Sunday, November 14, 2021

Refurbishing a 12-String Acoustic Guitar

You make me feel brand new... or at least look that way. Photo by Kat.

Each day, I make a point of watching David Lynch give his weather report. It's at the point that if I miss even a single day, I feel a sense of loss, admittedly minor. Anyway, on the weekends, David says the same thing, which is wishing people luck on their weekend projects. In at least that aspect, David seems like me; he is happier when he's being productive. You have work that you have to do during the week, usually for the benefit of someone else, but on the weekends, you are free to do the things you want to do.

This weekend, I awoke knowing I indeed had a project to do; it was the restoration of my friend Bunny Knutson's 12-string acoustic guitar. I'd been planning on this for awhile. The guitar not only had been missing some strings but also the bridge pins that would allow the strings to be replaced. Also, after of years of disuse and storage in the closet, it had accumulated layers of dust and grit. It wasn't pretty. I planned to make it look and sound new again, or close to it.

Entropy Increases
Let's talk for a moment about the second law of thermodynamics. Weren't expecting that, were you? But I promise, it's applicable. On a literal basis, it says that as energy is transferred or transformed, more and more of it is wasted, and that there is a natural tendency of any isolated system to degenerate into a more disordered state. That disorder is known as entropy, and on a general basis around the universe, things go from an orderly state to disorderly. Entropy increases.

If you find yourself interested in more detail about entropy than a blog post on fixing a guitar will provide, learn more about Ludwig Boltzmann, the guy who is so well known for his brilliant entropy formula that it is inscribed on his gravestone. 

Reversing Time
In a more poetic (as opposed to physics) sense, the increase of entropy seems to happen in many areas of life. You start with a plan but unpredictable and random events make your plan more and more difficult to accomplish, with unforeseen variables derailing your goals. In this case, a guitar that sits around unplayed has many factors going on. Oxygen corrodes the steel strings. Dust settles on the finish. Humidity affects the wood, which expands and contracts. In the worst case situations, a guitar can become forever unplayable as time takes its toll, just by sitting around.

One aspect of entropy in physics is that the greater amount of disorder that occurs, the less reversible those changes are. Fortunately, in the case of Bunny's Fender DG-10/12, an inexpensive 12-string dreadnought model manufactured in China from 1995-2005, the arrow of time and the resulting increase in entropy hadn't yet gone far enough to make it unsalvageable.

You'll Need Things
The first step was getting a few items I'd need. Dunlop makes a very handy maintenance kit called System 65. It includes guitar body polish, fingerboard cleaner, and a couple of microfiber cloths. Side note: Bunny's Fender has a satin finish, but this routine works equally well on gloss-finished guitars.

I don't think this lemon oil has any lemons, which is good. Keep reading...

The next thing I'd need were replacement bridge pins, since Bunny's guitar was missing a couple of them. These are the pins that hold the string in place at the bridge of the guitar. I wanted them to match the existing pins, but fortunately the standard black pins with white dots are easy to find and relatively cheap. I got a set of Fender pins; might as well go with the original, and they cost all of five bucks.

Thirdly, I needed new strings. I went with D'Addario EJ36, a light gauge 80/20 bronze string that I felt would be particularly playable on this guitar. They're about $10, making my total cost of restoring the guitar a massive $30... not a big investment to make an instrument usable once again.

Step 1: Dust in the Wind
A lot of what made Bunny's guitar look bad was simply dust. What is dust? If you want to be grossed out, be aware that about half the dust inside your home is dead skin cells. True story. In my home, which includes four cats along with four humans, dust also includes bits of hair and fur and so on. But as we know, on an overall basis dust is fine particles of any sort of solid matter, and they accumulate on surfaces left untouched.

The first thing I did was take a soft cloth that I dampened slightly, and just wiped off every surface of the instrument. Frankly, I didn't want to even be near it before that first step. My respiratory system is prone to allergic reactions, and I didn't want to spend the next hour sneezing and blowing my nose.

Gross! Then better.

Ew! Then ahhhhh.

Step 2: Old and In The Way
I don't know how often Bunny had changed strings on this Fender, but by the time I did my maintenance, the strings were covered in various kinds of corrosion. Again, corrosion on guitar strings is generally a result of the human factor. Oils and dead skin cells collect in the windings of the strings. Non-wound strings are exposed to oxygen and water vapor and they rust.

I carefully downtuned the guitar. At this stage, when the tension on the neck has been relatively constant for so long, I tend to be extra gentle so that nothing really bad happens -- like the bridge detaching from the body or cracks happening in the area of the headstock or body joint. I tune down a little at a time across all strings so that the release of neck tension is gradual.

When the strings are low enough that they are flopping around, while leaving the strings secured on the tuning pegs, I use a needle-nose pliers and gently pull out the bridge pins and put them somewhere safe for the moment. Make sure to pull straight up from the bridge, not at any kind of angle.

I'm not saying Bunny should have clipped these strings, but Bunny really should have clipped these strings. They were a hazard to life itself. 

I remove the strings from the bridge and then just unwind them from each tuning peg. Side note: old guitar strings can be recycled like any metal, if you're environmentally minded. The saddle of the bridge is usually not secured down in any way; remove it and put it to the side for now. After removing the strings, you're now able to finish the job of removing any extraneous dirt and dust. I did another wipe down with my soft damp cloth, and then, using some wet Q-tips, I cleaned out the smaller crevices, like around the neck joint and bridge. While you're got the strings off, it's a time where you're also able to clean the surface areas that are usually more inaccessible, like the headstock and around the rosette.

Step 3: High & Dry
Now that you've got the dirt/dust handled and the old strings removed, it's time to polish the guitar's body. Spray your polish onto the cleaning rag, not onto the guitar. A little goes a long way. You don't want to use so much that you end up with a waxy buildup.

I like to do this in sections. I start with the top of the guitar, followed by the sides, followed by the back. I also give the beck of the neck a polish, as well as the front and back of the headstock. I then follow up with another rubdown using a clean and dry microfiber cloth to make sure I haven't inadvertently left any polish on the instrument.

I don't even know what was going on here. Pretty sure it was a new civilization of microscopic beings who'd claimed this unfortunate spot for their home in the universe. They're gone now. Goodbye my little friends.

Step 4: The Sound of Silence
Again, while we've got the strings off, it's time to do something you're definitely not able to do when they're on. The constant tension on the tuning posts can eventually loosen the tuner nuts. Using a 10mm nut wrench (or, if you're like me and tend to lose your tools, a pair of pliers) just give the nuts a quick righty-tighty. You don't need to overdo it. Just make sure they're secure. If the frets themselves are showing signs of corrosion, another thing you might want to do at this point is take some 0000 steel wool and give the frets a light rub. Brush off any particles, and now it's time to treat the fingerboard.

What you use to clean the fingerboard is, like so many things in the world of music, a matter of mild controversy. Like many guitars, the fingerboard on the Fender DG-10/12 is rosewood, and lemon oil is often vilified because it can dry out the fingerboard, leading to cracks and other unpleasantness. However, the products like Dunlop's System 65 barely contain any actual lemon oil; it's mostly mineral oil with some lemon scent and yellow coloring. It's perfectly fine for rosewood, ebony, and pau ferro fingerboards. Other people will say to use linseed oil as opposed to any lemon-based product. Do your own research. Side note: if you have a maple fingerboard (which is likely finished, unlike the other woods), don't use any product at all; just wipe it with a damp cloth to clean. 

The project took about two hours total working slowly. I spent part of the time listening to my favorite album from 2019, Deceiver by DIIV.

Step 5: Rise of the Fenix
Now you'll want to put new strings on your now clean and happy guitar. I'm not going to tell you how to restring your guitar, but I will gladly show you a video of my friend Tom Watters of Takamine doing it the right way.

My only note when it comes to restringing 12-string guitars: the higher, thinner, octave-up string comes first, so in order from top to bottom, the strings go (my string gauge in parenthesis):

  • High E (.027)
  • Low E (.047)
  • High A (.018)
  • Low A (.039)
  • High D (.012)
  • Low D (.030)
  • High G (.008)
  • Low G (.023)
  • Regular B (.014)
  • Regular B (.014)
  • Regular High E (.010)
  • Regular High E (.010)
And yes, the two highest strings are the same... simply doubled. Side note: with any instrument that uses two strings that are plucked at the same time, those are called a "course", whether or not they are the same pitch doubled (in unison) or an octave apart. A 12-string guitar is comprised of six courses of strings. A mandolin has four courses of strings, each set in unison. Now you know.

Step 6: Getting in Tune
The very final thing to do is to tune your guitar. Like everything with a 12-string model, this is twice as much of a pain in the ass as a standard 6-string guitar. My advice: if your guitar doesn't have onboard electronics with a built-in tuner, just get a simple clip-on tuner. I use this one from Snark. It's fine, but use whichever one you like.

Tuning 12-string guitars is a special section of hell, because the strings are so close, it's super tedious striking one and tuning it without inadvertently also hitting the paired string. But there are plenty of worse things in life, and before you know it, you'll be done.

Kind of. See, especially in lower-end guitars, the tension of the string and the wood of the neck and body need to settle in for a bit. I was actually impressed that once I'd tuned Bunny's DG-10/12, it actually held tune pretty well for awhile. The following morning, it had gone flat across the board, but another quick tune-up and it's good to go. For this reason, if you're using your guitar for a gig or recording session, trying changing the strings the day before as opposed to the day of.

Last note: I'm sure Bunny will eventually want to take possession of this guitar again, and he'll be welcome to do so. Now that it's playable, I might have to record some kind of goofy-ass 12-string song, so perhaps that's my project for next weekend.

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Hotel Chelsea (11.02.21)

Rocking more of the alphabet at Hotel Chelsea on a Tuesday night. Photo by Kat.

At my previous show at Hotel Chelsea in Second Life, I decided -- without a lot of planning -- to do my songs in alphabetical order, and chose a song to represent each letter of the alphabet. Being that my show is an hour long and I typically do 12-13 songs per set, I actually got through exactly half the alphabet with songs starting with A through M.

Frankly, I hadn't really thought through the aspect of continuing this at a subsequent show, but as I started putting together my list for this gig, I felt compelled to try the same thing with the much more challenging N through Z zone. While I already had plenty of tunes in my solo music repertoire, which has now bloated to over 650 songs, I found I only had one song that started with Q ("Queen Bitch" by Bowie, which I didn't feel like doing) and didn't have any songs at all that started with X. What a conundrum. Or was it an opportunity?

Life in Late 2021
Before I get to more details on the show, I wanted, as I'm apt to do, to make some random notes about life as we experience it in the current time frame.

  • It's now been about 20 months since we Americans first recognized the event that would literally change all of our lives... the COVID-19 virus. Honestly, I find that I miss 2020. It felt for a little while that we were pulling together and that positive changes would come as a result of our fight against this disease. But 2021 has been chock full of contentious bullshit. I have a bunch of vaccinated friends who've had breakthrough cases of COVID. They'll all be fine, thankfully. But the fact of the matter is that a whole lot of people are acting as if COVID has done and gone, and are going about their lives as if everything has returned to 2019-level of normalcy. Let me tell you: nothing is fucking normal and I'm more certain than ever that it will never return to normal, and not just because of a virus.
  • Speaking of "normal", normally I'm able to enjoy NFL football this time of year. It's something I've done for a long, long time. Following that sport is an escape from the responsibilities and pressures of daily life. My NFL fandom goes back to when I was a child. I participate in pools, and have a pretty good understanding of the intricacies of the sport, probably more than most casual fans. But in the past 24 hours, two things happened that are completely bumming me out regarding football. First was the shocking event of Las Vegas Raiders' wide receiver Henry Ruggs III having killed a motorist at 3:30AM on Tuesday, and going from a star player with massive potential to being a) released from the team and b) facing a possible 20 years for felony impaired driving. The second thing, a story which just broke a few minutes ago, is future hall-of-fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers being diagnosed with COVID-19. My first reaction was, "Well, he's vaccinated so he'll be fine," until I read further and found out that there's a good possibility that he's not vaccinated. This boggles my mind. I can't think of something more irresponsible for a person who is supposedly a role model, and who seems in other ways to be a relatively smart human being. So now, these two situations have really soured football for me in a way I could never have expected.
  • And while we're on the topic of apparent idiots, a crowd of people -- sorry, a crowd of QAnon psychos, I meant to say -- went to Dealey Park in Dallas, TX yesterday because they were under the impression that John F. Kennedy, Jr., a man who died 22 years ago, would appear and reinstate Donald Trump as president for some reason. I'm not going to comment on this. It speaks for itself, or res ipsa loquitur, as Hunter S. Thompson would have said.

Sounds Like 2021 Is Really Shitty, Huh?
I mean, yes, but no. Life has given me a healthy perspective about what the real definitions of bad and good are. I have decent income and roof over my head; my family and I are relatively healthy. We don't live in a war zone. We're not suffering through massive drought or starvation. We're not yet so affected by climate change that our home is unlivable. Many people -- probably a greater portion of the world than I care to acknowledge -- have it way worse compared to us. I don't share the typically American trait of boundless and unfounded optimism, but my reality must allow for the fact that nearly every aspect of my life could be way worse than it is.

How About That Show?
Yeah, so... this turned out to be a really good show. As usual for my monthly Tuesday shows at Hotel Chelsea, I performed directly after my friend Max Kleene, and I was happy to see that once again, a good portion of his sizable crowd hung out for my show as well.

I know for a fact that playing after Max has led to some people discovering me who would not have otherwise heard me. It's always appreciated. Photo by Kat.

Me, alone onstage as usual. Still in a mask? Yeah, I thought that would be done by now, just as many of us presumed the pandemic would be over. But the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry, and here we are. I'll take off the mask in SL as soon as I am safely able to take it off in real life... not a moment before. Photo by Kat.

As mentioned above, I did the second half of my alphabetical show theme, meaning I began with a song title that started with N and continued through to a song that started with Z. I found it to be really fun, both the act of putting together the set list and then performing it. Not every song was among my favorite to play live, but they all came out reasonably well, with some of them being really good. Surprisingly, I'd never covered a song by Liz Phair before, despite appreciating her as an artist.

If you're ever in New York City and find yourself at 222 West 23rd Street, between Seventh and Eighth, it looks a whole lot like this. Photo by Kat.

Hotel Chelsea set list...
Northern Sky (Nick Drake)
Over My Head (Fleetwood Mac)
Psycho Killer (Talking Heads)
*Questions (Buffalo Springfield)
Rikki Don’t Lose That Number (Steely Dan)
Say Goodbye (Beck)
Tea for the Tillerman (Cat Stevens)
Uncle John’s Band (Grateful Dead)
Voices Carry (’Til Tuesday)
Wichita Lineman (Glen Campbell)
*X-Ray Man (Liz Phair)
Your Song (Elton John)
Ziggy Stardust (David Bowie)

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

Big thanks to everyone who hung out for my show, with super duper thanks to the following who helped support it!
Still Dinzeo, Ariztheo Resident, Jeff Plumday, MirrziLu Resident, AlexPeaceSoul Resident, noowun Wind, Maximillion Kleene, Kat Claxton, Nina Brandenburg, my terrific manager Maali Beck, and Hotel Chelsea manager Shyla the Super Gecko!

Monday, October 11, 2021

I Love My New Computer. I Hated Setting It Up.

I am, at this very moment, writing my first blog post via my shiny new computer. To say it's an upgrade from my last one is a huge understatement, even though in theory it's the same machine... an Apple Mac mini. It's the latest in a long line of Macs I've owned and used going back to the '80s, and this one, with its 8-core M1 chip, 16GB RAM, and 2TB SSD, is by far the most powerful computer I've ever called my own.

My previous machine was also a Mac mini... from eight years ago. It's still chugging along pretty much fine, and that computer, a third-gen mini with its Intel i7 chip, has been the primary hub for my marketing business, doing professional graphic and web design as well as video editing, as well as for my personal creative endeavors in music production since 2013.

This little computer in this little box is hundreds of times faster and more powerful than a computer that would have cost me ten times as much a decade ago. If you don't appreciate things like that, you're a pretty unhappy person in general.

Eight Years Later
But eight years is a long time in the world of computing, and other than the external form factor, this new machine is almost nothing like my old mini. In addition to the insane power of the Apple M1 chip and having twice as much RAM and twice the drive space, it's running macOS Big Sur, an operating system that my older machine was too decrepit to make use of. Comparing this machine to my previous Macs... a couple of MacBook Pros, a G4 Mac Pro tower, an original G3 iMac, and so on going back to the Macintosh SE that I was using for word processing and MIDI sequencing in the late '80s... it's simply astounding how fast and powerful it is.

Without getting overly geeky about it, the M1 chip that's the centerpiece of the latest generation of Apple computers is an 8-core CPU that delivers up to 3x faster processing performance than the previous generation of Mac mini... and my previous one wasn't even the last generation. It's mind blowing how fast and efficient this computer is. Photo from Apple.

Setting Up... Not My Favorite Thing To Do
My Mac mini arrived on Wednesday. In the midst of a typical frantic work week, there was no way I was going to be able to stop everything I was doing and pop in a new computer. That turned out to be a very wise choice, as per what I'm about to tell you.

I want to first note that the actual act of getting started with a new Mac of any kind couldn't be easier. If I was doing a fresh start with nothing else involved, the act of plugging in a power cable and connecting a monitor via HMDI and plugging in a keyboard and mouse takes about two minutes or less. But over the course of a life where computers are an integral part, the one thing most people don't have is a fresh start. Far from it.

The physical setup of the newest Mac mini could not possibly be more simple. I have had to do a little rearranging, since most of my peripherals have been standard USB rather than Thunderbolt, but everything is working out fine. Photo from Apple.

Data Migration and App Updates and Logins, Oh My
As my primary work computer in a small business, I needed to be sure that I was fully operational by the time Monday came around. That meant a few things. I had to be able to get into my email and other work communications tools; I had to be able to use the software that I require daily; I had to have access to the files -- both current and evergreen -- that I use as part of my job. Makes sense, right?

Apple has a very good solution for this. In the utilities folder of every modern Mac is an application called Migration Assistant. In many situations, it's all you need for porting over the content of one computer to another. But my situation was a bit different. First, my previous mini was using an OS that was a few steps behind Big Sur, which meant that their functionality was a bit different. Second, I wanted to take the opportunity to do a long-needed cleanup of ancient files that had gone unused for years and years. In other words, while I did make use of the Migration Assistant, I didn't just bring everything over in one fell swoop.

At various points in the migration from old mini to new, the utility informed me that it would take about 11,000 hours to complete the job, meaning it would be done in early 2023. Fortunately, the time estimates on data transfer are notoriously wrong. It took a little over six hours. 

Side note: my old machine was damn near out of space on its 1TB HDD. That meant I had a lot of data to export/import. The process took about six hours over Ethernet. With the stuff I didn't want to automatically migrate, I decided to use Dropbox to port over the selected folders that I knew I'd need on the new machine. That took some time too.

Mac Mail on Big Sur Is Great... Once It Works
One of the things that should have been the fastest and easiest aspect of getting rolling with the new Mac -- setting up my email on the new machine -- turned out to be a giant pain in the ass. I like using a local email client as opposed to relying on Gmail or the like. It's a big part of my workflow.

While you'd think that setting up an email client is one of the easiest and most common IT projects ever, I ran into problems. I set up fresh passwords on my web host's server, went in and plugged the info into the new Mail accounts, and nothing. Continual connection errors. I was practically tearing out my hair after several hours of this, and even bit the bullet and had a long support text chat with my web host, who were very helpful in trying out a variety of solutions -- shoutout to Hostdime and their CSRs. Ultimately, I had to troubleshoot the entire process from start to finish and finally found the issue. I did not want to wake up today and have to be going back and forth between the two machines just to read and respond to mail. It got handled, but I think I aged a decade over those few hours.

Side note: now that everything is up and running, I really like Big Sur's Mail app. It's one of the biggest improvements found in the operating system. I'm still getting used to the changes, but I already see how it's going to be helpful for me.

I have memories of every macOS back to System 1.0 in 1986. Big Sur is a huge advancement, and I immediately recognized that a lot of the things that people love about the iOS operating system found on iPhone and iPad has made its way to the desktop. Photo from Apple.

Ancient Apps Renewed
Finally -- and this was something I was well aware of long before the arrival of the new machine -- I had a number of software tools that were severely outdated and would no longer be functional on the new machine and its shiny new chip and operating system. One of the big ones was the Adobe Creative Suite of applications that I use daily in my marketing career. While this wasn't a big deal in terms of the effort, the act of updating everything did require some organization and planning.

One last note: if you're like most people, you probably have encrypted login passwords stored in various places... in web-based apps on your local machine and in the cloud. Guess what? Not all of those logins are accessible when you switch machines, so I spent a good amount of time recovering passwords that allowed me to get into various places I need to go on a regular basis for work and other activities. Everything from multiple accounts on social nets like Facebook and Twitter to web sites I manage to software companies from whom I required updates and downloads required some back and forth while I got my login shit together. Good times.

Not Done Yet, But Everything Is Fine
What I did manage to accomplish was getting all the high-priority stuff up and running on the new machine. Most of my apps are updated and functional. The content that I work with daily is all on the new machine.

Once I have everything seriously dialed in, one of the things I'm most looking forward to with this new Mac mini is opening Logic Pro X and really diving in on some new music creation. Photo from Apple.

That being said, I have a whole second tier of old files and such that need to eventually make its way over. I will be doing that over the course of this week at various times. I also have several other email accounts, less used than my primary ones but still important, to set up. Also, one important piece of software -- the broadcast tool I use for my live music shows -- had become obsolete years ago, and is entirely non-functional on the new machine, so I need to find a new solution for that (and test it thoroughly) in advance of my next scheduled show.

But all that will happen in due time. For now, I am up and running, and reveling in the unquestionably higher performance of this new Mac mini. I'll probably have more to say about it and Big Sur as time goes by and I become more accustomed to these marvels of technology.

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Hotel Chelsea (10.05.21)

Rocking the alphabet (at least A through M) at Hotel Chelsea. Photo by Kat.

Believe it nor not, it's coming up on one year that the first Tuesday evening of each month, I've been performing at Hotel Chelsea in Second Life. Even though it's only a monthly show (as opposed to a weekly or bi-weekly like most of my previous regularly-scheduled venues in SL), it really has become kind of my home turf these days, where I feel very comfortable and can count on a good crowd and can do fun shows without a lot of effort.

Gratitude to Max Kleene
For most of those shows at Hotel Chelsea, I am following my friend and fellow SL performer Maximillion Kleene. I may have told this story before, but it's worth repeating. When I was really just getting started in the SL music performance scene around 2007/2008, Max did something for me that I'll never forget. He had his own little venue, an outdoor place that was on a beachside with a fire pit in the middle; I don't remember what it was called. But Max had me out to perform there and brought in his considerably large base of fans to check me out. It was tremendously helpful to my little career as an SL musician, and I feel it was the kickoff point to help me cultivate my own fan base.

Since then, I've not only shared stages with him at various gigs across the SL grid on many occasions, but we've also had a great time performing together at a number of live SL jams in places like San Diego, Nashville, Minneapolis/St.Paul, and Orange County, CA. He's a talented guy who knows how to engage his crowd, and is vary capable as a solo artist... not something every musician does well. Max lives in Canada, so it's pretty remarkable that the two of us would have had the opportunity to do live music together despite being so geographically isolated. It's part of the magic of Second Life, and I appreciate it.

Max and me at our first real life gathering at the San Diego SL Jam in February 2011, over ten years ago.

Another time rocking with Max, this time at the SL Jam in the Twin Cities, fall 2016.

What Happened to Facebook/Instagram on Monday?
You know sometimes how you think you know something, but then you have to wonder if what you think you know is just what someone else wants you to think you know? That's kind of where I am with Monday's spectacularly bad fail of the Facebook-owned online entities. Even the part that seems to be acknowledged as the truth is such a bad look for that company, it's amazing it could happen at all.

The long story short is as follows. Someone at Facebook, who has presumably since been taken out back and shot, accidentally (as far as we know) sent a little note to the routing protocols of the Internet that told it their servers were gone. This happens every once in awhile... usually with smaller companies that forget to pay for renewal of their domain name. When it happens, someone says "oops" and pays the bill, and their site is back up a short while later.

While the massive outage of Facebook and its subsidiaries Instagram and WhatsApp on Monday seemed bad, it's certainly not as big of a deal for the company than finding themselves under intensive governmental scrutiny for greater regulation of their content or even anti-trust rulings. Image by Dado Ruvic/Reuters.

The problem with Facebook is that everything they do runs through their own systems. Once their servers went down, there was no way to even begin to rectify the situation. There were no outside systems that were off the Facebook tool kit in place for a contingency like this one. Not only could they not log into their own now-vanished system to fix it; even the employees' key cards were coded to the same system so they physically couldn't get into the areas of the company where the repairs could be made. Hence, they were way more fucked than most companies in the same situation, and it took more than eight hours -- the longest downtime since Facebook was founded -- before their servers even seemed to exist on the Internet, and then more time before the content propagated around the world and it was functioning properly.

Is That True?
This whole scenario is embarrassing enough that it very well might be true. Per reports, it cost the company more than $50 billion in stock declines during that fateful day (which, of course, jumped right back up after the debacle). At the same time... it's bizarre that this happened the morning after a damning 60 Minutes whistleblower interview report about Facebook's "profit over ethics" policies came out (and the day of said whistleblower's testimony to Congress). It's not a big stretch to think that the timing of this massive outage was too bizarre to be coincidental, and that either a) it was done maliciously by someone inside or outside the company, or b) that Facebook themselves shut things down while cleaning up the evidence that would implicate them in some way. 

Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen testifying before Congress on Monday. Photo by USA Today.

So is the "we're incompetent and our systems were designed with no contingency plans" excuse true? Yeah, probably. I have no way of knowing, and frankly I don't care. I use Facebook professionally for my marketing clients, for promoting my music, and in vain efforts to teach people about political and social/cultural things that probably affect them. If not for those reasons, the entire platform could fall off the face of the Earth, and I'd find suitable replacements to cover the very few areas where Facebook and its other brands are personally useful to me and are positive influences on the world.

Rocking the Alphabet
Let's get back to my show at Hotel Chelsea. I am trying to curate my recent shows so that they're not generic and interchangeable. Figuring out some kind of theme for my set has two advantages. First, it forces me to reach deeper into my repertoire and play things that I might not have automatically chosen. Second (and more importantly), it's a much more memorable and fun experience for my audience. It's only a matter of laziness (or, more accurately, simply not having the time) when I don't put together some kind of themed show for each and every performance.

People having fun at my show. You know, I never care if people think of me as some extraordinary musical talent, or if they love every song I do. I only want them to have a good time for whatever reason they do. Photo by Kat.

For this one, while scrolling through my alphabetically-arranged list of song lyrics, I realized that it might be fun to not only do them in alphabetical order, but to select a song that represented each letter of the alphabet. So that's exactly what I did, per the set list below.

I had a request toward the end of the show to continue next time where I left off, meaning I'd have to come up with songs for the much more difficult N-Z section of the alphabet, but it sounds like a fun challenge and I think I'll plan for that at my next Hotel Chelsea show.

Me, rocking in my mask. A relevant side note: of my vaccinated friends who've still come down with breakthrough cases of COVID-19, a big percentage of them are live musicians doing real life shows, and not having the option to sing with a mask on. Photo by Kat.

Hotel Chelsea set list...
Accidents Will Happen (Elvis Costello)
Barely Breathing (Duncan Sheik)
Carolina In My Mind (James Taylor)
Don't Let It Bring You Down (Neil Young)
Everything Counts (Depeche Mode)
Fool on the Hill (Beatles)
Garter Snake (Macie Stewart)
Hannah Sun (Lomelda)
If You Could Only See (Tonic)
Just Like Heaven (The Cure)
Killing Me Softly (Roberta Flack)
Learning to Fly (Pink Floyd)
Mexican Radio (Wall of Voodoo)

Huge thanks to the folks who hung out at my show at Hotel Chelsea, and extra special thanks to those who helped support it!
Jeff Plumday, noowun Wind, GingerPandora Resident, Trouble Streeter, Kat Claxton, and Chelsea's great GM, Shyla the Super Gecko! 

Sunday, October 3, 2021

Lutz City of Templemore (10.02.21)

Rocking for everyone hanging out at Templemore's pretty outdoor stage. Photo by Kat.

I'll tell you about my show at Templemore, but first let's talk about new music and the four reasons why you don't like it.

1. You Don't Like New Things
Actually, let's qualify that statement. You don't like new things unless they are very reminiscent of old things. Why? Because you're a human, and humans are averse to change. Change gives you feelings of discomfort, while familiarity brings contentment. There's nothing wrong with that. It's part of the survival instinct of a species, and on an overall basis, it's fully understandable. It's engraved into your DNA. When unexpected things occur, they are, more often than not, bad in some way. A meteor hitting the Earth; a diagnosis of a disease; a sudden closure of a place of business; a home that burns down; the end of a relationship. It is said that change -- even good change -- is one of the most common causes of stress among people. New music, especially entire new styles of music with which you are unfamiliar, is often dismissed purely based on the aspect of it being unfamiliar and, hence, bad.

2. You Associate Older Music with Better Times
Let's be real here. For a lot of people, the part of their lives that they consider to be the best was in their youth. Again, this is totally understandable. When you're young, you face few of the pressures and challenges that represent the rest of your life, and have yet to build up resentment toward the difficult and generally negative experiences that you associate with the responsibilities of adulthood. It's been proven many times that the majority of people consider the "best music" to be that which they listened to in high school, or perhaps college, in their late teens and early 20s. And then people live for some 60-70 more years and can never have the same appreciation for music as that which is attached to their youth.

3. The Cultural and Generational Divide
Ah... the big one. Let's start with the obvious point: if you can't easily relate to something, it's unlikely you'll enjoy it. What that means is that Elvis Presley was considered a dangerous thug, the Beatles were deemed screaming noise, hard rock was talentless cacophony, and so on by the people of the respective preceding generations. It also means that if an artist came from a background that was very different from your own, be that via nationality, race, economic status, or other consideration, you had a built-in excuse to prejudge their music. I know that the crossover for rap/hip hop from an underground music genre to the predominant pop style was a huge dividing point at the time, for this very reason.

In the worst case scenarios, new music is considered an actual threat to society. Now considered part of the cultural fabric of western civilization, the FBI opened files on the Beatles at the time. Parents expressed outrage about this music that was corrupting the youth of the world. There are many other examples of new music being considered subversive and dangerous through the years.

4. You're Not Hearing The Right Music
This is the most frustrating part. It's not easy to find the new music that you would like if you only had a steady source of exposure to it. The style of music you love might not be what is topping the charts and getting significant exposure via mainstream media. That doesn't mean that people aren't still making that music; it means you have to work to find it. Frankly, the people who don't consider music to be a big priority in their lives really don't want to make any actual effort to find it. I recently wrote an article about this exact topic, with plenty of tips on discovering music you might like.

Old Music: Still Here, Still Good
The big thing to keep in mind with all of this insane ranting I'm doing here: I love older music too. Music has been part of the human experience likely from times before we were even fully human. I love baroque music from the 1600s, classical music from the 1700s, and romantic music from the 1800s. I love blues from the 1930s/1940s, and free jazz from the 1950s/1960s. I love the great pop/rock artists from the '60s/'70s, and metal from the '70s/'80s. Grunge and alt-rock of the '90s. 

That music is here. It's immortal. It's not going anywhere. It stays around forever. Bach's Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B Minor came out in 1739. Its going to be around in 2739 and far beyond, assuming humans are still here to enjoy it. And here's the point: the act of discovering and enjoying new music takes nothing away from the great music that came before it. You can listen to a song from 2021 and then a song from 1966 and then a nice Gregorian chant written in 752 and really get different kinds of fulfillment from each of them. 

I Played Seven Songs That Came Out In The Past 12 Months, and Here They Are
Here's the thing; of the seven songs I did at my show on Saturday at Templemore that all were released in the past year, none of them were radically weird. In fact, all of them have certain elements that meant they could have come out at various times in the past 40-50 years. They're listed below in the order in which I performed them.

Swirl (Charlie Martin)

Hannah Sun (Lomelda)

El Invento (José González)

Seaside_Demo (Seb)

Box by the Cliff (They Stole My Crayon)

Bird of Paradise (Cory Hanson)

Garter Snake (Macie Stewart)

And Now, My Show
So now that we're done with all that pointless screaming into the void and embedding music that no one will likely listen to, I will tell you the things that actually pertain to my show on Saturday October 2 at Lutz City of Templemore in Second Life.

Templemore is, and always has been, the most visually impressive series of live music venues that Second Life has ever offered. I tried to go back and count the number of different stages I've played at Templemore in its many incarnations. There were too many. Each of them, in their own distinct way, is incredible not only in the detail of the design but in the actual artistic theme that pervades all of the Templemore builds. Credit to my friend, the artist Luis Lockjaw, for creating this world within a world.

No one can deny that Templemore has always been the artistic environment leader in all SL live music venues. Photo by Kat.

My own theme for this particular show -- which will kind of explain the paragraphs of babbling you read above -- was new music. Over half of the songs I did (those shown above) came out between late 2020 and up to September 2021. I'll tell you: I would have preferred to have a bigger crowd at a show where I was really excited to show off those tunes, and I had four songs in that set that I'd never played before.

People Are People
The fact is that like any music scene, the musical tastes of Second Life residents predominantly lean toward safe and familiar sounds. I don't begrudge any other performer for their choices in repertoire; I think that if people enjoy what they do, they are obviously serving the proper job of the entertainer, which is simply to entertain. From track singers to DJs to live artists who play older and much-beloved songs, they're not doing anything wrong at all. Like a microcosm of real life, where great indie music remains slightly hidden and underground, it's more difficult to get people out to shows for those artists who purposefully avoid playing the same thing over and over again.

Do I like performing for huge crowds? Yes, of course I do. But when I have a show that isn't well attended, it doesn't mean I can't still do my best work for whoever is there at the time. I always do, no matter what. Photo by Kat.

That having been said, I am super happy with how the show itself went. I was well prepared with the new material, and my voice and guitar and audio streaming were all behaving very well. I loved doing the new songs, all of which will be popping up again at future shows. As I said during the show itself, nothing makes me happier than those moments where I'll introduce a new artist/band or a whole new sound to my audience, and they go out and seek out the music to explore on their own.

In October 1981, I was in 8th grade and was really getting deep into music, and Ghost in the Machine was an album that was a big gateway drug for my lifelong love of new, cool sounds.

Quick tidbit: I'd realized that the day of this show was both the 70th birthday of Sting (holy shit!) and the 40th anniversary of the release of the album that initially made me a Police fan for life... Ghost in the Machine. I was compelled to add a song to my set as a result.

One last note on this show. I was followed by Joe Paravane, whom I'd never heard before, and I hung out for a good portion of his show. I thought he was both talented and really unique among the SL music performance scene, and had an interesting vocal style and was obviously a competent guitarist. Much like real life, I always appreciate the discovery of performers in SL who I personally enjoy, and I will definitely seek out other opportunities to hear Joe play.

Still masked in SL as in RL? Yup! Photo by Kat.

Templemore set list...
Swirl (Charlie Martin)
*Hannah Sun (Lomelda)
El Invento (José González)
*Seaside_demo (SEB)
Box by the Cliff (They Stole My Crayon)
Bird of Paradise (Cory Hanson)
*Garter Snake (Macie Stewart)
Polly (Nirvana)
Half Moon Bay (Sun Kil Moon)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
*God Only Knows (Beach Boys)
Spirits in the Material World (The Police)
Ziggy Stardust (David Bowie)

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

Thanks so much to everyone who came out to the show, with special thanks to the following who helped support it!
Malice Marsault, Taj Nishi, Joe Paravane, LillyAnnSetner Resident, Kat Claxton, my manager Maali Beck, and Templemore's terrific owners Grace Sixpence and Luis Lockjaw, wonderful hostess Bee Blackrain, and GM Amaya Mavinelli! 

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Terry's Place (09.19.21)

I may not have known I had a show to do when I woke up today, but nevertheless it turned out to be a super fun Sunday afternoon. Photo by Kat.

An admission: I had very few plans on Sunday, and none of them involved doing a live music show at Terry's Place in Second Life. Allow me to elucidate.

Typically, I am very aware of upcoming events on my calendar for Second Life shows. Like, days ahead of time, if not weeks. I often plan out my set list days before the show, and usually post the event to local media and send invites the day before.Well, for whatever reason, this one went under my radar. I leisurely slept in until about 8:30 (which is super late for me). I relaxed, made coffee, checked some news headlines, all while roaming around my home in a bathrobe. It being a typical Sunday in the fall, I also took a look at the NFL schedule to confirm what games were being played and when.

At some point, I meandered by Facebook. Seeing some new notifications, I clicked one... and was greeted by a post from my manager Maali Beck in an SL live music group inviting people to come to a show that I was apparently giving.

I often respond to Maali's posts about my shows with a surprised face just to be funny. This was the first time I really meant it.

Well, if I'd been in a semi-dazed of Sunday relaxedness at the time, it disappeared quickly as I first went and checked my calendar and then the events list in SL and confirmed that indeed, I was scheduled for 1PM at Terry's Place. This wasn't bad news by any means; I just hadn't planned ahead to do it. So, snapping myself out of my Sunday stupor, I started doing several things at once, like making a set list to perform, taking a shower so I'd be more of an alert human being while doing the show, and posting an event notice and sending invites. People can't come to a show they never knew about, after all.

Visiting the '90s
I still don't quite accept that the time distance between now and 1991 is the same as 1991 to 1961. I mean, I get it in theory, but 1961 sounds like some mythical year in ancient history while 1991 seems like it wasn't long ago at all. I may still own some socks that I had in 1991.

Anyway, when I did my debut at Terry's Place in June, I visited with owner Ninja Antwoord and made it a point to find out what kind of music he was into and see if there was a good level of crossover to the stuff I also enjoyed. As it turned out, there was; he told me that most of his favorite music was '90s alt rock and grunge.

As you know, of you know me, I'm not a big nostalgia guy. I prefer to live in the present. But music is one of those things that creates a landmark in the roadmap of your life, and if you just look at one year -- 1991 -- you'll probably note that it was an extraordinary year for music that presented a sea change in the direction of popular sounds. I happened to be 22 years old at the time, so I was particularly receptive to cool new sounds. I still am today, but I was then too.

Take a look at a few of the albums that came out in 1991 alone...
  • Blood Sugar Sex Magik (Red Hot Chili Peppers)
  • Nevermind (Nirvana)
  • Metallica (Metallica)
  • Badmotorfinger (Soundgarden)
  • Achtung Baby (U2)
  • Out Of Time (R.E.M.)
There's a lot more, but holy wow, that's some great new music coming out in a short time frame! I'm not saying the '90s were some particularly spectacular time in music; there are equal arguments that the '60s, '70s, '80s, and '10s were also great in music (sorry '00s, but you just sucked). But for people who share my Generation X age range, the '90s definitely represented a time of massive changes in our lives.

Seriously, these three albums came out within two weeks of each other. Two of them came out the same day. I mean, holy shit.

Back to the '20s
When I found out about my show, one thing I wasn't worried about was the set list. I'd already determined what kind of music would be most acceptable there, so I just checked my last show there, made sure I wasn't repeating any of the tunes (I have a whole bunch from that era and in that style), and put together the list below. It couldn't have gone better.

We didn't have a giant crowd, but we had a bunch of people who seemed to appreciate the tunes I'd selected. Getting crowds in SL is a very fickle activity. There are shows I've heavily promoted that had very light attendance, and there are those I've barely mentioned that are packed with people. There are so many variables to attendance at SL events, it would take me pages to explain them all. I think the biggest one is that you aren't competing with other SL-based events at the same time; you're competing against all of life's attention requirement, which can range from people's jobs to watching football to doing house chores to spending time outside and so on. I've always told other SL performers to not get hung up on the kinds of crowds they pull, or how that fluctuates day to day, place to place.

I've had bigger crowds but literally everyone here seemed to be digging the tunes. That's what makes a good and memorable show. Photo by Kat.

Me onstage at Terry's Place. Still masked, as I will remain in SL until the day I can feel comfortable in public with my naked face. Probably still gonna be awhile. Photo by Kat.

I will tell you that everyone there seemed to enjoy the show, and I'd certainly be glad to do more shows at Terry's Place in the future. I'm also very glad I saw Maali's notice when I did; it would have been an actual panic-inducing moment had I not looked at Facebook pretty early!

Terry's Place set list...
Low (Cracker)
Bird of Paradise (Cory Hanson)
1979 (Smashing Pumpkins)
Big Empty (Stone Temple Pilots)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Heart-Shaped Box (Nirvana)
Ashes to Ashes (David Bowie)
Bag of Nothing (They Stole My Crayon)
Pink Moon (Nick Drake)
Sex & Candy (Marcy Playground)
Swirl (Charlie Martin)
Tribute (Tenacious D)
Loser (Beck)
*Terry’s Place Improv (Zak Claxton)

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

Big, big thanks to everyone who came and hung out at the show, with super duper thanks to the following who helped support it!
Donn DeVore, Lanai Jarrico, Orion Baral, Kat Claxton, Ghostie Wildmist, JAdmiral Maelstrom, Diana Renoir, TroyJaimes Resident, Trouble Streeter, Agatha Nowles, my terrific manager Maali Beck, Terry's Place hostess Ghostie Wildmist, Terry's Place owner ninjaantwoord Resident, and the show sponsor, SL Enquirer.

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Hotel Chelsea (09.07.21)

This was a super fun show. I apologize to anyone who took offense to my vulgar display of extraordinary ego in my improvised last song. These things happen. Well, to me, anyway. Photo by Kat.

I ended up having a really pretty fun show at Hotel Chelsea in Second Life last night, but first I want to talk about women. I'm sure you've heard of them. They're people like men, but probably better in most ways.

The Texas Abortion Law
On September 1, one of the most restrictive abortion laws in our nation's history post-Roe v. Wade went into effect in Texas. Senate Bill 8, which was signed into law by Greg Abbott,  bans abortion after six weeks of pregnancy... a point that's well before most women even realize that they are pregnant. But there's more. The law allows private citizens to sue anyone who assists the woman get an abortion, from medical facilities themselves all the way down to a person who helps a woman pay for medical treatment or even gives a woman a ride to a clinic. The icing on this nightmarish cake is that the law purposefully makes no exceptions for cases involving rape or incest.

A Little Background
You, a smart person, may be asking yourself, "Hey self, don't we live in a country where women's reproductive rights are protected constitutionally via a Supreme Court decision?", and the answer would be yes. In 1973, one of the most well-known SCOTUS decisions ever was handed down in a case called Roe v. Wade. Roe was the pseudonym for Norma McCorvey, a young woman who lived in Texas. Wade was Henry Wade, the district attorney of Dallas County, TX. The court's decision by 7-2 was that abortion fell under the 14th Amendment's right to privacy. It has also been said in times since that forcing women to carry and bear children is subjecting them to involuntary servitude, which also violates the anti-slavery rights of the 13th Amendment.

It was a busy news day in January 1973.

How Can the Texas Law Be Legal, Then?
Great question. On September 1, the Supreme Court in a 5-4 vote refused to block the Texas law from going into effect. However, it's likely that the first time the law is challenged on a direct basis that the court will need to either rule the law as being unconstitutional... or be forced to overturn Roe v. Wade entirely. There's too much conflicting between the two to coexist. Be aware... there's a legitimate concern that this conservative court may do just that, effectively ending safe and legal abortion in this country.

One of the most important things to keep in mind about legal abortion: abortions happen regardless of legal status, and the horror stories of back-alley abortions that lead to the maiming or death of women will become reality again if Roe v. Wade isn't maintained.

Can a Pregnancy Be Determined Within the Six Week Period?
Short answer: no. In almost every case, a woman is not aware she is pregnant within this time frame. I'll let Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez explain it as she did in a recent interview. 

“I’m sorry we have to break down biology 101 on national television, but in case no one has informed him (Texas Governor Greg Abbott) before in his life, six weeks pregnant means two weeks late for your period. And two weeks late on your period for any person—any person with a menstrual cycle—can happen if you’re stressed, if your diet changes, or for really no reason at all. So you don’t have six weeks.”

Essentially, this means that the one mechanism the Texas law is using to skirt by Roe v. Wade -- this six-week grace period -- is meaningless. It places the law in direct opposition to the intentions of the constitutional ruling that is the basis of Roe v. Wade. And, said and done, wealthy people will still have access to abortions, legal or otherwise, while the poor will be the ones who are forced to carry unwanted pregnancies to term.

Women's rights are human rights. That's right. Side note: women make up about 52% of the population of the world. Exactly zero men should be telling women how they are allowed to use their bodies. 

I'm not going to get into all of the ramifications of forced birth. It's disgusting, and it's just vile that here in 2021, women of our country are still treated like property with a different set of rules than men are required to abide. I'll end this little note by saying that I will do anything I can do in my small way to help prevent this law from remaining in effect, from using my influence on businesses based in Texas to participating in protests to offering aid to individual women who need help. Letting this slide would result in the possible overturn of Roe v. Wade and a massive setback to women's rights. I refuse to allow that to happen. More on this topic at a later date.

Hey, How Was That Show?
It was great despite a few things, and I'll tell you why. First, I didn't have Max Kleene performing before me, which meant I had to start from an audience of zero as opposed to getting some of his leftover crowd to kick off my show. No big thing... folks started coming in as usual as I got rolling, and we ended up with a small but fun crowd.

Not a huge crowd, but definitely a fun one. Photo by Kat.

Second, I was about halfway through the show when my voice decided to take a little vacation. I'm not sure why. I will say I haven't been doing many shows lately, nor have I been singing for other purposes. Even though I warmed up plenty, I think it was the equivalent of taking a run after a hiatus from exercise. Singing is a physical activity, and you need to do it pretty consistently for consistent results.

Am I still in a mask in SL? You betcha. I look forward to taking it off; it will symbolically represent the end of the pandemic, whenever that may be. Photo by Kat.

That being said, I was still able to push past the vocal issue and finish the show pretty well. I spent the rest of the evening after the show not being able to make much sound with my vocal cords at all, but today (the following morning), it seems fine.

Another note: this was my first show after the death of Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts on August 24. I didn't make the whole show a big tribute in that regard, but I did do a few Stones songs in memory of Charlie, including one I hadn't done before. Some of the other songs in my set were chosen in solidarity with the women of Texas and around the world, for reasons described above.

Final note: as anyone who's been to a bunch of my shows can attest, I sometimes find myself with a small time gap toward the very end of my show where there's not enough time to do a full tune, but it's too far from the top of the hour to just leave. In those cases, I often improvise a little tune on the spot. As with all improvisational art, sometimes what I come up with is good, sometimes it sucks, and sometimes I find myself singing to my audience about having a big dick, as was the case last night. I offer no excuses nor explanations.

I probably won't be singing the inspirational song "Zak Claxton" again. I couldn't if I tried; I have no idea how it went. But I do recall saying some entirely inappropriate lyrics. My stream of consciousness can be a filthy river, but that's the way it goes. Photo by Kat.

Hotel Chelsea set list...
One of These Things First (Nick Drake)
Bang and Blame (R.E.M.)
*Angie (Rolling Stones)
Gimme Shelter (Rolling Stones)
The Worst (Rolling Stones)
Bird of Paradise (Cory Hanson)
A Man Needs a Maid (Neil Young)
Don’t Let It Pass (Junip)
Among the Leaves (Sun Kil Moon)
Any Major Dude (Steely Dan)
California (Joni Mitchell)
Swirl (Charlie Martin)
*Zak Claxton (Zak Claxton)

*Indicates the firsat time I've peformed this song in SL.

Huge thanks to everyone who came out to the show, and hella massive thanks to the following who helped support it!
RoseDrop Rust, shelmark Resident, Trouble Streeter , noowun Wind, Nina Brandenburg, vesti Korbitza, LillyAnnSetner Resident, Elaine8000 Resident, DennyMac Melodious, Kat Claxton, my terrific manager Maali Beck, and Hotel Chelsea manager Shyla the Super Gecko!