's a good question, and it delves into the aspect of how something as nebulous as music can impart emotion on its own, independently of the lyrical content. When you watch a horror movie, the soundtrack is a key element that heightens the tension of the overall experience. The kind of funny thing in that regard is that my instrument of choice, the acoustic guitar, has a sound that people tend to associate with warmth, friendliness, and happiness; rather the opposite of the terrifying sounds one can achieve with a synthesizer or an orchestra. So, for my Halloween sets, I tend to pick tunes that combine some aspect of scary sounds with those that have disturbing lyrical themes.
For non-musicians, or even musical performers who don't compose their own music, it's difficult to define why certain combinations of notes and rhythms and chord progressions are evocative of specific emotions. And yet, even a child can tell you if something sounds happy or sad, calm or tense, and so on. Many of these aspects are culturally based; what might sound frightening or sad in one area of the world could be joyous in another. I distinctly recall this being pointed out to me while studying music composition in college, when someone claimed that music in minor keys was "sad", and the instructor pointing out that a minor-key Russian dance is actually very happy. The same can be said of some songs in major keys that can be wistful, or sparsely melancholy.
So like many things in life, it's more complex than it appears on the surface. People who are super deep into music theory and composition can bore this down to a granular level, assigning emotional context to every single note interval or relationship between two chords. It's truly fascinating to get into, if you enjoy studying art from a psychological standpoint. Sometimes it's also okay to just play what you feel and allow the listener to react based on his or her own perceptions and life experiences.
A Good Show
I rarely have bad shows. As far as I'm concerned, if people come to see me and they have fun and I have fun playing for them, well... mission accomplished. I don't dwell on being pitch-perfect on every note I sing, nor do I beat myself up for missing a chord here and there. If people want perfection, they can listen to a well-produced album recording. My shows are live, and they sound live. Ultimately, I'm an experienced performer who, even on a bad day, can do a reasonably good show. But the fact is, some shows are better than others. When my voice is working and I'm not straining to hit notes, and my guitar feels comfortable in my hands, and the songs I've chosen all seem to come easily to me as I perform, I usually can recognize when a show is particularly good, which was the case last night.
I will say that the one thing that can utterly fuck up a show is technical problems, and I damn near ran into a huge one last night. As usual, I started warming up at 5PM, an hour before my show. Then, at about 5:30, I went to get into Second Life, and it was at that point that I realized my version of the Firestorm viewer had become outdated to the point that I couldn't log in. Uh oh. I immediately downloaded an updated viewer and did an install of it while the clock ticked away. When I relaunched the app, it just pulled up a white screen that seemed to stay unresponsive forever. This was not good. It was already well past the time that I usually arrive at the venue before my show. Finally, with about five minutes to spare, Second Life came back to life for me, and I quickly logged in and went straight to Serenity Gardens. Note to self... try updating before it's mandatory next time.
But then, after that, everything was completely smooth sailing. Honestly, there are so many things that can go wrong with doing live streamed performances in an online virtual world, it's pretty amazing that 95% of the time, everything goes just fine and we don't even have to consider all the places where things can screw up. Maybe I'm just lucky in that regard, but it's been a surprisingly small number of shows where tech issues -- with my music gear, with my computer, with my audio stream, with SL itself -- actually stopped me from performing.
One note on the set list. Since some of these songs only get pulled out for Halloween-themed shows, there were a few of them that are extremely rare in my set. Several of the songs below have only been played once or twice in the past five years or so. I really enjoy any opportunity to surprise my audience with song selections. Many of them are terrific and loyal fans/friends who attend a ton of my shows (sometimes almost all of them), and pulling out a tune that they've never heard me do before is a good feeling... probably for all of us.
Serenity Gardens set list...
Things Behind the Sun (Nick Drake)
People Are Strange (The Doors)
The Loner (Neil Young)
Blew the Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
Spooky (Classics IV)
The Chauffeur (Duran Duran)
Ashes to Ashes (David Bowie)
Six Underground (Sneaker Pimps)
Psycho Killer (Talking Heads)
Black Hole Sun (Soundgarden)
Tribute (Tenacious D)
Huge thanks to every person who hung out at Serenity Garden for my spooky-themed show, with extra special thanks to the following who helped support it!
Harley Wytchwood, Kat Chauveau, JustinElias Anatra, Zachh Cale, go2smoky Resident, Lola500 Ghost, Tyche Szondi, Leyah Renegade, Richy Nervous, Trouble Streeter, Tricks Sockington, Asimia Heron, Alex Zelin, MasterMusa Resident, Nina Brandenburg, Skeat Abonwood, Kat Claxton, my excellent manager Maali Beck, and the fabulous team at Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde!
Posted by Zak Claxton at 2:45 PM
Monday, October 21, 2019
Onstage on the morning of Saturday October 19, getting ready to rock the Dawson wedding with Liquid. Photo by Christina.
This post requires some expository rambling. Ready?
In the 2000s, I was in a rock cover band called Liquid, whose members included myself, drummer Dante J. Silva, bass player Phil Gilbreth, and singer Randy Harmon. Liquid played a lot in that time frame... bars, clubs, private parties, street fairs, all that stuff. We were a good, genuinely entertaining band covering a lot of classic rock. While we never specifically disbanded, we stopped playing together on a regular basis around 2010, and our most recent show was seven years ago in 2012.
Randy has several children, and a little over a year ago, he got in touch with the other members of Liquid to let us know that his youngest daughter Megan had a wedding date in October 2019, and Megan had requested that Liquid perform at her wedding, which was scheduled to take place in Lake Isabella, a location in the southern Sierra Nevada mountains in Kern County. It's about 190 miles from my home here in Redondo Beach, but having been close to Randy and his entire family for many years, I agreed immediately, as did the other members of Liquid. With me so far?
One Year Later
So, time went by as it tends to do, and last month, Randy got in touch with us to set up a rehearsal, which we did and it went very well for our first time playing together in many years. And then, the weekend of the big day arrived, so Christina and I packed some bags and I gathered up my gig rig -- an LTD EC-1000 that I got recently, my Vox AC15C1, and my recently-assembled pedalboard that included the necessary tonal accoutrements for which to rock -- and got into the Jeep on Friday afternoon at 1PM.
We got on the 405 north and immediately ran into complete shit Los Angeles traffic. There's really no good day or time to travel the 405 in regard to heavy traffic; your choices are bad, worse, and even more worse. It stayed that way pretty much all the way to the 5 and the first part of the 14. Ugh. But once we got rolling, things were pretty chill. To get there from here, you have to go through a couple of mountain passes. There's nothing super scary about the drive, though sometimes people encounter high winds in that upper Mojave desert area. The last bit of the drive along the 178 is definitely more twisty-turvy and has a pretty quick elevation up to 5,000 feet at Walker Pass before descending into Lake Isabella. It requires a bit of focus and two hands on the wheel for awhile, but we made it there with no problems at all, with one short stop for coffee in lovely Palmdale.
"We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold." Photo by Christina.
Chilling at the Lake
Friday evening was fun. We got there just in time to grab some food from the rehearsal dinner, and then threw our stuff into our room. The property where the festivities were held was called the Hillside Ranch, which was indeed a cattle ranching area with multiple houses on the property, and the band had our own place, which was great. Phil and his wife Wendy had gone up a day early, so Christina and I grabbed an adjacent bedroom. It wasn't long before I set up my rig on the stage, which was the deck of one of the houses. We did have a concern about Dante, who'd said he hadn't been feeling well, and postponed his arrival until Saturday, the day of the wedding. We did have a backup drummer... David, a friend of the groom and the best man and the wedding, brought his entire drum kit, which was awesome. We needed up doing some impromptu jamming Friday night along with David, and it was fun. After we played, a few of the younger rockers in the wedding party (including the groom) got on stage and jammed some death metal, and the sweet sounds of Gojira drove most of the older folks away (I enjoyed them though).
Christina and I chilled after that, eating snacks and playing on our devices until bedtime. Something I've noticed on many previous occasions of travel; being at higher elevations, and in general when you're visiting an unfamiliar location for the first time with beds you're not used to and so on, makes it difficult to get to sleep on your first night there. Eventually, I did get to sleep, which was a good thing... the next day was the wedding itself.
The Big Day
The first thing that brightened my Saturday was a message from Dante telling us he was going to tough out his illness and make his way to the mountains. This event had, as he pointed out, been over a year in the planning, and it would have taken more than a little bug to stop him from attending.
Christina and I had some breakfast that was thoughtfully served to all the guests, and spent most of the day hanging out and talking to various folks attending the event, many of whom I hadn't seen for years since the heyday of Liquid. Dante arrived in the early afternoon, and we made sure the plethora of gear onstage was set to our liking so that we'd be ready to rock when the time was right. The wedding ceremony itself was scheduled for 5PM, so we had plenty of time to prepare.
Obviously, the stars of a wedding aren't in the band. The betrothed couple were Megan Harmon and Scott Dawson. I'd met Megan when I first joined her dad in our band, maybe 18 years ago. She was still in high school at the time, but I'd always thought her to be a super interesting and cool person. Scott seemed like a great fit for her... sometimes you can just tell when a couple belongs together, and Scott and Megan were like two pieces in a jigsaw puzzle that were made to fit with one another. The theme of the event was a Hallow-Wedding. Both of them are into the horror movie genre, and Scott works in the film industry doing effects work on scary movies. You could tell how much thought and effort went into the planning of the event, with all manner of details in place.
What a gorgeous spot for a wedding and gathering of family and friends. Megan and Scott had found this site some seven years ago when filming a movie there. Photo by Christina.
We loved the Halloween theme of the wedding, which was rendered in many ways all over the large grounds of Hillside Ranch. Photo by Christina.
All the tables were set and ready to go as the sun began to set and the wedding ceremony was ready to commence. Photo by Christina.
The ceremony was absolutely lovely. One thing I've noticed is that when a couple starts out as the best of friends, it leads to a terrific relationship for the longterm, and that is exactly the vibe I got from Megan and Scott, who've been together as a couple for over ten years. After the short ceremony, there was a really nice catered dinner, and then speeches by the maid of honor and best man (both were great). And then, it was time for Liquid.
Liquid Rocks Lake Isabella
As this was a wedding, the set list had been put together and approved by the bride, and we were more than happy to do the tunes she wanted. However, we started out with a couple of songs that are softer than the typical raucous Liquid vibe at the request of Randy. Both "My Girl" and "Stand By Me" were lovely little tunes that allowed for the newly-married couple to dance and gave Randy a chance to dedicate the songs to the bride and groom respectively. After that, the Liquid rocket took off for real. Randy's elder daughter Amanda joined us for a few tunes, as she'd done on a couple of occasions when Liquid was playing out on a regular basis.
Liquid Dawson Wedding Lake Isabella set list...
My Girl (The Temptations)
Stand By Me (Ben E. King)
Surrender (Cheap Trick)
Born To Be Wild (Steppenwolf)
Cinnamon Girl (Neil Young)
Come Together (The Beatles)
Stray Cat Strut (The Stray Cats)
Panama (Van Halen)
Just What I Needed (The Cars)
Gimme Some Lovin' (Spencer Davis Group)
California Dreamin' (The Mamas & The Papas)
Rock and Roll Fantasy (Bad Company)
Roadhouse Blues (The Doors)
Tie Your Mother Down (Queen)
Tush (ZZ Top)
I Want You to Want Me (Cheap Trick)
Mary Jane's Last Dance (Tom Petty)
Money (Pink Floyd)
Man in the Box (Alice in Chains)
†With a Little Help From My Friends (The Beatles)
†White Rabbit (Jefferson Airplane)
†Black Velvet (Alannah Myles)
Alright Now (Free)
The Real Me (The Who)
Hard to Handle (Spin Doctors)
†featuring Amanda Dorn on vocals
One thing in regard to the music that's worth noting, I suppose. As I look down that set list of tunes, with almost no exceptions, none of them are songs I perform at all as a solo artist. First and foremost, they are rock tunes that are much better performed in a band environment than by one person with a lonely acoustic guitar. The other aspect, of course, is that while they are indeed classic rock songs, as a musician you get to a point where there are only so many times in your life that you can enjoy doing the same songs over and over. That's one reason why I tend to play more stuff in the indie rock/folk realm in my solo shows... I prefer doing stuff that's a little newer for both myself and my typical audience. Fortunately, with the seven-year hiatus since the last time Liquid did these tunes, I found the tunes to be fun (and even occasionally challenging) to play.
A four-way band hug after we wrapped up our last song. I keep thinking that each time we play out will be the final performance of Liquid, but I keep getting proved wrong. Photo by Christina.
Dante J. Silva (drums), Phil Gilbreth (bass), Randy Harmon (vocals) and me (guitar and backing vocals), aka Liquid. Photo by Christina.
I slept better on Saturday night than I had on Friday, and upon awaking, my happiness was only marred by the fact that I'd have to load up my gear and make the drive home soon enough. We hung out with Dante and Phil and their respective ladies for awhile, but we all knew that the longer we lingered, the worse traffic would be getting back into LA. Eventually, we packed up our stuff and said our goodbyes. We were tired and definitely needed a night of sleep in our own beds at home, but Christina and I both agreed that the whole event was absolutely fantastic.
The drive back was uneventful, as all good drives are. Just as it was on the way up, the scenery was outstanding as we moved through a variety of natural environments from the mountains to the high desert, then down to the foothills and the familiar urban environment of Los Angeles as we made our way back toward our beach city home. While it had taken about five hours to get up there, it only took three to get back with the absence of horrible traffic (though even on a Sunday afternoon, we hit a typical slow spot going over the Sepulveda Pass on the 405 near Getty Center, an area which seems to have shitty traffic constantly throughout the year).
I can tell you a couple of things about this wedding. First, Scott and Megan seem like a perfect couple, and I predict that they'll have a long and happy life together. Second, Liquid was and remains a very good cover band, and I've enjoyed the hell out of myself each and every time we've had occasion to rock together. Finally, it's nice that this whole event came together so wonderfully well; it's been on my mind ever since September 2018 when we first agreed to get together for this special event, and it's a good feeling that Liquid was able to add our own special something to this extraordinarily special moment in people's lives.
Posted by Zak Claxton at 11:42 AM
Wednesday, October 9, 2019
I want to tell you about last night's terrific show at Serenity Gardens, but first I want to tell you about the Kurds. Don't worry; I'll make this quick. There are many great sources of information about sociology and history you can find for a deeper dig on this topic. My point here is brief.
The Kurds are an ancient ethnic group of people based in the Middle East, in an area known as Kurdistan that is situated in southeastern Turkey, northwestern Iran, northern Iraq, and northern Syria. They are a minority group that has their own language and culture. The Kurds have been invaluable allies of the USA in the fight against terrorism in the post 9/11 era. We owe them a lot, and promised them protection in return, as they've been a persecuted people who have been subject to genocide. Specifically, the governments of Turkey and Iraq have been particularly cruel to the Kurds. It's not a small group; in Turkey alone, there are roughly 15 million Kurds who make up about 20% of the population, and Turkey would like nothing more than to wipe them off the face of the planet. The treatment of Kurds in Turkey are a major human rights tragedy.
On Monday, President Trump announced a major withdrawal of troops from northern Syria, which will allow Turkey to invade the area and crush the Kurdish people. The Kurds have been particularly valuable to the USA in fighting Islamic State extremists. Now they are being abandoned during their time of need. To say that this is morally repugnant is a huge understatement. Even the president's Republican cronies have decried the decision. It's just another of Trump's decisions that is meant to increase his personal gain, and is a longterm blow to the United States with the resulting increase in terrorism. The Turkish military, just one day after the announcement, was already advancing into Kurdish territory now that they are no longer under protection of US forces.
The area known as Kurdistan crosses the boundaries of a number of countries, though the largest section of Kurd population resides in southeastern Turkey. The have been invaluable allies in the US's war on terrorism, and now we are leaving them to be slaughtered.
I don't spend a lot of time on this blog talking about the many actions of Donald Trump that have the potential to ruin our country, but this is a particularly egregious one. My only hope -- and I am optimistic that this will come to pass -- that each and every step the president has taken to personally gain in both financial and political aspects at the expense of the country will not only become public knowledge, but that he, personally, will be required to surrender any ill-gotten gains and will also be required to serve the same kind of punishments as any other person who committed the types of crimes he is openly undertaking.
Back to the Show
As you're probably aware, before I do a show in Second Life -- or anywhere for that matter -- I put together a set list. This is different than some performers who prefer to play whatever comes to mind at the moment, or like their audiences to choose songs for them. I don't; I like planning ahead and preparing the songs I'm going to play. Anyway, I was doing just that on Sunday when I inadvertently put in two songs by the same artist, and then noted I'd also had two original songs by me, and two songs by my band They Stole My Crayon. That got me thinking... why not do a "twofer" show? Some of you might recall this from your local rock radio station who would do two songs by each artist -- usually on a Tuesday -- calling it "Two for Tuesday". Well, I play on Mondays, and it doesn't roll off the tongue as easily as the radio trope, but I still ended up fleshing out my set list for Serenity Gardens with two songs by each artist.
I love how Ilsa goes all out to decorate Serenity Gardens at Halloween and throughout the year. Photo by Kat.
This wasn't my first "twofer" show in SL, but my most recent previous one was in July 2013, so it's not a theme I adopt very often. In any case, I really do enjoy trying to make each show special in some way, and giving my audience a somewhat unique experience each time.I will say that everyone seemed to like this particular show, and I'm glad it worked out well.
Serenity Gardens set list...
Ohio (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young)
Don’t Let It Bring You Down (Neil Young)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
*Voices Carry (’Til Tuesday)
Save Me (Aimee Mann)
Vendetta (They Stole My Crayon)
Blew the Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
Perfect Day (Lou Reed)
Walk on the Wild Side (Lou Reed)
Losing My Religion (R.E.M.)
Radio Free Europe (R.E.M.)
*Indicates the first time I've performed this song in SL.
Huge thanks to everyone who attended the show at Serenity gardens, with extra special super thanks to the following who helped support it!
Triana Caldera, Trouble Streeter, go2smoky Resident, Alex Zelin, Asimia Heron, Kat Claxton, Aurelie Chenaux, my excellent manager Maali Beck, and the fabulous team at Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde!
Posted by Zak Claxton at 1:46 PM
Sunday, September 29, 2019
Making music for Thea Dee's many friends at the celebration of her life at Ground Zero. Photo by Kat.
As I wrote about at the time, it was exactly a month ago that I lost one of my closest friends to cancer-related illness. Rachael Emborg, known throughout the online virtual world of Second Life as Thea Dee, was 49 years old. She would have been 50 on October 7.
When people pass away -- especially when it's unexpected and at a relatively young age -- the friends and family who were close to them are often left with no sense of closure or resolution. That's why various types of memorial events exist. It allows those of us who remain to process our feelings about the person, to share stories, and to honor their memory. That's why I was very, very happy when Meegan Danitz mentioned to me that the folks in Thea's circle of friends were planning some kind of memorial event. Jon Larson confirmed the details of the event a short while later. As was appropriate for someone who had loved the live music scene in Second Life, the "Celebration of Life for Thea Dee" would be comprised of a series of performances at what had been her home venue... Ground Zero.
The poster for Thea's celebration of life. I felt honored to be included among these great musical performers.
While I was glad that the event had been organized and scheduled, that's not to say that any kind of memorial event is easy. Human psychology being what it is, we have defense mechanisms that shelter us from dealing with information we'd prefer not to process. One of those is repression, and it's understandable that with something as terrible as the sudden death of a close friend or family member, many people try to avoid thinking about it. After all, we're still here and have lives we need to lead, and too much dwelling on the emotional impact of our loss doesn't allow us to handle our day to day responsibilities. And that, in and of itself, is why memorial events are important. It is a moment where we can acknowledge those feelings along with people who share the loss, and it offers a cathartic experience that may be difficult at the time, but allows people to be more at peace afterwards.
Thea's Friends... Onstage and Off
Jon had asked if I could perform at the event, and I let him know that there was nothing in life I'd rather do. While I take no credit for Thea's popularity in Second Life -- that was all due to her own merits -- I did let her know about SL's existence back in 2010, and some of her first experiences in world were attending my shows. It would only be right that I do live music at her memorial. I will say that as soon as I saw the list of performers the organizers had chosen, I knew right away that they'd made great decisions. In addition to myself, there was Funky Freddie, Red Heaven, The Follow, Voodoo Shilton & Jon Larson, and Lyndon Heart. I knew for a fact that these folks represented Thea's personal favorites. She and I had many conversations over the years about the SL music scene, and there was no doubt that this entire list of musical artists represented those who had a special place in her heart.
Likewise, a quick scan of the crowd let me know that Thea's best friends were out in full force. These were the folks whom she spoke about constantly, and with whom she spent the majority of her time in SL. To say she was well liked is a massive understatement. Dozens and dozens of people quickly filled the beach-like setting of Ground Zero, a venue that she'd helped run. It was heartwarming to see them all arriving as I prepared to perform.
A Unique Perspective
I decided that while many of the people involved in the event knew Thea primarily through her activities within SL, my personal perspective on her extended back to 1991 or so, when we were college students together in our early 20s. I wanted to share some stories about her that gave people a look into her background as a person, and I did some of that in between songs. I enjoyed being able to tell people how in college, she'd majored in theatre production and design... something that definitely raised the bar of the work she did with the in-world group Guerrilla Burlesque.
Speaking of songs, while I often put a good amount of thought into the music I plan and prepare for every show, this may have been the most difficult set list I ever did for any live show of my life. I really wanted to hot three different goals with my music selections: 1) songs/artists that I knew she personally loved, 2) songs that were representational of Thea as a person, and 3) songs that would be expressive of our collective feelings of loss as her friends. It's a tough balancing act... some of her favorite music was very upbeat and happy, and obviously you can run into a conflict of what may be appropriate for a memorial event. However, I feel pretty good that each song I played had some specific meaning to the event and to the folks attending, and I'd often explain the reason for my choice of a song as I launched into it.
I loved scanning the folks in the crowd and seeing so many of Thea's friends there to support each other and honor her memory. Photo by Kat.
The Mystical Power Outage
I should preface this next story by admitting that I don't believe in ghosts, spirits, or, frankly, any kind of afterlife. This is my personal outlook and I fully support and respect everyone's right to believe what they want in regard to what happens to one's soul after death. But something very strange and in some ways inexplicable happened about two-thirds of the way through my performance. The lights and other devices here seemed to flicker momentarily, and the alarm on my power systems sounded. Then Kat received a community alert from our local police department, saying that there was a utility pole on fire and that power lines had gone down just a block from my home.
In case you suspect that I'm exaggerating what happened with the power outage, here's the actual alert that Kat received. That power line that went down was mere blocks from my home, and seemed to affect everyone in the area except for me, personally.
Well, here's the weird thing: by all rights, I should have lost power completely and vanished from the stage as my computer and audio systems went down. My neighbors lost power. Kat's computer crashed so hard that it reinitialized her preference settings in SL when she got back in! But -- and I have no way of explaining how or why it happened this way -- all of my stuff stayed up and running. My computer, my mixer, my monitor, my audio interface... it was like the power outage never happened for me, and I kept on playing music with zero interruption. I told Meegan about this after my set ended, and she replied that Rachael was there holding the wires together. I can't offer any better explanation than that one.
Snot, Sweat, and Tears
I did more than my share of crying during the days following Thea's death, but I promised myself that at least while I was actually onstage and performing, I'd focus on the positive and leave the tears behind while honoring her life during this opportunity to do so.
Well, that didn't work. There was one particular moment where I started to mention how smart Thea was and how committed she was to wanting to help others, along with my ideas as to what she might have been able to do under other circumstances in her life. I don't even think I got these words out completely, but while I was talking to the crowd, I had this vision of Thea as a Congressional representative from Utah, standing next to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar, and... well, that was it. I do recall looking down at my guitar during the subsequent song and realizing it was literally coated with snot, sweat, and tears (no blood, thankfully). I will say that I made it through every song, and while my vocal performance of singing while simultaneously weeping probably wasn't among my best, I think the crowd all fully understood how difficult it was for me to be onstage and handling these emotions while trying to do justice to the music Thea loved.
Playing this show was one of the most difficult and yet fulfilling performances I've ever done as a musician. Photo by Kat.
Kat and I stayed around after my show for quite some time, enjoying the music of my fellow SL performers. Thea had great taste and I truly enjoy the music of the artists that had been chosen to play the event. In typical SL fashion, both of us started having computer issues (freezing up and so on), and we popped in and out for the remainder of the day to check out the various people performing.
Goodbye, My Friend
One emotion that I hadn't expected but was definitely present throughout the "Celebration of Life for Thea Dee" was an intense sense of pride. Pride that I had been a beloved friend to this wonderful person. Pride that her wonderful friends had stepped up to organize this event. Pride that I was able to make it through the whole performance without being completely overwhelmed by my own emotions. Whether you knew her as Thea or Rachael, she was a remarkable woman whose strength and kindness and beauty were to be admired, and I have no problem saying truthfully that while I'll miss her for as long as I live, the larger and more important sense I have of her is that I was tremendously lucky to have had her as a friend for the time that I did. Life itself is finite and fleeting at best; the real secret to being successful lies in how you bring happiness and love to others. My friend Thea did that in droves. It was a life well led.
Celebration of Life for Thea Dee at Ground Zero set list...
All I Want (Joni Mitchell)
You’ve Got a Friend (James Taylor)
I Believe When I Fall In Love (Stevie Wonder)
Just Like Heaven (The Cure)
Sour Girl (Stone Temple Pilots)
Golden Years (David Bowie)
Northern Sky (Nick Drake)
Half Moon Bay (Sun Kil Moon)
Time Stand Still (Rush)
*Shining Star (Earth Wind & Fire)
*Indicates the first time I've performed this song in SL.
Posted by Zak Claxton at 10:02 AM
Thursday, September 26, 2019
People tend to say that we don't have real seasons here in Southern California, and they're mostly correct. Throughout the year, where I live in a suburb of Los Angeles called Redondo Beach, the temperature variance is minuscule compared to most of the world, and actual severe weather -- storms, extreme temperatures, and so on -- are almost unheard of. With few exceptions, about the worst it gets here is a bit chilly or rather warm. So what difference does autumn make versus summer?
Weather information on Redondo Beach, CA. My city has some of the best weather in the world, and certainly ranks more favorably than just about anywhere else in the USA. Chart from city-data.com.
There's something about the fall season that is still very appealing. The slightly cooler temps, the more focused vibe compared to the lackadaisical summer months, the holidays, football season... there are tangibles such as these, but also a lot of more nebulous aspects that make autumn my personal favorite time of year. Since my bi-weekly Monday night show at Serenity Gardens happened to occur literally on the first day of Fall 2019, I wasn't going to miss the opportunity to curate a set list that paid some homage to autumn, and I did just that. But before I talk about that, I want to mention some stuff about streaming music and digital distribution.
How Do People Listen To Music in 2019?
I'm not going to get into a big dissertation on this topic; many others have done it already and done it well. I will state the simple and obvious facts, though.
From the 1930s through the late 1990s, the only choices that people had to listen to music were a) through physical media, like a vinyl record, a Compact Disc, a cassette and so on, or b) on the radio or other broadcast medium (like MTV when they used to be a music channel). If you were a recording artist, your income was based primarily on how many pieces of physical media you could sell. Back in those days, concert tickets were cheaper because the live show was primarily meant as a vehicle for artists to promote their latest recording.
We all know what happened after that. The Internet increasingly became part of our lives as the new century got underway, and anything that could be digitized and moved around the world in a blink of an eye was done so, and one of the first things that was affected by digital distribution was music. It started out illegally, with people taking songs off of CDs, moving them into their computers, and posting them on peer-to-peer file sharing services. Eventually, like many things, big business saw the opportunity to use the technology in legitimate ways, and people began paying for and downloading music with systems like Apple's iTunes.
This was fine; artists still received a reasonable level of compensation from paid downloads. But the next thing that happened in the flow of technology was the elimination of the need to "own" the music. It could reside in a cloud, and people could access it anywhere they had an Internet connection (which these days is pretty much everywhere). Instead of purchasing songs and albums, people could just stream the audio... to their homes, their phones, their cars and so on. However, what changed drastically for the artists who create the music was the compensation. Instead of receiving $0.70 for a downloaded song, they got fractions of a penny for that song being streamed. Artists who get thousands of songs streamed in a month would get a royalty payment of a few cents. If you wonder why concert tickets are now often hundreds of dollars, that's why. Musical artists have no real means of income other than live performance.
Why am I talking about this today? Well, my band They Stole My Crayon made the decision at the time of our album's release in 2016 to forego digital distribution via streaming services. We knew that any possibility of at least being recompensed for the costs and time of recording our music would be negated by the tiny payments from streaming services. However, the reality in 2019 is that in many cases, if your music isn't on Spotify and other popular services around the world, in some ways it might as well not exist. We have been very happy with download platforms like Bandcamp, but that is still considered kind of an underground service for indie artists.
Some of these online music store logos will be very familiar to you; others you've probably never even heard of. But these are the places that attract people in various territories around the world to discover and listen to music, and if your music isn't there, you might as well not exist.
Interestingly, people are still more interested in listening for free than anything else. While YouTube has its own fledgling music service, they are already the world's number one platform for music listening via video uploads that don't pay the musical creators a damn penny. It's a tough battle to fight, frankly. In any case, we'll soon be making an announcement in regard to our music's availability in ways that it hadn't been previously. Last weekend, we renegotiated our digital distribution with Tunecore, and sometime in the next couple of weeks, I will be posting about new ways to experience and enjoy The Crayon's music. That's it for now.
First Show of Autumn
As I was saying, I'd looked at the calendar and noted that my show at Serenity Gardens was literally on the first day of Fall 2019, and that led me to create a set list that had a fall feel. I've previously talked about the music I associate with autumn, and last year I did a fun exercise where I posted five autumnal songs each week for the entire fall season. I was happy to have a specific focus of my performance, and I truly enjoy the vibe of autumn songs as much as any other part of the season.
I should note that once again, I appreciated playing directly after Grace McDunnough... her choice of material and her lovely voice always puts me in a great mood right before I take the stage. Also, Ilsa Flannigan (Serenity Gardens owner) is meticulous about decorating the sim for the various seasons, and the place looked great all tricked out in a Halloween vibe. It's always fun when you play a familiar place that's somehow new. We had a good crowd and I liked adding a couple of new tunes to the set that played off my autumn theme.
Serenity Gardens set list...
Pink Moon (Nick Drake)
Carolina In My Mind (James Taylor)
The Last Time I Saw Richard (Joni Mitchell)
Blew the Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
Pecan Pie (Golden Smog)
*Autumn Sunglasses (Robyn Hitchcock)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
Year of the Cat (Al Stewart)
Any Major Dude (Steely Dan)
Longing On (They Stole My Crayon)
*’Tis Autumn (Nat King Cole)
Doubt It (Zak Claxton)
I’ve Been Waiting for You (Neil Young)
*Indicates the first time I've performed this song in SL.
Big ol' thanks to every person who hung out for my show, with special super thanks to the following who helped support it!
courageous Chrome, Kat Chauveau, Cory Warcliffe, Cash Benelli, AaronCabottJones Resident, Nina Brandenburg, Diana Renoir, Trouble Streeter, Alex Zelin, Kat Claxton, my excellent manager Maali Beck, and the fabulous team at Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde!
Posted by Zak Claxton at 6:34 PM
Tuesday, September 17, 2019
Here's something you should know about me. While I admire people who specialize in a particular area and are amazingly good at what they do, I've never really been that kind of human being. Instead, I tend to do a whole lot of different things reasonably well, and throughout my life, if I discover something that interests me, I'll give it a shot. If you want to think of that worldview in a negative sense, the phrase "Jack of all trades, master of none" is probably applicable to me in many ways.
At the same time, there's an advantage to doing things for one's self. One of them is that when I find myself with a block of time, there are myriad ways to fill it in some productive sense. Coming into this past weekend, for example, I felt like I was on the edge of terminal burnout. It had truly been a rough couple of weeks for me on many fronts, some large and some small. While I knew that some total downtime was required, I don't do well with typical relaxing; I get bored too easily and I feel like time is wasted when I literally do nothing. I knew I'd feel better if I'd accomplished something that was essentially just for myself.
After chilling for awhile on Saturday, it came to me: I'd long been wanting to do something promotional for the music of my band They Stole My Crayon. Creating new music at the moment has too many obstacles, but doing something with our existing batch of tunes had been on my list for some time. So that's what I did; I made a new lyric video for our song "River Shallows" that you can watch below.
"River Shallows" by They Stole My Crayon. Watch it on YouTube if you want.
How Do You Make a Music Video?
Ugh, don't ask me. Seriously, just go watch some music videos. The best of them are like little art films, and are obviously well planned out, and use filmmaking tools like soundstages and visual effects and choreography and all that (and presumably have a budget and so on). My videos rarely come close to that. I've done a couple of videos that border on being good: "Falling Down" from my first solo album, and "Blew the Dust Away" by the Crayon (with this latest video drawing on that same style). But even in those cases, it was very nebulous as to what the point of the video was before we started shooting, and the results speak for themselves.
But in this case, I had no plans at all to make a video this weekend until maybe noon on Saturday. With my only plan being to make a lyric video for one of the songs off the 2016 self-titled TSMC album, I opened up Final Cut Pro X and just started plopping down clips. What clips? Well, whenever we go places together as a band -- most often being Joshua Tree -- we just take various footage no matter what. The idea is that sometime, for some reason, we might find these things useful, and guess what? It's true.
Anyway, for those who aren't aware, there is very powerful video editing software available these days at reasonable prices. What this kind of software allows you to do is to import video footage of almost any variety, edit and combine the clips, add visual effects and text overlays, synchronize the video to audio to music, and then output the whole thing for whatever you intend on doing with the video. This is nothing new; nonlinear video editing has been computer-based for decades now. But for a random person with a typical computer to be able to do this is a room at his house is still pretty neat to me.
I developed a particular style for They Stole My Crayon videos early on, and it was reinforced in subsequent videos I've done for the band. I tend to overlay various clips of footage with slightly psychedelic results. Most of the footage I had at my disposal for the video were clips of our many trips into Joshua Tree, and several of those were with our friend and unofficial tour manager Jess Smith, so she makes the occasional appearance in this one.
Just by happenstance, I did have a few clips from when we were planning on shooting a "real" video for "River Shallows" and I was able to find those (hallelujah!) and implement them here. So, that's it. Plopped some images together, made them look weird, and then plopped some text over them for the lyrics. Done, and done. Enjoy!
Posted by Zak Claxton at 5:33 PM