Wednesday, June 30, 2010

My high school band: The Goatays

I've never been hesitant to talk about my age. I'm 41 and proud of it. Honestly, I just refuse to take part in a culture that is so youth-oriented to the point that people feel embarrassed about being over 25. It's ridiculous. First, I didn't know shit when I was 25 (as I easily see from my perspective today), so I don't know what's so great about being young. Granted, people tend to look good at that age, but without going off on an ego rampage here, I honestly think I look better (and may be in better shape both physically and mentally) today than I was in the mid-90s. I'm certainly happier now, and I have the advantage of a bunch of experience and knowledge I've gained since then. I've also gained some weight and wrinkles around my eyes and a few gray hairs, but the trade-off is worthwhile.

Why the hell am I talking about this? Well, when I got up this morning, I got a fascinating email from my old friend Michael Gale. Mike and I were bandmates in our high school days and beyond. My very first band was formed while I was still in middle school, but it was more for practice and fun than anything serious. By the time I was a junior in high school, I was already a pretty experienced musician. I also developed friendships with some of the other musicians at school, and at some point our informal jams turned into a real band.

We were all between 16 and 18 years old, with our entire lives ahead of us. It's a fun time of life, when you're figuring out who you are and what you want to be, with all the choices wide open. At that point, in the mid-80s, we definitely hung out with the party crowd in school, and our band became synonymous with the big "ragers", "keggers", or whatever you call a gathering of 200 teenagers getting wasted and hanging out. We started performing at these parties nearly every weekend, calling ourselves The Goatays.

I should probably tell you who was in this band. The leader was our singer, Mike Gale. I call him the leader because we practiced at his house, and he was the one who really booked the gigs and put a personality in front of the band as our lead singer. I was a multiple threat on guitar (mostly rhythm), keyboards, and occasional vocals (backing and lead on a few tunes that were out of Mike's range). Mike Burns was the hotshot lead guitar player, and he was immensely talented for his age. John Simundich handled bass duties. John was a super nice kid at the time. We shared a love for The Police back then. Finally, on drums, we had a guy who was probably my best friend at the time, John Williams. John was the wild card of the band. If he didn't like the song we were doing, he was apt to start throwing drumsticks at Mike and I from his position in back. John liked his alcohol, and it was always a bit of a dice roll in terms of John's moodiness and level of sobriety when we were scheduled to do a show or a practice.

The Gotays in 1984. Left to right: Mike Gale (vocals), John Williams (drums), Zak Claxton (guitar/keys), John Simundich (bass), Mike Burns (guitar). Yes, I think I weighed 130 pounds at that point. I'm still the same height and about 40 pounds heavier now. Time happens. Photo courtesy of Mike Gale.

The band didn't have a long half-life. We started it when Mike and I were in 11th grade, and it burned out when we all went our mostly separate ways to start college and life beyond. Really, it was only from 1984-1986 that The Goatays flourished. But what a couple of years it was! Afterwards, as time went by, Mike and I would form other bands, wrote and recorded a lot of songs together, and would also go on to do lots of musical activities apart from each other. But because of our ubiquitousness in that magical period of the '80s, there are literally hundreds of people for whom their cherished memories of those days include the sound of us blasting our way through cover songs by the Doors, Van Halen, Led Zeppelin, the Cars, the Police, the Stones, Pink Floyd and the like.

Another pic from the garage where we practiced and partied. In back, you can see the Marshall amplifiers (one black, one red) that Mike Burns and I bought on the same day. Photo courtesy of Mike Gale.

All very interesting, right? But again, you ask yourself, "Why is Zak writing about this?" Especially considering the fact that I'm not a person who looks back very much (too much happening now to be focused on the past), it's not often I regale you with stories from several decades ago.

A rare pic of us playing live, this time on the lawn of our high school. That's me out in front with my white Stratocaster, taking a guitar solo. Photo courtesy of Mike Gale.

As I mentioned earlier, I got up today to find an email from Mike Gale in my inbox. Mike and I have stayed in touch and remained close over the years, though our lives with our respective careers and families (and distance between us) have had us doing our own things for a number of years. But Mike has recently heard from the guy who is putting together my high school's Class in 1986 25-year reunion, scheduled for summer 2011. And the guy had an idea: a Goatays reunion show at the class reunion.

Well. That was unexpected, to say the least. My first thought was that it would be hard to bring us together. John Simundich, the bass player, had moved to Hawaii shortly after high school. The two Mikes, Burns and Gale, both have family and work obligations that are as strenuous as my own. And John Williams, the drummer, had fallen off the face of the Earth, apparently. The first indication that this might actually be feasible was that John S. had said that if we got the other guys involved, he'd fly in from Hawaii for the gig. The next step was Mike G.'s enthusiasm that we really try and get this rolling.

As of the time of this writing, they are trying to get Mike Burns to agree to the plan. Mike, like me, has continued with his career in music. Also like me, he's had a busy dual life in his work in software design, but he's been involved in film scoring and movie producing since then. I'll bet that he's into it, and I let them know that if Burns was in, I was in.

The one part of this completely out-of-the-blue reunion plan that will most likely not happen is the participation of our original drummer. While I'd love to see John W. again, it would seem that his life has not been easy since those days. Stories I've heard from mutual pals paint a pretty grim picture, and regardless, none of us are able to get in contact with him. So, it's already been determined that without John, another friend (and bandmate for many years), Danny Silva, would be filling in at the drummer's throne.

It's been fun, just having a reason to think about those days. I'm no fan of nostalgia; truth be told, while I did go to the 20-year reunion in 2006 and had fun, it's likely I would not have gone to next year's shindig without this Goatays reunion in the works. But I find that looking back on my days as a young musician, enjoying the camaraderie and creativity in a group setting for the first time, brings back more good than bad memories. Many more.

So, that's it for now. If all goes well, in Summer 2011, the Goatays will take the stage for the first time in 25 years. I, for one, think it might be really cool.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Molaskey's Pub (06.28.10)

I tell you... there's something about Molaskey's Pub. Maybe it's the fact that the owners (Apple MacKay and Katydid Something) are such real music fans. Maybe it's the build... a gorgeous beachside setting with the stage on a platform on the water. I don't know what it is, but I always feel inspired to play really well there.

I take a breather after my show at Molaskey's while listening to Frets Nirvana.

And I'll also tell you: I've been on a roll lately. The last few shows, I don't think my singing or guitar/harmonica playing gets much better. I discussed this with Kat the other night: how I wish that I could define the circumstances around being able to do a good performance (as to be able to repeat them with them same results). But much like an athlete, a performing musician has good nights and bad nights, and there's not usually any one thing you can point to that makes it better or worse. Anyway, the last few shows have been great, so hopefully whatever I'm doing, I keep doing it.

Anyway, back to Molaskey's. Enjoyed the show very much as usual, and the hosts were as cool as I remembered. Good times! I also did a pretty laid-back set that I felt would be good for the vibe there. It was.

Today's set list...
I've Been Waiting for You (Neil Young)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
You're Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)
Fire & Rain (James Taylor)
California (Joni Mitchell)
Thanks Anyway (Zak Claxton)
Time Never Waits for You (Zak Claxton)
Better Man (Pearl Jam)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)
After the Goldrush (Neil Young)
Jane (Barenaked Ladies)

Big thanks to everyone who supported my show today at Molaskey's Pub!
Hiro Pendragon, Chestnut Rau, Aurelie Chenaux, Kat Claxton, fabio Greybeard, Alexis Fairlady, and the terrific hosts Mia Kitchensink, Katydid Something, and Apple MacKay!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Triana's Music Trivia (06.27.10)

Today was the five-year anniversary of Triana's Music Trivia, which is the longest-running trivia game in Second Life. For those of you who haven't known me long or very well, I'll tell you a quick story: Triana is one of Kat and my closest friends in SL. Since we met her in 2006, Kat and I have spent nearly every Sunday evening at her trivia game, being there more for the fun and friendship than anything. Triana has also hung out with Kat and I in the real world as well; twice, she's flown out to our home in the Los Angeles area from the Midwest to spend time with us in person. She's a great person and I've been all too happy to perform at several special events at her trivia night over the years.

First, let's see some pics. This post is worthless without pics.

Rocking next to the giant "5" on Triana's roof.

Triana and friends dance while I softly rock them with soft rock.

One of NoCal's many avvies sits on a corner of my stage.

The traditional mob at the end of a Sunday night. Here's Kat, Alchemy, me, Triana, and Nakira on the Big 5.

With it being the five-year celebration, I tried to put together a really unique set list, with at least one song I'd never played before and a few rarities from deep in the bag of tunes. The show felt good and I had a good time, so I'm happy to offer the whole thing for your listening pleasure.... listen to the entire show now! (57.3MB)

Triana's Music Trivia 5-year Anniversary Set List...
You're Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)
†While My Guitar Gently Weeps (Beatles)
Fade Away (Zak Claxton)
Triana (Zak Claxton)
The Weight (The Band)
Mary Jane's Last Dance (Tom Petty)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
*The Rainbow Connection (Kermit the Frog)
Shine (Zak Claxton)
†Edith and the Kingpin (Joni Mitchell)
Lines on Your Eyes (Zak Claxton)
Landslide (Fleetwood Mac)

*First time I've ever performed this song, in SL or anywhere
†Last performance of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps": September 20, 2008
†Last performance of "Edith and the Kingpin": May 2, 2009

Giant thanks to all of our great friends at TMT, including the following ones who supported my show!
Charriol Ansar, Alchemy Epstein, Nakira Tennen, FreakAngel Constantine, Rey Tardis, Samantha Poindexter, MrNoCal Honey, Kat Claxton, Diana Renoir, Jordan Hazlitt, Xerxes Ninetails, and the gal who makes it all happen week after week, Triana Caldera!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

ZCHFS #11 Report (06.26.10)


We did the 11th episode of the Zak Claxton Happy Fun Show on Saturday, and it was entirely happy and fun. My bad: I kind of forgot to tell people about this show until the last minute, which is a good way to ensure that as few people as possible turn up at the show, heh heh. But we had a cool crew of people there, and it was terrific to once again pull out the new Cheap Ass Guitar that was already pre-tuned to a crazy Joni Mitchell tuning, allowing me to do a couple of rare songs that I normally avoid due to the tuning issues.

Oh honey, come here to me...

Zak's drinking problem.

ZCHFS #11 Set List...
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Summer Breeze (Seals & Crofts)
Time Never Waits for You (Zak Claxton)
Old Man (Neil Young)
†Just LIke This Train (Joni Mitchell)
Coyote (Joni Mitchell)
You're Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)
Shine (Zak Claxton)
Things Behind the Sun (Nick Drake)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)
Come Around (Zak Claxton)

†Last performance of "Just Like This Train" was September 27, 2008

Thanks to my terrific friends and fans who came out to watch the show! Next ZCHFS is on Saturday July 10! See you there!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Blarney Stone (06.17.10)

The last time I played at the Blarney Stone was November 2008, and it feels like a million years ago for some reason. I do enjoy the place, though, and always seem to have a good time when I play there. Today certainly was no exception.

Today was also the first time I pulled out the cheap new guitar for a song in an SL show, and it worked out just as I'd hoped. I'd pre-tuned it to one of my favorite Joni Mitchell tunings (D-A-E-G-C-E) which allowed me to whip out "Furry Sings the Blues", a rare one for me. In any case, we had a good crowd. The people at the Blarney Stone are always cool and (like most places that Ham Rambler is involved with) it's staffed by people who know what they're doing and are good at it. Always nice, in SL or any world.

My Blarney Stone set list...
Big Yellow Taxi (Joni Mitchell)
You're Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)
Shine (Zak Claxton)
Come Around (Zak Claxton)
Polly (Nirvana)
Time Never Waits for You (Zak Claxton)
Things Behind the Sun (Nick Drake)
†Furry Sings the Blues (Joni Mitchell)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Fade Away (Zak Claxton)
After the Gold Rush (Neil Young)
Better Man (Pearl Jam)

†Indicates first time I've used the New Cheap Guitar for an SL show.

Thanks to all who came out to the Blarney Stone today, especially my great hostess Riko Kamachi!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Video: The Stream Scene Episode 24


I have to say that organizations like the Metaverse Broadcasting Company are pretty smart. With the assumption that, as time goes by, virtual worlds that are accessible on the Internet will become more and more mainstream, MBC has taken the lead in acting as a media resource. They produce video and other content that's focused on all kinds of different areas of interest within Second Life, Twinity, Blue Mars and other VWs. With news for the metaverse, talk shows, reality shows (yes, reality shows in virtual reality) and more, MBC has the bases pretty well covered. They could be in a position to someday be a legitimate international media conglomerate in the same way we view networks like CBS today. One of Metaverse TV's most well-received shows is the Stream Scene, which covers the vibrant music scene in SL.

Guess who was the featured performer on the most recent episode of the Stream Scene? Go ahead, guess. I'll just wait here.

Give up? It's me! Yes, as you may recall, back in mid-May I filmed an episode of the show, which was basically just like my usual live performance in SL. They then edited their show together, and chose two of my live songs ("Always Tomorrow" and "This Afternoon") to feature. I recommend you check out the entire episode... they do a really good job putting it together. If you just want to skip to the Zak parts, though, I can't blame you. I love me as well! So my part starts at 13:44 and runs until 19:50. Not too shabby! But again, I advise you to check out the whole show if you can. There's a cool performance and interview with jazz keyboardist Miles Eleventhauer at the start of the show. Good stuff, all of it.

Thanks to everyone involved in the Stream Scene, including host Lance Rembrandt and everyone involved in the production and editing, but my biggest thanks go to longtime SL music supporter and all-round cool person Twstd Ruggles. Mahalo nui loa, Twstd!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

ZCHFS #10 Report (06.12.10)


As you can tell by watching the recording above, we had a fun Zak Claxton Happy Fun Show today. In fact, as it was our tenth episode, I tried to make it particularly enjoyable with some special moments. I also got to pull out my new cheap guitar for its public unveiling, and it performed admirably (especially considering its $50 price tag).

Our crowd was fun as usual, with folks like Triana, Diana, Stranger, and my darling Kat making me laugh throughout the performance. Perhaps the best laugh came as Kat performed the triangle solo on "Thanks Anyway"... she'd received this percussion instrument as a birthday gift form Triana, and it was too funny to have her jump in with a *ding* ust at the right moment. Speaking of that triangle, our audience today included the one and only Phil O'Keefe, who had played the triangle on the original recording. It was a wonderful moment in rock history.

Kat rocks the triangle (left) while I laugh my way through the next chorus.

The $50 Rogue RA-100D guitar did a terrific job. I had it tuned to the Jimmy Page-esque modal sound of D-G-C-D-C-D, and did "The Sands of Redondo" on it, then pulled it out again for a Neil Young cover later on.

My new shitty guitar is the shit!

The Zak Claxton Happy Fun Show is guaranteed to be fun, or your money back. Please note that the fun might be had by me rather than you, but hopefully we all get a laugh or two.

We wrapped up the day with a combination of my songs and covers (see video above or set list below), and my audience was at least as entertaining to me as I was to them (if not more so).

ZCHFS #10 Set List...
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
†The Sands of Redondo (Zak Claxton)
California (Joni Mitchell)
Thanks Anyway (Zak Claxton)
Tribute (Tenacious D)
†When You Dance I Can Really Love (Neil Young)
You're Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)
Woodstock (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young)

†These are the first two songs on which I've used the New Shit Guitar in a public performance, just for the record.

Thanks to everyone who have made the ZCHFS happy and fun for ten episodes!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Bryant & Stratton College in SL (06.09.10)

Photos courtesy of Diana Renoir. Thanks Di!

I'd played twice before for the SL headquarters of Bryant & Stratton College, and both times were pretty cool. If you look back on my post from the last time I played there, you'd see that despite the potential pitfalls, I really enjoy playing for people who are new to SL, perchance to get them to come back and spend some more time in-world. Since Bryant & Stratton has an online education curriculum, I think it's very cool they're bringing people into SL for an immersive environment.

Today was the graduation ceremony for their recent term, and I was flattered that they wanted me to come back and play for them. It was a fun show, and the folks seemed appreciative of my playing (when they weren't figuring out how to walk, dance, and change clothing as all good n00bs should do).

B&S graduation set list...
You're Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)
Heart of Gold (Neil Young)
Thanks Anyway (Zak Claxton)
De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da (The Police)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
The Waiting (Tom Petty)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
Fire & Rain (James Taylor)
California (Joni Mitchell)
Time Never Waits for You (Zak Claxton)
Just Like Starting Over (John Lennon)
Shine (Zak Claxton)

Thanks to the folks who attended the show, and congratulations to the graduates!
Diana Renoir, Blondiegirl Sapphire, cloudocows Catnap, ShannonMitchum Shim, Moose Graycloud, Shannon Sylvestrus, Tovah Bravin, BrendaLupe Lokaria, Kristi Elton, ChrisGais Mocha, ErinNeigh McWinnie, Starry Bloobury, Toya Adasia, and Turn Pike, and anyone who I missed!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Birthday Weekend Recap

As mentioned in the previous post, Kat and I started celebrating our respective birthdays (which happen to fall on the same day) on Friday night, when we exchanged gifts. She has been loving her new 32GB iPod Touch, and has already delved into getting special apps and so on. I have also been loving my new telescope... but cruel irony has our birthdays at the beginning of June, which is the cloudiest month of the year here in the Beach Cities area of greater Los Angeles. Look up June Gloom on Wikipedia if you don't believe me. So of course, there's no possibility of even doing any backyard skygazing to try out my new toy! Waaaaaaah!

June Gloom blankets the coast every year.

But regardless of that, the birthday weekend was a smashing success, even in regard to some components that could have ended up going badly but turned out fine. But we'll get to that soon enough.

I think we've already covered this fairly well, but that evening we gave each other our presents: from me to her, a 32GB iPod Touch; from her to me, an Orion SkyQuest telescope. We opened our little boxes and such that night, and then hung out and watched some movies and such until bedtime.

Kat and I both enjoy our time to just relax and kick back, and we did a lot of that on Saturday. After sleeping in, we lollygagged around the house for a bit. I made breakfast... well, brunch, by the time I got off my ass to cook. Had some omelets with mushroom and swiss cheese. At noon, my dad dropped by to be his usual silly self, and gave me a new shirt. Clothes are always useful for preventing nakedness and so on. It was good to see him, as usual.

After he left, I was on a mission: I had a telescope to assemble! It didn't take very long... the base was similar to any number of Ikea-like furnishing pieces I've put together. After it was built, I took it outside and familiarized myself with its various functions, peering a quarter mile down my street like it was three inches away. This is going to be cool (as soon as I can actually use it... GAH!).

Look! New telescope! Now go away, clouds, so I can look at space stuff.

Before we knew it, the day had passed and it was already time to get ready to go out to dinner. After showering and changing into some decent clothing, we called a cab and headed a short way down the street to the Bottle Inn in Hermosa Beach. I'd been there once before, while it was Kat's first time. The place has excellent Italian food, and one of the South Bay's best wine selections, while remaining reasonably affordable. I knew it would be a great birthday place for both of us. Kat ordered the linguine/clams (yum) while I tried the linguine and artichokes Nicolletta which was outstanding. We imbibed some Spellbound cabernet, which was really tasty, and ended the evening with coffee and split a crème brûlée for dessert, though we kind of had to force in it there on top of all that pasta.

It's not very impressive on the outside, but the Bottle Inn has amazing Italian cuisine, and is right on the beach. Nice.

After dinner, both of us were needing to walk off the decadent meal, and it was a perfect night for it. The sun had just gone down, and we strolled 8-9 blocks along the Strand in Hermosa. Kat and I don't go out to the bar scene much, but I'd still wanted to show her the Pier Avenue area of Hermosa for awhile. Saturday night was a good time to do it. We walked up from the Strand and I pointed out some of the classic nightspots of Hermosa. Getting back up to the street, we hopped in one of the waiting cabs and headed home.

It was a terrific night, but we weren't quite done yet. Heading over to Kat's place, we grabbed some DVDs that she'd picked up at work as small gifts for me: National Geographic science-like shit! Whoo! We watched a few chapters of their "Traveler's Guide to the Planets" show before getting too tired to keep our eyes open, and then fell asleep. A glorious day!

Finally... our actual birthday! We once again slept in a bit, and then Kat made us coffee as we kicked back at her place. She was still trying out her new toy while I popped in some more geeky DVDs into my laptop. A short while later, we both decided that breakfast was in order, and since neither of us felt like cooking at that moment, Kat volunteered to drive down to McDonald's and grab us some delicious McMuffins and hash browns and such. About a minute after she left, she came back in.

"Forget something?" I asked.

"Car won't start," she replied, semi-dejectedly.

"Happy birthday!" I said exuberantly, and laughed, which made her laugh too. I wasn't about to let something like a car not starting bother us on our birthdays. A short while later, I went down to the garage with the keys, as if my magic touch on them would cause the car to start right up (it didn't).

Enacting plan B, we packed up our stuff and walked back to my place (a half block away), where I proceeded to cook us up a skillet full of sausage, red potatoes, and onions with the appropriate spices and such. Kat was still a little stressed about the car (you can't blame her; almost all people need a car every single day in the LA area to stay alive), and she started making some plans to look into rental cars, tow trucks, and mechanics. I couldn't even get under the hood of the car to look at what was happening, since it was parked all the way into her carport with the hood under the storage area. The first ray of light in this dark cloud was when she emailed her work to tell them she'd be dealing with this on Monday and would be late as a result, and her boss told her to work from home while she took care of it (sweet!). The second happy part of the car situation happened Monday morning, when her tow truck arrived and it turned out to simply be a dead battery. Easy fix, and she has her car to go to work today. Looking on the really, really bright side, her battery decided to die when she was safe at home, which is about the best possible time for it to happen, if it has to happen.

The KatMobile lives on.

So, back to Sunday. We had nothing to do and nowhere to go, a predicament that we both appreciate quite a lot. We ended up spending a good chunk of the afternoon making plans for a skygazing trip to the desert later this year. We're excited to find out what my new telescope can really do, and there's no way to really explore the outer reaches of space in the middle of a light-polluted city. So that will be fun, and Kat and I love our infrequent opportunities to get out of town on our own in any case.

Joshua Tree is more than just the name of a U2 album. It's a beautiful desert area less than two hours drive from my home.

We wrapped up our birthday weekend with my cooking some steaks, asparagus, and rice, and ended it with some chocolate birthday cake. A great and memorable birthday for both of us. I couldn't complain even if I tried.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Happy (Almost) Birthday to Me and Kat!

Most people who know us are already aware of this, but I'll state it again for our newer friends: Kat and I have the same birthday. Yes, in real life, both of us were born on June 6, though her birthdate is one year after mine. In any case, every year we get to celebrate together, which makes it way more fun than just having a birthday of your own.

Since our actual birthday falls on a Sunday this year, we decided to use the entire weekend for our b-day celebrations, which gave us a perfectly good excuse to open our presents to each other a wee bit early. I'd say we both did very well in the gift-giving department. Take a look for yourself.

From Kat to Zak: Orion SkyQuest XT4.5 Classic Dobsonian Telescope

Whoo-hooo! I am beyond happy. Some of you know that I have a pretty serious lifelong interest in astronomy and physics, but I've never actually owned a telescope that wasn't a toy. This sucker is a serious telescope for a non-professional astronomer like me. Kat did her research well, and the Orion SkyQuest has nothing but excellent reviews out there. Its 114mm aperture is about twice as big as typical amateur scopes, and I'll be able to see some amazing space shit through there. I can't wait to get it set up, though in the locally cloudy month of June, it may be awhile before I'm marveling at the rings of Saturn from my back patio. Still, this is awesome, and totally unexpected. Thank you, my love!

From Zak to Kat: Apple iPod Touch 32GB

Back in 2006, when Kat was still living in Seattle, I got her an iPod for her birthday. Since then, she's used it constantly as her main music player. About a month ago, we were chatting and she mentioned somewhat sadly that her iPod was finally getting to a point of not holding a charge for very long. Well, I'm not the smartest guy on the planet, but some things do register in my brain from time to time, and I realized this was a good reason to give my darling Kat a little upgrade to her music player.

The iPod Touch is simply an iPhone minus the phone. She already has a phone that she's happy with. She also has a high-end laptop and does enough creative production on it that an iPad wouldn't have made sense for her. So the right choice was the iPod Touch. In addition to being a music player, it's also a video player, and connects to the Internet so she can browse web sites, check email, run videos off YouTube, get maps, and all kinds of fun stuff. Plus, its compatible with all the application in Apple's app store, so she can expand its capabilities as needed. I got her the 32GB model, which should be plenty of space for all the stuff she wants to keep on there. She was quite happy, and making her happy makes me happy. Happiness all around.

As mentioned above, our actual birthday is tomorrow, but we're using the whole weekend to celebrate. Tonight, we're heading out to a great Italian restaurant right on the beach, but for the time being, I have a telescope to set up while Kat plays with her new mobile device. Bye for now!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Yay! Yeehaw! And hooray for cheap gear!

Before I write anything else, I want to throw out a number, and that number is $89.

$89. Okay?

Now you may ask, "Zak, what is significant about eighty-nine bucks?", and my response to you is as such: I paid eighty-nine dollars for BOTH the guitar and the mandolin you see above. Now, let's be clear about something: I like and appreciate high-end instruments and music gear. I really do. As I've mentioned too many times before, my main guitar is a Martin D-18V. That's a Vintage Series Martin guitar... Martin is to acoustic guitars what Steinway is to pianos, and this is one of the best of the best. And its bestiness comes with a price tag: currently, suggested retail price on that guitar is $3349. Ouch.

So, I like nice things, but just because something is expensive doesn't make it nice, and just because something is nice doesn't mean it has to be expensive. So let's say the new guitar I just got, a Chinese-made Rogue RA-100D dreadnought, cost me $55. Does that mean the music I play on it will be 60 times more crappy? Well, I reserved that opinion until after I strummed the new guitar a few times and played it up and down the neck to make sure the intonation was usable. And you know what? No, it's not as good as my high-end Martin. But it is surprisingly decent. It sounds fine, it's very playable, and I'm really very happy with having it around as a second guitar that I can use for various purposes.

One costs about 60 times the other one. Yeah, really.

So now, I have two dreadnought acoustic guitars here. I can keep one in non-standard tunings so a) I don't have to be constantly changing the tension on the neck of my Martin as I drastically retune, and b) I don't have to spend time at each show getting myself tuned for the next song. Those are great benefits. Secondarily, I have a steel-string acoustic around the house that I don't need to worry about every little ding in its not-so-precious body. In fact, my son -- who obviously isn't allowed to even look at the Martin, much less touch it -- is welcome to play on this guitar, provided he wash his hands every once in awhile. I can take this guitar out on the patio, or the porch, or just about anywhere. If it gets destroyed, I'm out the cost of an expensive lunch (as opposed to the equivalent value of my car).

Lest I not give it enough credit, the mandolin is cool too. However, I'm no expert on the mandolin, and just the fact that I can plunk the strings and it seems to give me that mandolin-ish sound is good enough for me for now.

So there we have it! Two new instruments for $89. Happy me. In case you're wondering, I got these through Musicians Friend, from whom I ordered online. I see that the $89 sale price is now back up to a whopping $99, but still... it's tough to go wrong when it's this little to risk.