Friday, October 28, 2011

Molaskey's Pub w/Lyndon Heart (10.27.11)

Thursday night was a night full of firsts.

While it wasn't the first time I joined my friend singer-songwriter Lyndon Heart onstage at Molaskey's Pub in Second Life (that happened back in September), it was the first time I wasn't "on top". Let me explain something here (skip the next paragraph if you're not a complete Internet/audio geek).

Here's how "dual streaming" works in Second Life. The most simple explanation is that one person streams live audio from their location, and another person receives that audio (over an audio stream, via something like iTunes, just like dialing in an Internet radio station). Then, that person adds his/her own musical contribution, mixes it with the signal from the first person, and sends the combined signal into SL.

Lyndon (right) and me, rocking out and having fun via dual-stream at Molaskey's. Photo by Kat.

Anyway, the first time I did this, I was "on top", meaning that I was the first one playing, and Lyndon played along with what I was doing, with guitar leads and harmony vocals. But last night, we flippity-flopped the fling-flang, and Lyndon drove the music while I added my own parts. It was every bit as fun, and perhaps more so in a way; the person "on top" can't hear what the other person is doing (this is due to the latency of time, space, and Internet servers in various places... I don't want to get detailed here about the techno shit).

The crowd at Molaskey's, enjoying the tunes from Lyndon and I. Photo by Kat.

So, that was a first. Another first was a batch of tunes that I played with Lyndon, along with a couple of covers of my own that I'd never done before. Check it out...

Molaskey's/Lyndon Heart Set List...

With Lyndon:
*Ain't No Sunshine (Bill Withers)
*Love is the Seventh Wave (Sting)
*Stir It Up (Bob Marley & the Wailers)
*Up On Cripple Creek (The Band)
*I Can See Clearly Now (Johnny Nash)
*After Midnight (Eric Clapton)

Solo Set
Big Yellow Taxi (Joni Mitchell)
*Games Without Frontiers (Peter Gabriel)
You're Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)
*Every Day I Write the Book (Elvis Costello)
†The Loner (Neil Young)
Broken Day (Zak Claxton)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)
Ashes to Ashes (David Bowie)
Man of Constant Sorrow (Traditional)

*Indicates the first time I've performed this song in SL.
†My last performance of "The Loner" was October 28, 2008.

As you can see from the list above, we did a similar format to the last show, except Lyndon started us out with 45 minutes of his own stuff, followed by a half hour of us performing together, and then 45 minutes on my own. There was yet another first during my set, and not a particularly joyous one; in the four years I've been playing at Molaskey's, I've never had any problems with their venue stream until last night. During my set, the stream was stuttering and cutting in/out, and there was nothing that could be done (it was a server problem). On the bright side, at least the stream was steady during the section with Lyndon and I playing, and once we acquiesced that something was wrong, I simply switched over to my own stream for the remainder of the show and all was well. No big deal; shit happens in the technology-filled world that lets us do things like performing in our homes to fans around the world.

My view. Photo by Triana.

Regardless, it was a fun-filled show that I enjoyed greatly. Any show at Molaskey's usually ranks among the best; add in the fact that I'm doing a live jam along with a guy who is 1,000 miles north of me, and it's an evening full of win. Lyndon and I are scheduled to do this again at Molaskey's sometime in November, and I'd like to see what we can come up with to make it even better.

Lyndon hangs out and cheers me on while I keep the rock rolling (when the stream decided to let me do so). Photo by Kat.

Triana and Kat hanging out toward the end of the evening. Photo by Kat.

Huge thanks to everyone who helped support the show!
Heaven Glendale, Catherinne Earnshaw, Triana Caldera, Mia Kitchensink, Thynka Little, Cicadetta Stillwater, Alexis Fairlady, Thadicus Caligari, Kat Claxton, Woodstock Burleigh, Tangle Giano, Thinkerer Melville, Diana Renoir, my (and Lyndon's) terrific manager Maali Beck, and Molaskey's owners and staff (especially Katydid Something). Love all you people!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Zak Claxton Happy Fun Show #13 (10.20.11)


I'm sure that many of you thought that the Zak Claxton Happy Fun Show was a thing of the past, but just when you least expected me to get in front of a camera for no reason other than to be a singing fool, there I was again. Hey, I missed me too.

Some clarification and definition is in order here. Confusingly, I've done several different formats of video shows over the years. Back in February 2010, I discovered Ustream, a service that allows people to stream live video over the Internet, and put together a little show so my friends and fans could watch me rock out from the comfort of my (and their) own home. I called it the "Zak Claxton Happy Fun Show", and did 12 shows between February and July of that year. Shortly after that, I was approached by a company called StreamJam who took the same Ustream feed and made it accessible on Facebook. Then, in early 2011, I also did a series of shows for StageIt... a similar service that seemed better at promoting the artists who played there.

Still, while I enjoyed the shows I did with those services, the fact that I was unable to perform cover tunes made the show rather repetitive. Also, while I appreciate that the other services offer varying degrees of monetization, it's nice being to just rock out without hitting your audience up for tips. Ultimately, I'm the kind of performer who likes to do whatever music he feels like on the spur of the moment, which is why after 15 months of having put the ZCHFS on Ustream aside, I resurrected it last night on a whim. See, I had nothing scheduled this week in SL, and didn't want to wait another week before my next show.

Anyway, back to the now. I didn't do a lot of promotion for this show; I thought a simple, low-key thing where a few of my pals could hang out and have fun would be a cool thing to do, especialy since it had been a long time since I did this type of show, so that's what I did. As I often do, I pulled out some rarities and one never-before-played tune at this video show.

ZCHFS Episode #13 Set List...
California (Joni Mitchell)
Alabama Song (The Doors)
Shine (Zak Claxton)
†Don't Let It Bring You Down (Neil Young)
Broken Day (Zak Claxton)
Loser (Beck)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
Black Peter (Grateful Dead)
Bein' Green (Kermit the Frog)
*Freaky (Flight of the Conchords)
After the Goldrush (Neil Young)

*Indicates the first time I've ever performed this song.
†My last performance of "Don't Let It Bring You Down" was on Sep 29, 2007! Wow!

Thanks to everyone who saw the show. That was fun!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Key West (10.13.11)

For various reasons, it had been 2-1/2 weeks since my last show in Second Life, which (for me, anyway) is a really long hiatus. Long story short: I caught a cold, courtesy of my son, so singing was out for awhile. Then, I had two consecutive shows go south on me -- one due to a migraine, the other due to a cancellation by a venue owner. So, needless to say, I was raring to go by the time Thursday evening rolled around and it was time for my show at Key West.

I've played at Key West maybe 5-6 times, and invariably it's a great place to play. Liz Harley, who owns and runs the place, always is helpful in bringing in a great crowd, and the folks who come there seem to be very appreciative of well-performed music. Last night's show was as good as any of them I've played there, and I always find myself looking forward to the next time Key West pops up on my schedule (due to the excellent work of my manager Maali Beck).

Due to the recent climate of turmoil and unrest via the Occupy movement, I found myself inspired to put a few more protest-oriented songs into my repertoire, so I did. Overall, I think the list of tunes I did ended up very good.

Key West Set List...
*For What It's Worth (Buffalo Springfield)
Ziggy Stardust (David Bowie)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
*What's Going On (Marvin Gaye)
Things Behind the Sun (Nick Drake)
Under the Bridge (Red Hot Chili Peppers)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
Ohio (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young)
Loser (Beck)
A Day In the Life (Beatles)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)
Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (Neil Young)

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

Huge thanks to all who came out and supported my show!
Harper Messmer, Caden Lighthouse, GMetal Svartur, Rill Andel, Jordan Hazlitt, Leondra Larsson, Emily Oliphaunt, Diana Renoir, Jukebox Diesel, Alexis Fairlady, Syd Baddingham, Kat Claxton, TheaDee, Diana Renoir, Maali Beck for her always-terrific management, and Key West owner Liz Harley!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Migraines, Revolutions, and Monopoly Games

I had a sort-of grab-bag weekend, and since I'm a sharing person, I thought I'd tell you about it.

Let's rewind back to Friday for a moment. One of the longest-term clients of my little marketing communications business requested that I attend an online class on marketing automation for a CRM/ERP system (if this sounds like gibberish to you, that's probably a good thing). I happily agreed; I like learning new things. What I didn't know at that time was that the class was eight straight hours, beginning at 7am my time, and ending at 3pm. Yikes. So, my entire Friday was devoured by this class. As usual, Kat came over after work that evening, and we had a good night just kicking back. It was that night, in fact, that we started bouncing around the Interwebz, watching some of the goings-on of the nascent "Occupy Wall Street" protests. A good friend of ours was planning to be at the Occupy Atlanta protest, and we'd joked that we should watch the live feed to make sure there were witnesses in case she was maced and beaten. That didn't happen, of course, but watching that night did kind of give us a better perspective on what the protests were all about. More on that later.

Here I am, about five hours into my eight hour class on Friday. Suicide seemed like a viable alternative to completing the session, but I persevered.

It was my intention to wake up the next day bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and perform live that afternoon at the BURN2 festival in Second Life. My pal Diana had booked me for the show weeks earlier, and I'd prepared a bunch of tunes for the occasion that I thought would be appropriate for the hippy-like vibe of the event. But that was not to be. In the middle of the night, I awoke with a pounding headache. I managed to get back to sleep, but in the morning, it had grown even worse, and I had some nausea to accompany it. Uh oh. Within a couple of hours, even I couldn't deny that I had some kind of migraine going, but tried semi-courageously to prepare for performing regardless. It pretty much came down to the last minute before I told the organizers that I was in no condition to sing and play guitar, and that was that. I was really unhappy, having been looking forward to the show, but I had no choice.

This is from my BURN2 show back in 2010. I was not at all happy to be forced to miss this year's show.

So, after grumbling for awhile, I decided that the best course of action (beyond the bunch of ibuprofen that I'd taken) was to spend the day relaxing. Kat and I fired up the Wii and spent much of the remainder of the day playing Monopoly. It's something we've done lately when we have some rare kick-back time, and we had a good time putting hotels on Boardwalk and Park Place and all that fun stuff. My migraine lasted for quite a long time, but by that evening, I was feeling mostly back to my usual self, and we went to bed.

Sure, it's just good old Monopoly, but Kat and I always seem to have fun playing it. When my son is around, he joins in as well. It's actually better than old-school Monopoly; since the computer is the bank, it speeds things up quite a lot (still, a good game can take a couple of hours).

I was very appreciative on Sunday morning to wake up after a good night's sleep and feel no sign of the brain-ouch that had plagued me the day before. I cooked us french toast and bacon, and we had a nice relaxing morning. With nothing big on our schedules that day, we plopped in front of our respective computers and started once again checking out live footage from the various cities that were having "Occupy" protests. If you're a person like me who likes to follow historical events as they're happening, you already know we live in a pretty amazing world in that regard. From our home in Redondo Beach, we flipped through Twitter feeds, seeing up-to-the-minute photos and live streaming video from cities like New York, Seattle, Portland, LA, and many more.

Being able to see what's going on in protests in dozens of cities across the country, all in real time: priceless. I was impressed by many of the amateur journalists and their ability to show what's happening as it happens.

A week ago, if you'd asked me my opinion on what was then known only (to most) as "Occupy Wall Street", I'd have expressed a good deal of confusion regarding what the hell it was all about. It seemed to me that there were many different factions of people who were unclear on what the nature and goals of the protest were. Some people seemed upset they didn't have jobs, but I didn't see how protesting was going to help. Some seemed mad that the world was unfair, with the small number of wealthy people controlling an inordinate amount of the money. There's nothing new about that... it's gone on since roughly forever. Some were protesting the war; some were angry about the environment. These are all classic liberal causes that have been in place for decades, so why the sudden need to be publicly confrontational about it?

Tom Morello, the legendary musician and activist, fires up the crowd at LA city hall on Sunday.

While I'm still in the process of learning more about this new movement, at some point, it did click together for me. I don't want to (nor do I have time at the moment) to go into a massive dissertation, but even I am appalled at the disparity of wealth today. It's not that I want or need more money -- I'm very fortunate that my small business has been able to sustain me for the past eight+ years -- but that's the point. I make enough to live on comfortably, and I don't see the need to accumulate massive amounts of wealth, or to try and exert control over people with my money and power. I suppose that's just my personal take, and I never begrudged people I knew who made extraordinary amounts of money. That was their trip, not mine. But today, it would seem that the money grab by that tiny number of people has left living conditions for the rest of the folks to be worse and worse. It would also seem that the people who, though their greed, caused what ended up being a worldwide economic collapse, should be held accountable in some way.

This chart should be self-explanatory. It also shows why action is necessary now to stop this trend that's snowballed over the past 30 years.

The people who are at the heart of this movement (who, like their grandparents in the late '60s, are mostly college age) don't see much hope in their future, and see the system of greed getting worse and worse. How can you blame them for feeling a need to shake things up, and call attention to what's going on? I think it's a very patriotic thing they're doing, an effort which will eventually lead to a better America, and it's a demonstrable action that shows the core values on which the USA was built. So while you probably won't see me in a march or speaking on a stage in front of city hall, I can say at this point that the Occupy movement has my support. My only hope is that things remain, as they were this weekend, peaceful and calm while defining and delivering the message in a clear and loud voice.

So, that was my weekend. Hope you enjoyed hearing about it.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Goodbye Steve

I just absolutely refuse to write two consecutive weepy RIP posts, so here's a shorter and happier one than yesterday's.

Steve Jobs was a fucking brilliant dude, and it's hard to say whether my life would have had the same path without his innovations. The way Apple's products and technologies have been integral to my career can't be explained in simple terms, but I'll give it a shot.

I've used Macintosh computers for music going back to 1989, when the first MIDI sequencing software started becoming available, and the very beginnings of computer audio applications were being introduced. Fast forward to the 2010s, and all of the music that I've done in recent years was initially recorded on a Mac. I probably don't have to mention that the majority of sales of my music is done through Apple's iTunes, or that I do most of my own music listening through iTunes and iPods.

My job for the last 20+ years has been in marketing communications, and while I am not completely clueless in using Windows machines, it's hard to say how my career would have gone without the simplicity and elegance of the Apple user interface. With Macs, I have been able to sustain a comfortable living for my entire adult life doing graphic design for print and electronic media; doing communications for media and public relations; creating and editing video and audio for corporate promotional work; the list goes on.

Love & Fun
While it could be correctly stated that the following things could have been done with any computer system, the fact is... they weren't! They were done on a Mac. I originally met Kat, my long-term significant other, on an online forum for music aficionados... while on a Mac. I got into Second Life and established myself as a somewhat respected Internet-based live musician because, thankfully, there was a Mac client available (I wouldn't have bothered otherwise). I spend a portion of each day enjoying the connection I have with distant friends over various social networks... on a Mac. In fact, I'm in front of a Mac for 80% of my waking hours almost every day. And yes, my fingers are flitting across the keys of my latest MacBook Pro at this very moment, writing in this blog.

There's more, but I promised something short and happy, so that's where I'll leave it. Goodbye Steve. And thanks again.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Bert Jansch (1943-2011)

It's the first real rainy day of the fall season in Southern California, and the weather seems to be all too appropriate to learn of the passing of Bert Jansch. His music seemed perfect for rainy mornings, or perhaps for contemplative sunny late afternoons. In any case, Bert wrote and played music on the acoustic guitar that allowed him to give the ultimate gift with his music: to pass along evocative emotional content merely by strumming a chord or two.

There are plenty of places to read Bert's obituary (here's a good one), so I won't bother giving you the details of his life. There's also a pretty thorough biography on Wikipedia. What I can tell you about is that this man -- so quiet and unassuming that it's very likely you've never heard of him -- was possibly the most important influence on the musicians who I list as my most important influences. That's how I discovered Bert. In the beginning, it wasn't a direct exposure to his music, but instead through listening to the guitar playing of musicians like Neil Young, Jimmy Page, Nick Drake, Pete Townshend, Paul Simon, John Lennon, Johnny Marr, and many others. As I read up on how those guys honed their craft, I kept seeing one name popping up time and time again... one Bert Jansch.

Like any curious guitar player, I started listening to Bert once I found out that he was respected by so many of my favorite players, and was simply blown away. One thing that Bert did especially well was the rhythmic hammer-on. I'm pretty sure Bert didn't invent this technique -- it goes back to old blues players like Big Bill Broonzy and others -- but he did it so well that he was the one who introduced it to many other players. Take a regular chord, but instead of just playing it straightforward, hammer one of the notes from a full step down. It creates a lot of melodic interest within the chord. Some songs by Bert's devotees using this technique that you might recognize...

• "Ohio" (Neil Young -- Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young)
• "I'm One" (Pete Townshend -- The Who)
• "Things Behind the Sun (Nick Drake)
• "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)" (John Lennon -- The Beatles)

And many more. But that's only one thing Bert brought to the party, musically speaking. There was a sound in his folksy playing that hearkened back to troubadours of ancient times. One could imagine Bert playing while hobbits walked through Rivendell, or playing before a medieval king's court. And yet, somehow, there was nothing contrived or hokey about his sound. He had an obvious mastery of fingerstyle guitar, but never really played very fast. It was his precise note selections that allowed each pluck to ring out as long as possible before switching to the next note that was impressive. And yet, it's not a style that needs to be analyzed and scrutinized. Just listening to a few songs tells you the whole story.

There won't be hundreds of comments on news sites today, mourning Bert's passing. That's okay; Bert never seemed to have the desire to stand in the spotlight. While I don't bemoan the general public's almost complete lack of awareness of the guy, it is a little disheartening to know that so many musicians out there will go the rest of their lives without any clue as to who Bert was and what he did during his time on the planet. Johnny Marr, the guitarist from the Smiths and a disciple of Bert's said it well...

"He completely reinvented guitar playing and set a standard that is still unequalled today. Without Bert Jansch, rock music as it developed in the '60s and '70s would have been very different. You hear him in Nick Drake, Pete Townshend, Donovan, The Beatles, Jimmy Page and Neil Young. There are people playing guitar who don't even realize they've been influenced by him one step removed."

Well said, Johnny. And rest in peace, Bert; thanks for everything.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The coolest thing ever

As I mentioned last weekend, I performed recently at a place in Second Life called Lavender Fields for the Feed-a-Smile charity of Live & Learn in Kenya. My fellow SL musician TerryLynn Melody played there on the same day.

Well, in the "a picture tells a thousand words" file, I'd like you to take a look at the photo below (click it if you need a closer look):

That is a real photo of the kids in Africa we helped feed through our efforts that day. The text of their handwritten blackboard reads:

Dear TerryLynn Melody and Zak Claxton,
Thank you so much for taking the time, energy and effort to perform in Second Life for our meals. We had a huge meal today and can't stop smiling! God bleds you and your generous fans always.
The LLK Int'l Kids in Nakuru, Kenya.

What could be better than that? Nothing I can think of. Thanks back at ya, kids.