Saturday, October 27, 2018

Zak's Autumn Playlist 2018 - Episode 6

It's a super quiet, foggy Saturday morning here in Southern California. I think it's extra subdued after people were up late last night, watching the Dodgers pull off a win in the 18th inning of Game 3 of the World Series. In seasonal news, I am now able to wear flannels on a regular basis since the temps are in the 60s/low 70s here at the beach. I'm enjoying this. Anyway, here's this week's Autumn playlist... five songs of fall each week in chronological order. We're already at episode 6. Tempus fugit!

EP 1EP 2EP 3EP 4EP 5

1. Miles Davis: “Blue In Green” (1959)

2. Lou Reed: “Perfect Day” (1972)

3. Slint: “Washer” (1991)

4. Kurt Vile: “Baby’s Arms” (2011)

5. Syd Arthur: “Forevermore” (2014)

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Zak's Autumn Playlist 2018 - Episode 5

The fall season is flying by; we're already at Episode 5 of this weekly playlist of songs that have an autumn feel. I think all the craziness going on around the country and the world as we get closer to the 2018 Midterm Elections might make it seem like time has sped into overdrive in some aspects. Anyway, enjoy Episode 5. Songs are listed weekly in chronological order.

EP 1EP 2EP 3EP 4

1. Neil Young: “After the Gold Rush” (1970)

2. Tindersticks: “Tiny Tears” (1995)

3. Beth Orton: “Stolen Car” (1999)

4. Elliott Smith: “A Fond Farewell” (2004)

5. Weyes Blood: “Generation Why” (2016)

Monday, October 15, 2018

Zak Claxton Endorses -- Part 1/2 -- Midterm Elections 2018 (Los Angeles County, CA)

Dave Chappelle had a bit from a number of years ago about white people being very secretive about who they vote for. I won't repeat the good part verbatim, but it involved a guy being offended by being asked who he was voting for, then immediately turning around and openly talking about intimate details of his sex life with his wife. While I definitely support people's right to maintain privacy about their voting, it does strike me as odd that classically, it was of distasteful etiquette to inquire about someone else's voting choices. The more recent political environment of the past few years has changed that to some degree; people feel a need to be more forthcoming about their political views since the stakes seem much higher than before.

That having been said, there are plenty of circumstances where remaining private about your voting choices is very, very important. I know people who are married to very conservative spouses who would be very angry with them if they were aware that they were voting in the opposite direction as them (sorry for the anonymous pronoun game here, but I don't want to be the cause of busting anyone). I also know people who live in areas or work at companies that are highly swayed in one political outlook who vote in the opposite way, and those folks might run into serious danger if they allowed their voting record to be public. So trust me, I get it and support it.

But me? I'm very open about whom I support, and since I vote early via mail, my selections are literally signed, sealed, and delivered already. Therefore, I'm doing a two-part post that may help those of you who remain undecided to make some choices. Part 1, today's post, is for my California ballot here in Los Angeles County. It's who I actually voted for, along with the ballot measure I chose to support or disapprove. Part 2, perhaps more important on the large scale, will be a synopsis of candidates I support across the USA in various regions. That will be forthcoming.

Why Would You Care?
One other note: why should you care who I'm voting for? I'm just some guy, a random person whose words you occasionally read, a performer and songwriter whose music you may have heard. The answer: you shouldn't care. You should make these decisions for yourself. However, I will say that my choices are based on quite a lot of research, and I stay very up-to-date with news and information about issues that affect us locally, nationally, and globally. It should be fairly obvious that my votes below are supportive of a liberal/progressive view, and yet I still refuse to merely vote along party lines. I would gladly vote for a Republican candidate if I truly felt he or she was the better choice, and if I didn't feel doing so would help legitimize the current GOP administration.

Here are my choices. You are welcome to ask me about the reasons for my decisions in the comments below.

Governor: Gavin Newsom
Lt. Gov: Eleni Kounalakis
Sec of State: Alex Padilla
Controller: Betty Yee
Treasurer: Fiona Ma
Atty General: Xavier Becerra
Insurance Commissioner: Ricardo Lara
State Board of Equalization (3rd District): Tony Vazquez

Kevin De Leon

US REPRESENTATIVE (33rd District):
Ted Lieu

STATE SENATOR (26th District):
Ben Allen

STATE ASSEMBLY (66th District):
Al Muratsuchi

"Yes" to all except for Carol A. Corrigan.

Superior Court Office 4: A. Veronica Sauceda
Superior Court Office 16: Patti Hunter
Superior Court Office 60: Holly L. Hancock
Superior Court Office 113: Javier Perez

Superintendent of Public Instruction: Tony K. Thurmond

Assessor: Jeffrey Prang
Sheriff: Alex Villanueva

Measure 1 (Bonds for housing programs and veterans’ home loans): Yes
Measure 2 (Bonds for homelessness prevention housing): Yes
Measure 3 (Bonds for water-related infrastructure and environmental projects): No
Measure 4 (Bonds for children’s hospitals): Yes
Measure 5 (Taxes for home buyers who are age 55 or older or severely disabled to transfer their tax assessments): No
Measure 6 (Repeals 2017’s fuel tax and vehicle fee increases): No
Measure 7 (Permanent daylight saving time): No
Measure 8 (Requires dialysis clinics to issue refunds for revenue above a certain amount): No
Measure 10 (Allows local governments to regulate rent): Yes
Measure 11 (Ambulance providers to require workers to remain on-call during breaks): No
Measure 12 (Bans sale of meat from animals confined in spaces below specific sizes): Yes

Measure W (Capture, clean and save up to 100 billion gallons of rain each year): Yes

Beach Cities Health District Board of Directors: Noel Lee Chun, Michelle Anne Bholat
Beach Cities Health District Special Election: Andrea N. Giancoli

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Zak Claxton Happy Fun Show (10.13.18)

Posted by Zak Claxton on Saturday, October 13, 2018

It was earlier this week that I had a realization that came in three parts.

1. I don't have another show scheduled until Monday 10/22.
2. It's been over six months since I last did one of my random live video shows that I call the Zak Claxton Happy Fun Show.
3. It felt like this would be a good time to do some tunes for people who don't typically get to see/hear my SL shows.

So that's what I did (and you can watch the archived video above). At noon today, I went live on Facebook for an hour, doing a show that's fairly similar to my SL shows except a) without being in SL and b) while a camera was streaming video of my performance. Most of my friends/fans know I've used a variety of platforms for live video streaming, but I've really narrowed down to just Facebook at this point for a couple of reasons. First, every one of the former platforms I was using became problematic with functionality, too many ad interruptions, or fee increases.

Second was my discovery of a little free app for MacOS called Livedesk for Facebook Live. The problem I'd had previously is that Facebook Live is really intended for people to livestream things from their phones, and for many purposes, that's just fine. But when I do a live music show, I don't want the limitation of my phone's built-in audio and video quality to be the way people perceive my music performance. What the Livedesk app does is allow my pro-quality audio and video interface systems from my Mac to be the source of the stream, making it equal in quality sound-wise to my SL shows, and looking pretty good in 1280x720 video from my Logitech web cam.

The show itself went really well. We had a good number of viewers, and since I had Christina here, I was able to glance over at her computer monitor and see who was chatting and therefore connect with the crowd a bit (rather than streaming into the ether with no idea who was out there, like a radio show).

ZCHFS set list...
One of These Things First (Nick Drake)
Blew the Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
Pretty Pimpin (Kurt Vile)
Airport Bar (Martin Courtney)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
So. Central Rain (R.E.M.)
Trouble Child (Joni Mitchell)
Among the Leaves (Sun Kil Moon)
Man of Constant Sorrow (Traditional)
Picked Up Off the Floor (They Stole My Crayon)
America (Simon & Garfunkel)
Say Goodbye (Beck)
Loser (Beck)

Huge thanks to all who saw the show! We had about 200 views of it during and afterwards, so hopefully that's a bunch of people who enjoyed what they were hearing.

Zak's Autumn Playlist 2018 - Episode 4

I'm creating this Episode 4 of my Fall Playlist while we're in the midst of a crazy lightning storm, at least by Los Angeles standards, so perhaps the excitement from the power of nature might be influencing this week's choices. Enjoy the tunes. Note that each week, the songs are in chronological order.

EP 1EP 2EP 3

1. The Rolling Stones: “Moonlight Mile” (1971)

2. Yes: “South Side Of the Sky” (1972)

3. Robert Plant: “Big Log” (1983)

4. Aimee Mann: “Red Vines” (2000)

5. Wolf People: “Kingfisher” (2016)

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Serenity Gardens (10.08.18)

Ah, a lovely evening at Serenity Gardens, all decked out for my favorite season. Photo by Thea Dee.

As is typical with this blog, I'm writing this post the morning after one of my live music shows in Second Life -- a particularly good one, which I'll get to in a moment. As my bi-weekly shows at Serenity Gardens are on Mondays, that means it's Tuesday, but it's not just any Tuesday. It's exactly four weeks until the 2018 Midterm Elections. People are typically not very excited about national election years when there's not a president on the ballot, and voter turnout is usually lower than those higher-profile presidential years. But this time around, things are a little different; it's the first opportunity since 2016, when Trump was surprisingly elected, that Americans have a direct opportunity to flex their democratic power.

I don't have to go into everything that's transpired since Trump got into office which might inspire you to take a few minutes and cast a ballot in person on November 6, or before that via mail or other early voting methods. I can, though, break it down into a few easy-to-understand bullets.

• Separating immigrant children from their families
• Installing accused sexual assault predator Brett Kavanaugh into the Supreme Court
• Voicing support for white nationalist groups
• Taking little or no action on regulation of guns
• Choosing an ongoing list of criminal cronies for his cabinet
• Profiting illegally off his position as president via both domestic and foreign sources
• Enacting discriminatory legislation against immigrants, LGBTQ citizens and others
• Potentially having won the presidency via foreign tampering in the US election system

Flipping congress to blue -- potentially both the House and Senate -- will not remove Trump, nor stop his continued self-serving plans. But having a Democrat-controlled legislative branch will make it tremendously more difficult for him to push through his more vile plans, and that's good enough for me. I'm genuinely not expecting any kind of impeachment proceedings. I just want the proper system of checks and balances that will make it hard to fuck up America more than has already happened. Please make sure to register to vote, to confirm that your registration is valid, and to vote... it's just four weeks away.

Good Show. Very Good Show.
It's rare that I'm completely happy with a show (see my many posts on musicians being hypercritical of their own performances). But last night's show was one of those that I can say, "This is about as good as I get." It doesn't mean I'm some amazing singer or guitarist. It does mean that within the scope of my abilities, sometimes I curate a set and then perform it, and I know that between the material and the way I play it, it's unlikely that I could do better than I did. That's a good feeling.

Rocking with my band of bone brothers. Photo by Thea Dee.

I should tell the rather funny story of performing Tracy Chapman's "Fast Car" for the first time. Typically, when I decide to do a song I haven't done before, I choose the tune, rehearse it a few times, and at the next opportunity, pull it out in front of an audience and see how it goes. This typically happens within a few days. Well, it took a little while longer with this tune... about eleven years, to be precise. It was in 2007 that I thought it would be a good tune to try out, and printed the lyric sheet at that time. Well, it just seemed that I could never perform that song at a level that the song merited. I know there were several times I pulled it out, tried it, and slid it right back into the pile.

Serenity Gardens set list...
All I Want (Joni Mitchell)
Northern Sky (Nick Drake)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
If I Had a Tail (Queens of the Stone Age)
*Fast Car (Tracy Chapman)
Perfect Day (Lou Reed)
Bang and Blame (R.E.M.)
All You Facists (Woody Guthrie)
Wildflowers (Tom Petty)
Shame Chamber (Kurt Vile)
Half Moon Bay (Sun Kil Moon)
On The Way Home (Buffalo Springfield)

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

Huge thanks to all who came out to the show, with special kudos to the follow who helped support it!
go2smoky Resident, Trouble Streeter, IlsaFlannigan Resident, Richy Nervous, rubycompton Resident, Tyche Szondi, Aurelie Chenaux, TheaDee Resident, my superb manager Maali Beck, and the fabulous team at Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Zak's Autumn Playlist 2018 - Episode 3

We had the ultimate fall weather letdown in the LA area this week... we'd been promised a good rainstorm and ended up with nothing at all. I'm hoping for some kind of serious precipitation sooner than later, but for now, let's continue with our Autumn Playlist with Episode 3. Note that each week, the songs are in chronological order.

EP 1EP 2

1. Al Stewart: “Year Of the Cat” (1977)

2. Carly Simon: “Boys In The Trees” (1978)

3. José González: “Crosses” (2003)

4. Jake Bugg: “Kitchen Table” (2013)

5. Mitski: “Two Slow Dancers” (2018)

Monday, October 1, 2018

Jerry (1999 - 2018)

Right after finishing my benefit show on Sunday afternoon for Relay for Life at SLCS, I went downstairs and I immediately sensed that something was wrong. As I walked out to my patio, I looked back into the living room, and all four of our cats were there, but our oldest kitty Jerry seemed to not be well and the other cats seemed to want me to notice this. It's hard to describe; she was laying down as she often did, but in an odd position, and just seemed deflated in some way.

Jerry had been going through a series of health problems that are common for any elderly animal, including humans. A number of months ago she was diagnosed with diabetes, which required some changes in her diet and a daily injection of insulin after her meals. But then, on top of the diabetes, she began having other health issues. She developed lymphoma, and her veterinarian had also recommended a biopsy.

When you have an animal that's going on 20 years old, you're faced with the difficult decision regarding the treatment of various maladies. While the procedure itself may extend the animal's life by a short while, eventually the inevitability of age-related problems catches up and you have to wonder whether what you're putting the animal through is worth the extra time you might get with him/her. There's a point where you have to put aside your own selfish desire to have your animal friend be there forever... and frankly, there are some parallels to human family and friends in this as well. In Jerry's case, we're talking about a feline that was the equivalent of a human who'd lived to be well over 100 years old.

Saying Goodbye
Anyway, I'd finished my show, and Christina joined me a couple of minutes later. The moment she walked out to the patio, she said, "I need to take Jerry to the vet." It was a pretty common thing to hear at our home in recent times, but there was a greater level of concern in her voice. I pointed out that I'd also noted Jerry wasn't looking too good. She couldn't even stand, and it was hard to see her in that condition.

Jerry had received excellent treatment by the folks at Hermosa Animal Hospital, a place that has helped care for every animal in my life for more than 20 years, but they are closed on Sundays, and there was another place nearby where Jerry had gone for health care. It's called VCA Advanced Veterinary Care Center, and it's where Hermosa Animal Hospital recommended for after-hour emergencies.

Christina scooped up Jerry into a carrier, and I got behind the wheel as we headed up to Lawndale. They took Jerry in right away, and we stayed in the waiting area while she was examined. When we were called back to the room, the prognosis was not good. Her temperature and blood pressure were both very low, and the treatment we'd been giving her for the lymphoma had caused a spike in her blood sugar. The vet who spoke to us was very kind and didn't push us toward any specific decision, but she said that the only thing they could do would be an aggressive treatment that involved Jerry being left there, sedated and hooked to IVs and so on.

For a younger animal who'd perhaps had many healthy years ahead of her, we'd have gone that route in a heartbeat. But at Jerry's age, Christina and I both knew that any effort to prolong her life wouldn't be fair to the cat, and would only satisfy our own selfish desire to hang on to her as long as possible. I left the room so Christina could spend a few minutes alone with Jerry while they prepped her for euthanasia. I am happy to say that in those last moments, when they got her warmed up and medicated so she was no longer feeling pain and discomfort, she purred and held Christina's finger with her paw. Then she was gone.

Driving back home with an empty carrier was among the more difficult things I've done in my life. I could barely see the lanes on Hawthorne Boulevard due to my vision being obscured with tears that flowed like a dam that had burst inside of me. I've been through it before; most people have if they're lucky enough to have grown close to an animal in their lives. But, as I told my son later that day, it never, ever gets easier. Not when you're nine, not when you're 29, not when you're 49. It's a hard thing to handle, tempered only by the knowledge that the animal you loved is no longer in pain.

A Proper Memorial
Jerry Lee was born in 1999 in Tacoma, WA. She was adopted as a kitten from Pierce County Animal Shelter by Christina. Jerry's namesake was Jerry Garcia, the founder and frontman of the Grateful Dead, because her tortoiseshell coat resembled a tie-dye. Jerry had many feline friends with whom she shared various residences over the course of her life, and was never an aggressive or overly territorial cat. She was equally friendly and kind to all humans who knew her.

Jerry had multiple residences in Washington before moving to Southern California in 2008. She seemed to enjoy a leisurely life, with her favorite activities including eating, sunbathing, and watching TV. She leaves behind her cat roommates Sneak, Dash, and Pan, as well as a number of humans who loved her company. She will always be remembered and missed.

Relay for Life Benefit at Second Life Cheerleading Squad (09.30.18)

SL Cheerleader Squad HQ is all decked out in a '50s-style theme for their RFL event. Photo by Kat.

When my manager Maali Beck asks if I'm interested in performing at a show supporting a trusted charity, my answer is nearly always a resounding "yes". It had been awhile since I'd done anything related to Relay for Life, the fundraising arm of the American Cancer Society, so I was glad to jump in and help.

In Second Life -- and almost certainly in any life, for that matter -- there are many different approaches to fundraising. Some of them are very focused, such as Frets Nirvana's monthly benefit shows for Homes For Our Troops, where you have a dedicated host who continually pushes the reason for being there and sets up programs like angel donors who match the funds, and so on. Others, like the Second Life Cheerleading Squad, do it in a much more casual way where they host a series of live performances and just happen to be donating whatever funds come in that day to the cause. To be clear: neither way is right or wrong, good or bad, and so on. Any charitable effort is to be commended.

Rocking the SLCS crowd for a good cause. Photo by Kat.

This was definitely one of the larger-sized venues I've played in Second Life. Photo by Kat.

It was my first visit to the headquarters of SLCS, a large football stadium-like structure with a big mezzanine. The stage itself was setup on the field. We had a good-sized crowd for the event, and while I have no way of knowing how well the event did or how much was raised, it's my general assumption that based on the generosity of my Zakster fans at previous fundraising events, we helped make an impact for on obviously great cause.

SLCS/RFL set list...
Big Yellow Taxi (Joni Mitchell)
Pink Moon (Nick Drake)
Strawberry Fields Forever (The Beatles)
Airport Bar (Martin Courtney)
Ripple (Grateful Dead)
*As Tears Go By (Rolling Stones)
One of These Things First (Nick Drake)
Blew the Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
Waiting for the Sun (The Doors)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Teach Your Children (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young)
America (Simon & Garfunkel)
Brain Damage/Eclipse (Pink Floyd)

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

Huge thanks to all who attended and gave to the cause to help fight cancer!