Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Captain (5/1/93 - 3/30/11)

My cat Captain, also known as The Moop (more on that later), succumbed yesterday to a combination of liver disease, kidney disease, and lymphoma. He was 17 years old, and would have turned 18 in May. This is his story.

His full name, which no one ever actually used, was Captain Jean-Luc Picard Of The Federation Starship Enterprise. Most often, he was formally called Captain, though you rarely have to address a cat very formally. Therefore, he was known as Cappy to some, but to me, he was The Moop. The reason I started calling him The Moop will be told shortly.

In The Beginning
In late May 1993, my then-fiancee (and future ex-wife) Anna and I went over to my mother's house one evening for dinner. As we walked in, my mom said in a sharp voice, "Be careful... don't let the cat out." I didn't know that my mom had a cat, but sure enough, a small gray fuzzball soon ambled around the corner. I thought it was a weird-looking kitten, and certainly too young to have been removed from its mother. I asked my mom where it came from and what its name was. She told me that he was called Paris (yech!), and that her friend Vicky had found him in an alley outside her boutique in Long Beach. He had been abandoned by his mother, and was alone near a dumpster. The cat was less than a month old, and was small enough to hold in one hand.

"I thought Vicky hated cats," I said.

"She does, and she's allergic to them," replied Mom. "So she came by and dropped him off."

"Are you going to keep him?" asked Anna.

"No," said Mom. "I can't have pets in this apartment. I asked around, but no one seems to want him. Do you guys want him?"

At the same time I said "Absolutely not," my ex said "Yes!"

I turned to her. We'd moved into an apartment together in Torrance just a few months earlier, the first place of our own with no roommates. Immediately thereafter, we'd gone to the Carson Animal Shelter and adopted a cat, a solid-black terror we'd named Yoko. But it was a one-bedroom place, a rather small one-bedroom, and the idea of having two cats in there was absurd to me.

"We really can't have another cat. This is silly," I said. At that point, Mom interrupted.

"Well, my landlord will be coming by tomorrow, so I'll have to drop him off at the shelter in the morning, I guess." I shot her an evil look, but I knew I was doomed at that point. We drove home with the cat later that night.

One Weird Cat
We were pretty bad Star Trek geeks at that point... not the original Kirk/Spock version, but the new Next Generation show. Neither Anna nor I liked the name Paris, but I didn't have any suggestions for an alternative (I was still convinced it was ridiculous that the cat was somehow mine at that point). So, later that night as we watched the Enterprise-D flying its way through an episode in its sixth season, she said that she wanted to name the cat Captain Jean-Luc Picard Of the Federation Starship Enterprise. I said I'd sooner die than call an animal Jean-Luc, but I'd be okay with Captain. So it stuck.

Captain and Yoko couldn't be more dissimilar. Yoko was gregarious and demanded constant attention; Captain kept to himself almost all of the time, often spending entire days huddled beneath the bed, and only coming out to eat or use the litterbox. He was skittish around anyone he didn't know, and would sprint from the room if the door opened. Captain wasn't very coordinated compared to most felines I'd known. He wasn't what I'd call a normal cat in any aspect.

Enter The Moop
We lived in that little place with Captain and Yoko for another two years, and in summer 1995, moved to my current place in Redondo Beach. Captain's overall demeanor reminded me of the Winnie the Pooh character Eeyore; he seemed to mope around wherever he went, and the only times I ever saw him being active was when he'd eat or when he'd poop. Between the moping and pooping, I started calling him The Moop, and it become my private name for him.

In 1997, we were joined by yet a third cat, a neighborhood stray we named Scully (being, by then, into the X-Files). In a much more spacious three-bedroom place, it wasn't nearly as much of an issue to handle the multitude of gatos, so with Scully, Captain had yet another kitty friend with whom he would choose to not socialize.

My son was born in 1999, and the cats took a big backseat in the attention department. As the kid grew into a toddler (toddlers and cats not always being the best mix), Captain withdrew even further, staying under the boxspring in the bedroom to avoid having his tail yanked or being chased through the halls. Mostly I'd see him as a lump protruding from under the bed. He did this for months at a time. Did I mention he was a weird cat?

The Lone Kitty
My relationship with Moop ended up lasting longer than the marriage to my wife. She and I started having problems around 2001 (that probably went back much further, but that's another story), and by late 2003 we'd completely split up. In August 2004, Yoko (who was about 13) passed away rather suddenly, and about a year later, Scully, who'd been spending more and more time as an outdoor cat, vanished without a trace. We're fairly sure that she found another home in a similar way as she'd found ours, and there she stayed. It wasn't easy for any of those cats to have my young son trying to treat them like stuffed animals, as kids do, so I didn't blame her that much.

But Captain hung in there -- mostly by doing what he'd always done, which was to keep to himself. But after awhile, perhaps once he realized he was the only cat in the residence, his personality changed surprisingly. He started hanging out in the living room, even when people were around. He and my son, who was now older and more mature, became very close. The boy would be camped out near the TV, playing his video games, and Captain would usually be right next to him.

In 2009, Captain went in for a vet appointment, and during a routine "senior exam" (he was, by then, over 16 -- about 85 in human years), they found clear indications of kidney disease. They said that it would likely kill him in the next few months, but he seemed to be doing fine. He definitely had slowed down at that point, which was a very subtle change for a cat as inactive as he'd been his whole life. In any case, he kept on keeping on for another two years, which was all I could have asked of him.

The End of the Road
A few weeks ago, Captain started changing rapidly. The first big sign was that he was eating less and less. He began to get skinnier, and I knew that he didn't have long to go. After awhile, it became obvious that he was in bad shape, and another series of vet appointments showed that while his kidneys had been well managed, his liver was terribly diseased, and that he'd also developed lymphoma, a cancer of the immune system. Finally, we weren't able to watch him suffering any more, so on March 30, he went into the vet one last time. He didn't return.

Of all the animals I ever had, I'd have never expected Captain to be the one to live to be the equivalent of a human centenarian. He never seemed extremely strong, and as I said... he was anything but normal in terms of his behavior. But for having gone from an abandoned kitten in a Long Beach alley to being a beloved family pet for almost 18 years, he lived a great life. While I personally approach death as a natural segment of the life cycle, I would be lying if I said I wouldn't miss my silly Moop (or, as I'd call him occasionally, Moopy, Moopy-Doo, Mooper, Moops, Moopinator, and so on). He brought a lot of joy to me and my son, and others around him over the course of his long life.

Rest well, my friend.

Key West (03.29.11)

Key West... pretty venue, cool crowd.

Yes, I finally got a new skin. I do it once every three years, apparently.

I played my second show at Key West yesterday, and I still really dig the place. It's been fun, and we've had a nice batch of new faces in the crowd there, along with my usual batch of zany Zaksters. The show was good; I purposefully picked a set list that was 100% full of fresh tunes compared to my show there a few weeks back. Hey, I like to show my versatility. You can't blame me for trying to entertain.

Key West Set List...

Wonderwall (Oasis)
Jane (Barenaked Ladies)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Starman (David Bowie)
Big Yellow Taxi (Joni Mitchell)
Fire & Rain (James Taylor)
Things Behind the Sun (Nick Drake)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)
Love Hurts (Everly Brothers)
Triana (Zak Claxton)
Blue (Joni Mitchell)
Any Major Dude (Steely Dan)
Plush (Stone Temple Pilots)

Big thanks to everyone who supported my show!
Triana Caldera, Diana Renoir, Asher Scribe, Gavin Zane, Alexis Fairlady, Horizon Darkstone, Jordan Hazlitt, TheaDee, Xerxes Ninetails, Kat Claxton, Key West owner Liz Harley, and my terrific manager Maali Beck!

Monday, March 28, 2011

A brief encounter with pelicans

Here's a pelican on the Redondo Pier that someone other than me photographed nicely.

It's a new week, but while the weekend is still fresh in my head, I thought I'd give you one of my every-so-often reports on the wildlife in my home town of lovely Redondo Beach, CA.

Yesterday (Sunday March 27, 2011), my ladyfriend Kat suddenly and distressingly was hit with vertigo. Having had the old room-spinny feeling a few times myself, I asked her if it got worse when she moved the directional orientation of her head, and she confirmed this strongly. That's the hallmark of an inner ear infection, and a short while later, we were in the car and headed for our local immediate care center, which I like to call the "Doc in a Box". Ocean Medical is actually a fine practice, and I've received good care there for close to 20 years.

It's been kind of blustery weather around here recently, but Sunday started clearing up about the time Kat, my son, and I took off toward the doc's. Going inside the clinic with Kat, I was happily amazed to see that there was not a single soul in the waiting room, a rare luxury. After making sure Kat was set up to be seen, I got back in the car and took the Boy to McDonald's upon his request (I would have been much happier with lunch from Hennessey's Tavern in Riviera Village or even Fatburger on PCH, but there's no accounting for a 5th grader's taste). After grabbing some unhealthy sustenance, we drove back down toward the Avenues in South Redondo so we'd be close when Kat's appointment was done. I drove down the Esplanade, and then up Paseo de la Playa for a block. Surprisingly, there was some street parking available, and the Kid and I sat in the car, eating our respective burgers and looking out at the nice view of bluffs on the north side of Palos Verdes.

It must be lunchtime in Pelicanland.

Pelican Squadron
As we sat there enjoying the quickly-warming day, windows down and parked next to the beach, a large shadow blocked the sun for a moment. I glanced up and there was a fascinating sight: six pelicans in a tight-wing formation, looking every bit as coordinated as a team of Blue Angels. Pelicans, when you see them up close, are freakin' huge. They weigh upwards of 30 pounds, and can have a wingspan of nearly 10 feet. Combined with the extended beak they sport, pelicans can look like teams of dragons flying out of a Tolkein novel at first glance.

Our pelicans around here are common California Brown Pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis californicus), but makes them no less awesome than anything, ever. Despite having grown up here and having spent nearly my entire life within a short walk of the Pacific Ocean, I'm glad I don't take for granted things like seeing flocks of huge seabirds, or pods of dolphins swimming by. Anyway, it must have been that time of day when the pelicans all head south for some good fishing, before making their way back north around sunset. After that first batch came another, and then another. Finishing our lunch, the Kid and I hopped out of the car and sauntered over to the edge of the lot above the strand, and watched as the teams of pelicans in varying-sized groups fly directly over us, seemingly close enough to reach up and touch.

Over the next 20 minutes, we probably saw 80 pelicans cruise by. We also had a laugh when a large crow (still a lot smaller than his pelican pals) decided to pretend to be a pelican, and adopted the same fixed-wing flight style, cruising along with a group as they soared down the beach. Sometimes it's those little things that form long-term memories, and hopefully the Boy enjoyed our pelican watch as much as I did.

With my boyfriend radar ping getting louder, I told the Kid it was time to go, and I had to cackle at my good timing as we pulled into the clinic's parking lot just as Kat was walking out and calling us. She got in, and another McDonald's run was needed (this time for her, upon smelling a car freshly perfumed by french fries), and then headed home. But I'd have to say that the pelican observation was the highlight of an otherwise mediocre weekend. Kat, by the way, has all manner of pills that will help her get better soon, so perhaps on a coming weekend, we can go down to the edge of the water again (without it being a side-trip for a doctor visit) and enjoy some more of my local flavor. Nature... you awesome.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Why this post isn't about my recording session

Pretty simple solution to this mystery: I'm not posting about my session because it didn't happen.

Sometimes, you have to be realistic about situations, and then make a mature decision that isn't necessarily the one you want to make. I wrote an analogy to my musical compatriots on Friday: say you're 10 years old, and you'd had a trip to Disneyland circled on your calendar for months. But then, the day for your trip to the Magic Kingdom finally arrives, but it's raining like hell. The park is still open, but many of the rides will be closed, and you'd spend the entire time scurrying from one spot to the other to find shelter. In a word, it would suck, and perhaps worse, you'd have spent the money for the tickets, and your folks probably wouldn't be up for going back right away when the weather does clear up.

Well, a 10-year-old wouldn't care. Given the choice, he's going to say, "I'm going to Disneyland!" However, a grown-up person is going to realize that the trip isn't going to be ideal, and it could actually end up being a really shitty time. And that, folks, was where we ended up the day before my scheduled recording session. Of the four musicians involved, the only one of us that seemed 100% ready to go was Ken Lee... three cheers for Ken, who is a trooper as always. But without getting into the details, neither Bunny, Phil, or myself seemed particularly ready to make great music, all for different reasons. Ultimately, you have one shot to record something that you'll have to live with forever, and whatever we might have done on Saturday, it wouldn't have ended up being something we'd all be proud of.

It takes a lot of focus to make music out of thin air. It takes vision and commitment to that vision. Due to these various circumstances, I had zero confidence that we'd be able to shut out all the distractions of life and dedicate ourselves to walking out at the end of the day with a couple of great songs done. And had we pushed ahead and tried to do it anyway, it could have been a disaster... and I'd probably not be able to afford the time or money to re-do the recordings, had that been the case, so I'd be stuck with them. That's a way bigger disappointment, truth be told.

Making the Most of It: Video Shoot
So ultimately, while I'm disappointed that we didn't record this weekend, I know in my heart it was the right call. As if all of our other reasons weren't enough, it turned out that the storm we had here in the LA area this weekend was way stronger than anyone had expected, and it would have also been shitty just getting back and forth to the studio in Riverside from our home near the beach. Instead, Kat and I spent the weekend starting work on an epic new video we're putting together for my song "Waiting for This", which is going to take a bunch of time to do right. But by working on the video, at least we used the weekend for creative fulfillment, which is what we'd have done if we'd been creating music.

A still from the "Waiting for This" video footage we shot Saturday. The gloomy weather was cooperating nicely for the vibe.

Hopefully this pose I'm striking will make sense when you see the completed video. Or not.

I'll let you know when we re-schedule the session. I currently have a backlog of tunes that are completely ready to go for the studio, including "The Other Way", "Look Out For Me", "Perfect Girl", "Go Easy on Me", "Black Phoebe", and more. It's my hope that all of the crap that prevented the last session clears up soon enough to push forward with the recording of these tunes... they're too good, in my humble opinion, to sit here festering.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Back to the Studio on Sat 3/19

I'm Zak Claxton, and I approve of these tissues.

In just a couple more days, I'll be doing something that I love to do, and that's recording my music at a great studio with great friends.

On Saturday March 19, Kat and I will head back to Sound Sanctuary Recording Studios in Riverside, CA, where we'll be joined by my co-producer Phil O'Keefe and my good pals Bunny Knutson and Ken Lee. All four of us are multi-instrumentalists, so it's always interesting to see who ends up playing what once we get rolling. I recorded my entire last album at Sound Sanctuary, and was there last May to do a coupe of tracks that are already in the can for my next album. For Saturday's session, we'll be doing two more new songs: "Look Out for Me" and "The Other Way".

I've generally documented each of my sessions with photos and often videos too, and blogged about most of them as well. If you want a retrospective on our sessions at Sound Sanctuary, they're all right here:

March 20, 2008: "This Afternoon" & "Falling Down" (sorry, no blog of this).

June 29, 2008: "You're Like a Cloud" & "Thanks Anyway"

November 15, 2008: "The Sands of Redondo" & "Always Tomorrow"

March 21, 2009: "Waxing Gibbous", "Come Around" & "Lines on Your Eyes"

July 25, 2009: "Fade Away" & "Waiting for This"

August 15, 2009: Overdubs for a few songs.

October 10, 2009: Mixing session for entire first album.

May 1, 2010: "Time Never Waits for You" & "Shine"

No Cold's Gonna Stop Me
As you can probably tell in the pic up top, I have a cold. While that's likely going to mean postponing the recording of vocals, we still have plenty to get down on Saturday for the two new tunes. In a way, it's more of a rock star thing to come back and do vocals at a separate session anyway. But in any case, I'm not going to try and sing through the ton of snot in my head (sorry for the TMI). Once you put your voice down on record, you have to live with it for the rest of eternity, so I'm going to pass on trying to sing just because I'm there. We can easily spend 12 hours making sur the guitar, bass, drums, and keyboards are rocking anyway. And we will!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Common Colds & Banana Doses

Oh banana, why hast thou forsaken me?

I hab a cobbon coad.

(sneeze... cough...)

Sorry, let me start again: I have a common cold. Yes, the ominous-sounding nasopharyngitis, or acute viral rhinopharyngitis, has taken up residence in my head. It's really not the end of the world, I promise you. Here are some not-very-interesting facts about the common cold: adults get 2-4 of them each year on average; kids get 6-12 of them. It's been my experience that adults who have school-aged kids in the house get them a hell of a lot more often than those who don't, which is why my pet name for my son's school is the Germ Factory.

Anyway, my lovely lady Kat had it bad last weekend, and now it's my turn. Again, no big deal. Looking at it optimistically, since I have a recording session this coming Saturday, I will likely be ship-shape by then, so it's a lot better than if this particular virus had waited a few more days to invade my body. So, hooray for punctual viruses, I guess. I already seem to be feeling better than I did over the weekend, so expect less whininess in days to come... hopefully.

Now, let's talk about something that's actually somewhat interesting.

The Banana Equivalent Dose

Nuclear accidents are horrible. But are they worse than... a banana?

I am a big fan of bananas. More often than not, the first thing I consume each day (after a couple cups of coffee, several cigarettes, and some water) is a banana. Bananas are really good foods from a nutritional standpoint; they're good for your heart, nervous system, kidneys, bones, and blood. They even provide dietary fiber, which as one gets older, is appreciated as well. However, I recently found out something about bananas I didn't realize: they're radioactive.

(Cue ominous music)

No, really, they are. Many foods are naturally radioactive, but bananas are particularly so, with a good amount of radioactive potassium-40 in each delicious bite. Now, radiation is bad, right? Exposure to large amounts of radiation can cause your cells to mutate, giving you cancer and other forms of radiation sickness. This is scary shit. When you hear about radiation, it's often in conjunction with things happening in the world like the current problems with the nuclear power plants in Japan. When you see headlines about radioactive steam being released, it's human nature to not be very happy about such things, and possibly to want to see an end to all nuclear power solutions.

I'm not here today to debate nuclear power's long-term feasibility; like many folks, I have mixed feelings about it. But I will fill you in on a good way to keep perspective about being exposed to radiation, and that is something called the Banana Equivalent Dose. It's a scale that lets you compare radiation effects versus the exposure form eating a banana. If you ate one banana each day for a year, that would mean you've ingested about 3.6 millirems of radioactive material.

What does that mean? Well, don't be overly reassured: being in the vicinity of a nuclear accident is never, ever a good thing. But sometimes, you need to be aware that a very small exposure to radiation isn't something to cause widespread panic. Eating foods like bananas, potatoes, kidney beans, nuts, and sunflower seeds will expose you to radiation, as will flying in an airplane, or walking outside on a sunny day. Unless you are very close (i.e., within a 20-mile radius) of a nuclear accident, chances are likely that your exposure to radiation doing everyday things will result in a higher dose. Getting a few chest x-rays is generally way more radiation exposure than what most people are getting in the Fukushima plant area.

Is nuclear power a safer alternative than coal and oil-based fuels? Short term, the answer would seem to be yes. Long term, with the half-life of spent nuclear materials being decades long, the commitment to maintenance for hundreds of years is a bit frightening. Uranium mining and other activities that have to happen for nuclear power to function is also dangerous and creates long-term problems. For fulfilling the needs of the populace of the Earth, I have yet to hear about any viable power source that doesn't also come with massive drawbacks. But at least keep in mind that hiding in a bunker when a power plant that is thousands of miles away from you malfunctions is silly... at least if you plan on eating bananas while you're in your hidey hole.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Tsunami Wake-Up Calls & Lunacy at Moonacy

No words.

Before I begin the more lighthearted part of this post, my thoughts go out to the people affected by the Sendai quake. Having been through the 6.7 Northridge quake here in LA in 1994, I can't even wrap my head around what an 8.9 would be like. Hopefully the toll to humanity is minimized, with Japan being the world leader in earthquake preparedness.

In an extremely minor way, the quake affected me personally. I live not far from the beach, and at 6:48am, not long after I rolled out of bed to start my work day, the phone rang. It was my local reverse-911 system (did you even know there was such a thing?), letting me know that a tsunami was headed for us. But the recorded voice was calm, and said there were no plans of evacuation. It's good to know we're prepared for such things in any case. Still, I flipped on some local news to see if I could get a sense as to whether or not this would screw up my otherwise mellow day, and it seemed that it was mostly a precautionary measure. The waves had passed Hawaii at 3:30am, and were scheduled to hit my area at about 8:30.

Weird start to the day.

From my home, a walk of about three blocks has you looking directly down the hill toward the Redondo beach harbor, so I called up my darling Kat and then strolled over to her place. We walked together up the street, and looked down a few minutes later. Indeed, by staring intently, I could see the small effects of the tsunami hitting here on the West Coast. And by "small", I mean "barely discernible from any other day of decent surf". A Coast Guard boat about a mile out bobbed a few times as the first waves passed beneath it, but all in all, while I'm glad we seemed prepared for the worst, nothing major seemed to happen anywhere in Southern California as a result of the tsunami. The possibility of more waves coming in still exists, but I'm pretty sure there's nothing to be worried about around here.

Panic level: zero.

Moonacy Writers Session (03.10.11)
Previous to all the natural disasters and such, I performed last night at the Moonacy Writers Sessions, which is a series of Thursday-night show of original music put on by Moondoggirl Moomintoog in conjunction with IndieSpectrum Radio's Fox Reinsch. The show (which also included several of my musician pals like Matthew Perrault and Juel Resistance) turned out to be supremely fun, and between the folks who were physically there in SL and those listening in on the Internet radio stream, over 85 people heard me play some live Zak Tunes for a half hour.

Spooky! Me like.

Rocking original music in an abandoned church. That's a good Thursday night right there.

Moonacy Set List...

Perfect Girl (Zak Claxton)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
You're Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)
The Other Way (Zak Claxton)
Shine (Zak Claxton)

My view from the stage. Photos courtesy of Kat.

Big thanks to all who supported my show last night at Moonacy!
Diana Renoir, Misti Raleigh, Alexis Fairlady, Indy Darkrose, Vaughan Michalak, Beth Odets, Kayy Moonshadow, Leondra Larsson, Aurelie Chenaux, TheaDee, Kat Claxton, hosts Moondoggirl Moomintoog and Fox Reinsch, and my management team of Rusty Seisenbacher and Maali Beck!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Bad week to be an animal in Redondo Beach

I live in a town that I love. It's called Redondo Beach, CA, and it's a suburb of Los Angeles. I've lived in this general area almost my entire life, having grown up in Palos Verdes just south of here, and living in my current home since 1995. Despite traveling around a lot and enjoying different places for different reasons, I still feel most at home in Redondo.

Redondo is pretty idyllic. It's a pretty seaside community. I call it a little town, but that's only in comparison to nearby Los Angeles; over 65,000 people live in Redondo Beach, and it's all part of the greater LA area with nearly 18,000,000 people within an hour's drive. But Redondo still has a smaller community vibe to it. It's a place where you never feel obligated to dress up; and during the warm months (i.e., most of them), the standard fashion is a pair of flip flops, board shorts, and a t-shirt. Throw on a sweatshirt and a pair of Vans sneakers when it's cooler.

So, Redondo has nice schools, great weather, low crime, and a generally good vibe. While I'd love to spend the entirety of this post talking about what a sweet place my hometown is, there are a couple of troubling things going on at this very moment... both involving animals, with one of a very personal nature, and one from an environmental viewpoint. Let's take care of the personal first.

The Last Days of The Moop

That gray fuzzy thing is my cat, Captain, also known by many other names... my personal favorite being The Moop, or Moopy, or Moopy-Doo, and so on. Moop was born in May 1992, making him well over 18 years old. That's over 90 years old in human years, and it's fortunate that he's lived this long... especially considering that a couple of years ago, the vet diagnosed him with kidney disease, telling me he would likely be gone in two or three months.

Well, he's hung on, and had a pretty happy life as far as I can tell. However, the past couple of weeks, he's really slowed down, and now for the past three days, he's barely eaten. I don't want to prematurely eulogize him, but it's safe to say that like all living things, Captain's life had a beginning and a middle, and is probably quickly approaching the end. It's going to be rough on me, and very rough on my 11-year-old son, to whom Moopy is particularly close.

So Long, and Thanks for Being Fish

About mid-morning today, my Internet started lighting up with reports about a troubling situation happening less than a mile down the street from me. Millions -- yes, millions -- of dead anchovies have washed up in King Harbor, here in Redondo. The reasons aren't very clear yet, but it would seem that the initial conclusion for their cause of mass death is oxygen deprivation. What the authorities don't seem to know yet is why.

We had a big wind storm last night, and they are theorizing that the giant school of fish sought refuge in the harbor, only to have the relatively sealed-off area quickly become depleted of oxygen in the water. The result is a little horrifying, as per the pictures above. In a way, the oxygen theory is a more reassuring answer than other possibilities, like the fish having been exposed to toxic waste, or an oil slick, or other disaster brought on by humans. Hopefully there aren't other factors (like methane buildup) that caused it.

In any case, down the street from me at this moment, there are a lot of people scooping dead fish off the water surface, because it's starting to get warmer, and having millions of dead sardines roasting in warm weather is going to present a whole new problem unless it's taken care of quickly. In the most selfish view, ignoring the tragedy of massive loss of life, it's going to smell really bad around here by Thursday if the cleanup action isn't handled with speedy efficiency.

It Glums Me Out, Man

As is probably understandable, I'm feeling a little glum as a result of this stuff. There's really nothing I can do to a) make my cat immortal or b) go back in time and prevent some ecological disaster from happening. It's all just part of life, and you can't expect everything to be rosy-perfect every day. However, I do tend to remind myself that as a whole, I'm a pretty damn lucky guy who's had a ton of good stuff outweighing the bad in his life by a mile.

Send good wishes to the Moop, and hopes that no more fish wash up here in my hometown. Thanks in advance.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Bean Counter (03.05.11)


I think most of my readers know that I spent many years playing before live audiences before taking my show on the virtual road in 2006. Lately, with last weekend's San Diego Jam and today's show at the Bean Counter Coffee House, I've done more playing in front of actual people than I had for a long time! But it's like riding a bike; it comes back to you quickly, and it doesn't hurt that badly when you fall and skin your knee.

Real life rocks.

Anyway, I did a two-hour show today at the Bean Counter here in Redondo Beach, and it went well. I didn't have a big crowd, but with the number of people coming in and out for their no-foam, half-caf dirty chai lattes, I'd say we sprinkled some Zakster love over a nice range of South Bay residents. Also, I broadcast the show on StreamJam -- my 17th show there, by the way -- so we had a few folks checking out the show remotely as well.

Diana, Jess, and Rey watch me from the midwest. Image courtesy of Triana Caldera.

I was feeling good, and decided to extend my set to two hours somewhat spontaneously. I also started with a song from 1926, which is slightly older than my previously oldest song from 1966 or so.

Bean Counter/SJ 17 Set List...
*Blue Skies (Irving Berlin)
If You Could Only See (Tonic)
Thank U (Alanis Morissette)
Go Easy On Me (Zak Claxton)
Pulling Mussels from a Shell (Squeeze)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Help Me (Joni Mitchell)
Better Man (Pearl Jam)
Fire & Rain (James Taylor)
Come a Time (Neil Young)
Shine (Zak Claxton)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)


Change (Tears for Fears)
Tea in the Sahara (The Police)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)
Nowhere Man (The Beatles)
Perfect Girl (Zak Claxton)
Rock and Roll Woman (Buffalo Springfield)
Ziggy Stardust (David Bowie)
Things Behind the Sun (Nick Drake)
You're Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)
Any Major Dude (Steely Dan)
The Other Way (Zak Claxton)

*Indicates first-ever performance of this song.

Thanks to everyone who support my show today!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Key West (03.03.11)

A pretty sunset at Key West, a terrific place to see live music in SL.

As you undoubtedly know by now, I spent last weekend at the SL San Diego Jam, and had a terrific time. What I didn't mention is that while I was there, a lovely lady who goes by the name Maali Beck came up to me and asked who managed me in SL.

The honest answer to that question for the last four years has been... no one! I've barely managed myself, and while I've been grateful for the help I've received from my lovely Kat as well as that of ├╝berfans like Triana Caldera and Diana Renoir, I have been mostly on my own for getting shows booked, promoting them, and all that stuff. Honestly, I really never liked that aspect of being a musician in real life nor SL, and I therefore tended not to dedicate much time to it beyond what was minimally necessary to keep playing shows and getting some fans to them.

So, when Maali expressed interest in managing my SL music career, out of habit I started to say that I really didn't feel I needed a manager. But a short while later, I spoke about it with Kat, and realized that a manager was exactly what I needed. This year in particular has proven that point; I found myself too busy with other aspects of life to spend hardly any time reaching out to the SL music community to get new gigs, and as a result had only played a few shows in SL over the course of January and February. That's why, on the following day, I told Maali that I was indeed interested in taking her up on her offer, and we decided to meet the following week to go over some details. We decided that she and her partner Rusty Seisenbacher would meet with me on Thursday at 5PM.

My new manager, the lovely Maali Beck.

Well, being the great manager she is, instead of our meeting, Maali went ahead and booked me a show on that same day and time (we opted to push back the meeting, as you'd expect), which is how I ended up performing at Key West for the first time. Key West is a terrific-looking venue, and a glance at the roster of artists who play there will tell you that owner Liz Harley really goes after the best talent in SL. It was an honor to do my show there, and we ended up having a great time with a big and super-enthusiastic crowd.

Maali poked fun at my circa-2007 skin. I promised her an updated look sometime soon. Time to do something I almost never, ever do in SL: go shopping.

Great venue, great crowd.

Key West Set List

Change (Tears for Fears)
If You Could Only See (Tonic)
*The Other Way (Zak Claxton)
Ashes to Ashes (David Bowie)
California (Joni Mitchell)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
Tea on the Sahara (The Police)
You're Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)
Pink Moon (Nick Drake)
The Man Who Sold the World (David Bowie)
Soul Kitchen (The Doors)

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

Huge thanks to everyone who helped support my show at Key West!
Triana Caldera, Joonie Jatho, EvaMoon Ember, TheaDee, Tyra Jakob, Diana Renoir, Tor Swenson, Alexis Fairlady, Taunter Goodnight, Xerxes Ninetails, Kimmie Rayna, Chely Lock, CelticMaidenWarrior Lancaster, Spiral Silverstar, Christine Haiku, Kat Claxton, and special thanks to Key West owner Liz Harley, as well as my brand new management team of Maali Beck and Rusty Seisenbacher!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

San Diego Jam 2011: a Weekend to Remember


Fun Fun Fun
Fun is important to us, which is why we were interested in going to an SL music jam. Kat and I had watched some of the live video stream from previous SL Jams in places like Texas, and we were captivated by the sights and sounds of Second Life musicians with many different styles coming together from across the country (and around the world) to jam together in a real-life location.

So last fall, when we saw an announcement about a planned SL Meetup and Music Jam in San Diego, we pretty much decided on the spot that we wanted to participate. After all, San Diego is just an easy two-hour drive south of our home in the LA area, so there was really nothing that could stop us from attending. Well, the months drifted by, and before we knew it, the weekend was upon us.

On The Road Again
Our friend Triana Caldera, who had visited us twice before from her home in the Minneapolis area, decided that getting out of the frozen tundra in February seemed like a good idea, so on Thursday night, Kat picked her up at LAX. The following morning, we went down the street and picked up a rental vehicle that was large enough to stow the music gear we needed to bring. After loading the SUV chock full of guitars, percussion instruments, mics, stands, and PA gear (as well as our luggage and ourselves), we swung by the grocery store for some snackage, and then got on the 405 South.

I've made the drive to San Diego dozens of times; I went to college there (at SDSU) briefly in the mid-'80s, so I'm very familiar with that southbound trip. But having my lady Kat and my pal Triana with me made the drive lively, and we pushed straight through without a stop, singing along to classic rock and talking about our expectations for the weekend. In well under two hours, by 1:00PM, we were pulling up to the driveway of the Hampton Inn near SeaWorld, where the festivities were to take place. While official check-in time wasn't until 4:00PM, the hotel was nice enough to give us our rooms right away, so we grabbed some of our stuff from the car and got settled in.

Getting To Know You
After freshening up, we dropped by that bastion of culinary delight, Denny's, which was literally next door to the hotel. Having accomplished lunch, we walked back to the Hampton where we started to run into some of the SL crowd in the lobby. We saw Ayesha Lytton, who let us know that the main room where the event was being held would open at 5:00PM, so we kicked back for awhile. It's always fun "meeting" people who, in some cases, you've known for years, which was what happened when we ran into folks like Eva Moon and Maximillion Kleene.

As soon as we had access to the room, the first thing we needed to do was to set up gear. Unlike SL, real life requires real set up of mic stands, cables, mixers, PA systems and the like. Fortunately, it was pretty painless compared to many live shows I've done, and everyone was jumping in to help out, which made setup happen pretty fast. That weekend, we were also celebrating Triana's birthday, so Kat and I had made reservations at a local sushi place. Unfortunately, my stomach wasn't it's usual ravenous self, and this slight tummy ache was the only aspect of the entire weekend that was less than ideal. It continued to plague me slightly throughout the trip, but I wasn't letting that stop the good times. After going out and coming back, the room was pretty well set, and we jumped right in and started with some tunes. I have no idea who played what first; the second there were guitars and mics set up, the music just kind of happened.

Getting set up!

Tamra Sands joins me for a little Friday night jam.

Kat and I were tired from the traveling and setting up, and ended up hitting the hay relatively early that night; I think we were in our room by 11:00. But already, the trip was getting fun, and showing promises of greatness in what would lie ahead.

I Can See For Miles
One awesome thing about performing with folks from SL is that we're all familiar with playing for an audience that isn't physically there. The entire SD Jam was being pumped into SL as well as being broadcast on live video via Ustream. While we kept most of the attention focused on what was happening in the real life room, I want to say thanks to the hundreds of people who checked out the show remotely.

Here's the view of the show via Ustream...

... and here it is in SL, at the San Diego sim, appropriately. Screencaps courtesy of Sitearm Madonna.

Brand New Day
Saturday morning, we slept in, but awoke in time for the free breakfast the hotel provided. No self-respecting musician turns down a free breakfast, or any meal for that matter! Downstairs, many of the SL crowd had already gathered. Still unshowered, I'd planned on heading straight back to the room to get myself ready for the day. Those plans, however, were delayed by running into people like Max Kleene, CelticMaidenWarrior Lancaster, and Taunter Goodnight while "stopping by" the main room and proceeding to pick up the guitars again. I didn't end up getting back upstairs until 1:30PM, some four hours later.

The Saturday morning circle. Max Kleene, CelticMaidenWarrior Lancaster, me, and Taunter Goodnight doing some Everly Brothers.

Celtic and I share a laugh.

During this time period, I also got to meet many of the fans who'd come to San Diego for the event. What a great group of people! Many of them were hard-core SL music fans that I'd run into over the years, and it was so terrific to put a non-pixelated face with their names!

After getting myself more presentable, we headed back down where the music continued, and pizza was being served. I welcomed both treats. While the intensity level went up and down, the music never, ever stopped. I hung out until 5:00 or so, and then needed a break before the individual music sets were scheduled for that evening. Once again, I was having some stomach issues, and was concerned for a short while that it was going to affect my show, but after going back downstairs during Eva Moon's set, I started cheering up pretty quickly (Eva has that effect on people).

Eva Moon and Lyndon Heart perform some of their quirky, naughty, and very fun tunes.

Everyone is all-smiles during Eva's set.

By 7:00PM when my own set happened, I was back to my usual chipper self. While the focus of the event wasn't on individual performances (and everyone had various other musicians hopping up to handle some percussion or backing vocals in their respective sets), I thought my set went pretty well.

Zak's SD Jam Set List
In My Time of Dying (Traditional)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
Tribute (Tenacious D)
Behind Blue Eyes (The Who)
Things Behind the Sun (Nick Drake) - Ft. Max Kleene
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Wish You Were Here (Pink Floyd) - Ft. Lyndon Heart
Fire & Rain (James Taylor) - Ft. Lyndon Heart
You're Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)
Redemption Song (Bob Marley)
Love Hurts (Everly Brothers) - Ft. Audience on bck vocals

Rocking my set on Saturday night.

Max Kleene plays some percussion during one of my tunes.

Me and MKT. I was told our voices complemented each other well.

Into the Mystic
The evening continued, first with Mankind Tracer doing a good set of covers in his reliably well-performed way. Mankind is a good guitarist and singer, and his big fan base in SL is indicative of that talent. After Mankind, Tamra Sands did a set. I hadn't spent much time listening to Tamra before this event; boy, was I missing out. She is an amazing singer and multi-instrumentalist with terrific stage presence (no wonder, after her time on Broadway in a lead role of "Les Miserables").

Tamra Sands blows everyone away with her talent.

Tamra's set faded into one by Max Kleene, who is probably SL's most well-known live musician. I've considered Max a friend for years, and his popularity is matched by his talent level... he's a great singer who has a terrific knack for great material to perform. After Max, Lyndon Heart took his turn at center stage, and he is an incredibly entertaining guy with a great combination of cover and original music. One of my most memorable moments of the entire weekend came when Lyndon performed a Van Morrison tune joined by Tamra and I on dueling tambourines, followed by a kazoo solo that is indescribable in mere words.

I've never heard a Max kleene show that was anything short of great.

Max and Tamra and beautiful harmonies. A great moment of the SD Jam was hearing them together.

Who says acoustic jams can't rock?

Tamra, Lyndon, and I having way too much fun.

Best kazoo solo ever, courtesy of Lyndon Heart.

Masters of Mayhem
By the time Lyndon ended his set, it was midnight, and the scheduled musical mayhem began. Random groupings began to coalesce, with all the performers going up and down from the stage to jump in on whatever song was being played at the moment. Much hilarity ensued with harmonies and guitar lines bouncing around the room like balls on a trampoline. I found myself spending as much time laughing as I was singing, which is a great way to end a day. By about 1:30AM, I was starting to get fuzzy around the edges, and stumbled back upstairs to our room. Still, as tired as I was, I didn't get to sleep immediately, with echoes of the great sounds we'd made still reverberating through my brain.

Raspbury Rearwin, Max Kleene, me, and Lyndon Heart get silly with the post-midnight madness.

Eva throws in some percussion while Raspbury, Max, me, and Lyndon continue the mayhem.

Easy Like Sunday Morning
Once again, despite the late night, the lure of free breakfast pulled me out of bed by 9:30 the next morning. By the way, this wasn't some crappy free "continental breakfast" of a stale muffin and old coffee. This was scrambled eggs, french toast, fried ham, fresh juice... yum! I actually managed to go up and shower this time before heading back down to create (and enjoy) more music. Most of the performers from the night before came back down to rock some more on Sunday, once again with people doing whatever songs they felt like at the moment and whoever joining in who could pick up a guitar or percussion instrument.

We stayed and played and ate lunch and socialized with folks, but at about 2:00 that afternoon, it was time to start getting ready to roll. Unobtrusively as possible (since the music was still flowing), I disconnected the gear I'd brought and packed it into the SUV. By 3:15, we'd said our goodbyes and given hugs all around, and were back on the 5 North toward LA. But I will never, ever forget the great vibe of camaraderie and mutual respect that I got from the SD Jam 2011.

Thank You
To everyone who helped make the 2011 SD Jam a huge success, I send my sincere thanks. Not to single anyone out, but one person in particular merits the recognition: Ayesha Lytton did a fantastic job in putting the event together and making it run smoothly throughout. I'd like to send additional thanks to everyone I know who was there to make and enjoy music... Sitearm Madonna, EvaMoon Ember, Kat Claxton, Gwampa Lomu, CelticMaidenWarrior Lancaster, Bob43 Silversmith, Lyndon Heart, Mankind Tracer, Tamra Sands, Maximillion Kleene, Rhys Greggan, GeeGee Zerbino, Taunter Goodnight, Kat Vargas, Zany Xevious, Guru Witte, Tyra Jakob, Triana Caldera, Maali Beck, Raspbury Rearwin, and any others who slipped through the cracks. It was wonderful meeting you all, and I'd say it's a safe bet that Kat and I will be popping up at another SL Jam sometime soon!