Monday, October 16, 2017

Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile at Immanuel Cathedral Sanctuary (10.14.17)

Courtney, Kurt, and the Sea Lice onstage at Immanuel Cathedral Sanctuary on Saturday October 14. Photo by Jen Cloher.

A little background, which is sometimes helpful. I've been a fan of Philly-based singer-songwriter indie-rocker Kurt Vile for maybe 5-6 years. Despite that, I'd never taken the opportunity to see him live. Over the past couple of years, I've also gotten into the music of Australian singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett, whose 2015 full-length debut album merited a "Best New Artist" Grammy nomination (which, being the Grammys, she lost to a much less talented artist). As a performing musician, I've covered multiple songs by both artists. Separately and individually, I've truly admired and appreciated both artists. Imagine my happy surprise, then, when earlier this year, I found out they'd teamed up on a collaborative album called Lotta Sea Lice which would eventually be released on October 13.

When it was announced that they'd be touring together, it took about 0.3 seconds for Christina and I to decide to get tickets for a show here in LA, and that Bunny would accompany us to make it a full They Stole My Crayon band outing, which fortuitously was scheduled for the day following the album release, on October 14. Despite there being multiple shows in the LA area, our show at Immanuel sold out very quickly, so we were pretty stoked to be going to what was obviously a pretty hot ticket.

Heading Into K-Town
I often tell people who don't live here... Los Angeles doesn't really exist as a homogenous place. Instead, you have these pockets of extraordinarily different zones that are somehow fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. I have spent very little time in the whole Wilshire Center/Koreatown neighborhood, despite knowing the surrounding adjacent areas well. It's one of those things about living here; you have your place and your comfort zone, and that's where you tend to stay (notoriously true for those of us down in the South Bay). So, it was kind of a fun adventure figuring out the whole "where to go, what to do" for the evening. Traffic wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it might be, especially with game one of the NLCS happening at Dodger Stadium. One quick tip: if you're ever heading to see a show at Immanuel, definitely park at the UTLA lot on Berendo Street. It's across the street from the venue and costs five bucks. Winning.

I made a little map for Bunny to show him where to meet us. He was still 40 minutes late, but he gets bonus points for taking public transportation to the show.

Spicy Deliciousness at Ten Ramen
We knew it would be a good idea to grab dinner before heading into the show, and we didn't want it to be a pain in the ass, so we decided to keep it local and strolled a block up to 6th Street to eat at Ten Ramen, a relatively new spot that's getting good reviews so far. They are well-deserved; the ramen was incredible, and the dinner was very reasonably priced. A couple of tips: one, try the corn cheese appetizer (really); two, if you order your spicy tonkotsu ramen at level 3, that's like a 5 anywhere else. My sinuses were clear moments after my first sip. Whew. Damn. So good, though.

The spicy tonkotsu ramen at Ten Ramen in Koreatown. Crazy delicious.

Bunny and I, high on ramen spice. Photo by Christina.

Immanuel Cathedral Sanctuary
After dinner, we walked over to the venue, which is a Presbyterian church in a historic site... a gothic cathedral that is spectacular both inside and out. We walked in, grabbed a beer, and immediately realized we couldn't actually walk into the church interior with alcohol, a fact that should have seemed obvious. Instead, we hung out in the foyer and hallways. A couple walking by spotted Bunny's TSMC shirt and asked about it. We took the opportunity to pimp the band, of course. The crowd seemed cool, as one would expect with this combination of artists. Everyone seemed happy and pretty chill in general. We meandered inside the sanctuary and sat about 10 rows back, with a great view of the stage in this rather small hall.

This was our first show at Immanuel Cathedral Sanctuary, and hopefully not our last. Amazing! Photo by Live Nation.

A Great Opener by Jen Cloher
Courtney Barnett's wife is Jen Cloher, an indie-folk singer-songwriter who is well respected in Australia but much more underground in the US. She is fantastic in her own right, and she did a 4-5 song solo acoustic set of her own stuff as an opening act. All three of us were very impressed with both her songs and her confident performance. This was apparently her first gig in Los Angeles, and she got a much-deserved standing ovation at the end.

CB and KV (and the Sea Lice)
I've been listening to the couple of CB/KV tracks that were pre-released ahead of the album, and then in the past week having been listening closely to some of the live performances, like the in-studio radio gig they did at KCRW last week. I was, therefore, reasonably familiar with the whole album, which they played in its entirety. They also performed a couple of covers, and both Courtney and Kurt did some of their own solo stuff. By the way, in addition to Courtney and Kurt, we had the pleasure of a kick-ass backing band, featuring drummer Janet Weiss (Sleater-Kinney), bassist Rob Laakso (The Violators), and keyboardist/backing vocalist Katie Harkin (Sky Larkin). While the songs themselves were intentionally loose in a Neil Young-esque way, the band seemed tight to me in most places.

Courtney and Kurt with the awesome Janet Weiss on drums, taken from our seat at Immanuel Cathedral Sanctuary. Photo by Christina.

Another view from our seats. How cool is this place? Photo by Christina.

Sort-of-Maybe-Kinda-Correct Set List...
I am sure I'm missing 1-2 songs here, and my order is somewhat out of whack. They played the new Lotta Sea Live album in its entirety, plus 2-3 solo songs each from both Courtney and Kurt, and a couple of other covers as well.

Over Everything
Fear Is Like a Forest
Outta the Woodwork
Let It Go
Continental Breakfast
On Script
On Tour
Life Like This
Blue Cheese
Untogether (Belly cover)
Elvis Presley Blues (Gillian Welch cover)
Dead Fox
Pretty Pimpin
Avant Gardener

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Serenity Gardens (10.09.17)

Rocking a great crowd on a lovely fall evening at Serenity Gardens. Photo by Kat.

It's so easy these days to convince yourself that the world is ending. And, while that might be true, I still feel like it's the responsibility of the performing musician to bring some happiness to his or her audiences, even if just for a little while.

Last Monday, October 2, was by all definitions a shitty day. I awoke, flipped open my iPad, and was immediately greeted with the news of the worst mass shooting in modern American history. I was still processing that horrifying information when in mid-day, I started hearing that something had happened to Tom Petty, and it seemed bad. Really bad.

Let's Talk About Tom Petty
Tom Petty was a musician in the same way that Budweiser is a beer. He might not be your favorite, but he seemed like an American institution. His music wasn't super adventurous, but it was always well written, well performed, and just sounded good. He had a helluva band with the Heartbreakers. Their songs were like a warm blanket on a cold day; you couldn't help but feel a sense of comfort when you heard just about any tune they did. While Tom went through various vibes and phases like all creative musicians, there was an element of consistency that never left you wondering who you were listening to, and that was true from their debut in the mid-70s through stuff they released in the last few years. It was just always, always good, and I know of very few musicians who, even if they didn't love Tom Petty, they respected him.

I got to meet Tom Petty once, for about a minute and a half, backstage at the Hollywood Bowl in 1995. It was a work-related event for me, but even in that short time frame, it felt like talking to a person who was just a regular guy who you might see around your neighborhood. Friendly, open, warm, and -- while this is a word that gets overused -- genuinely nice. He was a nice guy. Whether he'd been a rock star or the guy who works on your car's transmission, you'd say, "That Tom Petty is a nice guy."

Tom Petty, 1950-2017. Photo by Tina Hagerling.

Back in the '80s, my mom got to spend more time with TP than I ever did, sitting next to him for about six hours on a flight from New York to LA. She said the same thing. "He was one of the nicest people I ever met," was her reaction when I asked what he was like.

I found myself in shock when he died from a massive heart attack at age 66 on October 2. It took awhile to get past it, and I'm frankly not sure I'm fully past it now. But regardless, I did what musicians do to honor the passing of a great and influential fellow musician; at the next possible opportunity, I played his music.

The Show
I arrived at Serenity Gardens last night to find that Ilsa and her crew had decked it out in Halloween decor. More than just putting out a few silly scary items, the entire sim seemed to have been transformed for the season, with darker foliage and all kinds of vibe changes. I loved it. I can tell there's a lot of thought and effort that goes into this place, and as both a live performer and venue visitor, I really appreciate that. Sometimes, it's the little details that count. As I sat down next to Kat upon finishing my show, I noted that the poses in the chair were all changed so we both appeared zombie-like as we sat there. Cute, and fun.

Musically, I thought the show went pretty well. Since I've been doing less shows lately, both my voice and guitar had moments where I was internally yelling at myself to play better, but I expect that I'll be able to spend some more time singing and playing in upcoming times, so they should both improve. Like any other physical activity that involves muscle memory (like singing and playing guitar), you're only as good as you can be through practice and effort. It's not like it was bad, or anything. I thought a lot of it was quite good. I just have high standards for myself. While I'd planned a few tunes in tribute to Tom, I didn't go overboard, and instead of doing his tunes back-to-back in a set, I scattered them through the show, which seemed to go really well.

I'm usually all alone onstage in SL, but Serenity Gardens provided me with this skeletal backing band, which I enjoyed. Photo by Kat.

I've yet to have a bad show at Serenity Gardens. Nice place, nice people, good times every time. Photo by Kat.

You belong among the wildflowers. Photo by Kat.

Kat and I in our death poses after the show. Photo by Ilsa Flanagan.

Speaking of "after the show", no one can say I don't put in the effort to rock hard for my shows in Second Life. Photo by Kat.

Serenity Gardens set list...
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
*Wildflowers (Tom Petty)
Things Under Trees (They Stole My Crayon)
Bull Black Nova (Wilco)
It’s Good to be King (Tom Petty)
Never Run Away (Kurt Vile)
Pink Moon (Nick Drake)
Blew the Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
Carry Me Ohio (Sun Kil Moon)
Help Me (Joni Mitchell)
Ohio (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young)
*Runnin' Down a Dream (Tom Petty)

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

Big thanks to all who came out to the show, with super duper thanks to the following who helped support it!
ErikKottzen Resident, RoxxyyRoller Resident, dls Falconer, Sesh Kamachi, Maurice Mistwallow, Tyche Szondi, Meegan Danitz, Kat Claxton, TommyTheTerrible Resident, Aurelie Chenaux, TheaDee Resident, my superb manager Maali Beck, and the great management team of Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde!

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Serenity Gardens (09.25.17)

The Zak Show at Serenity Gardens took an unexpected turn on Monday night. Photo by Triana Caldera.

I suppose you could say that my first time standing up in front of a crowd of people while playing guitar and singing was in December 1980. I would have been eleven years old at the time. Since then, I've played well over a thousand shows of various kinds, from coffee shops and Irish pubs to backyard parties, street fairs, sports bars and, of course, my many, many shows in the virtual world and on live video. Basically, it's been 37 straight years of playing live, and it often feels like I've already done it all. However, last night at Serenity Gardens, I managed to involuntarily do something new that I'd never planned on doing (or wanted to) in front of a live audience: I finished a song, and started crying. Ugh! Let me tell you what happened.

I'm a Sensitive Guy... Not a "Crying in Public" Guy
I know it's not necessary to make excuses for a display of emotion. I'm not so macho that I think men aren't allowed to shed a tear on occasion, when necessary. I should, however, give you a context for this. As many of my friends are already aware, my father passed away just over two weeks ago, on Friday September 8. I had postponed all shows during the time since, in order to get myself together and to focus on handling his affairs while still taking care of life as usual. So, certainly the fact that I'd dedicated a portion of my set to my dad and his memory probably had me in a somewhat emotionally vulnerable state.

But oddly, that's not what set me off. While my dad's passing was a shock, I've been able to handle it pretty well. I'm generally a pragmatist about the ending of life; it is, as far as we know, an inevitable aspect of life itself. I miss him as a person to whom I was close (and had continued to grow closer as I got older), but he was 76. Not terribly old, but not tragically young either. His dad, I should add, died when my pop was just 26, before I was even born. I got to have 48 of my years with my father, and I consider myself fortunate for that time, most of which was very good.

A Song for Garrett
Here's what caused me to blubber in front of a crowd that had come to see me play music and generally have a good time.

Music creates connections among people that might otherwise not realize things they had in common. There's a camaraderie that happens when two people discover that they really enjoy a style of music, or a particular band or artist. I've found that with much of the music I love, the bands/artists can be pretty obscure, and so when I meet someone who really loves the same music, it tells me something about that person. Awhile back, I was doing a Second Life show at Templemore, and I did a song by Sun Kil Moon called "Carry Me Ohio". A person who called that venue home was a guy named Garrett Lutz (known as David Drew in real life), and he was super enthusiastic about the fact that someone had played Sun Kil Moon at an SL show. I even wrote about it at the time, in May. Garrett and I didn't know each other super well, other than that I'd noted he always seemed to really enjoy himself at my shows when he turned up in my audience at various places.

One thing I didn't really know about Garrett was how ill he was. He'd been afflicted with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease. There's no known cause for ALS, and currently no cure. It is a terrible disease; very few people live very long after its onset (with people like Stephen Hawking being an extremely rare notable exception). About half the people diagnosed with it die within a couple of years.

After learning about Garrett's illness and realizing that a) he might not have much time and b) we both loved this rather underground music, I made a commitment to learn more Sun Kil Moon songs so I could perform that music for him. But as they say, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. Garrett died on August 14, but I didn't find out about it until toward the end of the month, and then my dad passed away a short while later. Hence, I never had the opportunity to learn another Sun Kil Moon song -- which can be extraordinarily complex and difficult to perform -- and do it live for Garrett. Making it even more poignant, a good friend of mine, Tyche Szondi (who had been one of Garrett's closest friends) told me that Garrett had, on multiple occasions, told her how much he enjoyed my shows. Tyche related this to me shortly after I found out that Garrett had died.

Garrett Lutz in Second Life, photographer unknown.

Keeping a Promise
Last night, being my first show back, I was determined to fulfill my promise by performing a Sun Kil Moon song that I'd never done before. The song, called "Half Moon Bay", is a beautiful tune filled with deep melancholy in both its music and lyrics. While I couldn't do it exactly as written, I think I did a fairly passable interpretation, and ended with an instrument flourish that I thought sounded very good while I played. I hit the last note and said, "That was 'Half Moon Bay' by Sun Kil Moon, going out to my friend..." and then just sobbed. I got over it remarkably quickly and jumped immediately into my next song; if you weren't listening closely, you probably didn't even notice. But I sure did!

I have to think that the reason I cried onstage for the first time in 37 years of doing live shows was actually a combination of factors. My dad passing, the thoughts of Garrett and my unfulfilled plan of doing the song for him, and the song itself all added up to be an emotional atomic bomb. Interestingly, I feel better today than I have in awhile; perhaps that was a cathartic moment that needed to happen.

My show is usually a casual hour of fun and silliness, but it was okay that last night's show got a little heavy. Photo by Triana Caldera.

Pixels don't cry, thankfully. Photo by Triana Caldera.

On a general basis in regard to the show, I should note that while my voice was feeling a bit rusty after a few weeks without singing, the show overall seemed pretty good, and people seemed to be glad they came. Regardless of all the other stuff, that's all that matters. The little four song mini-set in the middle with two songs each by Steely Dan and James Taylor was dedicated to my dad, who loved both.

Serenity Gardens set list...
Pretty Pimpin’ (Kurt Vile)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)
Carey (Joni Mitchell)
Any Major Dude (Steely Dan)
Rikki Don’t Lose That Number (Steely Dan)
You’ve Got a Friend (James Taylor)
Carolina in my Mind (James Taylor)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
*Half Moon Bay (Sun Kil Moon)
Blew the Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
Things Behind the Sun (Nick Drake)
Wish You Were Here (Pink Floyd)

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

Huge thanks to all who came out to see me play live, with super special thanks to those who helped support the show!
RoxxyyRoller Resident, Kathrise Resident, ErikKottzen Resident, go2smoky Resident, Triana Caldera, Asimia Heron, Aurelie Chenaux, Tyche Szondi, TheaDee Resident, my lovely manager Maali Beck, and the great management team of Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde!

Monday, September 4, 2017

Four Memories of Steely Dan/Walter Becker (1950-2017)

Genius musician Walter Becker, one of the two people who founded and made up the constant core of Steely Dan, died yesterday. I thought I'd share some memories of Walter and the Dan, since their music was impactful in my life.

I am six years old. We've moved from Marblehead, MA to Rancho Palos Verdes, CA. I'm in second grade, and my favorite thing to do is to go through my parents' big vinyl record collection and listen to the music that sparks an emotional reaction within me. Sometimes it's Beethoven, sometimes the Beatles. But if I'm feeling really rambunctious, only one song does the trick: Steely Dan's "Reelin' in the Years" off Can't Buy a Thrill, an album that was always in heavy rotation in my home in the early/mid '70s. I don't know what it was about that song; perhaps it was the driving 6/8 shuffle, or the harmonized solo guitars. But every time the song comes on, I go into this insane combination of spastic dancing and a sort of early version of parkour, jumping over furniture, caroming off walls, and rolling around the entire living room. I get seriously fucking nuts each time the song came on, from the very first bent guitar note of the intro all through the fade. I'm six, and Steely Dan is my favorite band. And you wonder why I grew up weird. Case closed.

Also: there's a naked lady on the collage artwork of the album cover, and I sneak furtive glances at her when my mom isn't around.

I'm a more mature guy now at age 10, about to start middle school, and I'm really into music. I've been playing piano since I was three, and took up violin and guitar early on. Now I'm ten, and my tastes in music have become more sophisticated as I begin to appreciate what goes into creating stuff beyond the 5-6 chords I can play well. Meanwhile, the Dan has released Aja, an album that my mom would put on and listen to start to finish, and why not? Track by track, it remains one of the best albums ever released, with many moods, many shades, many feelings between putting the needle down on "Black Cow" and taking the record off the turntable after "Josie" is over. It's a mystical journey through time and space. I listen to the album over and over, just trying to hear what these guys are doing. I've already got a terrific ear and can play many pop songs just by listening to them once, astounding my parents and teachers alike. But I can't play Steely Dan -- I can't even tell what those chords are, for God's sake -- and I find this both challenging and scary.

Unlike a lot of other bands, Steely Dan seems to shun the spotlight. The guys in the band seem to be reclusive, and when they do rare interviews, their answers are heavy in sarcasm, cynicism, and rarely answer the questions being asked. I find it intriguing, and I find them funny. I also find it weird that only two guys seem to make up this band, and they have super geeky names, and they look really geeky too. Definitely not like Peter Frampton. It takes awhile before I ingest the idea that Steely Dan is whoever Donald and Walter are working with at a particular time.

It's summer, I'm 16, and I'm between my junior and senior years of high school. I'm a good musician for my age, already playing in little garage bands, and leaning toward difficult music that young musicians often find compelling, such as progressive rock and metal, and a little jazz here and there. I'm enrolled at Berklee College of Music for their summer semester, and I'm at least temporarily living in Boston, 3,000 miles away from my parents. During one of the first days, I meet with a counselor who asks what I'm interested in learning. I tell her that I want to expand the level of sophistication of my music for songwriting and performing, pushing beyond the simple standard barre chords of most pop and rock. I want to play more than boring pentatonic scales and blues motifs. I don't say it like that, though. I tell her I want to play chords like Steely Dan. She understands.

Around that time, and over the subsequent years, I dig deeper into the Dan's catalog, getting into the deeper cuts from Pretzel Logic, Katy Lied, The Royal Scam and the rest. I obsessively pore over the liner notes, seeing the names of the many studio musicians who add their skills to these magnificent recordings... names like Michael McDonald, Larry Carlton, Jeff Porcaro, Hal Blaine, Rick Marotta, Chuck Rainey, Bernard Purdie and many others. As I start getting into creating my own little multitrack recordings, I marvel at the quality of the records themselves, wondering how the sounds were captured with the degree of pristine clarity that is a hallmark of the band.

I attend Musicians Institute in 1988, and then enroll in college as a music major at Cal State Dominguez Hills, where I graduate in 1992. I get much deeper into the world of music history, theory, and composition. I start to better understand the music of Steely Dan, even though I still can't really play it or write any original stuff that's comparable. In 1993, I start working in the music/audio products industry, only to discover that at trade conventions, when manufacturers wanted to show off the quality of their high-end speakers, almost always do so by playing back Steely Dan. It all makes sense.

I'm in my 40s, and have had a personal backlash to heavy musicianship. I tend to listen to music that is much more about the vibe than about perfection, and hence have put Steely Dan on a remote back burner while my interest lies in exploring new music by indie bands... kind of the opposite of the Dan. But in some ways, Steely Dan is the ultimate indie band. They never, at any point in their career, created music that was purely designed to fit in with other current popular music styles. Nevertheless, when my mom gives a birthday present to Christina and I and they are excellent seats to see Steely Dan perform Aja in its entirety at what was then the Nokia Theater (now the Microsoft Theater, probably soon to be the Uber Theater, or PornHub Theater or something) in downtown LA, we are excited. The show, held in August of that year, is spectacular. It might be the best-sounding, most well-performed live music I've ever experienced in person in my life.

At the show, the band has impeccably gone through the album being featured and is now playing a selection of other hits and misses. One of them is "Hey Nineteen", and in the midst of the tune, Walter Becker starts addressing the crowd, which is jarring since the Dan summarily ignores the audience on a general basis. Walter is giving a little speech. It's somewhere between a pep talk, a rant, and sage words of advice from someone who's been there and done that many times over. He's talking about psychedelic drugs, he's talking about where to go and what to do after the show ends, he's listing the names of communities around the LA area with which the Dan is, of course, intimately familiar.

I realize, while driving back to the South Bay after the show, that despite all the amazing music I'd experienced, the most memorable portion of the night was probably Walter's chat solo. Why? I don't know. But here in September 2017, the day after Walter passed away, I feel that that I owe him a huge debt of gratitude for something that probably transcends whatever words I might write next.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Zak Claxton Happy Fun Show (09.02.17)

For the first time since February 2016, I did one of my live-streamed video shows on Ustream that I call the Zak Claxton Happy Fun Show. I started doing the ZCHFS way back in early 2010, and for awhile, I was doing them pretty regularly, interspersed with other video-based live stream shows. But frankly, my time to be a musical fool has been limited in recent years, and it's as much as I can do to keep up with a regular schedule of shows in the virtual world of Second Life.

I currently only have scheduled shows for my bi-weekly Monday night events at Serenity Gardens, so on this Saturday in between my shows, it seemed like a good time to turn on the old camera and give the ZCHFS a refresh. I will say, I'm glad I did. We didn't have a huge crowd -- just a handful of folks, though I can never tell exactly who's watching unless they join the live chat -- but the people seemed to have fun, and it was a good showcase for the style of indie acoustic music on which I'm focusing these days. Interestingly, in the time frame between my last Ustream shows, apparently they are now called "IBM Cloud Video", but that doesn't sound very rock and roll to me.

Takamine Love
I should brag for a moment about the sound of my Takamine P5DC. For the record, Takamine is a client of mine for my RL marketing firm, but I'm speaking for the moment purely as an owner and player of this guitar. I have been nothing but incredibly impressed with this guitar since I got it about a year ago, and while I didn't think it would happen this way, I've barely touched my Martin D-18V since getting the Tak. This particular model, with its solid spruce top and solid rosewood back, is part of the Pro Series, so it's handmade in Japan. It's a seriously nice, professional-quality acoustic-electric. Especially for something like the ZCHFS, where I like to move around a bit, having high-end electronics in the guitar and not being confined to a mic made the show much more dynamic. And, perhaps most importantly, the guitar sounds like God.

ZCHFS 09.02.17 set list...
Airport Bar (Martin Courtney)
Blew the Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
All Lives, You Say? (Wilco)
Abrasion (They Stole My Crayon)
Things Behind the Sun (Nick Drake)
Carry Me Ohio (Sun Kil Moon)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
Box By the Cliff (They Stole My Crayon)
Dusty Rhodes (Lotus Plaza)
Bang and Blame (R.E.M.)
*Pedestrian at Best (Courtney Barnett)
It’s Easy Like Walking (The Sadies w/Kurt Vile)

*Indicates my first performance of this song.

Thanks to all who tuned in to this ZCHFS episode. There will be more to come!

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Serenity Gardens (08.28.17)

A happy crowd enjoys the Zak Show at Serenity Gardens. Photo by Kat.

Immediately after each of my live music shows in Second Life, as soon as I thank my audience and depart the stage, the very first thing I do is copy/paste the log of local chat into a document that I save to check out later. A few of my Zakster fans are aware of this, but the rest of you might not be. Having that log comes in handy often. While I'm in the midst of performing, I do my best to focus on the music I'm creating, so I miss a good deal of the banter that goes on amongst my crowd, and that's fun to check out after the fact when I can relax and read at my leisure. Also, I can look back and see which songs caused good/bad/indifferent reactions among my various fans and friends.

There are other situations when the chat logs from my shows have come in handy. These logs go all the way back to 2006 when I first started performing live in SL, so a simple search on my computer can tell me every single show a person had attended. I can't remember why this came up, but a little while back, I let Eli Schlegal know that the first time he attended one of my shows was January 29, 2008. On a more sad note, when I hear that someone I've met in SL has passed away, I often check my chat logs to see if/when they'd seen me perform. It's a little record of their existence and some note that indeed, we'd had the opportunity to interact. I find it comforting in that aspect. Or then, there's the case of a super Zakster fan (and good friend) like Auerlie Chenaux, who's been to 156 Zak Shows over the years. It's fun to be able to pull stats like that, or at least it is for me. In case you're wondering, I just noted that the first time Aurelie saw me perform was June 9, 2008. See? These facts are fun, but are only possible if I have the data available.

Wake of the Flood
As long as we're talking about data, let's talk about the weather. Last weekend, Hurricane Harvey barreled into coastal Texas, rapidly gaining strength just before landfall. The results of the devastation are still being measured, and the storm system is still delivering more rain to the area. It's so bad that the National Weather Service had to adopt entirely new scales to show the vast amount of rainfall in the area. We humans have been measuring patterns in weather for many years, since it has such a drastic effect on our lives. With amazing scientific research, we can even determine things like rainfall and temperature going back millennia. Analyzing this data shows that indeed, the weather of planet Earth has had massive variations over the course of time, but the effect of humans over the last 200 or so years in which we've been an industrialized society has changed the natural variations in weather patterns. Something like 95% of scientists are in agreement that the rapid changes in global climate are directly correlated to the actions of man pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

The level of rainfall brought by Hurricane Harvey exceeded all previous scales.

This kind of devastation is unprecedented, and perhaps could be avoided with better treatment of our planet... the only home we have. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

Whether or not you believe in manmade climate change isn't important. What is important are the results. It's entirely possible that tragic weather events like Hurricane Katrina and now Hurricane Harvey, and their resulting devastation, could be the direct result of man's treatment of the planet. This really shouldn't be a controversial topic. If the worst thing that happens as a result of collecting, analyzing, and reacting to weather data is that we have a nicer planet that's more free of pollution, that's fine with me. As time goes on and technologies are birthed that allow us to a) have cleaner energy sources to stop the damage we're doing, and b) better predict and control the weather (and prevent disasters like Harvey), we'll all be better off as a result. The only way this is even a remote possibility is by supporting the work of scientists who devote their lives to try and figure out this world in which we live.

So How About That Show?
Before I started my series of bi-weekly Monday night shows there, I genuinely did not have any idea that Serenity Gardens was going to be as good as it has been for me. I've consistently had excellent crowds there, and for whatever reason, I seem to do really good performances when I play there. Some of it is likely due to the feeling that I am appreciated and well supported by the owner, Ilsa Flanagan, and her great staff. Regardless of the reasons, I have yet to do a single show there of which I didn't feel proud afterwards. As has been my pattern in recent times, I made it a point to do some songs I'd never before performed, and reached a little deeper into my repertoire to do some tunes I hadn't touched in a long time. I also wanted to acknowledge my Texan friends, some of whom were in the crowd despite dealing with flood waters, by doing a song by the great Texan songwriter Townes Van Zandt.

If people can feel like they get away from the challenges of life for a little while at my shows, I'm doing it right. Photo by Kat.

I know I've said it a lot, but Serenity Gardens really is a beautiful virtual environment for live music. Photo by Kat.

Serenity Gardens set list...
Free Man in Paris (Joni Mitchell)
Something Else (Zak Claxton)
*You Oughta Know (Alanis Morissette)
Blew the Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
Shame Chamber (Kurt Vile)
Pancho & Lefty (Townes Van Zandt)
Black Peter (Grateful Dead)
Drive (Incubus)
Love Hurts (Everly Brothers)
*Dusty Rhodes (Lotus Plaza)
Games Without Frontiers (Peter Gabriel)
Lost Cause (Beck)

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

Huge thanks to all who came out to the show, with special kudos to the following who helped support it.
Luis Lockjaw, Raspbury Rearwin, RoxxyyRoller Resident, Triana Caldera, Asimia Heron, go2smoky Resident, ErikKottzen Resident, Christine Haiku, PHINEAS Fride, Kat Claxton, Tyche Szondi, RansomTalmidge Resident, TheaDee Resident, my terrific manager Maali Beck, and the great management team of Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Islands of New England (08.21.17)

On a day that the moon ate the sun, I was happy to spend my evening rocking The Islands of New England in Second Life. Photo by Kat.

I've been feeling really good about my song choices for my live music shows in Second Life recently. I've found that the more thought I put into set lists and the more adventurous I'm willing to be with adding new songs and pushing myself a little harder, the more I personally enjoy each show, and the more compliments I get from people who are cool enough to attend them. I guess the idea to take away from this is that "phoning it in" is never the better solution.

I certainly don't, however, feel an obligation to put together a specific musical theme for each and every show. That kind of thing starts to get contrived after a short while, and I don't want my shows to become some kind of "guess the theme" trivia game. It's also a limiting factor in terms of what I might feel like playing for any given show. However, as I sat there last week pondering what I might play on Monday August 21 at The Islands of New England, it dawned on me that a certain large celestial event was happening that same day, and it became all too clear that a theme about the sun, the moon, and eclipses would be too good an opportunity to pass up. The majority of my songs contained references to those topics, and people seemed to dig it. I definitely did.

I don't think I've ever had a bad show at New England. It's all about the people who run it and the crowds who attend shows there. Photo by Kat.

When Politics and Music Collide
Let me chat a moment about something that isn't ordinarily an aspect of my performance: politics.

There are many reasons why I consciously avoid political content in my shows. It's very simple. First, people get inundated with it from all directions, and perhaps they'd like a break from it when they come see me play. Second, I really don't want to make people feel uncomfortable... they've taken time from their day to come see/hear me, and frankly I try my hardest to not allow differences in political opinion be a dividing point between people who otherwise seem good and decent. Despite my liberal/progressive stance, you'll see a good number of conservative folks on my list of friends, and I want it that way. I don't want to surround myself exclusively with people who think like me; that's the definition of "living in a bubble", and it does no one good.

In any case, that's why the grand majority of the songs I do, both originals and covers, are completely devoid of political outlook (with a few exceptions), and why I don't spend any time talking about political events between songs. However, the one topic I never shy away from tackling is racism. I have no patience or understanding toward racists and bigots, and frankly, if I have a member of my audience who is insulted by songs that speak out against racism, they should seriously consider finding another artist to enjoy.

You won't get slammed with political talk or tunes at my shows, but when I have the opportunity to use my stage to help in the fight against racism, I will always make my opinion clear no matter who is listening. Photo by Kat.

On Monday August 14, Wilco unexpectedly released a new song called "All Lives, You Say?" which you can hear and purchase below. The band's frontman and creative leader Jeff Tweedy is a musician who I've always admired on multiple levels. His dad, Robert L. Tweedy, passed away earlier this month, and the song is dedicated to his memory. Jeff said in the song's description, "My dad was named after a Civil War general, and he voted for Barack Obama twice. He used to say 'If you know better, you can do better.' America - we know better. We can do better." I have to assume that the song was a direct response to the violent clashes in Charlottesville, VA over the previous weekend, where the reprehensible actions of alt-right white nationalists resulted in the death of Heather Heyer, and marked a possible turning point in how this country views and deals with racists. The short and simple but vibey song is a slapback to the "all lives matter" response toward the "Black Lives Matter" movement.

As of this morning, in a week since it was released, it raised $26,879 for the Southern Poverty Law Center. It did so well that continuing purchases of the song are now going to another worthy cause, Life After Hate. For me, as a live musician who loves Wilco and is always on the lookout for new music to perform, it was a no-brainer to cover it at the next available opportunity, which was last night at New England. It's available via my favorite music platform Bandcamp, and costs a buck (though you're welcome to pay more if you want). Check it out.

The Islands of New England set list...
Hand In My Pocket (Alanis Morissette)
Never Run Away (Kurt Vile)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
You’re So Vain (Carly Simon)
Pink Moon (Nick Drake)
Things Behind the Sun (Nick Drake)
*Waiting for the Sun (The Doors)
Here Comes the Sun (Beatles)
Box by the Cliff (They Stole My Crayon)
Birds (Neil Young)
*All Lives, You Say? (Wilco)
Blew the Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
Brain Damage/Eclipse (Pink Floyd)

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

As always, huge thanks to each and every person who came to see me perform at The Islands of New England. Your presence is what counts. Extra special thanks to those who helped support my show.
Christopher135 Quan, Lorelai Bonetto, Aurelie Chenaux, RoxxyyRoller Resident, TheaDee Resident, Kat Claxton, Tyche Szondi, Triana Caldera, Brookelyn Breen, Sommer Shepherd, my lovely manager Maali Beck, and New England's fantastic team of Christine Haiku and RansomTalmidge Resident.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Some Reality For You

A great shot of the total eclipse, taken at the Lowell Observatory Solar Eclipse Experience on August 21, 2017 in Madras, Oregon. Photo: Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images

Today, we got to enjoy a little dose of reality, courtesy of a solar eclipse that spanned the breadth of the United States. Most of the things in your and my life are, like it or not, temporary. Even ourselves. We get a little while to be alive, and then at some point, we're not here anymore. Where do you go after you die? Well, where were you before you were born? I don't have all the answers, but I do know that most of the things in our lives that cause of considerable stress are actually very small blips on the radar, barely registering in the grand scheme of larger things. I'm not saying those things -- presidents, music, love, food, sex, cats, kids, cheese, and so on -- aren't important. I am saying that if you zoom the camera of existence out aways, the relative amount of importance you give them is perhaps smaller than if you view them from a different perspective.

We're On a Rock In a Bubble In Space
That's where we all live. Everyone who ever was, as far as we know for sure, has only lived on this rock. Very few people have left the rock, and even then, only for a short while. Despite all the great episodes of Star Trek and so on, we have zero proof that there is any life in the entire seemingly infinite universe other than the people and birds and trees and platypuses and mushrooms and so on that share space on this rock. We'd like to think we're not alone in the universe, but until we have direct evidence otherwise, that's how it is.

This rock in space, with its thin layer of atmosphere, is the only place where we know life exists. Seems like a nice place. Photo: NASA

Space Is Too Big For You To Understand
Let's say you have a fast car. It's a Bugatti Veyron. It's crazy fast; you can drive it 250 miles per hour. That seems insane. So, you get in your Bugatti, and you head to the moon (ignoring things like gravity, escape velocity, and other things that make my silly discussion impossible). Going full speed the whole way, it's going to take you 42 days to get to the moon. That's a long road trip. But let's look at some longer distances.

• To get to the sun, it will take 16,000 days (about 44 years)
• To get to Jupiter, it will take 167 years.
• To get to the nearest star other than our own - Alpha Centauri - it takes light itself 4.2 years. In your Space Bugatti going full speed, it's going to take almost 11,000,000 years.

11 million years, to get to a small and seemingly insignificant star. How long is that in terms that relate to you?

We live on a planet, the third one from the star in our solar system. That system has a bunch of neighbors in a galaxy called the Milky Way. That galaxy is part of a group of galaxies, and the group is part of a supercluster of galaxies, and that makes up one small chunk of the universe, which (by the way) is so big that some parts of it will be forever unknown to us because light and other information will simply never have the time to reach us. Feel small yet?

There's Lots of Time... Just Not for You
Humans now live longer than they ever have before. Worldwide, humans live for about 79 years now. That's amazing! Just a few hundred years ago, it was rare for someone to reach their 50th birthday. Good for us and our long lives!

But let's get back to that 11,000,000-year trip to the nearest star in our space car. 11 million years ago, do you know what we were doing? Not much; we didn't exist. Humans have only been in our current anatomical form as Homo sapiens for the last 200-250,000 years or so; less than a quarter of one million years. Hominids -- the family of great apes of which we are members -- only came into existence some 15 million years ago. It was only less than six million years ago that we split away from the group who are now chimpanzees, our closest living non-human relatives here on Earth.

But those are still tiny chunks of time in a grand scheme of things. The universe itself seems to be about 13.82 billion years old. Earth and our surrounding solar system have been around for 4.6 billion years. And yet, by current projections, the whole kit and caboodle has only just begun. The future of an expanding universe says that stars will stop forming 100 trillion years from now, and things go on from there for quite awhile. Wikipedia has a nice graphical timeline of the universe, if you're interested.

What it will tell you is that your life -- and in fact, the existence of our entire species, start to finish -- is barely discernible at such scales. You, and your existence, has almost zero level of relevance to the universe.

Why Bother Doing Anything, Then?
Everything is a matter of scale, from the tiniest particles of atoms that everything is made from, to the vast amount of space and time that make up the universe in which we live. The life you have is what it is, and it's all we have. That means that while you might not matter much to the universe, you matter a whole lot to you! You also matter to the people and things around you, who share this little chunk of time together.

In my opinion, you (and me and a cat and a tree) all have value of some kind. Make the most of the time you have, and make life better for those around you. You very well might only have this brief slide of time that we call life, so make it count.

How do you spend your brief time on this little space rock? Learning and teaching. Laughing and crying. Making life better for people and animals and plants around you, and continuing to grow as an individual and as a species. One way or the other, there's little reason not to enjoy yourself, so make sure you do.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Serenity Gardens (08.14.17)

A happy crowd at Serenity Gardens gets to hear me do some new tunes. Photo by Kat.

I've always been one of the very fortunate musicians who has what they call "good ears". Since I first picked up a guitar as a small child in 1976, I've had the gift of being able to quickly hear the melodies, chord progressions, and rhythms that make up songs, and then being able to reproduce them on my own. I find it likely that otherwise, I'd not have had the patience to climb to the level of musical proficiency I enjoy today... it would have taken way more work than I'd have likely been willing to put in.

When I was in my teens and playing in local bands, my friends and bandmates would be rather astounded by this ability. "When did you learn that song?" they'd ask after I played something new, and I'd have to honestly answer, "Just now." I have to assume this is some kind of innate ability; perhaps it can be taught, but no one taught that part of my musical training to me. Rather, I seem to have been born with it. It's a pretty strange genetic trait, if that's what it is. Most traits are passed on due to their being evolutionarily advantageous (i.e., having them helps you survive and reproduce). If you can run fast, you don't get eaten by the tiger. If you're taller, maybe you can jump into the tree to avoid being eaten by the tiger. And maybe, if you have particularly sensitive hearing, you can differentiate between the sound of your pal coming back to the cave versus the sound of the tiger coming to eat you. Maybe it's more simple than that; perhaps a distant relative of mine got the girl because he was the caveman who was the best at banging rocks together so she could dance. Stranger things have happened.

Why can I hear and replicate music so easily? No one knows, least of all me. Photo by Kat.

The reason I'm musing over this is that as I've mentioned a few times, I've recently been on a drive to add more songs to my repertoire that I hadn't performed previously. I have no idea if this is a difficult process for most musicians, but it really isn't that hard for me. In the case of most simple music - pop, rock, and folk - it doesn't require me more than a listen or two to be able to perform the song. Granted, there are nuances to each one that takes a little more time to internalize, if I expect to perform them well. In any case, due to whatever set of abilities I'm lucky enough to have, it was pretty easy to add four new songs to my repertoire that I performed at Serenity Gardens last night in Second Life. New material is something I feel a) keeps me interested and excited as a performer and b) gives my audience something unexpected and hopefully enjoyable, so it's almost always win-win.

Hitting the Limits (And the High Notes)
Are there limiting factors in terms of the music I choose to play as a solo acoustic artist? Oh, hell yes. Topping the list is the vocal range of the original performer. Look, the progressive rock band Yes is terrific, but I have as much chance of singing like Jon Anderson as I do of flapping my wings and flying. Second is the arrangement of the song. Many tunes just don't work as a solo performance on a single instrument. Sure, the performer can do totally new arrangements that are better accommodated by one person strumming a guitar, but frankly, there are too many songs out there that do work well. Finally, the genre can be a limiting factor as well. Who wants to hear EDM music done on solo acoustic guitar? No one, really, which is why I focus on styles of music that are more readily translatable to the sound of one person on one instrument.

Good Music or Good Times?
A lot of artists and bands you see perform seem very serious onstage. I have nothing against that. I understand that musicians can be artists who expect that people take their work seriously, and exhibit the gravitas they find necessary to impart that attitude. I'm obviously not like that. At the same time, I'm not some comedian or clown (nothing against those fine entertainers). When I play a song, I'm not doing it for the laughs. I think most people who come to see me play understand that I'm a guy who likes to have fun, but that the songs themselves are performed with the respect and sincerity that they deserve. It's asking a lot of people to accept this hybrid approach, and I appreciate the fact that people can come to my show and experience what are hopefully solid performances of songs they enjoy while also getting some giggles here and there.

Frankly, I actually don't care if people are smiling at my music or my antics, as long as they're smiling. Photo by Kat.

The New Stuff
As I said during my show, I love new music, and go out of my way to make sure I'm aware of the new stuff that comes out each week. When I do a "new" song in SL, I'm referring to a song I haven't performed previously. Sometimes they are indeed new songs; earlier this year, I started playing "It's Easy (Like Walking)" by the Sadies with Kurt Vile literally the same week it was released. One of my new songs this week was "Abrasion" by my band They Stole My Crayon. That shit is so new, it was only written in the last few weeks, and likely won't be released until 2018. But the other "new" tunes were respectively from 1968, 1979, and 1994. If I'm playing them for the first time, and my audience is hearing me do them for the first time, that's new enough for me.

The sun goes down at Serenity Gardens as I rock the Second Life peoples. Photo by Kat.

Serenity Gardens set list...
Airport Bar (Martin Courtney)
Friday I’m In Love (The Cure)
*Wichita Lineman (Glen Campbell)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Old Man (Neil Young)
Low Key (Tweedy)
*Abrasion (They Stole My Crayon)
California (Joni Mitchell)
*Bang and Blame (R.E.M.)
Northern Sky (Nick Drake)
Fire & Rain (James Taylor)
*Goodbye Stranger (Supertramp)
*Hey Serenity (Zak Claxton improvisation)

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

Massive thanks to all who came out to the show, with special thanks to those who helped support it!
JAMBA Losangeles, ErikKottzen Resident, Poneh Resident, shaggycritter Resident, Kathrise Resident, Gandalf Mornington, go2smoky Resident, RoxxyyRoller Resident, JazzCat Skytower, paula31atnight Resident, Alex Zelin, RansomTalmidge Resident, Ludhir Resident, Asimia Heron, Aurelie Chenaux, Kat Claxton, not4gods Resident, Tyche Szondi, TheaDee Resident, my lovely manager Maali beck, and the great staff and owner of Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde!

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Top Ten Deep Cuts and B-Sides from The Police

I am one of the lucky people on planet Earth who a) was alive for the absolute heyday of the legendary English pop band The Police, and b) got to see them play live... twice, eventually. Starting in my middle school years and extending into the first couple years of high school, there was no band in the world more important to me than the one comprised of Sting, Andy, and Stewart. Not Led Zeppelin. Not the Who. For me, between 1980 and 1983, not even the Beatles held a brighter musical spotlight in my mind than the Police did.

We all know the story of the band... an unlikely pairing of three musicians, a meteoric rise to global stardom, hitting their absolute peak in popularity with their final album, and immediately imploding in a cataclysm of ego and personal problems and artistic differences. But between 1978 and 1983, they put out five albums that caused a sea change in music: Outlandos d'Amour, Regatta De Blanc, Zenyatta Mondatta, Ghost in the Machine, and Synchronicity. Those albums are packed with excellent songs, each contained pretty huge pop hits. Interestingly, my personal favorites (which is what this post is about, nothing more) were more often the deeper cuts. It was even cooler when I'd find myself listening to the stuff that didn't even get included on the album, but were left as b-sides to the pop singles.

Here, then, in chronological order and with no factor of criteria other than "I like them!", are ten great Police songs you might not have given enough attention, or even known about. Note that the only music on this list is featuring the Police as a band unit; there's no consideration to the often excellent solo work of Sting, Stewart Copeland, or Andy Summers.

"Masoko Tanga" (1978) from Outlandos d'Amour
This is so obviously a "Shit, we're out of material and have more studio time and need to fill up the album!" jam. And I'm damn glad they left it on the album, because the Police were still finding their sound on Outlandos, and "Masoko Tanga" was one of the songs that established the tribal/island/reggae influence that would continue as a hallmark for the band over time. Plus, Sting's bass. Sweet funky Jesus.

"It's Alright for You" (1979) from Regatta de Blanc
Very early on, the Police formed under the premise of being an actual punk rock band. If you listen to their earliest demos, including songs featuring their first guitarist Henri Padovani, it was all speed, all attitude, no polish. Some of that vibe continued through the first two albums. I find "It's Alright for You" to be an interesting song in that there's a specific transition in its vibe right at 2:28 from snarly rock to this great outro with glistening treble-packed Andy Summers staccato arpeggios. Gorgeous.

"Bombs Away" from (1980) from Zenyatta Mondatta
Sting, as we all know, was the primary songwriter for the Police, and no one can deny his genius (least likely himself). That having been said, a whole lot of my favorite Police tunes were among the relative few contributed by Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers. "Bombs Away" (written by Stew) not only has a great feel and a cynical lyric set, but includes one of Andy's most amazingly innovative and cool guitar solos in their entire catalog.

"The Other Way of Stopping" (1980) from Zenyatta Mondatta
This is the final track on Zenyatta Mondatta, and perhaps my favorite Police song that no one else gives a shit about. Sure, it's a Copeland-penned instrumental. Sure, Andy does this amazing multitracked solo through the long outro. But my personal reason for wanting the song on this list is my memory from the early '80s, playing Adventure on my Atari 2600, and blasting this tune in the background (on vinyl, which probably sounded amazing on my parents' stereo).

"Omegaman" (1981) from Ghost in the Machine
Ghost in the Machine was the album that turned me into a huge Police freak in 8th grade. It's weird; you had these super dark and interesting songs, sandwiching some completely trite Sting-penned disco shite. But in addition to the well-known first few songs on Ghost, there were some fascinating, texture-filled songs toward the end. One is "Omegaman", written by Andy Summers but, in my opinion, as strong and ear-catching as anything Sting was doing at the time. I've read that A&M had initially chosen it as the lead single of the album (which Sting didn't appreciate, apparently). All that aside, it's a great guitar line, it has an unsettling vibe, and I just like it. Plus, the very next track on the album is...

"Secret Journey" (1981) from Ghost in the Machine
It's a Sting track, and my favorite Sting songs are the dark ones. But as a musician and an aficionado of interesting sounds, I loved Andy's guitar synth in the intro and bridge, and just the overall feel of this mystical-sounding song.

"Shambelle" (1981) - B-Side to "Invisible Sun" (UK) and "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic" (US) Singles
So, you're Andy Summers, and you've written a song which isn't super structured. It's more of a couple of riffs thrown together, but they sound cool. Do you have any lyrics? Would your bandmate Sting sing them on the album if you did? These questions will never be answered, because "Shambelle" (which I think has a super neat feel musically) was delegated to the B-side of some of the other tracks from Ghost in the Machine. Andy's musical studies have often found artistic merit in hypnotic repetitiveness, and this tune has that cold Ghost vibe that would have been a way, way better choice than, say, "Rehumanize Yourself" or a couple others that ended up on the album.

"I Burn for You" (1982) - Brimstone & Treacle Soundtrack
So, Sting's gonna be a movie star, which probably surprised exactly no one. But at least he pulled his own band in to contribute some songs for the soundtrack of the film. I find "I Burn for You" to be interesting in that it's a musical bridge between Ghost and Synchronicity. I always thought this was a great track, and owned the single as a kid when it was brand new.

"Miss Gradenko" (1983) from Synchronicity
By the time the Police did their final album, they had all grown tremendously as musicians, and the material they were putting out had a higher level of sophistication (and relied less on attitude). Synchronicity was a super-polished album by a band that was on the verge of collapse, and it's tough to say whether the tension among the bandmates helped or hurt the result. I immediately enjoyed Stewart's song "Miss Grandenko". It didn't really sound much like most of the band's output, with Andy showing off some flamenco fingering chops, and Stewart's acerbic lyrics painting a strangely hopeful tale of a Russian spy.

"Once Upon a Daydream" (1983) - B-Side to "Synchronicity II" Single
Sting can be one of more deceptively dark songwriters. People will include his tunes in their weddings that, if they really knew the meanings, would be horrified at the thought. But that's not a problem with "Once Upon a Daydream", a song that openly invokes multiple murders and imprisonment and ruined lives. I like it.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Serenity Gardens (07.31.17)

Serenity Gardens really is a beautiful design and makes for a great atmosphere to experience live music in Second Life. Photo by Kat.

Happy August!

What is August, anyway? I know it's the eighth month of the year. I know I've experienced 48 of them previously. I know it was named after Augustus, the first Roman emperor and successor to Julius Caesar (who had the previous month, July, named after himself, the cheeky bastard). Months are a somewhat handy way to divide time, I suppose, and also give you a reference point that's easy to follow, year after year. When I think of August, I reflect on being a kid and having turned my brain to gel during the time off school in June and July, and already dreading the return of school in September. As an adult, August doesn't have a whole lot of meaning to me apart from one thing: August 1 (aka today) is the rather unofficial day that Christina and I became a couple, in 2005. So, it's our twelfth anniversary today. Being a Tuesday in the middle of a typical work week, I think our celebrations will be limited at best, though I did draw her a little note on the whiteboard above her desk in our shared home office.

Contrary to some people's beliefs, Christina and I did not meet via Second Life. Rather, we got into SL specifically for one reason: we were already in a long-distance relationship early on (she was living in Seattle, me in Los Angeles), and we thought SL might be a good way to feel more together despite our lack of physical proximity. We actually came to know each other years earlier via an online forum (remember those, kids?) about music and audio topics. We met in 2003, found we had a lot in common, and became friends before finding interest in each other romantically a couple of years later. In my opinion, that's a good way to go, and it's obviously worked out for us. In 2008, after several years of us traveling back and forth to see each other, she moved to my area to be with me, and she still is, for some odd reason.

In lieu of presents, a little whiteboard drawing is acceptable.

Hey, How About Some News About They Stole My Crayon?
Oh yeah. So, as you know, Christina is also part of my independent alternative music band They Stole My Crayon (along with our happy little friend Bunny Knutson). We came out with an album in August 2016 (which was, holy shit, almost a year ago), and are slowly starting to put together songs for the follow-up album. One kind of cool thing is that several of the brand new songs (i.e., the ones we've created after the debut album was wrapped up) were little things that came to us while on trips to Joshua Tree, so I think there's definitely a desert influence that will be heard whenever we release the new music. When will that be? When it's done. And when will that be? When we feel we've genuinely put together our best possible effort and made this collection of music as great as it can possibly be. That's not really a date, per se, so I'd say look for it sometime in 2018. Maybe.

Hey, How About That Show You Played?
Oh yeah. Almost forgot. In June and much of July, I did a flurry of live shows in SL after a long period of semi-inactivity. While I enjoyed that, it also was a little distracting from the other things that I want/have to do. It was nice, therefore, having a couple weeks without any live shows, and I was able to really enjoy coming back to Serenity Gardens for my bi-weekly Monday night show there.

I have to say, the people who run Serenity Gardens are truly nice, and it makes a big difference when, as a performing artist, you feel like the venue management are truly supportive. Doing my show every other Monday night there, each one has been a really positive experience for me, and I do believe that I'm helping some folks discover this venue who otherwise might not have gone there, so hopefully my shows are good for the owners and staff as well.

I can always tell when people in my audience are really enjoying the show rather than just attending for the sake of being there. This show's crowd was really appreciative and I was very glad to make their Monday night a little more enjoyable. Photo by Kat.

My voice and guitar both seemed to be working well for last night's show, and per my recent mission statement of keeping my shows fresh, I pulled out a couple of previously unperformed tunes, and did a couple of others that don't come out of my set list very often.

Serenity Gardens set list...
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Possession (Sarah McLachlan)
If It Makes You Happy (Sheryl Crow)
The Arrangement (Joni Mitchell)
Comes a Time (Neil Young)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)
Trippin’ on a Hole in a Paper Heart (Stone Temple Pilots)
*Words (Missing Persons)
*Cheer Up Murray (Flight of the Conchords)
Ziggy Stardust (David Bowie)
Thank U (Alanis Morissette)
Tea in the Sahara (The Police)
Tea for the Tillerman (Cat Stevens)

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

Big thanks to all who came to the show, with special huge thanks to the following who helped support it!
Trouble Streeter, ErikKottzen Resident, RoxxyyRoller Resident, Aurelie Chenaux, Kat Claxton, Lauralynn Foxtrot, RansomTalmidge Resident, TheaDee Resident, my great manager Maali Beck, Serenity's hostess Tilly Rose and owner Ilsa Wilde.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Serenity Gardens (07.17.17)

Every other Monday, you'll find me on this lovely stage at Serenity Gardens.

It's been awhile since I had a "regular" gig in Second Life like I do now at Serenity Gardens. In the world of music and other forms of entertainment, a regular gig simply means that there's a venue where one does repeating performances on a schedule. For Serenity Gardens, it's every other Monday evening that I make my appearance and do the things I do. Here's a coincidental point: looking back over ten years of playing live music in SL, my other regular gigs have also been on Monday evenings. I guess I'm Mr. Monday, and I like it.

Here's why: for a lot of people, Monday is a challenging day. It's the first day of a typical business work week (or school week). You've just spent a weekend doing things you presumably want to do, and now are back in a mode of doing things that you have to do. I have to give credit to the various venues who, purposefully or otherwise, brought me in to handle live music on Monday nights. I'm a pretty good guy for that slot. If you're like most people, your Mondays leave you in a mode where it's good to have something to take your mind off the stress of the day, and my form of entertainment is, if nothing else, light. Even when I'm performing "serious" songs, the overall vibe of my show is pretty breezy and fun. I like to imagine someone getting home after a rough day, filled with meetings and deadlines, dealing with traffic and so on, and then sitting down in front of their computer, maybe pouring a beverage of some sort, and turning up the volume. What do they want to hear at that point? Personally, I'd like some entertainment that took me out of that mode of serious responsibility, and let's face it: my shows are never billed as a serious evening of music. I try and make things fun and relaxing, which I think is what most people like on Monday nights.

Everything Old Is New Again
As per my mission of the past few shows, I filled last night's performance with songs that were deeper in my musical repertoire that what I'd been doing for awhile. A couple of examples: the last time I did "Sister Golden Hair" was in September 2012, while my last attempt at Neil Young's "Alabama" was in February 2014. It's not been a conscious decision to not play those songs, I promise. Like anything else, music is something that becomes a routine, and once something falls out of the regular rotation, you find that out of sight does equal out of mind. Unless I make the conscious effort to go deeper into my list of 400-plus songs, they remain buried in there. I'm happy that people seem to enjoy these songs; my fan base fluctuates enough that some people who come to see me often now probably have never heard me do some of those tunes at all.

One song that absolutely no one had heard me do previously -- since I'd never done it before -- was the live debut of "Box by the Cliff", a little ditty written by my pal and bandmate Bunny Knutson for the next They Stole My Crayon album. We actually originally intended "BBTC" to be on the first Crayon album, but it wasn't quite ready to take into the studio at that point, and it's only been recently that we resumed the process of refining it. As a result, it was on my mind, and I worked out an acoustic guitar arrangement that was good enough to get the vibe of the song across to an audience. So I did, and it went well.

I thought this was super cool. The official Second Life Twitter feed re-Tweeted my promo notice for this show to their 50,000+ followers. I have to say, especially in recent years, I've found the folks at Linden Lab (the makers of Second Life and other virtual worlds) to be tremendously supportive of my musical activities in world. Many thanks to them.

Serenity Gardens set list...
Waterloo Sunset (The Kinks)
Sister Golden Hair (America)
*Box by the Cliff (They Stole My Crayon)
Alabama (Neil Young)
Fade Away (Zak Claxton)
Save Me (Aimee Mann)
Swing Low Magellan (Dirty Projectors)
Sour Girl (Stone Temple Pilots)
On a Plain (Nirvana)
Pulling Mussels from a Shell (Squeeze)
Things Behind the Sun (Nick Drake)
It’s Good to be King (Tom Petty)

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

Huge thanks to all who came out to my Monday night show at lovely Serenity Gardens, with a special tip o' the Zak Hat to the following who helped support it!
ScarlettSabina Resident, Turn Pike, RoxxyyRoller Resident, Kenzliie Resident, Richy Nervous, RansomTalmidge Resident, Tyche Szondi, Christine Haiku, my terrific manager Maali Beck, and Serenity's fantastic management team of Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde.