Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Serenity Gardens (05.21.18)

Rocking Serenity Gardens. My view from the stage while I perform.

It's been almost exactly 32 years since I graduated high school, so my memories of that era are a bit fuzzy... probably compounded by the fact that I was using drugs and alcohol on a regular basis at that time period. But one event that happened during my sophomore year had been coming to mind lately, for reasons that will be obvious in a moment.

One day in April 1984, we were in class... well, I should say that most people were in class. I had ducked into the library for some reason. I had a problem as a kid that still occasionally plagues me today. I would get so overwhelmingly bored in class that I thought I'd lose my mind, and would find just about any excuse to not be seated in a chair for a full hour. There were classes and teachers that I genuinely liked, and would stay engaged and focused. In other classes, not so much. I'd spend the hour in a geometry class writing music and lyrics, doodling, and basically existing in some other world deep in my own head, and that was when I actually went to the class. Often, I'd find some reason to leave... to the bathroom, to the nurse's office, to the admin offices ("Aren't you supposed to be in class?"), and so on.

Me in my high school journalism class, 1985.

Anyway, I was in the library when the school went on lockdown. There was a guy in the parking lot with a gun. He was a former student, 19 years old, and had enrolled in the Marines, stationed about 90 miles south at Camp Pendleton. His girlfriend, who was still a student at the school, had broken up with him and was dating someone new, so his solution to this was to come to his alma mater armed with a shotgun and a 9mm pistol. He approached the new boyfriend, who was in his new Ford Bronco, and after ordering him out of the car, proceeded to fire 12 rounds into the vehicle. No one was hurt or killed, and eventually a SWAT team sniper put a round right through the shoulder of the kid's shirt, somehow while barely scratching his skin. Nice shot, man. The kid surrendered, we were let out of class after a couple of hours, and that was that. You can read all the details here, if you'd like.

The reason I have that news article handy is that yesterday, the event popped into my head, but the details were so hazy that I wasn't 100% sure it was something that had actually happened. The memory felt more like something I'd seen in a made-for-TV movie, or a story I'd heard someone else tell. I actually got on the Facebook page for my high school class and asked the other folks about their recollections of that day. One of them pointed that news story out to me, but almost all the rest had the same vibe as me... they either barely remembered it, or in some cases had no idea it had even happened. You would think that something as traumatic as a lockdown due to an armed gunman at the school would have been one of the main events that we all took with us after our school years, but no... not the case. One of my classmates, a smart kid named Brian, pointed out that before Columbine, the very idea of a person walking through the halls of a school and methodically killing people was so unthinkable that we didn't, at the time, have a frame of reference as to how bad it could have been.

I mention all this because obviously, gun violence and school attacks by students and former students have been a big part of our lives as Americans in recent times. We're starting to become more cognizant of the root causes of these horrifying events, and it would seem that difficulties with establishing or maintaining relationships is a huge factor. I will tell you, while I had a relatively decent time in high school, I wouldn't relive that part of my life for any amount of money. Frankly, that period of life when people are mostly physically mature but have yet to mentally and emotionally grow up... I wouldn't ever want to go through that again, or be surrounded by other people in the same stage of life.

In any case, certain things that seem pretty simple and understandable for many adults are incomprehensible for teenagers. Situations that are difficult for adults seem impossible to them. Things like the idea of moving on after a romantic relationship ends, or that just because you can't find a sexual partner by age 18 doesn't mean it's never going to happen. Those mistakes in the perception of reality are at least part of what drives these kids to take these abhorrent actions. I believe that many of them would get past those feelings with time, while others are genuinely mentally ill. In both cases, the combination of immature thinking and easy access to guns makes them a walking time bomb. I'm an optimistic person, but there's really no end in sight to this issue plaguing our country. There will be more school shootings, for preventable reasons that just won't be addressed.

The Show
Oh yeah, this post is about the live music show I did last night. Silly me.

I wasn't really planning on doing a tribute to R.E.M. at the show, but I'd been meaning to try out "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?" for some time. It's one of Kat's favorite R.E.M. songs and one I've always enjoyed as well. I'd also included "Bang and Blame" on the list somewhat randomly, and then decided to try "Everybody Hurts", which seemed appropriate given the overall malaise that the country seems to be experiencing. Anyway, the R.E.M. mini-set happened kind of spontaneously, which is exactly how I like things to happen. I never like anything that I do creatively to feel contrived. I also did a seriously new song... one from Courtney Barnett's new album Tell Me How You Really Feel that literally came out on Friday of last week.

We had a nice crowd at Serenity Gardens as usual. Pardon the lack of more photos for the show; it was only by happenstance that I remembered to snap one from the stage between songs. Kat just started a new work assignment with more office time required, meaning she likely won't be at my shows, and I don't get the benefit of her excellent pics!

Serenity Gardens set list...
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
*Need a Little Time (Courtney Barnett)
Help Me (Joni Mitchell)
Bang and Blame (R.E.M.)
Man on the Moon (R.E.M.)
Losing My Religion (R.E.M.)
*What’s the Frequency, Kenneth? (R.E.M.)
*Everybody Hurts (R.E.M.)
Among the Leaves (Sun Kil Moon)
Abrasion (They Stole My Crayon)
Blew the Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
Shame Chamber (Kurt Vile)

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

Giant thanks to all who attended my show, with extra special live to the following people who helped support it!
Grace McDunnough, Camden Lionheart, AaronCabottJones Resident, Triana Caldera, go2smoky Resident, ImaInnocent Jewell, Oneida Firelight, TheaDee Resident, Barbara Mixemup, Celeste Ewing, and the amazing team at Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Video: Live at Serenity Gardens (05.07.18)

As mentioned in my recent post, Second Life videographer Sher Salmson created a video from my live show at Serenity Gardens on May 7m featuring a medley of songs in my set list that evening. It was released today, and you can see it below.

Call Me Al (Paul Simon)
Blew the Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
The Crystal Ship (The Doors)
Bull Black Nova (Wilco)
Any Major Dude (Steely Dan)
Half Moon Bay (Sun Kil Moon)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Serenity Gardens (05.07.18)

Ah, lovely Serenity Gardens. Hope the video of my show comes out good! Photo by Kat.

I got some good advice once from Neil Young.

No, he didn't tell it to me directly, though that would have been really cool. It was something he mentioned in a biography. Someone who was creating music with him -- it might have been Nils Lofgren, but I can't remember for certain -- mentioned that he'd be feeling good and playing well, but as soon as they little red light went on that indicted he was recording, he would freeze up. Neil's answer was simple. He said to record all the time. Literally, record everything. After awhile, the red light would be meaningless. It was said that when Neil was working with Crazy Horse, they recorded so much that they never even knew for certain when they were making an album. They'd play and play and play, and at some point Neil would tell them they'd finished a record, and they'd be like, "Really? What's on it?"

In one small aspect, that same process is true of each of my Second Life live music shows. Some of you don't know this, but my broadcasting software has an option to archive the show, and every single show does get automatically recorded. Side note: I really never listen to those recordings, and usually end up trashing them from time to time after seeing that I have gigabyte after gigabyte of audio files piling up on my computer. But they are there, and if I did something I thought was noteworthy, I could go back and check it out and/or share it with people. In any case, I never think about or worry about being recorded; I'm always being recorded, so it doesn't matter to me at all.

So when you smile for the camera, I know they're going to love you. Photo by Kat.

Why am I talking about this, you ask? Well, a few days before my show last night at Serenity Gardens, owner Ilsa Flannigan sent me a message to ask my permission to be filmed for my next performance at her lovely venue. She said that she'd hired Sher Salmson, another SL person with whom I'm acquainted, to film some of the artists who played at Serenity Gardens, and wanted to be sure I was okay with that. It was nice of her to ask; most of them time I've been filmed or otherwise recorded in SL, I'm not aware of it until after the fact. It's never been a problem for me, but I can definitely see how in some cases, it might be for other artists for any of several valid reasons.

Anyway, I told Ilsa that it would be fine. There was a moment, while I was just arriving at the venue and getting set up, that I remembered I'd be being filmed, and wondered if I needed to do anything different to better accommodate the virtual "camera" that would be on me. I immediately quashed that thought; my reason for being there was to make good music for the audience who had come to the show. Anything beyond that was someone else's challenge, and I decided to trust that they'd be able to do what they were doing and capture my show without my having to modify anything. I hope it comes out good, and I'm looking forward to seeing Sher's video work whenever it gets done.

This Is America
Sorry to randomly shift gears on you, but on Saturday night, a new video was released by Childish Gambino, which is the musical name of the incredibly talented actor/writer/director Donald Glover. Normally, I wouldn't be super interested in a new hip hop video, or any music video for that matter. But I was astounded by the deeply profound imagery and messaging in this video, which was directed by Hiro Murai, who is almost certainly the best music video creator in the world today. He did "Never Catch Me" by Flying Lotus and "Smooth Sailing" by Queens of the Stone Age, two of my favorite music vids from this century. "This is America" might be his crowning achievement, though.

Over the past couple of days, many people have detailed their interpretations of the video and the song. I won't rehash their analysis, but I will urge you to watch it closely, and especially to keep your eye on what's happening in the background. Amazing.

Don't Eat Yourself
One other inconsequential note about the show. As I mentioned while performing, on Sunday night I was eating an ice cream bar, and I managed to do something I hadn't done in awhile, thankfully; I sank my tooth right into my own lip as I ravenously consumed the tasty treat, deep enough that I had to staunch the bleeding with a napkin. As a result, the entire time I was singing, I was scraping that same tooth over that same injured area of my mouth. Good times! Let it be said that like all good artists, I suffer for my art. That shit still hurts today. I will live.

Oh, and a final note. As I mention frequently, I try as often as possible to bring in new songs to my set ("new" as in songs I've never done before; they can be from any time period). Last night, I did a rather deep underground alternative rock song by a band that few would be aware of... "Big Deal Party" by Jackal Onasis. It's not a song that most people would try on solo acoustic guitar and vocals, and -- not wanting to change the key, which works well for the tune -- I had to sing it in the register of the original female performer. I'd originally planned on trying out the song last fall, but it happened to be right around when my father passed away and I wasn't up for it then, so I put it aside at the time. I'm glad I brought it back out and gave it a shot. I should mention that one completely awesome thing about doing the music of indie artists is the relative ease in which one can make personal contact with them. I had some difficulty determining the lyrics of "Big Deal Party", so I reached out to Jackal Onasis singer/drummer Jordyn Blakely, and she filled me in on the proper words, which was totally cool of her. You can hear the original version here on their Bandcamp page.

Another great show at Serenity. It's become one of my favorite places to perform in all of SL. Photo by Kat.

Serenity Gardens set list...
Northern Sky (Nick Drake)
Blew the Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
The Crystal Ship (The Doors)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
Desire Lines (Deerhunter)
*Big Deal Party (Jackal Onasis)
Bull Black Nova (Wilco)
Carolina In My Mind (James Taylor)
Call Me Al (Paul Simon)
Any Major Dude (Steely Dan)
#9 Dream (John Lennon)
Half Moon Bay (Sun Kil Moon)

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

I send my huge thanks to everyone who came to the show at Serenity Gardens last night, with super special thanks to the following people who helped support it!
Idesine Habilis, AaronCabottJones Resident, Helios Seetan, Sher Salmson, Aurelie Chenaux, Sesh Kamachi, sedonajane Silverpath, Asimia Heron, Kat Claxton, TheaDee Resident, my great manager Maali Beck, and the fabulous team at Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde.