Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Serenity Gardens (05.18.20)

Beautiful Serenity Gardens, from a vantage point I never get to see. Photo by Kat.

It's funny; I have a number of good friends who are fellow Second Life performers, and it's not atypical for some of them to do multiple shows a day, almost every day. There was a time, some ten years ago, where my typical frequency of shows was 3-4 per week, every week, and that felt like a lot to me. The rare occasions where I had multiple shows in a single day seemed horrible to me. So the fact that I did two shows in three days... Saturday at Templemore and then Monday at Serenity Gardens... felt rather excessive compared to my relatively lackadaisical frequency of performances. But I was happy to do these two shows, which both went very well in their own ways, and musically, they couldn't have been more different.

General Update
Before I get into the show, I thought I'd do a little "State of the Zak" report. We are, after all, in the midst of "interesting times" as they say, and I am pretty sure that, assuming I survive for awhile, I'll be looking back at posts from this time frame years from now.

The current global statistics for COVID-19 are pretty awful, despite the best efforts of various countries to keep it under control. At this moment, the statistics read as follows: 4,946,171 cases worldwide, with 322,579 deaths. In the USA, the numbers remain grim... 1,558,175 confirmed cases, and 92,478 deceased as a result. And yet, the current big matter of controversy is in regard to re-opening society and business, trying to get back to what was previously considered normal.

Just in case you assume that idiocy is a trait limited to Americans, I present some Canadian anti-quarantine protestors. Interestingly -- and predictably -- there has been a noted rise in COVID-19 infection rates in places that have had anti-lockdown protests.

My advice, for what it's worth, is that "normal" as we knew it before the current coronavirus pandemic, will never be back again. Yes, there will be effective treatments and vaccines eventually. But the process of going through this has already changed us. The old adage, "You can't go home again," applies here. The places you will return to, be they offices or gyms or hair salons or beaches, will be populated by people who are different than they were before, and that includes you.

Don't Let History Repeat Itself
Meanwhile, as per above, the act of protecting society from this pandemic has already become a huge polarizing issue in the USA. Perhaps one thing we can learn from history is to try and not repeat the bad aspects of it. One of the major pandemic events in this country was the influenza outbreak of 1918/1919. Known erroneously as the "Spanish Flu", this outbreak of the H1N1 virus is one of the most deadly in human history, having infected 500 million people (about a third of the world's population at the time), with a death toll between 17 million to 50 million, and possibly as high as 100 million. The reason it was so deadly wasn't because of the disease itself, but because of the aspects of malnourishment, overcrowded medical camps and hospitals, and poor hygiene at the time, which led to bacterial superinfection.

We've come a long way since then, both in terms of medical science and the living conditions that most people enjoy. But one thing you'll notice on the historical chart below are several distinct waves of mortality in the 1918/1919 outbreak. The worst one by far happened a good five months into the epidemic period. The reason -- which should sound very familiar to people of today -- is that there was a premature push to re-open society and business. People were angry about being told to wear masks in public; San Francisco had an "Anti-Mask League". Also, churches were particularly vocal about being forced to close, saying that the state had no right to prevent people from worshipping as per their constitutional rights.

A mortality chart from the 1918/1919 influenza pandemic. Note what happens about five months in, as restrictions were eased and people got back out in public again. Let's hope that's not the result this time around.

So, politicians caved to public pressure, as they tend to do, and the results speak for themselves. The grand majority of deaths happened after the initial period of re-opening, and that necessitated another longer and more strict period of quarantine. It's why the pandemic lasted from spring 1918 all the way through summer 1919. On a personal basis, I find it interesting that the same type of influenza A (H1N1) that killed millions of people 100 years back was the one I ended up getting in the outbreak of 2009. Trust me, it was awful, and I was an otherwise healthy 39-year-old man at the time. It's my goal to make it through the entire pandemic on the sidelines, and never acquire COVID-19 (at least until there's a proven cure).

Speaking of me, I'll be continuing to take precautions against COVID-19 infection for a long time to come. I really don't anticipate any situation for months and months where you won't see me outfitted in a mask when I'm outside the house. I really don't care at all what any other person's opinion is about that. I'll keep protecting myself and my family as long as I feel there's the slightest possibility that we'll contract this disease.

Back to the Show
It's always important to me to not bore my audience, many of whom come to every one of my shows. Because of that, I not only switch up the songs from show to show but also switch up the entire vibe of the show based on the music I choose to play. For this show at Serenity Gardens, I really made it a point to do a big departure from the previous show on Saturday, so most of the music I played was stuff that is very familiar and beloved by people. That being said, I also pulled out a number of songs that don't find their way to the top of my set list very often.

I can't be sure what song I'm playing here, but I imagine it's probably "Pickles", my current ridiculous hit song in SL. Photo by Kat.

I do want to note that seeing one particular audience member really kind of made my whole night. As my blog readers are aware, I used to perform pretty regularly at a venue called The Islands of New England, and those shows were hosted by a woman named Christine Haiku, who in turn became a good friend over the course of time. For personal reasons, Christine decided to depart from Second Life a couple of years ago as people tend to do from time to time, so when I started my show and looked into the crowd, it was fantastic to see her there. Overall, while we didn't have a giant crowd last night, everyone there was engaged and seemingly really into the music, and that always makes me happy.

Fun show, good crowd. Photo by Kat.

Just like in reality, if I'm in public around people, I'm in a mask. No mask, no Zak. Photo by Kat.

Serenity Gardens set list...
If It Makes You Happy (Sheryl Crow)
Bertha (Grateful Dead)
Lost Cause (Beck)
Old Man (Neil Young)
Mary Jane's Last Dance (Tom Petty)
Big Yellow Taxi (Joni Mitchell)
Swing Lo Magellan (Dirty Projectors)
Pickles (Zak Claxton)
Woodstock (Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young)
Wild Horses (Rolling Stones)
Mother (Pink Floyd)
Lola (The Kinks)

Big giant huge thanks to everyone who came out to Serenity Gardens to hear me play music, with special super thanks to the following patrons of the arts who helped support my show!
Kat Chauveau, Lauralynn Foxtrot, LadyMacDeath222 Resident, Jaron Metaluna, Trouble Streeter, Sydney Verlaine, Grace McDunnough, go2smoky Resident, Tyche Szondi, Triana Caldera, Kat Claxton, Asimia Hero, Christine Haiku, my excellent manager Maali Beck, and the fabulous team at Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde!

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Lutz City of Templemore (05.16.20)

It's always a special and amazing experience to perform at Templemore. Photo by Kat.

It had been just over a year since my last show at Lutz City of Templemore, back in May 2019. For all the reasons you already know, it feels like a lot longer than one year. The past two months feel like several years already. But apart from all that, Templemore only has live shows very sporadically, and whenever I get the invitation to perform there, it's a big honor... something I mentioned very sincerely a couple of times during yesterday's show. Because a show at Templemore is such a rare and special occasion, I always prepare a set list that's a step apart from the ordinary, and we'll get to that in a bit. First, as I always seem to do, a few words on Templemore itself.

A One-Of-A-Kind Experience in Second Life
Even if you're not a person who looks deeply into the details of design, you might visit Templemore and still be in awe of the overall look of the sim without really understanding what makes it a one-of-a-kind place in Second Life. But there are two aspects of Templemore that are consistent throughout: decay and facade. It's seems oddly specific... the idea of, perhaps, an abandoned space that even when new was more of an illusion than based on reality. Overrun with vines and weeds and rot and rust and fading painted surfaces, you'll see buildings and various objects that are merely stage props, as if you'd wandered into a location that was used for a film set or stage show from decades ago. The scaffolding has been left up, various items strewn about as if the original owners had left in a hurry... it's completely mind-blowing that Luis chose this particular school of design for this magical virtual place.

My view from the outdoor stage at Templemore. Photo by Kat.

Or perhaps, with Luis' real-life background in event production and stage design, it's natural that he'd have a viewpoint that few others would even consider, much less render so well. But I've said it before and I'll say it again: there are many amazing environments in Second Life, but few that have been so visually enthralling to me. Mind you, it comes with a price; it's definitely a test of the power of your computer's graphics card, with so much to render and interact with. While seeing the place in its full high-resolution glory with all the shadows and particles in their proper place is something everyone should do at some point, in order for me to function as a performer there, I really dial graphic settings down to minimum so I can at least move myself on and off the stage. When I'm there, I have a job to do, and hopefully my live music soundtrack adds to the overall vibe of the place.

As great as many of them are, live music venues in SL really don't get any better than this. Photo by Kat.

Different Places, Different Tunes
There's something I've always done in SL that I think some other artists do (and many don't). Since I don't take song requests, it's always up to me to curate a batch of music before my show, aka preparing my set list. And yes, there's an element in my choices based on what I feel like playing, or how my voice is feeling and what I think I am most capable of playing at that time. However, there's also a big aspect of the venue itself driving my choices. With Templemore, I have two guidelines for the songs I choose. First, I have an awareness that Templemore's crowd tends to be a bit more adventurous in their tastes than many other spots in SL. Don't get me wrong; there's nothing at all wrong with performing more familiar popular tunes. I do that stuff fairly often at other places. But at Templemore, I really do have the faith in the audience that they'll be into stuff that's much more esoteric, even if it's their first time hearing it. The second personal rule at Templemore is something I do in tribute to Garrett Lutz, a Templemore friend and regular attendee of my shows there until he passed away in August 2017. The sim was renamed in his honor sometime afterwards. Garrett was the only person in SL who let me know that they were a huge fan of Sun Kil Moon, a band I cover pretty regularly, so I make it a point to always do at least one Sun Kil Moon song each time I play there in his honor.

Playing some music in honor of Garrett Lutz. Photo by Kat.

Great crowd, very engaged and into the music. Photo by Kat.

Additionally, Templemore is a place where I've historically debuted new songs, or at least songs I've never performed in SL before. Many of these songs end up becoming regulars in my set lists at subsequent shows. It's not that I'm hesitant to do new-to-me tunes at other places; it's just that I know how much they'll be recognized and appreciated there. Each time Luis reaches out to book me for a Templemore show, pretty much the first thing I do is start thinking of what song(s) I'd like to add to my repertoire for the show. This show was no exception (see set list below).

At every Templemore venue, there always seems to be a VIP area somewhere. This one rightfully has Gravey, Luis and friends chilling during my set. Photo by Kat.

As I've mentioned many times, I will continue to wear a mask in SL for as long as it's necessary to wear one in reality. More than most folks in the virtual world, my pixel self generally reflects almost every aspect of my fleshy life. Photo by Kat.

Great SL Musicians
Without fail, when I perform at Templemore, I've found myself on a bill with other musicians who are among my personal favorites in Second Life, and yesterday was no exception. The show kicked off at 3PM with J Lively, followed by my set at 4PM, and then consecutively, it was Oblee, Gravey Jones, and Parker Static. I know these things are a matter of subjective taste, but I can say without hesitation that these are among the best performers in all of SL, and I know the feeling is mutual among these artists. While chilling during Oblee's spectacular set after mine, he mentioned something about being honored to be playing between two "legends" (aka myself and Gravey), and while I've never thought of myself as anything really special as a performing musician in SL or otherwise, it does feel good to get that kind of validation from a fellow artist.

Luis' promo poster for the show. I'm honored to be on a bill with these great musicians!

Lutz City of Templemore set list...
Northern Sky (Nick Drake)
Crosses (José González)
Loading Zones (Kurt Vile)
Carry Me Ohio (Sun Kil Moon)
On the Floor (Chastity Belt)
*One Slip (Pink Floyd)
Trouble Child (Joni Mitchell)
*Hey Ya (OutKast)
Blew The Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
*Solsbury Hill (Peter Gabriel)
Bull Black Nova (Wilco)

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

Thanks SO much to everyone who made it to Templemore for the show, and extra special thanks to the following who helped support it!
Obeloinkment Wrigglesworth, Yaeleigh Resident, rosea3162 Resident, Amelie9 Sautereau, Kat Claxton, paula31atnight Resident, MariamMyrh Resident, Alexander Huntsman, Gann Gigamon, Nina Brandenburg, Trouble Streeter, Leondra Larsson, Alex Zelin, ohhbehave Resident, GideonHerschel Resident, Diana Renoir, my excellent manager Maali Beck, Templemore's amazing hostess Bee Blackrain, and Templemore's phenomenal owners Luis Lockjaw and Grace Sixpence!

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Serenity Gardens (05.04.20)

In these strange days, a fun show at Serenity Gardens is one of the few things that still feel normal. Photo by Kat.

This show report is coming along a bit later than usual; my apologies. It's been an extraordinarily busy time for me recently, as I've mentioned to just about anyone who seems inclined to listen. One thing that's preoccupied me lately is the fact that some areas of the USA are starting to "reopen". That is, the restrictions that were put in place to fight COVID-19 are beginning to be relaxed. Here in California, we were told on Monday that Friday, May 8, some of our retail stores and other commercial and entertainment entities that had been previously closed can once again be open for business, in varying degrees of limitation. None of this will happen all at once, and different areas of the country are each reacting based on their own set of criteria, and have different schedules to begin "getting back to normal". I have some advice for folks who are understandably concerned about immediately jumping back into society as it was before the pandemic happened. It's just one word.


Let's make sure you understand something. You are not compelled to do things that other people do. Got friends who are raring to go out to the club and party? Let them. Got neighbors who scoff at you for continuing to wear a mask or other protective gear when out amongst other people? Let them. Got a job where people are coming back into the office without taking basic precautions? Let them. You should continue to do the things that you know are right for you. End of story.

The most important thing to keep in mind: there is no "getting back to normal". Normal has a new definition now, and the sooner you accept and work within that new framework of life, the less frustrating it will be. So, as I said above: if you still see indications that COVID-19 is an imminent danger to yourself and your family wherever you live, don't allow anyone -- friends, media, employers, economic pundits, and so on -- pressure you to feel otherwise.

This photo, taken today (May 10) at a restaurant in Castle Rock, CO, is utterly horrifying to me. Not a mask in sight, and no attempt by the restaurant or its patrons to stay safely socially distant from each other. If you want this disease to hang around for years and years, this is how to do it.

My Reasons
Before you accuse me of having a privileged attitude about all this, let me beat you to the punch: that is correct. Thus far, I've had no personal economic impact during the pandemic (beyond my retirement fund taking a giant shit along with everyone else's). My business, which is the planning and execution of marketing programs, is as busy or busier than ever before, since my clients have been extremely reliant on my kinds of services to reach their customers throughout the quarantine period thus far.

But let me also add that, speaking of personal interests, mine also stem from the fact that I have been the victim of previous pandemics and other communicable diseases. I caught and suffered badly from the 2009 H1N1 outbreak, and then my entire family got nailed by H3N2 in 2012. I've had severe pneumonia twice in the past ten years, and am constantly fighting my propensity to chronic bronchitis. If I do get COVID-19, it's impossible to say what the outcome would be, but the fact that there's no vaccine nor any approved treatment path makes it something that would possibly kill me.

So, regardless of what the federal or state or local governments mandate, you'll see me continuing to avoid crowded public places, and protecting myself to the best of my ability when I am forced to interact with people. "But wait," you ask, "what if it's a year or more until there is a vaccine?" My answer is that I have no problem doing the simple things that will keep myself and my family alive for however long it takes. As a mature adult human being, I'm not going to allow impatience or boredom to dictate my actions. If that means I never again can do some of the things I previously enjoyed, so be it. I'll find other things to enjoy.

I'm going to keep doing what I've been doing... minimizing my contact with the public and staying protected in the rare situations that have me being among people. If it's a year of this or more, so be it. Photo by Kat.

Choose Wisely
Last note on this topic, for now anyway. If I see individuals or businesses who are purposefully taking actions (or being willfully negligent) in ways that can bring harm to me and those I love, I will "vote with my wallet" and do everything I can to make sure that I choose to aid those who don't do those things... and not assist the infringing parties in any way. Sometimes those things are subtle, like not recommending people for jobs, or not referring business to people whom I'd otherwise have been glad to help. Sometimes those things are direct, like choosing where to shop or whom to bank with and so on. But the economic impact of COVID-19 will have ramifications that many people aren't yet considering, and many of them may never know why things just didn't seem to ever turn back around for them. But I'll know.

Final, final note: on Saturday May 9, I did venture out of the house for my first excursion away from my immediate neighborhood in over two months. We'd wanted to break our case of cabin fever while still not putting ourselves in any kind of danger, so Christina, my son and I piled in the Jeep and took a nice little cruise along the ocean here in Redondo Beach. It was only about a half hour drive that culminated in us being extra courageous by chancing a drive-thru lunch from Carl's Jr., but it was a lovely day and it was nice to be out and about, even while in a car and with masks over our faces the entire time. I only had one weird moment, while waiting for a light at the corner of PCH and Knob Hill, and realizing we were right next to the infamous Kensington, an assisted living facility that became one of the biggest flare-up points for COVID-19 in LA County. I found myself holding my breath until we passed it entirely.

The Show
It was the "every other Monday night" day of my show at Serenity Gardens in Second Life, and damn... per above, I've been super busy lately. It's to the point that my weekends seem to be fair game for clients to contact me and want to hit various goals and deadlines that would have been laughable until recent times. What that meant in regard to my show this week was that I had less time than usual to plan out my set list. That having been said, it still came together pretty well, with the addition of a Simon & Garfunkel song I'd never done before. Ironically, while we're all still bound to our homes, the song "Homeward Bound" was done without a trace of irony.

I find that strumming a guitar and singing to people at Serenity Gardens is quite therapeutic, and hopefully my audience feels the same. Photo by Kat.

Pixel people prance as I play passionate pretty songs. Photo by Kat.

I'll continue to wear my mask in SL for as long as it's necessary for me to do so here in reality. Photo by Kat.

One thing that wasn't very well planned, though, was purely the number of songs I'd put into the set. For some reason, I left myself no leeway by selecting exactly 12 songs to perform. Well, that's not enough. It's not an exact science, this planning of sets. Some songs are longer; others are short. Sometimes I chat more with my audience between tunes; other times, I go through several songs in a row while barely saying a word to people. This means that my sets can be as low as 11 songs, and as high as 14, within the space of my hour-long show. What I did this week, with the limited time I had, was to pull exactly 12 songs. It's always a mistake, because while it never hurts to put a few unplayed songs back, not having enough to do a full gig is a serious problem. Seeing I still had over five minutes left in my show, I hurriedly grabbed a random tune from my shoot of lyrics, and it was "Easy" by Commodores. I had to kind of laugh my way through it; while it's a fine song, it's not a very high-energy tune that I'd usually pick for a closer.

Serenity Gardens set list...
Radio Free Europe (R.E.M.)
Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (Neil Young)
*Homeward Bound (Simon & Garfunkel)
Where Did You Sleep Last Night? (Leadbelly/Nirvana)
Never Run Away (Kurt Vile)
Nearly Lost You (Screaming Trees)
Roxanne (The Police)
Waking Light (Beck)
Pickles (Zak Claxton)
The Arrangement (Joni Mitchell)
Blew The Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
Peace Love & Understanding (Elvis Costello)
Easy (Commodores)

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

Huge thanks to all the people who came to have fun with me, and extra super special thanks to the following who helped support my show.
AaronCabottJones Resident, hynesyte Harbour, Jambalaya Fonck, go2smoky Resident, Tyche Szondi, Asimia Heron, Triana Caldera, Trouble Streeter, Karmagrl Resident, Kat Claxton, my excellent manager Maali Beck, and the fabulous team at Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde!