Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Serenity Gardens (08.24.20)

My shows every other Monday night at Serenity Gardens are as therapeutic for me and I hope they are for my audiences. We sure do have a lot of the same people who seem to come to every show. Photo by Kat.

As I write this post about my fun show last night at Serenity Gardens in Second Life, it's Tuesday August 25. That means exactly 10 weeks from today, on Tuesday November 3, is the general election in the USA. And let me tell you right now... if anyone says they know for sure what's going to happen, they are lying or just simply wrong.

Polls: Don't Believe Them
Let me tell you a little story from a year called 2016, which was actually just four years ago but feels like about 1,000 years ago. Anyway, at this point in late August 2016, all of the major polls were telling us that it was all but certain that Hillary Clinton was going to be the next President of the United States. In a usual year under typical candidates, that probably would have been accurate. But a few things happened.

First, the polls themselves were at least partially to blame for a large percentage of people simply not voting. Many folks assumed that with an easy victory for Clinton in the bag, they didn't have to vote... and many of them did not. Clinton herself, while being an imminently qualified candidate, was not extremely well liked, with a lot of baggage on her from her tenures as First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State. There was also the undeniable aspect of the USA not having ever had a female President before, and the sad specter of misogyny definitely came into play.

And finally, as has been well established (and will continue to be investigated, and punishments sought), the United States was the victim of foreign interference in our 2016 election. So, while Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, she lost the electoral vote and we ended up with Donald Trump as President. I'm not saying that pollsters are out to purposefully mislead you... but the game has changed drastically with a man like Trump, who lacks any sense of morality, and will stop at nothing to cheat his way into a second term.

A poll from October 4, 2016 (about a month before the election) told us that Hillary Clinton was all but certain to become the next President, and probably by a large margin. Most other polls had similar results. No matter what you hear, assume that Biden has no chance of winning without your vote... because it's true. Graphic by CBC News.

What's the solution? Ignore the polls no matter what they say, and vote. Vote any way that's legally permissible, and encourage literally every eligible voter in your circle of family and friends to vote. Vote in person, or vote by mail. If you need some help on how, when, and where to vote, the Vote.org web site can help you every step of the way. If you want my direct assistance in voting or registering to vote, drop me a comment below and I will personally make sure you get the info you need.

A Song for Diana Renoir
Who is Diana Renoir? She's one of my most longterm friends who I met via Second Life around 12 years ago. At my show, I did something at the behest of Diana that I do very, very rarely. As I've stated many, many times, here and elsewhere, unlike the majority of SL musical performers, I don't take song requests. Instead, I plan out a set of tunes that I feel will combine to make a theme or a vibe that goes for the hour-long duration of my show.

My wonderful friend Diana, for whom I had to relearn one of my own songs (and did so gladly). Photo by Kat.

But Diana reached out to me over the weekend to confirm I was doing a show on Monday evening (I was), and then to find out if, for her birthday (a real life birthday, as opposed to a Second Life rezday), I would do an original song that she had always enjoyed. It was "Shine", a song that I'd recorded for my second solo album in 2010 that was never completed or released. Well, I hadn't done "Shine" in at least five years, and perhaps even longer. It's a fine song; it's just that it has this lyrical theme of total positivity, and perhaps things haven't been all that peachy-keen in recent years in a way that would make me want to reach for that tune. I was glad to pull out "Shine" for Diana.

I remain masked in SL, and will stay that way until I feel good about being out in public among people in real life. Photo by Kat.

More Show
I was a little distressed upon arriving at Serenity Gardens to see that Grace McDunnough, who usually has the slot before mine, wasn't able to do her show. That made me, as I like to call it, the sacrificial lamb of the night... the first performer up, starting with literally no one at the venue and having to build the crowd on my own. Well, as usual, I needn't have worried. We drew a nice little audience and everyone seemed to be having a good time.

A cool little crowd, enjoying another evening at Serenity Gardens. Photo by Kat.

Rocking the people of SL, something I've done for nearly 14 years now. Photo by Kat.

In addition to "Shine", I pulled out a couple of other rarities, like my slow and sad version of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit", and Queen's slightly rockabilly tune "Crazy Little Thing Called Love". Overall, the whole set went fine. Also, it miraculously cooled off here in the afternoon after several days in high heat and humidity, and I was super happy when I wrapped up the show to walk outside into a nice ocean breeze and cooler temps.

Serenity Gardens set list...
Things Behind the Sun (Nick Drake)
Your Song (Elton John)
Shine (Zak Claxton)
Try (Neil Young)
Smells Like Teen Spirit (Nirvana)
Brain Damage/Eclipse (Pink Floyd)
Broken Day (Zak Claxton)
Crazy Little Thing Called Love (Queen)
Perfect Day (Lou Reed)
A Day in the Life (Beatles)
California (Joni Mitchell)

Big thanks to every single person who came out for the Zak Show at Serenity gardens, with special super thanks to the following people who helped support the show!
AaronCabottJones Resident, Trouble Streeter, Kat Chauveau, Diana Renoir, Kat Claxton, JolieBell Resident, Medea Frostbite, Nina Brandenburg, my excellent manager Maali Beck, and the fabulous team at Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde!

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Serenity Gardens (08.10.20)

Sad tunes and happy times at Serenity Gardens. Photo by Kat.

I'm having one of those moments where there are so many topics I could tell you about, it's somewhat difficult to choose the order of things or what to say at all. I guess the only solution is random blathering, in lieu of my making the effort to organize my thoughts before writing. Way too much planning and organization for a Tuesday morning. Sorry in advance.

Nick Drake
So, last night at Serenity Gardens in Second Life, I did a Nick Drake song I hadn't done before. In my opinion, it's one of his finest: "River Man" from his 1969 debut album Five Leaves Left. That kid was just 21 years old and already writing with a depth of feeling that is nearly inconceivable for a person that age.

"River Man" by Nick Drake.

I'm not going to write a biography of Nick Drake here, but I will give you the super fast version. Talented guy, born in 1948, grew up in a small town south of Birmingham, UK in a well-to-do and caring family. He wrote and recorded these amazing songs and was an incredibly talented folk-style guitarist, but he was chronically shy and had difficulties performing live as a result not being able to engage the audience at all. He also had to tune his guitar differently for each song he played, leaving long gaps between each song. People didn't know what to make of him. He did three albums between 1969 and 1972, but due to his inability to promote himself through strong live performances or other self-promotion necessary for musical success, none of them sold well at the time. 

Nick suffered from social anxiety and severe depression, and in 1974, at age 26, he died due to an overdose of prescription medication. It's unknown to this day as to whether he intended to kill himself. His music remained deep in the underground for years afterwards until 1999, when Volkswagen used his song "Pink Moon" in a TV ad, and suddenly everyone wanted to know who wrote that hauntingly lovely song. It's a bittersweet fact that his music finally gained the recognition it deserved, decades after his death, and a number of his songs -- the aforementioned "Pink Moon" along with "Things Behind the Sun", "Northern Sky", "One Of These Things First", and now "River Man" -- are among the most played tunes in my live sets.

84 Days
There are 84 days remaining until the 2020 general election in the USA. I beg of you to please vote, and to encourage every person within your world to vote as well. It's easy to do. If you're an American aged 18 years or older, please visit vote.org where you can register, confirm your voter status, sign up to vote by mail, and more.

Are we counting down the days until the election here at Casa Claxton? You bet your ass we are.

Alanis Morissette
I'm not a nostalgia guy. I don't think that my teens and twenties were the best time of my life. I find that thought thoroughly depressing, frankly, and feel sorry for anyone who can't appreciate the moment. That being said, I had just turned 26 years old when Alanis' landmark album Jagged Little Pill came out in 1995. Side note: everyone thinks this was her debut album. It wasn't. It was her third album; she'd released two of them previously, but they were only known in her native Canada. Anyway, the release of JLP was one of those cultural moments akin to the release of Nirvana's Nevermind five years earlier where you just knew that it was going to have an influential effect on music for years to come.

Anyway, Alanis didn't disappear after that. She kept making music, but frankly very little of it had the impact that her first major international release did. So, the other day, I get a suggestion on YouTube for a video of a new song from Alanis, and I checked it out. It was... nice. Very family oriented. I wasn't trying to be disparaging when I described it as "Mommy Rock". She's a 46-year-old woman with three kids now, and she always tended to write in a direct way about very personal emotions and experiences, and it makes sense that her worldview is that of the person she is today... something I applaud.

"Ablaze" by Alanis Morissette.

That being said, seeing and hearing her in this new music video also reminded me that I'm not 26 and she's not 21, and our respective lives are obviously very different than they were in 1995. But it also inspired me to go back and listen to some of her earlier work, and just for the hell of it, I decided to cover "Ironic", a song that I actually used to poke fun at since none of the lyrical themes are actually ironic. The song should have been called "Bummer".

I don't know what to say about this. The idea that a pandemic has somehow morphed into a political hot topic is beyond sad. As has been said many times, a virus doesn't care which way you vote. Wearing a mask or paying attention to social distancing guidelines doesn't make you a member of any specific political outlook. And what's happening is the extension of the virus's impact which, in a world where literally everyone helped each other by isolating and wearing personal protection when interacting, could have likely been under control by now.

But it's not. Yesterday, I got the official notice that the 2021 NAMM Show (a large trade show in the industry of music/audio products where I've spent my entire career) is cancelled. No surprise there; getting 100,000+ people from all over the world in a single location was never a real possibility under the pandemic circumstances. Still, I've worked that show every single year since 1993, and it's going to be extraordinarily weird for me to get into January of next year with no NAMM Show to prepare for and execute.

Will I still be doing a ton of work around that time to help my clients introduce new products around that time? Of course, and the workload might be equal to or even greater than getting ready for a familiar in-person event. But like so many other things in this current era, it's just one more aspect that indicates beyond all doubt that what we used to think of as normal is gone, and in some cases might be gone forever. Again, it's a good thing I'm not a nostalgia guy. 

It's not going away on its own. Until there is a proven and safe vaccine, you will not find me out among groups of people under any circumstance that isn't absolutely necessary.

The Show
I continue to be appreciative of the schedule at Serenity Gardens on my bi-weekly Monday night shows where I perform directly after Grace McDunnough. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise; whether in SL or on real life stages, the artist or band who performs adjacent to your time slot makes a huge difference. If their style of music doesn't align somewhat well with your own, there's going to be a huge turnover of the audience. Not all of Grace's fans are into me, nor would I expect them to be. But I can say that I get a big benefit of having a receptive crowd there right from the start of my shows. Plus, she is such a great talent that as I'm listening to her while I get ready to do my own show, I feel inspired to perform well. I am literally a better performer because of her.

Me onstage, still masked up even in the virtual world. Photo by Kat.

I truly love Serenity Gardens. I've done some of my finest live shows there over the past three+ years. Photo by Kat.

What a lovely evening, in both SL and reality. Photo by Kat.

So, we had a good crowd, and I was pretty happy with my set list. In addition to the two new songs mentioned above, I decided to stay mostly within a mood theme that invoked some level of melancholy. It's not that I'm feeling sad; I'm not. I'm fine, given the circumstances of life in 2020. But the world itself has had a lot to handle lately, and sometimes there's a cathartic effect when you throw that sadness back at itself, if that makes any sense.

Serenity Gardens set list...
Loading Zones (Kurt Vile)
*Ironic (Alanis Morissette)
Blew the Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
*River Man (Nick Drake)
Carry Me Ohio (Sun Kil Moon)
High and Dry (Radiohead)
Vacancy (Neil Young)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
America (Simon & Garfunkel)
Texarkana (R.E.M.)
Say Goodbye (Beck)
*Ode to Serenity #412 (Zak Claxton)

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

Huge thanks to everyone who came out to my show... you are awesome! Extra special thanks to the following people who helped support the show!
Hippierider65 Resident, SurfSide66 Resident, Tyche Szondi, Lauralynn Foxtrot, 4REIGN Resident, Trouble Streeter, Aurelie Chenaux, Kat Claxton, Kat Chauveau, Stratus Mactavish, my excellent manager Maali Beck, and the fabulous team at Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde (and my guest host last night, Sharky)!