Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Hotel Chelsea (05.04.21)

Doing my May 4 show at Hotel Chelsea in Second Life. Photo by Kat.

I want to talk about my show at Hotel Chelsea, which was really good, but let me first relate a couple of recent random things. I'll start by telling you about how I'm an idiot (or at least one of many examples of this fact).

Pointless Vaccine Freakout
As I noted last week, I had my second Moderna vaccination on Thursday. After the many stories of intense side effects from the second jab, I was fully prepared to spend Friday and perhaps a portion of the weekend feeling like shit. But that never happened. I was perfectly fine, and I remain so. My worst side effect symptom was some barely discernible joint pain that was so minor, I had trouble distinguishing it from typical everyday pains that people my age tend to experience.

I'd spent some time over the weekend working on some song ideas, and being the lazy bastard that I am, I was playing guitar in my bathrobe on Saturday morning hours before finally showering and getting dressed like a human. When I finally got off my ass and went to get in the shower, I looked in the mirror and noticed that in places on my chest and my thigh, the skin looked red and rash-like. Uh oh. I immediately assumed that this was some kind of bad reaction to the Moderna vaccination and that I was about to die until I showed Christina, who pointed out that the affected areas were exactly where I'd been holding the large dreadnought acoustic guitar that I'd been playing intensely. Sure enough, the red splotchy skin faded into normal hues within minutes. Crisis averted. Silly me.

Music tip: sometimes just the act of getting ready to record "for real" -- launching your DAW software, setting up mics, whatever -- can take just enough time and be just distracting enough to allow you to lose your inspiration or forget whatever musical idea you've stumbled upon. I've had this Focusrite Tape app on my iPad forever; I'm not even sure they still offer it. But there are plenty like it for your phone or tablet. When I have an idea, or even a partial idea like a riff or progression, I will often just flip open the iPad, start up that app, record my thing through the built-in mic, and then have that recording to refer to later if and when I want to flesh out the new song.

Saturday Afternoon Rock with Maneka
I'd set a reminder on Saturday for myself to check out the Zoom-based livestream show by a New York band called Maneka. I came to learn about Maneka in a weird way, but it's not atypical in the world of indie music. About five years ago, I stumbled over a song that I liked by a band called Jackal Onasis. I was impressed by the drummer/singer, a woman named Jordyn Blakely, and ended up following her on Twitter. I was happy to note that she also seemed like a cool person who I related to regarding non-musical things like political/social outlook and so on. It's never a guarantee that someone whose music you enjoy is also a human you'd like personally as well, so it's nice when that happens. Jordyn had shared earlier last week that she'd be doing a Zoom show with Maneka (the band fronted by guitarist/vocalist Devin McKnight, of whom I was aware from his time in Speedy Ortiz). He's a really innovative guitarist and interesting songwriter, so my curiosity was piqued enough to check them out.

There's Jordyn doing her drum thing at the Maneka show on Saturday May 1. I think the technical terminology to describe her as a drummer is "fucking great", or perhaps "total badass".

I don't know what I was expecting from the show beyond having something fun to do on a Saturday afternoon, but I was really impressed by the band, which also featured bass player Nicola Leel (formerly from a UK-based band called Doe), and multi-instrumentalist Elise Okusami (who releases music as Oceanator) on guitar and keys. The songs they did at the Maneka gig were vibey and cool and dissonant, which is right in my area of enjoyability, and all four musicians were outstanding. The band was seemingly well rehearsed and tight. I was hoping to like the show a lot, and I ended up enjoying it even more than I was expecting.

Left to right: Elise Okusami, Jordyn Blakely, Nicola Leel of Maneka. Ironically I don't have a pic of Maneka frontman Devin McKnight at this gig; he took this pic of the band and posted it, so he's not in it. 

Here's a live performance video from last year if you want to check out Maneka for yourself.

Back to the Show
Starting in November of last year, I've been doing shows on the first Tuesday of the month at a Second Life venue called Hotel Chelsea. Coincidentally, my very first show there was on November 3, 2020... the day of the general election here in the USA when Joe Biden (eventually) defeated Donald Trump. Perhaps my show there was a good luck charm, if you believe in such things.

It's not a super visually impressive place as far as Second Life venues go, but it's definitely a venue that's focused on the music itself, and I have to say, the management there is incredibly nice, and the crowd I get there seems very appreciative of real live music. I've never had a bad show there; even the ones that didn't get great attendance went well and left me happy afterwards.

Good times at Hotel Chelsea in SL. Photo by Kat.

As I mentioned, it was May 4, known informally as Star Wars Day (as in, "May the Fourth be with you," which I find to be like a terrible dad joke, but whatever). My shows each month there follow Max Kleene, one of SL's most popular performers and a super nice guy whom I've now known for going on 15 years. Max was wearing a giant Darth Vader helmet while playing, and covered Weird Al's spoof on "American Pie" with Star Wars-themed lyrics. He also did two Billy Joel songs. I'm not sure why; like many performers in SL who aren't me, Max allows his audience to request songs, so there may have been a Billy Joel fan in his crowd. But the oddly coincidental thing is that well in advance of the show, I'd already pulled out my own set list, which also included a Billy Joel song that I perform rarely. I opened with it after Max ended his set with a BJ song, keeping the vibe consistent in a way that I think was pleasing to the crowd.

Darth Max. Photo by Kat.

Why am I still wearing a mask in SL when I've been vaccinated in real life? For the same reasons I still wear one in real life. Especially during this time period where some people are vaccinated and others aren't, we still need to do our part to prevent the spread of the virus. Also, with the high likelihood of continued variants of COVID-19 popping up, it's just a good idea. How hard is it to just wear a fucking mask? I promise to remove my mask in SL as soon as I can be comfortable around large crowds of people with no mask in reality, whenever that may be. Photo by Kat.

My wonderful friend and longtime music supporter Diana Renoir. I don't often play many of my own originals at live shows and it had been about three years since I last did "Thanks Anyway", but when I did, I dedicated it to Diana, who was supportive of me throughout the recording of my solo album back in 2008/2009. Photo by Kat.

While many folks associate May 4 with the fun Star Wars film franchise, the date also has a bit of a darker association. That's the date that in 1970, the Ohio National Guard killed four protesting students and injured nine others. As stories about the right to protest have once again been at the top of the news for the past several years and will remain so perhaps indefinitely, I wanted to use the occasion to voice my support for this First Amendment right, and did so by performing the Neil Young-penned song "Ohio" that was inspired by this tragic event.

Hotel Chelsea set list...
Allentown (Billy Joel)
What I Got (Sublime)
Hey Ya (OutKast)
Ohio (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young)
Man of Constant Sorrow (Traditional)
On a Plain (Nirvana)
Thank U (Alanis Morissette)
Thanks Anyway (Zak Claxton)
From the Beginning (Emerson Lake and Palmer)
The Boy in the Bubble (Paul Simon)
Mother (Pink Floyd)
Loser (Beck)

Huge thanks to everyone who came to the show at Hotel Chelsea, and special super-duper thanks to the following who helped support it!
ChasDurning122512 Resident , LeilaNairobi Resident, Bigfoot Hendrassen, not4gods Resident, noowun Wind, Christine Haiku, LillyAnnSetner Resident, Diana Renoir, Amaya Mavinelli, KriJon Resident, Trouble Streeter, Kat Claxton, Alex Zelin, inebriety Resident, Maximillion Kleene, my terrific manager Maali Beck, and Hotel Chelsea manager Shyla the Super Gecko!

Thursday, April 29, 2021

I Got My Second COVID-19 Vaccine!

Me, two minutes after my second Moderna COVID-19 vaccine on April 29, 2021.

Six weeks ago at this very moment, on March 25, 2021, I was sitting here being a typical person on a Thursday afternoon in the middle of a pandemic, and my Twitter started lighting up with info about how the state of California had finally announced a vaccination plan that included my age group. Two weeks later, on April 1 (the first day of eligibility), I woke up and after awhile of trying, got an appointment to get my first COVID-19 vaccination dose that same day. I wrote all about that entire experience at the time.

Today -- Thursday April 29 -- I got my second and (at least for now) final COVID-19 vaccination. I know it's a little ballsy saying that I feel perfectly fine only a few hours after the shot, but for the moment, that's how it is. I promise to amend the post if I spontaneously explode or turn into some kind of large amoeba over the next day or two. At the risk of tempting fate, everything has gone extraordinarily well with my entire vaccination experience.

Back to LA
My second dose of the Moderna vaccine was provided by Carbon Health, who had set up a large vaccination site in the parking lot at the Crenshaw Christian Center in South Los Angeles, about 13 miles northeast of my home here at the beach. It's on 79th Street, south of Florence between Normandie and Vermont. My appointment had carried through from my first dose four weeks earlier; I didn't need to do a thing.

Big hats off to Carbon Health in that regard; after my first dose, I got a text message and email showing that I was registered as such in their system, and then in the days preceding my second dose, I received reminder messages and a confirmation for my next appointment. They seem really together with this massive undertaking.

Had we waited awhile, we probably could have received a vaccine appointment at a spot closer to where we live, but honestly... it was a) great to get this done and out of the way and b) the people running this vaccination site could not have been more professional and efficient at moving large numbers of people through the process.

Unlike our first dose, we practically pulled straight up to the vaccination site for dose #2, as opposed to waiting in an hour-long line of cars as we did last time. Once again, everyone there was friendly and professional, and the shot itself was administered by a medical technician from the Los Angeles Fire Department. Being overly cautious, I made absolutely sure to confirm that the shot they were giving me was Moderna. Then came the painless jab, and then a 20-minute wait to once again confirm that neither Christina nor myself were experiencing any immediate reactions to the shot. Once the all-clear came through, we headed back home. 

One kind of cool thing: Carbon Health also provided an electronic version of this document that will likely come in handy at some point when I am in a position to prove my vaccination status. 

A few VERY important things I need to impart to anyone stumbling across this post.

  • The vaccine is free.
  • The vaccine is safe.
  • In almost every case, the vaccine's side effects are very mild and short-lasting, especially compared to getting COVID-19.
  • Most people don't get any side effects at all, or are so minor as to be barely noticeable.
  • If you truly want to start getting back to a free and open society across the country and around the world, the fastest way to do it is for as many people as possible to get vaccinated.

Grateful Living
Back in Spring 2020, around the time that the first lockdown orders were hitting and people were staring to speculate how long this pandemic would last, I did a little historical research. I looked at the typical time for a vaccine to be developed, the multiple phases of clinical trials to prove it safe for use, and the administration of a distribution plan to offer it to a country of 328 million people.

My earliest estimate from my perspective in March 2020 was that we'd be lucky to get a vaccine by October of 2021, and I was especially annoyed at the people -- far too many of them -- who were complaining about the initial six-week lockdown period. I knew back then it was only the very start.

This thing has impacted my life far too much over the past 14 months. Hopefully I can spend a lot less time dealing with it in upcoming months, and get back to things like music and travel and fun.

So, for me to be sitting here just 13 months later, having received both doses of a highly effective, well tested vaccine is simply amazing. It's unheard of. It's completely unprecedented in the annals of medical science. And yet, as would be completely expected from any realistic viewpoint, there are those people out there who won't take this miraculous, free, life-saving treatment because of their distrust of science and government.

I used to try and help those people, but I don't anymore. Instead, I just do the things that help ensure the safety of myself and those very close to me, and that's about it. That's the only area where I can truly be effective in making a difference. I do encourage you to do the same with any person you care about who's on the fence about getting vaccinated, or about getting their second dose if that's a necessity. Beyond those people who matter the most to you and to whom you can personally encourage and influence, the rest of them are voluntarily on their own to catch and suffer the consequences of the virus.

Monday, April 26, 2021

Lutz City of Templemore (04.25.21)

A great evening of friends and fun at Templemore. Photo by Kat.

I had a great show at Lutz City of Templemore on Sunday, but let me tell you a thing or three first, and then we'll talk about the show, if you're cool with that.

Derek Chauvin Murder Trial
Just to note for the record books, I 100% believed that Derek Chauvin was guilty of murder, and, based on the track record of law enforcement officers being held accountable for their actions, was maybe 90% expecting him to be exonerated despite what looked to me to as being guilty as could be. I was pretty anxious on Tuesday morning as I awaited what might have turned out to be yet another complete travesty of justice in the needless killing of a person of color. And then, when the jury returned and the verdict was given as guilty on all three counts, I could feel something akin to a weight being physically removed from my shoulders.

I'm not showing a picture of the murderer here. Instead, here's George Floyd who should be alive and well today if not for Chauvin's actions. We can only hope that the sentencing will be appropriate.

We still have yet to learn the sentencing for Chauvin as well as the fate of the other three Minneapolis officers involved in the killing of George Floyd, but those things will happen over the next couple of months, and I remain cautiously optimistic that justice will indeed be served. On a more realistic side note, a CBS/Newsline poll said that nearly half of the Republicans asked about the Chauvin trial felt that the guilty verdict was wrong... another clear indicator that we have a very long way to go.

COVID Report: Good Times, Bad Times
While we Americans seem to be doing pretty well with our fight against COVID-19, it's still a very premature view to think that we've won the battle... and the rest of the world is still deep in the midst of it. India is being overwhelmed by new COVID cases at the moment, with 350,000 new cases on Sunday alone (the most of any country on any day since the pandemic began). Most of the rest of the world is currently still waiting on their opportunity to get inoculated against COVID-19. But here in the USA, nearly 40% of the entire population has had at least one dose of the vaccine.

As has often been the case, Americans have a skewed perspective about how the world is doing. In this case, it's the assumption that COVID-19 is already very much under control. Ask a hospital worker in India how it's going.

I was fortunate enough to get my first dose on the very first day I was eligible, and later this week, I will be receiving my second dose of Moderna. A troublesome news item says that more than five million Americans, however, have skipped their second dose. Most of those people seem to be afraid of the side-effects reported by some with their second dose of Moderna or Pfizer vaccines. I will tell you that most of the people I talk to have had very mild side effects, and even the worse reactions are highly preferable to getting the actual virus.

Two weeks after that dose, I will be about 95% immune to COVID-19, at least the current variation, and a few weeks after that, I'll be talking my first vacation in over two years... something I'd only have done after being fully vaccinated. Can't wait! One important note: since coronaviruses do mutate in a similar way as influenza, it's likely that getting a booster shot will be a regular event in the future. The thing to keep in mind: we are moving toward a point where things are getting back to normal, and if we all do the right things -- getting vaccinated and continuing to wear masks while interacting with other people -- we're eventually going to beat this thing.

How About That Show?
I love playing at Templemore, and for this show, I had the fun of experiencing a new area of the venue called The Conservatory Stage. It was absolutely fantastic, just as all of the many stage builds at Templemore have been since day one. This is an outdoor area, but the space is defined beautifully in an intimate courtyard setting. The stage itself, with superb lighting and textures, made for a perfect backdrop as the crowd danced and made merry in front.

So the good news is that I got onstage just fine, but then found myself kinda stuck facing at a perpendicular from the crowd. The continuing good news is that I was able to rectify this after my first song, and actually turned to face my crowd. Good times. Photo by Kat.

We had a great audience with a lot of people who seemed to be truly enjoying the music, which is always my favorite kind of show. Photo by Kat.

I mean, look at this stage! Tell me one place in Second Life other than Templemore that can create this kind of stunning visual environment. Photo by Kat.

I know I've said it many times before, but the designers of Templemore -- primarily my friend Luis Lockjaw -- do incredible work to make it a visual feast that goes far beyond most other locations in Second Life. I've probably performed at ten different locations in Templemore over the years, and each of them has had its own distinct vibe, with the commonality being a level of design detail that's almost unimaginable. 

For this show, I didn't have a music theme per se, but I did want to do some songs that were a little more rare in my repertoire, and as usual my set purposefully went through different moods and hit multiple time frames so that pretty much everyone could find something familiar and enjoyable at the show. While I didn't bust out any never-before-performed songs, some of the tunes haven't been in my set list for over ten years, and others I'd only done once or twice before. Before the show, while warming up, I did something that I rarely do: I actually played along with a number of the songs just to ensure that I was properly capturing the vibe of the music, and I actually think it was helpful when I got onstage.

My view from the Conservatory Stage at Lutz City of Templemore. Photo by Kat.

Just... wow. Photo by Kat.

There will come a time in real life when I will be comfortable being amongst large groups of people without having to wear a mask. Once that occurs, I'll remove the mask that I've also worn in SL since the very start of the pandemic. I know that most people use SL as an escape from the challenges of their real lives, whereas for me, it's just an extension of my real life self. Either outlook is fine, but the aspect of wearing a mask to slow the spread of coronavirus is too important to me to not reinforce that message in the virtual world as well. Photo by Kat.

Templemore set list...
1979 (Smashing Pumpkins)
Lost Cause (Beck)
Things Behind the Sun (Nick Drake)
Carry Me Ohio (Sun Kil Moon)
Wild World (Cat Stevens)
Bull Black Nova (Wilco)
Sex Kills (Joni Mitchell)
Mrs. Robinson (Simon and Garfunkel)
Birds (Neil Young)
Doubt It (Zak Claxton)
My God Is the Sun (Queens of the Stone Age)

Big thanks to every single person who came out to the show, with special thanks to the following who helped support it!

Shyralei Hexem, Nivaya Barbosa, Emre Jenvieve, LillyAnnSetner Resident, Kat Claxton, Taj Nishi, Trouble Streeter, Nina Brandenburg, Alton Breck, Scout Zsun, my excellent manager Maali Beck, and Templemore's wonder staff including Luis Lockjaw, Grace Sixpence, Brooks Conundrum, and the rest!

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Hotel Chelsea (04.06.21)

Enjoying some Tuesday night rock at Hotel Chelsea in Second Life. Photo by Kat.

Hello, and welcome back. We'll talk about my show at Hotel Chelsea in Second Life in a moment (spoiler alert: it was great). First, some random stuff and things.

Half-Vaxxed Zak in a Mask
As you may recall from my previous post, I'm still ecstatic about having received the first of my two COVID-19 vaccination shots. As a larger percentage of people get vaccinated, there's a lot of information -- and misinformation -- flying around about the manner in which society as we knew it pre-pandemic is starting to return to normal. I'm not a doctor or a scientist; I'm some random musician who thinks about life and occasionally offers opinions and perspective. That being said, here are a few thoughts.

• It's gonna take some time. Here in early April 2021, an amazingly high percentage of Americans have been fully vaccinated. The number changes rapidly as millions of people each day receive their inoculations, but the most current number I have says that 62,392,065 Americans had been fully vaccinated, which is 18.8 percent of the country's population. Note that it says fully vaccinated. I am not in that group. I've had one of my two Moderna vaccines; I will not be immune to most forms of COVID-19 until mid-May, two weeks after my second dose. But around the world, those numbers are much lower, and in this country the number do vary a bit from state to state. My recommendation is to be patient and not plan on hurrying back into situations where you're among huge groups of people. And if you are...

• Keep wearing that mask. Honestly, and maybe this is just me, but after a brief adjustment period, I quickly got used to wearing a mask when I went out in public, and it just doesn't bother me that much to do so anymore. Especially during this time frame while some folks are vaccinated and others aren't, it's really important to continue masking up. While it's not highly likely, you could still transmit COVID to someone else. We're closer to the finish line, so don't drop the ball before getting into the end zone. Mixed sports metaphor aside, it's the right thing to do.

I know that some folks are opposed to wearing a mask, or think that the moment they are vaccinated, they no longer need one. There are a number of very valid reasons to keep wearing one when you interact with the public. Try not to be a dick when you continue to run into situations where masks are required.

• Don't assume everyone will be vaccinated. We all know that there are those people who don't believe in or trust vaccination under any circumstances. I don't know what to say to those people. I know I can't convince them otherwise, in the same way I can't convince people that the Earth is round or that Democrats don't eat children or that we're not secretly ruled by lizard people. In any case, there will always remain a percentage of people who will be keeping COVID alive and well, and passing it around amongst each other.

• Be patient in getting your own vaccine. Especially in the past week or so, I've talked to a bunch of people who've been trying valiantly to get an appointment for vaccination, only to find that none are available where they live. All I can say is to keep trying... it will happen. As the rush of people eligible in each age groups begins to subside, vaccines will be plentiful, and you will get yours!

Yes, Google is a large corporation and is almost certainly evil like all large corporations. But I sniffled a bit about this ad that a) hints at the return to life as we once knew it and b) shows the payoff of the messaging of the ad as this reopening of society being the result of people getting their vaccines.

I'm Taking a Vacation
Yup. It's true. For the first time since May 2019, I am taking a couple of days off work and getting out of town. We booked the trip the moment that we became aware that we'd be vaccinated in a reasonable time frame, and it's happening. I will say, the place we're going is even more remote and far less densely populated with other humans; it anything, it's safer than the place we spend our daily lives at home. But just the idea of getting a change of scenery after such a long time frame of going nowhere at all is just a joyous thought. Note that by the time we head out on this short trip, both Christina and I will be fully 100% vaccinated. To say we're looking forward to it it a huge understatement.

In the places we like to go on vacation, social distancing isn't a big challenge. Here's They Stole My Crayon in Joshua Tree in May 2019. Photo by Jess.

Voting Rights, Corporations, and Cancel Culture
Not gonna spend a lot of time on this, but when I see mind-boggling levels of hypocrisy, I feel compelled to call it out. As has been in the news recently, Georgia has passed new laws that restrict voting or make it difficult to the point that citizens are discouraged from trying to vote. As a result, a number of companies have taken action, such as Major League Baseball's change of venue for the All-Star Game, and statements from Georgia-based and other businesses condemning the new voting-restriction laws.

The GOP has been so focused on ending what they call "cancel culture" that their recent conservative conference was themed "America Uncanceled", but then immediately called on people to boycott (aka "cancel") the companies who spoke out against this action. Similarly, the GOP was the big proponent of the landmark 2010 Supreme Court case of Citizens United, which removed the restrictions on speech-related political spending based on corporate identity. And despite those things, it's the GOP -- the group who determined that "corporations are people" -- who now condemns the ability of corporate America to voice their opinions on political actions.


You can't have it both ways, Mitch. Sorry (not sorry).

Hey, How About That Show?
Oh yes. The show at Hotel Chelsea was really good. As has been the case there for the past few months, my set followed Max Kleene, and a number of his sizable audience hung out for my show as well. It's never something I expect to have happen. Second Life isn't like a real-life live music club, where people might be going to hang out for an entire evening featuring multiple performers. It's far too easy to just go see the person you enjoy and teleport the fuck out the moment that performer is done.

When planning my repertoire for this show, I decided, for the most part, to stick to artists and songs that might be a little more familiar for the crowd. It's not always my responsibility to turn people on to underground indie artists, and sometimes people just enjoy hearing some songs they love performed live in front of them. There's nothing wrong with that, though it's not something i'd enjoy doing at every single show.

A small crowd having fun at Chelsea. I'm always proud of the fact that often, a lot of my audience seems to be made up of my fellow Second Life musicians. Photo by Kat.

Me, onstage, still in a mask, as I'll remain until the time comes that I'm likely to go maskless in the real world. Photo by Kat.

I was feeling super positive and enthusiastic going into the show, and I let my crowd know that at multiple moments throughout the gig. Some of that is having started my vaccination process, but I also let folks know that just that morning, I'd scored an interview with one of the artists whom I cover on a very regular basis: Kurt Vile. I rarely mention work-related things during my SL shows, but that was too good not to share with my crowd, who are well aware of how much I enjoy Kurt and his music. 

Hotel Chelsea set list...
Save It For Later (English Beat)
Solsbury Hill (Peter Gabriel)
Wichita Lineman (Glen Campbell)
You've Got To Hide Your Love Away (Beatles)
Big Empty (Stone Temple Pilots)
Don’t Let It Pass (Junip)
Pretty Pimpin (Kurt Vile)
Any Major Dude (Steely Dan)
The Worst (Rolling Stones)
Ziggy Stardust (David Bowie)
Things Under Trees (They Stole My Crayon)
What’s the Frequency, Kenneth? (R.E.M.)

Big thanks to everyone who came to the show, with super duper thanks to the following who helped support it!
Pato Milo, noowun Wind, Crystalina Halostar, GiannaMarie777 Resident, Cavatica2015 Resident, sweetpea Shilova, Grace McDunnough, Kat Claxton, Rusty Seisenbacher, Trouble Streeter, Bee Blackrain, my terrific manager Maali Beck, and Hotel Chelsea manager Shyla the Super Gecko!

Friday, April 2, 2021

I Got My First COVID-19 Vaccine!

Sitting in the car, waiting to get my first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday April 1, 2021.

A lot has happened over the past 24 hours, and it all felt rather significant and certainly worthwhile for relating to you people who read this blog, whomever you are. To properly explain, let's back up a bit.

Thursday, March 25, 2021
I probably could leave this part out, but.. starting in or around December 2019, the world has been afflicted by COVID-19, a serious viral pandemic that has to date killed almost three million people, has infected 130 million people, and has massively impacted the lives of literally everyone regardless of whether they had the virus or not. The first effective vaccines started becoming available to the general public in late 2020, but distribution of the vaccines (more on those in a moment) was limited to the people most likely to be seriously impacted by the virus, or who had the highest risk of exposure due to their occupation or living circumstances. For the most part, it was people over 65 and those essential employees who could not sequester themselves from viral exposure and still earn a living.

Side note: I want to be clear that I completely agree with this prioritization of vaccine distribution. I was very happy when my elderly mother was fully vaccinated. Actually, I was happy every single time I saw any random person post on social media about having been vaccinated. The people who needed it most got it first, and honestly that's a good blueprint for society as a whole.

I was happy to wait my turn to become eligible for the vaccine. By the end of this month, every American over the age of 16 will be able to be vaccinated.

Anyway, on Thursday March 25, the state of California put out a press release that announced that starting on April 1, all Californians aged 50 and over would now be eligible to receive the vaccine, and added that starting on April 15, all Californians over 16 years old could do the same. Note that at the moment, no vaccine has been approved for people younger than that yet, so essentially the state is opening vaccine distribution for everyone possible at that time. And yes, different states have had different schedules, and most countries outside the USA have yet to get nearly enough doses of any of the vaccines to properly inoculate a large percentage of their population. It will happen eventually.

Thursday, April 1, 2021
So, just one week after the announcement by Governor Gavin Newsom, the day arrived that Californians over 50 could try and get an appointment for vaccination. Note the word "try". Up until that moment, being previously ineligible, I hadn't personally looked into the process of trying to get a vaccine, though I'd heard some stories (and seen the process spoofed on Saturday Night Live) about how confusing and difficult it was. They weren't kidding.

I'm not casting any blame here. It's a herculean undertaking, trying to safely inoculate millions and millions of people in a short time frame. Los Angeles County has a fairly good web site that connects you to dozens of potential sources for the various vaccines. These sources range from pharmacies (CVS, Walgreen's, etc.) to grocery chains (Albertsons, Vons, Ralph's, and so on) to various kinds of medical facilities both permanent and temporarily set up for this task.

With more than 10,000,000 residents, Los Angeles County (where I live) is the most populous county in the United States. Getting vaccinations set up for all of us is a huge task, and I genuinely think it's being handled well under the circumstances. This is the web site I used to secure my vaccination appointment.

I woke up on Thursday morning with the goal of getting signed up for a vaccination appointment, but my initial efforts were disappointing. Like I imagine most people would, I started with the hopeful idea that a convenient spot here in my area would have available appointments. Ha! I looked into the appointment schedule for every point on the map within a 5+ mile radius of my home here in Redondo Beach. Literally nothing. Zero. Zilch. Nada. It wasn't like, "Yeah, you can get an appointment but it will be in two months." I would have been fine with that. No, it was "no appointments available" at every single place I looked into.

It's easy to understand. It's not a matter of the vaccination sites not being able to handle the number of people who want a vaccine. It's that the vaccine supply itself is still relatively limited. They can only issue appointments when they know they'll have the vaccines on hand to serve the people. Also, note that the vaccines can't just be mass produced in huge numbers; it's a slow process and some of them need to be kept at very low temperatures from the point of manufacture to the time of being administered.

Grabbing the Jab
There I was at 7AM, sipping my coffee and semi-frantically clicking through the web site, searching for any resource that could provide me with a vaccine, and coming up with nothing. I knew that eventually, something would open up and I'd be able to schedule an appointment, and I was prepared to be patient as such, but frankly I really just wanted to get it done with. Like many people, for more than a year I've been staying home as much as possible and limiting my potential for exposure to COVID-19. My last vacation of any kind was in May 2019. I want to be able to live life again in a way that's safe for myself, and for the friends and family with whom I come into contact.

Christina joined me in the office and started going through the same process I'd been doing, with the same lack of results. But then, something miraculous happened: we looked into one of the vaccination resources with which we'd been previously unfamiliar, something called Carbon Health. They are apparently a network of urgent care and primary care facilities. I saw on the map that there was a facility set up in a large church parking lot in South LA, and clicked it. And that's when the magical information popped up; when I clicked the "make appointment" button, it didn't say "no appointments available". Instead, it asked me when I'd like to make the appointment... on that very day.

I looked at Christina and made sure that she was seeing the same thing as me. She was. We saw there were open spots at 2:30PM, and before they could get scooped up, we both grabbed them. We couldn't believe it; I wasn't even sure it was truly real until a minute or two later when I got a text message and email confirmation.

I was pretty ecstatic when I finally got my appointment, and my governor was also happy for me.

Nice People in South LA
The location of the vaccination site was at 1261 W 79th Street, which, as I saw via Google Maps, was in the parking lot of a large dome-shaped structure called the Crenshaw Christian Center. It actually isn't that far from here at all distance-wise, about 11 miles away, but it's a world apart from a socioeconomic perspective. It's smack in the middle of an area called South LA which was formerly known as South Central until the stigma of that name from coverage in the '80s and '90s of gang violence, drug dealing, and prostitution required a name change to make it a more viable area for community investment and redevelopment.

Like many people in Southern California (and probably around the world), I tend to stick to my own neighborhood. If I'm going to be driving around LA, it's generally for business reasons or (pre-pandemic) occasional social outings, and it's almost never to South LA. However, I wasn't going to allow some unintentional but inherent snobbism on my behalf have me hesitate about my chance at getting the vaccine.

It wasn't exactly a quick jaunt down the street, but it was a very worthwhile and mild inconvenience that had us heading up to South LA in order to get protected from the coronavirus. Also: per my route, apparently I don't like to turn the vehicle much.

We thought we were giving ourselves a ton of extra time by leaving for the appointment a full hour ahead of time for what is at most a 30-minute drive. However, when we arrived at the intersection of Vermont and 83rd, we saw that the left turn lane was blocked off and a long line of cars stretched northward up the street. It ended up taking another full hour before we slowly made our way around the block and then up to the vaccination site, but it wasn't a big deal. We listened to KCRW and chatted while the line of cars crept through the streets.

Before we even pulled into the site, we were greeted by a friendly person who checked our IDs, and then once inside there was another wait while they cleared through the people directly in front of us. Then it was our turn. We pulled up into the directed lane of cars, and another very courteous person approached to take our information, confirm that we had no medical allergies, and so on. A few minutes later, one of the medical staff from the Los Angeles Fire Department, smiling and friendly even after serving a full day of administering inoculations to thousands of Angelenos, came up and gave us our shots. Please note that at this location, the entire operation was drive-thru. We didn't get out of our vehicle at all. Christina later said it was like In-N-Out Burger where they take your order in line at your car window, except instead of a tasty burger, we'd get a lifesaving vaccination when we pulled up.

The large parking lot of the Crenshaw Christian Center had already been being used as a major COVID testing site, so they were very well organized in getting thousands and thousands of people in and out of the place, even on the mad rush from the first day of general eligibility for those of us 50 and older.

Does the vaccine hurt? No. The exact opposite. I barely felt the needle at all, to the point where I had to ask if she'd done it yet. She placed a small band-aid on the injection spot, and then we had to wait another 20 minutes or so. This allowed the staff to ascertain that we were experiencing no immediate severe reactions to the vaccine. I should note that everything was organized and automated; once the time had elapsed, we were allowed to go on our way after getting a text notification. We waved at and thanked each of the workers we passed on our way out. The whole experience was great and I was feeling extraordinarily grateful as we left, and then headed back in the southwest direction to get home.

Another important note: this vaccine is free. You will be asked if you have medical insurance. If you do, you'll provide your insurance card at the site. If you are not insured, there is no difference. They will administer the vaccine to you regardless. The one thing you will need is an ID that shows you live in the area and that you are part of an eligible age group. 

My vaccination card (you've probably seen a lot of these lately).

My freckly shoulder and my band-aid from my painless and free vaccine.

Side Effects and Other Afterthoughts
One thing about this vaccination process: there are several versions of the COVID-19 vaccine out there, but you do not have the option of choosing which one you get. The one you get is the one that's available at the place you go on the day you go. It's not like going to your local bar and choosing which beer you like. You take the one they give you.

NOTE: I based this chart on the most recent information I could find from a variety of sources. If you have more detailed questions about the vaccines, you should ask someone with more expertise than a random blogger guy who sings and plays guitar.

At the Carbon Health site in South LA, we were given the Moderna vaccine. We experienced no immediate effects at all. Later that day and continuing into the following day, both Christina and I had minor soreness in the arm near the site of injection. Nothing serious at all. We also both felt that we had a little extra fatigue that evening and perhaps a slight feeling of being parched that was easily solvable by drinking a little extra water.

Other people have experienced stronger side effect symptoms, and yet others have had none at all. Note that a good percentage of people who've received the second dose of Moderna said it knocked them for a loop, with more powerful feelings of fatigue, low fever, and overall malaise for a couple of days. But again, it's a low price to pay to end up having near complete immunity from COVID-19, and subsequently being able to enjoy life that is slowly making its way back to normal.

Kizzy PhD.

Quick side-note on Moderna: while it takes many people to create an effective vaccine against a powerful novel virus, the mRNA-1273 Moderna vaccine development was led by a Black woman named Dr. Kizzmekia "Kizzy" Corbett. Her brilliant work is almost certainly going to end up resulting in hundreds of thousands of lives being saved, and she deserves all the credit and grateful thanks that people can offer her.

So, that's it for now. I'll continue wearing my mask and doing all of the social distancing necessary for as long as required. Our second dose happens in 28 days, and two weeks after that, I should never have to personally worry about COVID-19 again. That will be a very good day.

Monday, March 29, 2021

New Zak Claxton Demo Collection: 03.27.21

About a week ago, my friend and bandmate Bunny Knutson let me know that another ICS session had been scheduled, this time for Saturday March 27. I've written about ICS before; it's the Immersion Composition Society, a group of songwriters and music composers that do occasional exercises where they try and create 20 songs in a single day. I am not an official member of the ICS and I don't even know if "official membership" is a thing, but I do know that I've enjoyed these sessions where I'm compelled to set aside time and be creative with new music.

Side note: I've never done close to 20 songs in an ICS session, and I can't imagine how awful most of them would be if I was going purely for quantity. I've done upwards of ten songs in a day before, though, and often a few of them are good enough to further pursue.

However, creating new music doesn't always happen on demand, and even though I was easily able to pop out a big batch of basic ideas, fleshing them out as full songs proven to be challenging. I woke up Saturday morning raring to go, but nothing was coming quickly or easily. Late in the afternoon, I actually wrote a song about how terribly my songwriting session was going. That's just sad.

Despite that, when I got up on Sunday and gave a listen to what I'd managed to get down the day before, it wasn't as bad as I thought it was. So, as I do, I posted the batch of song demos to Soundcloud, and you can hear them any time.

A few notes on the few songs I got finished.

I'm slowly training myself to try and break out of some rock music cliches that I've turned to without thinking for many years. One of those habits is having a steady drum part going through an entire song. "This Time" is the only really promising song I wrote and recorded on this day.

I wasn't going to bother publishing this instrumental non-song, but then threw down a noodly lead guitar line that was so derivative of David Gilmour's work on Pink Floyd songs like "Pigs" and "Have a Cigar" that I just took it all the way.

Well... as the afternoon wore on and I became more and more frustrated with my inability to properly get my song ideas down or good lyrics written, I connected with Bunny and told him that things were going so poorly that I was going to do a song called "I'm a big dummy and I can't write music." I said this as a joke, but not finding inspiration from anywhere else, a few minutes later I actually did just that. And I will say, I spent more time laughing while recording this than any song in recent memory, so the world gets to laugh along. Be aware that this song is full of explicit language; don't play it at work or in front of kids or your mom or basically anyone.

Final note: I mentioned above that I quickly grabbed ideas for a bunch of tunes, and some of them are really potentially good. So, as opposed to thinking that I spent a whole day to create one decent song, one rip-off instrumental, and one joke song, I actually have a bunch in the bag that will get fleshed out when they're ready to become more than they are at the moment. So, all good.

Lutz City of Templemore/Benefit for Bee (03.28.21)

A lovely day at Templemore for a very special cause for a very special person. Photo by Kat.

I can subdivide the kinds of charitable benefit shows I've done into three basic categories. One is for large organizations like Relay for Life, where the money goes to a fund and is then parceled out to people in need, but also to fund research and so on. The second kind is for smaller groups, like the shows I do for Feed-a-Smile that benefit the children of a single school in Kenya who use the funds for meals and to improve the infrastructure of their educational environment.

The third kind of benefit I've done over the years, and thankfully there have been few of them, is focused on a single individual -- usually someone I know personally and often a good friend -- who is in dire need for help. And not to go into an editorial tangent, but every one of these cases has been a fellow American person who has run into a health emergency that is sending them into financial straits. It goes without saying that in almost all other developed countries, their citizens would never run into the possibility of bankruptcy the first time they have a serious medical situation, but it happens here all the time.

It's a terrible truth and I hope it changes sometime within my life with possible programs like Medicare for All, where health care is considered a human right. But for now, we're stuck with the system we have, and unfortunately my friend Brenda Hayes, known to many in Second Life as Bee Blackrain, recently found herself facing a pile of medical bills. It's the kind of thing where, when you're already fighting to recover from an illness or injury and still having to pay your rent and utilities and other bills, can send your entire life into a tailspin. 

The promo poster for the benefit show.

Let's Talk About Bee, Baby
I'm pretty sure that I first became acquainted with Bee via her role as the longtime hostess at Templemore, one of Second Life's absolute finest music venues and virtual environments. Nothing against other venue hosts... most of them do a fine job of greeting people and making them feel welcome, and encouraging tips to the venue and the performer. But right from the start, I noticed that Bee had a quality which put her in a class by herself, as far as I was concerned: she had an extraordinary knowledge of music. For example, I'd choose to cover a relatively obscure indie band, assuming no one would be aware of them, but Bee would not only chime in about how she loved the band and mention other songs they'd done, but would even mention related bands I should check out. I didn't just interact with Bee at Templemore; she'd also often show up at other venues where I'd perform, and it was always a delight to have her in my crowd.

As I've said before, I have nothing against pop music, but I usually don't expect that others will share my enthusiasm about underground bands and artists. Bee's love of music didn't seem tied to any specific genre; she'd be able to discuss everything from indie rock to EDM to hip hop with equal awareness. Adding to my simpatico toward Bee, she and I are about the same age, so we've gone through the same set of cultural influences... but unlike many others our age, she didn't stop enjoying new music that came out after her youthful years. You'd be surprised how rare that is.

Lovely Bee Blackrain dances near Luis and other Templemore people. Photo by Kat.

I'd seen Bee's Facebook post a few weeks ago about a scary health incident that happened to her while at work, and I found it highly troubling. When our mutual friend Luis Lockjaw (Templemore's amazing design guru) got in touch with me to let me know he was putting together a special surprise benefit show for her, I couldn't say yes fast enough. I can tell that Bee is like me in another way; we are both strong people and neither of us want to be viewed as any kind of victim, and prefer to lead lives of independence where we don't have to rely on others. That's why Luis set up this event without informing her.

Silliness That Happened (And Didn't)
Even though I am way overdue for a new computer, most of the time in SL I have no problem cruising around and doing simple things like getting my virtual ass on a stage. However, Templemore, in its lush design with all kinds of textures and particles and tendency to have large crowds, often turns my computer into a mostly useless laggy lump. This became apparent while I was about to start my show. Toxie Darkmatter was wrapping up her set at Templemore's new amphitheater stage, and I had positioned myself onstage, slightly off to the side.

Well, apparently, as I was starting my show, I hit the up arrow one too many times and propelled myself off the stage, landing directly in front, and of course it was at that moment that everything locked up and I couldn't move at all. I was already on the audio stream and told the audience that I'd just do the show from where I was standing.

That didn't sit at all well with Luis. As I played my first tune, I saw a large basic wooden prim appear beneath me, and then it lifted me up to stage level. Then, another prim appeared in front of me and literally bulldozed my avatar backwards until I was standing exactly where I'd wanted to be positioned. That's fucking genius. I'll tell you that after more than 14 years doing live music in Second Life, it's the first time I've been physically shoved into the spotlight, and I loved it.

Luis uses basic prim blocks to physically push me onto the stage where I belonged. Photo by Kat.

I'll talk more about my set list in a minute, but first I want to tell you about a song that I didn't play at Bee's benefit. She and I had a recent conversation on Facebook after the Grammys regarding the song "WAP" by Cardi B, and other songs with explicit lyrics came up. She brought up the infamous case of 2 Live Crew, whose song "Me So Horny" became a huge controversy back in 1989. Well, I very briefly considered doing a mellow acoustic version of "Me So Horny" at her event. I even pulled up the lyrics and ran through the song. I think I got to the fourth verse and the following set of lyrics before deciding that doing this tune probably wasn't a great plan...

You said it yourself, you like it like I do
Put your lips on my dick, and suck my asshole too

However, that didn't stop me from doing "Jesus Ranch" by Tenacious D, though I did feel compelled to give a big preamble warning about language before launching into the raunchy song.

Lots of New Tunes
I'd honestly already been planning on breaking out some previously unperformed songs at an upcoming show, and it worked out perfectly so that I could do those in front of Bee and an appreciative audience at Templemore. You can take a look at my full set list below, but this may have been the first time I've ever done six songs -- half of my set -- that I'd never performed before.

Two of them were added at the last moment. The first is a song that I literally wrote and recorded the day before the show (I'll be posting about that writing/recording session shortly) called "This Time". The other was one of my improvised songs I sometimes do at the end of a set when I've got a minute or two to fill before the next artist takes the stage (which was Oblee in this case). It's not easy to literally play and sing things that you're making up on the spot, and I may have gone slightly overboard with my lyrics on "Doin' It for the Bee".

Am I still wearing my mask in SL? Hell yes I am. Until I stop wearing one in real life, it stays on in SL. Photo by Kat.

This was my first show at the outdoor Templemore Amphitheater, which is every bit as amazing as the other many stages that rumble at Templemore. There's nothing else like it in SL. Photo by Kat.

Regardless, the day itself was super fun -- it went for ten straight hours with a bunch of excellent SL performers -- and I know that a ton of cash was raised for Bee, which was the intent of the whole thing. I am confident that this will be helpful for Bee, and perhaps will ease some of the financial pressure she faces while making a full recovery, as she will.

Templemore/Bee Blackrain Benefit set list...
*Heart-Shaped Box (Nirvana)
Barely Breathing (Duncan Sheik)
*Jesus Ranch (Tenacious D)
Crosses (Jose Gonzales)
*This Time (Zak Claxton)
*Blasphemous Rumours (Depeche Mode)
How Lucky (John Prine)
Longing On (They Stole My Crayon)
Among the Leaves (Sun Kil Moon)
River Man (Nick Drake)
*Big Deal Party (Jackal Onasis)
*Doin’ It for the Bee (Zak Claxton)

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

Big thanks to everyone who came out for my show, to all of the artists and Templemore staff who made the event happen, and most of all to Bee for being such a lovely person in every way!