Monday, October 15, 2018

Zak Claxton Endorses -- Part 1/2 -- Midterm Elections 2018 (Los Angeles County, CA)

Dave Chappelle had a bit from a number of years ago about white people being very secretive about who they vote for. I won't repeat the good part verbatim, but it involved a guy being offended by being asked who he was voting for, then immediately turning around and openly talking about intimate details of his sex life with his wife. While I definitely support people's right to maintain privacy about their voting, it does strike me as odd that classically, it was of distasteful etiquette to inquire about someone else's voting choices. The more recent political environment of the past few years has changed that to some degree; people feel a need to be more forthcoming about their political views since the stakes seem much higher than before.

That having been said, there are plenty of circumstances where remaining private about your voting choices is very, very important. I know people who are married to very conservative spouses who would be very angry with them if they were aware that they were voting in the opposite direction as them (sorry for the anonymous pronoun game here, but I don't want to be the cause of busting anyone). I also know people who live in areas or work at companies that are highly swayed in one political outlook who vote in the opposite way, and those folks might run into serious danger if they allowed their voting record to be public. So trust me, I get it and support it.

But me? I'm very open about whom I support, and since I vote early via mail, my selections are literally signed, sealed, and delivered already. Therefore, I'm doing a two-part post that may help those of you who remain undecided to make some choices. Part 1, today's post, is for my California ballot here in Los Angeles County. It's who I actually voted for, along with the ballot measure I chose to support or disapprove. Part 2, perhaps more important on the large scale, will be a synopsis of candidates I support across the USA in various regions. That will be forthcoming.

Why Would You Care?
One other note: why should you care who I'm voting for? I'm just some guy, a random person whose words you occasionally read, a performer and songwriter whose music you may have heard. The answer: you shouldn't care. You should make these decisions for yourself. However, I will say that my choices are based on quite a lot of research, and I stay very up-to-date with news and information about issues that affect us locally, nationally, and globally. It should be fairly obvious that my votes below are supportive of a liberal/progressive view, and yet I still refuse to merely vote along party lines. I would gladly vote for a Republican candidate if I truly felt he or she was the better choice, and if I didn't feel doing so would help legitimize the current GOP administration.

Here are my choices. You are welcome to ask me about the reasons for my decisions in the comments below.

Governor: Gavin Newsom
Lt. Gov: Eleni Kounalakis
Sec of State: Alex Padilla
Controller: Betty Yee
Treasurer: Fiona Ma
Atty General: Xavier Becerra
Insurance Commissioner: Ricardo Lara
State Board of Equalization (3rd District): Tony Vazquez

Kevin De Leon

US REPRESENTATIVE (33rd District):
Ted Lieu

STATE SENATOR (26th District):
Ben Allen

STATE ASSEMBLY (66th District):
Al Muratsuchi

"Yes" to all except for Carol A. Corrigan.

Superior Court Office 4: A. Veronica Sauceda
Superior Court Office 16: Patti Hunter
Superior Court Office 60: Holly L. Hancock
Superior Court Office 113: Javier Perez

Superintendent of Public Instruction: Tony K. Thurmond

Assessor: Jeffrey Prang
Sheriff: Alex Villanueva

Measure 1 (Bonds for housing programs and veterans’ home loans): Yes
Measure 2 (Bonds for homelessness prevention housing): Yes
Measure 3 (Bonds for water-related infrastructure and environmental projects): No
Measure 4 (Bonds for children’s hospitals): Yes
Measure 5 (Taxes for home buyers who are age 55 or older or severely disabled to transfer their tax assessments): No
Measure 6 (Repeals 2017’s fuel tax and vehicle fee increases): No
Measure 7 (Permanent daylight saving time): No
Measure 8 (Requires dialysis clinics to issue refunds for revenue above a certain amount): No
Measure 10 (Allows local governments to regulate rent): Yes
Measure 11 (Ambulance providers to require workers to remain on-call during breaks): No
Measure 12 (Bans sale of meat from animals confined in spaces below specific sizes): Yes

Measure W (Capture, clean and save up to 100 billion gallons of rain each year): Yes

Beach Cities Health District Board of Directors: Noel Lee Chun, Michelle Anne Bholat
Beach Cities Health District Special Election: Andrea N. Giancoli

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Zak Claxton Happy Fun Show (10.13.18)

Posted by Zak Claxton on Saturday, October 13, 2018

It was earlier this week that I had a realization that came in three parts.

1. I don't have another show scheduled until Monday 10/22.
2. It's been over six months since I last did one of my random live video shows that I call the Zak Claxton Happy Fun Show.
3. It felt like this would be a good time to do some tunes for people who don't typically get to see/hear my SL shows.

So that's what I did (and you can watch the archived video above). At noon today, I went live on Facebook for an hour, doing a show that's fairly similar to my SL shows except a) without being in SL and b) while a camera was streaming video of my performance. Most of my friends/fans know I've used a variety of platforms for live video streaming, but I've really narrowed down to just Facebook at this point for a couple of reasons. First, every one of the former platforms I was using became problematic with functionality, too many ad interruptions, or fee increases.

Second was my discovery of a little free app for MacOS called Livedesk for Facebook Live. The problem I'd had previously is that Facebook Live is really intended for people to livestream things from their phones, and for many purposes, that's just fine. But when I do a live music show, I don't want the limitation of my phone's built-in audio and video quality to be the way people perceive my music performance. What the Livedesk app does is allow my pro-quality audio and video interface systems from my Mac to be the source of the stream, making it equal in quality sound-wise to my SL shows, and looking pretty good in 1280x720 video from my Logitech web cam.

The show itself went really well. We had a good number of viewers, and since I had Christina here, I was able to glance over at her computer monitor and see who was chatting and therefore connect with the crowd a bit (rather than streaming into the ether with no idea who was out there, like a radio show).

ZCHFS set list...
One of These Things First (Nick Drake)
Blew the Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
Pretty Pimpin (Kurt Vile)
Airport Bar (Martin Courtney)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
So. Central Rain (R.E.M.)
Trouble Child (Joni Mitchell)
Among the Leaves (Sun Kil Moon)
Man of Constant Sorrow (Traditional)
Picked Up Off the Floor (They Stole My Crayon)
America (Simon & Garfunkel)
Say Goodbye (Beck)
Loser (Beck)

Huge thanks to all who saw the show! We had about 200 views of it during and afterwards, so hopefully that's a bunch of people who enjoyed what they were hearing.

Zak's Autumn Playlist 2018 - Episode 4

I'm creating this Episode 4 of my Fall Playlist while we're in the midst of a crazy lightning storm, at least by Los Angeles standards, so perhaps the excitement from the power of nature might be influencing this week's choices. Enjoy the tunes. Note that each week, the songs are in chronological order.

EP 1EP 2EP 3

1. The Rolling Stones: “Moonlight Mile” (1971)

2. Yes: “South Side Of the Sky” (1972)

3. Robert Plant: “Big Log” (1983)

4. Aimee Mann: “Red Vines” (2000)

5. Wolf People: “Kingfisher” (2016)

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Serenity Gardens (10.08.18)

Ah, a lovely evening at Serenity Gardens, all decked out for my favorite season. Photo by Thea Dee.

As is typical with this blog, I'm writing this post the morning after one of my live music shows in Second Life -- a particularly good one, which I'll get to in a moment. As my bi-weekly shows at Serenity Gardens are on Mondays, that means it's Tuesday, but it's not just any Tuesday. It's exactly four weeks until the 2018 Midterm Elections. People are typically not very excited about national election years when there's not a president on the ballot, and voter turnout is usually lower than those higher-profile presidential years. But this time around, things are a little different; it's the first opportunity since 2016, when Trump was surprisingly elected, that Americans have a direct opportunity to flex their democratic power.

I don't have to go into everything that's transpired since Trump got into office which might inspire you to take a few minutes and cast a ballot in person on November 6, or before that via mail or other early voting methods. I can, though, break it down into a few easy-to-understand bullets.

• Separating immigrant children from their families
• Installing accused sexual assault predator Brett Kavanaugh into the Supreme Court
• Voicing support for white nationalist groups
• Taking little or no action on regulation of guns
• Choosing an ongoing list of criminal cronies for his cabinet
• Profiting illegally off his position as president via both domestic and foreign sources
• Enacting discriminatory legislation against immigrants, LGBTQ citizens and others
• Potentially having won the presidency via foreign tampering in the US election system

Flipping congress to blue -- potentially both the House and Senate -- will not remove Trump, nor stop his continued self-serving plans. But having a Democrat-controlled legislative branch will make it tremendously more difficult for him to push through his more vile plans, and that's good enough for me. I'm genuinely not expecting any kind of impeachment proceedings. I just want the proper system of checks and balances that will make it hard to fuck up America more than has already happened. Please make sure to register to vote, to confirm that your registration is valid, and to vote... it's just four weeks away.

Good Show. Very Good Show.
It's rare that I'm completely happy with a show (see my many posts on musicians being hypercritical of their own performances). But last night's show was one of those that I can say, "This is about as good as I get." It doesn't mean I'm some amazing singer or guitarist. It does mean that within the scope of my abilities, sometimes I curate a set and then perform it, and I know that between the material and the way I play it, it's unlikely that I could do better than I did. That's a good feeling.

Rocking with my band of bone brothers. Photo by Thea Dee.

I should tell the rather funny story of performing Tracy Chapman's "Fast Car" for the first time. Typically, when I decide to do a song I haven't done before, I choose the tune, rehearse it a few times, and at the next opportunity, pull it out in front of an audience and see how it goes. This typically happens within a few days. Well, it took a little while longer with this tune... about eleven years, to be precise. It was in 2007 that I thought it would be a good tune to try out, and printed the lyric sheet at that time. Well, it just seemed that I could never perform that song at a level that the song merited. I know there were several times I pulled it out, tried it, and slid it right back into the pile.

Serenity Gardens set list...
All I Want (Joni Mitchell)
Northern Sky (Nick Drake)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
If I Had a Tail (Queens of the Stone Age)
*Fast Car (Tracy Chapman)
Perfect Day (Lou Reed)
Bang and Blame (R.E.M.)
All You Facists (Woody Guthrie)
Wildflowers (Tom Petty)
Shame Chamber (Kurt Vile)
Half Moon Bay (Sun Kil Moon)
On The Way Home (Buffalo Springfield)

*Indicates 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 follow who helped support it!
go2smoky Resident, Trouble Streeter, IlsaFlannigan Resident, Richy Nervous, rubycompton Resident, Tyche Szondi, Aurelie Chenaux, TheaDee Resident, my superb manager Maali Beck, and the fabulous team at Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Zak's Autumn Playlist 2018 - Episode 3

We had the ultimate fall weather letdown in the LA area this week... we'd been promised a good rainstorm and ended up with nothing at all. I'm hoping for some kind of serious precipitation sooner than later, but for now, let's continue with our Autumn Playlist with Episode 3. Note that each week, the songs are in chronological order.

EP 1EP 2

1. Al Stewart: “Year Of the Cat” (1977)

2. Carly Simon: “Boys In The Trees” (1978)

3. José González: “Crosses” (2003)

4. Jake Bugg: “Kitchen Table” (2013)

5. Mitski: “Two Slow Dancers” (2018)

Monday, October 1, 2018

Jerry (1999 - 2018)

Right after finishing my benefit show on Sunday afternoon for Relay for Life at SLCS, I went downstairs and I immediately sensed that something was wrong. As I walked out to my patio, I looked back into the living room, and all four of our cats were there, but our oldest kitty Jerry seemed to not be well and the other cats seemed to want me to notice this. It's hard to describe; she was laying down as she often did, but in an odd position, and just seemed deflated in some way.

Jerry had been going through a series of health problems that are common for any elderly animal, including humans. A number of months ago she was diagnosed with diabetes, which required some changes in her diet and a daily injection of insulin after her meals. But then, on top of the diabetes, she began having other health issues. She developed lymphoma, and her veterinarian had also recommended a biopsy.

When you have an animal that's going on 20 years old, you're faced with the difficult decision regarding the treatment of various maladies. While the procedure itself may extend the animal's life by a short while, eventually the inevitability of age-related problems catches up and you have to wonder whether what you're putting the animal through is worth the extra time you might get with him/her. There's a point where you have to put aside your own selfish desire to have your animal friend be there forever... and frankly, there are some parallels to human family and friends in this as well. In Jerry's case, we're talking about a feline that was the equivalent of a human who'd lived to be well over 100 years old.

Saying Goodbye
Anyway, I'd finished my show, and Christina joined me a couple of minutes later. The moment she walked out to the patio, she said, "I need to take Jerry to the vet." It was a pretty common thing to hear at our home in recent times, but there was a greater level of concern in her voice. I pointed out that I'd also noted Jerry wasn't looking too good. She couldn't even stand, and it was hard to see her in that condition.

Jerry had received excellent treatment by the folks at Hermosa Animal Hospital, a place that has helped care for every animal in my life for more than 20 years, but they are closed on Sundays, and there was another place nearby where Jerry had gone for health care. It's called VCA Advanced Veterinary Care Center, and it's where Hermosa Animal Hospital recommended for after-hour emergencies.

Christina scooped up Jerry into a carrier, and I got behind the wheel as we headed up to Lawndale. They took Jerry in right away, and we stayed in the waiting area while she was examined. When we were called back to the room, the prognosis was not good. Her temperature and blood pressure were both very low, and the treatment we'd been giving her for the lymphoma had caused a spike in her blood sugar. The vet who spoke to us was very kind and didn't push us toward any specific decision, but she said that the only thing they could do would be an aggressive treatment that involved Jerry being left there, sedated and hooked to IVs and so on.

For a younger animal who'd perhaps had many healthy years ahead of her, we'd have gone that route in a heartbeat. But at Jerry's age, Christina and I both knew that any effort to prolong her life wouldn't be fair to the cat, and would only satisfy our own selfish desire to hang on to her as long as possible. I left the room so Christina could spend a few minutes alone with Jerry while they prepped her for euthanasia. I am happy to say that in those last moments, when they got her warmed up and medicated so she was no longer feeling pain and discomfort, she purred and held Christina's finger with her paw. Then she was gone.

Driving back home with an empty carrier was among the more difficult things I've done in my life. I could barely see the lanes on Hawthorne Boulevard due to my vision being obscured with tears that flowed like a dam that had burst inside of me. I've been through it before; most people have if they're lucky enough to have grown close to an animal in their lives. But, as I told my son later that day, it never, ever gets easier. Not when you're nine, not when you're 29, not when you're 49. It's a hard thing to handle, tempered only by the knowledge that the animal you loved is no longer in pain.

A Proper Memorial
Jerry Lee was born in 1999 in Tacoma, WA. She was adopted as a kitten from Pierce County Animal Shelter by Christina. Jerry's namesake was Jerry Garcia, the founder and frontman of the Grateful Dead, because her tortoiseshell coat resembled a tie-dye. Jerry had many feline friends with whom she shared various residences over the course of her life, and was never an aggressive or overly territorial cat. She was equally friendly and kind to all humans who knew her.

Jerry had multiple residences in Washington before moving to Southern California in 2008. She seemed to enjoy a leisurely life, with her favorite activities including eating, sunbathing, and watching TV. She leaves behind her cat roommates Sneak, Dash, and Pan, as well as a number of humans who loved her company. She will always be remembered and missed.

Relay for Life Benefit at Second Life Cheerleading Squad (09.30.18)

SL Cheerleader Squad HQ is all decked out in a '50s-style theme for their RFL event. Photo by Kat.

When my manager Maali Beck asks if I'm interested in performing at a show supporting a trusted charity, my answer is nearly always a resounding "yes". It had been awhile since I'd done anything related to Relay for Life, the fundraising arm of the American Cancer Society, so I was glad to jump in and help.

In Second Life -- and almost certainly in any life, for that matter -- there are many different approaches to fundraising. Some of them are very focused, such as Frets Nirvana's monthly benefit shows for Homes For Our Troops, where you have a dedicated host who continually pushes the reason for being there and sets up programs like angel donors who match the funds, and so on. Others, like the Second Life Cheerleading Squad, do it in a much more casual way where they host a series of live performances and just happen to be donating whatever funds come in that day to the cause. To be clear: neither way is right or wrong, good or bad, and so on. Any charitable effort is to be commended.

Rocking the SLCS crowd for a good cause. Photo by Kat.

This was definitely one of the larger-sized venues I've played in Second Life. Photo by Kat.

It was my first visit to the headquarters of SLCS, a large football stadium-like structure with a big mezzanine. The stage itself was setup on the field. We had a good-sized crowd for the event, and while I have no way of knowing how well the event did or how much was raised, it's my general assumption that based on the generosity of my Zakster fans at previous fundraising events, we helped make an impact for on obviously great cause.

SLCS/RFL set list...
Big Yellow Taxi (Joni Mitchell)
Pink Moon (Nick Drake)
Strawberry Fields Forever (The Beatles)
Airport Bar (Martin Courtney)
Ripple (Grateful Dead)
*As Tears Go By (Rolling Stones)
One of These Things First (Nick Drake)
Blew the Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
Waiting for the Sun (The Doors)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Teach Your Children (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young)
America (Simon & Garfunkel)
Brain Damage/Eclipse (Pink Floyd)

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

Huge thanks to all who attended and gave to the cause to help fight cancer!

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Zak's Autumn Playlist 2018 - Episode 2

We're one week into Fall 2018, and it's quite lovely here in Redondo Beach, CA. We have some rain expected next week, which will be welcomed. In the midst of all the craziness going on with the Kavanaugh hearings and all the other madness of the world, I'm continuing a series of blog posts that highlight some of the music throughout the ages that offers the feel of my favorite time of year. Here's Episode 2.

1. Led Zeppelin: “Black Mountain Side” (1969)

2. Jaco Pastorius: “Portrait of Tracy” (1976)

3. Codeine: “Sea” (1994)

4. Unwound: “Demons Sing Love Songs” (2001)

5. Yawning Man: “Catamaran” (2018)

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Serenity Gardens (09.24.18)

In the midst of absolute political and social insanity heading into the 2018 Midterm elections, taking a solid hour to do live music with friends and fans at Serenity Gardens was a very welcome break! Photo by Triana Caldera.

I'm excited to talk about my show last night at Serenity Gardens in Second Life -- it really was a good one in all aspects -- but first, a few words about Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Not many words, I promise.

The Supreme Court is the highest court in the United States, of course. It has jurisdiction over all federal and state court cases regarding constitutional law. Almost no position in the country is more important than being a SCOTUS justice, since they determine the interpretation of the US Constitution in regard to how it applies to individual cases. Looking back through US history, many of the most momentous turning points of our country have been based on SCOTUS decisions, for good, bad, or otherwise. In 1857, they said that black people could not be US citizens, leading the country into civil war. In 1896, they said that the segregation of black and white people was legal (then changed their mind in 1954). In 1963, they ensured that criminal defendants have the right to an attorney, even if they were poor. In 1967, they shot down laws that prevented people of different races from marrying, and in 1973 they legalized abortion. In 1974, they unanimously determined that a US president can't use executive privilege illegally. Just a few years ago, in 2015, they determined that same-sex marriage was legal throughout the USA.

These are landmark moments for our country, and their decisions affect millions of people every single day. To be one of the nine justices on that court, it should be assumed that you are more than one of the country's leading authorities on Constitutional law (that's obviously a given). People should also expect their SCOTUS justices to be people of the very highest moral and ethical fiber. Think about it; to have a person on the Supreme Court who could be bribed, blackmailed, or swayed by party politics would have a devastating effect on the country. The standards to which we hold a person who might have this role for life are much, much higher than any other position in the country, including the President.

The thing I want you to ask yourself about Brett Kavanaugh, as these allegations of potential sexual assault and other negative behavior come to light, is simply this: of the dozens and dozens of people who have the background and qualification to be considered for a SCOTUS position, is this the very best candidate we have? I want Kavanaugh to be fairly considered, and for any and all of his accusers to be able to present evidence that will allow for the Senate to make an informed decision. If he indeed is the best of the best, and no other candidate will be able to do a more fair and impartial job once placed on the Court for life, then I'm happy to welcome him. If not, an alternate candidate must be named and the process will start over again until we do find the absolute best person for the job.

The Show
So, that's all I have to say about that. We're smack dab in the midst of Kavanaugh's confirmation hearings as I write this post, and it's doubtless that over a very short time frame, more info will come to light that will allow the Senate to make the right decision. Since that info isn't publicly available yet, I'll withhold further comment until there's a valid reason to provide an opinion. For now, let's talk about my show and some music.

If you ever saw the animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender, you'd be aware that the powers of certain benders would drastically increase at certain times. For the Water Tribe, this was during the full moon. For the Fire Nation, it was when a comet grew near. Well, for Zak the Music Bender, my abilities magically get better in the fall. I know it sounds ridiculous and is almost certainly a superstitious psychological effect at best, but I swear that at least in my mind, it's tangibly true. I sing better, I play guitar better, and I more easily write new songs between late September and Christmastime than at any other time of year. I actually said this unabashedly during my show last night, and went on to prove my own point.

Serenity owner Ilsa Flannigan had mentioned she was putting out her Fall/Halloween decor in advance of my show, but I'd forgotten how cool the place looked all decked out for the season. Here's my and my skeleton band onstage. Photo by Triana Caldera.

I also mentioned that with Joni Mitchell's 75th birthday coming on November 7, I would be playing one of her songs at each of my shows between now and then (not that it's very unusual for me to play her music regardless). For last night, I did my first-ever rendition of "The Last Time I Saw Richard". Doing Joni's piano-based songs on guitar is always a challenge, but I think it went well. Side note: I just did a search of my list of songs I've performed as a solo artist, and I currently have 33 Joni Mitchell songs I do. That's a lot; only Neil Young and David Bowie come close in my repertoire.

We had a nice crowd and people seemed to like what they were hearing. That's cool, but also cool is that I knew I was playing well and singing well, and I'm the most harsh critic of my own performance, so when I can play live music for an hour and at no point felt like I could have done much better than I did, I don't ask for more than that.

Serenity Gardens set list...
Saved by Zero (The Fixx)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
Things Behind the Sun (Nick Drake)
Love Hurts (Everly Brothers)
Them Bones (Alice in Chains)
My God Is the Sun (Queens of the Stone Age)
*Texarkana (R.E.M.)
*The Last Time I Saw Richard (Joni Mitchell)
Rikki Don’t Lose That Number (Steely Dan)
I’ve been Waiting for You (Neil Young)
Swing Low Magellan (Dirty Projectors)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)
*Serenity Improv in F#m (Zak Claxton)

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

Big thanks to all who attended the show, with special kudos to the following who helped support it!
RoxxyyRoller Resident, TheaDee Resident, Asimia Heron, Kat Chauveau, Sesh Kamachi, go2smoky Resident, Triana Caldera, Alex Zelin, loo Lytton, my very good manager Maali Beck, and the fabulous team at Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Zak's Autumn Playlist 2018 - Episode 1

At precisely 6:54 PM PDT tonight, the autumnal equinox arrives, and my favorite time of year begins. I thought that since so many of my favorite songs of all time have a Fall feel, I'd do a little blog series that helped to highlight some of this music for your ease in discovery and enjoyment. The goal is five songs each week throughout the season -- no promises, though. Here's Episode 1.

1. Nick Drake: "Riverman" (1969)

2. Joni Mitchell: "The Last Time I Saw Richard" (1971)

3. Steely Dan: "Home At Last" (1977)

4. Sun Kil Moon: "Ålesund" (2010)

5. Lou Barlow: "The Breeze" (2016)

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Serenity Gardens (09.10.18)

Getting into some autumn sounds at Serenity Gardens. Photo by Aurelie Chenaux.

As I do every other Monday throughout the year, I performed last night in Second Life at Serenity Gardens, which means that as usual, I'm writing this post on the following day, which happens to be Tuesday September 11. I've documented my own recollections of 9/11/01 a number of times before, most thoroughly in 2013 which you can read here. One of my most personal memories was not of the day itself, but of being in New York a couple of months after the tragic event on business. It was entirely bizarre. Everyone was extraordinarily polite, and the city itself, typically famous for its noise and hustle, was still very subdued. I didn't visit Ground Zero; it felt very wrong to be treating it like a tourist spot while bodies were still laying in halls of Javits Center as a makeshift morgue. But I was with a coworker in a cab on the way back to JFK, and as we crossed the Brooklyn Bridge he tapped me on the shoulder and pointed backwards. The sight of the Manhattan skyline with the gap where the World Trade Center buildings had stood made it all too real. I will never forget that moment.

In the years since then, I've made respectful remembrances of the event, as most Americans do and should. Unlike most of the world, we've been so fortunate in that after the early years of the country's formation (and our own civil war), we've had so few major attacks on our soil that 9/11 is impossible to overlook or forget, which is as it should be. It's sadly ironic that those of us who are immersed in political activism are sometimes called "un-American" by the opposing sides, while to me, it's obvious that we care more for the country than anyone who leads an apathetic life. That's why I can offer a perspective that American lives remain in severe peril even today, and yet the "Never Forget" crowd seems to be the first in line to deny this truth. Climate change is causing more dangerous and extreme weather patterns. The lack of attention to infrastructure leads to situations like unsafe drinking water in Flint, MI. The income gap between the extremely wealthy and a larger and larger segment of the population increases daily. And, of course, the policies of the current administration and treatment of America's allies and enemies alike may very well eventually lead lead to horrific acts of war and terrorism with death tolls that far eclipse 9/11.

None of this takes away from the sadness and rightful respectful remembrance of September 11. However, it does make you think what the future history books will say about the era in which we live today. "Why didn't they stop him? Why didn't they do anything about it?" will almost certainly be questions that our grandchildren and their children will be asking, and I don't have any answers. I can say that the small efforts I can make, like spreading the word about what's going on in the USA, and voting in the upcoming Midterm elections (and encouraging others to do so as well) will have its own small effect. Hopefully there are enough people who feel the same as I do that we can, collectively, push things back in a direction that's for the benefit of all Americans, and perhaps all people in the world. Meanwhile, a salute to the 9/11 victims, survivors, first responders, and everyone else affected is always appropriate on this day, and I offer it sincerely.

The Show
So, it's finally starting to cool down considerably here in Southern California. I awoke today to temps in the mid-60s and the high is only around 73 today. After yet another brutal season of high summer temps, the somewhat crisp weather is a hugely welcome change. I find it likely that we still have another heat wave ahead per our typical weather patterns, but for now it's amazing and refreshing. I was definitely inspired by this to build a set list for last night's show that was very autumnal.

A couple of notes. First, yes, I did improvise a song called "Being Creepy to Tyche", and it was as bad as it sounds. Second, I was reminded that Joni Mitchell's 75th birthday is coming pretty soon, and I will definitely be covering plenty of that amazing woman's music in tribute for the next couple of months. I did "Furry" for the first time in four years, and I was glad I did (despite having to make my audience be patient while I retuned, which is just par for the course for playing Joni's best stuff).

I guess they forgot to tell me it was Ladies' Night at Serenity Gardens. Where are all the dudes? No one knows. Photo by Aurelie Chenaux.

It turned out to be a pretty good show and a good time for me and, hopefully, the crowd. Photo by Aurelie Chenaux.

Serenity Gardens set list...
One of These Things First (Nick Drake)
Fire & Rain (James Taylor)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
*Being Creepy to Tyche Improv (Zak Claxton)
Half Moon Bay (Sun Kil Moon)
So. Central Rain (R.E.M.)
†Furry Sings the Blues (Joni Mitchell)
Abrasion (They Stole My Crayon)
Jane (Barenaked Ladies)
After the Gold Rush (Neil Young)
1979 (Smashing Pumpkins)
Pretty Pimpin’ (Kurt Vile)

*Indicates the first time I've performed this song in SL.
†As far as I can tell, I haven't performed "Furry" since September 2014 during a show at Hesperia of Templemore.

Big thanks to everyone who attended my show, with special thanks to those who helped support it!
Sinful Xubersnak, Kat Chauveau, Englishrose71 Resident, TheaDee Resident, Anastasia Yanwu, Aurelie Chenaux (who also provided the photos for this post!), Tyche Szondi, my manager Maali Beck, and the fabulous team at Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Serenity Gardens (08.27.18)

Good crowd, good tunes, happy Zak at Serenity Gardens. Photo by Thea Dee.

Kat is in Europe right now. At this very moment, she's in Copenhagen, Denmark, having just wrapped up a few days in Reykjavik, Iceland. Why is Kat in Europe? Because she wants to be! This is her first time exploring the continent purely for the joy of travel (as opposed to for business or a stopover at an airport), and it's something she's always wanted to do. The ultimate truth is that life is shorter than we'd prefer and your window for doing things like traveling the globe -- while you're young enough to have the energy to enjoy it and old enough to appreciate and afford it -- is pretty small. So, she planned a trip that takes her through the cities above along with Rome, Venice, Paris, London, and Dublin, with shorter stops in places like Athens, Pisa, Milan, Basel, and Wales. She'll have spent over three weeks there, said and done, before heading back to the USA.

Guess who's not in Europe? Me! While we both would have loved to do this trip together, that isn't even close to the realm of possibilities for me. I own a little company that does various kinds of marketing communications (aka advertising and PR), and I rarely have the ability to take three hours off work, much less three days, and three weeks is a ridiculous premise. Here's a little factoid: there have been many occasions that, after wrapping up a great rock and roll show in SL and saying goodbye to my faithful fans, I have to open up a spreadsheet, continue formatting a PowerPoint deck, or post some content for my clients. I'm not complaining about this in any way, I promise... I'm happy with my life. But the idea of heading off to Europe for a few weeks isn't remotely real for me, so while I miss Kat in her absence, I'm glad she's doing something she wanted to do regardless of my ability to be involved.

Ultimately, any good relationship involves a combination of togetherness and independence. It's an unfortunately common behavior for folks who never attain a certain level of maturity to insist that every aspect of life be at the control and approval of the spouse or significant other. Kat and I have both been married and divorced previously, so perhaps we grew out of that way of thinking, or learned via trial and error. In any case, she's free to do as she chooses, and I'm happy to support her in the things she wants to do.

Rocking in the Pixel World
Obviously, while out of the country, Kat's not able to attend my SL shows. Trying to get into SL on hotel/public WiFi is just silly, and besides that, the time difference means that I'm performing in the middle of the night for her. But life goes on, and I had my regularly-scheduled bi-weekly show at Serenity Gardens last night. I actually had a pretty close (for me) cluster of shows lately, having played on Wednesday and Sunday before Monday's show, and I wanted to be sure that the people who were attending multiple shows in a short time frame each got a somewhat unique experience, so I dug deeper into my repertoire and pulled out some tunes that I play more rarely.

I often tell my crowd at Serenity Gardens that it's the best time of the week, since they made it through Monday and have six full days until the next one. Photo by Thea Dee.

Me, onstage, doing what I do. Photo by Thea Dee.

That was fun, and the show went great, but I should note that there are some tunes that I absolutely love, but still aren't best rendered by one person with an acoustic guitar. The fact is that a song is made up of many parts. There's the basic aspect of a chord progression and a melody, and that's obviously the most important part. But there's also the aspect of the arrangement... the choice of instruments and vocals and various sound sources that comprise the song. And then there's the production itself, which, in certain kinds of music, can be every bit as important as the song. Anyway, there are some songs that I can certainly play, but should think twice about doing so based only on the idea that they need those other elements to be truly enjoyable to hear. That's probably why several of those songs stay deep in my song list and don't get pulled out very often. I remember after I play them, and then put them away again for years.

Serenity Gardens set list...
Possession (Sarah McLachlan)
Heart of Gold (Neil Young)
Shame Chamber (Kurt Vile)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)
Ashes to Ashes (David Bowie)
Breaking Us In Two (Joe Jackson)
Vendetta (They Stole My Crayon)
Psycho Killer (Talking Heads)
Mad World (Tears for Fears)
Carey (Joni Mitchell)
Things Behind the Sun (Nick Drake)
Polly (Nirvana)

Big, big thanks to the folks who came to the show, with special hats-off to the following who helped support it!
Trouble Streeter, dls Falconer, Marieleeblanc Resident, Kat Chauveau, Jukebox Diesel, ElusiveButterfly Ember, Aurelie Chenaux, TheaDee Resident, Celeste Ewing, Barbara Mixemup, my lovely manager Maali Beck, and the fabulous team at Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Veterans Isle/Homes For Our Troops (08.26.18)

Starting my show at Veterans Isle for Homes For Our Troops. We pulled in over L$100,000 during my one-hour set, thanks to my amazingly generous crowd and the folks who run the events and match donations. Photo by Triana Caldera.

Here's how I find out that I have a show to perform in Second Life: I get on the Internet (duh), and the home page of my web browser has a preview of my Google calendar. I glance at it as I open a new window, and see that my manager Maali Beck has added a date to the schedule. It's all very efficient and businesslike, which works for me. That, by the way, is exactly how I learned that I had a benefit show for Homes For Our Troops scheduled for the last Sunday in August. I got online one morning and there it was, magically appearing on my calendar.

The news brought a smile to my face. I've performed shows for Frets Nirvana's efforts at helping military veterans for years and years now. At least once a year (and always on the last Sunday of the month; Frets is smart keeping that a regularly scheduled event), I find myself at Veterans Isle in Second Life, performing music to help bring people in to make donations to this cause.

I've written about this many times before, so I'll be brief about it: I am as anti-war as anyone you'll meet. I think war is an archaic way of solving problems. It's barbaric and has no place in modern society. And, worst of all, the actual agenda for many wars throughout history is usually driven by greed... sometimes to get resources like food and oil, and other times for a lust for power and control. But those aspects of war are not driven by the people who are actually tasked with fighting. The human beings who put their lives on the line have the least to gain and the most to lose. Many of them come back after armed conflicts with their bodies and minds torn apart -- assuming they come back at all, as many do not. My father was a Vietnam-era vet; my ancestors and relatives fought in the revolutionary war, WWII and more; even my lovely ladyfriend Christina is an Army veteran, as are many of my friends.

So, I have personal connections to these people who fight wars and protect the USA. Moreover, it sickens me that the US government doesn't take better care of its military after their service is complete, and that we need to rely on private organizations to allow these brave people to lead a dignified life back home.

A good-sized crowd at Veterans Isle. More people means more donations, which is why the whole thing is happening in the first place. This was a great show. Photo by Triana Caldera.

Why Homes For Our Troops?
There are plenty of musicians who are leery about doing charity shows of any kind for the obvious reason that it's quite possible to take advantage of people's kindness and goodwill. One of the most important factors in getting people to want to be involved is a) proving the legitimacy of the charitable organization, and b) having transparency in showing that the huge majority of the funds donated do go to the proper recipients (and not get spent on administrative costs or executive salaries).

When I first did shows on Veterans Isle, the charity being supported was the Wounded Warrior Project. I'm not going to say anything bad about that worthy cause, but based on some of the factors mentioned above, Frets changed the recipient of our fundraising to Homes For Our Troops, and with a little investigation, I strongly support that decision. HFOT is very highly rated by charity watchdog groups, with an A rating from Charity Watch, an 89% grade from Charity Navigator, and a Platinum level rating from GuideStar. They give almost 90 cents of every dollar collected to their program services. All of this info can be independently verified. It should go without saying that HFOT is a genuine 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, meaning that they meet the criteria to be tax-exempt (and have to make their cash for very transparent to retain that status).

If you're still questioning what makes Homes For Our Troops a good choice of charities, check out the story of Marine Sergeant Toran Gaal below.

What I Do, and What Really Matters
Before you start saying, "Oh, that Zak is a wonderful person for using his music to help those in need," please be aware of something important: what I do is very easy for me. I log into SL, I get on a virtual stage, and I sing and strum guitar for an hour. I throw a little money into the charity too, but the huge amounts come from my friends and fans who attend the shows, and the generous people who match the funds. During the hour I performed yesterday at Veterans Isle, we raised about L$100,000, which is around $400 USD. That's pretty damn great. That's a significant amount of money for this cause. Again, my show is just a reason to bring people together, and hopefully I am entertaining while getting the importance of the charity's message across. The heroes are those who donate their own hard-earned money to support the cause, and I am extraordinarily grateful that the people who come to my benefit shows are able and willing to do so.

HFOT set list...
Pink Moon (Nick Drake)
Comes a Time (Neil Young)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Sleeper in the Valley (Laura Veirs
Pancho & Lefty (Townes Van Zandt)
America (Simon & Garfunkel)
Blew the Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
*Can’t Find My Way Home (Blind Faith)
Hand In My Pocket (Alanis Morisette)
Pigs on the Wing (Pink Floyd)
Washed Away (Zak Claxton)
If It Makes You Happy (Sheryl Crow)
Pickles (Zak Claxton)

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

This is the spot in my blog where I usually thank the folks who attended and helped support my show. Since I don't accept any payment or tips at charity shows, here's a list of people who happened to be at the show as indicated by my chat log. Thanks to each of you for being so wonderful and generous!
Dahlea Milena, Waya Snowpaw, Roxeerolla, Grizzly Nightfire, GJackie Winkler, Bri Mcmahon, William Hawksby, Aurelie Chenaux, Thea Dee, Kacey Rad, Sunshine Palmyra, Triana Caldera, Lukis Core, Anastasia Yanwu, RoxHardcore Cyberstar, Denisse Bee, CookieMarco, Kipp McKeenan, my terrific manager Maali Beck, and the man who tirelessly makes these events happen month after month, year after year (and a damn good guitarist to boot), Frets Nirvana!

Thursday, August 23, 2018

The Islands of New England (08.22.18)

Enjoying the show at The Islands of New England. Photo by Kat.

Sigh. I've just returned from dropping off Christina -- aka Kat Claxton -- at LAX. She's heading to Europe for three weeks, and it's a trip she's wanted to take for many years. I'm happy for her, of course, and were I not in a situation where a long period away from work wasn't feasible, I'd have loved to go too. But I'm not the kind of person that would hold back their significant other from things they wanted to do just because of my lack of interest or ability to be involved. That having been said, I really don't like it when she's gone, and while I am a capable adult who can manage just fine on my own, her presence here will be missed.

Meanwhile, there's a ton of shit -- good shit, bad shit, exciting shit, boring shit, and every other kind of shit -- going on at the moment. My son has his first college classes starting next week. All manner of craziness is going on in the government of the USA, which seems to require my checking various news sources about 80 times per day. And, of course, there are the mundane aspects of getting work done, maintaining a home, and all that stuff we all do. It all eats up time and energy.

Side note: I'd been half-heartedly encouraging myself to use the time while Kat is gone to spend a good amount of time in the evenings and weekends on working on new music. I have at least three different projects I could be writing and recording right now... my solo stuff as Zak, my band stuff with They Stole My Crayon, and a whole other thing that isn't baked enough to even mention just yet. I know myself pretty well, and I'm not entirely convinced that I'll actually accomplish any music at all while she's away. We'll see. Regardless, I have a cornucopia of activities to keep myself preoccupied while she is traveling, so my cup runneth over and boredom is really not something that concerns me.

The Show
I always like performing at The Islands of New England in Second Life. I've been doing shows there on a fairly regular basis for about 7-8 years now. I think one of the things I enjoy best about it is that the folks who run the place -- Christine Haiku in particular -- have a better understanding about what goes into a show in SL than most folks do. Christine always refers to my shows as "concerts", and when I first heard her say that, I felt it was a slightly overblown term to use for what we virtual world performers do. But really, in my case and that of many others, it really is enough of a focused performance that it could be considered a concert experience. I carefully curate a set list that I plan based on many factors and tailored to the place where I'm performing. I try and engage with my audience at every single show. I hope that at least sometimes, they close their laptops or walk away from their computers at the end of a Zak Show and feel like they got some decent entertainment from the comfort of their own homes.

Anyway, knowing that, I feel very much at ease at TIONE, and whether we get a big crowd or small, I put the same amount of energy into the performance and do the songs I think people would like to hear (whether they know it or not). Hopefully, I occasionally introduce people to the music of bands and artists they might not have heard otherwise, and it's an outlet to perform my own music (which people would definitely never, ever hear if I wasn't out playing it in SL). I have never once felt forced to conform to any one musical style or vibe at TIONE, and always feel appreciated there. I can't ask for more than that.

Photo by Kat.

Photo by Kat.

Musically, as usual, I had some thoughts behind my set list. "This Afternoon" was one of a couple of songs I'd written about missing Kat before we lived together. "California" is literally about someone traveling through Europe and wanting to come home. There was a theme there, albeit a subtle one. Also, I pulled out songs I hadn't played before by Depeche Mode and Chastity Belt (one of Kat's favorites, actually). I'd say it was a fine example of a Zak Show.

One final note: while we'll still be sweltering in a heat wave or two over the next month here in Southern California, we are quickly approaching my favorite time of year in autumn. I only mention this now because fall has a big effect on my music, and I'm hoping for some seasonal inspiration coming soon.

The Islands of New England set list...
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Airport Bar (Martin Courtney)
Blew the Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
One of These Things First (Nick Drake)
*Enjoy the Silence (Depeche Mode)
Washed Away (Zak Claxton)
Among the Leaves (Sun Kil Moon)
*On the Floor (Chastity Belt)
On The Way Home (Buffalo Springfield)
Pickles (Zak Claxton)
Games Without Frontiers (Peter Gabriel)
California (Joni Mitchell)
Waking Light (Beck)

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

Big thanks to all who came out the the show at TIONE, with special thanks to the following who helped support it!
Alexis Fairlady, Triana Caldera, RansomTalmidge Resident, hynesyte Harbour, go2smoky Resident, Anastasia Yanwu, Tyche Szondi, TheaDee Resident, Kat Claxton, Aurelie Chenaux, my great manager Maali Beck, and the always wonderful Christine Haiku!

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Serenity Gardens (08.13.18)

Rocking Serenity is the best thing that can happen on a Monday night. Photo by Thea Dee.

It was Friday night of last week, just after I'd wrapped up the work week, when Bunny pinged me on our secret They Stole My Crayon hotline. Here's what he wrote.

"Would you homies be interested in doing some ICS-like musical expulsion activities on an upcoming weekend or two, from the comforts of our respective home studios? I feel like I could use an ICS kick-in-the-pants lately."

This requires some explanation. "ICS" stands for Immersion Composition Society. It's something that Bunny was involved with for years and years, and it's a brilliant idea that started up in Northern California. Take a group of songwriters and have them force themselves to write a big batch of songs in a short time frame. Frankly, I'm not very good at it; as soon as I stumble onto some kind of musical idea, it's very hard for me not to want to fully flesh it out. The entire point of an ICS exercise is the opposite of that... to knock out a ton of brand new tunes without a bunch of editing. The actual goal is 20 songs in a 12-hour period per the original ICS idea, but there are really no specific rules.

Back to the present. I had a few boring plans for the weekend involving household chores, but those could be pushed back. I agreed to jump in and do some ICS-style writing the following day. Bunny and I agreed to shoot for 10 songs in a roughly 6-hour period. One of the aspects of an ICS exercise is to not have any preconceived ideas, so while I have other musical themes I'd been working on, I didn't turn to any of them, and just dove in fresh on Saturday morning. Spending a day creating music is a rare luxury for me, and I found I was really enjoying the process. Did I get to 10 songs? Nope. Due to the aforementioned habit of getting sucked too deeply into each song to move on to the next, I did exactly half that... but I did manage to do five songs over the course of a half day, which is pretty great. Bunny, in his usual insanely creative way, did do 10, and several of his have the potential to be really great tunes that will likely end up as TSMC songs. I should note that a few songs off our last album did originate from Bunny's ICS sessions. These writing activities are totally worthwhile.

What I Wrote
Out of my five songs, one of them might end up being good stuff for The Crayon. But there were two of them that I felt were worthy of performance at my show on Monday night at Serenity Gardens in Second Life. They were simple and acoustic based, but apart from those similarities are as different as could be. The first is called "Washed Away", and is about the somewhat depressing but realistic idea that long after the current GOP administration is gone, the actions they took will leave their mark on the world and will be hard to erase in some cases. Listen to the rough demo below.

The second song, "Pickles", is probably the fastest song I ever created in my life, and is about the cat who lives next door. It's pretty self-explanatory and very silly. The entire song, from conception to creating the music and lyrics to the recording you hear below, happened in about 20 minutes.

In case you want to hear Bunny's impressive output of ten songs -- and probably the better way to take advantage of the ICS concept -- here they are.

Please keep in mind that at least in the case of my tunes, these are just demos; very little work went into making them sound particularly good. As music creators, just capturing the idea is the most important aspect at this stage. All the refinements will happen later, if and when a song is recorded "for real".

More from the Show
Up until last night, for my bi-weekly Monday night shows at Serenity, I had been the opening act of the evening for over a year. It was rather nice last night to see that Ilsa had changed up the schedule and I had a singer named Bill473 playing before me at the 5PM slot. Seems like a good guy, and it was cool having a built-in crowd at the venue from the start.

In addition to debuting "Washed Away" and "Pickles" at the show, I also finally covered a Nick Drake song that I'd been meaning to do for a long time. I dedicated "One of These Things First" to my friend and Zakster fan Aurelie Chenaux, since she became a huge ND fan after I introduced her to his music. Since Kat was still at work, several of my Zaksters filled in by sending me some great photos that you see here on this blog, so extra thanks to them.

Playing live music while the sun sets in the virtual world and the real one. Photo by Aurelie Chenaux.

Probably playing "Pickles". Photo by Diana Renoir.

"Meow meow meow meow meow meow meow." Photo by Thea Dee.

I can honestly say I've never had a bad show at Serenity Gardens. Photo by Thea Dee.

Sun's going down, happiness level is going up. Win-win. Photo by Tyche Szondi.

Serenity Gardens set list...
Free Man in Paris (Joni Mitchell)
Six Underground (Sneaker Pimps)
*Pickles (Zak Claxton)
Mother (Pink Floyd)
*One of These Things First (Nick Drake)
On A Plain (Nirvana)
Low (Cracker)
The Man Who Sold the World (David Bowie)
*Washed Away (Zak Claxton)
Thanks Anyway (Zak Claxton)
Crazy Little Thing Called Love (Queen)
A Day in the Life (Beatles)
Serenity End of Show Improv (Zak Claxton)

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

Giant thanks to all who came out to the show, and extra special thanks to the following who helped support it!
dls Falconer, Tyche Szondi, Asimia Heron, go2smoky Resident, Aurelie Chenaux, TwizidxxKitty Resident, Diana Renoir, my excellent manager Maali Beck, and the fabulous team at Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Ladybird's Cellar Grand Opening (08.03.18)

I got to be the very first musician to play live at Ladybird's Cellar, and it was awesome. Photo by Kat.

Every time I think I've done everything in live music performance in Second Life, something new comes along. For example, while I've performed a few times at the grand opening of a new SL venue, I'd never been the very first performer to grace a brand new stage until last night, when I had that unique honor at Anastasia Yanwu's place, Ladybird's Cellar. Ana is a very sweet woman who I've known for many years, at first through her close friendship to my buddy and fellow musician Sassy Nitely. I then got the chance to meet her in the physical realm back in 2014, when Kat and I went to Tennessee for the Nashville SL Jam. Ana even sat in on a song with me there and sang harmonies.

It was a couple of weeks ago when Ana hit me up on Facebook to see if I was available at 5PM on a Friday, and told me about her new place. I was delighted; doing a 5:00 show on a Friday sounded perfect. I've been extraordinarily busy with work lately, which is great as a small business owner. But it also means that I can really appreciate any opportunity to relax and unwind, and what better way to do that than strapping on the guitar and doing an hour of live music at the end of another grueling week? I told her yes immediately.

I love this photo gallery of featured performers at Ladybird's Cellar. It will be great to see this get filled in with all the best musicians in SL, as I'm sure will eventually be the case. Photo by Kat.

The lineup for the grand opening: a Sassy Nitely sandwich, with Liam Wakeman and I as the bread. Photo by Kat.

Does the Venue Matter?
Here's something I find fascinating that I'm sure I've pointed out before on the occasions where I play for the first time at a venue in Second Life, especially a brand new place like Ladybird's Cellar. You might think that in a virtual world, the venue itself has no effect on the performance of the artist. After all, we're still in our same physical space where we always play music... most likely a bedroom or office or den or the like in a home where we have our music stuff set up. A side note: it doesn't take a lot of music gear to perform in SL. You have your instrument (or whatever source of sound you use), a microphone for singing assuming your show involves vocals, and an interface that gets your audio into your computer. That's really it, other than any stuff you want to add for your specific kind of performance. The sound gets streamed out via some software, the stream address is set at the SL venue, and the people hear you. It's pretty awesome that it's even possible.

Sorry, got side tracked. The point is that as a musician, you're there in your room, and you're using the same gear, so why would it make any difference at all how you perceive the environment where your avatar is? I won't speak for all SL performers, but I imagine many of them feel the same: it makes a HUGE difference! As musicians, even though we're focused on performing, we are also in this immersive virtual world, so it simply feels different playing in an open outdoor space versus a small club. The decor and vibe of the build do affect your mindset as a performer in the same way that playing different types of venues in real life do. How close is the audience? What's my view from the elevated stage area? These things matter, even if it's to a degree that's so small as to almost be imperceptible. But it's there.

Being in this kind of SL venue -- as opposed to a bar, an arena, a beach, an open field -- makes a difference in your vibe as a performer. Photo by Kat.

Ladybird's Cellar is totally gorgeous. Classy while still feeling intimate and fun. Photo by Kat.

Of course, the biggest factor of what influences your performance is the audience itself, and different venues attract different crowds. I had no idea what to expect crowd-wise for the opening of Ladybird's Cellar. Even with my own little base of Zakster fans, I had no idea how many of them would be available to come to a show on a Friday evening... a day/time that I usually don't perform. I was really pleased that so many folks made it out for the show at a new place. By the time we were a few songs in, the space was feeling pretty full, and I was definitely inspired to put a lot of fun energy into the show as a result.

Sassy Nitely, Anastasia Yanwu, and Kat dance while I do my musical thing. Photo by Kat.

A stalker's view from outside of Ladybird's Cellar. Photo by Kat.

Ladybird's Cellar set list...
Airport Bar (Martin Courtney)
Pretty Pimpin’ (Kurt Vile)
If I Had a Tail (Queens of the Stone Age)
Play With Fire (Rolling Stones)
Among the Leaves (Sun Kil Moon)
Say Goodbye (Beck)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
Alison (Elvis Costello)
Abrasion (They Stole My Crayon)
I Believe When I Fall In Love (Stevie Wonder)
Wildflowers (Tom Petty)
Man of Constant Sorrow (Traditional)
Tribute (Tenacious D)

Massive thanks to all who came to the grand opening of Ladybird's Cellar, with special shout-outs to the following folks who helped support my show!
Anashara Resident, Smidge Frimon, Langarhans Resident, MzAllison Resident, Diana Renoir, Helena Kiama, Asimia Heron, go2smoky Resident, Thunder Insippo, Kat Claxton, Alex Zelin, Sassy Nitely, driver Fallen, TheaDee Resident, and most of all Anastasia Yanwu... congrats on a terrific grand opening!

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Serenity Gardens (07.30.18)

Yet another great night at Serenity Gardens. I did lose my voice at the end, but it was in the lost-and-found so I got it back. Photo by Kat.

Before I talk about last night's show at Serenity Gardens in Second Life, a brief observation. It's funny -- not in a "ha ha" way -- that there was a time when this blog was nearly devoid of politics. The reason for that is that I simply spent far too long being overly apathetic. Don't get me wrong; I was always an informed person who stayed on top of what was going on in the USA and the world. But back then, I trusted that most of those things would work themselves out without my direct intervention, or the need to share my opinions. After all, who the fuck am I? Some middle-aged, middle-class guy who happens to be a musician, and therefore has some slightly higher level of amplification than some other folks? That certainly doesn't make me an expert on US history and global affairs in and of itself.

I really have the current GOP administration to thank for my newly-found level of activism. On nearly a daily basis, something happens that is so abhorrent that it is beyond my ability as a human being to ignore. Unfortunately, with the volume of horrific things going on, it's far too easy to become numb to them, or (worse) to let one terrible event escape your mind entirely when the next one inevitably arises. And, of course, at some point, a person has to pick and choose the areas in which he or she can devote their time and attention.

My own list of priorities is pretty simple... things like determining whether the GOP administration conspired with Russia to undermine our election process, bringing transparency to the dark money being funneled into politics through groups like the NRA, having leadership that prioritizes protecting the environment rather than furthering pollution for corporate profit, protecting the rights of workers and eliminating the massive wealth disparity, and standing by the laws that help define our freedoms as Americans, such as the Civil Rights Act, same sex marriage, Roe v Wade and more. These things are important enough to me to warrant my bringing them to people's attention when possible.

In terms of how all of this affects my live music performances... the short answer is that it doesn't, at least not much. I am well aware that a) there are people of every background and ideology who come to my shows, and it's never my preference to make anyone feel uncomfortable or unwelcome. That having been said, there have been plenty of times that I've made mention of certain current affairs during my shows. I don't demand that others feel as I do, but I'm also not hesitant to allow my audience to be clear on my feelings. I don't have any intention of making each Zak Show a platform for any political angle, but I also want to use my small sphere of influence to let like-minded people know that I am with them and support them.

One of the best aspects of doing live shows is that it gives me a full hour to not focus on having to save the world... or work, or wash dishes, or several other less-fun things. Still, when I have something important to say, I'll say it. Photo by Kat.

Serenity Gardens is a pretty sim and a great place to both perform and experience live music. Photo by Kat.

Last night's show was a good one. The fact is that most of my shows are good; I am grateful and appreciative that people want to come see and hear me play music, no matter whether it's in person, on live video, or in virtual worlds. My definition of a good show is very simple. A reasonable number of people make the effort to come see me, I perform at a level that appropriate for my experience as a live musician, and I don't have any technical glitches that stop me from playing my best. That's it. It's never about adulation or money or anything tangible like that. Occasionally, people apologize to me for having missed the show for some reason or the other, and while I appreciate the sentiment, it's never necessary.

Final note: I generally can tell when I've done a great show because there's a direct ratio of perspiration to effort. The harder I play, the more I sweat. Last night, I also managed to lose my voice entirely right at the end of the show, which left me mostly silent for a couple of hours afterwards, but then it was a nice break to not have to hear myself for a little awhile anyway.

Good crowd. Photo by Kat.

I always like it when I look out and people are enjoying themselves while listening to me play. Photo by Triana Caldera.

Serenity Gardens set list...
Dusty Rhodes (Lotus Plaza)
Northern Sky (Nick Drake)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Long Time Gone (Crosby, Stills & Nash)
Drive (Incubus)
Day After Day (Badfinger)
*Crime (Real Estate)
*Criminal (Fiona Apple)
Doin’ Time (Sublime)
You Don't Know How It Feels (Tom Petty)
Blew the Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
Shame Chamber (Kurt Vile)
Tea for the Tillerman (Cat Stevens)
*Serenity Improv 3 (Zak Claxton)

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

Big thanks to all who spent an hour hanging out and watching me play music, with special thanks to the following people who helped support the show!
Ray Dash, Scarlette Cazenove, AaronCabottJones Resident, TheaDee Resident, Kat Chauveau, Asimia Heron, Kat Claxton, go2smoky Resident, Triana Caldera, my excellent manager Maali Beck, and the fabulous team at Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde.