Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Serenity Gardens (04.09.18)

When I got onstage last night, I was still deciding if I was getting sick. Turns out I was. Photo by Kat.

Yesterday, I suspected something to be true, and as of this morning, I am 100% sure of it: I am sick, and it's pissing me off.

Look, I know everyone gets sick from time to time. This particular illness seems to be some standard virus that has taken up residence in my throat and sinuses, and if it follows the usual pattern will end up migrating down to my lungs and making my life fucking miserable over the next week or so. I have that to look forward to. It's probably a cold of some kind. It's probably not the end of the world, and yet still, I am annoyed, and have no choice other than to try and continue working and going on as usual. That's life.

Meanwhile, I feel like utter crap, and as I mentioned to my crowd last night at Serenity Gardens in Second Life, I was pretty convinced that I wasn't going to be able to do the show as of yesterday afternoon, when this crud first started coming on. It was right around the time of day yesterday when it was announced that the offices and home of Michael Cohen, Trump's attorney, had been raided by the FBI. At first, I thought I was feeling weird due to the adrenaline rush from hearing that news, but as the excitement wore down, the physical feelings remained. I nearly got in touch with Ilsa Flanagan so I could cancel in time for her to bring in a replacement artist. Instead, I decided to soldier on, and just hope that my voice would hold up for an hour of singing.

The Show Must Go On
Surprisingly, it did. Sometimes, as a performer, you can mentally work around the illness and get through the show. A big caveat: that can be done for one show or maybe two. For people on tour, people who act in ongoing theatrical productions, people who have to get on stage and be good night after night... well, it catches up with you eventually and the results are not worth it. Performing takes a ton of energy, and if you're good, it's physically and emotionally exhausting. It's difficult even when healthy. When you're ill and your body needs its extra reserves of energy, performing while sick can be a really bad idea.

One good thing about playing in virtual worlds: no need to blow one's avatar nose. Photo by Kat.

Still glad I did the show. It made me happier than I would have otherwise been. Photo by Kat.

Nevertheless, we ended up having a really solid show, with an excellent crowd and a set list that went over super well. Unintentionally, I'd pulled our a batch of tunes that were in the early '80s alternative/new wave genre, and they really seemed to resonate with the audience. As I said, I was happy that I was just able to get through the songs, but everything also went very well performance-wise. I basically got lucky; it could have easily turned the other way.

The only other thing to note in regard to this show is that it was the first time I've performed "Beacon", the song that Jon Larson and I wrote in tribute to victims of gun violence, and whose proceeds are being donated to March For Our Lives Action Fund. I wasn't sure how this duet would go being done by a solo performer, but I thought it was pretty good, and the crowd seemed to agree.

Serenity Gardens set list...
Everybody Knows This is Nowhere (Neil Young)
Pink Moon (Nick Drake)
Everlong (Foo Fighters)
Walk on the Ocean (Toad the Wet Sprocket) 
*Beacon (Claxton & Larson)
*Major Tom (Peter Schilling)
Perfect Day (Lou Reed)
Spirits in the Material World (The Police)
Blew the Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
Box by the Cliff (They Stole My Crayon)
Save It For Later (English Beat)
Radio Free Europe (R.E.M.)

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

Big thanks to all who came out to the show, with special thanks to the following who helped support it!
go2smoky Resident, Tpenta Vanalten, Sesh Kamachi, Trouble Streeter, TheaDee Resident, Aurelie Chenaux, Triana Caldera, Kat Claxton, my lovely manager Maali Beck, and the great team at Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Available Now: "Beacon" by Claxton & Larson

I'm very happy to announce that "Beacon", the song that Jon Larson and I created as a tribute to people who have been impacted by gun violence, is now available for listening and download via Bandcamp. 100% of the proceeds from sales of "Beacon" are being donated to March For Our Lives Action Fund, the fundraising effort created by the heroic survivors of Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL.


Since the debut of the song this morning, we've received a number of wonderful comments, as well as coverage on Second Life-focused blogs like New World Notes and Magick Thoughts. I think that a good number of the people who've enjoyed the song so far appreciate the message/cause of the song as well as the song itself. I know I'm pretty proud of the result of this collaboration, and Jon and I had a really smooth and easy time putting the song together.

What The People Say...

"I got my copy. Have you gotten yours? It’s something special."
- Meegan Danitz

"I'm humbled by the song and the spirit in which it is written. Gave me chills, guys. Thank you for doing you like you do."
- Ren Enberg

"A great tune for a great cause by my very talented friend Zak Claxton."
- Ernest Buckley

"I love you, man."
- Ken Lee

"Beautiful, gentlemen! Thank you!"
- Dennis Mac Namara

Huge thanks to everyone who's listened to and purchased the song, and supported this incredibly worthy cause! If you haven't done so yet... do it now!

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Serenity Gardens (03.26.18)

Another good time at Serenity Gardens. All photos by Kat.

Realization of the moment: I'm still over a year out from turning 50, but apparently I'm an old man already... or at least I am based on how my back feels and how I'm moving so far today. Seriously, it's been three days since the March For Our Lives event in which I participated on Saturday March 24, but waking up today I'm still moving like someone who is, well, old. And then, it struck me: perhaps I am. Old, that is. Getting out of bed this morning after a lovely night's sleep, I'm pretty sure the sensation was similar to that of getting 50 knives jabbed into my lower back and hips, and why? Because I marched for a couple of miles holding a sign and then stood for an hour or so while listening to speeches at a rally?

I almost just launched into a litany of telling you all the things I used to be able to do that included running, surfing, skiing, skating and so on, but let's just skip that and accept that fact that at a certain point in a human's life, it takes longer to recover from physical effort. Besides, none of that stuff stopped me from doing my show last night at Serenity Gardens in Second Life... though there was a moment while grabbing and putting on my guitar and wincing in pain that I questioned my ability to rock in my usual manner.

I needn't have worried. The show went very well, perhaps with an assist from some ibuprofen I'd consumed beforehand. Perhaps it also was a good show because I've been pretty immersed in music lately, having just wrapped up the single I created along with my friend and fellow singer-songwriter Jon Larson. The song, "Beacon", is now in the hands of Spencer Crewe, the super-talented Canadian mixing engineer who also mixed the They Stole My Crayon album. he's already working on the mix, so it won't be very long before we can release it, and I'm excited about it.

How To Record a Song From Different Locations
We live in an amazing world, technologically-speaking. Jon Larson lives in Sacramento, some 400 miles north of me. Spencer lives in St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, over 4,000 miles from here and so far east that they have their own weird time zone that's a half hour earlier than Eastern Time. Jon and I had the relative luxury of being in the same physical space when we wrote the basic chord progression for "Beacon"; we were both on vacation in Arizona in February, but for the month since then we've been far apart.

Here's how it works. I took the chords we wrote and, in my little home studio, recorded a basic rhythm track that included drums, bass, guitar, and some keyboards. Then, I sent those audio files over to Jon, who started putting down ideas for a vocal melody. The files are simply WAV files that can be imported into any computer-based audio software, so even though Jon and I use different tools to record, the standardization of the files allows them to be compatible in our respective systems.

At that point, there's little difference between us being hundreds of miles away versus being in the same room. We'd use Facebook Messenger to discuss our various ideas and to coordinate what our next steps were. Every so often, we'd bounce down a rough mix to get an idea of how the song was progressing overall, and share that with each other as well. Could the same process happen back in the days of recording to tape? Sure, absolutely. But it would involve sending actual tapes back and forth, and hoping that our tape recorders were properly aligned and all that. The digital world is certainly better from a viewpoint of convenience, and both Jon and I are competent and experienced musicians who can record ourselves fairly well.

"Beacon" will be available for streaming, download, and purchase sometime soon. All proceeds for the song's sales are being donated to a charity for gun law reform and assisting victims of gun violence.

Anyway, once we determined that we'd captured all we wanted to record, I prepared the final files (we call them stems) of our recorded tracks... drums, percussion, acoustic and electric guitars, bass, several layers of keyboards and synthesizers, and of course vocals, making sure they all sounded as good as possible but stripping them of any effects. That's because they were headed up to Canada, where Spencer would be handling the mix. When delivering stems for mixing, you want to leave the mixing engineer room to do his or her creative work, which involves setting the levels of each sound source, adding effects so the instruments and vocals all sound like they're in a similar space, and much more. Mixing is as much an art as a science, and we're glad Spencer was willing to join the Claxton & Larson team, helping out a cause that he supports as much as Jon and I do.

So that's how it's done. For me, the process of constructing a song like that is always exciting as it comes together, and I am in high anticipation mode at the moment to see what Spencer will do with the tracks we've delivered to him.

The Show
Back on topic. After finishing whining about my muscle pains, I did indeed strap on the Takamine and did my show at Serenity Gardens, and I'm very glad I did; it was a really good one. Perhaps due to my current immersion in social activism, I picked a set list that included songs which referenced that topic. My audience at SL shows spans a wide range of ages and tastes. While it would be easy for me to take the safer path and only play older songs that were familiar to most everyone, I almost always choose to add some more underground indie music to my set. I think it's a good thing for people to expand their awareness of the huge amount of great music there is out there.

Speaking of people, we had a terrific crowd last night. It's not the size of the crowd, as I've said before; it's the quality. While we did have a good amount of people there, I was even more appreciative that they seemed to be really into the songs I was doing, and that's what makes for a great show for me.

Serenity Gardens set list...
Lost Cause (Beck)
Airport Bar (Martin Courtney)
De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da (The Police)
All Lives, You Say? (Wilco)
Pigs on the Wing - Parts 1/2 (Pink Floyd)
For What It’s Worth (Buffalo Springfield)
Carey (Joni Mitchell)
Hand In My Pocket (Alanis Morissette)
Carry Me Ohio (Sun Kil Moon)
Space Oddity (David Bowie)
Pretty Pimpin (Kurt Vile)
Dusty Rhodes (Lotus Plaza)

Gigantic thanks to all who cam to my show last night, with super duper special thanks to the following people who supported it!
Asimia Heron, CharlieMack Resident, Trouble Streeter, Misty McConach, Scout Zsun, IPA63 Resident, not4gods Resident, go2smoky Resident, Augy Barbosa, Asimia Heron, Alex Zelin, Kat Claxton, Christine Haiku, TheaDee Resident, Aurelie Chenaux, my lovely manager Maali Beck, and the great team at Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde.

Monday, March 26, 2018

March For Our Lives (03.24.18)

The crowd at Hermosa Pier plaza. Photo by Congressman Ted Lieu.

I'm not going to spend a bunch of time quoting statistics and offering ideas about gun control in this post -- there are many, many places you can get that info -- but I will tell you about my personal experience participating in the "March For Our Lives" on Saturday, March 24. It was an inspiring and meaningful event, not only for me but presumably for the hundreds of thousands of people across the country and around the world who also got involved, so I wanted to document the day through my own eyes.

Good Morning
The march was scheduled to start at 10am, and here in the beach cities, parking on a Saturday morning -- any Saturday morning throughout the year -- is a pain in the ass. Plus, our march was planned to start at the Manhattan Beach pier and end at the Hermosa Beach pier, about two miles south. Even if we'd driven, we would have had to get back to our car afterwards. It made more sense to hop in an Uber and get dropped off at the starting location. I was accompanied by my lady Kat and my son Nicholas, who is 18 years old and very much a part of the generation of young people who inspired this social activism. Nick and Kat and I all have similar feelings about the cause; none of us are opposed to gun ownership. We support the Second Amendment. But we do feel that unfettered access to guns, with no background checks or training required to own and use one, has a terrible effect on the world. Also, the types of weapons that the public is currently allowed to have -- notably, semi-automatic rifles with the ability to use high-capacity magazines -- are not those that are used purely for hunting, sport, and self-defense. They are weapons of war that serve no purpose in the hands of private citizens other than killing other people.

Enough on that. We got up about 7am, and make sure we had some water and snacks for the march. The weather was perfect... sunny with scattered clouds in the mid-50s. What we neglected to do -- which was amazingly dumb, considering we all know better -- was to use any sunscreen. All three of us have red, sunburned faces and raccoon eyes today as a result of where our sunglasses stopped the UV hitting our faces.

Getting Started
Our Uber driver arrived on schedule; it only takes about ten minutes to get to Manhattan Beach pier from our home in Redondo. I had no idea what to expect in terms of turnout, but the moment we pulled up and got dropped off, there was a certain electricity in the air. The very first person I noticed as I got out of the car was a guy pushing a two-kid stroller. He had on a "March For Our Lives" shirt, and both of his toddlers had pink t-shirts that read "#enough".

Kat and I had discussed what we thought the turnout might be, but it was impossible to estimate. I had noted that on Facebook, a few hundred people had listed themselves as going to the event. I was optimistically thinking that as many as 400-500 people might be there. Maybe even a thousand. Imagine my complete bewilderment when more than 5,000 people began to congregate there at the MB pier. This was going to be way bigger than I'd assumed.

Getting ready to march at Manhattan Beach pier. Photo by Kat.

The crowd was so big that they had to delay the start of the rally in Hermosa Beach, since the first marchers arrived there before the last of them had even left Manhattan Beach. Photographer unknown.

Right at 10am, one of the organizers got on a bullhorn and gave a little chat in regard to ensuring a successful event... little tips like not blocking the entire strand, not engaging any counter-protesters, and that since we were in public, we'd be in photos and videos. And then, it started. At first it was hard to move, with a ton of people crammed into the little area at the start of the strand, but once it got rolling, people spread out a bit and it was easy to walk at a brisk but manageable pace.

Not a Stroll
As things got going, a few people started some chants, but it quieted down as people were figuring out where they were going and what they were doing there. Fortunately, some woman who I've mentally called the Protest Drill Sergeant started screaming at us from a railing above the strand. "Start making some noise! This is a protest, not a stroll!" We laughed, but she was right. From then on, for much of the distance between the two piers, you'd almost constantly hear groups of people shouting in unison...

"No more silence, stop the violence!"

"Hey hey, ho ho, the NRA has got to go!"

"Enough is enough!"

The mood of the marchers was vibrant and upbeat, and the weather that day was absolutely perfect. Photo by Kat.

Going the Distance
I've walked between the MB and HB piers on several occasions. It's about two miles, and it's obviously beautiful being there right on the ocean, enjoying the fresh air and the attractive and athletic people who live in our community. I've never before, though, done it while shouting and holding a sign above my head for much of the trip. I'll just say that it's a good thing I exercise every morning, because I was definitely feeling the burn by the time we arrived at the Hermosa pier some 40 minutes later.

One thing that I hadn't thought would be a topic of conversation was my own t-shirt. It simply says, "It's Mueller Time!" in a similar script to the famous Miller beer slogan. I thought this was a well-known meme among the Resistance movement, but apparently it wasn't to most of the marchers there. Before, during, and after the march, I got a lot of laughs, handshakes, and people wanting pictures, which was fun.

I can also tell you that the vibe of the crowd was extraordinarily positive. Everywhere I looked, I was seeing smilies, animated discussions, and an optimistic crowd that seemed completely focused on the task at hand. As we wrapped up the last few steps to Hermosa pier, I saw that there was a small stage area set up in the plaza, so Kat, Nick and I found a spot not far from the stage.

The crowd gathers at Hermosa pier. Photographer unknown.

What an amazing turnout! Photo by Kat.

Rally Time
I knew there'd be some speeches after the march. I'm not very good at listening to most speeches; I find them to be dull and self-serving. However, on this day, I was captivated by each and every person who took the mic. It started with a couple of local leaders: Manhattan Beach mayor Amy Howorth and Hermosa Beach mayor pro tem Stacey Armato. State senator Ben Allen spoke about the NRA being a "paper tiger", which is something that all people need to understand.

Then, a series of local school students that ranged from 8th graders to high school seniors, spoke passionately. The fact that this entire movement is being spearheaded by young people -- many of whom will be eligible to vote in the upcoming midterm elections and/or the 2020 presidential election -- fills me with hope for the future. There were heartbreaking speeches by people who had lost loved ones to gun violence at Newtown and in Las Vegas. A local teacher, one whom my son had at Redondo Union High School, gave a speech that pointed out the insanity of expecting teachers to be armed. Finally, Congressman Ted Lieu and Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi addressed the crowd.

A student addresses the crowd at the rally. Photo by Kat.

Me (in my "Mueller Time" shirt) and my son. Photo by Kat.

Congressman Ted Lieu. Photo by Kat.

By the time the rally ended, we were definitely ready to sit, relax, and replenish some of the calories we'd expended that morning. We grabbed another Uber and made the very short trip home. It's safe to say that we were tired and more than a little sore from the walking and standing, but all three of us were very glad we'd been a part of this social activism. The next steps are pretty clear: we're going to take steps to ensure that no political leader who is in good standing with the NRA gets elected, or re-elected. But that's another topic for another day.

Only the Beginning
I do want to give credit and thanks to a lady named Liza Caso and her recently-formed organization, the South Bay Coalition for a Safer Tomorrow. It was through her efforts that the South Bay march happened, and I plan on being a regular participant in future actions of the group. While we'd all like to make a difference on a global/national scale, the most important efforts are often those focused in your local area, and it's great knowing how many like-minded people there are in my beloved South Bay who agree that gun control is as important an issue as any. I applaud the efforts of everyone who made Saturday's March For Our Lives happen, from the student leaders from Parkland, FL to every person here in our area. Thank you! And, as I've said before, this is only the beginning.

You'd better believe this is true. Photo by Kat.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Zak Claxton Happy Fun Show (03.17.18)

It was a long time ago, maybe in 2010, that I decided to branch out from my virtual world live music performances and try doing them on live video. From the start -- and for reasons not recalled at this time -- I called my live video performance the "Zak Claxton Happy Fun Show", and I did them on many different video platforms including StageIt, StreamJam, Ustream and more. Here in 2018, it seems pretty obvious that doing Facebook Live is a good way to grab audience members quickly and easily. The downside was that Facebook Live seemed to only want to function via a mobile device (phone/tablet) interface, and there was no good interface for my my audio gear that allows me to not sound, well, like I was performing over a phone.

I did a little searching and found an app for the Mac called Livedesk for Facebook Live. Despite it looking slightly sketchy, the trial download (limited to five minutes of broadcast time) was free from Apple's App Store, and seemed to work. The full version with unlimited time was under $20, so I got it, and it really seems to work just fine. The software immediately saw my USB-based audio interface and camera, and had no problem connecting to my Facebook account. So, on Saturday -- which happened to also be St. Patrick's Day, hence my green t-shirt -- I set up my microphone, plugged in my Takamine acoustic, fired up my camera and did a little show. I didn't do much to pre-announce it; I wanted to be sure the software was stable and the quality was acceptable, and everything turned out great. I think it's likely that future episodes of the Zak Claxton Happy Fun Show will be done on this platform. Hopefully it continues working as advertised; it's always a concern with third-party apps involving social media that something will change and the API will no longer function, but hopefully this developer is on top of things.

Facebook does keep an archive of live videos, so if you want to spend an hour watching me play music and be silly, you can.

Zak Claxton Happy Fun Show set list...
Save It For Later (English Beat)
Airport Bar (Martin Courtney)
It's Easy Like Walking (The Sadies w/Kurt Vile)
Abrasion (They Stole My Crayon)
From the Beginning (Emerson, Lake & Palmer)
Things Behind the Sun (Nick Drake)
Half Moon Bay (Sun Kil Moon)
Wildflowers (Tom Petty)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Tea in the Sahara (The Police)
It’s Choade My Dear (Connan Mockasin)
Sleeper in the Valley (Laura Veirs)
Shame Chamber (Kurt Vile)
Blew the Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)

Big thanks to all the folks who tuned in live, or watched the video afterwards, or otherwise checked out my little show. Thank you!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Serenity Gardens (03.12.18)

Another great night at Serenity Gardens. Photo by Kat.

The music has been flowing in a big way here in Zakland. I'll tell you about last night's show at Serenity Gardens in a moment, but first I want to make the first official mention of an upcoming new song and a new collaboration between myself and a terrific Second Life musical artist whom I've long respected.

Introducing Claxton & Larson
It was a number of years ago that I was at an SL music event and heard a performer that blew me away. Much like real life, the really impressive talents in SL do stand out among the rest. His name in Second Life, I found out, was Mulder Watts, but he performed and recorded under his given name of Jon Larson. I could tell by listening to Jon's music that we shared many of the same influences, and he was performing original songs that were very impressive. He often did dual-streaming SL shows with Voodoo Shilton, another really outstanding guitarist. I made a mental note at the time that I'd definitely take advantage of any opportunity to do something musical with this guy.

Fast forward to fall 2016, when Kat and I attended the Twin Cities Jam in Minneapolis. We met Jon and his lovely wife Alecia there, but it was only in brief. The larger SL Jams can be hectic, and you never seem to be able to spend enough time with any given person. Jon and I spoke afterwards and said that next time we were in the same place at the same time, we'd be sure to do some tunes together. That opportunity came along in February, when we both went to Arizona for a mini-Jam. While we were just relaxing one evening, Jon and I had our guitars out and the idea came up of quickly trying to write an original song. Sometimes those things actually work; sometimes they don't. But in the space of a few minutes, Jon and I managed to put together a little chord progression that included a verse, chorus, and bridge. It wasn't anything spectacular, but I thought it sounded pretty good. After we returned to our respective homes (Jon lives in Northern California, while I'm about 400 miles south of him here in the LA area), I spent some time on a weekend fleshing out the song with some added instrumentation, and showed Jon the results. He then came up with a melody and we started building the song together, going back and forth by sending audio files to each other as we got inspired and recorded new parts.

Jon and I in Arizona, just starting to create the song we're going to be releasing soon. Photo by Alecia Larson.

The real turning point happened when Jon told me his idea for a lyrical theme. He and I seem to share outlooks on social and political issues, and Jon asked if I'd be okay with the song being about the madness of gun violence and school shootings. I replied that I'd be 100% behind any message he wanted to offer in that regard. It just so happened that the horrifying mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida had occurred the day before our Arizona trip, so the subject was certainly fresh in both of our minds. On Saturday of this past weekend, Jon delivered the first pass of his vocals with the lyrics, and I added a harmony part. Our voices complement each other very nicely, it turns out, and the song is becoming more impressive with each refinement.

We've decided to release the song to the public when it's complete. Additionally, Jon suggested, and I heartily agreed, that it would be the right thing to donate any proceeds from sales of the song to a cause that is focused on eliminating gun violence and school shootings. More information will be coming soon on this exciting news, but I can tell you the name of the song and show you the artwork we developed for its release.

Coming soon: "Beacon" by Claxton & Larson.

And Now, The Show
As you may recall from a couple of weeks ago, my last show in SL didn't go so swimmingly due to Second Life being in the midst of a massive DDoS attack. I'm happy to say that everything was back to its usual stable self in SL for my show last night at Serenity Gardens. We had a nice crowd, and as I've been prone to do recently, I made sure to include a couple of songs I'd never done previously. Both went really well.

I think "Baker Street" will definitely find its way into future set lists. Cool tune. Photo by Kat.

I was happy to see Mavenn having the slot to perform after me at Serenity. She's a cool lady with a killer voice. Photo by Kat.

Serenity Gardens set list...
Take Me With U (Prince)
1979 (Smashing Pumpkins)
*Baker Street (Gerry Rafferty)
Woodstock (Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young)
What I Got (Sublime)
The Needle and the Damage Done (Neil Young)
*You Make Loving Fun (Fleetwood Mac)
Sour Girl (Stone Temple Pilots)
Vendetta (They Stole My Crayon)
Swing Lo Magellan (Dirty Projectors)
So. Central Rain (R.E.M.)
Ashes to Ashes (David Bowie)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)

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

Huge thanks to everyone who came out to the show, with special super thanks to the following who helped support it!
Aurelie Chenaux, Tyche Szondi, fabilene Cortes, taryn Adasia, RansomTalmidge Resident, TheaDee Resident, Kat Claxton, my manager Maali Beck, and the great team at Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Serenity Gardens / The Internet (02.26.18)

Aurelie Chenaux sent me this screen cap while I continued playing despite having crashed out of Second Life. The show, as it must, went on. Note that I am literally not there in front of the microphone in the foreground.

Sometimes it's good to break out of a routine. It's usually preferable, though, when one chooses and plans to do so, rather then be thrown unceremoniously and violently without warning into a sea of madness, a whirling monstrous void of insanity and weirdness and technological blunders... perhaps I should back up and start again. Yes, that seems like a good idea. Here we go.

Those of us who've been in Second Life for over a decade remember the early days before the platform settled into some semblance of stability. It was rare to get through even a few shows without running into major grid problems... full crashes, payments not going through, disappearing inventory, and all that. I think that over the years, many of us take for granted the relative calm of SL from a technology standpoint. You go in world, it works most of the time, you do whatever you like to do there. Sure, there are some screw-ups here and there, but they're the exception rather than the rule.

So, that's most of the time. And then there are times like Monday night in SL. They're few and far between these days, as far as I can tell. But wow, and yikes. Via social media, I started hearing about people being unable to log in throughout a good portion of the day today. It's not what a performer likes to hear the day he or she has a show scheduled. And then not only were people not being able to log in; people who made it in SL were being booted out. This was not looking good. However, about a half hour before my show, I tried to log in and it worked. So far, so good. Made it to Serenity Gardens, where at least my manager Maali plus Serenity owner Ilsa and hostess Tilly were present. Things seemed to be going okay... until they weren't. I found myself unable to move or chat, and then poof! I was gone.

I was pretty much ready to call it a night right then and there. I was trading messages with Ilsa on Facebook, about to officially cancel the show, when she told me Tilly had made it back in. I logged into SL in the "last location" option, and what do you know? I was back on the stage, and people were arriving. Success! I started right into my first tune and launched into a second song when I noticed the crowd was being kind of quiet. Yeah... that was because I'd crashed in SL, which just took awhile to register on my screen.

To Quit or Not To Quit?
Once again, it seemed rather silly to keep going. I did glance at my audio streaming software, which was still chugging away. I knew that a) if any people were somehow remaining in Second Life, they'd still be able to hear me regardless of the fact that I wasn't there, so to speak, and b) if I took a moment to post my stream address on Facebook, others who'd been booted out of SL might be able to listen in as well.

As I told my friend Thea Dee after the show, there were a couple of moments there where I was having a "Schrödinger's Cat" gig, where I had no idea if anyone was actually listening as I kept playing. I'm still not even sure why I kept going during that time frame. Something just told me that there were still ears on the other end of that network of wires and satellites and various Internet platforms, but until I checked, much like the famous cat, my crowd was both there and gone while I continued to sing and play guitar. Finally, I pulled up Facebook in between my fourth and fifth songs, and my mystery was solved... there was a big thread of people commenting about the show! Some folks managed to remain at Serenity Gardens, amazingly. Most others had been booted out of SL, but managed to dial in my stream, and were chatting on Facebook as if it was the online chat in world. Either way, I still had an audience who, despite all the reasons to blow off my show and do something more productive and interesting, were still hanging out.

Over on Facebook, I wanted to give people who'd been looking forward to my show a way to hear it, even if SL was totally borked. I was responding over the mic to folks' comments there, just as if we were doing the show in a functional Second Life venue. Somehow it all worked out. Crazy.

That felt pretty damn good, I must say. Due to all the insanity, we didn't have time for a full show (and I had no idea if the venue in SL was going to try and keep going with other scheduled shows), so I wrapped up at 7PM as usual. We still managed to get nine songs performed in the midst of all that madness. While dealing with all the tech issues, I felt I'd been too distracted to actually do a very good show, but everyone was very positive about having enjoyed it, so somehow it all worked out. There was even a bit of a benefit; certain people are no longer able to access SL for a variety of reasons, and I saw several of them commenting on my "show thread" on Facebook. In any case, I really hate canceling shows, frankly. I take a good amount of time preparing my set, warming up and preparing in various ways, and to then not do the show is a massive disappointment, no matter the reason. The fact that we were able to have the show go on despite the many legitimate excuses for it to not happen is probably my favorite thing about the whole experience.

Serenity Gardens set list...
De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da (The Police)
*So. Central Rain (I'm Sorry) (R.E.M.)
Thank U (Alanis Morissette)
Things Behind the Sun (Nick Drake)
The Waiting Boy (Zak Claxton)
Sleeper in the Valley (Laura Veirs)
Blew the Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
Half Moon Bay (Sun Kil Moon)
*Blue Shadows on the Trail (Randy Newman)

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

I really have no way of thanking all the people who made crazy efforts to remain in my audience for last night's show. Below are the few and the proud who somehow managed to stay in SL and tip me. To the rest of you, all the folks who jumped over to Facebook and the ones who listened in whom I have no way of knowing who you are, I can only send my most sincere thanks.
Tyche Szondi, Aurelie Chenaux, not4gods Resident, Trouble Streeter, my manager Maali Beck, and the great team at Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde!

Monday, February 19, 2018

Jamming with SL Friends in Arizona

Every once in awhile, a little change of pace is welcomed and needed. It was sometime in the Fall when our friends Jess and Deb suggested the idea of a little get-together in the Arizona desert. It was the birthday weekend of Deb's husband Rob, and being in mid-February, a great time for several of our friends who live in cold weather states to enjoy some southwestern sunshine. I, having just wrapped up my busiest time of year work-wise, was completely onboard with the idea. The way we thought about the event was something akin to a Second Life Jam but much, much smaller, and placed in a more intimate setting than the typical hotel-based SL Jam environment.

Folks started looking around for an appropriate venue, checking out rental properties in the Phoenix area. The first place that was selected fell through, but after a brief scramble, Kat stumbled on what seemed to be the perfect spot. It was a large and beautiful home in Scottsdale that was attached to an Arabian horse ranch, and it was available on the dates we required. The size of the place dictated how many people we could accommodate, and while it would have been fun to open it up to anyone who wanted to come, we were limited to about 10-12 folks in terms of bedrooms on the property. Not wanting to disappoint potential attendees, we kept the event on the down-low, and discreetly asked around with folks who we thought might be into the idea.

Before we knew it the date arrived, and on Thursday February 15, Kat and I boarded a short flight from LA to Phoenix. Jess picked us up at Sky Harbor Airport, and drove us up to Scottsdale where we got to view the place in person for the first time. It was, in a word, magnificent. Some of the attendees had already arrived, and we were greeted warmly by everyone as we settled in. In addition to me, Kat, Jess, Deb, and Rob (I will be using real names and SL names interchangeably here, so hopefully it won't get more confusing than necessary), guests for this Arizona mini-Jam included Krell and his lovely lady Vette, Jon and his wife Alecia, Leni, Lita, and the wonderful woman who manages the live SL performances of myself and Deb, Maali. The original plan also had Lyndon Heart joining us, but illness sidelined him at the last moment, so his spot was filled by Rob's sister Brigitte.

We got settled in and took a look around the place. First, I guess I hadn't realized that the horses would be right there on the property. There were dozens of amazing Arabian thoroughbreds romping around in various stables and rings. The decor of the interior and exterior was tasteful and beautiful. The surrounding environment was the classic Arizona desert, with large saguaro cacti silhouetted in the red sunset. It was exactly what I'd hoped it would be and more. In the mornings and evenings, groups of rabbits and quail would meander through the back yard. Each day when I awoke and lazily strolled outside, the only sound was a symphony of mostly unfamiliar bird calls from every direction combined with the occasional whinny of a happy horse.

R&R in 'Zona
One evening, I actually managed to work out a new song with Jon Larson, aka Mulder Watts in SL, who is very adept at being improvisational and the song came out in mere minutes, as most good ones do. We captured a quick demo on my iPad, and I look forward to fleshing out the track with him (something that's quite possible to do remotely these days by sending audio files back and forth as we create and record new parts from our respective homes).

I won't give you a play-by-play of the entire weekend. On a general basis, when people felt like picking up instruments and playing music, we did. When we were hungry, we ate. When we were tired, we slept. I know this is starting to sound like Forrest Gump describing his run across America, but it really was that casual, and it was perfect in that way. We did have one event planned that most of us attended, which was Friday night's dinner at Fabio on Fire, an outstanding Italian restaurant in Peoria owned by a friend of Jess. I had the lobster ravioli, if you're interested in that level of detail.

We also had a number of guests stop by during the weekend, including fellow SL musician Art Martin who came and jammed with us on Friday, Deb's elderly dad Harold who was an extremely nice guy, and Jon's nephew and his girlfriend, who live locally to the area. Maali's husband joined us for dinner on Friday night, and it was nice to meet him as well.

While the event actually ran through today (Monday February 19) with some of the people able to take advantage of the Presidents Day holiday, Kat and I had to split on Sunday evening. It was a terrific four days, and was exactly what I'd been hoping it would be... a fun time hanging out with great people and making good music.

Some Pics
Here are some pics. I took some, others took others, and some are screen captures from various videos streams.

Ready to catch our plane to Phoenix.

Kat and I are rarely this smiley at LAX, unless we're headed somewhere fun. We were.

Playing some tunes with Krell in the living room.

Mulder Watts and Zak Claxton, live from the patio.

We had some super fun jams while just chilling in the backyard.

The venue was about as peaceful and relaxing as could be... a perfect spot to chill and have fun with friends.

Downstairs in the jam room, rocking with Art Martin.

Is jamming fun? You bet your ass it is.

Jess gets extra credits for having chauffeured Kat and I around town while we were there.

Friday night's dinner at Fabio on Fire. Maali, Kat, me, Lita, Brigitte, Krell, Vette, Leni, Art, Rob, Deb, Jess, and John.

This foal was born while we were there. The horses were all extraordinary.

With the lovely Jess, one of my best friends in the world.

I'd met Jon Larson at the Twin Cities Jam in 2016, but this was the first time we had a chance to really hang out. He and his wife Alecia are lovely people.

Giving a goodbye hug to Leni as we prepared to head back to LA.

What? You mean we have to go home and work and be responsible and stuff? Boooooo!

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Serenity Gardens (02.12.18)

I'm back! Photo by Kat.

Oh, hello blog reader. What's that, you say? It's been a month since my last post? Yes, I believe I explained that I am MIA for awhile each January and early February due to events beyond my control. I could have posted about various other things in the time frame in between, but... I didn't. I suppose that it's kind of nice to walk away from this blog in the same way it's refreshing to take a break from performing live shows for a little bit. I always enjoy both things more upon my return, and hopefully you do as well.

Going to Arizona
Before I write about my show last night at Serenity Gardens, I'll write about something I mentioned during said show. On Thursday, Kat and I are heading to a rental place north of Phoenix for a few days along with a number of other friends from Second Life. Let me note right away, this is not, I repeat, not an SL Jam. It's just a small group of folks who all happened to be ready for a little vacation, and know each other through the SL music scene. A few of us are bringing acoustic guitars, and we're all looking forward to some very mellow times, with no big events on the schedule. I try and do something to get away and reset my brain after my busy work events each January, so the timing of this was perfect. I'm sure I'll have some good stuff to reflect upon and share after we're back. Stay tuned for that.

Darwin Day
Yesterday was the birthday of one of my heroes. I started studying the work of Charles Darwin when I was a little kid, and have been fascinated by the science of evolution ever since. There are people who seem to feel the work of Darwin is a personal affront to them, since it contradicts many of the basic creation myths espoused by most religions. I don't care about that. I believe that as time goes by and the science of DNA study continues to be more and more refined, the fact that all living things are related will be more apparent to all. Perhaps in some future era, humanity can move beyond its behavioral patterns of greed and war and environmental destruction simply through the recognition that everything alive is part of the same family. I try and remain optimistic about these things.

The Show
I've noted before that when I take a break from performing, I don't really know what to expect when I return. Will I be able to sing and play guitar well? Will my audience want to come see me? These concerns are always for naught. Last night at Serenity Gardens was a good example. I did my typical warm-up routine, we had a nice-sized crowd, and everything went fine. I will say that right toward the end, I started getting some cramps in my left (fretting) hand, but with both singing and playing an instrument, it's a physical activity that requires both strength and muscle memory to do well. The more often you do it, the more you can count on your body to do what you want. I'm sure that for subsequent shows, as I play and sing more often, my hands and voice will have no problem holding up better over the course of a full hour-long show.

I purposefully dug a little deeper into my song list for this show, pulling out a few tunes that I've been doing less regularly in recent times. That's always a purposeful effort by me, making sure that both my audience and myself avoid burnout.

Serenity Gardens is such a nice, open space that I find I enjoy the act of playing there all the more. Photo by Kat.

"I'm a China toad, and I'm in reckless mode." Photo by Kat.

Serenity Gardens set list...
Airport Bar (Martin Courtney)
Pink Moon (Nick Drake)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
Carry Me Ohio (Sun Kil Moon)
Bring On The Night (The Police)
Alison (Elvis Costello)
Shock the Monkey (Peter Gabriel)
Blew the Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
Big Empty (Stone Temple Pilots)
Court & Spark (Joni Mitchell)
It’s Choade My Dear (Connan Mockasin)
You're Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)
California (Joni Mitchell)

Huge thanks to every person who came to Serenity Gardens to see my show, with extra-special thanks to those who helped support it!
ErikKottzen Resident, RoxxyyRoller Resident, dls Falconer, TheaDee Resident, Aurelie Chenaux, Tyche Szondi, Kat Claxton, my manager Maali Beck, and the great team at Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde!

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Serenity Gardens (01.15.18)

Having a good show at Serenity Gardens before my annual hiatus from SL performances. Photo by Kat.

I awoke yesterday morning with no idea what kind of music I'd be performing at Serenity Gardens in Second Life for my scheduled bi-weekly Monday night show there. A few hours later, my set list was completely clear, due to both happy and sad reasons.

Last Show for Awhile
As I mentioned last week, I'm now officially on hiatus until after an upcoming business event. My next scheduled show is on February 12, so I wanted to make sure last night's show was a good one for the sake of both myself and my audience. There's this kind of weird paranoia among some SL musical performers that if they don't do shows constantly, they'll be forgotten or something. Look at it this way: in real life, bands don't tour 100% of the time. They tour, they work on an album, they have lives, and then they tour again. I actually think it's a good and positive thing to step away from doing shows in SL every so often. In my case, it's a forced but necessary decision, with a business event that eats my time (and then consumes my body and voice to the point where singing and playing just isn't an option for awhile). But each year, I find that my January hiatus works out fine, and leaves me with a renewed interest in doing my shows upon my return.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day
For reasons of the above-mentioned hiatus (which usually starts a bit earlier than it does this year), I don't believe I've ever before done a show on the MLK Day holiday. Once I realized the significance of the day, I wanted to be sure to perform some music that had a theme of Dr. King and the civil rights movement... something that's important to me on multiple levels. Most of the people reading this blog are likely aware that I'm a supporter of causes that promote equality and justice for all people, so I wasn't going to miss the opportunity to spread my message on such an auspicious day.

Dolores O'Riordan, 1971-2018
It was a few hours into the day yesterday that some heartbreaking news starting filling my Twitter and Facebook feeds. Dolores O'Riordan, the singer and main songwriter of The Cranberries, had passed away suddenly at age 46. Beyond being sad on its own, it made me aware that The Cranberries had an unexpectedly big musical impact on the early/mid-90s period. I'd previously only had one song of theirs in my repertoire, but I was well acquainted with many others, and decided to do a few of them in tribute to this good musician and lovely woman.

The Show
I never know what kind of crowd I'll get, or how well I'm going to perform. I really don't. Some days everything feels fine and then my hands and vocal chords decide to not cooperate, and other times the reverse happens where I think I'm unordered or not feeling physically perfect and then have a great show. Well, I'm happy to say that last's night's show at Serenity Gardens went well on all fronts. We had a nice audience who seemed to enjoy themselves, and I felt good about the tunes I did. The show kind of got divided into three parts... a tribute to Dolores, a batch of songs for Dr. King, and a mishmash of indie rock and original tunes. I think they all went pretty well.

Me onstage, looking out at my friends and fans. Photo by Asimia Heron.

My crowd at Serenity Gardens always seems accepting of whatever I choose to play, which is a good feeling. Photo by Asimia Heron.

Wrapping up my show and getting ready to change my brain mode from musician to music businessman... a very different mindset, I promise. Photo by Kat.

Serenity Gardens set list...
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
*Zombie (The Cranberries)
*Dreams (The Cranberries)
Linger (The Cranberries)
Same Sun (Real Estate)
Pretty Pimpin (Kurt Vile)
Runnin' Down a Dream (Tom Petty)
Abrasion (They Stole My Crayon)
Things Behind the Sun (Nick Drake)
Pride (U2)
All Lives, You Say? (Wilco)
Redemption Song (Bob Marley)
Alabama (Neil Young)
*Goodbye Fans Improv (Zak Claxton)

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

Big ol' thanks to all who came out to my last show before my hiatus, with special kudos to the following who helped support the show!
ErikKottzen Resident, Aurelie Chenaux, Sesh Kamachi, Asimia Heron, go2smoky Resident, Tyche Szondi, Lunette Kyomoon, Kat Claxton, my manager Maali Beck, and the great management team of Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde!