Sunday, September 20, 2020

Templemore 10-Year Anniversary (09.19.20)

There's never been a more visually fascinating place for live music in Second Life compared to Templemore. Photo by Kat.



Fact: For the first time in many, many years, I've finished a live show in Second Life and I do not, repeat, do not have another show on my schedule. Like, at all. Nothing. Nada. For all I know, that may have been the last show I will ever play.

I am relatively sure this is not true, and that more likely than not, I will be adding some shows to my SL performance schedule in the near future. But at this very moment, my calendar is tabula rasa... a vast expanse of nothingness as it unfurls through the infinite reaches of time. In any case, were my show on Saturday as part of the two-day 10th anniversary celebration of Templemore the last one I ever did, I'd have to admit that I went out on a high note.

The posters promoting the two-day 10th anniversary events at Templemore. As you can see, some of the best performers in SL are included here... no surprise considering that Templemore regularly features many of SL's most talented and popular live musicians.


Before I Forget
There are a lot of things going on in the world right now. The passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the earthquake that awoke me on Friday night, the lifestyle changes I'm dealing with as a result of a recent medical situation, my next door neighbor with COVID, the total insanity as we move closer and closer to the 2020 election... and I'm not going to talk about any of that right now. I will eventually. Just not here or now. I'm just gonna focus on something positive for the moment, which is the show I just did.

A Few Words on Templemore
Literally dozens of times, I've written about the wonder that is Templemore, a Second Life environment that is comprised of perhaps the most beautiful and awe-inspiring designs in the entire virtual world platform. At a bunch of different venue builds, I believe I've played at Templemore more often than any other location where I didn't have a regularly-scheduled show. If you feel like it, you can read about some of the Templemore shows over the years, from my first one on February 2014 where I recall being astonished at the detail level of the design, to subsequent shows like this one in 2015 where I began to really appreciate the level of genius in how Luis Lockjaw was innovating the look of virtual worlds beyond anyone else I knew. Luis has become a true friend over the years... someone who I can appreciate on a basic human level as well as the respect I have for his tremendous, awe-inspiring creativity.

My view from the Templemore stage. Photo by Kat.


I never know when I'm going to be playing at Templemore next, which makes it a sweet surprise each time my manager Maali Beck, or occasionally Luis himself, lets me know that there's an upcoming event there with my name on the marquee. It's funny because I really never feel like one of the cool kids in SL, and trust me, most of the people who perform at or attend shows at Templemore in its various iterations are indeed among the glitterati of Second Life; fashion designers and bloggers and models and whoever else passes for celebrities in the virtual world. 

Why Me?
I think the factor that keeps Luis bringing me back there over and over is that the songs I choose to do there are those that would represent a proper soundtrack to the vibe of Templemore in general. There's no single specific musical theme or genre or style I choose for Templemore. I try and do songs there that impart some emotional vibe, and what I'm feeling at the moment influences my set list choices as much as anything. But I try and do songs that impart some feelings, as if Templemore was a movie set and I was there to do a live soundtrack. I think Luis and Whata and Bee and the other folks who allow me to play there have an awareness that I do make that effort. They get it.

It's probably going to be a long time before SL audiences see me without a mask on... about the same time frame before, say, people in the grocery store see me unmasked. Photo by Kat.

I always feel like the crowd at Templemore shows appreciate what I'm playing there. Photo by Kat.

Luis and some of his friends watch the show from the VIP balcony. Photo by Kat.


Templemore Award
As I was about to start my show on Saturday, Luis dropped something in my inventory that I was unable to check out until after my show. When I did, I couldn't believe it; he'd created an award trophy for the 10th anniversary event performers that matched the larger one which was situated on the stage for the event. It has a personalized plaque on it, and I couldn't be happier to be a recipient. I will keep it on display with pride.

The inscription reads: "In recognition of an ongoing commitment to provide phenomenal live music, thank you for making our stages rumble at Templemore." I absolutely love this. My deepest gratitude to Luis and all the Templemore team!


Wait... Last Show? What's That All About?
Yeah, so... as I mentioned in my previous post, due to economic issues related to the pandemic, Serenity Gardens is taking a hiatus from hosting shows on their big main stage venue where I've performed bi-weekly since Spring 2017. I'm hopeful that perhaps in early 2021, they can get it back in operation and I'll happily return to their stage at the earliest opportunity.

I have very purposefully not been overextending myself in regard to booking SL shows, something my manager Maali has been understanding about over the years we've worked together. My real life is very busy on many levels, and I simply don't have time to do multiple SL shows per week as I once did for years and years. That being said, I do want to get some shows on my schedule at some point, and Maali and I will figure out some appropriate place that would like to have me perform there. No big thing. It'll happen.

After all these years, Templemore still blows my mind. Photo by Kat.


After I wrapped up my set on Saturday, I did something that I've enjoyed previously following a few of my own performances at Templemore: I hung out to see Oblee play. While I respect the abilities of many SL performers, Oblee is truly enjoyable to me, and his loop-based performance style is great. I've come to enjoy a number of his originals (which, frankly, is all he usually plays), and listening to his show is a great way to settle down and unwind after mine.

Templemore set list...
Crosses (Jose Gonzales)
Barely Breathing (Duncan Sheik)
Among the Leaves (Sun Kil Moon)
The Waiting Boy (Zak Claxton)
Autumn Sunglasses (Robyn Hitchcock)
Pecan Pie (Golden Smog)
River Man (Nick Drake)
A Case of You (Joni Mitchell)
Dead Flowers (Rolling Stones)
Blew the Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
Right Down the Line (Gerry Rafferty)
Try (Neil Young)

Thanks to every single person who hung out for my show at the 10-year Templore anniversary event, with special thanks to the following people who helped support it!

Lo Bloch, ZackLightman Resident, go2smoky Resident, Kat Claxton, Nina Brandenburg, Dreams Riler, Trouble Streeter, FallenAurora Jewell, Asimia Heron, my excellent manager Maali Beck, and Templemore's incredible management and staff, Whata Conundrum, Luis Lockjaw, and Bee Blackrain!

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Serenity Gardens (09.07.20)

Beautiful Serenity Gardens. What a lovely spot for live music in the virtual world! Hopefully, this wasn't my last show there for awhile. Photo by Kat.

For some reason, throughout my time performing live music in Second Life (which is going on 14 years, incredibly), I've had a disproportionate number of my shows on Monday evenings. Going back to the late 2000s when I was doing a Monday night show at Crystal Sands all the way through my recent years doing my regular bi-weekly at Serenity Gardens, for some reason Monday has been my night. Unlike real life, where many live music venues are quiet or closed on Mondays, it's a really good night to play in SL. Think about it. In pre-pandemic times, lots of people go out and do things on Friday and Saturday nights, Sundays are often times to chill with family, or watch video entertainment and so on. So Monday is a time where they've started up the work week, and enjoy getting into some virtual world fun to take their minds off reality for a bit.

Labor Day... What Is It?
Anyway, as a result, I often find myself performing at the tail end of a holiday weekend, as I did last night on Labor Day. What is Labor Day, other than a reason for a three-day weekend and the symbolic end of summer (although, I should add, it's been hot as hell lately and feels nothing like fall, and summer doesn't actually end for two more weeks)? 

In the late 1800s, leaders of trade unions in the USA decided that there should be some official recognition of the year-round work of the laboring classes. It became a federal holiday in 1894 and has been celebrated ever since. Contrary to popular belief, I am not any kind of communist nor a socialist in the traditional sense, but I can tell you this: if it wasn't for the efforts of those union workers, you'd have no such thing as a weekend, much less a holiday dedicated to the working class. You'd also have no child labor laws nor any legal rights as a worker, so I applaud the efforts of those early union leaders to greatly improve the lifestyles of all Americans since then.

Let's Talk About Thomas Dolby
I'm a sort of minor-level expert about pop music history and its effect on culture. One thing that I see over and over is the mistaken application of the label "one-hit wonder" to certain artists. Here's the thing: first, it's often wrong. Artists may have had one really massive hit that everyone remembers, but also had some others that were just lower on the level of mass public recognition. Here's another thing: that artist may have created other music that while not being commercially successful for them, was highly influential and was the inspiration for other music the you know and love. And here's the final thing: that "one-hit wonder" artist or band may indeed have done other things in music that you have no idea about until you dig in a little deeper to their contributions.

So... Thomas Dolby. English musician, big in the early '80s. Obviously (to me, anyway) super interesting, with a unique and identifiable sound that combined synth pop with art rock with dance pop. Especially here in the USA, the majority of people who know him at all do so through his very catchy, bouncy, quirky new wave hit "She Blinded Me with Science", which had a popular music video that MTV played in high rotation.

Thomas Dolby's debut album The Golden Age of Wireless was definitely impactful for me when I was in 10th grade. He seemed to be making music that was much more interesting than other pop stuff that was big at the time.


You should note right away that on his first couple of albums, he also had some other somewhat popular songs like "Europa and the Pirate Twins" and "Hyperactive!", so that kind of ends the validity of the "one-hit wonder" label for Dolby. But because he didn't have a very long-lasting career as a pop star, he's rarely recognized as such form this vantage point of some 35 years later. But Thomas Dolby had some other stuff going on. First, he was a hugely in-demand session musician. He played synths and keyboards on a wide range of music from artists and bands like Thompson Twins, Whodini, Foreigner, and Def Leppard. But in his post-pop career, he also formed a music technology company that allowed for polyphonic tones to be delivered over cell phones, and was a very early innovator in the world of virtual reality... something that obviously impacts me directly as a musician who primarily performs in the 3D virtual world of Second Life.

Why am I telling you all this? Simply because last night, for the first time, I performed one of my favorite lesser-known cuts from Thomas Dolby... "Airwaves", off his debut solo album The Golden Age of Wireless. It's a lushly beautiful song that's been a favorite of mine for many years, and I was glad to finally try a rendition on it (though I must say, doing Thomas Dolby's synth-focused music as a solo acoustic guitar artist is challenging to say the least).

Serenity Gardens... Is This the End?
I have no idea if what I'm about to write will be true or not. Since Spring 2017, I've really enjoyed my bi-weekly Monday night shows at Serenity Gardens. In fact, with my schedule of life being as busy as it is, that show at SG is literally the only regularly scheduled show I've done in Second Life over the past couple of years, which is exactly as I prefer.

But as we all know, a) the world has been in the grip of a pandemic for most of 2020, which has had a huge economic impact, and b) it can be expensive and time-consuming to run a live music venue in Second Life (or, really, any life). Via discussions I've had with Serenity Gardens owner Ilsa Flannigan, it may be the case that the venue will be forced to undergo a longterm hiatus, perhaps through the end fo 2020 or longer. If that's the case, I completely respect Ilsa's decision.

The two ladies above have, for me, been the center of my 100+ shows at Serenity Gardens: my hostess Tilly Rose (left), and SG owner Ilsa Flannigan (right). They both do excellent work to keep that place appealing and welcoming for all who visit. Photo by Kat.


However, as of yet, she's made no formal announcement of this, and it's impossible to predict how things will go. My only reason for writing about this now is that it's been a terrific run there for well over three years -- a long time by SL standards -- and if it were to end now, I'd have nothing but good feelings about Ilsa and her lovely venue, and the people who host shows there and come there to be entertained. It's been great all-around. I've often said, and meant it, that I've never had a bad show there.

Me, onstage and masked as a reminder to anyone who thinks they can resume normal pre-pandemic life. It's still gonna be quite awhile before that's true. Photo by Kat.

Another super fun night at Serenity Gardens. Beautiful place in every way. Photo by Kat.

My view from the stage. Photo by Kat.


The Show, Though
No surprise... the show itself on the Monday evening of Labor Day went great. We had a nice and enthusiastic crowd, and in addition to the Thomas Dolby song mentioned above, I pulled out a classic Jethro Tull tune that I hadn't done before. I always enjoy surprising people with new material that I choose to do in advance of my shows.

Serenity Gardens set list...
It's Easy Like Walking (The Sadies w/Kurt Vile)
Blew the Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
*Cross-Eyed Mary (Jethro Tull)
Pancho & Lefty (Townes Van Zandt)
Doubt It (Zak Claxton)
*Airwaves (Thomas Dolby)
Love Hurts (Everly Brothers)
Waiting for This (Zak Claxton)
Space Oddity (David Bowie)
Pickles (Zak Claxton)
Behind Blue Eyes (The Who)
Who Do You Love? (Bo Diddley)

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

Big thanks to everyone who came to the show, with special giant thanks to the following who helped support it!
Trouble Streeter, AaronCabottJones Resident, Kat Chauveau, Lauralynn Foxtrot, ColdAsh Resident, Grace McDunnough, RenoJones Resident, Natasea Resident, Gloriana Maertens, Alex Zelin, Kat Claxton, my excellent manager Maali Beck, and the fabulous team at Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde!

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Serenity Gardens (08.24.20)

My shows every other Monday night at Serenity Gardens are as therapeutic for me and I hope they are for my audiences. We sure do have a lot of the same people who seem to come to every show. Photo by Kat.


As I write this post about my fun show last night at Serenity Gardens in Second Life, it's Tuesday August 25. That means exactly 10 weeks from today, on Tuesday November 3, is the general election in the USA. And let me tell you right now... if anyone says they know for sure what's going to happen, they are lying or just simply wrong.

Polls: Don't Believe Them
Let me tell you a little story from a year called 2016, which was actually just four years ago but feels like about 1,000 years ago. Anyway, at this point in late August 2016, all of the major polls were telling us that it was all but certain that Hillary Clinton was going to be the next President of the United States. In a usual year under typical candidates, that probably would have been accurate. But a few things happened.

First, the polls themselves were at least partially to blame for a large percentage of people simply not voting. Many folks assumed that with an easy victory for Clinton in the bag, they didn't have to vote... and many of them did not. Clinton herself, while being an imminently qualified candidate, was not extremely well liked, with a lot of baggage on her from her tenures as First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State. There was also the undeniable aspect of the USA not having ever had a female President before, and the sad specter of misogyny definitely came into play.

And finally, as has been well established (and will continue to be investigated, and punishments sought), the United States was the victim of foreign interference in our 2016 election. So, while Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, she lost the electoral vote and we ended up with Donald Trump as President. I'm not saying that pollsters are out to purposefully mislead you... but the game has changed drastically with a man like Trump, who lacks any sense of morality, and will stop at nothing to cheat his way into a second term.

A poll from October 4, 2016 (about a month before the election) told us that Hillary Clinton was all but certain to become the next President, and probably by a large margin. Most other polls had similar results. No matter what you hear, assume that Biden has no chance of winning without your vote... because it's true. Graphic by CBC News.


What's the solution? Ignore the polls no matter what they say, and vote. Vote any way that's legally permissible, and encourage literally every eligible voter in your circle of family and friends to vote. Vote in person, or vote by mail. If you need some help on how, when, and where to vote, the Vote.org web site can help you every step of the way. If you want my direct assistance in voting or registering to vote, drop me a comment below and I will personally make sure you get the info you need.

A Song for Diana Renoir
Who is Diana Renoir? She's one of my most longterm friends who I met via Second Life around 12 years ago. At my show, I did something at the behest of Diana that I do very, very rarely. As I've stated many, many times, here and elsewhere, unlike the majority of SL musical performers, I don't take song requests. Instead, I plan out a set of tunes that I feel will combine to make a theme or a vibe that goes for the hour-long duration of my show.

My wonderful friend Diana, for whom I had to relearn one of my own songs (and did so gladly). Photo by Kat.


But Diana reached out to me over the weekend to confirm I was doing a show on Monday evening (I was), and then to find out if, for her birthday (a real life birthday, as opposed to a Second Life rezday), I would do an original song that she had always enjoyed. It was "Shine", a song that I'd recorded for my second solo album in 2010 that was never completed or released. Well, I hadn't done "Shine" in at least five years, and perhaps even longer. It's a fine song; it's just that it has this lyrical theme of total positivity, and perhaps things haven't been all that peachy-keen in recent years in a way that would make me want to reach for that tune. I was glad to pull out "Shine" for Diana.

I remain masked in SL, and will stay that way until I feel good about being out in public among people in real life. Photo by Kat.


More Show
I was a little distressed upon arriving at Serenity Gardens to see that Grace McDunnough, who usually has the slot before mine, wasn't able to do her show. That made me, as I like to call it, the sacrificial lamb of the night... the first performer up, starting with literally no one at the venue and having to build the crowd on my own. Well, as usual, I needn't have worried. We drew a nice little audience and everyone seemed to be having a good time.

A cool little crowd, enjoying another evening at Serenity Gardens. Photo by Kat.


Rocking the people of SL, something I've done for nearly 14 years now. Photo by Kat.


In addition to "Shine", I pulled out a couple of other rarities, like my slow and sad version of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit", and Queen's slightly rockabilly tune "Crazy Little Thing Called Love". Overall, the whole set went fine. Also, it miraculously cooled off here in the afternoon after several days in high heat and humidity, and I was super happy when I wrapped up the show to walk outside into a nice ocean breeze and cooler temps.

Serenity Gardens set list...
Things Behind the Sun (Nick Drake)
Your Song (Elton John)
Shine (Zak Claxton)
Try (Neil Young)
Smells Like Teen Spirit (Nirvana)
Brain Damage/Eclipse (Pink Floyd)
Broken Day (Zak Claxton)
Crazy Little Thing Called Love (Queen)
Perfect Day (Lou Reed)
A Day in the Life (Beatles)
California (Joni Mitchell)

Big thanks to every single person who came out for the Zak Show at Serenity gardens, with special super thanks to the following people who helped support the show!
AaronCabottJones Resident, Trouble Streeter, Kat Chauveau, Diana Renoir, Kat Claxton, JolieBell Resident, Medea Frostbite, Nina Brandenburg, my excellent manager Maali Beck, and the fabulous team at Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde!

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!