Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Serenity Gardens (07.30.18)

Yet another great night at Serenity Gardens. I did lose my voice at the end, but it was in the lost-and-found so I got it back. Photo by Kat.

Before I talk about last night's show at Serenity Gardens in Second Life, a brief observation. It's funny -- not in a "ha ha" way -- that there was a time when this blog was nearly devoid of politics. The reason for that is that I simply spent far too long being overly apathetic. Don't get me wrong; I was always an informed person who stayed on top of what was going on in the USA and the world. But back then, I trusted that most of those things would work themselves out without my direct intervention, or the need to share my opinions. After all, who the fuck am I? Some middle-aged, middle-class guy who happens to be a musician, and therefore has some slightly higher level of amplification than some other folks? That certainly doesn't make me an expert on US history and global affairs in and of itself.

I really have the current GOP administration to thank for my newly-found level of activism. On nearly a daily basis, something happens that is so abhorrent that it is beyond my ability as a human being to ignore. Unfortunately, with the volume of horrific things going on, it's far too easy to become numb to them, or (worse) to let one terrible event escape your mind entirely when the next one inevitably arises. And, of course, at some point, a person has to pick and choose the areas in which he or she can devote their time and attention.

My own list of priorities is pretty simple... things like determining whether the GOP administration conspired with Russia to undermine our election process, bringing transparency to the dark money being funneled into politics through groups like the NRA, having leadership that prioritizes protecting the environment rather than furthering pollution for corporate profit, protecting the rights of workers and eliminating the massive wealth disparity, and standing by the laws that help define our freedoms as Americans, such as the Civil Rights Act, same sex marriage, Roe v Wade and more. These things are important enough to me to warrant my bringing them to people's attention when possible.

In terms of how all of this affects my live music performances... the short answer is that it doesn't, at least not much. I am well aware that a) there are people of every background and ideology who come to my shows, and it's never my preference to make anyone feel uncomfortable or unwelcome. That having been said, there have been plenty of times that I've made mention of certain current affairs during my shows. I don't demand that others feel as I do, but I'm also not hesitant to allow my audience to be clear on my feelings. I don't have any intention of making each Zak Show a platform for any political angle, but I also want to use my small sphere of influence to let like-minded people know that I am with them and support them.

One of the best aspects of doing live shows is that it gives me a full hour to not focus on having to save the world... or work, or wash dishes, or several other less-fun things. Still, when I have something important to say, I'll say it. Photo by Kat.

Serenity Gardens is a pretty sim and a great place to both perform and experience live music. Photo by Kat.

Last night's show was a good one. The fact is that most of my shows are good; I am grateful and appreciative that people want to come see and hear me play music, no matter whether it's in person, on live video, or in virtual worlds. My definition of a good show is very simple. A reasonable number of people make the effort to come see me, I perform at a level that appropriate for my experience as a live musician, and I don't have any technical glitches that stop me from playing my best. That's it. It's never about adulation or money or anything tangible like that. Occasionally, people apologize to me for having missed the show for some reason or the other, and while I appreciate the sentiment, it's never necessary.

Final note: I generally can tell when I've done a great show because there's a direct ratio of perspiration to effort. The harder I play, the more I sweat. Last night, I also managed to lose my voice entirely right at the end of the show, which left me mostly silent for a couple of hours afterwards, but then it was a nice break to not have to hear myself for a little awhile anyway.

Good crowd. Photo by Kat.

I always like it when I look out and people are enjoying themselves while listening to me play. Photo by Triana Caldera.

Serenity Gardens set list...
Dusty Rhodes (Lotus Plaza)
Northern Sky (Nick Drake)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Long Time Gone (Crosby, Stills & Nash)
Drive (Incubus)
Day After Day (Badfinger)
*Crime (Real Estate)
*Criminal (Fiona Apple)
Doin’ Time (Sublime)
You Don't Know How It Feels (Tom Petty)
Blew the Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
Shame Chamber (Kurt Vile)
Tea for the Tillerman (Cat Stevens)
*Serenity Improv 3 (Zak Claxton)

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

Big thanks to all who spent an hour hanging out and watching me play music, with special thanks to the following people who helped support the show!
Ray Dash, Scarlette Cazenove, AaronCabottJones Resident, TheaDee Resident, Kat Chauveau, Asimia Heron, Kat Claxton, go2smoky Resident, Triana Caldera, my excellent manager Maali Beck, and the fabulous team at Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Serenity Gardens (07.16.18)

When the world is running down, you make the best of what's still around. Making music at Serenity Gardens on July 16. Photo by Kat.

Hmm, it seems like a pleasant Tuesday morning. I wonder if anything interesting is going on in the world right now. Better check the news.

Fox News's John Roberts: Consensus is Trump 'threw the US under the bus'
Trump's Helsinki Bow To Putin Leaves World Wondering: Why?
Top Republicans in Congress break with Trump over Putin comments
Trump aides face calls to resign after president’s appearance with Putin
Protests erupt outside of White House as Trump returns from Putin summit

Even the declining number of folks who had remained neutral or apathetic about the Trump presidency and its effect on the US suddenly seem to be waking up to the implications of what's going on. All I can say to them is, "Welcome to the team." And lemme tell ya'... things are about to get more interesting than ever, as we move closer and closer to the Midterm elections. I promise you that between now and November 6, more and more things will happen. More protests. More intensity. More violence as the polarized sides clash. More circumstances of election tampering, fraud, attempts at disenfranchisement, intimidation, friendships lost, and even possible direct attacks on America's electric and data infrastructure.

Is any of this good? Of course it's not good! It's terrible! No one in their right mind actually prefers to live in a world of unrest. It hampers progress... scientific, economic, and personal. It harms what would otherwise be good relationships, sometimes irreparably. And, perhaps worst of all, it's not easily fixed. Long after this debacle is done and gone, the reputation of the country and its citizens will continue to be viewed with suspicion and distrust. That will likely be true for decades, or longer depending on how this all plays out.

It Gets Better... Probably... After Getting Worse
As to not leave you in a ball of depression, I will tell you that there's a bright side. The very fact that the people of the USA can be seen on the world stage as not taking this stuff lying down will be helpful, long term. The fact that we have systems in place in the USA to check and balance the power of each branch of government is specifically designed to stop tyrants and dictators from achieving their nefarious goals, thanks to the framers of the Constitution who foresaw this exact scenario. And finally, heh heh, when other politicians truly see that their own careers are teetering on the brink of oblivion via association with this demented narcissistic nutbag of a president, they will be as quick and harsh to throw him under the bus as the president was to do so for our country in his meeting with Russia. So do not lose hope! In fact, the near universal condemnation of Trump's actions are a step in the right direction. The true time to worry is when these things are met with tacit acceptance. It might be a time to be more hopeful than ever, at least since Trump took office. That having been said, as I mentioned above... it's going to get super ugly between now and November, and probably beyond. Be ready.

Live Music: A Little Break for Everyone (Including Me)
So, while the world was poised on the brink of insanity, I did something positive in the form of performing live music at Serenity Gardens in Second Life. Literally no performing musician in history has had the luxury of making music under circumstances where there was nothing to distract him or her from the focus of making music. If I decided that too many things were going on in the world to do a show, I would never, ever do shows, because there's always shit going on. It's easy to think that a well-known professional musician (i.e., someone unlike me) would be immune to those things. Nope! They are dealing with getting screwed by promoters, equipment failures, media and fans wanting their time and attention, and many other things that really have nothing to do with performing music. For someone more like me, we have families and jobs and world events and interpersonal issues and myriad other things that pull us away from singing and playing our instruments.

All photos by Kat.

Ironically, it's something that is an appeal, rather than a drawback. Sure, there have absolutely been shows where I've had so much immediate stuff going on that it affects the amount of attention I can give my show. But more often than not, I find that the act of preparing for and then doing live shows helps reset my brain in a positive way. I can tell you that while I'm completely into my show and focused on singing and playing as well as I can, it's a lovely break from both tedium and direct stress in life that almost all of us experience.

That was definitely the case last night at Serenity. I pulled out a couple of NBPBM (Never Before Played By Me) tunes, and did some others that are somewhat rare in my set, requiring me to have a higher level of concentration than I might otherwise have required. People seemed to enjoy what I did, and that's part of the gig as well; giving those folks a break from both the mundane and the stressful aspects of their lives.

Serenity Gardens set list...
Pretty Pimpin’ (Kurt Vile)
Thank U (Alanis Morissette)
Blew the Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
Sex & Candy (Marcy Playground)
*I Believe When I Fall In Love (Stevie Wonder)
It’s Choade My Dear (Connan Mockasin)
Carry Me Ohio (Sun Kil Moon)
Things Behind the Sun (Nick Drake)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
*If I Had a Tail (Queens of the Stone Age)
Cumberland Blues (Grateful Dead)
Save Me (Aimee Mann)

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

Big, big thanks to anyone who hung out at the show, and super duper thanks to those who helped support it!
AaronCabottJones Resident, Kaelarian Resident, TheaDee Resident, go2smoky Resident, Aurelie Chenaux, Kat Claxton, Triana Caldera, my excellent manager Maali Beck, and the fabulous team at Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Serenity Gardens (07.02.18)

I may occasionally complain to myself about less-than-perfect shows, but I also make a point to note the good ones. This was one. Photo by Kat.

No matter what you do, when you do something for a long time at a high level, your standards for your own performance become much different than those of your observers. In other words, I can play a live music show that sounds perfectly fine to you, and that you enjoyed and would tell friends that was great, while I'm here bitterly complaining about my perception of it having been terrible. Things I say after a less-then-stellar show...

"I just spent an hour slapping at my guitar."

"Great, I swooped up to literally every note I sang."

"How the fuck can you forget words to a song that are literally right in front of you?!?"

And so on. It's pretty well understood that every performer is his or her own harshest critic, and that we're rarely fair in our assessment of ourselves. Why? It's really easy to understand. First, our point of comparison isn't in regard to our own level of skill or experience; it's to the very best in history who have ever done whatever we do. Any deviation from a level that could be considered "perfect" can be thought of as a failure. Second, we're very familiar with ourselves. I mean, we are forced to attend every one of our own shows, right? So more than anyone else, we know when a show is particularly good, or particularly bad, or particularly mediocre, even if the differences are minor and almost negligible to the outside observer.

Another great night at Serenity Gardens. Photo by Kat.

Very Very Very... Good
That's why I can tell you that my show last night at Serenity Gardens was very, very, very... good. Looking through the 13 or so songs I played, there's not a single one that I can honestly say I could have performed better than I did. Does that mean I am super amazing and should be receiving honors and accolades, and international recognition and acclaim? No, of course not. I still am who I am, and after 40+ years of playing guitar and singing, as I've done since my childhood, my abilities are what they are. But I can honestly say that I am currently performing at a level that's as good or better than I ever have before, and my own assessment of last night's show is that there's very little, if anything, I could have done better.

I have no idea if my audience really noticed this. More importantly, I really don't care. I hope they enjoyed themselves, which is my only goal at each show, and it doesn't matter to me if they had some fun from my silliness or the songs I chose for my set or any other factor (including those having nothing to do with me, like the venue and the presence of their friends). But I do suspect that if they were familiar with my shows and were paying attention, they probably heard that I was playing guitar and singing pretty damn well. Or maybe they didn't. It doesn't matter. I heard it.

Why I Do Some Of The Things I Do
I do some things as a performer that on a general basis, you're not supposed to do. I occasionally say things between songs, or choose material to play, that I know could alienate some portion of my audience. I don't do these things without awareness. I also don't do them to purposefully antagonize people. When I mention political topics, or play a song for a particular reason based on a current event, it's because it's something that's important to me personally. I have the luxury of not relying on my music to pay my rent, and I can't say I'd display that degree of outspokenness if it were the case.

Still, the risks one runs by not being a vanilla performer who never addresses these topics in public are tangible, even in a minor way. I know for sure that there are people who have stopped attending my shows because they don't share my political and social outlook, and guess what? That's fine! They absolutely should make that decision for themselves, and I applaud them. Look, there are absolutely musicians and actors and other public figures who I absolutely would not patronize due to their support of alt-right bigotry, racism, xenophobia, and other traits I consider deplorable. I do try and keep my shows focused on the music... but even then, when I'm doing a Woody Guthrie song called "All You Fascists", it's pretty obvious where my feelings reside.

Me, being a digital rabble rouser. Photo by Triana Caldera.

My biggest priority, as mentioned above, is that my audiences enjoy themselves. To be clear, I don't spend a big chunk of time during my shows preaching about causes or politics of any kind, really. Many of my shows have zero mention of these topics. To explain why I do get into the social activism arena as part of my shows from time to time, there's a very simple answer. Historically, when forces of evil become predominant in the world, the question asked of people after the fact is, "Why didn't you do anything?" Well, I can't save the world, but I have a voice, and it's my responsibility to help promote awareness of things going on that absolutely will affect all of our lives. Even if just from the small things I do as part of my music performances, I can look back and know that I actively fought against things I find repugnant. Does it make a difference? Every drop in every bucket helps. I am sure of that.

One final note: since this was my show that was closest to the Fourth of July, I did make a point of doing a mini-set of Americana songs. I really do love this country! If I didn't, I wouldn't bother trying to fix it.

Serenity Gardens set list...
Airport Bar (Martin Courtney)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
*How Deep Is Your Love (Bee Gees)
The Waiting Boy (Zak Claxton)
Among the Leaves (Sun Kil Moon)
Bull Black Nova (Wilco)
Say Goodbye (Beck)
*All You Fascists (Woody Guthrie)
Man of Constant Sorrow (Traditional)
Pancho & Lefty (Townes Van Zandt)
Box by the Cliff (They Stole My Crayon)
Summer Breeze (Seals & Crofts)
Runnin' Down a Dream (Tom Petty)

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

Big thanks to every who came out to the show, and all of my shows, really. Special thanks to the following who helped support it!
Kat Chauveau, AaronCabottJones Resident, dls Falconer, RoxxyyRoller Resident, go2smoky Resident, Radslns Hutchence, Cash Benelli, Trouble Streeter, Triana Caldera, Boldmiss Resident, go2smoky Resident, Tyche Szondi, Turn Pike, Asimia Heron, Christine Haiku, RansomTalmidge Resident, Kat Claxton, Aurelie Chenaux, TheaDee Resident, my excellent manager Maali Beck, and the fabulous team at Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

"Families Belong Together" Rally In Redondo Beach (06.30.18)

It's looking to be an absolutely beautiful Sunday morning here in Redondo Beach, CA. The typical marine layer is starting to burn off, and it's going to remain in the low 70s. Redondo Beach, for those of you unaware, is a suburb of Los Angeles. We're part of a loosely-defined area called the South Bay which not only includes the three beach cities (Redondo, Hermosa and Manhattan) but also extends to areas like Palos Verdes and Torrance, San Pedro and Wilmington, El Segundo and Hawthorne, and more. There's an amazing amount of diversity in the South Bay... racially, economically, nationality, and every other way. But there's one thing that almost all of us have in common: we hate leaving the South Bay.

It's true. Sure, we venture into DTLA, Hollywood, the Valley, OC, and similar places for various reasons of work and entertainment. But we all scurry back to our homes as quickly as possible, and we're always glad to be back. Therefore, when we heard about the upcoming plans for a nationwide series of events to protest the separation of children from their parents at the US-Mexico border called Families Belong Together, we were somewhat saddened that up until a few days ago, out of the 700+ events listed, the closest ones were in Downtown LA or Long Beach. It's not that we wouldn't or couldn't have gone to one or the other. It's more about the fact that as a local community, it would have been really great to show our South Bay neighbors that many of us share the compassion we feel for these families.

I'll let you know right now that I'm not going to get into the pro and con arguments of immigration in this little blog post. Putting that entire conversation aside, I think it's safe to say that many Americans, across party lines, agree that it's simply inhumane and horrifying to tear a family apart as a purely punitive aspect. Seeing the footage of children being held in detention camps, and the reports of actual baby jails -- a thought so terrible that it caused Rachel Maddow to get choked up on air -- transcended the discussion of creating paths to legal immigration. The implications of our country going down a path that only the worst dictatorships had been down before was too much to accept without a fight. For that reason, Christina and I were intent on showing our support for this cause that's very important to both of us... even if it meant (sigh) getting in and out of DTLA. And, sweet Lordy, parking!

Arriving and taking out the little sign I'd drawn 30 seconds before leaving home. Hey, it worked. Photo by Christina.

All of that is why we were tremendously excited to find out earlier this week that someone named Yoshi had added a Redondo Beach rally to the event listings. It was to be held on the corner of Hawthorne and Artesia Boulevards, a very high-traffic intersection next to the South Bay Galleria. It's a location that's well known and central to the entire area, adjacent to Torrance and easily accessible by all. Smart move.

We didn't know who this Yoshi person was, or if anyone would actually attend the event, considering its very late addition to the listings. But we did know that if there was going to be an opportunity to be politically active and involved in a community event for a cause about which we're very passionate, we weren't going to blow it off. As we got into our Jeep to drive to the location (like five minutes from our home), I was envisioning a pathetic group of three or four people with signs standing on the corner. I would have gone anyway, if not just for the chance to thank the organizers and show them a little support.

We got there a bit early, about 20 minutes before the 11AM start time. It was funny; I was chatting with Christina as I slowly rolled through the Galleria's many parking areas.

"Hmm, not seeing much happening. Wait, there's a car covered with stickers for 'Bernie' and 'Coexist'. Oh, there are two old ladies holding an 'Impeach Trump' sign. There's a millennial woman in a pussy hat. Yup, this is the right spot."

There looked to be 40-50 people already there, but over the next half hour, the crowd swelled quickly. 100 people. 200 people. Folks gathering on all four corners of the big intersection and on the median. By the time the event was in full swing, it's estimated that our sleepy little community had 350+ people involved. But the energy went beyond the size of the crowd. These weren't just folks doing some political tourism; they were angry, and they weren't going to take 'no' for an answer. And yet, the prevailing feeling in the air was that of positivity, and I think I know why.

Taking it to the streets with my fellow residents of Redondo and all over the South Bay. Photo by Christina.

I feared there would be three people there; I didn't expect more than 300. Photo by Christina.

These people are feeling the power that they have as members of a democracy. We don't always agree on the details, but we do know that the power that we have to change laws -- by changing the leaders who make the laws -- is more important than ever before. In the 2016 election, Trump got 63 million votes, and Hillary got 66 million votes... and another 70 million or more didn't bother voting because they made assumptions about the outcome that turned out to be incorrect in ways that have -- and will continue to -- prove fatal to people in the USA and around the world. You can bet that things will continue to get worse as more SCOTUS appointments open up, and as the underground of racists, xenophobes, homophobes, and other hate-based groups get more and more emboldened.

A little clip of video we shot while departing the event and showing our support for our fellow rally goers.

It's enough to make some people cower in fear, but events like yesterday's Families Belong Together marches and rallies give courage to like-minded folks who might not realize that the grand majority of people agree with their views. And as a result, that encouragement will energize them to flex their power at the polls in the upcoming Midterm elections. I certainly didn't see fear in the eyes at yesterday's event. I saw determination, compassion, and confidence that each of them was an agent to affect change that is desperately needed. There's a long way to go on this issue alone... when and how will the children be reunified with their families? Are each and every one of the children indeed accounted for? What are the conditions in which they live until they are placed back with their parents? None of these have been adequately answered, and there may be no answers, now or ever.

It will surprise no one that Zak Claxton isn't afraid to lead a chant over a megaphone. Photo by Christina.

Power to the people! Photo by Christina.

I'm no politician or community organizer. I'm just some guy. But I vote, and I march, and I make it clear that I refuse to live in fear. If there's a cause that you want to get behind, try doing it from beyond the safety of your computer keyboard or phone. Find your local groups who share your views. Be aware of upcoming events. Take a chance and get out there physically, among the people. I promise that the experience will be worthwhile.