Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Serenity Gardens (08.10.20)

Sad tunes and happy times at Serenity Gardens. Photo by Kat.


I'm having one of those moments where there are so many topics I could tell you about, it's somewhat difficult to choose the order of things or what to say at all. I guess the only solution is random blathering, in lieu of my making the effort to organize my thoughts before writing. Way too much planning and organization for a Tuesday morning. Sorry in advance.

Nick Drake
So, last night at Serenity Gardens in Second Life, I did a Nick Drake song I hadn't done before. In my opinion, it's one of his finest: "River Man" from his 1969 debut album Five Leaves Left. That kid was just 21 years old and already writing with a depth of feeling that is nearly inconceivable for a person that age.

"River Man" by Nick Drake.

I'm not going to write a biography of Nick Drake here, but I will give you the super fast version. Talented guy, born in 1948, grew up in a small town south of Birmingham, UK in a well-to-do and caring family. He wrote and recorded these amazing songs and was an incredibly talented folk-style guitarist, but he was chronically shy and had difficulties performing live as a result not being able to engage the audience at all. He also had to tune his guitar differently for each song he played, leaving long gaps between each song. People didn't know what to make of him. He did three albums between 1969 and 1972, but due to his inability to promote himself through strong live performances or other self-promotion necessary for musical success, none of them sold well at the time. 

Nick suffered from social anxiety and severe depression, and in 1974, at age 26, he died due to an overdose of prescription medication. It's unknown to this day as to whether he intended to kill himself. His music remained deep in the underground for years afterwards until 1999, when Volkswagen used his song "Pink Moon" in a TV ad, and suddenly everyone wanted to know who wrote that hauntingly lovely song. It's a bittersweet fact that his music finally gained the recognition it deserved, decades after his death, and a number of his songs -- the aforementioned "Pink Moon" along with "Things Behind the Sun", "Northern Sky", "One Of These Things First", and now "River Man" -- are among the most played tunes in my live sets.

84 Days
There are 84 days remaining until the 2020 general election in the USA. I beg of you to please vote, and to encourage every person within your world to vote as well. It's easy to do. If you're an American aged 18 years or older, please visit vote.org where you can register, confirm your voter status, sign up to vote by mail, and more.

Are we counting down the days until the election here at Casa Claxton? You bet your ass we are.


Alanis Morissette
I'm not a nostalgia guy. I don't think that my teens and twenties were the best time of my life. I find that thought thoroughly depressing, frankly, and feel sorry for anyone who can't appreciate the moment. That being said, I had just turned 26 years old when Alanis' landmark album Jagged Little Pill came out in 1995. Side note: everyone thinks this was her debut album. It wasn't. It was her third album; she'd released two of them previously, but they were only known in her native Canada. Anyway, the release of JLP was one of those cultural moments akin to the release of Nirvana's Nevermind five years earlier where you just knew that it was going to have an influential effect on music for years to come.

Anyway, Alanis didn't disappear after that. She kept making music, but frankly very little of it had the impact that her first major international release did. So, the other day, I get a suggestion on YouTube for a video of a new song from Alanis, and I checked it out. It was... nice. Very family oriented. I wasn't trying to be disparaging when I described it as "Mommy Rock". She's a 46-year-old woman with three kids now, and she always tended to write in a direct way about very personal emotions and experiences, and it makes sense that her worldview is that of the person she is today... something I applaud.

"Ablaze" by Alanis Morissette.

That being said, seeing and hearing her in this new music video also reminded me that I'm not 26 and she's not 21, and our respective lives are obviously very different than they were in 1995. But it also inspired me to go back and listen to some of her earlier work, and just for the hell of it, I decided to cover "Ironic", a song that I actually used to poke fun at since none of the lyrical themes are actually ironic. The song should have been called "Bummer".

COVID-19
I don't know what to say about this. The idea that a pandemic has somehow morphed into a political hot topic is beyond sad. As has been said many times, a virus doesn't care which way you vote. Wearing a mask or paying attention to social distancing guidelines doesn't make you a member of any specific political outlook. And what's happening is the extension of the virus's impact which, in a world where literally everyone helped each other by isolating and wearing personal protection when interacting, could have likely been under control by now.

But it's not. Yesterday, I got the official notice that the 2021 NAMM Show (a large trade show in the industry of music/audio products where I've spent my entire career) is cancelled. No surprise there; getting 100,000+ people from all over the world in a single location was never a real possibility under the pandemic circumstances. Still, I've worked that show every single year since 1993, and it's going to be extraordinarily weird for me to get into January of next year with no NAMM Show to prepare for and execute.

Will I still be doing a ton of work around that time to help my clients introduce new products around that time? Of course, and the workload might be equal to or even greater than getting ready for a familiar in-person event. But like so many other things in this current era, it's just one more aspect that indicates beyond all doubt that what we used to think of as normal is gone, and in some cases might be gone forever. Again, it's a good thing I'm not a nostalgia guy. 

It's not going away on its own. Until there is a proven and safe vaccine, you will not find me out among groups of people under any circumstance that isn't absolutely necessary.


The Show
I continue to be appreciative of the schedule at Serenity Gardens on my bi-weekly Monday night shows where I perform directly after Grace McDunnough. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise; whether in SL or on real life stages, the artist or band who performs adjacent to your time slot makes a huge difference. If their style of music doesn't align somewhat well with your own, there's going to be a huge turnover of the audience. Not all of Grace's fans are into me, nor would I expect them to be. But I can say that I get a big benefit of having a receptive crowd there right from the start of my shows. Plus, she is such a great talent that as I'm listening to her while I get ready to do my own show, I feel inspired to perform well. I am literally a better performer because of her.

Me onstage, still masked up even in the virtual world. Photo by Kat.

I truly love Serenity Gardens. I've done some of my finest live shows there over the past three+ years. Photo by Kat.

What a lovely evening, in both SL and reality. Photo by Kat.


So, we had a good crowd, and I was pretty happy with my set list. In addition to the two new songs mentioned above, I decided to stay mostly within a mood theme that invoked some level of melancholy. It's not that I'm feeling sad; I'm not. I'm fine, given the circumstances of life in 2020. But the world itself has had a lot to handle lately, and sometimes there's a cathartic effect when you throw that sadness back at itself, if that makes any sense.

Serenity Gardens set list...
Loading Zones (Kurt Vile)
*Ironic (Alanis Morissette)
Blew the Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
*River Man (Nick Drake)
Carry Me Ohio (Sun Kil Moon)
High and Dry (Radiohead)
Vacancy (Neil Young)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
America (Simon & Garfunkel)
Texarkana (R.E.M.)
Say Goodbye (Beck)
*Ode to Serenity #412 (Zak Claxton)

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

Huge thanks to everyone who came out to my show... you are awesome! Extra special thanks to the following people who helped support the show!
Hippierider65 Resident, SurfSide66 Resident, Tyche Szondi, Lauralynn Foxtrot, 4REIGN Resident, Trouble Streeter, Aurelie Chenaux, Kat Claxton, Kat Chauveau, Stratus Mactavish, my excellent manager Maali Beck, and the fabulous team at Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde (and my guest host last night, Sharky)!

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Serenity Gardens (07.27.20)

Another great Monday night at Serenity Gardens. Photo by Kat.


My fellow Second Life musicians -- some of whom often play 3-4 shows in a single day -- will likely laugh at this, but it's pretty rare for me to have shows on consecutive days, as I did on Sunday and Monday of this week. But even back in the day, when I was finding time to do several shows each week, I never liked performing at a high rate of frequency. The long story short is that I started feeling like each show was less special, and I wasn't putting as much effort into them. Not cool.

Let's Get Physical
This is also an area where the different styles of music performance in SL do matter. The physicality of playing solo acoustic guitar for a full hour in undeniable. Not to disparage any type of performance style in any way -- I think all of them are 100% valid as long as the audiences enjoy them -- but if I was sitting in a chair and singing to prerecorded tracks, it wouldn't take a fraction of the effort that it does to stand up and rock out on guitar while singing and engaging the crowd. I think my personal musical background, with decades in playing guitar and singing in live rock bands, was the main influence in how I chose to perform in SL.

Anyway, I am not at all exaggerating when I mention to my crowds that I'm a sweaty monster about 30 minutes into each of my sets. Let me put it this way: I work out each weekday morning, doing yoga, strength training, and aerobics... and never sweat nearly as much as I do while performing music. It's the combination of effort and adrenaline, and I actually think I've received a ton of physical benefit from doing my SL shows over the past nearly 14 years.

My avatar in SL remains masked, just like my real life self. Side note: I still have this dream of working with an expert-level SL script coder so that I sweat more and more throughout the show, ending up with a soaked shirt as I do in real life. Photo by Kat.


98 Days
Another thing I mentioned to my audience last night at Serenity Gardens: we are getting closer and closer to the 2020 general election. I've been very clear in terms of the causes I believe in, and it probably speaks for itself in terms of which candidates I support as a result. But I will say this: I don't tell people whom to vote for... but I do tell them to vote. It's really simple: when you don't vote, you allow other people to make choices for you. Those people might not share your outlooks on what defines right versus wrong, and their decisions might impact you directly, or the ones you love. Some folks may have been okay with that in times past, but the stakes are much higher this time around than ever before.

In the 2016 election, tens of millions of people did not vote at all. It was a historical high; over 25% of registered voters didn't vote. The main reason given, per the Pew Research Center, was "dislike of the candidates or campaign issues", and honestly, I can't say that surprises me with the choices from that time frame. I would also add that a lot of people made assumptions in 2016; the polls and other public information indicated that Hillary Clinton was a foregone conclusion as a winner. I believe that a number of people who just assumed that a person like Donald Trump could never be elected, so they stayed at home on Election Day, or didn't bother to send their mail-in ballot.

Fewer eligible voters bothered to vote in 2016 than any time in the previous 20 years. If you are 18 years old or older right now, you have the complete right to exert your influence over the coming election and help choose the next President (along with a lot of other important lower-ticket offices) by voting. Registering is easy. Do it now


We've seen the results over the past four years. America is in its worst shape since the Civil War. Disease, abuse of authority, corruption, racism and bigotry have run rampant. But let's not dwell on the past; let's talk about the future. It is SO EASY to register to vote. I don't care if you're 70 years old and never voted before in your life, and perhaps are embarrassed by this fact. Let me tell you; you can rectify that completely by registering and voting in this election.

Whether it's for yourself, or if you're helping someone else to become an active member of American society by voting, here's what you should do. The Vote.org web site has all the answers. You can register to vote. You can confirm your own voter registration status (never a bad idea just to make sure). You can request an absentee ballot to vote by mail. You can get election reminders. All at one web site. Again, it is so, so easy, and will take five minutes of your time. Why not do it right now?

The Show
I was super happy last night to see and hear the lovely Grace McDunnough performing when I arrived at Serenity Gardens. I just love the soothing nature of her voice and her overall vibe. Listening to Grace is like taking a sip of hot coffee on a blustery winter day; it warms you from the inside.

I decided to do a couple of new (for me) tunes at this show. One was the second new track from Neil Young's recently-released album from 1975, Homegrown. I'd already been performing "Vacancy", but after hearing Jeff Tweedy and his family doing a cover of "Try", I decided to try it for myself. Get it? Try? Never mind. Anyway, that turned out great and I'll be doing both of those "new yet old" Neil Young songs many more times. The second new song I did was very much really new; it was a song called "My Bubble" by They Stole My Crayon that we'll be releasing as a single sometime soon. This was not only the first live performance of the song; it was the first time anyone outside of the band had even heard it, and I think its first outing went surprisingly well, given the complexity of the composition.


What a nice place to see, hear, and perform live music! Photo by Kat.


A note for all people who go to live music shows in Second Life. When you have fun, we performers have fun, and we play better, giving you even more fun, which then gives us more energy... it's a cycle of good vibes! Photo by Kat.


We had a nice crowd at Serenity Gardens, and I was in a good mood and feeling loose the entire show, which is always appreciated. I also always appreciate the attitude of the folks who run Serenity Gardens along with the audiences who attend shows there. I always feel welcome to play literally whatever I want, and since my musical tastes are so wide ranging, it might be anything from a classic rock tune you've heard a million times to a song from some completely esoteric indie band that you've never heard before in your life, and everything in between. I know that not every person loves every song, but I've also been told on many occasions that through my shows, I've turned people on to music that they'd otherwise have never discovered, and that makes me super happy.

Serenity Gardens set list...
Sex & Candy (Marcy Playground)
*Try (Neil Young)
Better Man (Pearl Jam)
The Waiting Boy (Zak Claxton)
Alison (Elvis Costello)
All You Fascists (Woody Guthrie)
Bring On The Night (The Police)
Wild World (Cat Stevens)
*My Bubble (They Stole My Crayon)
Hey Ya (OutKast)
Pickles (Zak Claxton)
Frigid Spring (Chairlift)
*Monday Night at Serenity (Zak Claxton)

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

Huge thanks to each and every person who hung out at Serenity on Monday night to rock with me, and special super duper thanks to the following who helped support the show!
AaronCabottJones Resident, ChasDurning122512 Resident, Alex Zelin, Polgara Sparta, Jaron Metaluna, Kat Claxton, Shasta Laval, Trouble Streeter, Kat Chauveau, Tyche Spondee, Grace McDunnough, my excellent manager Maali Beck, and the fabulous team at Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde!

Monday, July 27, 2020

Luis Lockjaw Surprise Party (07.26.20)

Rocking for my bro Luis on a Sunday afternoon somewhere in SL. Photo by Kat.


I'd had no plans to do a live show on Sunday -- a rarity for me -- until I heard from Whata Conundrum via Facebook (a person whom I now know by at least three names, but I digress). She let me know that there were plans being made for a surprise birthday party for our mutual friend Luis Lockjaw. Whata (the lady formerly known as Grace Sixpence) is, along with Luis, one of the co-owners of Lutz City of Templemore, a live music venue and virtual environment in Second Life where I've performed many times over the years. And Luis, of course, is a terrific guy whom I'm proud to call a friend. I didn't hesitate for a moment; I accepted the offer to perform immediately.

I decided to put together a similar set of music as I'd do at a Templemore show, but the show couldn't be actually held there; that wouldn't work with it being a surprise for Luis, you see. In fact, until maybe 10 minutes before the start of the show, I really had no idea where it actually was. I'd been sent an LM, but the actual place wasn't ready for primetime until right before the show (it turned out to be a nice-looking club in a giant skybox somewhere over one of the FaMESHed sims). The whole thing was put together by Whata and Brooks Breeze Zapp, and they did a great job; not only was there a nice big crowd of Luis' friends there right from the start, but Luis himself seemed genuinely surprised by the whole thing.

The birthday boy. Photo by Kat.


You have to have good friends who would go out of their way for you to do stuff like this. Luis obviously is someone who has lots of people who care about him. Pretty cool. Photo by Kat.



Side note: I always make sure to invite my Zakster fans to every show I play, but I wasn't quite clear as to whether or not this was a completely private party (and I knew for a fact it was supposed to be a surprise for Luis), so I decided to err on the side of caution instead of letting the news get out. Turns out I could have dropped some invites once the party got started, but by then, I had a guitar in my hands and was kinda busy. Especially since I'll be doing a more regular Zak Show tonight at Serenity Gardens, I didn't think missing me for one show was a big deal for my loyal friends and fans.

Only In SL
Over the almost 14 years I've been doing live music in Second Life, I've often mentioned the unique aspects that allow people from all over the world to gather together and enjoy things with people they'd otherwise never have even met. But during this era of the pandemic, it's even more mind blowing that people can have the feel of being gathered together in a room, something I mentioned specifically during the party. I think that this aspect of Second Life is even more appreciated these days. In previous years, it was still an option for more people to have real-life activities to choose to do; now that choice has been removed for most folks. And yet, there we were, socializing and having a great time, packed into a crowded club. It reminded me that while I rarely have the luxury of "hang out" time in SL beyond my own live music shows (just from being so damn busy here in reality), I really enjoy it when I do.

My view from the stage. Photo by Kat.



Oblee Is Great
So, one more quick note. I was booked to play from 4-5pm, and normally I'd have to split pretty soon after my own show, but since this was a Sunday and I didn't have anything major going on afterwards, I was able to hang out for the rest of the event, and my fellow veteran SL performer Obeloinkment Wrigglesworth (more commonly known as Oblee) had the slot after mine. I truly enjoy his music and have for a long time, and I found his performance style of layering loops was just perfect for the occasion. People were dancing and being silly; at some point, someone passed around nipple lasers to the crowd (something that really only could happen in SL), and the place looked like a full-on rave for awhile. Anyway, he was great as usual, and Kat and I ended up staying for the full duration of the event. It was fun feeling like I was hanging out with friends in a packed club, as opposed to sitting in the middle of a pandemic in Southern California.

I will continue wearing a mask in SL as long as it's required for me to wear one in RL. Photo by Kat.


Oblee music and nipple lasers. Only in SL. Photo by Kat.



Luis Lockjaw's Party set list...
*Luis’ Fanfare (Zak Claxton)
Loading Zones (Kurt Vile)
Among the Leaves (Sun Kil Moon)
Thank U (Alanis Morissette)
Don’t Let It Pass (Junip)
High and Dry (Radiohead)
Northern Sky (Nick Drake)
Vacancy (Neil Young)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
Shiny Happy People (R.E.M.)
Homeward Bound (Simon & Garfunkel)
Straight On (Heart)
Happy Birthday to You (Traditional)

*Indicates a song I've never performed before in SL.

Thanks to Whata and Brooks for throwing this great party and for inviting me to play it, and to all the people who seemed to be enjoying themselves while I did my thing! And, of course, extra thanks to Luis for being a great guy who's been super supportive of my live shows for many years!

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Serenity Gardens (07.13.20)

It was a fun show at Serenity Gardens with a surprising number of simultaneously birthdays among the Zaksters. Photo by Kat.


I do want to tell you about Monday night's fun show at Serenity Gardens in Second Life -- it was a really good one -- but first, I want to talk about school.

I am a parent. I don't mention that a lot; over the course of my life as a musician, my son's privacy was always of importance to me, especially when he was younger. He's a 21-year-old man now, but when I started performing as a solo artist in 2006, he was just seven years old. In any case, I've been through the entire experience of having a school-aged child, from Kindergarten through his high school graduation in 2018.

What the Fuck, Orange County?
It was recently announced that the Los Angeles Unified School District and the San Diego Unified School District would be be reopening for the fall semester via remote learning only. These are not only the two largest school districts in California but also represent two of the largest in the country. In the midst of a pandemic, I can't imagine any way that an in-person school experience could happen at the moment.

Think about what grade school is like. You're jammed in a small room with 30 other kids and a teacher. In elementary school, you're often in that same room all day, with short breaks for recess and lunch. You are breathing the air that's being exhaled by all the other kids. I know for a fact how quickly and easily viral and bacterial infections go around at schools. I can't tell you how often I got ill from colds that my young son brought home with him during those years. As a result, my nickname for his elementary school, in fact, was "the petri dish".

In between LA and San Diego is a place called Orange County. Like most places in Southern California, Orange County represents a wide variety of socio-economic zones, from the very wealthy to the very poor. While OC has tilted to a slightly more liberal view in recent times (as shown in the 2018 midterm elections), it is classically the most conservative area of Southern California. 

A couple of days ago, the Orange County Board of Education voted 4-1 to reopen schools next month with in-person instruction. While that seems like a terrible idea on its own, that's just the tip of the iceberg. They are opening the schools with no requirements for masks or social distancing. None at all. In other words, they're going to just pretend that the COVID-19 pandemic, a disease that has killed over 138,000 Americans, doesn't exist.

Don Winslow just produced this short film on the topic of schools reopening this fall in the face of the pandemic. Thought it would be pertinent here. #NotMyChild

It's Getting Worse, Not Better
COVID-19 is not getting better or going away on its own. It's getting worse, to the point that yesterday, the state of California has to step back its reopening process, once again closing down bars and restaurants, movie theaters, and more.

If I was the parent of a school-aged child and lived in Orange County, I would be seething with anger today. I would be livid. And, regardless of the consequences, there's no possible way I'd send my child into a situation where coronavirus transmission is a near guarantee. If I was a teacher, or had one in my family, I would have to be a psychopath to allow the job to claim my life or that of my loved ones.

Not everyone has the option of enrolling in a private school, or just moving away to a safer area. However, I would never in a million years just accept this decision by the OC Board of Education, which seems to have been made to satisfy political aspirations rather than the safety of the children and teachers. The entire idea is ludicrous. My entire purpose as a parent is to ensure that my kids have the safety to grow to adulthood. Handing them off to an institution that obviously has no concern for their well being is unthinkable.

The good news is that a number of the actual school districts who serve Orange County seem to understand what a horrifyingly bad idea this is, and will be instituting their own policies about reopening and the conditions for in-person instruction. Let's hope that this works out despite the efforts of the Trump administration to decimate our population.

New Tunes, Chill Vibes, Good Times
Sigh. I'm really not an angry or pessimistic person. Quite the opposite, most of the time. These situations are too important to ignore, so I do talk about them... here, on social media, to friends and family, and so on. But when I'm doing a live music performance, I do try to keep in mind that most of the people who come to my shows are looking for a little relief from the extraordinary difficulties of the world in which we live today.

I like performing SL shows where it's the birthday (or rezday) one (or more) of my audience members. I tend to randomly dedicate songs to people regardless, but it gives me an opportunity to have an actual reason to sing at specific people. Photo by Kat.


Last night's show was purposefully very mellow for that reason. I chose songs from a variety of eras and styles that had an easygoing vibe. Sometimes it's good to dial the intensity controls back a bit, and that's what I did at Serenity Gardens. As I've mentioned many times, I like doing songs I hadn't performed before, and one got gift-wrapped for me in the form of Neil Young's new album Homegrown. While Neil wrote and recorded the album in 1974/75, he never released it. He'd gone through a difficult breakup with actress Carrie Snodgress, and when the album was finished, Neil felt it was just too personal to put out. Instead, at the time, he put out a kind of insane (but great) album called Tonight's the Night. But here we are about 45 years afterwards, and he released Homegrown after all, and a few of the songs on there are just fucking great. I used the opportunity to do the song "Vacancy", which resonated with me immediately. I also did a Gerry Rafferty tune that I'd been meaning to do for years but never got around to it.

One neat thing about SL: I can wear a mask while I sing in world. Here in the land of flesh and germs and stuff, singing is one of the activities that spreads COVID-19 and other germs over a large area, so while I can do this with no unwanted results in a digital realm, I won't be singing in a small room with other people any time soon. Photo by Kat.


Side note: it was the birthday of hardcore Zakster Trouble Streeter, as well as of Serenity Gardens hostess Tilly Rose, so I made it a point to dedicate "Right Down the Line" to Trouble, and did everyone's favorite Zak tune "Pickles" for Tilly, since I know she seems to enjoy it.  

Another note about the show: I almost always have someone onstage before me at Serenity Gardens... in recent months, it's been Grace McDunnough at the 5pm slot, which I follow at 6pm. However, Grace wasn't able to do the show last night, so I was on my own. Surprisingly, even without the support of having her and her fans there beforehand, we actually pulled together a nice solid crowd, and from what I could tell, everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. Musically, things went really well. Also, I hung out after my show ended to hear some of StayAwayJoe's show. He's an Aussie guy and sounded really good while I chilled (and toweled off) after I was done playing. In any case, I've really got nothing but good things to say about this show. I give myself 4/5 stars; would recommend me to a friend.

You know how I often mention towards the end of my shows that I am a sweaty, sweaty man when I play live music? Yeah... that's real and stuff.


Serenity Gardens set list...
Airport Bar (Martin Courtney)
Low Key (Tweedy)
Sundown (Gordon Lightfoot)
Pretty Pimpin’ (Kurt Vile)
Pink Moon (Nick Drake)
*Vacancy (Neil Young)
*Right Down the Line (Gerry Rafferty)
Hummingbird (Seals & Crofts)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Say Goodbye (Beck)
Pickles (Zak Claxton)
From the Beginning (Emerson, Lake & Palmer)
What’s the Frequency, Kenneth? (R.E.M.)

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

Huge thanks to all who came out the the Zak Show, with even bigger thanks to the following who helped support it!
StayAwayJoe Resident, Jaron Metaluna, Kat Claxton, Trouble Streeter, Alex Zelin, Tyche Szondi, my excellent manager Maali Beck, and the fabulous team at Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde!

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Serenity Gardens (06.29.20)

Enjoying a great evening at Serenity Gardens in Second Life. Photo by Kat.


You know how, for all these years of doing live shows in Second Life, I've almost always managed to pop up a blog post within a day or two afterwards? It's not always exactly about the show I just did, though that's always part of it.

So why, wondered no one, has it been almost a week since my last show and I'm just now getting around to writing something? No reason at all. Nothing unusual has been happening, beyond the unusual aspects of pandemic and civil unrest and everything else that the year 2020 has represented. Here's the weird thing: for a lot of folks, it's been a holiday weekend, with a good number of people taking days off work at the end of last week coming into Independence Day on Saturday. But me? Not so much. I was busy as could be all throughout last week, and then spent much of the weekend just relaxing, which felt necessary. One thing I did not do, very purposefully, was to put myself in a situation where COVID-19 transmission was a likely (or even possible) occurrence. 

Why Don't Enough People Wear Masks?
Something you've probably seen many times in recent days are photos and video footage of people partying and having fun. Things like that in a typical year might put a smile on your face, but in the midst of a pandemic, it's horrifying. There were young people dancing closely at lakes in Michigan and Wisconsin, families packed together at beaches and political events, and more. And in almost all of those pics and vids, from Trump's event at Mount Rushmore to gay men dancing at Fire Island to rich folks partying in the Hollywood Hills, barely a mask could be seen.

I could be disingenuous and pretend that I can't imagine why these folks would be so cavalier in the midst of a global health crisis, but let's be real here. We all know the reasons.

• Some people think COVID-19 doesn't exist and is some kind of hoax meant to allow the government to control them.

• Some people think that the very act of wearing a mask is some kind of political statement that doesn't align with their beliefs.

• Some people find the actual wearing of a mask to be so inhibitive of their ability to breathe (or, more likely, don't like the way they look in one) that they claim they can't wear one.

I'll try to be nice, but the name for all of those people is this: stupid and inconsiderate assholes. Here's what's going to happen: more and more people will continue to contract the novel coronavirus, hospitals will be overwhelmed, and local/state governments will be forced to go back to a full shutdown situation. If an overwhelming majority of people could either isolate themselves or use masks along with strong social distancing and great hygiene, we'd kick COVID-19's ass in a month or two.

A few images of people on July 3/4, 2020 who are completely ignoring social distancing and mask wearing. What will happen is this: these people will be heading home, and many of them will a) get sick themselves and b) pass it along to people at work, elderly relatives, neighbors and more. And then those people will pass it along to others. This is why it will end up taking years to get past this pandemic. History will not look kindly on these folks.


But we all know that's not going to happen. The United States has now passed 3,000,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and over 132,000 people have died of it. That might be the tip of the iceberg; the deaths might be being underreported, and by the time we get done with this godforsaken year, over a half million Americans might be dead from a disease that could have been manageable.

So what did I do on the 244th birthday of the USA? I stayed home and did stuff with my family. That included the fun task of cleaning our home and preparing it for a new furnishing arrival in the form of a new sectional sofa that Kat had chosen awhile back. It's in our freshly-cleaned living room now and looks great. We did have some neighbors holding reasonably-sized parties, and I was happy to wave at them and wish them a Happy 4th from a good distance away.

The Show
Ah yes, the show. I was a little concerned going into the show; my throat had been problematic for a couple of days beforehand. I never really considered canceling the show, but I had a feeling that my vocal power and range might be impacted. So, I carefully put together a set list of songs that were more on the mellow end of things, and it all worked out just fine.

Why remind people about the pandemic when they're trying to escape real life? Because it's too damn important to pretend it doesn't exist in any life. I'll keep wearing a mask for as long as I feel compelled to wear one in public in the real world, and that might be a long time. Photo by Kat.


We had a nice crowd at Serenity Gardens, and I'm always glad when some of Grace McDunnough's crowd sticks around for my show. While Grace and I aren't identical in our styles or repertoire, I feel there's enough vibe crossover between our respective sounds that her audience is able to enjoy me, and mine her.

Enjoying some chill tunes and some fun people at Serenity Gardens. Photo by Kat. 


The other thing I wanted to mention about this show: at the moment I was strumming my first chord of my first song, I started hearing some commotion going on downstairs in my kitchen/living room area. I sent Kat down to do some reconnaissance, and it turned out we had a random visit from a plumber who stopped by to continue work on something he'd started months ago but abandoned, presumably due to COVID. Anyway, despite some drilling and banging noises, it didn't impact my show at all, and honestly, many worse things could have been going on to derail my show in some way. This wasn't one of them.

Serenity Gardens set list...
Things Behind the Sun (Nick Drake)
Summer Breeze (Seals & Crofts)
Invisible Sun (The Police)
*Barely Breathing (Duncan Sheik) 
Norwegian Wood (Beatles)
Ashes to Ashes (David Bowie)
Carey (Joni Mitchell)
*Prelude to Pickles (Zak Claxton)
Pickles (Zak Claxton)
Doin’ Time (Sublime)
Hand in Pocket (Alanis Morissette)
Blew the Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon) 
Bein’ Green (Kermit the Frog)

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

Massive thanks to all who hung out at this show. It was a good one! Special thanks to the following who helped support the show...
hynesyte Harbour, AaronCabottJones Resident, Sesh Kamachi, Christine Haiku, Jaron Metaluna, Pato Milo, Alex Zelin, Trouble Streeter, Kat Claxton, Grace McDunnough, rosea3162 Resident, Nina Brandenburg, my excellent manager Maali Beck, and the fabulous team at Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde!

Serenity Gardens (06.15.20)

I can't recall a single bad show at Serenity Gardens (except that one time my audio gear failed and I sounded like a Zakbot). It's a great place to play or otherwise experience live music in Second Life. Photo by Kat.


I'm doing something later today that I wish wasn't necessary, and that probably isn't: I'm getting tested for COVID-19.

No, I don't think I have COVID-19. My only symptom is an annoying but rather minor sore throat that's been hanging out for about a week. I've had a couple of other things going on that loosely fit the coronavirus profile, like occasional bouts of random tiredness during the day. Frankly, I'm pretty sure I've felt that way for a lot longer than COVID-19 has been a thing.

But here where I live in Los Angeles County, testing is available and free, and it's convenient as well. Basically it's a drive-thru process. I've watched videos of my friends having it done. You schedule an appointment, and then pull up to a station where they check your ID, and then you are handed a little kit containing a swab, a small capsule, and a couple of plastic bags. From what I've seen, they want you to cough a few times, and then swab the inside of your mouth in various places. Then the now-contaminated swab goes in the capsule, which is placed inside both bags. It seems like the safety of the health care workers at these testing facilities is paramount, which is as it should be. You don't even open your car window other than the moments you get the test kit and when you drop it off, which seems to be done via an extendable rod to minimize the proximity of the workers and the people being tested.

Anyway, that's today. I should be clear that I'm doing this purely out of an abundance of caution for peace of mind, rather than any real suspicion that I have COVID-19. My sore throat is most likely a result of post-nasal drip (side note: I hate that term) via allergies that tend to affect me in the spring (and year-round due to these cats that live here).

I continue to perform in SL while wearing a mask. Until I can comfortably be among people in real life unmasked, I stay that way in the virtual world as well. Photo by Kat.

Black Lives Matter... A Musical Tribute
Despite my throat being ouchy, I was very intent on going on with the show for my bi-weekly performance at Serenity Gardens in Second Life. I'd already confirmed with some rehearsing on Saturday that I was able to sing reasonably well, or at least well enough to do a decent SL show. The reason I wanted to be sure I could perform -- beyond the aspect that my shows are few and far between these days, and each one is important to me -- is that I'd planned on a rather special theme.

I always am grateful that audiences at Serenity Gardens are accepting of whatever it is I choose to play. Photo by Kat.

I think this is a well-known fact, but I'll say it anyway: nearly everything you hear in modern music for the past 50+ years has its roots in black songwriters and performers. And yes, I mean everything. You can trace a path from nearly any song you hear today in any genre to its black roots. Let's say you like a heavy metal band (and yes, I'm purposefully choosing an example from a genre that's predominantly white today) like Mastodon. They were influenced by other contemporary metal bands like High On Fire. They, in turn, were influenced by classic metal bands like Black Sabbath, who were influenced by heavy blues bands of the time like Cream, who were influenced by traditional blues artists like Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Son House, Elmore James, Leadbelly and many others who were uniformly African-American.

I can show you a similar path for nearly any style of music today, from EDM to trap to hip hop to country and beyond. The fact is that unless you are focused on baroque, classical, or romantic-era music, the songs you love have their origins with black artists.

The Show
With everything that's been happening throughout the world regarding civil unrest and protests in regard to the treatment of black people by various authorities, I knew it was an opportunity to highlight the contributions of black people to the music I love. What I didn't realize -- until I actually sat down to create a set list as such -- is that out of my 500+ songs that I do as a solo artist, only a tiny fraction of them are by black artists.

Why? I don't know. Anything I write to explain it will sound like some kind of excuse. I will say one thing that perhaps explains this disparity, and it's that I tend to only do songs that I feel I can perform genuinely. There are aspects about the experiences of being a black person that I could never, ever truly understand. No one looks at me and makes assumptions based purely on the color of my skin. To the best of my knowledge, no one has ever denied me opportunities, or treated me with less respect, based on what I look like or where my ancestors were from. I believe that's why, consciously or otherwise, my musical repertoire is by white artists on a more than 90% basis.

But the weird thing is that while I'm not always confident in performing music by black artists, the music I listen to is filled with tons of black writers and performers. I need to get over whatever lack of confidence I have to perform these songs to the best of my ability, and make sure they're included in more of my sets.

A lovely live music environment. Photo by Kat.


For last night's show at Serenity Gardens, I was able to pull out seven songs in my repertoire that I felt I could do reasonably well, and filled out the rest of my set with originals. We had a pretty good crowd there. Normally Grace McDunnough is doing the set before me there, but I found out afterwards that a lightning strike had taken out her mixer (yikes!), so Abby Jaidov was onstage when I arrived and I enjoyed listening to her as I got ready to do my show.

Serenity Gardens set list...
Blew the Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon) 
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Pickles (Zak Claxton)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)
Off the Wall (Michael Jackson)
What’s Going on? (Marvin Gaye)
Hello (Lionel Richie)
Someday (Mariah Carey)
I Believe When I Fall In Love (Stevie Wonder)
Bold as Love (Jimi Hendrix)
Take Me With U (Prince)

Huge thanks to all who hung out for my show and who appreciated what I was doing in tribute to BLM, with special thanks to the following who helped support the show!
AaronCabottJones Resident, Tyche Szondi, Kat Claxton, Yummi Burrito, Alex Zelin, Trouble Streeter, Kat Chauveau, Diana Renoir, Abby Jaidov, SaritaTwisted Resident, my excellent manager Maali Beck, and the fabulous team at Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde!

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Serenity Gardens (06.01.20)

This was a rare show at Serenity Gardens where I was compelled to play songs that spoke to the moment. Photo by Kat.

Where to even start...

I often use this blog as a method to report on my activities as a musician, but I also use it to record events going on in my life and the world around me. For the past couple of months, a lot of that content has been focused on the COVID-19 pandemic, which is pretty understandable given its impact on all of our lives. But life happens quickly, and for the past week, things have changed radically due to the murder of George Floyd. I don't need to tell the story; we've all seen the vile images of former Minneapolis police office Derek Chauvin killing Floyd in the street. It's sickening to see.

What happened since then, starting May 26 and strongly ramping up over the past weekend, is perhaps the greatest period of civil unrest ever seen in the USA. Again, it's not necessary for me to illustrate the specifics of this; it will be in every history book and web site for years to come. Cities across America have been the sites of angry demonstrations, and along with those protests come the most negative aspects of a justifiably angry populace, with various opportunists taking advantage of the situation in the streets by looting and burning. At this very moment, Los Angeles Country (where I've lived for most of my life, since 1975) is under a strict curfew for the past few evenings, and it continues until the situation resolves. States have called in the National Guard to help control the populace. It's obviously an ongoing situation.

But instead of repeating things that are in the top headlines for everyone in the world right now, I thought I'd try something new. Last night's show at Serenity Gardens was a little different than my usual mellow and fun performance. I had chosen my songs over the weekend, while watching livestream news footage of dozens of cities across the US, and I couldn't morally get up on Monday night and do random songs and pretend that nothing was going on. So what follows is an expanded version of my set list, and an explanation of what it was about that song that made me select it.

My Heart (Neil Young)
Neil actually found his way into my set list in three ways for this show, as shall be illustrated below. I opened with "My Heart" because I knew, moments before my show having witnessed Trump's tear-gassing peace protestors to get a photo op at St. James, the moment I allowed anger to become my predominant emotion, I'd have trouble pushing it aside. "My Heart" is the opening track of one of Neil's darker albums, Sleeps With Angels, and has a verse in it that says, "When dreams come crashing down like trees / I don't know what love can do / When life is hanging in the breeze / I don't know what love can do," and I thought that was very appropriate for my feelings for the entire situation.

For What It’s Worth (Buffalo Springfield)
This is a classic protest song, almost to the point of being a cliche. Written and sung by Steven Stills when he was in Buffalo Springfield (along with the aforementioned Mr. Young), it's a song that was inspired by demonstrations on the Sunset Strip in the late '60s here in Los Angeles. Those specific protests, I should mention, were in regard to abuse of authority by police.

All Lives, You Say? (Wilco)
Well, this one is kinda obvious, no? Jeff Tweedy and his lovely band Wilco came out with this song in 2017, shortly after Jeff's dad passed away. The proceeds for the song gave tens of thousands of dollars to the Southern Poverty Law Center and other anti-hate organizations. Jeff said at the time, "My dad was named after a Civil War general, and he voted for Barack Obama twice. He used to say 'If you know better, you can do better.' America - we know better. We can do better." I agree.

During the show, I used an analogy of a neighborhood with a house on fire to illustrate the reason we say "Black Lives Matter" as opposed to "All Lives Matter". Photo by Kat.

*Takin It To The Streets (Doobie Brothers)
Again, this one is on the nose. It's a hard song to perform because I have to arrange keyboard lines for guitar (and transpose it down a step because I'm no Michael McDonald). But the message of the song that resonates best with me is the opening line: "You don't know me, but I'm your brother." I hope that's true of me.

Abrasion (They Stole My Crayon)
This is a) the only TSMC song that I performed this night and b) the only specific politically-focused song that TSMC has written thus far (though we have some others in the works). It's a planned song for our next album that hopefully will happen soonish. The lyrics are by Christina and Bunny, but the music on this one is my contribution, I'm happy to say, with its fun and slightly jarring 21/8 time signature. Key lyric: "We live with this / Your indifference / Our onus is / Help each other live."

One thing I will say: I have never felt unwelcome at Serenity Gardens to perform the music I want, no matter what it is. Not every venue in SL or real life for that matter is as respectful and open to the artist as they are. Photo by Kat.

*Wild World (Cat Stevens)
As I mentioned at the show, this is more of an interpersonal break-up song than anything specific toward the protests, but if the world has been anything lately, it's been wild. Also, this lyric jumped out at me in its appropriate description of the moment: "You know I've seen a lot of what the world can do / And it's breaking my heart in two."

Ohio (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young)
The third appearance of Neil Young in the set is a very important one. For anyone unaware, "Ohio" was written May 4, 1970, the day of the shooting of 13 unarmed students by National Guard troops at Kent State University in Ohio. National Guard troops have been called into a number of cities over the past several days, including here in the Los Angeles area. It remains to be seen what the tally of violence will be, especially after Trump threatened to send in US military to keep order. Anyway, I couldn't have done this show without doing this song.

Tangerine (Led Zeppelin)
My reason for playing "Tangerine"? I didn't have one. Sometimes it's necessary to break up the series of heavy tunes with something less focused on the moment. So, "Tangerine" is off the more acoustic-oriented side of Zep III, and is written to a lost love. Perhaps that melancholy and wistful vibe is something I feel when I think about how our lives have changed as a whole so drastically and so quickly.

Lest we forget: while all this madness is blanketing the country right now, it's happening in the midst of a pandemic. I will continue to wear my mask in SL until the time I'd feel comfortable being among the public maskless in real life. Photo by Kat.

This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Similar to "Tangerine", I wanted to take my foot off the gas for a couple of tunes because I knew how my set was going to end. "This Afternoon" is probably the original song of mine I've performed most in SL throughout my 13+ years of doing shows in-world. Definitely a song of yearning, the applicable lyric is as follows: "This afternoon / another day gone by / The pain I hold inside will be my ruin."

Nowhere Man (The Beatles)
I believe I mentioned at the show that I had chosen "Nowhere Man" as a shout-out to the people in our lives who simply -- and understandably -- don't want to get involved or take sides in a conflict, even if the results will eventually affect them and the ones they love personally. The lines that tell the story: "Nowhere man please listen / You don't know what you're missing / Nowhere man, the world is at your command." I chose that not to denigrate this kind of person but to make them aware that each and every person can have a massive effect in changing the world, for better or for worse.

Goodbye Blue Sky (Pink Floyd)
This is a truly frightening song off a dark, dark album. Within the framework of war and its aftermath, it felt all too applicable right after the threat of martial law and the visuals of various law enforcement agencies with their militarized approach to "controlling" protestors. Seeing the firing of rounds and tear gas containers at Americans in the streets of the cities where they live, while images of looting and arson dominated the evening news, brought to mind the lyrics, "Did you see the frightened ones? / Did you hear the falling bombs? / The flames are all long gone, but the pain lingers on."

*It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding) (Bob Dylan)
I'll tell you: this is perhaps my favorite Bob Dylan song, and I'd been thinking of covering it for years. While the song isn't focused on protest or civil rights, it is an epic that cynically lambasts many aspects of American culture. Dylan was born in Hibbing, MN, and since his state was the flashpoint of all this stuff, I used it as an opportunity to do this song. Key verse... "Disillusioned words like bullets bark / As human gods aim for their mark / Made everything from toy guns that spark / To flesh-colored Christs that glow in the dark / It's easy to see without looking too far / That not much is really sacred."

*We Shall Overcome (Traditional)
I wasn't sure I was going to actually do this. I hemmed and hawed quite a bit before committing to it. It's literally the key anthem of the civil rights movement, and before I do a song, I always need to ask myself, "Do I have the right to sing this? Can this message be considered genuine coming from me?" If the answer if no, I don't do the song. But "We Shall Overcome" is a protest song for activists who support civil rights and the equal treatment of people of all races, religions, and backgrounds. That describes... me. The only problem was that the most well-known arrangement of the song is pretty repetitive and has a melody that, while easy to memorize and sing for crowds of people as it as intended, is kinda blah. Sorry. But then I stumbled on a version Bruce Springsteen did live, and while I also didn't do his arrangement either, I figured out one for myself and I think it went alright.

My "angry" show last night wasn't for everyone, but throughout the show we had a decent crowd and I was grateful to those who stuck it out. Photo by Kat.

*Indicates songs I've never performed before in SL.

Thanks
So, that's what I did, and that's where things are. And ultimately, do I ever change anything when I focus my music performance on polarizing or controversial issues? I can't say; I genuinely don't know. But I do know that I've always felt that silence is tantamount to complicity, and I simply can't live with myself knowing I had the opportunity to make an impact, even a small one, and ignored it.

I will say thanks to the people, Zaksters and otherwise, who listened while, through music and message, I made my state of mind very clear in my support for the Black Lives Matter protestors. I did mention my disgust at the looting and other opportunistic behavior that comes along with the protests... but it also could be said that many of the protests would be going largely ignored if not for the terrible aspect of theft and property loss. It doesn't justify it in any way, nor does it justify the often brutal acts of abuse of power that law enforcement (and now, apparently, military) have done in trying to control the protests. Not all of them, no. This is not an all-of-nothing equation, even though some folks would prefer that.

And now, from my curfew-enacted home in Los Angeles County, I bid you a pleasant evening. Also, thanks to everyone who was at the show, and special thanks to the following who helped support it.Tyche Szondi, Jaron Metaluna, Kat Chauveau, Trouble Streeter, Grace McDunnough, Kat Claxton, my excellent manager Maali Beck, and the fabulous team at Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde!