Monday, December 23, 2019

Homes For Our Troops (12.22.19)

Getting my holiday show for Homes For Our Troops started at Veterans Isle in Second Life. Photo by Kat.

Life is funny. When you're young, you think you have an idea of what it means to be "grown up". You associate it with things like being independent, responsible for your own needs and perhaps supporting a family and so on. And even as time goes by and you get older, there's no guarantee that at any specific point, you'll truly think of yourself as being a mature adult. You can have a job, have kids, buy a home, drive a nice car, any of those things that you recognized as being part of the process of being an adult, probably based on how you saw your parents and other older people who were influences on you.

However, I've found that there are steps beyond the things I mentioned above that allow you to start getting an understanding of what maturity is all about. I think that you truly have matured when you start spending your time and effort in making a difference in the world beyond the things that are your immediate personal priorities. It's 100% understandable that you give most of your focus on the actions you take to keep yourself and your loved ones happy and healthy and successful. No one would argue that. But as time goes by and you find that you are capable of doing those things, you hopefully realize that you are capable of more.

Photo by Kat.

One nice thing that performing live music in Second Life has given me is the opportunity to do just that... help others beyond myself and my family and friends. I can do this things because I am aware of and appreciate that I've been very fortunate to be in a position that I am able to take care of my own needs and still find that I have room to try and help others. Not everyone is in that position. But since I am, it's important to me to try and use whatever extra level of effort that I have to try and give back to the world in various ways. Second Life has provided a very convenient way to do that, in many different areas. I believe my first kind of charitable show was for the Relay for Life organization for the American Cancer Society, who has long held SL-based fundraising events. I've done plenty of other since then... shows benefitting the National Kidney Foundation, animal shelters, personal fundraisers for people facing various serious illnesses or tragic circumstances, and of course the Feed-a-Smile charity for school kids in Kenya. I've done multiple benefit shows for each of these and more. But to some folks, perhaps the most perplexing of the causes I support with my music is the Homes For Our Troops organization.

Peace, Love & Understanding
I've done many shows for HFOT in Second Life. At least a couple of times each year, Frets Nirvana asks if I can be a part of his monthly fundraising shows, and I don't think I've ever turned him down. Why would a person like me, who is utterly opposed to violence and military conflict, interested in supporting such a cause? I'd think the answer would be simple, but I'll say it anyway.

If someone is sent into an area in conflict and is severely injured, the top priority should be to ensure that those people are well taken care of upon their return. Sadly, that has never proven to be the case in America. More than 10% of our country's homeless population are military veterans. For those who make it back and are lucky enough to have a place to live, it is often not fit for the challenges they face via the injuries sustained in protecting our country.

I appreciate many things about about Homes For Our Troops. First, Charity Navigator gives HFOT a score of 91.69/100, meaning that they are very transparent with their fund distribution and that a huge portion of the money raised goes straight to those in need. I am always careful to support causes where the charity itself doesn't take an inordinate percentage of the funds as "operating expenses". Consumer Reports lists Homes For Our Troops as one of the highest-rated veterans charities in the country.

HFOT has a very specific mission... "TO BUILD AND DONATE SPECIALLY ADAPTED CUSTOM HOMES NATIONWIDE FOR SEVERELY INJURED POST-9/11 VETERANS, TO ENABLE THEM TO REBUILD THEIR LIVES." In 2019, the organization built 18 custom homes for these deserving servicemen/women. When I think about the idea that through the efforts of people like Frets, and my small part in joining him a couple of times per year to strum my guitar and sing a little and help raise some money... sure, it's a drop in the bucket, but every drop adds up. If you ever find yourself wondering if it's worthwhile... well, look at these folks and you tell me.

Christmas Songs
One other thing I want to mention. I generally have a few shows in the holiday season, and obviously it's the only time of year where I can do certain holiday-themed songs. They don'e go over so well when you pull them out in August. However, I ran into a bout of bronchitis this year -- not unusual for me in December, I should add. So my show last Monday had no singing at all; it became a story hour instead, which was fun. But when I found out I was performing on December 22 for the monthly HFOT benefit at Veterans Isle in SL, I knew that would be my one shot to pull out all the Christmasy musical goodness, and so I did. I didn't do an entire hour-long show of Christmas music; I know that people get burned out on that music, especially after hearing it basically daily for weeks. Instead, I mixed up some holiday tunes with some others that just had a good vibe for the event.

But I will say that while I do some Christmas songs in a super traditional way, I also try and throw my own arrangements together for certain tunes, and I really enjoy taking a well-known song and making it a little more my own, which I did for a couple of the songs I performed. And one last note: if you find yourself with an opportunity to use whatever talents you have to help other people... I can't advise you highly enough to do so. It feels great, and you will be aware that you've transcended into a new level of humanity. Think of it as "leveling up" in the video game we call life.

Photo by Kat.

Homes For Our Troops set list...
Airport Bar (Martin Courtney)
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen (Traditional)
Among the Leaves (Sun Kil Moon)
Holly Jolly Christmas (Burl Ives)
Long December (Counting Crows)
America (Simon & Garfunkel)
Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth (Traditional/David Bowie)
Comes a Time (Neil Young)
Peace Love & Understanding (Elvis Costello)
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas (Blane/Martin)
Your Song (Elton John)
Walk on the Wild Side (Lou Reed)
The Christmas Song (Nat King Cole)

Huge thanks to each and every person who came by my show at Veterans Isle, with special thanks to the generous people who helped to put on the event and those who gave to the cause. You are all heroes!

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

'A Christmas Carol' at Serenity Gardens (12.16.19)

Not my typical kind of show... but pretty fun nonetheless. Photo by Kat.

As the old saying goes, when life hands you lemons, make lemonade. Or, when life hands you bronchitis, make a complete fool out of yourself by doing the weirdest live performance that you've ever attempted.

Perhaps I should back up a bit. I'd been dealing with something that is, unfortunately, quite familiar to me. Starting a number of weeks ago, I'd noticed that I was wheezing a bit. There was an annoying whistle while I was exhaling, especially at night, and I was getting coughing fits from time to time. This is never a good sign, but in my typical fashion, I decided to ignore it and hope it would just magically go away on its own. I should also note here that as a smoker for decades, there's always that niggling thought that perhaps my wheezing and coughing fits meant that I was actually close to death in some way. But I try not to get paranoid, at least very often, and besides, I was super busy with work and life.

Well, it didn't go away. I was feeling pretty ill and the coughing and wheezing seemed to be worsening, so last Thursday, after a particularly bad morning of breathing problems the day before, I went down the street to Ocean Medical here in Redondo Beach. Ocean Medical is an urgent care center for most people; for me, they've been my primary care physician for the past 25 years or so. I like them. After an examination which showed me to be otherwise healthy with the exception of my poor lungs, a diagnosis of bronchitis was given... something I've had far too often in life and that probably would be less of an issue if I didn't smoke, which is a whole other story. But my fine medical professional Casey prescribed me a strong antibiotic along with a steroid and an inhaler, and within a few days, I was feeling a million times better. Note: yes, I'll be finishing my antibiotics. People who don't finish their antibiotics are dangers to the entire world, creating superbugs from the strong bacteria that survive the initial onslaught. But I digress.

What, you don't take selfies in the exam room? Whatever. I can't be the only one.

Did You Have a Point To All This?
Yes. Yes I did. I was scheduled to do my bi-weekly live music show at Serenity Gardens in Second Life on Monday December 16, and as I mentioned, I was starting to feel a lot better. But there's a big difference between a person feeling well enough to, say, work and go grocery shopping and do laundry, versus standing and singing at full volume for a full hour. Singing requires very strong lung power (which should seem obvious, but sometimes isn't for people who've never done it on a professional basis), and while I'm definitely getting better and better, I was not yet in a place where I could confidently do my typical Zak Show.

The obvious solution would be to cancel the show, and on Saturday, I came within moments of just messaging Ilsa Flannigan who runs Serenity Gardens and letting her know that I simply wasn't healthy enough to make the show. She'd have understood and it would have been fine; these things happen all the time with live performers, especially here in the middle of sickness season. She'd have easily found someone to sub in for me that night. No big thing.

But I really do enjoy my shows there, and missing one night of a bi-weekly show means you're missing for a full month. But I knew singing was out of the question. As an experienced musician, I knew that one option would be to simply get out my guitar or keyboards and do a full hour of instrumental music with no singing at all... but it's been my general observation that audiences in Second Life are either into that kind of thing or not, and frankly my crowd really enjoys the more intimate and personal aspect of a show with vocals. So then, a thought occurred to me, and it wasn't a new one; I'd considered this possibility on many other occasions but never went through with it. What if, I thought, I did a show that wasn't based on music at all? What if I spent an hour telling some kind of story instead? Talking, while still taxing, isn't nearly as hard as singing, lung-wise.

Scrooge McClaxton, professional dramatic actor. Photo by Nina Rose Setner.

I made the decision there on the spot. I'd do some kind of storytelling or acting performance instead of singing. But what to do? Well, it's the time of year that in music or other kinds of performance that the holidays are an expected theme... and there was one story that had been integral to my life around Christmastime my entire life. It was Charles Dickens' classic 1843 tale A Christmas Carol, sometimes popularly known as Scrooge due to its memorable main character. So I set about thinking through what I'd want to do for a good performance of the short book. Being who I am and wanting to put on a memorable show, my mind went to the full extreme of building a set and rehearsing a special version of the tale and having multiple avatars in SL to enact the whole thing. Then I remembered that I had less than two days to pull this off, so I scrapped all of those ideas and settled on getting an appropriate Scrooge-looking outfit (was there one available on the SL marketplace? Of course there was), and a Victorian-era chair, and just reading the book. This... almost worked.

Timing and Pacing
let me tell you a little difference between playing music and acting in a play. When you go to a concert, there's no real expectation of what songs are going to be performed, or how many of them will be done. If I have an hour-long set, this ranges somewhere between 11-14 songs, depending on the length of each tune and the time I spend between songs chatting with the crowd, and other typical factors. No one knows or cares if I get through all the songs I might have planned to play; each song is a little three- or four-minute self-contained work of art.

But a movie or play or other acting performance is very different. It is a longer single work with a start, a middle, and an end, and randomly skipping any of these parts leads to a less than ideal experience for the audience. Sure, you have episodic presentations like a TV series where you can have small parts of a story spread out over a long time frame... but I didn't have a long time frame. I had exactly an hour between when Grace McDunnough's set ended ay 6:00 and Aaron Cabot Jones' set started at 7:00. Had I planned this out weeks ahead of time, I could have gone through and heavily rehearsed and edited and planned out what would fit well in an hour time slot while still getting across the meat of the story. But no, I had a day, basically.

I will say that fortunately, my audiences in Second Life are very forgiving. While I did manage to get through all of A Christmas Carol before my show ended, I had this realization with about 20 minutes left in my show that I had well over half the book still to go, including all of the most important plot elements. I think I'd just started the visit from the ghost of Christmas past at that point. Yeah. So I started "fast forwarding" through the story in ways that were neither graceful nor unnoticeable. In fact, I think I said, "And then several other things happened!" a few times while frantically scrolling my iPad's Kindle app to find the next point of the plot to which I could jump. I found myself laughing about this, and my crowd all understood this as well.

Usually my audience is dancing, but many of them struck an appropriate pose for story hour. Photo by Kat.

On the bright side, while I'm not a very experienced or well-trained or perhaps talented actor, I managed to maintain a small level of consistency while trying to do 11 different voices in various Victorian-era male and female and ghostly English accents. I'd like to think that the majority of people couldn't do that, or at least would be smart enough to not try. But I did, and sometimes, that's what it's all about. Make the effort. You don't have to be great. No matter what it is that you find yourself doing... singing, acting, dancing, cooking, crafting, and much more... if you're trying it and enjoying it, you're miles ahead of the person who never even tries.

So I'm quite happy with the silly dramatic performance I did last night, and apparently I wasn't the only one. Ilsa told me after the show that she had a number of people requesting that we make "Holiday Story Time" an annual event, and with a little more time to prepare and plan and rehearse, I'll bet it could actually be something really good, as opposed to being good in spite of itself as last night's show could charitably be called. Bah! Humbug!

Huge thanks to everyone who came out to Serenity Gardens for this unusual Zak Show, with special thanks to those who helped support the show!
Triana Caldera, Maurice Mistwallow, Kat Claxton, Harley Wytchwood, Kitzie Lane, Barbara Mixemup, Celeste Ewing, my excellent manager Maali Beck, and the fabulous team at Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde!

Sunday, December 8, 2019

My 19 Top Indie Music Albums for 2019

'Tis the time of the season to look back upon the year that just transpired and, for no reason, to say some things were better than others.

Actually, that is complete bullshit. I could probably list 1900 albums of music that were cool in some way and came out during the past calendar year. These sort-of random 19 albums were just ones that happened to catch my attention at some point, and that I felt were worthy of inclusion to note what sort of music I was vibing to at various points in 2019. Speaking of which: while you'll note some commonalities in the song samples below, I'm more and more of the opinion that we live in a post-genre world now. Granted, while you won't find much in terms of hip-hop or country or Top 40-style pop, these indie artists and bands all have their own sound going on. If you force me to use the words that people use to help define this stuff, it ranges from psych rock to bedroom pop to shoegaze to indie folk to dream pop, but none of that really matters. What matters is that I like it.

Note: these are presented in alphabetical order only; the whole "ranking of art thing" is not something I'm into, ever.

Big Thief: Two Hands

I discovered Big Thief by getting into their singer/guitarist Adrienne Lenker with the release of her solo album last year. Being a creative musician who doesn't get to spend as much time on music as I'd like, I'm a bit jealous because this year, the band put out not just one but two albums, and they were both really pretty damn good. The second of those two, Two Hands, rates special mention with its solid nature in both songwriting and production.

Bill Callahan: Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest

Drag City
There's something amazing about Bill Callahan's voice alone. That low and dry vibe seems so lacking in emotion that for whatever reason, it ends up having the opposite effect. Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest is Callahan's first new album in over five years and it's just really great. He's really come a long way since his lo-fi work in Smog, and he's really getting into that class of writer that reminds me of Townes Van Zandt or Tom Waits. Really good.

Black Belt Eagle Scout: At the Party With My Brown Friends

Saddle Creek
Her name is Katherine Paul, goes by KP, grew up on a reservation in Washington State, and she's cranked out her first two albums in consecutive years. Interesting fact: I usually scoff at statements like, "bringing a voice to queer Indigenous experiences", and yet I can't think of another musical artist who fits that description, so mission accomplished. Plus, I just really enjoy these songs. I don't know if they are supposed to be for me, per se, but I hear something in them that merits special mention among the best of the year.

Cate Le Bon: Reward

Mexican Summer
This Welsh lady is super impressive, and her latest album is super interesting from standpoints of songwriting and production and arranging and performance. Whenever a musician does something that I'd never consider doing, I feel compelled to wonder where it came from, and sometimes question if I might like trying it too. That's a really good sign, and I get that from Reward. Super coincidental side note: Cate co-produced the Deerhunter album that you'll find on this list below.

Chastity Belt: Chastity Belt

Hardly Art
Co-produced by Jay Som (the second time on this list that one of my favorite artists of the year worked with another one), Chastity Belt's self-titled fourth album is a little less raucous and a little more dreamy and introspective than their previous efforts, but I think it's fantastic. I've been a fan for quite awhile (and have covered their music) and it's always difficult to say exactly what it is about this PNW-based band that I enjoy so much... but I do, I do.

Crumb: Jinx

Rough Trade
So, first, you gotta know I have a predilection toward psych pop of any kind, having been an early adopter to bands like Tame Impala, Unknown Mortal Orchestra and many others. When I heard this full-length debut by Crumb, I recognized a whole lot of things I liked right away. It was one of those, "I'm listening for the first time but I'm singing along" moments. And I just really like Lila Ramani's voice for some reason. I don't need to explain why. The whole album is great.

Deerhunter: Why Hasn't Everything Already Disappeared?

Speaking of Unknown Mortal Orchestra, I saw them a couple of times, and one of those times was along with Deerhunter at Pappy & Harriet's in Pioneertown, CA. It was during the week between the two weekend shows of Coachella in 2016, and I deeply enjoyed both bands. Why Hasn't Everything Already Disappeared? isn't my favorite Deerhunter album -- that would be either Halcyon Digest or Fading Frontier -- but it's solidly good, and both Bradford Cox and Lockett Pundt are super interesting songwriters in their own distinct ways.

Desert Sessions: Vol. 11 & 12

Do I like everything that Joshua Homme does musically? Um, yeah, I'd have to say yes. From Kyuss to Queens of the Stone Age to Them Crooked Vultures and more, the dude is one of the key voices of my generation. As most of you know, I have this affinity toward the desert... especially the high desert and the Joshua Tree area where the Desert Sessions projects have been recorded. This particular set of albums features Josh along with a cast that includes Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top), Stella Mozgawa (Warpaint), Carla Azar (Jack White), Jake Shears (Scissor Sisters), and a cavalcade of others making this Desert Sessions release as unique and interesting as any of the volumes before it.

DIIV: Deceiver

Captured Tracks
This album was probably my surprise of the entire year. I'd heard DIIV plenty of times before but nothing off their first two albums really jumped out at me as being outstanding. Deceiver is something else entirely. It's darker, sonically and lyrically. It's grungy. It's powerful. I honestly love every song and can listen through this album start to finish and want to put it on again. I'm trying not to pick favorites on this list, but if I were, this would be a pretty easy choice.

German Error Message: Mend

German Error Message
This is not the first time German Error Message made one of my year-end lists. He's a Nashville-based indie songer-songwriter named Paul Kintzing and he's definitely a special talent. I like the softness of his songs. I like the way he patiently takes his time to let songs build and swell. I also like the fact that it's not easy to pigeonhole him into any of several subgenres. But his folky, somewhat ambient bedroom pop is done superbly, and Mend is a great example of his work for people who have yet to check him out.

Girlpool: What Chaos Is Imaginary

If this album seems familiar to readers of my blog, that's because I dedicated an entire post to it when it came out earlier this year. The topic of the post was a deep dive into the musical perspective of Cleo Tucker's gender transition; they had recorded the demo as a female, but the album was recorded after Tucker's transition to male. Fascinating stuff. What I didn't do at the time was talk about how What Chaos Is Imaginary is a simply outstanding album regardless of the story behind it. The music of Cleo and Harmony has matured tremendously since the first time I saw them on an NPR Tiny Desk concert in 2015. This album deserves its position on many of this year's "best of" lists, including mine.

Great Grandpa: Four of Arrows

DOuble Double Whammy
This is the second album from this Seattle-based indie group, but like a lot of young bands, they seem to have matured after going through some shit. That's usually when I get my greatest enjoyment out of a band, so if you're worried about the pain you're going through as a songwriting musician, just know that others will probably benefit from your fucked up situation. Yay!

Jay Som: Anak Ko

I really don't have enough good things to say about Jay Som. I somehow got into her music super early, flipping through music on Bandcamp one day in 2015 and finding her demos. I've followed her progress as a writer and producer ever since -- she creates her albums by herself in her home studio. It's really no surprise, for me anyway, that she wrote Anak Ko during a retreat to Joshua Tree. Assuming she doesn't burn out, I can promise more excellent stuff in the future from this young and super talented artist.

Marika Hackman: Any Human Friend

Sub Pop
I have to admit, my first exposure to Marika Hackman was via the rather lascivious nature of the video for her song "Hand Solo", an ode to female masturbation. But it was enough to pull me into this album which is going to hit many year-end "best of" lists. I like her vibe- er, the mood of her songs... poppy but dark, which is always a trigger for me. By the way, if you note that a lot of LGBTQ artists seem to make my lists every year, that's because a lot of them seem to make really fucking great music. There you go.

Pixx: Small Mercies

I stumbled across Hannah Rodgers, aka Pixx, right as she started out with the outstanding debut EP she released in 2016 at age 19, and her follow up LP was cool but a little too electronic for my own tastes (let's face it; I like guitars). With this year's Small Mercies, she's found this hybrid of indie rock while still keeping her newer electronic influences, and I think it's her best yet... with likely much more to come.

(Sandy) Alex G: House of Sugar

I guess I'm late to the (Sandy) Alex G trip; House of Sugar is the seventh album from this Philly-based singer-songwriter. But holy shit, it's great. Much like a couple of the artists listed above, Alex records himself at home, which is where he's most comfortable, but despite getting the "lo-fi" tag early on, I find a lot of the stuff on this latest album to be quite sophisticated from a production standpoint. "Gretel" is up there in my favorite songs of the entire year.

Sasami: Sasami

It's always kind of neat when I find an artist with which I'd been previously unfamiliar, and then became aware that I'd enjoyed them previously without even knowing it. That's the case with Sasami, who (unbeknownst to me) was a member of LA-based grunge band Cherry Glazerr for a couple of years. Her self-titled solo album is excellent. It hits all the right buttons for me, with spacious synths, shoegaze guitars, and wistful vocals. Totally dig this.

Wand: Laughing Matter

Drag City
Wand is another band that I'd been aware of for some time and enjoyed, but never to the point that I'd considered them one of the best of the best. Laughing Matter is something else entirely; it's sophisticated yet human, tight and clean while raring its head to be grungy and dirty. I am supremely impressed and feel like I still have a lot of time to spend listening to and absorbing this fantastic record.

Weyes Blood: Titanic Rising

Sub Pop
Natalie Mering has one of the most beautiful voices I've ever heard; her rich, vibrato-laden alto puts her in a class with Karen Carpenter and few others. You can consider her sound schlocky or overly sentimental, but I find that her music comes from a place of genuineness and truth. And, like I said, it's just beautiful, and that's reason enough for her to once again make my list of the year's best.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Serenity Gardens (12.02.19)

Kat's old computer is long gone, and while she's received her new one, it wasn't in time for her to have it set up to attend my show at Serenity Gardens (or take any pics). So, here's me the night before my show.

Before I get to last night's show at Serenity Gardens in Second Life, I should mention a very important -- and unfortunately very sad -- real life event that transpired recently. Over the pre-thanksgiving weekend, Christina and I spent a few days in the Pacific Northwest. I wish I could tell you that we were going up to her hometown for a happier reason, but that is not the case. It was for her sister Tova Woodruff's memorial event. Tova had been diagnosed with an aggressive form of gastric cancer in March, and despite taking every measure to courageously treat it, the cancer spread to other parts of her body and eight months later, she was gone at 38 years old, leaving behind a husband and two wonderful small children, Simon and Evelyn, all of whom will miss her greatly as time goes by.

Over the past couple of years, I've had seemingly more than my share of death in my life. Part of it is just the aspect of getting older; the longer you're around, the more likely that those to whom you are close are also getting older or otherwise running the risk of being affected by things like cancer and other hard-to-fight diseases, or just simply old age. I don't fear death per se, though I have a healthy aversion to it. I recall not long ago that someone was interviewing the actor Harry Dean Stanton, who was in his late 80s at the time. He said, "The only fear I have is how long consciousness is gonna hang on after my body goes. I just hope there’s nothing, like there was before I was born. The void, the concept of nothingness, is terrifying to most people on the planet. And I get anxiety attacks myself. I know the fear of that void. You have to learn to die before you die. You give up, surrender to the void, to nothingness." Harry died a few years later. Hopefully he found his void.

It's a very, very difficult concept to process... the idea that the world keeps going on, but you're just not part of it. A huge portion of the entire shared culture of humanity is the idea of an afterlife. I'm not just talking about ideas like heaven and hell. There are plenty of atheists who believe in ghosts and spirits and psychic energy from beyond the grave. There are religions whose followers believe in reincarnation. Obviously, I can't say that any of them are right or wrong, but all of these concepts seem to share the commonality that human consciousness goes beyond the physical construct of your brain and the collective thoughts that make up what some would refer to as your soul, and that this consciousness is somehow so important in the universe that it continues on long after the rest of the mechanism of your body has had its demise. Some believe it continues for eternity.

I'm not here to dispute that idea. It's very comforting. But I also respect Mr. Stanton's more Zen-focused viewpoint, which teaches the importance of living in the present and appreciating what's around you here in this world, for whatever limited time you have in it, rather than awaiting some better world beyond it. Logically, since none of us know that an afterlife exists, it makes sense to me to try and lead a good life in this realm. In my view, the biggest victims of death are not the dead; it's the ones who are left behind and have to continue on without that person in their lives. That's the hard part. I have friends and family members who've passed away who I will miss for the rest of my life. If you think about it, you really want to lead the kind of life that causes others to miss you when you're gone, so the fact that I continue to regret their passing speaks to the quality of people they were.

I was happy to help out Christina and her family in any way I could with Tova's memorial, so I designed the program book for the event, which was on Sunday November 24.

Meanwhile, Amongst the Living...
Tova's "Celebration of Life" event went very well. Lots of family members and friends old and new attended, and the service was likely cathartic for everyone and added some closure to the pain of Tova's passing. If I could have wished for one thing to make the entire event easier on Christina -- who was, as some of you may know, extremely close to Tova -- it would have been for the aspect of traveling up to the Seattle area a smooth journey without any extra difficulties to add to her grief.

That's pretty much the opposite of what happened. We were scheduled on a 3:25 flight out of LAX to a relatively new airport for commuter traffic called Paine Field. It's in Everett, about 50 miles north of SeaTac airport where we'd usually have to use as our destination. It was much more convenient to where her family lives and where the memorial event was to be held. As we were on our way to the airport, Christina got a notice that our Alaska Airlines flight had been cancelled. That was disappointing, but these things happen. She was able to rebook us on another flight, albeit into SeaTac, where we had to rent a car and drive up to Everett. It was the return experience that was about as bad as they get. We arrived at Paine Field with plenty of time to spare, and at first it looked like everything was going along just fine.

But then, we were told that our plane had a mechanical issue, and there would be a delay. Fine, okay. No one wants to fly in a plane with problems. The hour delay turned into two hours. Then three. Then four. Finally, about five hours after our scheduled departure time, the gate staff got on the PA to announce that our plane was now fixed... but the flight crew had "timed out" and they had no one to take us on our journey. It seemed that this was something they could have determined long before it actually happened. We were handed a voucher for a cab all the way back down to SeaTac, where we just barely made a flight that took us home. Christina and I were both just weary and exhausted; it had been a cold and emotional trip, and dealing with a travel nightmare was the last thing we needed. In the interest of fairness, I will say that Alaska issued us each $250 travel credits, so at least they tried to make good on the fiasco. But frankly, as a person who is less than enamored with travel under the best of conditions, I am further inclined to simply stay home and interact with people and places via phone, Internet, virtual environments, and other ways that don't inevitably disappoint me. Grimly funny side note: with both our departing and returning flights on Alaska having been cancelled as such, I still have never flow into or out of Paine Field, and now it's likely that I never will.

Those aren't Southern California trees. Outside the hotel with Christina in Mukilteo, WA.

Hey, How Was That Show?
The show on Monday night was great. I have a select group of songs -- some holiday-oriented, some not -- that I tend to only do in December. It was nice to have a reason to pull out those rarities. We've had a consistently good crowd at Serenity Gardens in recent times, and following Grace McDunnough feels like I have an audience there who will be receptive to my stuff. I've enjoyed every show since this Monday night lineup was solidified some months ago.

Me, looking happy at Serenity Gardens in avatar form.

Serenity Gardens set list...
Long December (Counting Crows)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Northern Sky (Nick Drake)
Carry Me Ohio (Sun Kil Moon)
River (Joni Mitchell)
Pretty Pimpin’ (Kurt Vile)
Pecan Pie (Golden Smog)
Everlong (Foo Fighters)
*Don’t You Forget About Me (Simple Minds)
Wildflowers (Tom Petty)
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas (Blane/Martin)

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

Big thanks to everyone who came to my show, and super huge thanks to the following who helped support it!
AaronCabottJones Resident, Diana Renoir, Jaron Metaluna, Kat Chauveau, Diana Renoir, WitchUser Resident, Mimi Carpenter, Rusty Seisenbacher, Tyche Szondi, Nina Brandenburg, go2smoky Resident, Asimia Heron, RenoJones Resident, Trouble Streeter, my excellent manager Maali Beck, and the fabulous team at Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde!

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Serenity Gardens (11.18.19)

Since Kat's computer has decided to not function any more, I haven't had the benefit of her fine photos while doing my shows in SL, so here's me standing all alone at Serenity Gardens before my show.

This is a note to myself in the future. Hello Future Me! Hope you're doing well. Go drink some water or something. You're welcome.

Things are okay here in late 2019, Future Me. I actually have a lot for which to be grateful. The world itself seems to have a bunch of problems, and frankly it usually does. But all in all, personally, I'm pretty good. I own a marketing communications business that's busier than it's ever been in the 13-1/2 years since I started it in 2003. I remain committed to daily exercise and am still in pretty good shape health-wise. My son is in his second year of college and while he doesn't have a specific path moving forward at the present, I'm confident that he'll eventually find a direction with what he wants to do with his life. He's a smart and funny guy. And, at the moment, it being late November, I'm in the midst of a crazy work routine getting ready for that Trade Show That Shall Not Be Named. I'm sure you understand, Future Me.

We live in lovely Redondo Beach, right here in the same neighborhood where I've lived since 1995. Are you still there in Redondo, Future Me? You very well might be. It's a good place to live. Plus, as you know, moving is a giant pain in the ass, and we enjoy the steady routine of our daily home life.

Speaking of life, it has its ups and downs. It's definitely had a bunch of that over the past few years, both on a global scale and a personal one. We've lost some family members and friends, and have been forced to devote a lot of time and energy fighting policies and actions of our own government throughout the Trump administration. To that end, we're currently monitoring the impeachment hearings that started last week. Christina and I have a new tradition; each time we pour a cup of coffee, instead of saying something like "cheers", we say "impeachment". I'm not a superstitious person, but it does seem to be having its intended effect. I'm not very confident that impeachment will result in Trump being removed from office, but really, anything could happen. I'm kind of jealous of you, Future Me. You already know how all this crazy shit turns out.

My overall feeling -- something that, coincidentally, I mentioned to my audience last night at Serenity Gardens -- is that things are going to be on an overall path of getting better for a lot of people. Sometimes the direction of "better" isn't a straight line, and chances are that in the process of getting better, things will occasionally seem worse. But, Future Me, I can say that today at age 50, the older I get, the less I am focused on my own self and personal success, and the more I am able to look at the overall picture of the world. I know I'll have plenty of challenges ahead of me; that's the way life goes. But I also envision a better world for everyone as time marches on. Not a perfect world, but a better world.

Me, about age 25, in 1994. I actually thought I knew things then. I now know that I know less than I ever thought I did.

Speaking of envisioning things, I know that had I written a note to myself 20 years ago from my perspective at age 30, I'd have been incredibly wrong about most of my predictions of the future. I'd be rolling my eyes a lot at my relative naivety, and admonishing my past self for my former level of cynicism and my lack of understanding of all the ways the future can go in directions I couldn't have seen at the time. My life has changed drastically since then, and it's impossible to say that things would be better or worse based on the decisions I made, and actions I did or didn't take, and various events that transpired since then. But overall, I am a happy person still. I'm more open minded now than I was then. I'm more willing to acknowledge that I know far less than I think I know. And my values today are less self-centered than they were then... at least in some ways. And going back to my original statement... things are okay here in late 2019. Far from perfect, but okay, and I can appreciate that. Sometimes okay is enough. Don't you agree, Future Me?

Um... Isn't This Blog About A Show?
Yes. Yes, it is.

For the past 2-1/2 years, I've performed every other Monday night at Serenity Gardens. I really do love it there. I feel a high degree of comfort when I get on that stage... a feeling that has actually increased over the course of time. In recent months, especially with Grace McDunnough performing directly before me, I feel like the crowd there is very simpatico with my music as I start my set. Sometimes I try and put together some kind of theme for my show there, but last night was just me being me, doing songs I felt like doing when I built my set list over the previous weekend.

Something I'm sure I've mentioned before: there is a dearth of actual Thanksgiving songs. Mind you, there are plenty of songs about being thankful, and I play several of them from time to time. But actual songs about the holiday of Thanksgiving? Few and far between. It's a shame, because it's up there with my favorite holidays. I bring this up because I briefly considered doing a Thanksgiving-themed set at Serenity Gardens and then, discovering as I do each year at this time that there just aren't enough Thanksgiving songs for it to work, abandoned the idea. Speaking of Thanksgiving, I find that I am fully looking forward to a few days of cooking and gluttony next week.

But back at the show, things went well, and we ended up with a nice mix of songs covering different genres and time frames in music, and if nothing else, I enjoy being one of the more eclectic performers on the SL music scene. It's always kind of fun for me when I launch into a song and find I've taken some of my audience by surprise. Good times.

Serenity Gardens set list...
Save It For Later (English Beat)
Airport Bar (Martin Courtney)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
Bull Black Nova (Wilco)
If I Had a Tail (Queens of the Stone Age)
Among the Leaves (Sun Kil Moon)
Doubt It (Zak Claxton)
Mexican Radio (Wall of Voodoo)
Your Song (Elton John)
Straight On (Heart)
Pickles (Zak Claxton)
America (Simon & Garfunkel)

Giant thanks to every single person who made it to my show last night, with super duper thanks to the following who helped support it!
AaronCabottJones Resident, Kat Chauveau, Turn Pike, Jaron Metaluna, Tyche Szondi, Asimia Heron, Trouble Streeter, Triana Caldera, Aurelie Chenaux, my excellent manager Maali Beck, and the fabulous team at Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde!

Monday, November 11, 2019

Serenity Gardens (11.04.19)

The observant ones among you might note that this show report is coming a full week after the performance of said show. Well, I wish I had a happier reason that this was the case, but I don't. Christina -- whom you Second Life friends probably know as Kat -- had a death in her family this past week. Her sister Tova was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer in the spring, and it's something that's been weighing heavily on us ever since. She fought the disease with all of her strength, using as much medical technology as was made available to her, but in the end it still wasn't enough. The cancer spread and on Thursday November 7, she passed away at age 38, leaving behind a husband and two young kids.

To say it's a tragedy isn't giving it enough credit in its terrible nature. Tova's passing is simply awful, and the only good thing I can say about it is that the end stage was thankfully short. On Tuesday of last week, she went into the hospital with breathing difficulty and heart rate problems, and Kat was able to fly up to Seattle that same day. I am very glad she did; any delay might have meant never seeing Tova again. Kat has remained up there since then, helping out with the various family members through both tangible issues and intangible grief.

I'm not here to write a big memorial piece about Tova. Eventually, I'll use my skills as a video editor to help put together a memorial piece for her husband and kids to have, and in a couple of weeks I'll be heading up to Washington to attend a memorial event being planned. As some of you will recognize, Tova's passing is remarkably similar to that of my friend Rachael just a couple of months ago, and frankly I am really sick of cancer robbing me of the company of these people who I love. Like Rachael, Tova will be missed by many, and as anyone knows who's been through the death of a loved one, grieving takes time... but at some point, you have to allow yourself to continue your own life as the person would have undoubtedly wanted. Rest in peace, Tova. You were a good person who made the most of the time you had... none of us can ask for more than that.

Hanging with Tyche
As you can imagine, it was a pretty rough week all around. The same day that Tova passed away, I suddenly realized that my friend from SL, Tyche Szondi, had come to the Los Angeles area to attend a conference, and months ago when she'd planned the trip, I'd told her that we'd hang out while she was in town. Tyche and I met in 2016 at the Twin Cities Jam and I immediately knew she was the type of person whom I enjoy hanging with. She's funny and bawdy and basically gives no fucks. On Friday, I'd been kind of set on telling her that with all that had been going on, I wasn't exactly up for having fun... but then Friday evening rolled around, and I realized that what I needed was exactly that; the opportunity to take my mind of all the shitty stuff in life and just chill and have a good time with a friend.

Tyche and I in the parking garage as I was getting ready to roll back to Redondo.

Tyche did not disappoint. I grabbed her from her hotel near LAX, and then we headed a short distance away to the nearest In-N-Out Burger, where she tried her first Double-Double (verdict: "Oh hell yeah, that's a good burger!"). She laughed at my expert analysis of In-N-Out's starchy french fries when I described them as being "too potatoey" for my liking. After dinner, we went back to her hotel and hung out while she regaled me with stories from Second Life. I pay so little attention to various aspects of the music and social scenes there that it was fun hearing various tales of our mutual friends and acquaintances. We ended up hanging out and talking for a couple of hours (and I could have done so all day long if we'd had the extra time), and I felt better after that than at any previous point in the week, so hats off to Tyche. Having friends is important, and finding the time to spend with them is something all of us should do when we can.

The Show: Rocking the '70s
Back to my show. A week ago, when I did my most recent show at Serenity Gardens, it was the first weekday morning of the return to Standard Time from Daylight Saving Time. The fact that I'd had to set my clock back got me thinking; what if, instead of an hour, I set the clock back some 40+ years? That silly concept allowed me to come up with a theme for the show, in which every song I did was from the decade of the 1970s.

I was unable to get any photos at this show; Kat's computer was going though a multi-day repair cycle at the time, and most of the regulars in my crowd who might have snapped some pics weren't able to make it to the show. I didn't even consider it until afterwards, or I would have taken some of my own. But no big thing; we had a great crowd, and it seemed that everyone enjoyed the tunes. Also, my voice and guitar were both behaving nicely, and as I am wont to do, I threw in a song I hadn't performed before and that, too, went well. I have no complaints about the show at all.

Serenity Gardens set list...
Heart of Gold (Neil Young)
California (Joni Mitchell)
The Man Who Sold the World (David Bowie)
Landslide (Fleetwood Mac)
Pink Moon (Nick Drake)
Pancho & Lefty (Townes Van Zandt)
Killing Me Softly (Roberta Flack)
*Hummingbird (Seals & Crofts)
Rikki Don’t Lose That Number (Steely Dan)
Fire & Rain (James Taylor)
Baker Street (Gerry Rafferty)
Pigs on the Wing - Parts 1/2 (Pink Floyd)

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

Big thanks to all who came out to my '70s Show -- your presence there is what matters! -- and huge thanks to the following folks who helped support it!
AaronCabottJones Resident, Tyche Szondi, Jakbnimbl Riddle, Maurice Mistwallow, Alex Zelin, Pato Milo, Magnus Hoch, Nina Brandenburg, Skeat Abonwood, Grace McDunnough, my excellent manager Maali Beck, and the fabulous team at Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde!

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Serenity Gardens (10.21.19)

Getting spooky at Serenity Gardens. Photo by Kat.

So, knowing for quite some time that I'd be spending the weekend out of town and performing with my old band Liquid at a wedding, I was also aware that the day after my return, I had a show to do at Serenity Gardens in Second Life. It's my bi-weekly show that's been going on there for about three years every other Monday night.

So, before I took off on our little road trip to Lake Isabella, I quite wisely decided to not wait for my return to plan out my set list. As I've mentioned a number of times in the past, the one thing I hate doing is starting a show without a planned set list. There are plenty of Second Life performers who are comfortable winging it, or leave the choices of their songs to their audience and do their shows via live requests, and that's great for them and their audiences. For me, I prefer to think of it in the way a good radio DJ curates music that goes well together, or I base my set on a specific theme. For this show, since it's my closest one to Halloween, it seemed like a good idea to pull out my scarier songs. It's something I've done many times over my 13 years of playing music in SL... sometimes at a Halloween-specific event, and sometimes (like last night) at any random show in late October.

Spooky Tunes
What makes a song scary? It's a good question, and it delves into the aspect of how something as nebulous as music can impart emotion on its own, independently of the lyrical content. When you watch a horror movie, the soundtrack is a key element that heightens the tension of the overall experience. The kind of funny thing in that regard is that my instrument of choice, the acoustic guitar, has a sound that people tend to associate with warmth, friendliness, and happiness; rather the opposite of the terrifying sounds one can achieve with a synthesizer or an orchestra. So, for my Halloween sets, I tend to pick tunes that combine some aspect of scary sounds with those that have disturbing lyrical themes.

For non-musicians, or even musical performers who don't compose their own music, it's difficult to define why certain combinations of notes and rhythms and chord progressions are evocative of specific emotions. And yet, even a child can tell you if something sounds happy or sad, calm or tense, and so on. Many of these aspects are culturally based; what might sound frightening or sad in one area of the world could be joyous in another. I distinctly recall this being pointed out to me while studying music composition in college, when someone claimed that music in minor keys was "sad", and the instructor pointing out that a minor-key Russian dance is actually very happy. The same can be said of some songs in major keys that can be wistful, or sparsely melancholy.

Rocking with my skeleton crew at Serenity Gardens. Photo by Kat.

So like many things in life, it's more complex than it appears on the surface. People who are super deep into music theory and composition can bore this down to a granular level, assigning emotional context to every single note interval or relationship between two chords. It's truly fascinating to get into, if you enjoy studying art from a psychological standpoint. Sometimes it's also okay to just play what you feel and allow the listener to react based on his or her own perceptions and life experiences.

A Good Show
I rarely have bad shows. As far as I'm concerned, if people come to see me and they have fun and I have fun playing for them, well... mission accomplished. I don't dwell on being pitch-perfect on every note I sing, nor do I beat myself up for missing a chord here and there. If people want perfection, they can listen to a well-produced album recording. My shows are live, and they sound live. Ultimately, I'm an experienced performer who, even on a bad day, can do a reasonably good show. But the fact is, some shows are better than others. When my voice is working and I'm not straining to hit notes, and my guitar feels comfortable in my hands, and the songs I've chosen all seem to come easily to me as I perform, I usually can recognize when a show is particularly good, which was the case last night.

I will say that the one thing that can utterly fuck up a show is technical problems, and I damn near ran into a huge one last night. As usual, I started warming up at 5PM, an hour before my show. Then, at about 5:30, I went to get into Second Life, and it was at that point that I realized my version of the Firestorm viewer had become outdated to the point that I couldn't log in. Uh oh. I immediately downloaded an updated viewer and did an install of it while the clock ticked away. When I relaunched the app, it just pulled up a white screen that seemed to stay unresponsive forever. This was not good. It was already well past the time that I usually arrive at the venue before my show. Finally, with about five minutes to spare, Second Life came back to life for me, and I quickly logged in and went straight to Serenity Gardens. Note to self... try updating before it's mandatory next time.

I was glad just to have made it through my Firestorm update in time to do my show! Photo by Kat.

As usual, Serenity Gardens was exquisitely decorated for the season. Photo by Kat.

Scary tunes, good times. Photo by Kat.

But then, after that, everything was completely smooth sailing. Honestly, there are so many things that can go wrong with doing live streamed performances in an online virtual world, it's pretty amazing that 95% of the time, everything goes just fine and we don't even have to consider all the places where things can screw up. Maybe I'm just lucky in that regard, but it's been a surprisingly small number of shows where tech issues -- with my music gear, with my computer, with my audio stream, with SL itself -- actually stopped me from performing.

One note on the set list. Since some of these songs only get pulled out for Halloween-themed shows, there were a few of them that are extremely rare in my set. Several of the songs below have only been played once or twice in the past five years or so. I really enjoy any opportunity to surprise my audience with song selections. Many of them are terrific and loyal fans/friends who attend a ton of my shows (sometimes almost all of them), and pulling out a tune that they've never heard me do before is a good feeling... probably for all of us.

Serenity Gardens set list...
Things Behind the Sun (Nick Drake)
People Are Strange (The Doors)
The Loner (Neil Young)
Blew the Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
Spooky (Classics IV)
Polly (Nirvana)
The Chauffeur (Duran Duran)
Ashes to Ashes (David Bowie)
Six Underground (Sneaker Pimps)
Psycho Killer (Talking Heads)
Black Hole Sun (Soundgarden)
Tribute (Tenacious D)

Huge thanks to every person who hung out at Serenity Garden for my spooky-themed show, with extra special thanks to the following who helped support it!
Harley Wytchwood, Kat Chauveau, JustinElias Anatra, Zachh Cale, go2smoky Resident, Lola500 Ghost, Tyche Szondi, Leyah Renegade, Richy Nervous, Trouble Streeter, Tricks Sockington, Asimia Heron, Alex Zelin, MasterMusa Resident, Nina Brandenburg, Skeat Abonwood, Kat Claxton, my excellent manager Maali Beck, and the fabulous team at Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde!

Monday, October 21, 2019

Liquid at the Dawson Wedding in Lake Isabella, CA

Onstage on the morning of Saturday October 19, getting ready to rock the Dawson wedding with Liquid. Photo by Christina.

This post requires some expository rambling. Ready?

In the 2000s, I was in a rock cover band called Liquid, whose members included myself, drummer Dante J. Silva, bass player Phil Gilbreth, and singer Randy Harmon. Liquid played a lot in that time frame... bars, clubs, private parties, street fairs, all that stuff. We were a good, genuinely entertaining band covering a lot of classic rock. While we never specifically disbanded, we stopped playing together on a regular basis around 2010, and our most recent show was seven years ago in 2012.

Randy has several children, and a little over a year ago, he got in touch with the other members of Liquid to let us know that his youngest daughter Megan had a wedding date in October 2019, and Megan had requested that Liquid perform at her wedding, which was scheduled to take place in Lake Isabella, a location in the southern Sierra Nevada mountains in Kern County. It's about 190 miles from my home here in Redondo Beach, but having been close to Randy and his entire family for many years, I agreed immediately, as did the other members of Liquid. With me so far?

One Year Later
So, time went by as it tends to do, and last month, Randy got in touch with us to set up a rehearsal, which we did and it went very well for our first time playing together in many years. And then, the weekend of the big day arrived, so Christina and I packed some bags and I gathered up my gig rig -- an LTD EC-1000 that I got recently, my Vox AC15C1, and my recently-assembled pedalboard that included the necessary tonal accoutrements for which to rock -- and got into the Jeep on Friday afternoon at 1PM.

We got on the 405 north and immediately ran into complete shit Los Angeles traffic. There's really no good day or time to travel the 405 in regard to heavy traffic; your choices are bad, worse, and even more worse. It stayed that way pretty much all the way to the 5 and the first part of the 14. Ugh. But once we got rolling, things were pretty chill. To get there from here, you have to go through a couple of mountain passes. There's nothing super scary about the drive, though sometimes people encounter high winds in that upper Mojave desert area. The last bit of the drive along the 178 is definitely more twisty-turvy and has a pretty quick elevation up to 5,000 feet at Walker Pass before descending into Lake Isabella. It requires a bit of focus and two hands on the wheel for awhile, but we made it there with no problems at all, with one short stop for coffee in lovely Palmdale.

Some surreal landscapes on the 14N near Red Rocks State Park. Photo by Christina.

"We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold." Photo by Christina.

Chilling at the Lake
Friday evening was fun. We got there just in time to grab some food from the rehearsal dinner, and then threw our stuff into our room. The property where the festivities were held was called the Hillside Ranch, which was indeed a cattle ranching area with multiple houses on the property, and the band had our own place, which was great. Phil and his wife Wendy had gone up a day early, so Christina and I grabbed an adjacent bedroom. It wasn't long before I set up my rig on the stage, which was the deck of one of the houses. We did have a concern about Dante, who'd said he hadn't been feeling well, and postponed his arrival until Saturday, the day of the wedding. We did have a backup drummer... David, a friend of the groom and the best man and the wedding, brought his entire drum kit, which was awesome. We needed up doing some impromptu jamming Friday night along with David, and it was fun. After we played, a few of the younger rockers in the wedding party (including the groom) got on stage and jammed some death metal, and the sweet sounds of Gojira drove most of the older folks away (I enjoyed them though).

Christina and I chilled after that, eating snacks and playing on our devices until bedtime. Something I've noticed on many previous occasions of travel; being at higher elevations, and in general when you're visiting an unfamiliar location for the first time with beds you're not used to and so on, makes it difficult to get to sleep on your first night there. Eventually, I did get to sleep, which was a good thing... the next day was the wedding itself.

The Big Day
The first thing that brightened my Saturday was a message from Dante telling us he was going to tough out his illness and make his way to the mountains. This event had, as he pointed out, been over a year in the planning, and it would have taken more than a little bug to stop him from attending.

Christina and I had some breakfast that was thoughtfully served to all the guests, and spent most of the day hanging out and talking to various folks attending the event, many of whom I hadn't seen for years since the heyday of Liquid. Dante arrived in the early afternoon, and we made sure the plethora of gear onstage was set to our liking so that we'd be ready to rock when the time was right. The wedding ceremony itself was scheduled for 5PM, so we had plenty of time to prepare.

A truly lovely Saturday morning in Lake Isabella, CA

This "red house over yonder" was where the band stayed throughout the weekend.

Dante arrives on Saturday afternoon and gets the drums set up to his preference.

Obviously, the stars of a wedding aren't in the band. The betrothed couple were Megan Harmon and Scott Dawson. I'd met Megan when I first joined her dad in our band, maybe 18 years ago. She was still in high school at the time, but I'd always thought her to be a super interesting and cool person. Scott seemed like a great fit for her... sometimes you can just tell when a couple belongs together, and Scott and Megan were like two pieces in a jigsaw puzzle that were made to fit with one another. The theme of the event was a Hallow-Wedding. Both of them are into the horror movie genre, and Scott works in the film industry doing effects work on scary movies. You could tell how much thought and effort went into the planning of the event, with all manner of details in place.

What a gorgeous spot for a wedding and gathering of family and friends. Megan and Scott had found this site some seven years ago when filming a movie there. Photo by Christina.

We loved the Halloween theme of the wedding, which was rendered in many ways all over the large grounds of Hillside Ranch. Photo by Christina.

All the tables were set and ready to go as the sun began to set and the wedding ceremony was ready to commence. Photo by Christina.

Megan and Scott left no detail overlooked. It really was perfect. Photo by Christina.

The ceremony was absolutely lovely. One thing I've noticed is that when a couple starts out as the best of friends, it leads to a terrific relationship for the longterm, and that is exactly the vibe I got from Megan and Scott, who've been together as a couple for over ten years. After the short ceremony, there was a really nice catered dinner, and then speeches by the maid of honor and best man (both were great). And then, it was time for Liquid.

Liquid Rocks Lake Isabella
As this was a wedding, the set list had been put together and approved by the bride, and we were more than happy to do the tunes she wanted. However, we started out with a couple of songs that are softer than the typical raucous Liquid vibe at the request of Randy. Both "My Girl" and "Stand By Me" were lovely little tunes that allowed for the newly-married couple to dance and gave Randy a chance to dedicate the songs to the bride and groom respectively. After that, the Liquid rocket took off for real. Randy's elder daughter Amanda joined us for a few tunes, as she'd done on a couple of occasions when Liquid was playing out on a regular basis.

Liquid Dawson Wedding Lake Isabella set list...
My Girl (The Temptations)
Stand By Me (Ben E. King)
Surrender (Cheap Trick)
Born To Be Wild (Steppenwolf)
Cinnamon Girl (Neil Young)
Come Together (The Beatles)
Crossroads (Cream)

(short break)

Stray Cat Strut (The Stray Cats)
Panama (Van Halen)
Just What I Needed (The Cars)
Gimme Some Lovin' (Spencer Davis Group)
California Dreamin' (The Mamas & The Papas)
Rock and Roll Fantasy (Bad Company)
Roadhouse Blues (The Doors)
Tie Your Mother Down (Queen)
Tush (ZZ Top)
I Want You to Want Me (Cheap Trick)
Mary Jane's Last Dance (Tom Petty)
Money (Pink Floyd)
Man in the Box (Alice in Chains)

(short break)

†With a Little Help From My Friends (The Beatles)
†White Rabbit (Jefferson Airplane)
†Black Velvet (Alannah Myles)
Alright Now (Free)
The Real Me (The Who)
Hard to Handle (Spin Doctors)
YYZ (Rush)

†featuring Amanda Dorn on vocals

One thing in regard to the music that's worth noting, I suppose. As I look down that set list of tunes, with almost no exceptions, none of them are songs I perform at all as a solo artist. First and foremost, they are rock tunes that are much better performed in a band environment than by one person with a lonely acoustic guitar. The other aspect, of course, is that while they are indeed classic rock songs, as a musician you get to a point where there are only so many times in your life that you can enjoy doing the same songs over and over. That's one reason why I tend to play more stuff in the indie rock/folk realm in my solo shows... I prefer doing stuff that's a little newer for both myself and my typical audience. Fortunately, with the seven-year hiatus since the last time Liquid did these tunes, I found the tunes to be fun (and even occasionally challenging) to play.

A four-way band hug after we wrapped up our last song. I keep thinking that each time we play out will be the final performance of Liquid, but I keep getting proved wrong. Photo by Christina.

Dante J. Silva (drums), Phil Gilbreth (bass), Randy Harmon (vocals) and me (guitar and backing vocals), aka Liquid. Photo by Christina.

Heading Out
I slept better on Saturday night than I had on Friday, and upon awaking, my happiness was only marred by the fact that I'd have to load up my gear and make the drive home soon enough. We hung out with Dante and Phil and their respective ladies for awhile, but we all knew that the longer we lingered, the worse traffic would be getting back into LA. Eventually, we packed up our stuff and said our goodbyes. We were tired and definitely needed a night of sleep in our own beds at home, but Christina and I both agreed that the whole event was absolutely fantastic.

The drive back was uneventful, as all good drives are. Just as it was on the way up, the scenery was outstanding as we moved through a variety of natural environments from the mountains to the high desert, then down to the foothills and the familiar urban environment of Los Angeles as we made our way back toward our beach city home. While it had taken about five hours to get up there, it only took three to get back with the absence of horrible traffic (though even on a Sunday afternoon, we hit a typical slow spot going over the Sepulveda Pass on the 405 near Getty Center, an area which seems to have shitty traffic constantly throughout the year).

I can tell you a couple of things about this wedding. First, Scott and Megan seem like a perfect couple, and I predict that they'll have a long and happy life together. Second, Liquid was and remains a very good cover band, and I've enjoyed the hell out of myself each and every time we've had occasion to rock together. Finally, it's nice that this whole event came together so wonderfully well; it's been on my mind ever since September 2018 when we first agreed to get together for this special event, and it's a good feeling that Liquid was able to add our own special something to this extraordinarily special moment in people's lives.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Serenity Gardens (10.07.19)

Rocking with my skeleton crew at Serenity Gardens. Photo by Kat.

I want to tell you about last night's terrific show at Serenity Gardens, but first I want to tell you about the Kurds. Don't worry; I'll make this quick. There are many great sources of information about sociology and history you can find for a deeper dig on this topic. My point here is brief.

The Kurds are an ancient ethnic group of people based in the Middle East, in an area known as Kurdistan that is situated in southeastern Turkey, northwestern Iran, northern Iraq, and northern Syria. They are a minority group that has their own language and culture. The Kurds have been invaluable allies of the USA in the fight against terrorism in the post 9/11 era. We owe them a lot, and promised them protection in return, as they've been a persecuted people who have been subject to genocide. Specifically, the governments of Turkey and Iraq have been particularly cruel to the Kurds. It's not a small group; in Turkey alone, there are roughly 15 million Kurds who make up about 20% of the population, and Turkey would like nothing more than to wipe them off the face of the planet. The treatment of Kurds in Turkey are a major human rights tragedy.

On Monday, President Trump announced a major withdrawal of troops from northern Syria, which will allow Turkey to invade the area and crush the Kurdish people. The Kurds have been particularly valuable to the USA in fighting Islamic State extremists. Now they are being abandoned during their time of need. To say that this is morally repugnant is a huge understatement. Even the president's Republican cronies have decried the decision. It's just another of Trump's decisions that is meant to increase his personal gain, and is a longterm blow to the United States with the resulting increase in terrorism. The Turkish military, just one day after the announcement, was already advancing into Kurdish territory now that they are no longer under protection of US forces.

The area known as Kurdistan crosses the boundaries of a number of countries, though the largest section of Kurd population resides in southeastern Turkey. The have been invaluable allies in the US's war on terrorism, and now we are leaving them to be slaughtered.

I don't spend a lot of time on this blog talking about the many actions of Donald Trump that have the potential to ruin our country, but this is a particularly egregious one. My only hope -- and I am optimistic that this will come to pass -- that each and every step the president has taken to personally gain in both financial and political aspects at the expense of the country will not only become public knowledge, but that he, personally, will be required to surrender any ill-gotten gains and will also be required to serve the same kind of punishments as any other person who committed the types of crimes he is openly undertaking.

Back to the Show
As you're probably aware, before I do a show in Second Life -- or anywhere for that matter -- I put together a set list. This is different than some performers who prefer to play whatever comes to mind at the moment, or like their audiences to choose songs for them. I don't; I like planning ahead and preparing the songs I'm going to play. Anyway, I was doing just that on Sunday when I inadvertently put in two songs by the same artist, and then noted I'd also had two original songs by me, and two songs by my band They Stole My Crayon. That got me thinking... why not do a "twofer" show? Some of you might recall this from your local rock radio station who would do two songs by each artist -- usually on a Tuesday -- calling it "Two for Tuesday". Well, I play on Mondays, and it doesn't roll off the tongue as easily as the radio trope, but I still ended up fleshing out my set list for Serenity Gardens with two songs by each artist.

I love how Ilsa goes all out to decorate Serenity Gardens at Halloween and throughout the year. Photo by Kat.

Good show, good times. Photo by Kat.

This wasn't my first "twofer" show in SL, but my most recent previous one was in July 2013, so it's not a theme I adopt very often. In any case, I really do enjoy trying to make each show special in some way, and giving my audience a somewhat unique experience each time.I will say that everyone seemed to like this particular show, and I'm glad it worked out well.

Serenity Gardens set list...
Ohio (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young)
Don’t Let It Bring You Down (Neil Young)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
*Voices Carry (’Til Tuesday)
Save Me (Aimee Mann)
Vendetta (They Stole My Crayon)
Blew the Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
Perfect Day (Lou Reed)
Walk on the Wild Side (Lou Reed)
Losing My Religion (R.E.M.)
Radio Free Europe (R.E.M.)

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

Huge thanks to everyone who attended the show at Serenity gardens, with extra special super thanks to the following who helped support it!
Triana Caldera, Trouble Streeter, go2smoky Resident, Alex Zelin, Asimia Heron, Kat Claxton, Aurelie Chenaux, my excellent manager Maali Beck, and the fabulous team at Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde!