Monday, November 23, 2020

Homes For Our Troops (11.22.20)

Another excellent and successful fundraising show at Veterans Isle for Homes For Our Troops. Photo by Kat.

This week is Thanksgiving, and it's very understandable that in 2020, it's harder than usual to find reasons to be thankful. It's pretty fascinating that each person's individual background and perspective plays so heavily into this matter. As I occasionally do on Monday mornings to cheer myself up at the daunting prospect of another week ahead of me, I watched the latest segment of CBS's On the Road with Steve Hartman via YouTube when I got up, and it directly addressed this dilemma.


As you can see, as trite as it sounds, things really could always be worse. Much, much worse. I remain very, very thankful that no one in my immediate family has contracted COVID-19, for example. That's not a given in this age. We have also kept our steady sources of income over this annus horribilis, while many other people did not. And, as I've pointed out many times in many ways, I am always appreciative that we live in a lovely part of the world here in Southern California.

So do I have any reason to complain at all? God, yes, I sure do! This year of disease and political unrest has been chock full of stress for just about everyone around the world. On a personal basis, I've been in varying degrees of constant pain due to a spinal issue that is something I'll still be fighting for some time. Focusing on those aspects of 2020, it would seem disingenuous to claim that everything is fine. It's not fine. We all know that.

And still... I'm alive and mostly well, and have a large clan of family and friends who are equally fortunate. I'm even thankful for things I shouldn't have to be thankful for, like the huge belly laughs I get from reading posts on Twitter pointing out the insane ridiculousness of the current presidential transition. So while things are NOT okay, I'm far better off than the majority of people around the world... something that's been true my entire life regardless of current circumstances, and something I always try to appreciate.

Raising some funds and keeping some healthy perspective on our respective quality of life. Photo by Kat.

Homes For Our Troops
One very clear example of that line of thought is that of veterans who've been severely injured while serving their country. On many, many occasions, I've performed at the series of benefit concerts that help raise funds for Homes For Our Troops, a publicly funded 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization that builds and donates specially adapted custom homes nationwide for severely injured post-9/11 veterans, to enable them to rebuild their lives. These shows are organized by my fellow Second Life performer Frets Nirvana.

I'll quickly address something (since I've said it before and don't like repeating myself): I am a pacifist. I think war is barbaric and anachronistic, and should be avoided at nearly all costs. That being said, the one thing for which we must assume responsibility is caring for those who've put their lives on the line and paid a huge price. Regardless of what political party is in charge or who's running the current administration, these injured vets don't receive the amount of care that's required for them to lead happy and productive lives upon their return.

Per my statement at the top of this post, if you're mired in self-pity over how 2020 has gone for you, please compare your life and lifestyle to the people in the video below. They are some of the armed services veterans who've benefitted from HFOT's mission, and the only way they're able to do so is with the support of kind and generous people like you. 

The Show
I always put together a unique set list that seems appropriate for whatever venue or event I'm performing, and that's certainly true with benefit shows. As I mentioned last night at Veterans Isle in Second Life where the HFOT shows are held each month, there's one song that always makes its way into my list there, and it's Neil Young's "Comes a Time", with its lyric, "That's how we kept what we gave away." I really believe in that concept... that we gain more by giving than by taking.

Rocking the HFOT show on November 22, 2020. Photo by Kat.

I've now worn a mask continuously in SL since March, when I started wearing one in real life. While I do understand that Second Life is a world where some people go to escape the challenges of their real lives, it's so important to promote the basic measures of preventing COVID-19 transmission that I've committed to wearing my mask in-world for as long as I'm wearing one in public in the flesh... which will likely still be for quite some time. Photo by Kat. 

We had a decent crowd there, and with my not doing as many shows on a regular basis as I did previously, it seemed like a number of my Zakster fans were glad to see me back and performing live. As usual, the fundraising portion of the event seemed to be going very well, and I was glad to have helped bring a small portion of the proceeds to this great cause via the generous donations from my friends and fans.

Short side note: I don't cross paths with fellow SL musician Stratus Mactavish often. We used to both perform at the Islands of New England venue occasionally, but it had been a year or more since I last heard his set, and I'm always reminded that he's one of SL's better live musicians. I always enjoy his show when I happen to catch it, as I did last night when he performed in the slot before mine. 

HFOT set list...
One of These Things First (Nick Drake)
Cat’s in the Cradle (Harry Chapin)
Long Time Gone (Crosby, Stills and Nash)
Pretty Pimpin’ (Kurt Vile)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
Don’t Let It Pass (Junip)
Six Underground (Sneaker Pimps)
Into the Mystic (Van Morrison)
Comes a Time (Neil Young)
’Tis Autumn (Nat King Cole)
Wildflowers (Tom Petty)
America (Simon & Garfunkel) 

Huge thanks to everyone who came out to the show, with special super thanks to those who were able to give to the cause. You all are making a difference in someone's life! Here are some of the people who were in attendance and deserve kudos for their support.
Jasmyn Sugarplum, Dancing Gigi, Jax Rayne, Bri McMahon, Trouble Streeter, Sabryne Hotaling, Chacha Cyberstar, Nina Rose Setner, Kat Claxton, Ravensong Merlin, Jed Luckless, Waya Snowpaw, JameJame, Turn Pike, Firelie, Doris Johnsky, Angi Spires, and many more... especially the guy who makes it all happen, Frets Nirvana!

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Kat Vargas Memorial at The Rose Theatre (11.14.20)

Friends and musical colleagues of Kat Vargas gather for her memorial. Photo by Kat Claxton.

Here's a show report that I wish I'd never, ever have had to do.

Kat Vargas passed away on November 1 from complications due to COVID-19. I'd been aware that she'd contracted the disease, but had expected, as I do with most people, that's she'd recover. It was terrible to learn that she'd succumbed to it. She was only 60 years old. Kat was a longterm fixture among the Second Life music scene as a fan and a manager of a number of musicians. I'm not sure who was around SL longer between the two of us -- I started in 2006 -- but it seemed that right from the get-go, Kat was a person you'd see at live music events in SL all the time. 

I came to find out that she was managing a number of the most respected and popular musicians in Second Life, including my friend Maximillion Kleene. The first time I met Kat in person was at the initial Second Life Jam that I attended, in San Diego, CA in 2011. She was every bit as warm and fun and friendly -- and gropey, as I related in a story at her memorial -- in person as she was in SL.

I was informed that there was to be a memorial event in SL, and was honored when I was asked to be a part of it. I knew that as you would expect, most of the event would involve somber remembrances of our friend who was no longer among the living. But I also knew that Kat Vargas was a lady who loved laughter and fun, so I decided to try and use my portion of the presentation to serve as a reminder about the fun-loving, rather bawdy, and lovable person whom she was.

The Rose Theatre looked lovely, decorated in Kat V.'s honor. Photo by Kat Claxton.

The Rose Theatre
The memorial event was held at The Rose Theatre, a very grand and beautiful venue where I'd never previously performed. The organizers of the event set it up as a three-hour tribute to Kat, including some speeches and stories, but mostly jam-packed with musical performances, which seemed very appropriate. As I mentioned while unsuccessfully trying to make my way to the stage, it's a fitting tribute to Kat's impact that so many people were present (over 120 while I was there) that it bordered on crashing SL for many of us. 

No matter; I just did my show from where I happened to be, in the very back of the stage area. Everything worked out fine, and the event was touching on multiple levels. The schedule of speakers and performers allowed many friends and musicians to pay tribute to Kat over the course of the day, and included Rusty Seisenbacher, Parker Static, Fly Kugin, Mimi Carpenter, Seli Blackmore, Winter, Quartz, Agatha Nowles, Neomaximus Brandenburg, Anj Gustafson, Kris Composer, Evilynda Baphomet, and others. I know that a number of people were involved in putting on the whole event, and they did a terrific job.

Video of my performance courtesy of Diadorine Lane. Check her YouTube channel for videos of the entire event. 

Goodbye, Kat V.
Since I was slated for 15 minutes, I decided to do a few tunes that would have some level of meaning for the spirit of the day. My first tune, Neil Young's "Try", speaks to the importance of spending time with loved ones while they're still around. Golden Smog's "Pecan Pie" is a thinly-veiled metaphor for being horny, and I used that tune to recall Kat's real-life groping of me in 2011. My third song was "Your Song" by Elton John, which was my way of expressing the many songs that were played for Kat V. as "her song" during her time in SL.

Performing for Kat V. from my spot in the back of the hall. photo by Kat Claxton.

I also mentioned during the event that anytime I looked out from a stage and saw Kat Vargas in the audience -- usually because she was with one of her artists who was up before or after me -- it was a sign that people were going to be having fun out there. Her presence as a strong supporter of the music scene in SL will certainly be missed, and she'll be missed as a person, in all of her gropey and silly fun.

Kat Vargas Memorial set list...
Try (Neil Young)
Pecan Pie (Golden Smog)
Your Song (Elton John)

Many thanks to everyone who came to Kat Vargas's memorial event, especially to the kind friends of hers who organized it. You could not have done a better job, and she would have loved it!

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Congratulations, President-Elect Biden and Vice President-Elect Harris

Four years ago, on November 9, 2016, I wrote a post congratulating Donald Trump on his victory in that year's election. Today, I do the same for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.

Dear Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris,

I write today to extend my congratulations to both of you for having won the 2020 general election. I am happy to say that I supported your campaign and that your victory, which will likely end up as a large 306 to 232 win in the electoral college and a greater-than 5,000,000 vote advantage in the popular election, is indeed a mandate by the American people that change is desperately needed. In contrast to this moment in 2016, I am very optimistic about your presidency and the administration you will build.

My message to you today is very simple: you have an enormous task ahead of you. It may be a bigger challenge than any executive branch has faced since the Civil War and Reconstruction. On one side of you are the people who truly and fervently believed in your predecessor's message... one of an America that is strong and self-reliant at its best, and filled with bigotry and hatred in its worst aspects. On the other side of you are people who felt that you represent the status quo of center-based liberalism, and they distrust that you will take strong action that the left considered essential regarding climate change, wealth inequality, health care, and much more. And, hovering over it all, you have the immediate challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic that has continued almost unabated since its start.

At this very moment, you also have the unprecedented challenge of a former president who has not yet accepted his loss, and will likely be anything but gracious as he eventually leaves office (which he will). But his reticence to act in a way that respects the American democratic process will, at least temporarily, make it even more difficult for you to impart your message of bringing the country together.

It's an interesting analogy that, due to the factors above, you start your jobs with a much heavier burden than nearly any other administration in the history of our country. In a way, that's similar to a person in America who does not have the amount of privilege given to those in the majority of race, gender, and national origin. You will have a more difficult time even getting to what would be the starting line for most presidencies.

A personal side note: I didn't support either of you in the Democratic primaries, with my outlook leaning much more toward candidates like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, whom I felt would take the more radical steps necessary to help our country get back on course. That being said, in retrospect, I am not at all sure that either of them would have been able to mount a successful campaign against the former president, nor would have had your respective abilities to help reunite the USA.

All that having been said, I am hopeful and optimistic about the results of your victory, short- and long-term. I am ready to help you achieve your stated goals. And I am truly excited about the possibilities that the next four years bring; it's a feeling far removed from how I felt at this time in 2016. I look forward to the next steps with the following caveat: I will not hesitate to keep pushing the progressive agenda and maintaining a critical eye on your actions. Unlike the last administration, I believe you would expect no less of me, and of all the citizens of the country, so that you can best represent what we want, and what we need.

Thanks, and good luck.

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Hotel Chelsea (11.03.20)

Enjoying my first-ever show at Hotel Chelsea with a surprisingly good-sized crowd in the midst of a presidential election. Photo by Kat.

Oh, hello there. I'm back.

Where Have I Been for Like Six Weeks?
Fair question. On Saturday, August 29, I injured my back. The exact nature of that injury is still to be determined. I don't want to dwell on this too much, because it sucked, and it's still not over. The long story short is that like a lot of people my age, I have multiple issues with my spine... a herniated disc, scoliosis, and bone spurs. One of these caused a major bout of sciatica that not only debilitated me in various ways, but forced some lifestyle changes to which it's been difficult to adapt. I am still supposed to get an MRI and determine a longterm course of treatment.

It was only via coincidence that at the same time, my former steady show over the past 3-1/2 years ended due to that venue going on long-term hiatus. It's interesting that even if I'd had gigs lined up, I really wouldn't have been able to do them. Life is funny sometimes that way.

Long and sad story short: after things kept getting worse and worse, I had a remarkable improvement just last week, and coincidentally, I'd been booked for my first show ever at a Second Life venue I've long respected: Hotel Chelsea. When my manager Maali Beck told me about the show being scheduled for the first Tuesday of every month, I told her that sounded fine... and then somewhat belatedly realized that my first show there would end up being on Tuesday November 3, aka Election Day.

An external shot of Hotel Chelsea in Second Life, modeled after the famous New York City landmark where writers, musicians, artists, and actors made their home. Photo by Kat.

How About That Election?
I'm writing this on the morning of November 4. For anyone looking back from a historical perspective, we currently, at this very moment, have no idea who won the presidential election. It's looking like once all the votes are counted, Joe Biden will be our next president. But it's extremely close, and given what's happened in previous elections, there's no way to be sure right now.

There's no point in my discussing this here and now. All I can hope for at this moment in time is that the votes are fairly counted -- all of them -- and that the winner is chosen legitimately. I shall refrain from any other statement at this time. 

Sitting here in limbo at this very moment. No one truly knows how this will end up. I am somewhat optimistic about Joe Biden being the winner, but I'm certain that many things will transpire before that's official. Graphic from NPR.

How About That Show?
Yeah. So, my prevailing feeling was that no one would be at this show, my debut at this great venue. Literally no one. They'd all be glued to their TVs and their Twitter and whatever else they focus on during a major election. That feeling increased when I logged into SL and realized that my friend Max Kleene, who'd been scheduled to perform before me, wasn't able to do his show. None of this was upsetting to me; my assumption was that people have priorities, and that's completely understandable.

When I arrived at Hotel Chelsea, my anticipation of playing for no one at all was pretty much confirmed. There was literally me and Shyla, who manages the venue. Maali joined us after a bit, along with a couple of folks who were hanging out. I figured I'd just do my show to that little group of 5-6 people, and it didn't bother me at all. It would be a good way to pass the time, and to stop obsessing on election returns.

Damn, it felt great to be back up on stage and in front of a crowd. I will always be a performing musician; it's been in my blood since I was a tiny kid. Photo by Kat.

As I've done since the start of the pandemic, I wear a mask in SL just as I do in public in real life. Photo by Kat.

I can't tell you how pleased and amazed I was by seeing folks arriving to my show. That had nothing to do with me, and everything to do with the circumstances surrounding doing a music performance during the most distracting event in many of our lifetimes. I am eternally grateful to those who came. Photo by Kat.

And then, something happened that truly shocked me. As I launched into my first song, people started arriving. You could probably hear the shock in my voice as I addressed the crowd between songs. Granted, I'd promoted the show as a great way to give yourself a break from election stress, and it turned out that people actually needed that. We ended up with a seriously great crowd there under the circumstances.

Musically, I'd very purposefully kept the selection of songs on the mellow side. No one, including myself, needed a bunch of high-energy songs in the midst of all the collective stress and anxiety. Despite having been away from live performance for about six weeks, I felt good about both my voice and guitar playing, and am looking forward to more shows soon. Perhaps a live video show between now and my next SL show would be a good idea.

Hotel Chelsea set list...
It's Easy Like Walking (The Sadies w/Kurt Vile)
Among the Leaves (Sun Kil Moon)
The Last Time I Saw Richard (Joni Mitchell)
All Lives, You Say? (Wilco)
River Man (Nick Drake)
Vacancy (Neil Young)
*Mr. Bojangles (Jerry Jeff Walker)
Say Goodbye (Beck)
Perfect Day (Lou Reed)
Pancho & Lefty (Townes Van Zandt)
America (Simon & Garfunkel) 
All You Fascists (Woody Guthrie)

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

Massive thanks to everyone who came out to see my debut at Hotel Chelsea despite all the excellent reasons not to... and special super thanks to the following who helped support my show there!
Luis Lockjaw, storyofyoursmile Resident, Richy Nervous, Rusty Seisenbacher, Kat Claxton, Diana Renoir, Asimia Heron, Pureperle Anton, Alex Zelin, Maurice Mistwallow, noowun Wind, go2smoky Resident, CB Axel, TheHaroldTheBurrel Resident, my excellent manager Maali Beck, and Hotel Chelsea manager Shyla the Super Gecko!

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 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!