Monday, February 29, 2016

Homes For Our Troops (02.28.16)

Enjoying a Sunday evening while rocking for a good... no, a great cause. Photo by Kat.

After I wrapped up what could only be described as a very successful fundraising show for Homes For Our Troops at Veterans Isle in Second Life on Sunday night, I turned to Kat and said, "If nothing else, my karma bank seems to get a deposit when I do these things."

That's actually a pretty selfish way to think about it, but it's true: even if we hadn't raised a dime to help the HFOT organization, it's the thought that counts, and one can hope that somewhere, somehow, there's some kind of multi-dimensional ledger of sorts that tracks the good and the bad you've done in life. A lot of people -- most of the people in the world, it turns out -- really do believe in such a thing; the entire concepts of heaven and hell in Christianity is pretty much based on this premise. Do well in life? You go up. Do badly? Take the down elevator.

Do I personally believe in these concepts, in a literal sense? No, not at all, nor do I believe in the strict sense of karma from a Hindu/Buddhist point of view where I would be reincarnated with a better future existence based on my actions in this life. Just for the sake of this discussion, let's imagine an existence where this is all we have. You live, and then you die, and there's nothing at all afterwards. You're just gone. What reason would anyone have to go out of their way to do things for others? What reward would be waiting for you at the end? Why bother?

The answer is that the reward happens all the time, all around you, in every possible way. I mentioned during my show that we -- the people doing the fundraising -- don't get the benefit of seeing a disabled combat veteran get out of a car and head toward the new custom house that's been built for him or her, seeing it for the first time. We don't get to experience the emotion that they must feel when being handed the keys to the place where they'll be able to live, a place designed so that they can have a happier and more productive life. We don't get to see them come home. We don't witness the payoff for our efforts. But we do know it happens. And we know the result.

I like to imagine that I get to meet the people whom I help through various charitable shows I've done. I generally don't, but I also imagine that they'd like to meet me. Photo by Kat.

So I ask again: what does someone like me get out of this? Answer: I get everything. The world around me literally becomes a better place. And again, going back to the selfishness part... I awoke today feeling like I did something good for someone. Whatever the opposite of guilt is -- pride doesn't seem right, but in that vein -- I get to experience, and rightfully so. I literally improve my own life right now -- at this moment, not after I die -- by bringing help to others. And hey, if I'm wrong about things like heaven and hell or reincarnation, then I have a better shot at getting those kinds of rewards too. But most of all, I get the wonderful feeling of having used my own ability to play music and entertain people for a cause in which I do truly believe.

Side note: should private citizens and non-governmental organizations be necessary to help the most seriously injured combat veterans? No, absolutely not. If a country sends its people to fight on their behalf, the very minimum that should be expected is that those who are injured be taken care of by that country. And, on a bigger picture, my ultimate dream is that war becomes a thing of the past, placed in the history books as the primitive and anachronistic way of settling disputes that it obviously is. Since neither of those things is going to happen any time soon, we remain tasked with the job of taking care of our veterans. I should note that at least last night, our efforts in that regard were very successful. After the show of my pal Lyndon Heart and my own performance, over L$90,000 -- around $400 USD -- had been generously donated by the attending crowd, with the huge help of the event's primary organizer and contributor Frets Nirvana (who was putting up matching fund challenges and really driving the donations in a big way). I don't know what the grand total was, but I'm pretty sure it was seriously impressive for one evening in a virtual world.

One other note about the show, having nothing to do with any of the above. This weekend marked the real life birthday of one of my best friends, Triana Caldera, and it was a big birthday. She turned 40, and like most people, I knew she'd been feeling rather trepidatious about the whole thing, so I also used the occasion to do a set of songs from her birth year of 1976 to cheer her up about the event. I also did some other songs I hadn't done before, because variety is the spice of life.

Birthday girl Triana Caldera, who got a whole set of songs from the year 1976 as my present to her. Hey, it was all I could afford. I think she liked it, though. Photo by Kat.

The level of generosity from the crowd at Veterans Isle was mind-blowing. Photo by Kat.

Final thought: even if I got nothing personally out of performing for HFOT and the many other charitable institutions to whom I've lent my time and talents, the basic idea is along the lines of a well-known Greek proverb: "A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in." Selfless acts aren't generally part of normal human nature, but I believe in trying to leave the world a better place than it was when I entered, and I'll do whatever I can to try and make a contribution where I'm able.

More Info on Homes For Our Troops
From their web site: Homes for Our Troops (HFOT) is a privately funded 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization building specially adapted, mortgage-free homes nationwide for the most severely injured Veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. Most of these Veterans have sustained injuries including multiple limb amputations, partial or full paralysis, and/or severe traumatic brain injury (TBI). These homes restore some of the freedom and independence our Veterans sacrificed while defending our country, and enable them to focus on their family, recovery, and rebuilding their lives. Since its inception in 2004, nearly 90 cents of every dollar donated to Homes for Our Troops has gone directly to our program services for Veterans. HFOT builds these homes where the Veteran chooses to live, and continues its relationship with the Veterans after home delivery to assist them with rebuilding their lives.

HFOT set list...
Airport Bar (Martin Courtney)
*Rhiannon (Fleetwood Mac)
Afternoon Delight (Starland Vocal Band)
Golden Years (David Bowie)
50 Ways To Leave Your Lover (Paul Simon)
Blew The Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
America (Simon and Garfunkel)
*A Trick With No Sleeve (Alain Johannes)
*Bring On The Night (The Police)
You're Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)
Gardenia (Iggy Pop)
Tea for the Tillerman (Cat Stevens)

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

Huge thanks to everyone who contributed in any way to this very successful fundraising show! I don't have a complete list of who you are, but these were the folks who appeared in my chat logs afterwards...
Frets Nirvana, Bri McMahon, gjackie.winkler, theadee, jovie Kearny, dahlea.milena, Jessie Kleiner, PitViper Paine, Woodstock Burleigh, Casidhe Brissot, lacey.latrell, Flynavy Beerbaum, bctigercat, Sesh Kamachi, Triana Caldera, Kat Claxton, Lyndon Heart, Sabryne Hotaling, Keja Keegan, Cyrece Delicioso-Wylder, Christine Haiku, Shaye Dezno-Jonstone, tex.seesaw, Daisy Coronet, ransomtalmidge, Gary Jonstone, shaggy Verdigra, CREAMY Dudley, daviddudley, and danijela.diker.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Islands of New England (02.10.16)

What's a typical day in the life of a virtual rock star like? I'm glad you asked.

First, you wake up before dawn. Why? Because you have a job, and you have a kid to get to school, and tons of other responsibilities. You work all day, hopefully being a productive member of society. You experience the typical successes and failures, elations and frustrations, that most people experience in the ongoing rollercoaster that most of us recognize as a typical life. But then, toward the day's end, instead of doing whatever it is that most people do, you strap on a guitar, set up some microphones, and you forget pretty much everything that you did previous to then, because at that moment, your sole purpose in life is to bring joy to others, and lose yourself in the process for an hour or so. And then, when it's done, you thank people, and maybe 30 seconds after that, you're doing things like making dinner, taking out the trash, helping your kid with his/her homework, and other things that people generally do.

Exciting, isn't it? So basically, your day goes "wake up, normal person, normal person, normal person, normal person, normal person, ROCK STAR, normal person, normal person, sleep".

You may laugh, but personally, I think we have an advantage over those rock stars who are, um, actual rock stars. For one thing, I can go to the grocery store without people staring at me. I can eat in a restaurant without constantly being besieged by autograph seekers. And there's not a long line of people wanting to sponge off my fame. Granted, we virtual rock stars don't make the money that real rock stars do... except many of us do, because we have jobs and stuff. You'd be shocked at how many relatively well-known performing musicians don't make nearly the income that you would suspect they do, especially in an age where music sales can provide only pennies for dozens of plays. They make their dough on touring and merchandise sales, which brings up another thing. I can wrap up a meeting for my actual vocation, and then be playing a show a few minutes later, without all the hellishness that comes from traveling from city to city to do tours. Again, the grass isn't always greener.

Photos by Kat.

I suppose at this point, I can tell you that last night's show at The Islands of New England was really pretty great, but then, why wouldn't it be? It's a cool venue where my friends and fans feel welcomed, with a great set of hosts. I've never felt pressured to play in any particular musical style there; they are totally accepting of whatever I feel like doing, from the normal to the extremely weird. There are no dress codes there. It's purely a place where people can come out and enjoy themselves with music performed live, and I ask for nothing more. One extra fun note, don'tcha know; I performed directly after my friend (and fellow Maali Beck Entertainment artist) Taunter Goodnight, which is always a pleasure.

TIONE set list...
Airport Bar (Martin Courtney)
Nothing Compares 2 U (Prince)
Pink Moon (Nick Drake)
Starman (David Bowie)
I've Been Waiting for You (Neil Young)
Wish You Were Here (Pink Floyd)
Thanks Anyway (Zak Claxton)
Bag of Nothing (They Stole My Crayon)
Sleeper in the Valley (Laura Veirs)
California (Joni Mitchell)
Gardenia (Iggy Pop)
Fade Away (Zak Claxton)
Loser (Beck)

Massive thanks to everyone who came out to TIONE and checked out my show, including the following who helped support it!
Sheila Morlim, Brooklyn Breen, Richy Nervous, Rey Tardis, Alexis Fairlady, Kat Claxton, RansomTalmidge Resident, Tpenta Vanalten, Aurelie Chenaux, TheaDee Resident, Taunter Goodnight, Sassy Nicely, Smidge Frimon, my excellent manager Maali Beck, New England host Sesh Kamachi, and its great manager Christine Haiku!

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Zak Claxton Happy Fun Show (02.06.16)

Here's a little story. I got up on Friday morning in a pretty typical manner, taking a quick peek at the news on my iPad before getting in the shower and moving ahead with my day. I also happened to notice that I had a message via Facebook, so I took a quick peek. It was in regard to the live show I was supposed to perform on Saturday in Second Life... which had been canceled. It really never bothers me much when an SL show doesn't happen as planned. My only disappointment is for any of my friends/fans whom I'd already invited to the show, but even then, it's hardly the end of the world.

But while I showered, an idea came to me that more than made up for the cancellation of my SL show. I'd been planning on doing a Zak Claxton Happy Fun Show -- my live music event that I host every so often on Ustream -- for quite some time, and I hadn't done one for about a year and a half, since November 2014. Now I had a perfectly good reason to do just that. I quickly switched over the details of my planned event, and let folks know that I'd be rocking on live video rather than in a virtual world. For those of you who are interested in doing such a show, let me point out a few differences.

1. People can see you. The actual flesh that makes up yourself. Yes, that's the point of doing a video-based show. If you can't handle the idea of being seen while you play music, you can always just stream your audio, or put up a video of something other than yourself. But really, what the hell is the point of that? You, however you look, in whatever kind of shape you're in, at whatever age you are, are you. No one else can be you. Own that shit.

2. Clean your damn room. Seriously, do not do a live video show that tempts people to start memes about your underwear that's draped on a bedpost, or that week-old pizza slice on top of your amplifier. You don't have to build an elaborate stage set or have laser lights or anything. Oh, that having been said...

3. Make sure that people can see and hear you clearly. It's not hard. Test your audio and your video before your show. Set up whatever camera you're using at an angle that is good for watching a live music show (like, not on the floor pointing at your socks). Don't do your show in a room so dark that your viewers have to guess which set of pixels is you.

4. Acknowledge the camera. This especially goes out to my fellow Second Life performers, some of whom may have less experience doing live shows where they can physically interact with their audience. Think of the camera as a friend who is chilling in the room with you. Watching a show of some person staring at a music stand off to their right is just slightly more exciting than a show about paint drying, no matter how well the person is performing music.

Image captures by Kat.

My only last bit of advice about doing live video shows is that if you're not enjoying it, don't bother. I actually welcome the opportunity to have people see me play live. I can do things that I can't do at an SL show in terms of how the audience can connect with and relate to me as a performer. There are many video-based music performance platforms out there in addition to just using a service like Ustream, so whether you're a player or a music fan, check them out.

ZCHFS set list...
Radio Free Europe (R.E.M.)
Northern Sky (Nick Drake)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Blew The Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
*Gardenia (Iggy Pop)
Airport Bar (Martin Courtney)
On a Plain (Nirvana)
Underwater Underground (They Stole My Crayon)
It's Choade My Dear (Connan Mockasin)
*Appetites (Jib Kidder)
Ashes to Ashes (David Bowie)
You're Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)
Tribute (Tenacious D)

*Indicates the first time I've performed this song live

Thanks to my people who tuned in to watch me rock. More ZCHFS events coming soon!