Saturday, December 8, 2018

Zak's Autumn Playlist 2018 - Episode 12

We're coming close to the completion of our little journey down this musical path of songs that have an autumnal feel to me. Next week is week 13, the final episode; the following week will be the official start of winter and this playlist will have ended. I've found that I look forward to the routine of waking up on Saturday mornings and selecting the songs for this musical collection, and will miss it when it's over. An interesting thing I've noticed, looking through the various songs that made my list: there's certainly no single genre or even specific musical feel that defines all of these songs. Even I, who curated this whole thing, couldn't tell you precisely why some of these songs are on here. But here they are. Anyway... five songs in chronological order that give me a fall feel. Enjoy.

EP 1EP 2EP 3EP 4EP 5EP 6EP 7 • EP 8EP 9EP 10EP 11

1. Hank Williams: “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” (1949)

2. Nick Drake: “Pink Moon” (1972)

3. Neil Young: “Philadelphia” (1993)

4. Alice in Chains: “I Stay Away” (1994)

5. Radiohead: “Daydreaming” (2016)

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Serenity Gardens (12.03.18)

Doing December tunes at Serenity Gardens. Photo by Kat.

Last night's show at Serenity Gardens in Second Life was quite good, as most of them are. Before I talk about that, I want to mention something about the upcoming changes to Tumblr, the blogging platform.

It's sort of funny that I'm here on Google's blogging platform (Blogger) to mention something about a competing service, I suppose, but many people use multiple forms of blogging and social media for different purposes. Some of that is due to the nature of the platform itself. Twitter, for example, with its character limitation and ways of reaching followers, is very different from Facebook, which is in turn very different from Instagram. Tumblr, for those unaware, is set up sort of like Twitter (minus the character limits), with a dashboard that allows you to scroll through the feeds of any account you follow, arranged chronologically, with lots of content being re-blogged between users. Tumblr posts can be liked, shared, and commented on. It allows for longer text-based posts (like Facebook) and inclusion of images (like Instagram) and videos (like YouTube). That combination of features has made it ideal for what has become a sizable base of users... various kinds of artists, and people who enjoy NSFW content, aka porn. And yesterday, Tumblr made the announcement about upcoming changes in its community guidelines that will essentially remove all NSFW content on December 17.

Making a judgement on Tumblr's new community guidelines doesn't seem to have a right or wrong answer.

To backtrack a moment and give this some business context, Tumblr (like many online properties) started as an independent entity. This happens a lot. YouTube was a standalone platform until Google wrote them a big enough check to allow themselves top be absorbed under that corporate umbrella. Instagram was already successful when they were acquired by Facebook. Up until not that long ago, Tumblr also stood alone... but then they were bought by Yahoo, who was in turn bought by Verizon, who set up a subdivision called Oath to handle their digital content business. What does a company like Verizon want? To make money... duh. And how does a publicly-traded corporation make money? Via investment in their stock. So let's say you're Verizon, and you end up owning this blogging platform, and you find out that a huge portion of its existing content is user-created porn, and that your goal of encouraging investment is perhaps somewhat hampered due to the public's uneasiness about investing in what's essentially a giant porn site, with almost 450 million blogs and over 500 million monthly visitors. What do you do?

You probably do what Verizon has done, which seems fairly obvious... tell the users that there's a new set of guidelines that doesn't allow for the type of content they've been creating and posting. To be clear, I'm not here to make some argument in favor of porn. Especially in previous times, pornography has been inherently problematic on multiple levels, and that's been true of Tumblr as well, with instances of child porn and other aspects of adult content that are socially unacceptable and sometimes illegal. However, per many reports in the case of Tumblr, over the years it's become a sort of safe haven for consenting adults and the sorts of victimless porn that is not in any way against the law. An article from the BBC says it well:

"Unlike typical pornography sites, which overwhelmingly cater to men, and serve an often narrow definition of what is attractive, Tumblr has been a home for something else - content tailored at vibrant LGBT communities, or for those with tastes you might not necessarily share with all your friends.

If society deems it acceptable for any porn to be on the internet, then that acceptance must surely be inclusive. Unlike most of those other sites Mr D’Onofrio speaks of, Tumblr has been a space where different body types are sexually celebrated, not degraded."

Again, to be very clear, I'm not advocating for any kind of pornography. But what has grown from Tumblr is an interesting, almost unique case. There are entire communities there of people who find similar sexual interests, with a much larger percentage of female users than is typical in porn, who feel like the platform has been a safe haven for them to express themselves in ways that would not be possible otherwise. Those people will either find new sites that are more focused on adult content, or abandon that aspect of their lives altogether. The other aspect of this change would be funny, if it wasn't sort of sad. The algorithms being used to scan the millions and millions of posts of all Tumblr blogs is misidentifying many images as being against community guidelines... things that have absolutely nothing to do with porn at all. The ironic end result is that in the effort to make Tumblr more appealing to investors, Verizon/Oath may inadvertently end up removing the value of the platform's content and killing it entirely. As the same BBC article concluded, "That change means marginalised people, those who are all-too-used to being ostracised in their offline lives, now face it in their online space too. Some of the internet’s most-needed communities are now homeless."

Didn't You Have a Show?
Ah yes, the show. Over the weekend, as I often do before my bi-weekly shows at Serenity Gardens, I took a look at my set list and decided to a) make some additions and b) pull out some tunes that are only appropriate to play at this time of year, and I think that worked out very well at last night's show. I also had an unplanned moment of hilarity when I got a request for my silly cat-themed song "Pickles", but hadn't intended for it to be in my set, so I ended up doing a live mashup of that song with "Holly Jolly Christmas" and that was about as ridiculous as it seems it would be.

"Have a holly jolly... Pickles?" Photo by Kat.

Ilsa does a remarkable job of keeping the decor seasonally appropriate at Serenity Gardens. Photo by Kat.

Serenity Gardens set list...
Northern Sky (Nick Drake)
River (Joni Mitchell)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)
Here’s Where the Story Ends (The Sundays)
*Badge (Cream)
The Crystal Ship (The Doors)
Blew the Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
Among the Leaves (Sun Kil Moon)
*Time in a Bottle (Jim Croce)
*Holly Jolly Pickles (Burl Ives/Zak Claxton)
Where Are We Now? (David Bowie)
Long December (Counting Crows)
While My Guitar Gently Weeps (The Beatles)
*Serenity Improv #792 (Zak Claxton)

*Indicates the first time I've performed this song in SL.

Gigantic thanks to all who came out to Serenity Gardens and had a good time, with special kudos to the following people who helped support the show!
Kat Chauveau, go2smoky Resident, Asimia Heron, Tyche Szondi, Kat Claxton, TheaDee Resident, Aurelie Chenaux, my superb manager Maali Beck, and the fabulous team at Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Zak's Autumn Playlist 2018 - Episode 11

How is it December already? Look, I understand the elastic nature of time as much as anyone, but this year really flew by. I'd say that as we get closer to wrapping up 2018, I'm more confident and optimistic about the upcoming year than I was about the one that's nearly over. Speaking of nearly over, this is week 11 of my fun little Autumn Playlist project, meaning there are just two episodes left before I run out of fall, and that will be the end of this little music curation exercise. Below, five songs in chronological order that have the feel of the season.

EP 1EP 2EP 3EP 4EP 5EP 6EP 7 • EP 8EP 9EP 10

1. Joni Mitchell: “A Case of You” (1971)

2. Steve Earle: “Pancho & Lefty” (2009)

3. Ducktails: “Hamilton Road” (2011)

4. German Error Message: “Everything Is Scary” (2014)

5. They Stole My Crayon: “Things Under Trees” (2016)

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Zak's Autumn Playlist 2018 - Episode 10

Thanksgiving has come and gone, and now we're in the midst of that weird weekend where you've been eating for a couple of days, and society is telling you that you should be shopping or something. It seems quieter than usual for a Saturday morning. It's barely a week until December, somehow. Getting out of this bathrobe and into the shower feels like a chore, so why not delay that task and just drink coffee and post another five songs that have the feel of fall? Enjoy... just three weeks left until winter is upon us.

EP 1EP 2EP 3EP 4EP 5EP 6EP 7 • EP 8EP 9

1. Vince Guaraldi: “Happiness Is” (1964)

2. Jim Croce: “Time In a Bottle” (1972)

3. Gravenhurst: “The Diver” (2003)

4. Beck: “Turn Away” (2014)

5. C Duncan: “For (Autumn Rebuild)” (2015)

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Serenity Gardens (11.19.18)

Throwing down the sweet rocking vibes at Serenity Gardens. Photo by Kat.

There's something I briefly mentioned not long ago in regard to my bi-weekly Monday evening shows at Serenity Gardens in Second Life: during the fall and winter, I am in direct competition from an entertainment standpoint to one of the USA's most powerful entities: the National Football League. Don't laugh; it's 100% true. Since debuting in 1970, MNF has been one of the highest-rated prime time programs on television. So, for my shows between September and January, I am fully aware that a certain percentage of people want to get home from work, put their feet up, and watch the game.

Do I blame them? Hell no! I've been a football fan since I was a little kid. I participate every year in football pools, and spend plenty of time discussing the sport with like-minded friends (I'm looking at you, Jess Smith, whom Christina calls my "football wife" due to our steady stream of NFL-related chats, often on Sundays). I've heard people say that folks who would be likely to be in Second Life aren't usually football fans. Guess what? That's not true. Like any cross-segment of the population, some are, and some aren't. So I am perfectly fine with accepting that some folks will want to watch the game instead of listening to me do live music, and that is perfectly fine.

Do I expect that more people will be interested in my little live music show than perhaps the best football game ever? No. No, I don't. Rams/Chiefs photo via Sports Illustrated.

The Attention Battle
As a performer of any sort, you are constantly in a battle for people's time and attention. Even among the segment of people who might really like my music, not everyone feels like sitting in front of a computer at all moments of their day. People like to read, spend time with their loved ones, watch TV, play video games, exercise, travel, go out to eat, and do creative stuff of their own. Also, even if you narrow the focus down to "people who happen to be in SL on a Monday night", I'm not the only musical performer playing shows at my time slot, and people might very well choose to see another show... or to build, or to socialize, or do things other than be at my show.

All of that is fine. I am not the type of person who views it as a competition. Whatever folks want to do is cool with me, and if they choose to check out my show and enjoy themselves, all the better. But not checking out my show is cool too. Do what you feel like doing! Life's too short to spend your free time doing things you don't really feel like doing. I'm always glad when people come to my show, because that means they chose to see me out of literally thousands of other things they could do at that moment. It's quite flattering, no matter if it's nine people or 90.

Me, in a sweater for some reason. Photo by Kat.

One thing (of many) that I admire about Serenity Gardens: Ilsa always changes up the decor to match the season, and the place always looks lovely. Photo by Kat.

Why Are You Writing About This?
Why am I writing about this? Because last night, as I strummed and sang for the folks at Serenity Gardens, there was what might be the most epic Monday Night Football game in history going on at the same time. If you haven't heard (or, in some cases, don't care), the Los Angeles Rams and the Kansas City Chiefs went into the game as two of the top teams in football, both with 9-1 records. Everyone knew going in that this highly-anticipated game would be big, but few would have predicted it would end up being the highest-scoring game in MNF history, with a combined point total of 105 points (the Rams, perhaps due to home field advantage, ended up beating the Chiefs 54-51 in a hard-fought battle). Some people as of this morning are already calling it one of the greatest NFL games ever played.

I guess the reason I'm mentioning this is as follows: no matter what it is that you like to do, I never want anyone who comes to my shows to feel obligated to do so. If you have something else going on that you really enjoy, or some special event, or whatever... I will never be upset or annoyed that you don't come to every one of my shows! From time to time, I have people contact me to tell me that they had to miss the show for some reason or another, and that's nice of them to do so. But be aware: there has never, and never will be, a time that your presence at my show is an obligation. I won't be hurt by your absence. Quite the opposite: I'm grateful for each show you attend, whether it's every time or a few times a year. But it's never mandatory, and if there's something else going on that you feel like doing while I'm playing music, do that thing, and come to another show when you feel like hanging with me. It's all good, and I'll be happy to see you whenever you come around again.

I'm always happy for each and every person who takes the time to hang at my shows. Photo by Kat.

The Show
Ah yes, the show. It was a good one! I was in a somewhat silly mood, probably because my previous show was a bit more serious. We had a nice crowd at Serenity Gardens, and folks seemed to be enjoying my musical antics. I did manage to get one previously-unperformed cover song into the set, which was fun, along with a few rarities from my repertoire. My voice and guitar were both, for the most part, doing what I wanted them to do, which is always a bonus.

Serenity Gardens set list...
Airport Bar (Martin Courtney)
I’ve Been Waiting for You (Neil Young)
Rocket Man (Elton John)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
The Arrangement (Joni Mitchell)
Don’t Let It Pass (Junip)
*You Wreck Me (Tom Petty)
Box by the Cliff (They Stole My Crayon)
Everlong (Foo Fighters)
Long Time Gone (Crosby, Stills and Nash)
Tribute (Tenacious D)

*Indicates the first time I've performed this song in SL.

Big thanks to the folks who weren't watching the game while I was rocking... especially the following who helped support the show!
Asimia Heron, Kat Chauveau, go2smoky Resident, Trouble Streeter, Eli Schlegal, Kat Claxton, Tyche Szondi, TheaDee Resident, my fine manager Maali Beck, and the fabulous team at Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Lutz City of Templemore (11.16.18)

Templemore is back, and I loved being up on that magical stage once again. Photo by Aurelie Chenaux.

It wasn't very long ago, maybe a month or two ago, that I noticed some cryptic photos posted on the Facebook page of my friend Luis Gonzales (aka Luis Lockjaw in Second Life). I didn't want to get my hopes up, but it seemed that he was doing a rebuild of his famous Templemore sim, an environment and live music venue that has been one of my personal favorites in all of SL for many years.

Templemore has opened and closed a few times, and I've never pressed Luis for the reasons why. I've gotten the idea that he's run into mental and emotional burnout at times. I also know Luis' real-life work keeps him extraordinarily busy, and the time and effort he puts into the place can probably be overwhelming. I will say -- as I've noted many times in this blog -- that his artistry as a designer of virtual environments is right there at the top, placing him among the best at this unique art form.

Photo by Aurelie Chenaux.

Anyway, as Luis continued posting pics, I was excited that Templemore was seemingly headed for another reboot. I wasn't even thinking about the possibility of performing there; I was just stoked that it was coming back. Then one day a couple of weeks ago, I glanced at my live show calendar that's maintained by my manager Maali Beck, and there, on Friday November 16, was a listing that said "Lutz City of Templemore Grand Opening". I understood right away that the new Templemore was a dedication to Garrett Lutz, a friend who passed away from ALS in August of 2017 -- I wrote about it at the time. At that moment, I knew I had to plan something special for this show.

I think two things happened when planning for this show. First was the selection of my set list. Garrett had been literally the only person in SL who seemed to be aware of Sun Kil Moon, an indie band I loved and covered occasionally. I purposely did a mini-set list of Sun Kil Moon songs just for Garrett, which -- at the opening night of a sim dedicated to his memory -- seemed to be entirely appropriate. Second was the posting of the artist lineup for the night; in addition to me, there was Anidia Huet, Gravey Jones, and Sassy Nitely (who, with the onset of a bout of pneumonia which I'm happy to say she seems to be recovering from, was replaced by the also-excellent Toxie Darkmatter). All of these people are super talented in their own unique ways, and being on a bill with them was inspiring for me to make sure I did as good a show as I'm capable of doing.

Photo by Aurelie Chenaux.

Photo by Aurelie Chenaux.

One other note... while Templemore is always a feast for the eyes, it's also a beast of a sim with tons of detailed textures, and I probably should have dialed back my own graphics settings before doing the show. I managed to not crash during my performance, which is good, but just getting my ass out to the stage was a nearly impossible task. I will tell you, it's totally worthwhile for the splendor and beauty of Templemore's design. I just had a couple of freak-out moments before my show when my streaming software was like, "Hmm, your computer seems pretty busy right now, so I'll just take about ten minutes to launch while the seconds are ticking down to the start of your show."

I took a quick screen cap while peeking out from backstage during Anidia's set...

... and made it through all four shows before this happened as I left to TP home.

Lutz City of Templemore set list...
Pink Moon (Nick Drake)
The Last Time I Saw Richard (Joni Mitchell)
Among the Leaves (Sun Kil Moon)
Carry Me Ohio (Sun Kil Moon)
Half Moon Bay (Sun Kil Moon)
So. Central Rain (R.E.M.)
If I Had a Tail (Queens of the Stone Age)
The Waiting Boy (Zak Claxton)
One of These Things First (Nick Drake)
*Don’t Let It Pass (Junip)
Bull Black Nova (Wilco)

*Indicates the first time I've performed this song in SL.

Huge thanks to every person who came to the opening of Lutz City of Templemore last night, with special thanks to the generous folks who supported my show!
GraveyJones Resident, bblbabe Resident, Luis Lockjaw, Lunette Kyomoon, Asimia Heron, JimmySkat Canucci, Gideon McMillan, Lyxz Delicioso, J453A13x Resident, Tyche Szondi, Alex Zelin, Aurelie Chenaux, BrynnLynn Resident, my awesome manager Maali Beck, Templemore hostess Bee Blackrain, and the astoundingly talented dude who makes Templemore happen, Luis Lockjaw!

Zak's Autumn Playlist 2018 - Episode 9

It's already the Saturday before Thanksgiving. This season has been jamming along. The world is crazy, but at least my state is less on fire than it's been in recent weeks, and things seem to be settling down a bit after the Midterm elections. It's a nice weekend to chill and listen to some music. This week's selections aren't all in a traditional Fall vibe, but there's still an element of melancholia and introspection even in the harder-edged stuff. As usual, all five songs are presented in chronological order. Enjoy.

EP 1EP 2EP 3EP 4EP 5EP 6EP 7 • EP 8

1. Carole King: “So Far Away” (1971)

2. Nirvana: “Pennyroyal Tea” (1993)

3. Broken Bells: “The High Road” (2010)

4. Mac DeMarco: “Treat Her Better” (2014)

5. Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile: “Over Everything” (2017)