Monday, November 23, 2020

Homes For Our Troops (11.22.20)

Another excellent and successful fundraising show at Veterans Isle for Homes For Our Troops. Photo by Kat.

This week is Thanksgiving, and it's very understandable that in 2020, it's harder than usual to find reasons to be thankful. It's pretty fascinating that each person's individual background and perspective plays so heavily into this matter. As I occasionally do on Monday mornings to cheer myself up at the daunting prospect of another week ahead of me, I watched the latest segment of CBS's On the Road with Steve Hartman via YouTube when I got up, and it directly addressed this dilemma.


As you can see, as trite as it sounds, things really could always be worse. Much, much worse. I remain very, very thankful that no one in my immediate family has contracted COVID-19, for example. That's not a given in this age. We have also kept our steady sources of income over this annus horribilis, while many other people did not. And, as I've pointed out many times in many ways, I am always appreciative that we live in a lovely part of the world here in Southern California.

So do I have any reason to complain at all? God, yes, I sure do! This year of disease and political unrest has been chock full of stress for just about everyone around the world. On a personal basis, I've been in varying degrees of constant pain due to a spinal issue that is something I'll still be fighting for some time. Focusing on those aspects of 2020, it would seem disingenuous to claim that everything is fine. It's not fine. We all know that.

And still... I'm alive and mostly well, and have a large clan of family and friends who are equally fortunate. I'm even thankful for things I shouldn't have to be thankful for, like the huge belly laughs I get from reading posts on Twitter pointing out the insane ridiculousness of the current presidential transition. So while things are NOT okay, I'm far better off than the majority of people around the world... something that's been true my entire life regardless of current circumstances, and something I always try to appreciate.

Raising some funds and keeping some healthy perspective on our respective quality of life. Photo by Kat.

Homes For Our Troops
One very clear example of that line of thought is that of veterans who've been severely injured while serving their country. On many, many occasions, I've performed at the series of benefit concerts that help raise funds for Homes For Our Troops, a publicly funded 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization that builds and donates specially adapted custom homes nationwide for severely injured post-9/11 veterans, to enable them to rebuild their lives. These shows are organized by my fellow Second Life performer Frets Nirvana.

I'll quickly address something (since I've said it before and don't like repeating myself): I am a pacifist. I think war is barbaric and anachronistic, and should be avoided at nearly all costs. That being said, the one thing for which we must assume responsibility is caring for those who've put their lives on the line and paid a huge price. Regardless of what political party is in charge or who's running the current administration, these injured vets don't receive the amount of care that's required for them to lead happy and productive lives upon their return.

Per my statement at the top of this post, if you're mired in self-pity over how 2020 has gone for you, please compare your life and lifestyle to the people in the video below. They are some of the armed services veterans who've benefitted from HFOT's mission, and the only way they're able to do so is with the support of kind and generous people like you. 

The Show
I always put together a unique set list that seems appropriate for whatever venue or event I'm performing, and that's certainly true with benefit shows. As I mentioned last night at Veterans Isle in Second Life where the HFOT shows are held each month, there's one song that always makes its way into my list there, and it's Neil Young's "Comes a Time", with its lyric, "That's how we kept what we gave away." I really believe in that concept... that we gain more by giving than by taking.

Rocking the HFOT show on November 22, 2020. Photo by Kat.

I've now worn a mask continuously in SL since March, when I started wearing one in real life. While I do understand that Second Life is a world where some people go to escape the challenges of their real lives, it's so important to promote the basic measures of preventing COVID-19 transmission that I've committed to wearing my mask in-world for as long as I'm wearing one in public in the flesh... which will likely still be for quite some time. Photo by Kat. 

We had a decent crowd there, and with my not doing as many shows on a regular basis as I did previously, it seemed like a number of my Zakster fans were glad to see me back and performing live. As usual, the fundraising portion of the event seemed to be going very well, and I was glad to have helped bring a small portion of the proceeds to this great cause via the generous donations from my friends and fans.

Short side note: I don't cross paths with fellow SL musician Stratus Mactavish often. We used to both perform at the Islands of New England venue occasionally, but it had been a year or more since I last heard his set, and I'm always reminded that he's one of SL's better live musicians. I always enjoy his show when I happen to catch it, as I did last night when he performed in the slot before mine. 

HFOT set list...
One of These Things First (Nick Drake)
Cat’s in the Cradle (Harry Chapin)
Long Time Gone (Crosby, Stills and Nash)
Pretty Pimpin’ (Kurt Vile)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
Don’t Let It Pass (Junip)
Six Underground (Sneaker Pimps)
Into the Mystic (Van Morrison)
Comes a Time (Neil Young)
’Tis Autumn (Nat King Cole)
Wildflowers (Tom Petty)
America (Simon & Garfunkel) 

Huge thanks to everyone who came out to the show, with special super thanks to those who were able to give to the cause. You all are making a difference in someone's life! Here are some of the people who were in attendance and deserve kudos for their support.
Jasmyn Sugarplum, Dancing Gigi, Jax Rayne, Bri McMahon, Trouble Streeter, Sabryne Hotaling, Chacha Cyberstar, Nina Rose Setner, Kat Claxton, Ravensong Merlin, Jed Luckless, Waya Snowpaw, JameJame, Turn Pike, Firelie, Doris Johnsky, Angi Spires, and many more... especially the guy who makes it all happen, Frets Nirvana!

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Kat Vargas Memorial at The Rose Theatre (11.14.20)

Friends and musical colleagues of Kat Vargas gather for her memorial. Photo by Kat Claxton.

Here's a show report that I wish I'd never, ever have had to do.

Kat Vargas passed away on November 1 from complications due to COVID-19. I'd been aware that she'd contracted the disease, but had expected, as I do with most people, that's she'd recover. It was terrible to learn that she'd succumbed to it. She was only 60 years old. Kat was a longterm fixture among the Second Life music scene as a fan and a manager of a number of musicians. I'm not sure who was around SL longer between the two of us -- I started in 2006 -- but it seemed that right from the get-go, Kat was a person you'd see at live music events in SL all the time. 

I came to find out that she was managing a number of the most respected and popular musicians in Second Life, including my friend Maximillion Kleene. The first time I met Kat in person was at the initial Second Life Jam that I attended, in San Diego, CA in 2011. She was every bit as warm and fun and friendly -- and gropey, as I related in a story at her memorial -- in person as she was in SL.

I was informed that there was to be a memorial event in SL, and was honored when I was asked to be a part of it. I knew that as you would expect, most of the event would involve somber remembrances of our friend who was no longer among the living. But I also knew that Kat Vargas was a lady who loved laughter and fun, so I decided to try and use my portion of the presentation to serve as a reminder about the fun-loving, rather bawdy, and lovable person whom she was.

The Rose Theatre looked lovely, decorated in Kat V.'s honor. Photo by Kat Claxton.

The Rose Theatre
The memorial event was held at The Rose Theatre, a very grand and beautiful venue where I'd never previously performed. The organizers of the event set it up as a three-hour tribute to Kat, including some speeches and stories, but mostly jam-packed with musical performances, which seemed very appropriate. As I mentioned while unsuccessfully trying to make my way to the stage, it's a fitting tribute to Kat's impact that so many people were present (over 120 while I was there) that it bordered on crashing SL for many of us. 

No matter; I just did my show from where I happened to be, in the very back of the stage area. Everything worked out fine, and the event was touching on multiple levels. The schedule of speakers and performers allowed many friends and musicians to pay tribute to Kat over the course of the day, and included Rusty Seisenbacher, Parker Static, Fly Kugin, Mimi Carpenter, Seli Blackmore, Winter, Quartz, Agatha Nowles, Neomaximus Brandenburg, Anj Gustafson, Kris Composer, Evilynda Baphomet, and others. I know that a number of people were involved in putting on the whole event, and they did a terrific job.

Video of my performance courtesy of Diadorine Lane. Check her YouTube channel for videos of the entire event. 

Goodbye, Kat V.
Since I was slated for 15 minutes, I decided to do a few tunes that would have some level of meaning for the spirit of the day. My first tune, Neil Young's "Try", speaks to the importance of spending time with loved ones while they're still around. Golden Smog's "Pecan Pie" is a thinly-veiled metaphor for being horny, and I used that tune to recall Kat's real-life groping of me in 2011. My third song was "Your Song" by Elton John, which was my way of expressing the many songs that were played for Kat V. as "her song" during her time in SL.

Performing for Kat V. from my spot in the back of the hall. photo by Kat Claxton.

I also mentioned during the event that anytime I looked out from a stage and saw Kat Vargas in the audience -- usually because she was with one of her artists who was up before or after me -- it was a sign that people were going to be having fun out there. Her presence as a strong supporter of the music scene in SL will certainly be missed, and she'll be missed as a person, in all of her gropey and silly fun.

Kat Vargas Memorial set list...
Try (Neil Young)
Pecan Pie (Golden Smog)
Your Song (Elton John)

Many thanks to everyone who came to Kat Vargas's memorial event, especially to the kind friends of hers who organized it. You could not have done a better job, and she would have loved it!

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Congratulations, President-Elect Biden and Vice President-Elect Harris

Four years ago, on November 9, 2016, I wrote a post congratulating Donald Trump on his victory in that year's election. Today, I do the same for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.

Dear Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris,

I write today to extend my congratulations to both of you for having won the 2020 general election. I am happy to say that I supported your campaign and that your victory, which will likely end up as a large 306 to 232 win in the electoral college and a greater-than 5,000,000 vote advantage in the popular election, is indeed a mandate by the American people that change is desperately needed. In contrast to this moment in 2016, I am very optimistic about your presidency and the administration you will build.

My message to you today is very simple: you have an enormous task ahead of you. It may be a bigger challenge than any executive branch has faced since the Civil War and Reconstruction. On one side of you are the people who truly and fervently believed in your predecessor's message... one of an America that is strong and self-reliant at its best, and filled with bigotry and hatred in its worst aspects. On the other side of you are people who felt that you represent the status quo of center-based liberalism, and they distrust that you will take strong action that the left considered essential regarding climate change, wealth inequality, health care, and much more. And, hovering over it all, you have the immediate challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic that has continued almost unabated since its start.

At this very moment, you also have the unprecedented challenge of a former president who has not yet accepted his loss, and will likely be anything but gracious as he eventually leaves office (which he will). But his reticence to act in a way that respects the American democratic process will, at least temporarily, make it even more difficult for you to impart your message of bringing the country together.

It's an interesting analogy that, due to the factors above, you start your jobs with a much heavier burden than nearly any other administration in the history of our country. In a way, that's similar to a person in America who does not have the amount of privilege given to those in the majority of race, gender, and national origin. You will have a more difficult time even getting to what would be the starting line for most presidencies.

A personal side note: I didn't support either of you in the Democratic primaries, with my outlook leaning much more toward candidates like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, whom I felt would take the more radical steps necessary to help our country get back on course. That being said, in retrospect, I am not at all sure that either of them would have been able to mount a successful campaign against the former president, nor would have had your respective abilities to help reunite the USA.

All that having been said, I am hopeful and optimistic about the results of your victory, short- and long-term. I am ready to help you achieve your stated goals. And I am truly excited about the possibilities that the next four years bring; it's a feeling far removed from how I felt at this time in 2016. I look forward to the next steps with the following caveat: I will not hesitate to keep pushing the progressive agenda and maintaining a critical eye on your actions. Unlike the last administration, I believe you would expect no less of me, and of all the citizens of the country, so that you can best represent what we want, and what we need.

Thanks, and good luck.

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Hotel Chelsea (11.03.20)

Enjoying my first-ever show at Hotel Chelsea with a surprisingly good-sized crowd in the midst of a presidential election. Photo by Kat.

Oh, hello there. I'm back.

Where Have I Been for Like Six Weeks?
Fair question. On Saturday, August 29, I injured my back. The exact nature of that injury is still to be determined. I don't want to dwell on this too much, because it sucked, and it's still not over. The long story short is that like a lot of people my age, I have multiple issues with my spine... a herniated disc, scoliosis, and bone spurs. One of these caused a major bout of sciatica that not only debilitated me in various ways, but forced some lifestyle changes to which it's been difficult to adapt. I am still supposed to get an MRI and determine a longterm course of treatment.

It was only via coincidence that at the same time, my former steady show over the past 3-1/2 years ended due to that venue going on long-term hiatus. It's interesting that even if I'd had gigs lined up, I really wouldn't have been able to do them. Life is funny sometimes that way.

Long and sad story short: after things kept getting worse and worse, I had a remarkable improvement just last week, and coincidentally, I'd been booked for my first show ever at a Second Life venue I've long respected: Hotel Chelsea. When my manager Maali Beck told me about the show being scheduled for the first Tuesday of every month, I told her that sounded fine... and then somewhat belatedly realized that my first show there would end up being on Tuesday November 3, aka Election Day.

An external shot of Hotel Chelsea in Second Life, modeled after the famous New York City landmark where writers, musicians, artists, and actors made their home. Photo by Kat.

How About That Election?
I'm writing this on the morning of November 4. For anyone looking back from a historical perspective, we currently, at this very moment, have no idea who won the presidential election. It's looking like once all the votes are counted, Joe Biden will be our next president. But it's extremely close, and given what's happened in previous elections, there's no way to be sure right now.

There's no point in my discussing this here and now. All I can hope for at this moment in time is that the votes are fairly counted -- all of them -- and that the winner is chosen legitimately. I shall refrain from any other statement at this time. 

Sitting here in limbo at this very moment. No one truly knows how this will end up. I am somewhat optimistic about Joe Biden being the winner, but I'm certain that many things will transpire before that's official. Graphic from NPR.

How About That Show?
Yeah. So, my prevailing feeling was that no one would be at this show, my debut at this great venue. Literally no one. They'd all be glued to their TVs and their Twitter and whatever else they focus on during a major election. That feeling increased when I logged into SL and realized that my friend Max Kleene, who'd been scheduled to perform before me, wasn't able to do his show. None of this was upsetting to me; my assumption was that people have priorities, and that's completely understandable.

When I arrived at Hotel Chelsea, my anticipation of playing for no one at all was pretty much confirmed. There was literally me and Shyla, who manages the venue. Maali joined us after a bit, along with a couple of folks who were hanging out. I figured I'd just do my show to that little group of 5-6 people, and it didn't bother me at all. It would be a good way to pass the time, and to stop obsessing on election returns.

Damn, it felt great to be back up on stage and in front of a crowd. I will always be a performing musician; it's been in my blood since I was a tiny kid. Photo by Kat.

As I've done since the start of the pandemic, I wear a mask in SL just as I do in public in real life. Photo by Kat.

I can't tell you how pleased and amazed I was by seeing folks arriving to my show. That had nothing to do with me, and everything to do with the circumstances surrounding doing a music performance during the most distracting event in many of our lifetimes. I am eternally grateful to those who came. Photo by Kat.

And then, something happened that truly shocked me. As I launched into my first song, people started arriving. You could probably hear the shock in my voice as I addressed the crowd between songs. Granted, I'd promoted the show as a great way to give yourself a break from election stress, and it turned out that people actually needed that. We ended up with a seriously great crowd there under the circumstances.

Musically, I'd very purposefully kept the selection of songs on the mellow side. No one, including myself, needed a bunch of high-energy songs in the midst of all the collective stress and anxiety. Despite having been away from live performance for about six weeks, I felt good about both my voice and guitar playing, and am looking forward to more shows soon. Perhaps a live video show between now and my next SL show would be a good idea.

Hotel Chelsea set list...
It's Easy Like Walking (The Sadies w/Kurt Vile)
Among the Leaves (Sun Kil Moon)
The Last Time I Saw Richard (Joni Mitchell)
All Lives, You Say? (Wilco)
River Man (Nick Drake)
Vacancy (Neil Young)
*Mr. Bojangles (Jerry Jeff Walker)
Say Goodbye (Beck)
Perfect Day (Lou Reed)
Pancho & Lefty (Townes Van Zandt)
America (Simon & Garfunkel) 
All You Fascists (Woody Guthrie)

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

Massive thanks to everyone who came out to see my debut at Hotel Chelsea despite all the excellent reasons not to... and special super thanks to the following who helped support my show there!
Luis Lockjaw, storyofyoursmile Resident, Richy Nervous, Rusty Seisenbacher, Kat Claxton, Diana Renoir, Asimia Heron, Pureperle Anton, Alex Zelin, Maurice Mistwallow, noowun Wind, go2smoky Resident, CB Axel, TheHaroldTheBurrel Resident, my excellent manager Maali Beck, and Hotel Chelsea manager Shyla the Super Gecko!