Monday, April 17, 2017

My Pal Foot Foot (04.17.17)


I think there's a saying about things having to get worse before they get better. It sounds like complete bullshit to me, but there is at least one situation in life that many people go through in which it's undeniably true, and that's having a medical procedure that hurts, with the knowledge that it's going to make things better in the long run.

Speaking of "run" that's something that's off my list of things to do for the moment, along with "walk without limping" and "stand without leaning" and "showering with both feet in the tub" and so on. I'll stop complaining vaguely now and tell you that on Friday morning, I had some minor outpatient surgery on my right foot. It was for a fairly common ailment that, while not serious, had been bothering me for something like six months, and it's something that I'll be really, really glad to have out of my life entirely.

But it doesn't really work like that, at least right away. You have to get past the trauma of having a scalpel shoved into you first. So, I've spent the subsequent three days complaining about it to anyone within earshot. And honestly, try doing ordinary things but keeping all of your weight -- in my case, about 180 pounds -- on one leg. It gets old, fast.

On a related note, my experience with the podiatrist I saw was great. She was super friendly, kept me at ease, and there was very little pain while she did the surgery. I see her again on Wednesday morning, when I finally can have this collection of bandages removed from my foot, and assuming all has gone per the plan, things should start getting better quickly after that. I'm really looking forward to little stuff like being able to take a proper shower (I can't get the surgical site wet, so it's been these half-assed showering sessions with only one leg in the tub, so I am being very literal about the phrase "half-assed" in this case). I'm also looking forward to walking and standing with equal weight on both feet. I'm really, really looking forward to doing my morning workout without favoring one leg, something that's plagued me since Thanksgiving or so.

All things considered, I have a lot to look forward to and am feeling pretty optimistic about that. The challenge, as it often is for me and many people, is being patient while the foot heals. I'm a guy who truly enjoys his mundane routine, and even something as small as this throws me off a lot. Can't shower, can't drive my son to school, can't walk without limping, can't exercise... but it's all short term, and hopefully in another week, I'll be back to my normal active self.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Joshua Tree (03.23.17 - 03.26.17) & "Blew the Dust Away" Video


I'm not going to write a novel-length post about our recent trip to Joshua Tree. Almost everything I've had to say about that wonderful desert area has already been said, by me and many others. Instead, here are a few specific memories.

The Mother of Invention
The park was the most crowded we'd ever seen it. Not surprising: the weather was perfect and tons of people were flocking to all of the desert areas in hopes of seeing flower blooms from the recent rains. This didn't impact us very much except in one way: we'd planned on getting some footage for a They Stole My Crayon music video at Barker Dam, and it was so packed that we literally could not find a single parking spot, much less plan on a secluded filming location. So, we blew that off and instead went to an area of the park none of had been before... right next door at Echo Rock. The base of the rock formations there is a dry river bed, and perfect for what we wanted to do.

Bunny and Snake
Bunny had spent his entire life without any close encounters with rattlesnakes (the one poisonous snake indigenous to our area) until a couple of years ago, when he had a terrifying experience in the Santa Monica mountains while walking his dogs. Well, on Sunday of our trip, he took two steps off the trail to photograph some flowers, and was met with a huge specimen of Crotalus oreganus. Looking down at this scene from a rock that I'd scampered up, two things happened in a split second: first, I heard its rattle, which was shockingly loud. Next, I saw Bunny jump back in what seemed to be a world record-setting reverse broad jump, scratching his legs up on some dry brush in the process. Other than the resulting cuts and scrapes, no one was harmed in this adrenaline-inducing desert moment.

Shooting the Video
We didn't have a specific plan for making a video while on our trip, and had we gone there and left the cameras at home, it would have been a great little vacation regardless. Since we had all three members of the band together in one spot, it seemed like a good idea to try and grab some footage just in case something could work. It's a lovely location, after all. So a few times over the four days, we filmed ourselves in various places in the park and near our little cabin, Casa Rosita, doing lip-synch to our own music. While we do intend on doing more planned, storyboarded, "produced" videos for other tunes, "Blew the Dust Away" had a musical vibe that we all agreed would work for the footage we got. So, after getting home and doing some creative editing, we were able to formally debut the resulting music video the following weekend (Sunday April 2, to be specific). Check it out.


In case you're interested in such things, we shot it on Kat's Nikon Coolpix at 1080 60p, and edited in Final Cut Pro X. I think we were surprised that the result of this $0 budget video came out with little compromise than what we'd have wanted regardless of budget for the "Blew the Dust Away" vibe, and we're proud to finally have an official music video out there for The Crayon!

Some Pics
Beers at Casa Rosita, our little unofficial home in the desert.

We did some good cooking on this trip, including this egg bake brunch that Christina whipped up. Yum!

The Crayon in the park in the Jeep.

Joshua Tree Saloon. A band with beers.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Islands of New England (03.22.17)

Playing some tunes, laughing with friends. A typical night at The Islands of New England in SL. Photo by Triana Caldera.

Hey blog. I haven't been here in a month or so. How ya been? Not mad at my absence, hopefully. It wasn't intentional; I just haven't been doing any live shows lately.

Actually, that's not true. Just last weekend, in an act of extreme randomness, I picked up a bass and turned on Facebook Live, and did a playthrough of multiple Rush songs. Twice. Frankly, while that was silly and fun, it was a bit of a wankfest. Nothing wrong with Rush, mind you. It's just not really representative of the music that I do on a regular basis, even if it was a fun surprise to do something completely unexpected. Regardless, it wasn't exactly what I'd call blog-worthy. If you really need to see me wearing a kimono and doing a B-minus impression of Geddy Lee's godlike bass playing, you're welcome to do so.


But last night's show at The Islands of New England in Second Life certainly was worth a few words. I play so rarely in SL these days that I do try and make each show somewhat special. TIONE is a place where I feel very comfortable, which means it's more likely that I'll stretch out a bit and try some new stuff from time to time. One way I can tell that the show will be good before I strum a single chord is to glance up at the audience. When I see a majority of green name tags -- the indication in SL that someone is your friend -- that's always a positive note. Perhaps just as good is when I see people whose tags change to "Zakster" sometime during the show, meaning they asked for an invite to my fan group. That means I did or sang or played or said something interesting enough to make people want to know when and where I'm playing next. That's a good feeling, and one I don't take for granted.

The actual show that I performed went well... mostly. On a positive note, I did a couple of songs I'd never played before. One was an oldie. Speaking of Rush (above), it was a band that I -- like many young musicians of my generation -- was really into in my teen years, along with a number of other progressive and hard rock bands who play intricate and challenging music. I had a short-lived Rush cover band called Permanent Waves when I was about 15. Yeah, really. The reason I don't play much music by that band is very simple: a) Geddy's voice is nearly impossible for me (or anyone) to cover well, and b) per above, I've moved on to other areas of interest in terms of the style of music I prefer to perform. However, Thea Dee is one of my good friends in SL -- who happens to also be a person with whom I went to college. She's a massive fan of the band, and I've long wanted to pick out a song by Rush that was somewhat within my vocal range and possible to cover on solo acoustic guitar for her benefit. That song turned out to be "Entres Nous", and it went fairly well, I think. The other new song was truly new; "It's Easy (Like Walking)" was released a couple of weeks ago on the new album by The Sadies, and it features one of my favorite singer-songwriters dudes: Kurt Vile. The moment I heard it, I knew I'd be covering it.

My shows are equal parts music and silliness. Sometimes more silliness than I expected. Photo by Triana Caldera.

People seem to have fun either way, so it's all good. Photo by Triana Caldera.

One hilarious side note. I got to the end of my set and had time for one more tune, so I launched into "Say Goodbye" by Beck. I did the first two chords, and then my brain completely blanked on how the song actually goes. While I do have lyrics sheets, I don't use any chord charts while I perform. Twice, I tried to get the relatively simple song rolling, and twice, the launch was aborted at takeoff. The result was, I must admit, pretty damn funny, when I eventually gave up and ended with a completely different song.

TIONE set list...
Big Yellow Taxi (Joni Mitchell)
Northern Sky (Nick Drake)
Things Under Trees (They Stole My Crayon)
*Entres Nous (Rush)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Ashes to Ashes (David Bowie)
*It’s Easy Like Walking (The Sadies/Kurt Vile)
Airport Bar (Martin Courtney)
†No One Knows (Queens of the Stone Age)
You’re Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)
Sleeper in the Valley (Laura Veirs)
Big Empty (Stone Temple Pilots)

*Indicates the first time I've performed this song in SL.
†I've only done "No One Knows" once before, in April 2014, also at TIONE coincidentally.


Huge thanks to all who came out to the show... especially the following who helped support it!
Trouble Streeter, Triana Caldera, KarlPeterKP Resident, RoxxyyRoller Resident, gracelenrose Resident, RansomTalmidge Resident, pimaren Wulluf, Aurelie Chenaux, Tyche Szondi, Lyndon Heart, TheaDee Resident, my great manager Maali Beck, and TIONE's wonderful event manager Christine Haiku!

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

MadPea's International Food Fair for Feed-a-Smile (02.20.17)

Playing some guitar and feeding some smiles. Photo by Kat.

I enjoy daydreaming. It's actually a very healthy and productive use of time, I feel. Through those brief moments of fantasy and reflection, sometimes it's possible to visualize concepts that may seem illogical at the moment, but gives you a pathway for it to possibly come to fruition. So, when I do a performance for a charitable organization as I did last night at MadPea's International Food Fair in Second Life, I imagine someone donating a small amount of money toward the cause, and think that perhaps that very donation was the one that got to the right child who grew up to become a doctor or scientist or teacher whose work eventually helps thousands and thousands of other people.

It really doesn't work like that, I'm well aware. Each charitable donation is a tiny drop in a bucket that always needs to be refilled, but that big bucket is made up of a whole lot of droplets. Each one matters. Who knows which one is going to find its way to that deserving beneficiary who will pay it forward in his or her own way? Whether it's the shows I've done to fight cancer, to rescue animals, or many other very worthwhile causes, I do allow myself to imagine that the small amounts that get raised while I perform have a direct impact on someone out there. The thought puts a smile on my face every time.

This particular show -- one of a huge series of events between February 18 and March 4 -- was benefitting a cause that's dear to me: Feed-a-Smile, the charity run by my friend Brique Zeiner that funds the Live & Learn in Kenya NGO. I've posted many photos of the kids who are the recipients of funds raised through Feed-a-Smile. The money goes to help keep them fed, and to create a learning environment in Africa where they can grow up to hopefully become productive adults. While it's kind of selfish of me to say this, I must admit that being able to see the direct results of my efforts to help them via the photos and stories of their success helps drive me to keep doing benefit shows for them.

Rocking some Zak tunes, Crayon tunes, and other people's tunes. Photo by Kat.

Is that Doubledown Tandino scaling the wall while I perform at MadPea's food fair? Of course it is. Photo by Kat.

It's a good thing that the show itself happened to be for an important cause... because I was feeling like shit yesterday. I had a (thankfully rare) bout of insomnia the night before, and throughout the day had been experiencing some physical issues that certainly didn't put me in the best frame of mind to put on my usual upbeat show. But then, and who knows why this is the case, about an hour before I was schedule to go on, I got a second wind of sorts and found myself ready to rock. It could very well be that the act of psyching myself up to play, doing vocal warm-ups and tuning my guitar and all that, is what got my energy to the point where I felt like I could perform at my best level. By the time I strummed my first chord, I actually felt pretty great.

The show itself was quite good. I've been happy lately at the way my voice and guitar are working, and as my own biggest critic, that's saying something. They had the area set up so that the audio from my stream went out to all of the many sims that were set up for the food fair event, and I made it a point to let people know who might happen to be listening while browsing around the fair to come by and check out the show. As time went by, more and more people started filtering in so that toward the second half of the show, we had a really nice-sized crowd. I know for a fact that the event was a success; when I started the show, the contribution tally was around L$1,400,000, and this morning, the tally is at L$1,543,000 and counting. A good portion of that fundraising was done via the food fair itself, but it's nice to consider that my generous fans helped kick in around L$150,000, or about $600 USD. That is pretty amazing, and will have a direct impact on the kids in Kenya. Going back to my daydream, maybe that's the amount that allows one of the kids to get the food and learning materials he or she needs to move to the next level, and perhaps they grow up and create a cure to some disease that affects someone close to me. Yeah, I know; the chances are small... but there is a chance. There's always a chance of good things happening when you stay optimistic and keep working toward a goal.

By the way, as I noted before: the Food Fair event continues through March 4, so here's a SLURL where you SL folks can go check it out.

MadPea's Food Fair/Feed-a-Smile set list...
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
California (Joni Mitchell)
Fire & Rain (James Taylor)
Love Hurts (Everly Brothers)
Blew the Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
Polly (Nirvana)
I Am A Child (Neil Young)
Things Behind the Sun (Nick Drake)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)
Appetites (Jib Kidder)
Sour Girl (Stone Temple Pilots)
Things Under Trees (They Stole My Crayon)
Behind Blue Eyes (The Who)

Gigantic thanks to everyone who came out to my show, especially those who were able to support Feed-a-Smile with your donations. You all helped to make the world just a little bit better. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Friday, February 3, 2017

The Islands of New England (02.02.17)

The Islands of New England is more than a pretty place to play live music. The people who visit there make it what it is... one of the best venues in all of Second Life. Photo by Kat.

Performing live shows in Second Life is similar to sex: it feels good, it's physically and emotionally fulfilling, and people applaud when I'm done.

Wait... let's try this again. So, last night, I played for the umpteenth time at The Islands of New England, a terrific live music venue in the virtual world of Second Life. I play there as often as I do for two reasons: first, because for whatever reason, Christine Haiku (who manages the venue's bookings) seems to like what I do, and second, because I really, really like playing there. Those are good enough reasons for just about anything. Since I'm unable to play much (or at all) in January each year, February is a time where I start ramping back up in doing SL shows, and New England was the perfect place for me to kick off my "Zak's Still Here Tour '17". It's not much of a tour; I don't have any other shows booked at the moment. But I trust that I will soon enough.

Here's something that any musician will tell you: when you're sounding good, you perform better. Pretty obvious, eh? What I mean is that music performance is like a wheel. If your guitar is sounding good and your voice is doing what you want, you then have more confidence and the performance itself gets even better. The opposite, negative aspect is also true. I'm happy to say that for last night's show, right from the get-go, I knew it was going to be a good show. A few minutes before I started, I strummed my guitar -- an acoustic-electric Takamine Pro Series P5DC that has become my go-to instrument for SL shows -- and it sounded so good in my headphones that I felt inspired to try and sing at a level that would match the great sound my guitar seemed to be making. It didn't hurt that I also took a good hour before the show warming up my voice.

"Why bother doing that?" you ask. "It's just an SL show." I have to tell you -- and this is just my opinion, for what it's worth -- that if you don't give a shit about every single performance, you shouldn't bother performing at all. I try and make the effort to do the best I can each time I'm playing music in front of people. The audience is taking time out of their day to come hear me do what I do, and the last thing I want to do is be a disappointment to them. Will every person who comes to my show like what they hear? No, of course not; music itself is extraordinarily subjective. But for those who appreciate the style of music I play, I want to give them a special and memorable experience each and every time. I want the people who are checking me out for the first time to want to come back again. I want my terrific longterm fans, the Zaksters, to be able to enjoy each show despite having attended dozens (or hundreds, in some cases) of previous shows. I know it sounds silly, but I genuinely feel a sense of responsibility to be entertaining to those folks who click the link and find themselves listening to what I do.

I don't have many ways to make the world a better place to live for other people, but within the scope of what I am capable of doing, my only goal of each music performance I do is that people get to the end of the hour feeling a little happier than they were when I started my first tune of the night. Whether it's through the choices of songs I do, the way I sing and play guitar, or the fun and camaraderie that seems to happen at my shows, I think I hit that goal more often than not. Happy people tend to make positive decisions and actions, and maybe my silly little shows are one drop in a bucket that can prevent the bad things in life. You never know.

Nine out of ten dentists agree: my shows are fun, whether you're all that into my music performance or not. Photo by Kat.

Joel joins me onstage for a delightful little dance while I played his improvised theme song. Photo by Kat.

One final note: Christine Haiku has a unique ability (at least in the SL music scene) to pair performers for shows that works really well. Each time I play at TIONE, it seems that the person who's performing before or after me is a great fit in some way. This time, as Christine has set up in the past, it was Joel W. Corey Tamas who played after me. Joel is a Canadian man who has a band called Red Heaven. He and I are almost exactly the same age... he was born about two weeks before me, some 47-1/2 years ago. We have a lot in common in terms of life experiences, political and cultural outlooks, and more. While our performance styles are very different, we enjoy a lot of the same influences, and our respective audiences seem to appreciate what each of us do. While he and I met purely by chance through the virtual music scene, we've become better acquainted via Facebook, and I consider him a genuine friend at this point. He's a talented guy, a funny and compassionate human being, and I wanted to take the opportunity to acknowledge how much I enjoy and appreciate our friendship.

The Islands of New England set list...
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Man on the Moon (R.E.M.)
Mary Jane’s Last Dance (Tom Petty)
How Soon is Now? (The Smiths)
Lost Cause (Beck)
Blew the Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
Carry Me Ohio (Sun Kil Moon)
Northern Sky (Nick Drake)
Tea in the Sahara (The Police)
Black Hole Sun (Soundgarden)
For What Its Worth (Buffalo Springfield)
Nearly Lost You (Screaming Trees)
*Joel (Zak Claxton, improvised)

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

Huge thanks to all who came to the show, with special thanks to the following people who helped support it.
Bonita Denimore, AinemacLir Resident, Joel Eilde, Tyche Szondi, Lylah Landar, RansomTalmidge Resident, Richy Nervous, Sesh Kamachi, TheaDee Resident, Kat Claxton, Diana Renoir, Aurelie Chenaux, my terrific manager Maali Beck, and most of all, TIONE's superb manager Christine Haiku!

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Veterans Isle/Homes For Our Troops 01.29.17

So, I can play guitar and sing for an hour and help an injured vet get a home? Sign me up.

Did you miss me? I'm back.

Each January, my life gets turned upside down via my industry's largest trade show. In my non-virtual life, I do marketing for the musical instrument, professional audio, and related industries, and January is when the NAMM Show happens. I actually start my preparing for the show in November or earlier, making the holiday season and start of each year a whirlwind of business activity, leaving very little time for actual music making or performances of my own. As a result, each year I need to block out weeks of my Second Life music calendar with the words "ZAK UNAVAILABLE", and in fact, about the earliest I can hope to get back into performing in SL is about a week after the show ends.

Coincidentally, that's when this month's benefit for Homes For Our Troops had been set up by my fellow musician and friend Frets Nirvana, held at Veterans Isle in Second Life. The NAMM Show wrapped up on January 22; his benefit, which happens on the last Sunday of each month, was on the 29th. Since I managed to not get sick at the show and my voice was reasonably healed after four days of yelling in a convention center, I was glad to help out, and at the same time perform my first Second Life event of 2017.

I've played many charitable veterans events in SL. As I've explained before, as a pacifist and a person with a progressive political outlook, it truly bothers me that these people coming back from military engagements with severe injuries are so often neglected by the government who sent them there in the first place. Frankly, as I mention at the shows, the act of being compassionate toward others is not tied to any political affiliation. It's an area where we should all agree. These people need our help due to the egregious negligence and lack of funding by the government. Should it be that way? No, of course not. But it is, and the least I can do is spend an hour playing guitar and singing, if it helps them even a little bit.

We got a nice crowd of very generous people and raised a good amount for HFOT. Mission accomplished.

Having not played live for about six weeks, it took me a little longer than usual to get warmed up and ready to rock, but all things considered, the show went pretty damn well. I pulled out a couple of tunes that I've done very rarely in my SL shows, and we had a good number of my Zakster fans who probably enjoyed the variety.

HFOT Set List
Airport Bar (Martin Courtney)
Is She Really Going Out With Him? (Joe Jackson)
Falling Down
 (Zak Claxton)
Better Man (Pearl Jam)
†Sunny Came Home (Shawn Colvin)
Comes a Time (Neil Young)
If It Makes You Happy (Sheryl Crow)
It’s Good to be King (Tom Petty)
*Car on a Hill (Joni Mitchell)
Again (They Stole My Crayon)
Accidents Will Happen (Elvis Costello)
America (Simon & Garfunkel)

*Indicates the first time I've performed this song in SL.
†My last performance of "Sunny Came Home" was all the way back on July 17, 2012.


Huge thanks to everyone who came out for the show and helped this great cause. You're all awesome.