Saturday, September 29, 2018

Zak's Autumn Playlist 2018 - Episode 2

We're one week into Fall 2018, and it's quite lovely here in Redondo Beach, CA. We have some rain expected next week, which will be welcomed. In the midst of all the craziness going on with the Kavanaugh hearings and all the other madness of the world, I'm continuing a series of blog posts that highlight some of the music throughout the ages that offers the feel of my favorite time of year. Here's Episode 2.

1. Led Zeppelin: “Black Mountain Side” (1969)

2. Jaco Pastorius: “Portrait of Tracy” (1976)

3. Codeine: “Sea” (1994)

4. Unwound: “Demons Sing Love Songs” (2001)

5. Yawning Man: “Catamaran” (2018)

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Serenity Gardens (09.24.18)

In the midst of absolute political and social insanity heading into the 2018 Midterm elections, taking a solid hour to do live music with friends and fans at Serenity Gardens was a very welcome break! Photo by Triana Caldera.

I'm excited to talk about my show last night at Serenity Gardens in Second Life -- it really was a good one in all aspects -- but first, a few words about Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Not many words, I promise.

The Supreme Court is the highest court in the United States, of course. It has jurisdiction over all federal and state court cases regarding constitutional law. Almost no position in the country is more important than being a SCOTUS justice, since they determine the interpretation of the US Constitution in regard to how it applies to individual cases. Looking back through US history, many of the most momentous turning points of our country have been based on SCOTUS decisions, for good, bad, or otherwise. In 1857, they said that black people could not be US citizens, leading the country into civil war. In 1896, they said that the segregation of black and white people was legal (then changed their mind in 1954). In 1963, they ensured that criminal defendants have the right to an attorney, even if they were poor. In 1967, they shot down laws that prevented people of different races from marrying, and in 1973 they legalized abortion. In 1974, they unanimously determined that a US president can't use executive privilege illegally. Just a few years ago, in 2015, they determined that same-sex marriage was legal throughout the USA.

These are landmark moments for our country, and their decisions affect millions of people every single day. To be one of the nine justices on that court, it should be assumed that you are more than one of the country's leading authorities on Constitutional law (that's obviously a given). People should also expect their SCOTUS justices to be people of the very highest moral and ethical fiber. Think about it; to have a person on the Supreme Court who could be bribed, blackmailed, or swayed by party politics would have a devastating effect on the country. The standards to which we hold a person who might have this role for life are much, much higher than any other position in the country, including the President.

The thing I want you to ask yourself about Brett Kavanaugh, as these allegations of potential sexual assault and other negative behavior come to light, is simply this: of the dozens and dozens of people who have the background and qualification to be considered for a SCOTUS position, is this the very best candidate we have? I want Kavanaugh to be fairly considered, and for any and all of his accusers to be able to present evidence that will allow for the Senate to make an informed decision. If he indeed is the best of the best, and no other candidate will be able to do a more fair and impartial job once placed on the Court for life, then I'm happy to welcome him. If not, an alternate candidate must be named and the process will start over again until we do find the absolute best person for the job.

The Show
So, that's all I have to say about that. We're smack dab in the midst of Kavanaugh's confirmation hearings as I write this post, and it's doubtless that over a very short time frame, more info will come to light that will allow the Senate to make the right decision. Since that info isn't publicly available yet, I'll withhold further comment until there's a valid reason to provide an opinion. For now, let's talk about my show and some music.

If you ever saw the animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender, you'd be aware that the powers of certain benders would drastically increase at certain times. For the Water Tribe, this was during the full moon. For the Fire Nation, it was when a comet grew near. Well, for Zak the Music Bender, my abilities magically get better in the fall. I know it sounds ridiculous and is almost certainly a superstitious psychological effect at best, but I swear that at least in my mind, it's tangibly true. I sing better, I play guitar better, and I more easily write new songs between late September and Christmastime than at any other time of year. I actually said this unabashedly during my show last night, and went on to prove my own point.

Serenity owner Ilsa Flannigan had mentioned she was putting out her Fall/Halloween decor in advance of my show, but I'd forgotten how cool the place looked all decked out for the season. Here's my and my skeleton band onstage. Photo by Triana Caldera.

I also mentioned that with Joni Mitchell's 75th birthday coming on November 7, I would be playing one of her songs at each of my shows between now and then (not that it's very unusual for me to play her music regardless). For last night, I did my first-ever rendition of "The Last Time I Saw Richard". Doing Joni's piano-based songs on guitar is always a challenge, but I think it went well. Side note: I just did a search of my list of songs I've performed as a solo artist, and I currently have 33 Joni Mitchell songs I do. That's a lot; only Neil Young and David Bowie come close in my repertoire.

We had a nice crowd and people seemed to like what they were hearing. That's cool, but also cool is that I knew I was playing well and singing well, and I'm the most harsh critic of my own performance, so when I can play live music for an hour and at no point felt like I could have done much better than I did, I don't ask for more than that.

Serenity Gardens set list...
Saved by Zero (The Fixx)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
Things Behind the Sun (Nick Drake)
Love Hurts (Everly Brothers)
Them Bones (Alice in Chains)
My God Is the Sun (Queens of the Stone Age)
*Texarkana (R.E.M.)
*The Last Time I Saw Richard (Joni Mitchell)
Rikki Don’t Lose That Number (Steely Dan)
I’ve been Waiting for You (Neil Young)
Swing Low Magellan (Dirty Projectors)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)
*Serenity Improv in F#m (Zak Claxton)

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

Big thanks to all who attended the show, with special kudos to the following who helped support it!
RoxxyyRoller Resident, TheaDee Resident, Asimia Heron, Kat Chauveau, Sesh Kamachi, go2smoky Resident, Triana Caldera, Alex Zelin, loo Lytton, my very good manager Maali Beck, and the fabulous team at Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Zak's Autumn Playlist 2018 - Episode 1

At precisely 6:54 PM PDT tonight, the autumnal equinox arrives, and my favorite time of year begins. I thought that since so many of my favorite songs of all time have a Fall feel, I'd do a little blog series that helped to highlight some of this music for your ease in discovery and enjoyment. The goal is five songs each week throughout the season -- no promises, though. Here's Episode 1.

1. Nick Drake: "Riverman" (1969)

2. Joni Mitchell: "The Last Time I Saw Richard" (1971)

3. Steely Dan: "Home At Last" (1977)

4. Sun Kil Moon: "Ă…lesund" (2010)

5. Lou Barlow: "The Breeze" (2016)

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Serenity Gardens (09.10.18)

Getting into some autumn sounds at Serenity Gardens. Photo by Aurelie Chenaux.

As I do every other Monday throughout the year, I performed last night in Second Life at Serenity Gardens, which means that as usual, I'm writing this post on the following day, which happens to be Tuesday September 11. I've documented my own recollections of 9/11/01 a number of times before, most thoroughly in 2013 which you can read here. One of my most personal memories was not of the day itself, but of being in New York a couple of months after the tragic event on business. It was entirely bizarre. Everyone was extraordinarily polite, and the city itself, typically famous for its noise and hustle, was still very subdued. I didn't visit Ground Zero; it felt very wrong to be treating it like a tourist spot while bodies were still laying in halls of Javits Center as a makeshift morgue. But I was with a coworker in a cab on the way back to JFK, and as we crossed the Brooklyn Bridge he tapped me on the shoulder and pointed backwards. The sight of the Manhattan skyline with the gap where the World Trade Center buildings had stood made it all too real. I will never forget that moment.

In the years since then, I've made respectful remembrances of the event, as most Americans do and should. Unlike most of the world, we've been so fortunate in that after the early years of the country's formation (and our own civil war), we've had so few major attacks on our soil that 9/11 is impossible to overlook or forget, which is as it should be. It's sadly ironic that those of us who are immersed in political activism are sometimes called "un-American" by the opposing sides, while to me, it's obvious that we care more for the country than anyone who leads an apathetic life. That's why I can offer a perspective that American lives remain in severe peril even today, and yet the "Never Forget" crowd seems to be the first in line to deny this truth. Climate change is causing more dangerous and extreme weather patterns. The lack of attention to infrastructure leads to situations like unsafe drinking water in Flint, MI. The income gap between the extremely wealthy and a larger and larger segment of the population increases daily. And, of course, the policies of the current administration and treatment of America's allies and enemies alike may very well eventually lead lead to horrific acts of war and terrorism with death tolls that far eclipse 9/11.

None of this takes away from the sadness and rightful respectful remembrance of September 11. However, it does make you think what the future history books will say about the era in which we live today. "Why didn't they stop him? Why didn't they do anything about it?" will almost certainly be questions that our grandchildren and their children will be asking, and I don't have any answers. I can say that the small efforts I can make, like spreading the word about what's going on in the USA, and voting in the upcoming Midterm elections (and encouraging others to do so as well) will have its own small effect. Hopefully there are enough people who feel the same as I do that we can, collectively, push things back in a direction that's for the benefit of all Americans, and perhaps all people in the world. Meanwhile, a salute to the 9/11 victims, survivors, first responders, and everyone else affected is always appropriate on this day, and I offer it sincerely.

The Show
So, it's finally starting to cool down considerably here in Southern California. I awoke today to temps in the mid-60s and the high is only around 73 today. After yet another brutal season of high summer temps, the somewhat crisp weather is a hugely welcome change. I find it likely that we still have another heat wave ahead per our typical weather patterns, but for now it's amazing and refreshing. I was definitely inspired by this to build a set list for last night's show that was very autumnal.

A couple of notes. First, yes, I did improvise a song called "Being Creepy to Tyche", and it was as bad as it sounds. Second, I was reminded that Joni Mitchell's 75th birthday is coming pretty soon, and I will definitely be covering plenty of that amazing woman's music in tribute for the next couple of months. I did "Furry" for the first time in four years, and I was glad I did (despite having to make my audience be patient while I retuned, which is just par for the course for playing Joni's best stuff).

I guess they forgot to tell me it was Ladies' Night at Serenity Gardens. Where are all the dudes? No one knows. Photo by Aurelie Chenaux.

It turned out to be a pretty good show and a good time for me and, hopefully, the crowd. Photo by Aurelie Chenaux.

Serenity Gardens set list...
One of These Things First (Nick Drake)
Fire & Rain (James Taylor)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
*Being Creepy to Tyche Improv (Zak Claxton)
Half Moon Bay (Sun Kil Moon)
So. Central Rain (R.E.M.)
†Furry Sings the Blues (Joni Mitchell)
Abrasion (They Stole My Crayon)
Jane (Barenaked Ladies)
After the Gold Rush (Neil Young)
1979 (Smashing Pumpkins)
Pretty Pimpin’ (Kurt Vile)

*Indicates the first time I've performed this song in SL.
†As far as I can tell, I haven't performed "Furry" since September 2014 during a show at Hesperia of Templemore.

Big thanks to everyone who attended my show, with special thanks to those who helped support it!
Sinful Xubersnak, Kat Chauveau, Englishrose71 Resident, TheaDee Resident, Anastasia Yanwu, Aurelie Chenaux (who also provided the photos for this post!), Tyche Szondi, my manager Maali Beck, and the fabulous team at Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde.