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!

Sunday, August 29, 2021

My Top Ten Rolling Stones Songs

Well, Charlie Watts has died. The Wembley Whammer is no more. There have been lots of great eulogies and tributes over the past five days, and I don't need to write another one. I will simply say that the Stones have been a part of my life for a long time, and Charlie was one of the essential elements -- some say the most important one -- that made that band so great.

In any case, while it's very difficult to whittle that storied band's output over the course of almost six decades to a limited number of favorites, here are my top ten. Note that this is my top ten, not the top ten. My reasons for enjoying these songs might have little to do with yours, and the list is based on my unique experiences in life that have some association with the music. It's in alphabetical order, because I can't possibly rank stuff of this greatness.

Can't Ya Hear Me Knocking (Sticky Fingers, 1971)

This song kind of has it all. A super edgy riff by Keith, a great drum performance by Charlie, and a super Jagger vocal. And then a whole improvised jam at the end which is beyond brilliant, featuring a killer sax solo by Bobby Keys. It was the first thing I listened to after hearing that Charlie was gone. That must mean something.

Gimme Shelter (Let It Bleed, 1969)

Well, when you have a song that becomes the go-to sound for defining an entire era in history, you've probably done something pretty cool. It pulls you in with that soft yet menacing descending vibrato-laden progression by Keith, but I will always listen through to hear Merry Clayton's voice crack during her solo section.

Monkey Man (Let It Bleed, 1969)

This is the Stonesiest song ever. It's built around a raunchy open-tuned riff by Keith, has that fucking great Nicky Hopkins piano throughout, and has an undertone of druggy antisocial badness that helps define that band in its greatest mode. Mick's vocal on this is perfect; it's the swagger that defined rock moving forward. When I started curating this list, it was the first song I wrote down... draw your own conclusions.

Paint It Black (Aftermath, 1966)

A little personal note. I was born in 1969, so a big chunk of the Stones' output happened either before I was alive, or before I was old enough to be my own person with my own musical preferences (more on that below). However, in 7th grade or so, I got ahold of a Rolling Stones compilation album on vinyl LP called Hot Rocks 1964-1971, and I wore out the grooves with the number of times I played it. Almost all of my deepest familiarity with their earlier series of hits came via that album. I loved the Middle Eastern-sounding melody here. Cool stuff and very adventurous for 1966.

Shattered (Some Girls, 1978)

Here's a point where I can give credit where credit is due. I was the oldest in my family, but my best friends had older brothers and/or sisters, and it was through them that I got my initial exposure to some of the coolest music that I enjoy to this day. I was just nine when Some Girls came out, but while hanging out at my friends' homes, I heard this album on constant repeat and grew to love it before I even really knew who the Stones were. "Shattered" had that great phaser sound on the guitar, and the bass was played by Ronnie Wood in a way that makes this ode to New York City distinctive in the Stones' catalog.

Start Me Up (Tattoo You, 1981)

So, as I may have mentioned before, Tattoo You was the very first album of music I went and bought for myself, and the reason I bought it was "Start Me Up". I don't know what it was about that song. Again, the sonic uniqueness of Keith's riff was big, but Charlie turning the fucking beat around on the first drum hit of the song (snare on the one? What the fuck man?) made it impossible to stop listening once it started. A little tidbit on that album: I assumed it was brand new when it came out (I was in 8th grade at the time), but not really. They'd recorded most of those songs at various sessions between 1972-1979, and were basically considered outtakes originally intended for other albums, which blows my mind. 

Sway (Sticky Fingers, 1971)

People seem to forget that the Rolling Stones had three guys who played along with Keith Richards on guitar. The early stuff was by the tortured genius and co-founder Brian Jones. The later stuff was done by the always seemingly pleasant Ron Wood. But right in the middle, between 1969 and 1974 when the band was, in my opinion, doing its very best work, was a guy named Mick Taylor. There is some controversy about "Sway" with Taylor claiming he deserved a writing credit on the tune, but regardless of that, his solos on both the bridge and outro are among the best guitar work that's ever been on any Stones recording. Even without the guitar, that chorus ("It's just that demon life has got you in its sway") is so... fucking... good.

Sympathy for the Devil (Beggars Banquet, 1968)

Hard to not include another generation-defining song here. For me, I think "Sympathy" was also my introduction to the concept of the anti-hero. It's also interesting that the Stones never considered themselves a "political band", and yet this song and "Street Fighting Man" off the same album were the soundtrack of the youth movement and cultural change, and both faced controversy as a result. As a kid, I just loved the beat and the vibe. I still do.

Under My Thumb (Aftermath, 1966)

Might as well get this out of the way: did a number of Rolling Stones songs have elements of misogyny? Oh yeah, most definitely. I'm not going to write a novel explaining or justifying this, but in the case of "Under My Thumb", I've always had the feeling that the protagonist of the song is more hurt than intent on being evil. I get the idea that he's dreaming that the girl could be controlled by him, rather than actually being the controlling person he paints himself to be. Anyway, I loved the marimba part by Brian Jones, and the fuzz bass by Wyman is terrific as well.

The Worst (Voodoo Lounge, 1994)

Here's the only song on my list that's a) not a hit of any kind, b) from the band's later period, and c) sung by Keith Richards instead of Mick Jagger. It's also the only one from this list that came out when I was in my 20s, married, and had a real career-focused job, as opposed to in my childhood. From the first time I heard it, I like the "guilty as charged" tone of the narrator here. Still great. Simple but beautiful.

Impossible-To-Not-Mention Other Amazing Stones Songs...

2000 Light Years From Home, Angie, As Tears Go By, Beast of Burden, Bitch, Dead Flowers, Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker), Emotional Rescue, Get Off of My Cloud, Happy, Heart of Stone, (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction, It's Only Rock 'n Roll (But I Like It), Jumpin’ Jack Flash, Little T&A, Midnight Rambler, Miss You, Mixed Emotions, Moonlight Mile, Mother's Little Helper, Play with Fire, Ruby Tuesday, She's a Rainbow, She's So Cold, Slave, Some Girls, Street Fighting Man, Tumbling Dice, Undercover of the Night, Waiting on a Friend, You Can't Always Get What You Want

Feel free to mention your own Stones favorites in the comments... and include what you love about them!

Sunday, August 8, 2021

Lutz City of Templemore (08.07.21)

There are few places in Second Life more beautiful than Templemore, especially on a lovely summer weekend afternoon. Photo by Kat.

If you happened to read my blog from my previous show earlier this week, you may have noted that I gave a little foreshadowing to my plans for my show on Saturday at Lutz City of Templemore in Second Life. I said...

"My musical theme for this show was "mellow summer goodness", and for the most part, I stuck with songs that would be familiar to the crowd I expected at Hotel Chelsea. I have another show at another venue this coming weekend where I'll likely play more indie music and deeper cuts. It always balances out."

So, am I so incredibly organized that I fully plan set lists for multiple shows extending far out into the future? Oh God, no. No, not at all. But looking at that previous show's repertoire, which had a lot of great songs that everyone knew and could sing along with, I was aware that I'd want to be a little more adventurous for my next outing to the stage.

It doesn't always mean that my audience is going to be into all the stuff that I'm into, and there's always a calculated risk that some folks really just want the comfort of familiarity when they check out a live artist in SL. But I have found over the years that by nature of most SL people being open to new things in general, they are often receptive to hearing music they haven't heard before.

Where Do I Find Interesting New Music?
I know I've addressed this before, but it's worth bringing up every so often. I have a bunch of resources to discover new music that I might like. It's helpful that I know the specific styles and subgenres I like, but no matter what you're into, someone out there is cranking out great new music you'd love if you could just find it. As it turns out, you can.

  • Bandcamp is an entire online platform designed for music discovery. As a recording artist, I am a huge fan of Bandcamp because they allow us to price our music very flexibly (allowing fans to listen to music before buying and then pay what they want in many cases), pay artists fairly, and give people great tools to discover new music based on the genres they prefer, or via suggestions based on the artists they like. TIP: Scroll down the main page to the "Discover" area, and start sorting music on Bandcamp based on your musical tastes.
Bandcamp has tons of great music to choose from, mostly from independent artists like me. In fact, go there right now and check out some Zak Claxton or They Stole My Crayon.

  • Radio Garden is incredibly fun. Spin the globe and check out streaming radio stations from around the planet, or use the search features and pick out stations that match your musical interest. Each little green dot is a radio station, and the larger dots represent city area where many stations are available to check out. TIP: open Google in a new tab to search terms like "Best Shoegaze Radio" and then check out the results using Radio Garden. 
I've found great stations across the USA and throughout Europe, Asia, and Africa using Radio Garden. Plus, the globe interface is fun and can truly allow you to discover new things by happy accident.

  • YouTube is now one of the primary methods of music listening in the world. It's not surprising, since the world's largest video service has a huge built-in audience. Nearly every band and artist who have released music commercially has it available on YouTube... like me. I have a few go-to YouTube channels that are focused on the styles of music I enjoy. One of them is run by a mysterious guy named David Dean Burkhart, and if you're into indie pop, bedroom pop, shoegaze, dream pop and related styles, he's a good starting point. 
I've spent many a Saturday afternoon digging through the new releases on David Dean Burkhart's YouTube channel. If I like an artist, I'll use the links provided to learn more about them and to buy their music. This happens a lot.

Back to the Show
I will tell you, we didn't have a huge crowd at Templemore's lovely Conservatory Stage, and there's a wide range of factors why that happens sometimes. I've performed music in Second Life for almost 15 years now, and all performing artists in SL can tell you stories of having 15 people at a show and then 50 at the next. The day and time of your show, the venue, the invariable aspects of competing with people's time for leisure activities in and outside of SL... it all factors in.

That being said, what was much more important to me was the quality of the show itself, and my wish for more people having been there is based on it having been a fucking outstanding show. The songs all worked together, my voice and guitar were doing everything I wanted, and honestly regardless of a small audience, I did a kick-ass show that would rival any of them.

I've said it many times: the coolness of the show is not dependent on the size of the crowd. For the few folks who were there, they got one of my better shows ever. And the reverse is true... I've had some awful shows on packed sims before. Photo by Kat.

Me onstage. So, you might laugh, but my big, colorful tip jar you see me using at other venues just doesn't aesthetically work at Templemore. That's why I created this little cardboard/plywood tip sign just for use at that venue only. Also, still masked in SL, just like real life. if someone has a problem with that, they're probably someone whom I'd rather not be at the show anyway. Photo by Kat.

Templemore set list...
Swirl (Charlie Martin)
Blew the Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
Bang and Blame (R.E.M.)
El Invento (José González)
River Man (Nick Drake)
Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm (Crash Test Dummies)
Among the Leaves (Sun Kil Moon)
Bird of Paradise (Cory Hanson)
Box by the Cliff (They Stole My Crayon)
Faded in the Morning (Unknown Mortal Orchestra)
Starman (David Bowie)
If I Had a Tail (Queens of the Stone Age)
Jesus Ranch (Tenacious D)

Huge thanks to those who came to Templemore for the show, with extra thanks to the following who helped support it!
daralish Resident, Brooks Conundrum, Trouble Streeter, Kat Claxton, Zigmal Resident, my manager Maali Beck, and Templemore's terrific co-owner Grace Sixpence and hostess Amaya Mavinelli!

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Hotel Chelsea (08.03.21)

Bringing along the mellow summer sounds at Hotel Chelsea. Photo by Kat.

I always have the best intentions of writing updates to this blog whether or not I'm doing live music shows, and inevitably that takes a back seat to other things I have to do. It begs the question: do I write blog posts because I have shows to report, or do I do shows since it gives me a reason to blog?

It's too early in the morning to consider these philosophical questions, and I'm not even done with my first cup of coffee, so we'll table that for the time being. I did have a terrific show last night at Hotel Chelsea in Second Life, and we'll talk about that after some other stuff.

Welcome Back (Not), COVID
Things had been going so well. I was actually feeling a glimmer of optimism that with the huge rush of people getting vaccinated from the start of the year through June, we'd have a good chance of pretty much wiping out COVID-19 and getting back to a more fun and relaxed lifestyle by this fall.

That feeling started diminishing as June turned to July and the realization set in that a certain group of people were so deeply brainwashed that they were never going to get vaccinated. And then, the numbers started reflecting the results of their poor decisions.

Data from the New York Times. That sharp upward trend began in mid-June as COVID restrictions were lifted and people became more at ease with interacting with others in public without wearing masks. Almost all the new cases are the Delta variant of COVID-19, though that's definitely not the last mutation that will affect us.

Why Should I Care if You're Vaccinated?
This is super easy to understand, but requires a tiny bit of knowledge about how viruses work. Just a tiny bit. You're smart. You'll get this.

You know how each year, there's a new flu shot? That's because the influenza virus isn't one thing. It's a very old virus that mutates over the course of time. As you recall, some forms of the flu have been more dangerous than others. Around 1918, the H1N1 form of the flu virus infected 500 million people -- one-third of the world’s population at the time. It killed at least 50 million worldwide, with about 675,000 flu deaths occurring in the United States.

But H1N1 isn't the only form of influenza virus. H3N2, H1N2 are variants of the original flu virus, and each of them has its own mutations. It's a constant battle to create effective flu vaccines that protect people from these diseases that in some cases can still be deadly. With me so far?

SARS-CoV-2 is the name of the virus that causes the COVID-19 illness. However, it has proven to be very adaptable and quick to mutate to similar forms that might not be as effectively fought with current vaccines. Within a matter of months, the initial forms of SARS-CoV-2 had mutated to another strain that, while producing similar terrible life-threatening results, was even more transmissible due to higher viral loads in infected people. That version is currently the most predominant one around the world, and is called B.1.617.2, also known as Delta.

When a good portion of the world's population is sick, dying, or dead, keep in mind that we could have wiped out this disease the same way we did polio and smallpox... and these folks convinced you to do otherwise. Photo from The Guardian.

So What?
Well, Delta isn't the final form of SARS-CoV-2. It continues to mutate, and especially in areas where not enough people are vaccinated, other strains are already around, and more will be forthcoming. In addition to Delta, there are currently also variants including Lambda, Gamma, an unnamed variant known as B.1.621, and recently Epsilon forms of COVID around.

Fact check: true.

We already know that we're going to require booster shots to help protect people against these mutations. But what happens when a variant comes around that is resistant to all known vaccines? The answer is horrifying. It could be far, far worse than the current total of deaths and severe illnesses of the past 20 months.

Why does your choice to not be vaccinated affect me? Because of you, the virus gets spread further and has a higher rate of mutation, and eventually my vaccine doesn't protect me anymore. Because of you. C'mon folks.

Enough on that nightmare. The point is that with enough people vaccinated, and people continuing to respect social distancing and masking, we can lower the odds of these mutations becoming widely spread. So please... get vaccinated and encourage people you care about to do so. There have been enough stories of people who wished they'd been vaccinated while on their deathbed. It's terribly sad. Do the right thing.

How About that Show?
We had a terrific show at Hotel Chelsea. I typically plan a set list a few days before any given show. The factors that go into my choices are myriad. How am I feeling? What's the weather like? What's going on in the world? How's my voice holding up? These questions all boil down to a general amorphous vibe, and I plan the set accordingly. My musical theme for this show was "mellow summer goodness", and for the most part, I stuck with songs that would be familiar to the crowd I expected at Hotel Chelsea. I have another show at another venue this coming weekend where I'll likely play more indie music and deeper cuts. It always balances out.

A nice big crowd, and I think more and more of Max Kleene's folks are staying for the Zak Show each time I play Hotel Chelsea. Bonus. Photo by Kat.

It's funny (not really) that I was kinda planning to remove my mask in SL by now. As soon as I can confidently be safe indoors in public in real life without a mask, it will come off in SL as well. Photo by Kat.

This was a really good show. Supportive, enthusiastic crowd, a set list that worked well, and my enjoying the whole thing. Photo by Kat.

Hotel Chelsea set list...
Peaceful Easy Feeling (Eagles)
Saved by Zero (The Fixx)
Doin’ Time (Sublime)
Sundown (Gordon Lightfoot)
*Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm (Crash Test Dummies)
Woodstock (Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young)
Free Man in Paris (Joni Mitchell)
Pecan Pie (Golden Smog)
Say Goodbye (Beck)
On The Way Home (Buffalo Springfield)
Rhiannon (Fleetwood Mac)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
Northern Sky (Nick Drake)

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

Huge thanks to each and every person who hung out for my show, with super extra thanks to the following who helped support it!
Tyche Szondi, Harlow Davi, Diana Renoir, Diadorine Lane, KriJon Resident, Szaas Szteiger, Trouble Streeter, Maximillion Kleene, noowun Wind, Kat Claxton, Nina Brandenburg, El Elephas, my terrific manager Maali Beck, and Hotel Chelsea manager Shyla the Super Gecko! 

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Hotel Chelsea (07.06.21)

Enjoying a night of fine-ass rock and roll at Hotel Chelsea. Photo by Kat.

This blog -- the very existence of it -- is perplexing to some people. Trust me, I've heard about it... usually sideways from people who talk shit behind other people's backs who are, themselves, talking shit about me. "Why would he blog about every live music show?" they ask, giggling as if this was the most ridiculous activity imaginable.

Well lemme tell ya: there are reasons, and they're pretty good ones.

I'm not a big nostalgia guy. In fact, nothing makes me more filled with disdain than when, say, you're scrolling down the comments section of a YouTube video for some song or TV show from long ago, and you run into the invariable statement of, "Music was so much better in the '80s," or, "I wish I could go back to the '90s when everything was great." What a bunch of fucking pathetic shit.

That being said, much like any diary, this blog has been tremendously useful for me when I want to look back on various things. Sometimes it's in regard to my shows... I document each set list, and have records of each venue I play in Second Life (many of which no longer exist in any form except for my recollections and photos here). More often, it's about things happening in the world, both personal and global. Want to know when I last had pneumonia? It was March 2012 (and it was awful). How about the first time that all three members of They Stole My Crayon went to Joshua Tree together? That would be three months later in June 2012 (and it was great). My first big protest march of the Trump era? March 2018. You get the idea.

Are these things super important? Not all the time, no. But documenting my experiences, thoughts, and feelings has come in handy on many times for many reasons.

I think this is the first photo of myself in real life on this blog. It was from June 2008, and I was in the studio working on the Zak Claxton solo album that came out the following year. Side note: I've been doing this blog for so long that the first bunch of posts weren't here on Blogger; they were on MySpace. Seriously.

It's Not About the Shows
Probably 80% to 90% of these blog posts are titled with a focus on a live music show I've recently done, but if you look at the content of the post, while the show is covered appropriately, it's rarely the actual topic of the post. This blog documents personal triumphs and tragedies; political activism and big life events; and random mundane and/or weird shit that I might find amusing years from now.

There's no way I'd bother doing this blog if it was only about my Second Life shows... no offense to anyone who attaches a lot of importance to a guy made of pixels strumming a cartoon guitar on a computer screen. Rather, the shows give me a valid reason to consistently update this running track record of life as I see it.

What were you doing on New Year's Eve 2007? I was playing a well-attended event in Second Life, apparently. While this blog is certainly not all about the hundreds and hundreds of live music shows I've performed over the course of my life, it's pretty cool having this track record of them.

People Actually Look at This Thing
The other part of doing a blog -- a public diary, if you want to consider it that way -- is the question of whether or not it matters that people actually look at it. Otherwise, if it were only for the purposes of my personal memories, I could keep this completely locked down and private. But people do look at it. Quite a lot of people.

That's a lot of views for a random non-famous musician's silly little blog.

There have been over a quarter-million views of the stuff I write here (my own views are not counted in that total) since I started this blog. It averages over a thousand views each month. And sure, some of those are bots and other entities that don't serve any purpose... but certainly not all of them, or even a small portion.

My job in real life is in marketing communications, aka advertising and PR. I know that each "marketing touch" counts, and I know for a fact that people have discovered my music via this blog, and people write to me to talk about things they've read here. It actually matters to some people... way more than you'd assume.

Anyway, you get the idea. I write this blog because I enjoy doing it, because it's a valuable repository for my own life experiences, and because people read it and enjoy it. Those are good reasons, and anyone who has a problem with that is showing that they don't have a fucking clue about the big picture. They can -- and should -- suck my dick.

How About That Show?
Oh yeah. So, I perform at 5PM on the first Tuesday evening of each month at Hotel Chelsea in Second Life. I have the benefit of having a slot directly after Max Kleene, and truthfully, one of the main reasons I agreed to play there in that regular slot was specifically because Max was there before me. It's not a matter of having a big crowd when I start my gig. What it is, is that I feel my music goes well with his, even though we're somewhat stylistically unique from each other. But my shows are the kinds of things that his crowd could enjoy, and vice-versa. I knew it would work, and it has continued to do so.

A nice crowd of pretty SL avatars. Photo by Kat.

This show went really well. My only self-criticism is that due to the demands of real life, I haven't been playing guitar or singing in recent weeks as much as I usually do, and I should have taken more time to properly warm up before doing this event for maximum good results. That being said, I'm my own harshest critic, and most people probably felt everything was as good as it always is... which, truthfully, it probably was. I'm just a bit of a perfectionist in regard to my own abilities.

My view from the stage at Hotel Chelsea. Photo by Kat.

One song of note: I debuted "El Invento", the new tune from Swedish singer-songwriter José González. I am a huge fan of this man's work, both solo and in Junip, and I am totally looking forward to his upcoming album which will be released in September. The challenge for covering "El Invento" is that it's sung in Spanish, a language that I do not speak and only know marginally by having grown up in Southern California. Singing a song in your native language is hard enough, getting all the pitches and phrasing correct. Singing one where you don't truly know the meaning of each word nor the proper pronunciation is really, really hard, but I love the song and will likely work on it some more to the point where I'm comfortable playing it without feeling like I'm faking my way through it.

Why am I still wearing the mask? Funny you should ask; I nearly took it off before doing this show. And then I started thinking. I have visitors to my shows from all over the world... across the US and Canada, throughout Europe, Australia and more. Many of those places are very much still in the midst of the COVID-19 battle, and even here, we're still dealing with the Delta variant and people's reluctance to be vaccinated or to continue wearing masks. I'm leaving it on until the world has truly gotten to a point where COVID-19 is conquered for all intents and purposes. Photo by Kat.

Hotel Chelsea set list...
Loading Zones (Kurt Vile)
Carey (Joni Mitchell)
Heart of Gold (Neil Young)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Swirl (Charlie Martin)
*El Invento (José González)
I Believe When I Fall In Love (Stevie Wonder)
Vendetta (They Stole My Crayon)
Bird of Paradise (Cory Hanson)
Hello (Lionel Richie)
Solsbury Hill (Peter Gabriel)
Dead Flowers (Rolling Stones)
Airport Bar (Martin Courtney)
*Chelsea Improv #2978 (Zak Claxton)

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

Huge thanks to every person who took time out of their day to come enjoy the show, with special super thanks to the following who helped support it!
comitose Resident, inebriety Resident, KriJon Resident, Bee Blackrain, Maximillion Kleene, noowun Wind, zekesolomon Resident, punkdaddy Resident, Diana Renoir, Trouble Streeter, El Elephas, Kat Claxton, Guinevere Westland, my terrific manager Maali Beck, and Hotel Chelsea manager Shyla the Super Gecko!

Monday, June 14, 2021

Terry's Place (06.13.21)

Good crowd and good times at my debut at Terry's Place. Photo by Kat.

Performing at venues in Second Life where I've never played before always adds an extra tinge of excitement to my shows, and I was definitely feeling it going into my debut show at Terry's Place on Sunday. I even arrived early to chat with the co-owner Ninja Antwoord and manager Piper Antwoord, chatting with them for a bit to try and kinda get the vibe of the place. It looked cool enough; a nice simple stage design in an outdoor meadow area. Very chill. All that was good.

Still, there's that aspect of not knowing what the crowd might be like in a place you don't know, and at a time slot that you're not used to playing. I was at least slightly concerned that I'd show up for my first gig at this place and would have like three people there... especially considering I was the first one up to perform, meaning that anyone there would be attending specifically to check out my show. I even hit up the inboxes of a few of the Zakster fans, letting them know their attendance at this particular show would be extra appreciated.

I needn't have worried. Side note: almost none of the things I worry about in life actually end up being problematic, while the worst things that happen are those that I'd never really been concerned about beforehand. Life is weird that way. Anyway, we ended up having a really great crowd made up of plenty of Zaksters, random Second Life folks, and the people who hang out at the venue. It was great, and the crowd was bigger than I could have expected.

As I've said many times before, the crowd size at an SL show is less important than the crowd quality. Are people having a good time? Are they reacting to the songs? Is there fun interaction among them while I perform? My debut at Terry's Place had all of the above. Photo by Kat.

Choosing Tunes
I've discussed this before, but the act of planning out my set list for my shows is always very purposeful, and the more I know about the venue and people who go there, the easier time I have of putting together the right tunes for the right place. There are basically four pieces of criteria for my sets:

  1. My own mood.
  2. My sense of physical ability to play or sing on that day (it's a variable).
  3. The venue itself... who goes there, what's it look like, what are the owners like, etc.
  4. Any special occasion or event that requires a specific musical theme or vibe.

One thing my Zaksters know: if I'm not feeling it, I'm not playing it. It's one of the big, big reasons that I don't take requests at my shows (and no offense to the many who do, obviously). When I'm in a situation like my debut at Terry's Place, where I'm not super familiar with the vibe or the type of artists who generally play there, I do make it a point to try and chat with the owners/hosts and get their input.

Me, doing my thing, still masked up until I'm ready to not be... kinda like real life. Funny side note: I must have purchased this jacket and then completely forgot about it. When I was getting ready for the show, I was like, "What's this?" and put it on and loved it. Of course, I find it right at the start of summer when it's way too hot to be dressed as such, but the good news is that pixels don't feel heat or humidity. Photo by Kat.

It just so happened that when I asked Ninja before my show about his tastes and he said he was really into '90s alt rock and grunge, I knew we'd get along just fine. I'd already put together a good part of my set list, but then added in some of my favorites by Stone Temple Pilots, Soundgarden, Foo Fighters, and Temple of the Dog. It worked out very well. I should also add that I stuck around after my show to check out Aufwie Mysterious, who I'd never heard before. I found him to be really interesting in a great way. You probably know by now that my musical tastes lean toward unique and cool sounds, and he had them in droves.

The venue itself was perfectly suited toward a mellow Sunday afternoon, like a day in the park with a bunch of friends. Photo by Kat.

So, What Else Is Up?
Nothing. This was my first weekend post-vacation, and like most people will tell you, you kind of need a vacation from your vacation. It was a very busy post-vacation work week, and with the first weekend with no travel and nothing on my agenda except my show at Terry's Place, it felt right to do as little as possible.

You know, a lot of people find it really difficult to do nothing. I'm often like that. I always feel like any time that's not committed to work or sleep should be filled with various other kinds of productivity... making music, improving my home, whatever. Sometimes, you have to listen to your mind and your body and cut yourself some slack. It's actually okay to just chill sometimes, even for people who are generally driven to push themselves. There will be plenty of time to keep being responsible, and you might even be better at your various tasks after giving yourself a little while to regroup with some downtime.

Anything Going On in the World?
Yes, of course. There are always things going on, a large percentage of which will never even hit your radar even if it eventually ends up affecting you personally. It's impossible to be so attuned to events and issues to really know everything; that kind of awareness comes at the expense of being able to live your own life and hopefully enjoy it. A few notes, just for the record.

  • There have been 165 days in 2021 thus far, and in those 165 days, there have been 272 mass shootings. if that seems like a lot (duh), it truly is. It's 40% higher than this point last year, and 65% higher than this point in 2019. This weekend alone, while I was relaxing and putting on a show, 10 people were killed and another 50 were injured in nine shootings in six states. I can't see how anyone is okay with this.
  • There's a dangerous heat wave happening this week for most of the western USA. My friends in Phoenix will be seeing temps for multiple days as high as 118F, and some areas in SoCal are also hitting triple digits. I just want to say, I do pay a lot in rent to live here by the ocean, but this is one of the reasons why; it's not expected to even hit 80F here this week.
  • Tomorrow (June 15, 2021), California is supposed to be fully reopening from all pandemic restrictions. Frankly, I'm not entirely sure what that means to me. I know it's about lifting the capacity limitations in places like restaurants and movie theaters, and lifting any state-mandated mask regulations for vaccinated people. It's going to be a bit of a weird transition. I'll let you know how it goes.

With the world the way it is, it's no wonder that people like to escape into a virtual environment to relax and enjoy life without shootings, climate change, pandemics, and the rest of the challenges that make real life less than optimal. Photo by Kat.

Terry's Place set list...
Everlong (Foo Fighters)
Blew the Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
Your Song (Elton John)
Love Ain’t for Keeping (The Who)
Swirl (Charlie Martin)
Sour Girl (Stone Temple Pilots) 
The Crystal Ship (The Doors)
Pancho & Lefty (Townes Van Zandt)
Summer Breeze (Seals & Crofts)
Hunger Strike (Temple of the Dog)
Black Hole Sun (Soundgarden)
Tomorrow Never Knows (Beatles)

Huge thanks to everyone who came out for my debut at Terry's Place, with extra special thanks to the following who helped support it!
AutumnFoxx Sutherland, Diana Renoir, Alton Breck, Ray Musketeer, Alex Zelin, Nina Brandenburg, Trouble Streeter, Asimia Heron, Sassy Starlight, Bee Blackrain, JAdmiral Maelstrom, Medea Frostbite, go2smoky Resident, FallenAurora Jewell, Kat Claxton, my great manager Maali Beck, Terry's Place staff Ninja Antwoord and Piper Antwoord, and the event sponsor SL Enquirer!