Friday, March 27, 2020

Serenity Gardens (03.23.20)

When the world gets serious, an escape to Second Life and some good live music at a place like Serenity Gardens might be just what you need. Photo by Kat.

Days in the land of quarantine are starting to kind of blend together, so I thought it would be a good idea to start this blog by doing some actual... blogging.

As a person who keeps on top of the news, the novel coronavirus had already been on my mind going back to mid-February, with reports coming out of China and then other areas like Iran and Italy about the severity of the COVID-19 disease. But, like most things in life that affect people far away from you, it wasn't really dominating my day-to-day life until early March, when COVID-19 began affecting Americans. We started hearing about people in the USA being infected by the virus, and then the stock market began its slide. That was very telling because the big money people will do just about anything to avoid the loss of their wealth. To me, it was a very telling indication that something serious was going on that would affect the entire planet.

The next thing that start happening was the rapid closures of... pretty much everything. NBA. NCAA. NHL. SXSW. E3. NAB. Disneyland. Almost all international borders. On Wednesday March 11, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 to officially be a pandemic, and the same day, the state of California issued recommendations to postpone or cancel all non-essential gatherings of more than 250 people. The following day (Thursday March 12), my local city of Redondo Beach made a proclamation of local emergency. It was from that moment on that the people in my household began voluntarily staying in a quarantine situation. It meant that unless absolutely necessary, we would stay at home.

Lots of things happened quickly in the ensuing ten days. Specific cities and regions across the US that had been particularly affected by COVID-19 began issuing their own more strict "stay at home" orders. Those orders began expanding to entire states. California's statewide lockdown began on Friday March 20. In the most recent local developments here in my hometown of Redondo Beach, CA, they're now taking every measure to keep groups of people apart, expanding the enforcement of the "stay at home" orders and going to the length of having just closed all beaches and parks.

Properly protected with Christina at the grocery store.

How do I feel about it? I think every one of these steps is 100% necessary. This is exactly the type of situation where a functioning modern government can be of paramount importance to the populace... coordinating laws and providing support in a time of real crisis. It would be nice if the entire country could have the kind of leadership we do in California (and in states like New York, Illinois, and a few others). What we are starting to see is that states that didn't issue similar orders early enough are beginning to get a huge wave of new COVID-19 cases, and the capacity of their medical support systems is already reaching their limits. This whole thing is definitely going to get way worse before it gets better.

Any Good News?
Yeah, plenty of it. A large percentage of people do seem to understand the severity of COVID-19 and are participating in stay-at-home and social distancing guidelines. I see people around town wearing protective equipment when they need to go out amongst other people... not everyone, but enough that it's definitely noticeable at the grocery store or at pickup counters at restaurants. Is it weird? of course. I feel like I'm in the midst of a dystopian future novel. But it's also comforting in a weird way, now that we're used to being in this unexpected here-and-now.

On the "good news/bad news" front, my work as an online content producer has been incredibly busy for the past two weeks. As you can imagine, companies that were used to doing a lot of face-to-face business have had to immediately figure out new ways to reach their customers, and a good chunk of that task falls in my domain. So, amongst my many marketing clients, I've been in near constant demand, sometimes working 10-12 hours per day. Remember, unlike a lot of folks, I've spent the last 17 years working from home, so it just feels a whole lot busier for me than usual. It's nice being needed, of course. As a business owner, I certainly appreciate that, especially with so many people I know finding themselves furloughed from companies suffering the economic impact of the pandemic.

The Show
And that, actually, is the reason why I played this fun show at Serenity Gardens on Monday evening and am just now getting to blogging about it four days later. I'd already done a show that had some thematic references to COVID-19, but the situation got so much more serious over the ensuing two weeks that there was no way I was going to make light of it by the time my show on March 23 rolled around. Still, my SL experience tends to reflect my real life most of the time, and so I did wear a protective mask while doing my show, paralleling the look when I (rarely) go grocery shopping here in the reality of March 2020.

Good crowd, happy me. Photo by Kat.

Yes... I'm wearing my mask in-world, and while I love the feeling of escaping the dismal parts of real life when they happen, it's too important to continue to remind people in the midst of the pandemic to stay focused on their own protection and that of their friends and loved ones. Photo by Kat.

Ahhh... Serenity Gardens. Good times. Photo by Kat.

Instead, at this show, my theme was more personal. It was "songs that don't require a lot of effort to perform". Was I just being a lazy bastard? No... the previous week, I'd injured my lower back pretty badly, and for awhile wasn't sure if I'd even be able to stand up and play guitar and sing for a solid hour. But it improved and I knew I could do the show, but I also knew I'd have to be careful not to exacerbate my back problems. So I chose songs that I could do while remaining rather mellow, and it all worked out fine. We had a nice crowd there and it felt really great to have my focus be honed on my music performance to the point that I wasn't obsessed on the situation going on outside my door.

Serenity Gardens set list...
All I Want (Joni Mitchell)
Perfect Day (Lou Reed)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)
Fire & Rain (James Taylor)
Pecan Pie (Golden Smog)
Pink Moon (Nick Drake)
Everything Is Scary (German Error Message)
Sweet Caroline (Neil Diamond)
Help Me (Joni Mitchell)
Ashes to Ashes (David Bowie)
Black Peter (Grateful Dead)
Doubt It (Zak Claxton)
Runnin' Down a Dream (Tom Petty)

Thanks to everyone who came out for the show, with special super thanks to the following who helped support it!
ColdAsh Resident, AaronCabottJones Resident, Maurice Mistwallow, Jaron Metaluna, Tyche Szondi, Rusty Seisenbacher, Triana Caldera, Daphne Kalchek, Alex Zelin, Trouble Streeter, Diana Renoir, Kat Chauveau, Turn Pike, go2smoky Resident, Asimia Heron, Kat Claxton, Triana Caldera, Jed Luckless, my excellent manager Maali Beck, and the fabulous team at Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde!

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Zak Claxton Happy Fun Show on Facebook (03.14.20)

You can watch the entire show above, at least as long as Facebook keeps it available.

Truth: I'd been planning on doing a Zak Claxton Happy Fun Show (the silly name for my live video shows that I do on random occasions for over 10 years) since the start of 2020. It had been a pretty long time since my last one, which was in May of last year. But suddenly, I had a very specific reason to do it; much of the nation -- and indeed the world -- has gone into a period of voluntary self-quarantine due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

This brings up a topic that I've mentioned before. Do we, as performing artists, have any responsibility to the world at large? Logically, the answer is no. We put on whatever kind of show we do, people choose to experience it or not, and the world keeps turning. But ethically, I think the answer is different. I think that much like Spider-Man said, when you have a skill/power and you choose not to use it to help people, you are complicit in their misery. It was with that in mind that, thinking of many people who would be stuck at home without a lot of their usual entertainment being available, I'd put on a free video show that anyone on Facebook could watch. The thing I like about Facebook as a live video platform is that there's a decent degree of two-way interaction with the viewers. From time to time, I can look at people's comments while I'm doing the show, and respond in various ways.

So, yesterday at noon, I did a ZCHFS on Facebook. I spread the word about it pretty wide in case anyone was looking for things to replace what they'd usually be doing in the middle of a Saturday. We'd all seen the massive list of things being canceled, from sports to music festivals to conferences of all kinds. While some people continue to ignore the government's strong suggestion for social distancing, a good number of smart people are paying attention and acting accordingly. So, they're stuck at home, they feel like they have nothing to do, and perhaps they're already reaching a point of being somewhat annoyed by being cooped up. Why not do what I am completely capable of doing, and give them a free show to kill an hour?

A happy Zak plays live for the smart people who stayed home on a Saturday. Screen capture by Kat.

What's the Big Deal? Why Stay Home?
I'll say this as simply as possible.

• COVID-19 has a high rate of transmission
• It is highly dangerous to elderly people and those with compromised immune systems
• Even if you don't feel sick right now, you could be contagious with the virus
• While you probably won't die, you can pass it along to those who can

While it's not a likely outcome, the worst-case scenario for COVID-19 is very, very grim.

• 210 million Americans might contract it
• As many as 21 million might require hospitalization in the USA
• 1.7 million American people might die
• Worldwide... "If the virus only kills 1 percent of those who contract it, somewhere between 14 million and 42 million people are at risk."

The takeaway is that you need to take this seriously. Limiting exposure by simply staying away from large groups of people can have a huge effect on limiting the effects of the disease. I don't know what it will take, with the federal government declaring a national emergency and emergencies being in place at most state and local levels as well, for people to take this seriously. I'm not advocating panic; I'm suggesting that people simply follow the recommendations of officials and treat your friends and neighbors with compassion. If nothing else... stay at home whenever you possibly can. Yes, a lot people will have to go into work. Yes, you aren't able to live without human contact. Please just try and minimize any contact with other people to whatever degreee you can. Thank you.

Thanks for watching form the safety of your own home. Screen capture by Kat.

Live Zak, Fleshy Style
The show itself went just fine. Unlike my Second Life shows, where I am just depicted as a cartoon avatar of myself, for video shows people get to see the actual me as I sing and perform live on my guitar and occasional harmonica. I decided, as I have at other ZCHFS shows, to not use headphones. It's risky because I can't hear the mix between my voice and my guitar, and indeed, the guitar was a little too loud in the mix. But that's a small price to pay for having the freedom to move around and rock.

Musically, the show was similar to any of my shows, with a purposefully eclectic list of tunes that spanned about 50 years and multiple styles. I had intended on doing a larger percentage of original music by myself and They Stole My Crayon, but I tend to pull out songs as I feel like playing them, and I just ended up doing more covers, which was fine. We actually had a pretty large and lively audience, with some 200 views of the video (and quite a few more since then, with it being archived on my Facebook page and shared by a number of other folks).

Feeling good while enjoying some live music and the online company of friends. Screen capture by Kat.

Can one rock at home? Believe me, with the right mindset, you can rock no matter where you are or who you're with. Screen capture by Kat.

ZCHFS COVID-19 Edition set list...
Sugar Mountain (Neil Young)
Things Behind the Sun (Nick Drake)
Longing On (They Stole My Crayon)
Among the Leaves (Sun Kil Moon)
Save It for Later (English Beat)
So. Central Rain (R.E.M.)
Say Goodbye (Beck)
Airport Bar (Martin Courtney)
Pancho & Lefty (Townes Van Vandt)
Don’t Let It Pass (Junip)
Blew the Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
Your Song (Elton John)
Shame Chamber (Kurt Vile)

Huge thanks to everyone who tuned in and hung out for the Zak Claxton Happy Fun Show! You are all greatly appreciated. Now, just tell everyone else to wash their hands and stay the fuck at home!

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Serenity Gardens (03.09.20)

A night at Serenity Gardens in Second Life, doing music about time and death. Yay! Photo by Kat.

There's a saying that is attributed to the iconic writer Hunter S. Thompson which goes, "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." Honestly, times have been nothing if not weird lately. Frankly, they've been pretty damn weird going back to 2016, but I digress.

Coronavirus Blues
It's a scary-ass world out there, and disease has been one of the things -- along with war, famine, conquest, genocide, and environmental change -- that has wiped out huge swaths of humanity on multiple occasions over the course of our existence as a species. It's understandable that people get anxious when a new form of a disease with potential deadly effects becomes front-page news.

Beginning in December 2019 but hitting the US news in January/February, a newly-defined respiratory disease started taking its toll. There have been many instances of different types of coronavirus-based illnesses going back to the 1960s (though they've been around for millennia), and you're probably already familiar with earlier varieties including SARS and MERS. They can be super mild... many common colds are the result of coronaviruses. This particular illness is more accurately called COVID-19 (for coronavirus disease 2019), and it's caused by the strain of coronavirus named SARS-CoV-2.

This odd-looking illustration is based on the electron microscope view of a coronavirus, which gets its name from the corona-like club-shaped spikes that surround it.

People who specialize in widely contagious sicknesses are called epidemiologists, and I am not one of them. But I can tell you a couple of things. First, you don't want to get COVID-19. Second, if you do, it's likely that you won't die. However, it's a nasty virus and as of today (March 10, 2020), out of 110,000 diagnosed cases, about 4,200 people worldwide have died as a result of it, with the majority of them being in mainland China. The largest percentage of severe cases happen when the disease hits the elderly and people who already have compromised immune systems. That being said, we really have no idea how many total people have been exposed to or have contracted COVID-19, and upcoming days/weeks may paint a different picture of the severity of this epidemic.

Why Is This Affecting the Stock Market?
In addition to being bad for people themselves, epidemics are bad for the economy. With the uncertainty and fear from a contagious disease like COVID-19, people are far less likely to place themselves in proximity to other people. That affects businesses like air and sea travel, hotels, conferences, concerts and more. While that was happening, the price of crude oil went into a tailspin due to a glut of supply (and a perceived lack of upcoming demand due to the illness worries) among worldwide producers, namely Saudi Arabia and Russia. That, combined with existing fears about a coming recession, caused a historic drop in stock prices culminating (for now) with yesterday's massive drop. This is a situation in progress, so it remains to be seen what the long-term effects on world economies will be.

You can see the effects of COVID-19 on this chart of the Dow Jones Industrial Average for the past month. This shouldn't cause you to panic unless you were intending on retiring this month. Ouch, my IRA/401(k)!

But... Why Can't I Find Toilet Paper Anywhere?
Ah. That is because people are frightened apes who revert to me-first actions when they get particularly scared. Toilet paper has nothing to do with COVID-19, a respiratory ailment, but the idea of being quarantined in a house with no toilet paper is unpleasant. What transpired was a two-step bit of irrationality. The first group of toilet paper hoarders were those who were particularly scared of being affected by COVID-19. The second (and probably larger) wave were people who heard about the first group getting toilet paper and other supplies, and didn't want to be the ones left behind when they started noting empty shelves at their local stores. Of note: the supplies of medical masks and hand sanitizers were also part of the round of panic buying.

Ultimately, as I've mentioned several times... we're in the middle of this story. It could clear up quickly and most people will be fine, or it could get worse, and most people... won't. My advice, for whatever it's worth, is that minimizing your contact with other people, thoroughly washing your hands often, and taking other basic precautions can't hurt. If you are otherwise healthy, it's likely you will be fine. If you are often in contact with people who might be severely affected by COVID-19, take extra care to protect them and to minimize their exposure. There's not much more to say while this plays out. Should it become as serious in the USA as it has been in places like China, Italy, Iran, and South Korea, we need to hope that our government is really prepared for testing and treatment of people at all income levels. Viruses don't discriminate, and any person can pass it along to another. Hopefully this all works out.

Time Change Whine
I won't spend much time on this topic, pun unintended, but I hate all time changes, whether it's the start of Daylight Saving Time or the end of it, or actual jet-lag based time differences when traveling. I am definitely a creature of habit, and the fact that it's now pitch black dark when I get up at 6am is enough to annoy me. It will typically take the remainder of this week for me to feel normal in this new time frame. Is it a big huge deal? No. Is it irritating to me? Yeah, it is. I'll live.

That Show Though
So, the reason I mentioned COVID-19 and the start of DST is because I ended up having a dual-themed show with both topics dictating the songs I played, as you can see in the set list below. The theme was "Time and Death", and as should be self-evident, the songs had some basis in the title or lyrics or vibe relating to time and death. What was up with the theme from "The Love Boat"? Well, the passengers of the Grand Princess, who'd been under quarantine at sea after a large coronavirus outbreak, had just come ashore before the start of my show, and the scenes of them being hosed down and taken to military bases upon disembarking the ship were fresh in my mind.

Despite my being cranky about the time change, the show itself went just fine. We had a reasonably good crowd, and both my voice and guitar were behaving. Honestly, as I've told my crowd many times, it's invariably a mood-lifter when I put on my guitar and perform, no matter what kind of day I'd been having before I started my first tune.

It's a funny thing; some people who go to events at Serenity Gardens are up front and dancing near the stage, while others tend to hang back or use the venue's seating and relaxation areas. Either way, I tend to underestimate the size of my crowds there which are usually larger than I realize even on a "slow" night. Photo by Kat.

I noted this great-looking dog from the stage while I was playing. Then I saw a name tag on the dog, and thought it might have been someone's avatar, rather than something that someone rezzed and brought to the show. Whatever the case, it's perfectly fine with me. Maybe someday I'll switch to a non-human avvie and I'll be a musical tree or something. Why not? Could be cool. Photo by Kat.

Serenity Gardens set list...
Dead Flowers (Rolling Stones)
Long Time Gone (Crosby, Stills & Nash)
Perfectly Calm (They Stole My Crayon)
The Last Time I Saw Richard (Joni Mitchell)
*The Love Boat Theme (Charles Fox/Paul Williams)
Time in a Bottle (Jim Croce)
Time Never Waits for You (Zak Claxton)
Comes a Time (Neil Young)
Tomorrow Never Knows (Beatles)
Half Moon Bay (Sun Kil Moon)
Everybody Hurts (R.E.M.)
In My Time of Dying (Traditional)

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

Big ol' thanks to every single person who came to my show, and extra special thanks to the following who helped support it!
AaronCabottJones Resident, Trouble Streeter, Kat Claxton, Karmagrl Resident, patchworkpink Resident, Grace McDunnough, Kat Chauveau, BAT8997 Resident, and the fabulous team at Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde!