Saturday, December 8, 2018

Zak's Autumn Playlist 2018 - Episode 12

We're coming close to the completion of our little journey down this musical path of songs that have an autumnal feel to me. Next week is week 13, the final episode; the following week will be the official start of winter and this playlist will have ended. I've found that I look forward to the routine of waking up on Saturday mornings and selecting the songs for this musical collection, and will miss it when it's over. An interesting thing I've noticed, looking through the various songs that made my list: there's certainly no single genre or even specific musical feel that defines all of these songs. Even I, who curated this whole thing, couldn't tell you precisely why some of these songs are on here. But here they are. Anyway... five songs in chronological order that give me a fall feel. Enjoy.

EP 1EP 2EP 3EP 4EP 5EP 6EP 7 • EP 8EP 9EP 10EP 11

1. Hank Williams: “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” (1949)

2. Nick Drake: “Pink Moon” (1972)

3. Neil Young: “Philadelphia” (1993)

4. Alice in Chains: “I Stay Away” (1994)

5. Radiohead: “Daydreaming” (2016)

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Serenity Gardens (12.03.18)

Doing December tunes at Serenity Gardens. Photo by Kat.

Last night's show at Serenity Gardens in Second Life was quite good, as most of them are. Before I talk about that, I want to mention something about the upcoming changes to Tumblr, the blogging platform.

It's sort of funny that I'm here on Google's blogging platform (Blogger) to mention something about a competing service, I suppose, but many people use multiple forms of blogging and social media for different purposes. Some of that is due to the nature of the platform itself. Twitter, for example, with its character limitation and ways of reaching followers, is very different from Facebook, which is in turn very different from Instagram. Tumblr, for those unaware, is set up sort of like Twitter (minus the character limits), with a dashboard that allows you to scroll through the feeds of any account you follow, arranged chronologically, with lots of content being re-blogged between users. Tumblr posts can be liked, shared, and commented on. It allows for longer text-based posts (like Facebook) and inclusion of images (like Instagram) and videos (like YouTube). That combination of features has made it ideal for what has become a sizable base of users... various kinds of artists, and people who enjoy NSFW content, aka porn. And yesterday, Tumblr made the announcement about upcoming changes in its community guidelines that will essentially remove all NSFW content on December 17.

Making a judgement on Tumblr's new community guidelines doesn't seem to have a right or wrong answer.

To backtrack a moment and give this some business context, Tumblr (like many online properties) started as an independent entity. This happens a lot. YouTube was a standalone platform until Google wrote them a big enough check to allow themselves top be absorbed under that corporate umbrella. Instagram was already successful when they were acquired by Facebook. Up until not that long ago, Tumblr also stood alone... but then they were bought by Yahoo, who was in turn bought by Verizon, who set up a subdivision called Oath to handle their digital content business. What does a company like Verizon want? To make money... duh. And how does a publicly-traded corporation make money? Via investment in their stock. So let's say you're Verizon, and you end up owning this blogging platform, and you find out that a huge portion of its existing content is user-created porn, and that your goal of encouraging investment is perhaps somewhat hampered due to the public's uneasiness about investing in what's essentially a giant porn site, with almost 450 million blogs and over 500 million monthly visitors. What do you do?

You probably do what Verizon has done, which seems fairly obvious... tell the users that there's a new set of guidelines that doesn't allow for the type of content they've been creating and posting. To be clear, I'm not here to make some argument in favor of porn. Especially in previous times, pornography has been inherently problematic on multiple levels, and that's been true of Tumblr as well, with instances of child porn and other aspects of adult content that are socially unacceptable and sometimes illegal. However, per many reports in the case of Tumblr, over the years it's become a sort of safe haven for consenting adults and the sorts of victimless porn that is not in any way against the law. An article from the BBC says it well:

"Unlike typical pornography sites, which overwhelmingly cater to men, and serve an often narrow definition of what is attractive, Tumblr has been a home for something else - content tailored at vibrant LGBT communities, or for those with tastes you might not necessarily share with all your friends.

If society deems it acceptable for any porn to be on the internet, then that acceptance must surely be inclusive. Unlike most of those other sites Mr D’Onofrio speaks of, Tumblr has been a space where different body types are sexually celebrated, not degraded."

Again, to be very clear, I'm not advocating for any kind of pornography. But what has grown from Tumblr is an interesting, almost unique case. There are entire communities there of people who find similar sexual interests, with a much larger percentage of female users than is typical in porn, who feel like the platform has been a safe haven for them to express themselves in ways that would not be possible otherwise. Those people will either find new sites that are more focused on adult content, or abandon that aspect of their lives altogether. The other aspect of this change would be funny, if it wasn't sort of sad. The algorithms being used to scan the millions and millions of posts of all Tumblr blogs is misidentifying many images as being against community guidelines... things that have absolutely nothing to do with porn at all. The ironic end result is that in the effort to make Tumblr more appealing to investors, Verizon/Oath may inadvertently end up removing the value of the platform's content and killing it entirely. As the same BBC article concluded, "That change means marginalised people, those who are all-too-used to being ostracised in their offline lives, now face it in their online space too. Some of the internet’s most-needed communities are now homeless."

Didn't You Have a Show?
Ah yes, the show. Over the weekend, as I often do before my bi-weekly shows at Serenity Gardens, I took a look at my set list and decided to a) make some additions and b) pull out some tunes that are only appropriate to play at this time of year, and I think that worked out very well at last night's show. I also had an unplanned moment of hilarity when I got a request for my silly cat-themed song "Pickles", but hadn't intended for it to be in my set, so I ended up doing a live mashup of that song with "Holly Jolly Christmas" and that was about as ridiculous as it seems it would be.

"Have a holly jolly... Pickles?" Photo by Kat.

Ilsa does a remarkable job of keeping the decor seasonally appropriate at Serenity Gardens. Photo by Kat.

Serenity Gardens set list...
Northern Sky (Nick Drake)
River (Joni Mitchell)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)
Here’s Where the Story Ends (The Sundays)
*Badge (Cream)
The Crystal Ship (The Doors)
Blew the Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
Among the Leaves (Sun Kil Moon)
*Time in a Bottle (Jim Croce)
*Holly Jolly Pickles (Burl Ives/Zak Claxton)
Where Are We Now? (David Bowie)
Long December (Counting Crows)
While My Guitar Gently Weeps (The Beatles)
*Serenity Improv #792 (Zak Claxton)

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

Gigantic thanks to all who came out to Serenity Gardens and had a good time, with special kudos to the following people who helped support the show!
Kat Chauveau, go2smoky Resident, Asimia Heron, Tyche Szondi, Kat Claxton, TheaDee Resident, Aurelie Chenaux, my superb manager Maali Beck, and the fabulous team at Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Zak's Autumn Playlist 2018 - Episode 11

How is it December already? Look, I understand the elastic nature of time as much as anyone, but this year really flew by. I'd say that as we get closer to wrapping up 2018, I'm more confident and optimistic about the upcoming year than I was about the one that's nearly over. Speaking of nearly over, this is week 11 of my fun little Autumn Playlist project, meaning there are just two episodes left before I run out of fall, and that will be the end of this little music curation exercise. Below, five songs in chronological order that have the feel of the season.

EP 1EP 2EP 3EP 4EP 5EP 6EP 7 • EP 8EP 9EP 10

1. Joni Mitchell: “A Case of You” (1971)

2. Steve Earle: “Pancho & Lefty” (2009)

3. Ducktails: “Hamilton Road” (2011)

4. German Error Message: “Everything Is Scary” (2014)

5. They Stole My Crayon: “Things Under Trees” (2016)

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Zak's Autumn Playlist 2018 - Episode 10

Thanksgiving has come and gone, and now we're in the midst of that weird weekend where you've been eating for a couple of days, and society is telling you that you should be shopping or something. It seems quieter than usual for a Saturday morning. It's barely a week until December, somehow. Getting out of this bathrobe and into the shower feels like a chore, so why not delay that task and just drink coffee and post another five songs that have the feel of fall? Enjoy... just three weeks left until winter is upon us.

EP 1EP 2EP 3EP 4EP 5EP 6EP 7 • EP 8EP 9

1. Vince Guaraldi: “Happiness Is” (1964)

2. Jim Croce: “Time In a Bottle” (1972)

3. Gravenhurst: “The Diver” (2003)

4. Beck: “Turn Away” (2014)

5. C Duncan: “For (Autumn Rebuild)” (2015)

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Serenity Gardens (11.19.18)

Throwing down the sweet rocking vibes at Serenity Gardens. Photo by Kat.

There's something I briefly mentioned not long ago in regard to my bi-weekly Monday evening shows at Serenity Gardens in Second Life: during the fall and winter, I am in direct competition from an entertainment standpoint to one of the USA's most powerful entities: the National Football League. Don't laugh; it's 100% true. Since debuting in 1970, MNF has been one of the highest-rated prime time programs on television. So, for my shows between September and January, I am fully aware that a certain percentage of people want to get home from work, put their feet up, and watch the game.

Do I blame them? Hell no! I've been a football fan since I was a little kid. I participate every year in football pools, and spend plenty of time discussing the sport with like-minded friends (I'm looking at you, Jess Smith, whom Christina calls my "football wife" due to our steady stream of NFL-related chats, often on Sundays). I've heard people say that folks who would be likely to be in Second Life aren't usually football fans. Guess what? That's not true. Like any cross-segment of the population, some are, and some aren't. So I am perfectly fine with accepting that some folks will want to watch the game instead of listening to me do live music, and that is perfectly fine.

Do I expect that more people will be interested in my little live music show than perhaps the best football game ever? No. No, I don't. Rams/Chiefs photo via Sports Illustrated.

The Attention Battle
As a performer of any sort, you are constantly in a battle for people's time and attention. Even among the segment of people who might really like my music, not everyone feels like sitting in front of a computer at all moments of their day. People like to read, spend time with their loved ones, watch TV, play video games, exercise, travel, go out to eat, and do creative stuff of their own. Also, even if you narrow the focus down to "people who happen to be in SL on a Monday night", I'm not the only musical performer playing shows at my time slot, and people might very well choose to see another show... or to build, or to socialize, or do things other than be at my show.

All of that is fine. I am not the type of person who views it as a competition. Whatever folks want to do is cool with me, and if they choose to check out my show and enjoy themselves, all the better. But not checking out my show is cool too. Do what you feel like doing! Life's too short to spend your free time doing things you don't really feel like doing. I'm always glad when people come to my show, because that means they chose to see me out of literally thousands of other things they could do at that moment. It's quite flattering, no matter if it's nine people or 90.

Me, in a sweater for some reason. Photo by Kat.

One thing (of many) that I admire about Serenity Gardens: Ilsa always changes up the decor to match the season, and the place always looks lovely. Photo by Kat.

Why Are You Writing About This?
Why am I writing about this? Because last night, as I strummed and sang for the folks at Serenity Gardens, there was what might be the most epic Monday Night Football game in history going on at the same time. If you haven't heard (or, in some cases, don't care), the Los Angeles Rams and the Kansas City Chiefs went into the game as two of the top teams in football, both with 9-1 records. Everyone knew going in that this highly-anticipated game would be big, but few would have predicted it would end up being the highest-scoring game in MNF history, with a combined point total of 105 points (the Rams, perhaps due to home field advantage, ended up beating the Chiefs 54-51 in a hard-fought battle). Some people as of this morning are already calling it one of the greatest NFL games ever played.

I guess the reason I'm mentioning this is as follows: no matter what it is that you like to do, I never want anyone who comes to my shows to feel obligated to do so. If you have something else going on that you really enjoy, or some special event, or whatever... I will never be upset or annoyed that you don't come to every one of my shows! From time to time, I have people contact me to tell me that they had to miss the show for some reason or another, and that's nice of them to do so. But be aware: there has never, and never will be, a time that your presence at my show is an obligation. I won't be hurt by your absence. Quite the opposite: I'm grateful for each show you attend, whether it's every time or a few times a year. But it's never mandatory, and if there's something else going on that you feel like doing while I'm playing music, do that thing, and come to another show when you feel like hanging with me. It's all good, and I'll be happy to see you whenever you come around again.

I'm always happy for each and every person who takes the time to hang at my shows. Photo by Kat.

The Show
Ah yes, the show. It was a good one! I was in a somewhat silly mood, probably because my previous show was a bit more serious. We had a nice crowd at Serenity Gardens, and folks seemed to be enjoying my musical antics. I did manage to get one previously-unperformed cover song into the set, which was fun, along with a few rarities from my repertoire. My voice and guitar were both, for the most part, doing what I wanted them to do, which is always a bonus.

Serenity Gardens set list...
Airport Bar (Martin Courtney)
I’ve Been Waiting for You (Neil Young)
Rocket Man (Elton John)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
The Arrangement (Joni Mitchell)
Don’t Let It Pass (Junip)
*You Wreck Me (Tom Petty)
Box by the Cliff (They Stole My Crayon)
Everlong (Foo Fighters)
Long Time Gone (Crosby, Stills and Nash)
Tribute (Tenacious D)

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

Big thanks to the folks who weren't watching the game while I was rocking... especially the following who helped support the show!
Asimia Heron, Kat Chauveau, go2smoky Resident, Trouble Streeter, Eli Schlegal, Kat Claxton, Tyche Szondi, TheaDee Resident, my fine manager Maali Beck, and the fabulous team at Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Lutz City of Templemore (11.16.18)

Templemore is back, and I loved being up on that magical stage once again. Photo by Aurelie Chenaux.

It wasn't very long ago, maybe a month or two ago, that I noticed some cryptic photos posted on the Facebook page of my friend Luis Gonzales (aka Luis Lockjaw in Second Life). I didn't want to get my hopes up, but it seemed that he was doing a rebuild of his famous Templemore sim, an environment and live music venue that has been one of my personal favorites in all of SL for many years.

Templemore has opened and closed a few times, and I've never pressed Luis for the reasons why. I've gotten the idea that he's run into mental and emotional burnout at times. I also know Luis' real-life work keeps him extraordinarily busy, and the time and effort he puts into the place can probably be overwhelming. I will say -- as I've noted many times in this blog -- that his artistry as a designer of virtual environments is right there at the top, placing him among the best at this unique art form.

Photo by Aurelie Chenaux.

Anyway, as Luis continued posting pics, I was excited that Templemore was seemingly headed for another reboot. I wasn't even thinking about the possibility of performing there; I was just stoked that it was coming back. Then one day a couple of weeks ago, I glanced at my live show calendar that's maintained by my manager Maali Beck, and there, on Friday November 16, was a listing that said "Lutz City of Templemore Grand Opening". I understood right away that the new Templemore was a dedication to Garrett Lutz, a friend who passed away from ALS in August of 2017 -- I wrote about it at the time. At that moment, I knew I had to plan something special for this show.

I think two things happened when planning for this show. First was the selection of my set list. Garrett had been literally the only person in SL who seemed to be aware of Sun Kil Moon, an indie band I loved and covered occasionally. I purposely did a mini-set list of Sun Kil Moon songs just for Garrett, which -- at the opening night of a sim dedicated to his memory -- seemed to be entirely appropriate. Second was the posting of the artist lineup for the night; in addition to me, there was Anidia Huet, Gravey Jones, and Sassy Nitely (who, with the onset of a bout of pneumonia which I'm happy to say she seems to be recovering from, was replaced by the also-excellent Toxie Darkmatter). All of these people are super talented in their own unique ways, and being on a bill with them was inspiring for me to make sure I did as good a show as I'm capable of doing.

Photo by Aurelie Chenaux.

Photo by Aurelie Chenaux.

One other note... while Templemore is always a feast for the eyes, it's also a beast of a sim with tons of detailed textures, and I probably should have dialed back my own graphics settings before doing the show. I managed to not crash during my performance, which is good, but just getting my ass out to the stage was a nearly impossible task. I will tell you, it's totally worthwhile for the splendor and beauty of Templemore's design. I just had a couple of freak-out moments before my show when my streaming software was like, "Hmm, your computer seems pretty busy right now, so I'll just take about ten minutes to launch while the seconds are ticking down to the start of your show."

I took a quick screen cap while peeking out from backstage during Anidia's set...

... and made it through all four shows before this happened as I left to TP home.

Lutz City of Templemore set list...
Pink Moon (Nick Drake)
The Last Time I Saw Richard (Joni Mitchell)
Among the Leaves (Sun Kil Moon)
Carry Me Ohio (Sun Kil Moon)
Half Moon Bay (Sun Kil Moon)
So. Central Rain (R.E.M.)
If I Had a Tail (Queens of the Stone Age)
The Waiting Boy (Zak Claxton)
One of These Things First (Nick Drake)
*Don’t Let It Pass (Junip)
Bull Black Nova (Wilco)

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

Huge thanks to every person who came to the opening of Lutz City of Templemore last night, with special thanks to the generous folks who supported my show!
GraveyJones Resident, bblbabe Resident, Luis Lockjaw, Lunette Kyomoon, Asimia Heron, JimmySkat Canucci, Gideon McMillan, Lyxz Delicioso, J453A13x Resident, Tyche Szondi, Alex Zelin, Aurelie Chenaux, BrynnLynn Resident, my awesome manager Maali Beck, Templemore hostess Bee Blackrain, and the astoundingly talented dude who makes Templemore happen, Luis Lockjaw!

Zak's Autumn Playlist 2018 - Episode 9

It's already the Saturday before Thanksgiving. This season has been jamming along. The world is crazy, but at least my state is less on fire than it's been in recent weeks, and things seem to be settling down a bit after the Midterm elections. It's a nice weekend to chill and listen to some music. This week's selections aren't all in a traditional Fall vibe, but there's still an element of melancholia and introspection even in the harder-edged stuff. As usual, all five songs are presented in chronological order. Enjoy.

EP 1EP 2EP 3EP 4EP 5EP 6EP 7 • EP 8

1. Carole King: “So Far Away” (1971)

2. Nirvana: “Pennyroyal Tea” (1993)

3. Broken Bells: “The High Road” (2010)

4. Mac DeMarco: “Treat Her Better” (2014)

5. Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile: “Over Everything” (2017)

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Zak's Autumn Playlist 2018 - Episode 8

It feel like a month has gone by since last Saturday morning when I posted the previous episode of my Autumn Playlist. If you look at all the things that have transpired since then, it almost seems impossible that only seven days have passed. Nevertheless, here we are, on a Saturday morning where the rising sun is tinted bright red via smoke from the still-raging fires here in Southern California. Hopefully this playlist will bring some mellow and introspective vibes to all who listen. Each week throughout Fall, you get five songs in chronological order that have, for me, the feel of the season. Here's Episode 8.

EP 1EP 2EP 3EP 4EP 5EP 6EP 7

1. Elton John: “Your Song” (1970)

2. Desertshore: “The Town Alight” (1994)

3. Yo La Tango: “Our Way to Fall” (2000)

4. Junip: “Don't Let It Pass” (2010)

5. Joanna Newsom: “Sapokanikan" (2015)

Friday, November 9, 2018

"Nobody Is Above the Law" Protest in Torrance, CA (11.08.18)

This week has been, in a word, brutal.

Don't get me wrong; the blue wave that drove this year's Midterm Elections was fantastic, and the positive results are still flowing in. But despite the overwhelmingly positive outcome, the stress of leading up to election day and the intensity of following dozens and dozens of local, state, and federal races on Tuesday and throughout the week absolutely took its toll. Add to that yet another mass shooting here in Southern California, immediately followed by massive fires that drove many of my friends and their families from their homes, made it a tough week to get through. I mentioned to someone today that Monday seems like a month ago, and I meant it.

In the midst of all that, on Wednesday November 7, the morning after the elections, the Attorney General Jeff Sessions was forced to resign by the president. It wasn't entirely unexpected; if you've been following along, you were aware that staff changes were going to happen as soon as the Midterms were over. But another aspect of that firing/resignation was that the president put in an acting attorney general named Matt Whitaker. It is still very much in dispute as to whether Whitaker can legally act as AG, but one thing is clear: his conflict of interest places the Robert Mueller investigation of meddling in the 2016 election in jeopardy.

Christina and I feeling good about doing our duty to stand up for what's right.

Fortunately, this specific occasion was one for which we've been prepared for a long time... "we" being members of various action groups across the USA. Christina and I had signed up months ago for alerts in this regard, and now that the occasion to protest had indeed arrived, we were ready to mobilize on the spot. It's really incredible, if you think about it, that thousands and thousands of people in cities across the country would be willing to drop everything they were doing on a random Thursday evening with little notice, and get out into the streets to make our voices heard.

Rachel Maddow covers the nationwide protests on November 8, 2018.

On a side note, I frankly never thought I'd be in a position to be forced to give my support to public protests like the ones we've done in 2018. Last night's #ProtectMueller protest event was the third such one we've involved ourselves in this year, after the March For Our Lives rally in March and the Families Belong Together event in June. Do I think these things make a difference? Yes, and the more I've had direct involvement, the more I see how effective they are. The city of Torrance, where last night's event was held, has a somewhat conservative side compared to many local areas here in Southern California. However, I saw zero counter-protesters, and the number of attendees (over 400) and the cars driving by and honking to chow support both indicated to me that the prevailing feeling we shared was mutual among a good chunk of the community at large.

All we knew by way of instruction was that we'd be gathering on the northwest cover of Hawthorne and Sepulveda, near Del Amo Mall. We could see that there were a lot of people who'd RSVP'ed for the event, which wasn't very surprising; the location was central to residents of Torrance, Redondo Beach, Palos Verdes, and other South Bay cities. But you really never know what kind of turnout an event like this one would get until you get there, and while we arrived a few minutes before the start time of 5PM, there were already over a hundred people set up along Hawthorne Boulevard as we pulled up. The crowd swelled immediately after we got out of the Jeep and joined the action.

Some of the Indivisible team at the Torrance protest. Photo by Christina.

Roughly 400 people came out in our little suburban area at a moment's notice to protest the danger to the Mueller Probe. Photo by Christina.

Was this what I felt like doing at that moment? No. Hell no. I'd greatly prefer living in a world where protest wasn't necessary. I'd have rather spent my Thursday evening after a hellacious week relaxing at home. But am I glad I did it? Yes. Hell yes. And I can promise you that there are many other similar events planned across the US should certain circumstances call for them. I believe the movements against the immoral and often illegal actions of the president and his administration are really only gathering steam at the moment, and no matter where you are, you should count on seeing this kind of thing more and more over the next couple of years, if not longer.

And I'll be there supporting them. Count on that.

Protesters stretched as far as the eye could see along Hawthorne Boulevard. Photo by Twitter user @Betsy_Boyz.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Serenity Gardens (11.05.18)

I'm back! And so is my happy crowd at Serenity Gardens. Photo by Aurelie Chenaux.

The more sharp-eyed among you might have noticed that it's been about a month since I last wrote a report from one of my live shows. There's a reason for that.

I was scheduled to play my bi-weekly show at Serenity Gardens in Second Life on Monday October 22, but the moment I launched into my first song, it became very obvious that something was dreadfully wrong. "Something's wrong with the sound" are nearly the worst words that any virtual world or other remote performer can hear, second only to no sound coming out at all. I tried every way I knew to fix what was wrong, and frankly, we never did really determine why on that night, instead of my glistening guitar and mellifluous voice coming through folks' headphones and speakers, the tinny sound of a sad robot had somehow replaced me. After trying in vain to make it work -- and a very kind audience who hung out for some 20 minutes -- I had to admit that the show doesn't always go on. It was, to put it mildly, a massive bummer.

The following weekend, we tried some tests with my audio system, with the stream, and the same thing was happening. It became worrisome that something major was broken and that it might have ended up being an extended time before I was able to perform in the virtual world again. Finally, it was just last Saturday that I went through all of my system preferences, reset some data and audio cables, and more, and voila... we tested again and things seemed normal. That having been said, it was still a bit of a question mark until the beginning of last night's show, when I strummed a chord and the audience let me know that things were back to normal. Halle-fucking-lujah! I was so happy just to be able to be heard normally that my mood skyrocketed and the subsequent show was full of energy and positive vibes.

And Now, A Brief Interlude
I'm writing this post at 7AM on the morning of November 6, 2018. As most of my friends/fans/fam know, I have been an ardent supporter of causes that all seem to be in direct opposition to the current Republican administration. Despite all the polls and pundits, I really have no idea what the outcome of today's Midterm Elections will be. I will say only this: I am so very happy that all signs point to a very engaged populace who will likely shatter voting numbers for a non-presidential election year. I am hopeful that the results will be a positive step for the USA, but regardless of what ends up happening, I will always remain a fighter for what I know in my heart to be right, and will continue to support people who are marginalized in our world, and do what I can to protect the environment. It's going to be a pretty tense day for just about everyone, so I advise a) voting and b) remaining calm and focused on the end goal.

And Now, Back to the Show
For some reason, I was pretty convinced that we'd have a really small crowd at Serenity Gardens. A few friends had already indicated they wouldn't be able to make it there, and since it had been four weeks since my previous show, there's always a concern that she folks would find better things to do on a Monday night. I mean, I'm literally competing with the National Football League with shows on Monday evenings in the fall. But I was wrong; we had a large and happy crowd right from the start, and everyone really seemed to enjoy themselves. I know I did. I also whipped out a couple of tunes I'd never played before, and pulled out a couple that have been rarities in my set list.

Rocking and rolling the Zaksters. Photo by Aurelie Chenaux.

Tyche Szondi seemed to think the song "Pecan Pie" may have been about something beyond a simple delicious dessert. My fans have dirty minds. Photo by Aurelie Chenaux.

Serenity Gardens set list...
Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (Neil Young)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
A Case of You (Joni Mitchell)
Space Oddity (David Bowie)
Tea in the Sahara (The Police)
*Pecan Pie (Golden Smog)
Wichita Lineman (Glen Campbell)
Thank U (Alanis Morissette)
Pickles (Zak Claxton)
*Boys in the Trees (Carly Simon)
Things Behind the Sun (Nick Drake)
Texarkana (R.E.M.)

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

Gigantic thanks to all who came out to the show, with special super thanks to the following who helped support it!
Galen Bookmite, Richy Nervous, Turn Pike, hynesyte Harbour, go2smoky Resident, Asimia Heron, Cordelia Cerise, Kat Chauveau, Jamerson Knoller, Aurelie Chenaux, Tyche Szondi, my great manager Maali Beck, and the fabulous team at Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde!

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Zak Claxton Endorses -- Part 2/2 -- Midterm Elections 2018 (House of Representatives, Senate, Governor Races)

While Part 1 of my endorsement report dealt with only the candidates and issues that were on my ballot here in Los Angeles County, CA, the list below is quite different. All of these are Democratic candidates in various areas across the USA in three major positions of government -- the House of Representatives, the Senate, and state Governorships -- who I feel have a potential for victory on Tuesday if enough people get out and vote. Some of these candidates may seem like a sure thing; some are admittedly somewhat long shots (but that can still mean they're within the margin of error with current polling techniques).

Regardless, I ONLY included candidates on this list who I feel have a completely realistic, legitimate chance of winning. Are there other candidates in tight races who could win (or not) who aren't on my list? 100% absolutely yes. I also may have easily overlooked some races in my research -- I'm not an expert at this stuff by any means. In any case, a) please, please, please vote on Tuesday, if you haven't done so already and b) take a look through the list below and if your area is included, be aware that your vote matters even more than I can possibly impart to you. Grab some friends in these last two days before the election and spread the word! Feel free to comment below. Zak also endorses free speech.


AK At Large: Alyse S. Galvin

AR-2: Clarke Tucker

AZ-2: Ann Kirkpatrick
AZ-8: Hiral Tipirneni

CA-10: Josh Harder
CA-25: Katie Hill
CA-39: Gil Cisneros
CA-45: Katie Porter
CA-48: Harley Rouda
CA-49: Mike Levin
CA-50: Ammar Campa-Najjar

CO-6: Jason Crow

FL-15: Kristen Carlson
FL-25:P Mary Barzee Flores
FL-26: Debbie Mucarsel-Powell
FL-27: Donna Shalala

GA-6: Lucy McBath
GA-7: Carolyn Bourdeaux

IA-3: Cindy Axne

IL-6: Sean Casten
IL-12: Brendan Kelly
IL-13: Betsy Dirksen Londrigan
IL-14: Lauren Underwood

KS-2: Paul Davis
KS-3: Sharice Davids

KY-6: Amy McGrath

ME-2: Jared Golden

MI-7: Gretchen Driskell
MI-8: Elissa Slotkin
MI-11: Haley Stevens

MN-1: Dan Feehan
MN-2: Angie Craig
MN-3: Dean Phillips
MN-8: Joe Radinovich

MT At Large: Kathleen Williams

NB-2: Kara Eastman

NC-9: Dan McCready
NC-13: Kathy Manning

NH-1: Chris Pappas

NJ-3: Andy Kim
NJ-7: Tom Malinowski
NJ-11: Mikie Sherrill

NM-2: Xochitl Torres Small

NV-3: Susie Lee
NV-4: Steven Horsford

NY-2: Liuba Grechen Shirley
NY-19: Antonio Delgado
NY-22: Anthony Brindisi

OH-12: Danny O’Connor

OK-5: Kendra Horn

OR-5: Kurt Schrader

PA-1: Scott Wallace
PA-7: Susan Wild

TX-7: Lizzie Pannill Fletcher
TX-23: Gina Ortiz Jones
TX-32: Colin Allred

UT-4: Ben McAdams

VA-2: Elaine Luria
VA-5: Leslie Cockburn
VA-7: Abigail Spanberger
VA-10: Jennifer Wexton

WA-8: Kim Schrier

WI-1: Randy Bryce
WI-6: Dan Kohl


FL: Bill Nelson
IN: Joe Donnelly
MI: Debbie Stabenow
MO: Claire McCaskill
MS: Mike Espy
MT: Jon Tester
MN: Tina Smith
OH: Sherrod Brown
ND: Heidi Heitkamp
NJ: Robert Menendez
NV: Jacky Rosen
TN: Phil Bredesen
TX: Beto O’Rourke
VA: Tim Kaine
WV: Joe Manchin


CO: Jared Polis
CT: Ned Lamont
FL: Andrew Gillum
GA: Stacey Abrams
IA: Fred Hubbell
IL: JB Pritzker
KS: Laura Kelly
ME: Janet Mills
MI: Gretchen Whitmer
MN: Tim Walz
NH: Molly Kelly
NM: Michelle Lujan Grisham
NV: Steve Sisolak
OH: Richard Cordray
OK: Drew Edmondson
OR: Kate Brown
SD: Billie Sutton
WI: Tony Evers
VT: Christine Hallquist

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Zak's Autumn Playlist 2018 - Episode 7

What makes a Fall song? Sometimes it's purely the musical vibe, with Fall sounds being a little slower, quieter and more introspective than the other three seasons. Sometimes, though, it's just some association with the time of year, and that can vary a lot from person to person. Anyway, here's Episode 7 of my personal Autumn Playlist, with five songs presented in chronological order each week of the season. Enjoy!

EP 1EP 2EP 3EP 4EP 5EP 6

1. Fred Rogers: “You Are Special” (1968)

2. R.E.M: “E-Bow the Letter” (1996)

3. Cat Power: “Say” (1998)

4. Unknown Mortal Orchestra: "Swim and Sleep (Like a Shark)” (2013)

5. Robyn Hitchcock: “Autumn Sunglasses” (2017)

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Zak's Autumn Playlist 2018 - Episode 6

It's a super quiet, foggy Saturday morning here in Southern California. I think it's extra subdued after people were up late last night, watching the Dodgers pull off a win in the 18th inning of Game 3 of the World Series. In seasonal news, I am now able to wear flannels on a regular basis since the temps are in the 60s/low 70s here at the beach. I'm enjoying this. Anyway, here's this week's Autumn playlist... five songs of fall each week in chronological order. We're already at episode 6. Tempus fugit!

EP 1EP 2EP 3EP 4EP 5

1. Miles Davis: “Blue In Green” (1959)

2. Lou Reed: “Perfect Day” (1972)

3. Slint: “Washer” (1991)

4. Kurt Vile: “Baby’s Arms” (2011)

5. Syd Arthur: “Forevermore” (2014)

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Zak's Autumn Playlist 2018 - Episode 5

The fall season is flying by; we're already at Episode 5 of this weekly playlist of songs that have an autumn feel. I think all the craziness going on around the country and the world as we get closer to the 2018 Midterm Elections might make it seem like time has sped into overdrive in some aspects. Anyway, enjoy Episode 5. Songs are listed weekly in chronological order.

EP 1EP 2EP 3EP 4

1. Neil Young: “After the Gold Rush” (1970)

2. Tindersticks: “Tiny Tears” (1995)

3. Beth Orton: “Stolen Car” (1999)

4. Elliott Smith: “A Fond Farewell” (2004)

5. Weyes Blood: “Generation Why” (2016)

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.