Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Whisky A Go Go in Second Life (09.25.12)

Most songwriters, at some point, get asked about their process in writing music, and most of the answers are infuriatingly vague. That is, until you have to try and answer the same question yourself, and you realize that there is almost no way to verbally articulate the experience of having new music spawn in your brain. Well, on the exact day that summer changed to fall, I found my own mind swirling with new musical motifs. That's cool. The only problem was that it didn't really sound much like Zak Claxton music.

What does "Zak Claxton music" sound like? Well, for one thing, it's song-based music that can be performed as a solo artist on acoustic guitar. Those of you who've heard me perform my original songs at shows in Second Life, or have heard my album, know what I mean. The songs are intentionally simple in structure and arrangement. I'm proud of my music and I like my stuff, and I certainly will keep working on a new Zak Claxton album soon enough. But that sound was not what I started hearing in my head recently. A brief side note to this side note: I've written and recorded many, many kinds of music over the years. Techno? Yes. Country? Yes. Jazz? Uh-huh. Hip hop? Indeed. Classical? You betcha. So, the music that most of you know as mine really only represents one slice of the pie.

All this having be said, I should probably get to the point: I'm going to be building a new batch of songs, very quickly, and recording them equally quickly. But this music will be put out not as "Zak Claxton", as I won't be doing it by myself. Instead, I'm going to work with my great and talented friend Bunny Knutson as well as my lovely lady Kat in an entirely new project. I can't tell you more yet; some of it should stay quiet for now, and even more of it I don't know yet. But the goal is to record a batch of 10-12 new songs that will be very different from the music you've heard from me thus far, and have the whole thing done by Thanksgiving. It may seem crazy, but I really think we can do this. And I think you'll really like what comes out of it.

Meanwhile, back in SL, I'm still rocking away. Photo by Triana; top photo by Kat.

My "Songs for Autumn" set came together nicely. Photo by Kat.

Enough on that. Last night, I did my usual Tuesday night slot at the Whisky in SL, and the show went very well. I think my focus on these new songs is what bled through to my selection of the theme "Songs for Autumn", and the set list came together nicely. All the songs I played were those that gave me some feel of the fall months.

Whisky Set List...
Harvest Moon (Neil Young)
Ashes to Ashes (David Bowie)
Broken Day (Zak Claxton)
Across the Universe (Beatles)
Save Me (Aimee Mann)
Things Behind the Sun (Nick Drake)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
Any Major Dude (Steely Dan)
Furry Sings the Blues (Joni Mitchell)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)
Tea in the Sahara (The Police)

Kimmie Rayna, Absinthe Seurat, Rusty Seisenbacher, Triana Caldera, TheaDee, Kat Claxton, Cicadetta Stillwater, my manager Maali Beck, Whisky host Dmitri Polonsky, and owner Cameron Trenchcoat!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Musician's Sports Guide: NFL 2012-13 Week Three

Welcome back to another week of wacky NFL football thoughts from a musician who cares about such things. After a couple weeks of avoiding the topic, the league's replacement refs have, as of this morning, officially made themselves the top story, so we have no choice other than to address this debacle. First, let's walk through this week's set of games.

Last week, I mentioned that the then-undefeated Eagles (2-1) didn't seem as good as their record indicated. If that's not true, then the Arizona Cardinals (who beat them 27-6) must really be one of the best teams in football, and I refuse to accept that. The top spot in the division is currently held by the Cowboys (2-1), who host the Bears next Monday night. However, I'd still say the team to watch here is the Giants (2-1) who have looked pretty decisive in recent victories. They're at Philadelphia in a very important game next weekend. Washington (2-1), who looked so promising at the start, got beaten by a surprisingly scrappy Bengals team last weekend. They're still facing injury problems, but should have an easier time against Tampa Bay in week four.

We might as well get this out of the way now: while I predicted last week that Seattle would upset the Packers (1-2), no one could have imagined the way it happened. Before we go off on a rant about how the end of the game was so blatantly an interception for Green Bay (and offensive pass interference on the Seahawks), let's also give some credit to a Seattle team that got to Aaron Rodgers 39 times and sacked him eight times. But the outcome of the game was wrongly decided by refs, which is something you never, ever want to see in any sport. Why are we forced to use replacement officials? The fact is that NFL refs have always received the short end of the stick when you look at the amount of compensation they get versus their responsibilities. Sure, officials in other sports have longer seasons, but c'mon NFL: you're the highest grossing sport in America. Pay the goddamn refs a little more and provide the fair games that your sponsors and fans (who pay you millions and millions of dollars each year) expect and deserve.

In the spirit of the famous Magritte surrealist painting, this is a touchdown. Photo via Getty Images.

Seriously, if you need one reminder of why it's worthwhile to pay qualified people to officiate a game, here it is. Photo via AP.

Enough on that. Elsewhere in the NFC North, the Bears (2-1) look pretty good against teams like the Rams, but next week in Dallas will be a test of their toughness. We have to give a hats-off to Minnesota (2-1) for a victory I never would have predicted against the Niners. Finally, in another shocking outcome and an offensive juggernaut, the Lions (1-2) lost to the lowly Titans in a game that accumulated 85 total points.

There are two undefeated teams in the NFC: the "how the hell is this possible" Cardinals and the much more acceptable Falcons (3-0). They held San Diego to just three points in annihilating them on Sunday, and should keep rolling next week against Carolina (1-2). Matt Ryan is currently leading the NFL in passer rating. Based on the performance of the Saints (0-3) so far, Atlanta should be thought of as a favorite to take this division and possibly have a good playoff run as well, but that's months away and many things can happen between now and then. Tampa Bay (1-2) is... Tampa Bay. Enough said.

The madness continues: the NFC West is still the best division in football, with surprising wins by both Arizona (3-0) and Seattle (2-1). How did the Cardinals get back-to-back wins over New England and Philadelphia? Same way as the Seahawks' recent success; both teams are using aggressive defenses to shock and awe their opponents' quarterbacks. Meanwhile, the surprising loss of San Francisco (2-1) to the Vikings last week cost plenty of money for gamblers around the world. The Rams (1-2) got murdered by Chicago last week, and will host the hot Seahawks in week four.

Tenacious D will almost always win games. Photo via Getty Images.

It's always strange to look at the AFC East standings and not see the Patriots (1-2) on top. But they're having difficulties that are hard to define, and their last-second loss (again with suspect refereeing) to Baltimore had to hurt. They take on the Bills (2-1) next weekend in what will be an important game for both teams. Meanwhile, I'm having trouble figuring out the Jets (2-1)... one moment they look great, and the next they're awful. The host the Niners next Sunday, and that should be a tough game on both sides of the field. Miami (1-2) is a better team than their record indicates, and they face the suddenly-good Cards next weekend.

For no reason: Tim Tebow chewing on a towel. Photo via AP.

The Ravens (2-1) got past New England with a last-second field goal that may or may not have crossed within the uprights. They play against their hapless division mates the Browns (0-3) next weekend. Meanwhile, Cincinnati (2-1) is starting to look pretty viable after a win against Washington, and they should handle Jacksonville well on Sunday. Everyone (including me) assumed Pittsburgh (1-2) would have an easy time beating up the Raiders in week three, but that turned out to be another whirlwind game with a crazy last-second finale. I think they'll do better against the Eagles on Sunday.

There one real team here: the Texans (3-0), and they show no signs of slowing. They held on to beat Denver last week, and host the Titans next week. Their schedule starts getting a little tough after that. Jacksonville (1-2) and Tennessee (1-2) both got their first wins of the season last weekend; don't anticipate more victories next week. The Colts (1-2) will be in rebuilding mode for some time, though rookie QB Andrew Luck looks good and keeps getting better. However, they'll go up against a pissed-off Packers squad next week.

Jake Locker: he doesn't suck. Photo via Getty Images.

As I prognosticated last week, the Chargers (2-1) lost to the Falcons at home, and aren't as good as their division-leading status would appear. They should be able to beat the Chiefs (1-2) next week, though. Meanwhile, the Broncos (1-2) have lost two in a row, and people are starting to question how much zip Peyton Manning really has on those passes. However, those losses were against tough teams, and they host the Raiders (1-2) next week at Mile High. I am happy for the Silver-and-Black in their surprising victory over the Steelers last weekend, but I'd be pretty shocked if they get a back-to-back win over their division rival while on the road.

When all else fails: Janikowski! Photo via AP.

That's All, Folks!
Join us back here every Tuesday morning throughout the season, and feel free to leave your thoughts in comments, or wherever. I'll read them no matter what!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Whisky A Go Go in Second Life (09.18.12)

My landlord of 17 years is finally selling the building. He was roughly 119 years old when I moved here in 1995; by now, he must be getting ready to settle down and enjoy his golden years. Or die, or something, but in any case, he's selling the building. Last night, awhile after my show at the Whisky A Go Go in Second Life, he came knocking at my door with an estoppal certificate clutched in his ancient hand. This is standard operating procedure for anyone selling a commercial property. It confirms the basic lease info for the potential new owners during the escrow process. I call them "potential" because this old building has myriad problems that come with almost all old buildings. It's entirely possible that their deal could fall through and I'm once again stuck with my Methuselah of a landlord.

As to what will happen should the sale go through is anyone's guess, though it's my suspicion that the new owners will want to keep their current batch of tenants (there are four units here, with my place being the large 2-story one in front). There's also a possibility that they will want to gut the whole place, which would obviously involve a major upheaval, and possibly result in my having to move for the first time in many years (either temporarily or permanently). However, I'm not going to worry about any of that shit; I'll deal with it as it becomes necessary. For the time being, let's change the subject and talk about my show last night.

No matter where I live, I still can rock in virtual worlds. Photo by Kat.

As my only show this week, I was hoping that the Zaksters came out in nearly full force, and they didn't disappoint me. I recycled a theme that I thought went well the last time I did it... "Two for Tuesday", that old staple of FM rock radio where two songs by the same artist are played in a row. The show came together very nicely as a result. It also provided a good excuse to add a couple of new songs to my cover repertoire, both of which went very well.

My "Two for Tuesday" shows at the Whisky all seem to work out well. Photo by Kat.

One other thing I'd like to mention from a singer perspective: pitch center. Ask any professional singer, and they'll tell you that their voice doesn't behave exactly the same way every time they open their respective mouths to sing. Last night, for reasons unknown, my pitch center was smack dab on the money. That meant I could do things that real singers do, with controlled vibrato and so on, without worrying that my overall pitch would wander sharp or flat from the intended note. That was great; I'd love to know precisely why it was working so I could replicate it for future shows.

Whisky Set List...
Free Man in Paris (Joni Mitchell)
Carey (Joni Mitchell)
*Everlong (Foo Fighters)
Learn to Fly (Foo Fighters)
*Learning to Fly (Pink Floyd)
Welcome to the Machine (Pink Floyd)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
Perfect Girl (Zak Claxton)
My Heart (Neil Young)
My My Hey Hey (Neil Young)
Pink Moon (Nick Drake)
Northern Sky (Nick Drake)

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

Gigantic thanks to everyone who came to the show... thank you! Much appreciation to those who also helped support it!
Triana Caldera, TheaDee, Docxhoovie, Kat Claxton, Alexis Fairlady, Cicadetta Stillwater, my manager Maali Beck, and Whisky host Dmitri Polonsky and owner Cameron Trenchcoat!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Musician's Sports Guide: NFL 2012-13 Week Two

Welcome back, blog readers. For those of you who missed it last week, I'm doing my annual NFL football analysis column here on the Zak Blog instead of its former home on the Keyboard Magazine forum. With no further adieu, let's jump into our look at week 2, and some thoughts on the upcoming week of games.

I don't know what it is about the Eagles (2-0) that makes me feel like their record is better than they are as a team. I didn't expect them to beat the Ravens last weekend, and in week three they take on the Cardinals. I'd say Arizona should be an easy win, except for the shocking results of the Pats game on Sunday. Elsewhere in the NFC East, Dallas (1-1) lost to Seattle, which shouldn't be so shocking: the Seahawks are just tough at home. The Cowboys should have a slightly easier time again Tampa Bay this coming weekend... or will they? The Giants (1-1) found them tougher than expected last week; they head to Carolina for a Thursday game this week. Finally, the Redskins (1-1), who looked so great in their opener, lost unexpectedly to St. Louis, and are now banged up with two key defensive injuries when hosting the Bengals this week.

The Eagles look happy. Will they look as happy in week 12 as they do in week 2? Photo via AP.

Speaking of the Seahawks at home and their famous "12th Man", the Packers (1-1) head to Seattle this weekend. It's no foregone conclusion that this will be an easy win for Green Bay. Detroit (1-1) should have an easier time at Tennessee. Chicago (1-1) looked pretty dismal against Green Bay this week, will host St. Louis. Finally, I'd say that if Minnesota (1-1) couldn't beat Indianapolis last weekend, they won't have it any easier facing the Niners this week.

Atlanta! What is it about the Falcons (2-0) that make them seem really good early on, and then falter as the season progresses? Right now, they seem to be one of the toughest teams in the NFC. They put up a bunch of points in both games so far, and after beating the hapless Chiefs in week one, held off a determined Broncos in week two. This coming Sunday, they're at San Diego which should be a good litmus test as to how strong they really are. Tampa Bay (1-1), who put in a good effort despite a loss to the Giants, will be on the road against Dallas. Carolina (1-1) wasn't expected to do well against the Saints last weekend but won nevertheless. They host the Giants this weekend in what should be an interesting matchup. Speaking of the Saints (0-2), I can't help but think all that the bounty investigations and punishments hurt them more than they initially acknowledged; no one expected them to start this year at 0-2, and if they have any difficulty against KC on Sunday, you should write them off as contenders this year.

Here's a laugh for you: collectively, the NFC West is the best division in football at this moment, according to W-L statistics. How is that possible? Let's start with Arizona (2-0), who on paper has no reason to be undefeated, and their tough victory over the seemingly flawless Patriots. Perhaps that was a fluke; we'll know more this coming Sunday when they host the Eagles. San Francisco (2-0), who started the season by beating two tough teams (Green Bay and Detroit), should roll over the Vikings on Sunday. The Niners' running game -- both getting yards offensively and stopping them on defense -- looks very strong. Seattle (1-1) beat the Cowboys last weekend at home, and they host the Packers on Sunday... that will be interesting, and could go either way. Finally, even the Rams (1-1) eked out a tenacious victory against the Skins in week two. They'll likely have a rougher time on Sunday when they visit Chicago.

You're a first-ballot hall of famer, you have a supermodel wife, and your combined net worth is about $150 million. Don't be sad, Tom. Photo via Getty Images.

Meanwhile, in the AFC, the Jets (1-1) didn't look so hot against the Steeler in week two. If Sanchez isn't at the top of his game on Sunday against Miami, the Tebow calls will begin to reverberate from the aisles of MetLife Stadium. As to what happened with the Patriots (1-1) and their loss to Arizona, it was certainly much more than a rare bad kick from Gostkowski. I have to say that being a team that is expected to win with near-perfect execution week after week, year after year, has to create a massive amount of pressure. New England will try to show that this was just a fluke when they visit the Ravens on Sunday. Buffalo (1-1) started with a pretty bad loss to the Jets, and then came back with a win over the crappy Chiefs in week two. This week has them visiting Cleveland in what should be a pretty even matchup. Finally, Miami (1-1), who should mostly suck but has found its running game all of a sudden (remember that Reggie Bush guy?), gave the Raiders a bad beatdown in week two. We'll find out what that means in a division game against the Jets in week three.

I actually expected that Baltimore (1-1) and their renowned defense would take down the pass-happy Eagles last week, and it was a tight game. They will host the Pats on Sunday, and that should be a great game. The battle of Ohio last week ended expectedly with the Bengals (1-1) beating the Browns. They're at Washington this Sunday in what is a pretty important game for both teams. The Steelers (1-1) did rather poorly against the Broncos last week, but their visit to Oakland on Sunday should go better for them. Then again, there is an ancient rivalry between these teams (remember the Immaculate Reception, anyone?), and perhaps the Silver-and-Black can pump themselves up for a less-than-embarrassing performance. We'll see. This division also includes the Browns (0-2), who don't appear to contain any football-like substance this year.

There are two undefeated teams in the AFC at the moment. One is San Diego (see below), and the other is Houston (2-0). Are the Texans for real? Do bears defecate in deciduously forested areas? Houston is at Denver this week, and host the Titans in week four. Based on the performance of the Pats last week, the Texans might be the best in the AFC, and barring an injury fest like last season, they're the most likely team in the conference to be playoff bound. Congrats to Andrew Luck and the Colts (1-1) for getting a win in week two, their first victory in the post-Manning era. They have a shot at another win this week, hosting the Jags. Speaking of which, Jacksonville (0-2) and Tennessee (0-2) are going to have long, not-very-happy seasons.

Houston's defense is just scary for any other team in the league. Photo via Getty Images.

The Chargers (2-0) have the best defense against the run in the league, per the stats. However, I'm not hopping on the San Diego train just yet; their opponents have been the Raiders and Titans. The Falcons come into Qualcomm Stadium on Sunday, and my bet is that the Chargers fold with their first tough opponent. Meanwhile, the Broncos (1-1) won't have it much easier hosting the Texans. Peyton got picked three times last weekend, and hopefully (if you're a Denver fan, which I'm not in any way, shape, or form) this isn't a sign of his post-injury decline. meanwhile in the cellar, it's hard to say who is worse between the Chiefs (0-2) and the Raiders (0-2). The Raiders at least seem to have occasional flashes of talent; Carson Palmer has thrown for 670 yards in two games. I do, however, question the capabilities of new coach Dennis Allen. But even with suspect coaching, they also are already getting killed with injury problems. Sigh.

If you're a Denver fan, it has to be frightening each time Manning gets sacked. I really hope his neck holds up for awhile. He deserves a happy ending to a great career (as long as it doesn't involve any Denver championships). Photo via AP.

That's All, Folks!
I hope you're enjoying this column, which I will continue to publish every Tuesday throughout the season. As always, feel free to add your own comments below.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Key West (09.12.12)

I've mentioned before that I don't prefer to do shows in Second Life on back-to-back days; the only worse thing for me is multiple shows on the same day. I know this flies in the face of logic for musicians who are scrambling to get gigs, but here's my reasoning. First, I don't tend to perform my best when I start doing shows too often. I know from experience, since like many SL musicians, I went nuts at the beginning and was playing around 5-8 shows every week. It really started sucking. Second, my reasons for performing in SL are more about fun and promotion of my own music than treating SL as an income source. I can maintain more passion for playing there by not thinking of it as my job.

So, my manager Maali Beck knows that ideally, we space shows out so that I'm not constantly barraging my fans with spammy invites, and so on. However, when I have the opportunity to play at certain venues that are great supporters of live music in SL, I don't miss the chance. Key West absolutely qualifies as one of those places. I think you can ask any musician that Liz Harley hires to play there, and they'll say the same. I invariably have a great crowd there, and a good percentage of them really seem to like the tunes, both originals and covers.

Is this a pretty place to experience some live music or what? Photo by Kat.

Some Zak fans -- old and new -- enjoy what I consider to be one of my good shows. Photo by Kat.

I tend not to post photos of myself here, but this is the latest incarnation of Zak. In keeping with reality, I added a bit of a beard to my avatar. Now I need to work out my real-life body to get it a little more in line with the avatar's physique. Photo by Kat.

The show itself went really well, I felt. There was a good energy in the room. My set list came together nicely, and included a few tunes that I used to do often but have fallen to the back while I've added other songs. It was great to pull them out again.

Key West Set List...
On The Way Home (Neil Young)
Fade Away (Zak Claxton)
Ziggy Stardust (David Bowie)
Things Behind the Sun (Nick Drake)
Broken Day (Zak Claxton)
Old Man (Neil Young)
The Crystal Ship (The Doors)
Thanks Anyway (Zak Claxton)
You've Got a Friend (Carole King)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)
Nowhere Man (Beatles)
Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (Neil Young)
Suite: Judy Blue Eyes (Crosby, Stills & Nash)

Huge thanks to everyone who came out to Key West Wednesday night, espcially those who helped support the show!
Triana Caldera, Beth Catseye, amico50, GMetal Svartur, Cedar Silvercloud, Catz Mora, Aurelie Chenaux, BobbiJo Jonson, Sandra127 Sands, Artemis Rexie, TheaDee, Spiral Silverstar, Kat Claxton, my manager Maali Beck, and the whole Key West staff (especially owner Liz Harley!)

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Whisky A Go Go in SL (09.11.12)

I can't speak for other musicians -- I often can barely speak for myself -- but I do know one thing that seems universally logical for performers of all sorts: you need to play things that are appropriate for the audience and the venue. Sometimes these things are dictated by factors like the ages of the audience, i.e., you don't sing songs filled with profanities at a Kindergarten party.

But sometimes the circumstances aren't as obvious as that. Take my show yesterday at the Whisky in SL. I generally feel free to be silly, wacky, and raunchy as I want to be at the Whisky. It's a mature sim; there are no specific limitations to which I need to adhere. However, yesterday was also September 11, and as far as I can tell, I'll spend the rest of my life associating that date with the terrorist attacks of 9/11/01, as will many people around the world.

It's quite possible to play the stuff you want to play, but also have it be appropriate for the circumstances. Photo by Triana; top photo by Kat.

Playing the Right Stuff
So, there are a couple of different ways to deal with that as a performer. One way is to be very focused on the date, and do a show that addresses the subject directly. A certain kind of performer might focus on songs about New York, for instance, or patriotic songs, or songs that boast of America's resilience, and so on. I'm not that kind of guy... not that there's anything wrong with it. My feeling is that there are plenty of opportunities for people to remember the sadness of that day; every other post on my Facebook news feed yesterday was about 9/11, and God knows the media continues to give it high billing every year since 2001. It is indeed important to not forget what happened that day, though I doubt there's any chance of that for anyone who was around at the time.

So, my approach is slightly different. I figure that by the time I do a show in the evening, people have been being bombarded with that news all day, and perhaps they'd enjoy taking a break from it. However, with respect for the date, it also doesn't seem appropriate to be my usual wacky, irreverent self. So, when planning my set list, I simply avoided most of the songs that were overly gleeful, as well as songs that were predominantly gloomy. I don't know if anyone even notices stuff like that, but I think they'd be aware if I was playing stuff that was really inappropriate under the circumstances. It's a nice balance that I find works, and it's one I use when performing at events like Relay for Life and so on.

The Show
My show at the Whisky started off in a rather ugly way; my audio stream was not coming through the right way. It seemed to be working fine here, but somewhere in the banks of servers between here and Second Life, something was broken. For anyone who plays music in SL, this isn't an unfamiliar situation. I'm lucky that it doesn't happen more often; my stream is usually pretty reliable.

So, after the first few minutes of swearing at the gods of technology, I switched to an alternate stream and got the show rolling. Per above, I think you'll note that my set list worked well, with a balance of songs that neither glorified nor ignored the solemnity of the day.

Another aspect of keeping things light on a heavy day; people do need a chance to unwind and get past the sorrow. Hopefully my shows do that even on days that aren't 9/11. Photo by Kat.

Whisky Set List...
She's Leaving Home (Beatles)
Sister Golden Hair (America)
Go Easy on Me (Zak Claxton)
Edith and the Kingpin (Joni Mitchell)
Lines on Your Eyes (Zak Claxton)
Mother (Pink Floyd)
Love Hurts (Everly Brothers)
Mr. Soul (Buffalo Springfield)
After the Goldrush (Neil Young)
Going Mobile (The Who)

Big thanks to the great crowd who came out to see the show at the Whisky last night. Thanks for putting up with the tech issues at the start, and for sticking through to the end! Special thanks to those who helped support the show and the venue!
Triana Caldera, Kat Claxton, Demolicious Wonder, Alexis Fairlady, Sesh Kamachi, Cicadetta Stillwater, Paisley Rembrandt, Christine Haiku, TheaDee, Brad Domenici, my terrific manager Maali Beck, Whisky host Dmitri Polonsky, and owner Cameron Trenchcoat!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Musician's Sports Guide: NFL 2012-13 Week One

I suppose a brief introduction is required here. Those of you who read my blog (thanks, by the way) come here expecting to see reports from my live shows in Second Life and real life, or general musings about music, life, and random thoughts. But like most people, the gem of my life has many facets, and since I was a small child, I've always been a sports fan. While I enjoy a number of sports like basketball and hockey, professional football has always been my number one area of fandom.

As a result, I have participated in online sports discussions since the Internet became a reality. My main zone for sports talk is, strangely, Keyboard Magazine's Keyboard Corner forum, moderated by my old friend David Bryce. Dave, like me, is a person who gets a lot of enjoyment out of both music and football, and as the mod of that forum has made it clear from day one that NFL discussions are NOT off-topic. So, for over a decade, we've had all manner of football talk, pools, and other activities that relate to the NFL. Most people don't think that the stereotypical musician is at all interested in sports, but in my experience, that is anything but true. Perhaps there's some correlation between the intricate timing and precision of professional sports that have an analogy toward the performance of music. I don't know if this is true, but I do know that almost every person with whom I've been in bands or collaborated musically also are sports fans of some sort.

In any case, for several years, I've written a weekly column over there with the rather convoluted name of Tuesday Morning Keyboard Cornerback (get it? no? that's okay). Part of that column involves some analysis of the league in general, and I've decided this year to move that part to my blog so that more people, hopefully, can enjoy my thoughts in this regard.

Last bit of introduction: I'm an unashamed Oakland Raiders fan, but not a fanboy. I know when they suck and when they don't, and am happy to point it out as merited by the team's performance, or lack thereof. I tend to be biased against their competitors in the AFC West, so if I seem snarky about the Chiefs, Chargers, and Broncos, you aren't imagining it. So, all that having been said, let's dive into Week One.

Most people had high expectations that the NY Giants would beat Dallas handily in week one. They were all wrong; the Cowboys looked very strong against last year's champs. The Redskins, behind the performance of first round draft pick quarterback Robert Griffin III, suddenly seem like a possible contender in the division. And despite the Eagles' victory on Sunday, the fact that they had to work really hard to beat the Browns (with four picks on Vick) doesn't bode well in the competitive NFC East.

Some first round draft picks are overhyped. Not this guy. Photo via AP.

Here's another division that's tough to figure out. The expectation is that Green Bay will be a dominant team this year faltered a bit with an opening day loss to San Francisco. Meanwhile, Detroit, Chicago, and Minnesota all grabbed wins on Sunday (though only Chicago's victory was a truly dominant one). I don't think any trends can be established yet in this division. I think you can expect young QB Matthew Stafford to be exceptional again for the Lions. Other than that, I have no idea.

It's been the Saints division for the taking for the last few years. However, with the intense distraction of the "Bountygate" investigation in the offseason, even with the suspensions overturned, this is not the team that we've recently known. Their loss on Sunday to the Skins (who were a 7-point underdog) might be a portent of the season to come. Meanwhile, the Falcons killed the Chiefs this week, and without reading too much into that, I'd say they may be the strongest team here. Kudos to Tampa Bay for beating Carolina unexpectedly.

For years, this division was the armpit of the NFL, with teams that couldn't seem to win under any circumstances unless they were playing each other. Last year certainly changed that with the newfound success of the 49ers. This year, Seattle has a promising young rookie QB (Russell Wilson) who will probably do well once he gets some more pro experience under his belt. I still wouldn't expect much from Arizona or St. Louis, but weird things can and do happen as the season progresses.

"I'm surprised that the Jets and Patriots both won in week one," said no one in recent memory. I have to say, I'm a grudging admirer of the Pats and their incredibly well-coached team. I want to hate them, but they're so genuinely good year-in and year-out that I have to admit that they deserve their success. Hats off to Buffalo's C.J. Spiller for leading the league in rushing in week one.

I'm really unhappy at the Steelers for losing to the Paytons- er, I mean the Broncos. But it was the Ravens who made it clear once again that this is their division to win or lose. That defense remains a nearly unstoppable force. The teams from Ohio seem about as good (if you can call it that) as they've been in recent years.

Here's a division that should very much resemble last year, with Houston being the only viable contender. Last year they were on a great run until a string of injuries killed their chances of a good post-season performance. Barring a repeat of that travesty, look for the Texans as one of the strongest teams in the AFC this season.

Last year, I made a joke that the entire AFC West would end up at 8-8. I didn't know that would nearly come true (the Chiefs went 7-9... close enough). None of these teams seemed that much better than the other, but this year, the Broncos have a seemingly healthy Payton Manning under center, and if he stays healthy and keeps performing like he did on Sunday against the Steelers, it's going to be a long season for us Raiders fans. Speaking of Oakland, it amazing how badly a team can get hurt when one special teams player gets injured. Who would have thought that the lack of a long snapper could affect the game as it did? Get well soon, Jon Condo.

Love it or hate it, get used to seeing Payton Manning in orange... and throwing touchdowns. Photo via AP.

See You Next Week!
I'll be doing this weekly analysis all season long, so feel free to chip in with your thoughts in the comments section.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Every Second Life Venue Where I've Performed

Why not? Here's a list of every SL venue where I've played over the past 5-1/2 years, and the date of my debut performance there (many of them have seen me play there multiple times... only the first performance at each is listed below). Some are still thriving; some are long gone. I know I enjoyed them all!

Sun 04.29.07 Coyote
Thu 05.03.07 The Shelter at Swinside
Sat 07.14.07 The Hanging Gardens of Ancient Babylon
Fri 09.14.07 Artisan Gallerias Sculpture Garden
Sat 09.29.07 SL Neil Young Archives
Fri 10.12.07 Crystal Sands
Tue 10.23.07 The Merry Prankster
Wed 10.24.07 Bubblegum Music Factory
Tue 10.30.07 Cuddlers Cove
Tue 11.06.07 Space Odessy
Sat 11.17.07 Encore Design Group HQ
Mon 11.26.07 La Scala Milano Italia
Wed 12.05.07 The Warehouse - Ir Shalom
Sat 12.08.07 Rocky Shores
Thu 12.13.07 Hard Rock Cafe of SL
Fri 12.14.07 Woodstock
Sat 01.12.08 Stonehenge
Tue 01.29.08 SL Neil Young Archives
Thu 02.07.08 Little Norway
Tue 02.12.08 The Zone!
Sun 02.17.08 Relay for Life I
Tue 02.19.08 newBerlin
Sun 03.02.08 Artisan Square
Sat 03.08.08 Summertime Blues Club
Sun 03.09.08 Doubledown Tandino Party
Sat 03.15.08 Sunshine Daydream
Sat 03.22.08 Nitida Ridge
Wed 04.02.08 Mars Hotel/DarkStar
Thu 04.10.08 TCH Yacht Club
Wed 05.14.08 Relay for Life (Haute Couture)
Fri 06.27.08 SL5B
Sun 07.06.08 Inspiration Cove
Sun 07.06.08 Triana's Music Trivia
Sat 07.12.08 Triumph Cove
Thu 07.24.08 Fibber Magee’s
Wed 08.06.08 The Notes Shack
Mon 08.11.08 The Galleria
Thu 08.28.08 The Falls
Sat 08.30.08 Rastafairy Beach
Sat 08.30.08 San Diego in SL
Sun 10.19.08 Belford Party
Tue 11.11.08 Blarney Stone
Tue 12.02.08 Bay Vista Dragon’s Pearl
Sun 12.28.08 Molaskey’s Pub
Fri 01.02.09 Rainey's Club Oxygen
Fri 01.30.09 The Majestic
Tue 02.17.09 The Jester Inn
Fri 03.06.09 Alex's Strangebrew Coffee House
Fri 03.20.09 The Vibe HQ
Thu 04.09.09 Bay Vista Rainforest
Sat 04.11.09 Averlast Boxing
Sun 04.26.09 The Originals
Sat 05.23.09 The Glamshack
Sun 05.31.09 X Factor
Sat 06.20.09 The Broken Rocker
Mon 06.22.09 Bryant & Stratton College
Fri 08.07.09 Ambrosia Dance Club
Wed 08.26.09 Arubia Introduces
Fri 09.04.09 Galerie d'Art du Chardon
Sat 10.03.09 Sydney's Live Music
Mon 10.12.09 Z's Music Club
Sun 10.18.09 Crystal Gardens
Sat 10.24.09 Glance International Agency (Pink Ball)
Fri 10.30.09 Extreme Reality
Tue 11.10.09 Italian Mood
Mon 11.30.09 AI Tranquility
Sun 12.06.09 Pink Candy
Wed 12.16.09 Indie Spectrum Hotspot Stage
Thu 12.31.09 Wharf Music (New Year's Eve)
Wed 02.24.10 The BackPorch
Sat 02.27.10 Grid Rock
Mon 03.01.10 Buy Me A Rose
Wed 04.07.10: The Pond
Fri 04.16.10: Astral Dreams
Thu 04.22.10: Free Bird Music & Love Lounge
Tue 05.11.10: Illusion
Fri 05.14.10: Dubai
Mon 05.17.10: Restaurante Amanecer En Seville
Wed 05.19.10: Stream Scene TV Show
Thu 05.27.10: Le Charme
Sat 08.21.10: Pixel Hill WaterStage
Fri 10.22.10: BURN2
Wed 11.03.10: Lamella
Thu 11.04.10: The Mansion
Sun 12.19.10: Delinda Dyrssen Memorial (The Pocket)
Thu 03.03.11: Key West
Thu 03.10.11: Moonacy Writers Sessions
Sat 04.23.11: ROMA
Fri 05.27.11: Under The Willows
Sun 06.26.11: SL8B
Mon 08.08.11: The Islands of New England
Sat 09.24.11: Lavender Fields - Feed-a-Smile
Mon 11.28.11: Love Factory
Fri 12.23.11: Casablanca Ballroom
Sat 02.25.12: BS's Bring a Friend
Sat 03.10.12: Ground Zero
Tue 06.05.12: Whisky A Go Go in SL
Mon 06.18.12: SL9B
Sun 06.24.12: Acoustic Meadow/RFL
Sat 07.14.12: RFL Finale
Sun 07.26.12: Warung Beats
Fri 09.07.12: Club RoCa

The Shelter at Swinside. May 2007.

Artisan Gallerias. September 2007.

Space Odessy. November 2007.

Bubblegum Music Factory. November 2007.

Crystal Sands. December 2007.

SL5B. June 2008.

Triana's Music Trivia. July 2008.

San Diego in SL. August 2008.

Molaskey's Pub. December 2008.

Free Bird. April 2010.

The Pocket. December 2010.

Moonacy. March 2011.

Key West. June 2011.

The Whisky. June 2012.

The Age of Old and Young

Despite the undeniable emergence of crow's feet and a graying beard, I still feel pretty damn young, and tend to act it as well. But am I, like many people, obsessed with youth?

Some people don't like talking about their age, and you really can't blame them. Age is one of those aspects of humanity that carries all manner of prejudicial thoughts, and crosses every other barrier of race, nationality, gender, and economic background. We tell people straight out to "act their age". We talk about "age appropriate" entertainment. We define and subdivide people's cultural activities and buying habits with age being the highest-level demographic category.

If you think you're immune to age-based prejudice, let me ask you a seemingly easy question: is it okay for a 61-year-old man to date a 23-year-old woman? Why, or why not? They're both adults, obviously. Would you think any less of either of them for making the choice to be involved with each other? Would you harbor any preconceptions about why they are attracted to each other in the first place? Most people would, and perhaps for valid reasons. Or perhaps not.

The Age of Variety
In any case, I'm at an age that seems to have a lot of variety. This morning, several of my friends on Facebook who are all within a couple years of my age -- 43 -- reported that their children are starting pre-school today. A few moments later, I stumbled across a photo of another friend sitting on a chair with her grandson on her knee, and she'd posted about her child having graduated from college this year. That woman is also about the same age as me.

So, the true concept of "middle age" (defined as the period beyond young adulthood but before the onset of old age, roughly age 40 to 60) really becomes apparent with these examples. The lifestyle of a person with a young child just starting school is obviously different than one whose children have grown and moved out on their own. And yet, they are the same age! "Middle" is a vague term, and it's a vague age, to be honest. There are few aspects of being middle-aged that are consistent from person to person. If you're going to have preconceptions, it would seem that it's much easier to predict what a person will be like in their youth and elderly years than in the time between.

Youth is for the Young
I really don't share that obsession with youth that pervades most of our society. If I look a little younger than my 43 years, it's due to a few factors that I didn't consciously attempt to control in order to appear younger than I am. My genetics are a big factor, obviously. But my relatively active lifestyle, my attempt to eat balanced nutrition, my getting plenty of sleep, and little factors like my style of dress are all things that probably help. The fact of the matter is that I don't do those things in an attempt to look young. I do them because they feel right for the person I am, whatever that means. If anything, I have habits like smoking which certainly don't help at all in looking young and fit.

But more importantly, I have managed to finally get past some of the built-in prejudice in regard to age. That has been a huge beneficial quality I seem to have acquired as I've grown older. I can relate to people 20 years older, and 20 years younger than me right now (though they may not be able to relate to each other at all). I can be friends with those people. I can hear their perspectives. I am still open minded enough to learn from them, and I do. All the time.

Back to my similarly-aged Facebook friends: in terms of one definable aspect of their lives, I am right in the middle. My child is 13, making me neither particularly young or old as a parent. And despite the similarity of my friends' ages to mine, I can no more conceive of having a toddler around right now than I can imagine waving goodbye as my son goes off to college. It is simply too far removed from my current perspective of helping him with pre-algebra homework, or getting him to clean his room. But in any case, all of our respectively disparate experiences are well in line with what middle-aged people do and feel. It's a wide range of daily joys and trials, and I'm fine with it. I'd no more want to reverse the clock than I would to speed it forward; there's so much to do and experience today that I'm content with being who I am now, regardless of my years.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Club RoCa (09.07.12)

As any reader of this blog knows, I always look forward to opportunities where I can expose my music to new groups of people. In Second Life, those opportunities come knocking when I perform at venues where I've never played before, which is exactly what happened last week when Maali booked me at Club RoCa. While it's not a brand new place, the entire venue just moved to a new location and had re-opened the day before, so there was plenty of newness in the virtual air for everyone.

Since I'd be playing for at least some folks who hadn't heard me before, I decided to do what I'd consider a "typical Zak show", where I mixed in a good number of my originals with some covers of artists people don't always hear performed in SL or elsewhere. The show didn't exactly start out with a bang; during my very first song, the audience lost the audio, and I started to get that sinking feeling that happens when the technology of live streamed audio bites me in the ass. But I needn't have worried; we restarted the stream and everything seemed fine after that.

Club RoCa is a really nice, contemporary and elegant-looking build without seeming stuffy. Rob and Maggie did a good job on the place. I ended up enjoying my debut show there quite a lot. Photos by Kat.

We also started things out with a pretty small crowd, but as I played, more and more people popped in, and it was really a good-sized audience by the halfway point. I've always said that musicians don't get new fans in bunches, but rather one at a time. I'm happy to say that at least one person in the crowd at Club RoCa truly seemed to enjoy my music and my performance, and she made some generous tips and joined up with the "Zak Claxton Happy Fun Group" immediately after the show. I don't ask for anything more than that, and hope to see her at more Zak Shows around the grid.

Club RoCa Set List...
Northern Sky (Nick Drake)
You're Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)
A Million Miles Away (The Plimsouls)
*Afternoon Delight (Starland Vocal Band)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
Fire & Rain (James Taylor)
Broken Day (Zak Claxton)
Accidents Will Happen (Elvis Costello)
In My Time of Dying (Traditional)
Man on the Moon (R.E.M.)
I Am A Child (Neil Young)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)

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

Huge thanks to all who came out to my debut at Club RoCa, especially the following folks who helped support the show!
Artemis Rexie, Triana Caldera, GMetal Svartur, Endymian, JDHoney, Rusty Seisenbacher, Sesh Kamachi, Kat Claxton, TheaDee, and Club RoCa owners/hosts bballrob and Maggie Ashbourne!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Liquid at Weston Road Labor Day Block Party (09.01.12)


I have played in many bands, going back to my early teen years. Being in a band is a serious commitment... one that takes time and energy. Between all the things in my life (including my own musical solo career), there's no way I could be in a band full time today. However, my good friends and bandmates in my former cover band Liquid -- Randy Harmon, Phil Gilbreth, and Dante J. Silva -- are understanding of that. All of them play in other musical projects... Randy sings for Scoop deVille, Phil rocks with the Pheasant Pluckers, and Dante jams all the time with an ever-revolving collection of old buddies who are also great musicians.

But for the last couple of years, we've managed to get Liquid back together for some special events, and each time has been great. I will tell ya: I love doing what I do as a mostly acoustic solo artist, but the act of cranking it up and completely rocking out fun tunes at high volume is fulfilling in an entirely different way. In many ways, it takes me back to those early years of turning up my amplifier and jamming back in those teen years.

Taking It To The Street
This particular event, the Labor Day block party on Weston Road in Torrance, CA, has some special meaning to us. Back in 2002, it was the first gig we played as a band, and we've played there in the street of this suburban tract a block up from PCH many times since. It's a fun, family-oriented event, with neighbors barbecuing, and dozens of kids and dogs roaming the street during the early part of the day. We actually played quite a bit later than we had at previous Labor Day weekends, which was great because only the first set had us performing under a hot late summer sun.

The Liquid Awards

Dante J. Silva: The "Two Princes of Tempo" Award
Dante and I have played music together for over 25 years, and he never fails to amaze the audience with his drumming skills. At this show, we had a moment of high comedy when The Rocket took off at the start of the song "Two Princes", which we ended up doing at breakneck speed. I laughed through the entire song. But Dante's playing is always a highlight of the show, and I enjoy listening to his virtuosity as much as anyone.

Phil Gilbreth: The "Solid as a Rock" Award
I've played with dozens of bass players, many of them terrific musicians. But few come close to the rock solid reliable greatness of Phil. He can do it all, from keeping the perfect laid-back groove to note-for-note renditions of the most technical bass lines from the world's best players. It's a pleasure to play with him.

Randy Harmon: The "Above & Beyond" Award
If any one person is the heart of Liquid, it's our vocalist. Randy is the one that gets us together now and then, and has always been the main guy to book the shows, provide rehearsal space, and often singlehandedly doing almost all of the setup and teardown. In addition to being a great singer, he keeps Liquid flowing, and I know it won't be too long before Randy drops me a line and we make some Liquid rock once again.

Same Old Song and Dance
Since we're not an active band, there was no way to refresh our set list, but playing those familiar covers is like putting on an old, comfortable pair of slippers. Of course, we weren't quite as tight as when we were playing every other weekend and practicing on weeks in between, but to use another overwrought analogy, it's never hard to get back on the bike and ride. We ended up doing four pretty good-sized sets, and covered a lot of musical ground. I think that there was something there for everyone!

The Set List

Set One:
I Want You to Want Me (Cheap Trick)
California Dreaming (The Mamas & the Papas)
Come Together (Beatles)
Mary Jane's Last Dance (Tom Petty)
My Own Worst Enemy (Lit)
Sweet Emotion (Aerosmith)
Back in the USSR (Beatles)
The Immigrant Song (led Zeppelin)
White Room (Cream)

Set Two:
Vaseline (Stone Temple Pilots)
Heartbreaker/Living Loving Maid (Led Zeppelin)
The Real Me (The Who)
Pinball Wizard (The Who)
Interstate Love Song (Stone Temple Pilots)
Red House (Jimi Hendrix)
Tie Your Mother Down (Queen)
Break On Through (The Doors)
Helter Skelter (Beatles)
Communication Breakdown (Led Zeppelin)

Set Three:
Tush (Z.Z. Top)
Alright Now (Free)
Purple Haze (Jimi Hendrix)
Born to Be Wild (Steppenwolf)
Love Me Two Times (The Doors)
Custard Pie (Led Zeppelin)
You Got Another Thing Coming (Judas Priest)
I Don't Know (Ozzy Osbourne)
*Summertime Blues (The Who)
Man In The Box (Alice in Chains)
Good Times, Bad Times (Led Zeppelin)
Cinnamon Girl (Neil Young)
Fire/Drum Solo (Jimi Hendrix)

Set Four:
Hard to Handle (Black Crowes)
Can't Explain (The Who)
Two Princes (Spin Doctors)
Everybody Wants You (Billy Squier)
Roadhouse Blues (The Doors)
Panama (Van Halen)
Surrender (Cheap Trick)

To all who enjoyed the show, the pleasure was ours! Thanks to the Weston Road neighborhood, and Liquid fans everywhere!