Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Serenity Gardens (06.04.18)

Another great Monday night at Serenity Gardens.

It's Tuesday June 5 as I write this little blog entry, which makes it Primary Day here in my beloved state of California. You might not know that CA has a primary system that's different from other states. It doesn't go by political party, like other states who choose a Democrat and a Republican and perhaps an Independent or other candidate to face off in the general election. Instead, whoever gets the most votes are the ones who go to the election in November. That could be two Democrats, two members of the GOP, and so on. I think it's a good system in some ways, bad in others, but it works. At least it's a democratic (small "d") method that allows the candidates who the majority of people choose to have the best chance of getting a leadership role.

I have already voted via mail, so I'm done with that civic duty. I had a kind of neat experience yesterday on Twitter; on a whim, I decided to share the candidates whom I'd chosen, in order to publicly offer my endorsement. I was pretty surprised when my pick for Lt. Governor personally thanked me, and when my state senator re-Tweeted me.

I never really expect direct interaction with the various musicians and politicians I follow on Twitter; frankly, it's kind of weird to think that anyone does. So that was sort of neat. My personal involvement in the political process really only comes down to two things: voting, and helping to make others aware of issues that might affect them. Whatever tiny level of influence I have -- as a musician, as a businessperson, as a person whom some others seem to like and perhaps respect -- can hopefully make its own small impact. To use the old analogy, I may just be a few drops in a bucket, but that bucket gets filled with a bunch of droplets. I do what I can, and hopefully it makes a difference, even if it's a small one. In any case, even if you completely disagree with my political outlook or candidate choices, I encourage you to vote at every opportunity. I was once much more apathetic than I am now, but grew to understand that the privilege of living in a democracy is only maintained when people are actively involved and take advantage of their right to choose the direction of the country.

The Show
I was a wee bit concerned when I started my first tune at Serenity Gardens last night. I think I had two fans plus my manager and the venue staff when I strummed my first chord. But as usual, at least as of late, my crowd did indeed turn out, and a few songs in I found myself looking at the usual large group of happy people I expect there. I'd decided to try out a few previously-unplayed (by me) tunes, which is always a good thing for myself and hopefully my audience as well.

Another view of Serenity Gardens while I rock the people. Photo by Aurelie Chenaux.

Serenity Gardens set list...
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Bring On the Night (The Police)
It's Easy Like Walking (The Sadies w/Kurt Vile)
Northern Sky (Nick Drake)
*Trouble Child (Joni Mitchell)
*Over My Head (Fleetwood Mac)
*Here’s Where the Story Ends (The Sundays)
Hunger Strike (Temple of the Dog)
Pigs on the Wing - Parts 1 & 2 (Pink Floyd)
Carry Me Ohio (Sun Kil Moon)
Fire & Rain (James Taylor)
Pink Moon (Nick Drake)

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

Big, big thanks to all who came out to the show last night, and special super thanks to the following who helped support it!
AaronCabottJones Resident, Tyche Szondi, Monkey Martian, Zaphod Theas, Richy Nervous, go2smoky Resident, not4gods Resident, Alex Zelin, RobbieDowning Resident, Aurelie Chenaux, CanadianLady123 Resident, TheaDee Resident, my excellent manager Maali Beck, and the fabulous team at Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Serenity Gardens (05.21.18)

Rocking Serenity Gardens. My view from the stage while I perform.

It's been almost exactly 32 years since I graduated high school, so my memories of that era are a bit fuzzy... probably compounded by the fact that I was using drugs and alcohol on a regular basis at that time period. But one event that happened during my sophomore year had been coming to mind lately, for reasons that will be obvious in a moment.

One day in April 1984, we were in class... well, I should say that most people were in class. I had ducked into the library for some reason. I had a problem as a kid that still occasionally plagues me today. I would get so overwhelmingly bored in class that I thought I'd lose my mind, and would find just about any excuse to not be seated in a chair for a full hour. There were classes and teachers that I genuinely liked, and would stay engaged and focused. In other classes, not so much. I'd spend the hour in a geometry class writing music and lyrics, doodling, and basically existing in some other world deep in my own head, and that was when I actually went to the class. Often, I'd find some reason to leave... to the bathroom, to the nurse's office, to the admin offices ("Aren't you supposed to be in class?"), and so on.

Me in my high school journalism class, 1985.

Anyway, I was in the library when the school went on lockdown. There was a guy in the parking lot with a gun. He was a former student, 19 years old, and had enrolled in the Marines, stationed about 90 miles south at Camp Pendleton. His girlfriend, who was still a student at the school, had broken up with him and was dating someone new, so his solution to this was to come to his alma mater armed with a shotgun and a 9mm pistol. He approached the new boyfriend, who was in his new Ford Bronco, and after ordering him out of the car, proceeded to fire 12 rounds into the vehicle. No one was hurt or killed, and eventually a SWAT team sniper put a round right through the shoulder of the kid's shirt, somehow while barely scratching his skin. Nice shot, man. The kid surrendered, we were let out of class after a couple of hours, and that was that. You can read all the details here, if you'd like.

The reason I have that news article handy is that yesterday, the event popped into my head, but the details were so hazy that I wasn't 100% sure it was something that had actually happened. The memory felt more like something I'd seen in a made-for-TV movie, or a story I'd heard someone else tell. I actually got on the Facebook page for my high school class and asked the other folks about their recollections of that day. One of them pointed that news story out to me, but almost all the rest had the same vibe as me... they either barely remembered it, or in some cases had no idea it had even happened. You would think that something as traumatic as a lockdown due to an armed gunman at the school would have been one of the main events that we all took with us after our school years, but no... not the case. One of my classmates, a smart kid named Brian, pointed out that before Columbine, the very idea of a person walking through the halls of a school and methodically killing people was so unthinkable that we didn't, at the time, have a frame of reference as to how bad it could have been.

I mention all this because obviously, gun violence and school attacks by students and former students have been a big part of our lives as Americans in recent times. We're starting to become more cognizant of the root causes of these horrifying events, and it would seem that difficulties with establishing or maintaining relationships is a huge factor. I will tell you, while I had a relatively decent time in high school, I wouldn't relive that part of my life for any amount of money. Frankly, that period of life when people are mostly physically mature but have yet to mentally and emotionally grow up... I wouldn't ever want to go through that again, or be surrounded by other people in the same stage of life.

In any case, certain things that seem pretty simple and understandable for many adults are incomprehensible for teenagers. Situations that are difficult for adults seem impossible to them. Things like the idea of moving on after a romantic relationship ends, or that just because you can't find a sexual partner by age 18 doesn't mean it's never going to happen. Those mistakes in the perception of reality are at least part of what drives these kids to take these abhorrent actions. I believe that many of them would get past those feelings with time, while others are genuinely mentally ill. In both cases, the combination of immature thinking and easy access to guns makes them a walking time bomb. I'm an optimistic person, but there's really no end in sight to this issue plaguing our country. There will be more school shootings, for preventable reasons that just won't be addressed.

The Show
Oh yeah, this post is about the live music show I did last night. Silly me.

I wasn't really planning on doing a tribute to R.E.M. at the show, but I'd been meaning to try out "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?" for some time. It's one of Kat's favorite R.E.M. songs and one I've always enjoyed as well. I'd also included "Bang and Blame" on the list somewhat randomly, and then decided to try "Everybody Hurts", which seemed appropriate given the overall malaise that the country seems to be experiencing. Anyway, the R.E.M. mini-set happened kind of spontaneously, which is exactly how I like things to happen. I never like anything that I do creatively to feel contrived. I also did a seriously new song... one from Courtney Barnett's new album Tell Me How You Really Feel that literally came out on Friday of last week.

We had a nice crowd at Serenity Gardens as usual. Pardon the lack of more photos for the show; it was only by happenstance that I remembered to snap one from the stage between songs. Kat just started a new work assignment with more office time required, meaning she likely won't be at my shows, and I don't get the benefit of her excellent pics!

Serenity Gardens set list...
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
*Need a Little Time (Courtney Barnett)
Help Me (Joni Mitchell)
Bang and Blame (R.E.M.)
Man on the Moon (R.E.M.)
Losing My Religion (R.E.M.)
*What’s the Frequency, Kenneth? (R.E.M.)
*Everybody Hurts (R.E.M.)
Among the Leaves (Sun Kil Moon)
Abrasion (They Stole My Crayon)
Blew the Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
Shame Chamber (Kurt Vile)

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

Giant thanks to all who attended my show, with extra special live to the following people who helped support it!
Grace McDunnough, Camden Lionheart, AaronCabottJones Resident, Triana Caldera, go2smoky Resident, ImaInnocent Jewell, Oneida Firelight, TheaDee Resident, Barbara Mixemup, Celeste Ewing, and the amazing team at Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Video: Live at Serenity Gardens (05.07.18)

As mentioned in my recent post, Second Life videographer Sher Salmson created a video from my live show at Serenity Gardens on May 7m featuring a medley of songs in my set list that evening. It was released today, and you can see it below.

Call Me Al (Paul Simon)
Blew the Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
The Crystal Ship (The Doors)
Bull Black Nova (Wilco)
Any Major Dude (Steely Dan)
Half Moon Bay (Sun Kil Moon)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Serenity Gardens (05.07.18)

Ah, lovely Serenity Gardens. Hope the video of my show comes out good! Photo by Kat.

I got some good advice once from Neil Young.

No, he didn't tell it to me directly, though that would have been really cool. It was something he mentioned in a biography. Someone who was creating music with him -- it might have been Nils Lofgren, but I can't remember for certain -- mentioned that he'd be feeling good and playing well, but as soon as they little red light went on that indicted he was recording, he would freeze up. Neil's answer was simple. He said to record all the time. Literally, record everything. After awhile, the red light would be meaningless. It was said that when Neil was working with Crazy Horse, they recorded so much that they never even knew for certain when they were making an album. They'd play and play and play, and at some point Neil would tell them they'd finished a record, and they'd be like, "Really? What's on it?"

In one small aspect, that same process is true of each of my Second Life live music shows. Some of you don't know this, but my broadcasting software has an option to archive the show, and every single show does get automatically recorded. Side note: I really never listen to those recordings, and usually end up trashing them from time to time after seeing that I have gigabyte after gigabyte of audio files piling up on my computer. But they are there, and if I did something I thought was noteworthy, I could go back and check it out and/or share it with people. In any case, I never think about or worry about being recorded; I'm always being recorded, so it doesn't matter to me at all.

So when you smile for the camera, I know they're going to love you. Photo by Kat.

Why am I talking about this, you ask? Well, a few days before my show last night at Serenity Gardens, owner Ilsa Flannigan sent me a message to ask my permission to be filmed for my next performance at her lovely venue. She said that she'd hired Sher Salmson, another SL person with whom I'm acquainted, to film some of the artists who played at Serenity Gardens, and wanted to be sure I was okay with that. It was nice of her to ask; most of them time I've been filmed or otherwise recorded in SL, I'm not aware of it until after the fact. It's never been a problem for me, but I can definitely see how in some cases, it might be for other artists for any of several valid reasons.

Anyway, I told Ilsa that it would be fine. There was a moment, while I was just arriving at the venue and getting set up, that I remembered I'd be being filmed, and wondered if I needed to do anything different to better accommodate the virtual "camera" that would be on me. I immediately quashed that thought; my reason for being there was to make good music for the audience who had come to the show. Anything beyond that was someone else's challenge, and I decided to trust that they'd be able to do what they were doing and capture my show without my having to modify anything. I hope it comes out good, and I'm looking forward to seeing Sher's video work whenever it gets done.

This Is America
Sorry to randomly shift gears on you, but on Saturday night, a new video was released by Childish Gambino, which is the musical name of the incredibly talented actor/writer/director Donald Glover. Normally, I wouldn't be super interested in a new hip hop video, or any music video for that matter. But I was astounded by the deeply profound imagery and messaging in this video, which was directed by Hiro Murai, who is almost certainly the best music video creator in the world today. He did "Never Catch Me" by Flying Lotus and "Smooth Sailing" by Queens of the Stone Age, two of my favorite music vids from this century. "This is America" might be his crowning achievement, though.

Over the past couple of days, many people have detailed their interpretations of the video and the song. I won't rehash their analysis, but I will urge you to watch it closely, and especially to keep your eye on what's happening in the background. Amazing.

Don't Eat Yourself
One other inconsequential note about the show. As I mentioned while performing, on Sunday night I was eating an ice cream bar, and I managed to do something I hadn't done in awhile, thankfully; I sank my tooth right into my own lip as I ravenously consumed the tasty treat, deep enough that I had to staunch the bleeding with a napkin. As a result, the entire time I was singing, I was scraping that same tooth over that same injured area of my mouth. Good times! Let it be said that like all good artists, I suffer for my art. That shit still hurts today. I will live.

Oh, and a final note. As I mention frequently, I try as often as possible to bring in new songs to my set ("new" as in songs I've never done before; they can be from any time period). Last night, I did a rather deep underground alternative rock song by a band that few would be aware of... "Big Deal Party" by Jackal Onasis. It's not a song that most people would try on solo acoustic guitar and vocals, and -- not wanting to change the key, which works well for the tune -- I had to sing it in the register of the original female performer. I'd originally planned on trying out the song last fall, but it happened to be right around when my father passed away and I wasn't up for it then, so I put it aside at the time. I'm glad I brought it back out and gave it a shot. I should mention that one completely awesome thing about doing the music of indie artists is the relative ease in which one can make personal contact with them. I had some difficulty determining the lyrics of "Big Deal Party", so I reached out to Jackal Onasis singer/drummer Jordyn Blakely, and she filled me in on the proper words, which was totally cool of her. You can hear the original version here on their Bandcamp page.

Another great show at Serenity. It's become one of my favorite places to perform in all of SL. Photo by Kat.

Serenity Gardens set list...
Northern Sky (Nick Drake)
Blew the Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
The Crystal Ship (The Doors)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
Desire Lines (Deerhunter)
*Big Deal Party (Jackal Onasis)
Bull Black Nova (Wilco)
Carolina In My Mind (James Taylor)
Call Me Al (Paul Simon)
Any Major Dude (Steely Dan)
#9 Dream (John Lennon)
Half Moon Bay (Sun Kil Moon)

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

I send my huge thanks to everyone who came to the show at Serenity Gardens last night, with super special thanks to the following people who helped support it!
Idesine Habilis, AaronCabottJones Resident, Helios Seetan, Sher Salmson, Aurelie Chenaux, Sesh Kamachi, sedonajane Silverpath, Asimia Heron, Kat Claxton, TheaDee Resident, my great manager Maali Beck, and the fabulous team at Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Joshua Tree (04.26.18 - 04.29.18)

Relaxing on a boulder in Joshua Tree. Photo by Kat.

We -- Bunny, Christina and I -- just arrived back from a wonderful (but too short, as always) vacation in Joshua Tree, CA. Joshua Tree is our default vacation spot when our brains need a break from the daily routine of work and responsible life in general. You'd think that after years and years of going to the same spot, we'd have already grown bored with the area or at least already experienced everything there is to see there, but no... each visit to the desert always seems to be a unique experience in some way. On this particular trip, we had a number of firsts that all made the trip completely enjoyable and memorable.

We Accidentally Took the 10
My standard route to the desert has always been to head out on the 91 from there at the beach, cut north on the 605, and then take the 60 almost all the way out to the desert where it rejoins the 10 shortly before the 62. Got that? Good. Anyway, the day we departed on our trip -- Thursday April 26 -- we were talking and laughing and jamming tunes on the 605 north and suddenly I was like, "Hey, why is the exit for the 10 coming up? Did I pass the 60? What the hell is going on?" So basically, as opposed to turning around, I just took the 10 east all the way out to the desert by accident, and it was fine.

Miss your exit? No worries, there are always other ways to get where you're going. Red is our route there, blue the route back.

Welcome to House of the Hammock
We've stayed at the rental cabins of The Desert Lily Inn on many occasions, splitting our visits between Casa Rosita and Rancho Rincon. This time -- particularly because both of those cabins were booked -- we stayed at one of Carrie Yeager's properties that we hadn't been to before. Hacienda de la Hamaca was fantastic. It was much less rustic than her other places, which admittedly took away from a bit of the charm of the experience, with no dirt roads and such to deal with in getting in and out of the place. At the same time, it was absolutely luxurious... a nicely appointed place with large bedrooms, multiple bathrooms, and a great kitchen and living room areas for us to relax in style. The back patio area in particular was lovely, with a large shady veranda that ran the length of the building... the perfect spot to hang out with the rabbits, hares, quail, and lizards that romped through the yard.

Bunny having a meeting with his bunny friends in the backyard at Hacienda de la Hamaca.

Myself, Bunny and Christina on the back patio.

Full Moon Fever
As we noted that first night there, it was, for all intents and purposes, a full moon during this trip. Conversely, Christina and I have often planned these excursions around the time of new moons for the purpose of skywatching in the non-light polluted desert area. This trip was the first time we could admire the beauty of the desert in both day and night. It was great.

Go West Young Band
We started things pretty simply for our first excursion into Joshua Tree National Park for this trip. In fact, we've gotten to know the area so well that we put together playlists of music that we knew would go well with the surreal landscape of the desert, so we first enjoyed some slow driving through the park while listening to excellent songs in a multitude of genres. We casually stopped by Cap Rock and then went up to Keys View for the incredible sight of the entire Coachella Valley from about one mile in elevation.

After that, we decided to hit Barker Dam. It's one of the most well-known and popular areas of JTNP. Last time we went, it was so crowded that we blew it off, but we knew that if we didn't make it in on Friday, it wasn't going to get any better on Saturday. So, off we went, but soon found that the park had closed the eastern section of the trail, which forced us to head toward the dam in the direction we'd usually use to return. It was really neat and interesting, and gave us a new perspective on this awesome short hike.

Breakfast on Friday morning. We usually eat very well, both tastily and healthily, while we're in the desert.

Bunny and I, one mile high, at Keys View. Photo by Kat.

They Stole My Crayon at Barker Dam.

Bighorn Sheep Encounter
It was on our way back from Barker Dam that something amazing happened which was absolutely a highlight of this trip. Bunny was walking in front as we trudged through the sandy path, but then he suddenly froze and held up a hand. I noted that a small group of people a ways down the path coming in the opposite direction were similarly stopped, and then I glanced to the right. About 20 yards away, standing on level ground with us, was a magnificent bighorn sheep, a mature ram with his species' namesake horns pointed in our direction. In all my travels of the desert, I had never once seen one of these majestic creatures, and suddenly there was one directly in front of us. All the humans in the area stayed still and quiet, taking photos as the ram seemingly posed. After a few minutes that felt like an hour, he slowly turned and made his way back up into the rocks. Look, I've seen things up close in the desert that have blown my mind, including large snakes and coyotes and so on, but that sheep was something I'll never forget.

I've seen tons of wild animals while exploring Joshua Tree. This was my first Bighorn Sheep. Photo by Kat.

Being there next to him was a magical experience. Photo by Kat.

Fancy Desert Grilling
After getting back to the cabin -- er, luxury house -- after our exploration of JTNP on Friday, we were starved. As usual, we'd secured a ton of provisions at the grocery store in Yucca Valley on our arrival, but we knew ahead of time that instead of just cooking in the kitchen, we had a new choice in food preparation at the new cabin. There was a fancy gas grill on the back patio. Not quite "roughing it over a fire in the wilderness", the gas grill was excellent, and Bunny became the grillmaster as we ate delicious barbecued chicken and corn that night.

Full Crayon Jams
After dinner, we picked up our instruments. The desert, for whatever reason, is super inspirational for creating new music. We didn't plan anything out. Instead, we just allowed our fingers to find chord progressions and riffs that we could play together. Usually, on the musical side, it's just me and Bunny who do this kind of on-the-spot songwriting, but this time, Christina joined us in a big way, playing both bass and glockenspiel on our little jams. We recorded everything we did, and I can 100% guarantee that some of the themes we came up with will end up on a They Stole My Crayon album in the future. We stayed up pretty late, making music the whole time, and finally called it a night.

After the sun went down and we'd had our dinners, the instruments came out each night, and we captured some terrific stuff for future Crayon music.

No Fear at the Hall of Horrors
Over the many times we've visited Joshua Tree National Park, we've been through a good chunk of the various trails that don't involve a major (6+ mile) hike. One spot we'd never gone before as a group is a hiking/climbing zone called Hall of Horrors. I'm not 100% clear why it has such a frightening name; there might be some kind of passageway through the large rock formations that could be kind of scary. On Saturday for our first stop, Bunny and Christina and I had a lovely walk around the place that was off the beaten track a bit and was therefore less crowded than many more well-known areas on a perfect spring weekend. It was pretty cool being in a spot with very few people where the paths weren't completely clear, finding our own way around the lovely Mojave Desert.

Traipsing through the desert with my fantastic friends.

Bunny and Christina explore a crack in the rocks.

There were plants and birds and rocks and things.

Time for Pappy's
There's nothing new about our visiting Pappy & Harriet's on our trips to Joshua Tree. If we don't plan ahead and don't get reservations, we don't get to go. After cruising around to a few more spots in JTNP (including our regular stop at Hemingway Buttress where we always find cool places to explore and boulders to scramble on), we headed back to the Hacienda, got cleaned up, and then went straight up to Pioneertown where we had rather early reservations made weeks earlier. Pappy's has become super popular and cool, with the downside being that getting a table on a weekend needs to be a pre-planned activity. But plan we had, so at 5:30, we rolled in and got seated quickly. I can't describe the taste of food that comes off that magical grill there, but the three of us had a wonderful time eating way too much meat and drinking beers from mason jars.

Bunny and I being rock stars -- or at least eating dinner -- at Pappy & Harriet's.

Checking out the desert people outside of Pappy's with Kat.

More Jams
Back at the cabin that evening, we picked up our instruments once again and kept the Crayon jams going. In total, we created about 7-8 very useable song ideas with a ton of potential for continued development, way more than any previous trip where we might be lucky to get 1-2 usable new tunes. I'm already looking forward to the coming weekend so I can start fleshing out some of these musical ideas, since we recorded all of them.

A Blustery Drive Home
We had a relaxing Sunday morning, and then cleaned up Hacienda de la Hamaca and loaded our stuff for the usually uneventful journey home. There's nothing unexpected about hitting high winds while driving the 62 on the open plain toward the foot of the mountains just north of the 10 freeway. That's why there are those thousands of iconic wind energy machines in the San Gorgonio Pass. It's windy all the time there due to the terrain and the temperature variations between the desert and surrounding areas. But as we started our drive home on Sunday, it was already a very gusty day, and as I guided the Jeep down the mountain pass, it became apparent that this would be a memorable return trip. The wind was insane! I had to hold the wheel with both hands, making constant adjustments to try and keep us headed in a straight line while other cars were also being tossed around into both lanes and occasionally the shoulder. It was, in layman's terms, scary as fuck.

But once we made it all the way down and drove the 10 West for awhile, things settled down and I could drive in a more relaxed fashion than the "we're all going to die" stretch of road. Arriving safely home that afternoon, we were tired and gritty but happy, and already looking forward to the next trip to J-Tree, whenever that may be.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

The Islands of New England (04.25.18)

The Islands of New England is one of the best places for live music in all of SL. Photo by Kat.

As anyone who even remotely knows me is aware, I love the Mojave Desert here in Southern California, and visit multiple times each year if possible. Today, along with my bandmates in They Stole My Crayon (Bunny and Christina), I'm pointing the Jeep in the eastward direction and once again heading out to Joshua Tree. I have no words to tell you how happy I am to be spending a little time out there among the yuccas and lizards. Especially in times where life seems somewhat overwhelming and a little bit of a reset of the brain is required, there's no place on Earth like Joshua Tree to accomplish that goal. I'll certainly be doing a post upon my return to report on whatever shenanigans we get into on this short trip.

But early on this Thursday morning, while I wrap up some work responsibilities and wait for Bunny to arrive, I have some time to tell you about my show last night at The Islands of New England in Second Life. I've spent a long, long time doing shows at that venue, but each show always seems to feel like a special occasion there. I'd say one reason is that their event manager, Christine Haiku, really does a great job of choosing artists who mesh well together, and last night was a great example of that. My show was wedged between Scottish performer and excellent fingerstyle guitarist Jukebox Diesel and my amazing Nashville-based performer friend Sassy Nitely.

My view from the stage. Photo by Kat.

Making people happy is what makes me happy. Photo by Kat.

I love this place. Photo by Kat.

When I arrived about halfway through Juke's set and turned up the stream audio, the first words out of my mouth were, "Oh shit, now I have to be good." Christina made a remark to the tune of, "Wow, I'd pay to see this guy play in real life," and I was like, "Oh, thanks a lot for the extra pressure." But it was all in fun; I really love being inspired to focus on my own performance by seeing seriously talented musicians playing at the same show.

Since my voice had continued to heal after my round of sickness, I felt more confident in my vocal range for this show, but still kept the set list more on the mellow side of things. That also worked well for staying within the scope of the music that Juke and Sassy were doing. We had a terrific crowd there that included the majority of my Zakster fans/friends. I'm always happy when, on the rare occasions that I have more than one show within a few days, that the same people come out to see me again. What I always do is make sure that the show I give them is significantly different from the previous one in terms of vibe and the songs I choose for my set. The one exception was "Among the Leaves", the Sun Kil Moon song I debuted the other night and liked it so much, I decided to do it again.

The Islands of New England set list...
Pink Moon (Nick Drake)
Say Goodbye (Beck)
Airport Bar (Martin Courtney)
Peaceful Easy Feeling (Eagles)
Among the Leaves (Sun Kil Moon)
Roxanne (The Police)
Blue Shadows on the Trail (Randy Newman)
So. Central Rain (R.E.M.)
Blew the Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
Faded in the Morning (Unknown Mortal Orchestra)
Possession (Sarah McLachlan)
Baker Street (Gerry Rafferty)
Pretty Pimpin (Kurt Vile)

Massive thanks to all who came out to the show, with extra big thanks to the following who helped support it!
MiaMackleby Resident, Sassy Nitely, LadyEllenT Resident, Robert69 Little, RoxxyyRoller Resident, go2smoky Resident, Alex Zelin, Kat Claxton, Asimia Heron, hildegard269 Resident, TheaDee Resident, Aurelie Chenaux, Triana Caldera, my lovely manager Maali Beck, and The Islands of New England's wonderful event management team of RansomTalmidge Resident and Christine Haiku!

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Serenity Gardens (04.23.18)

A great crowd and cool tunes at Serenity Gardens in Second Life. Photo by Kat.

When life hands you lemons, don't make lemonade. Make lemon bars! They're delicious, and much easier to prepare than you think (see below). But in a less metaphorical sense, when life has you getting over a cold and you have a live singing music performance scheduled, don't despair. Instead, test out your voice and determine what you are actually capable of singing. Then sing those songs, and don't sing the ones that you can't. See how easy this is?

In all seriousness, there's a judgement call you need to make when sick. Can you actually be entertaining? Can you sing or play at a level that's enjoyable for the audience, and not embarrassing to yourself? Do you run a risk of doing damage to your vocal chords, or making yourself sicker for longer? If you can answer those questions and still feel like doing the show, then do it!

The show must go on. Photo by Kat.

Getting Low
I first started coming down with this shitty cold exactly two weeks before my show last night at Serenity Gardens. It was at that show on April 9 that I suspected I was getting sick, and then spent the subsequent two weeks with all of the fun symptoms of a bad head cold, which included losing the ability to even speak for a short while. Singing was completely out of the question. Still, knowing I had two weeks to recover, I was hesitant to cancel my next show, hoping I'd get well enough to perform. By the time I was going to be putting together my set list for the next show, I knew that I still didn't have my usual vocal range... but that I was also capable of singing fairly competently in a lower register. Would it be my best show from a singing perspective? Most definitely not. But it forced me to go through my repertoire and see what songs in there would be possible while avoiding anything strenuous.

So that's what I did, and it ended up being really cool. I played a good number of songs that I hadn't done in quite awhile, and even risked debuting a never-before-played cover of Sun Kil Moon's "Among the Leaves", which went super well.

Getting my low voice on at Serenity. Photo by Kat.

How to Make Lemon Bars!

Serenity Gardens set list...
Lost Cause (Beck)
Don’t Let It Bring You Down (Neil Young)
Wakin on a Pretty Day (Kurt Vile)
*Among the Leaves (Sun Kil Moon)
Blue (Joni Mitchell)
Walk on the Wild Side (Lou Reed)
Things Under Trees (They Stole My Crayon)
Welcome to the Machine (Pink Floyd)
Bring On the Night (The Police)
Things Behind the Sun (Nick Drake)
Gardenia (Iggy Pop)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)

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

Massive thanks to all who came to hear me sing the low notes, with special super thanks to the following folks who helped support the show!
JustOneMore Loon, Trouble Streeter, AaronCabottJones Resident, Sesh Kamachi, not4gods Resident, Asimia Heron, go2smoky Resident, RansomTalmidge Resident, Christine Haiku, Sassy Nitely, TheaDee Resident, Kat Claxton, Tyche Szondi, Alex Zelin, my terrific manager Maali Beck, and the great team at Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde.

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.