Monday, March 1, 2021

Lavender Field/Feed-a-Smile (02.28.21)

For the first few seconds of my show for Feed-a-Smile, things seemed to be going normally. Photo by Kat.

Last week, when I heard from my old friend Brique Zeiner who asked if I could perform for her long-enduring Feed-a-Smile fundraiser show at the Lavender Field venue, I gladly accepted, but I forgot one important thing. That thing was the fact that the previous Sunday, I'd run into some very unexpected problems with my computer's audio system. It was during a Zoom call... an interview, actually, with members of the Canadian rock band Red Heaven.

What I didn't realize was that whatever was unfortunately affecting my audio during that call would also be problematic when I went to go stream live music via my audio interface. But sure enough, after planning a set list and getting all warmed up and ready, I went to start my show and things went downhill from the very start. Moments into my first song, I started seeing the chat window fill up with people telling me that I sounded like a robot.

Kat, who was sitting here in the room as usual, turned up her speaker volume so I could hear what they meant. And indeed, no matter what I was playing, a metallic, ring-modulated pitch was coming out. It was an interesting sound that could have been useful under other circumstances, but at the time wasn't what I wanted at all. I tried the usual things... restarted my broadcast stream, quit SL and returned, and nothing helped. The whole event could have easily ended right then and there, and had it been one of my regular shows, it almost certainly would have.

The Show Must Go On
However, I'd made a commitment to Brique to help raise some funds for her excellent charity, and I knew that somehow, in some way, the show had to go on. But how? As a musician who relies on several layers of technology to reach his audience, it seemed like there was nothing I could do.

But the reality is, music is only the vehicle for entertainment that gets people to come out to fundraising events like Feed-a-Smile. The key word in the last sentence isn't "music". It's "entertainment", and if there's one thing that seems hard-wired into my silly brain, it's the ability to entertain using a varied set of tools. So, a moment after accepting defeat about the possibility of performing live music, instead of ending the show and sending everyone home, I had a different idea.

[14:10] Zak Claxton: Well everyone, gather around
[14:10] Zak Claxton: I will type you a story

And that's what I did. Three stories, actually. For the remaining 50 minutes of my show, I typed stories to my audience. I was expecting pretty much everyone to leave, but for some reason that is unknowable to me, most of them stayed. And, I have to tell you... perhaps because it was just something so entirely different from most experiences in Second Life, in spite of the lack of music, people seemed to really enjoy themselves. I had a review, in the form of a Facebook post, from Bee Lockjaw:

"One of the best Zak Claxton sets ever.... but will never look at tracking paint, high end hookers, or zucchini the same ever again! A very fun time at Lavender Fields, feeding smiles and cracking a few of our own!"

I got off the stage and joined the people once storytime started. Photo by Kat.

The Stories
I suppose I should give you a synopsis of the stories I wrote, which were all different in their own way.

The first story is one of my go-to tales of my life, and is based on an entirely true event. When I was about 11 or 12, some bigger and meaner kids tried to steal my bike, and I fended them off through guile by telling them that my bike was coated in something called tracking paint, which would allow the police to find them and come round them up.

The second story was a bit of absurdism that I invented on the spot. It was that tale of a girl comprised entirely of zucchini. It wasn't a great story, but it invoked a lot of audience participation (mostly people wondering what the fuck I was talking about).

The third and final story was loosely based on a real event in my late teen years, when my friends and I went to a party at a hotel room and found ourselves in a strange place with an unfamiliar crowd, with various hijinks that ensued.

I have to say, none of these are epic stories. If I'd had time to actually prepare a storytelling event, they probably would have been more well thought out and compelling. As it was, I pulled them all out of my nether regions with no plan whatsoever. And yet, it ended up being super fun for everyone, and most importantly, people continued to donate funds to the cause while I weaved my little webs of words for them.

I was truly expecting literally everyone to leave once it became apparent that live music wasn't going to be part of the day's festivities. I couldn't have been more mistaken. Photo by Kat.

I Love My Audience

The real thing that made the event fun was the interaction with the crowd. The stories themselves were mediocre at best; what made the event great was the reaction of the people who hung out. It started innocuously enough as several people sat down around me like children in a Kindergarten class...

[14:11] Zak Claxton: Once upon a time...
[14:11] Zak Claxton: There was a boy who liked to ride his bike.
[14:11] Zak Claxton: So one day he was out riding his bike.
[14:11] Lilly Ann Setner-Matfield (lillyannsetner): (may I have a juice box?)

And things got progressively sillier...

[14:25] Zak Claxton: There was a girl.
[14:25] Kat Claxton: Is this also a story about you?
[14:26] Zak Claxton: IT'S NOT ABOUT ME GODDAMMIT
[14:26] Lilly Ann Setner-Matfield (lillyannsetner): I already hate this story
[14:26] Zak Claxton: This girl was made of zucchini.
[14:26] Zak Claxton: \No one ever knew.
[14:26] Trouble (trouble.streeter) blinks
[14:26] Ɲιηα Rσѕε Sεтηεя (nina.brandenburg): wow
[14:26] Lilly Ann Setner-Matfield (lillyannsetner): ooOOooo
[14:26] Zak Claxton: But it was true.
[14:26] Zak Claxton: She was a human zucchini.
[14:26] Trouble (trouble.streeter): at least she wasn't made of cauliflower
[14:27] Zak Claxton: Why would she be made of cauliflower? that would be weird.

And more surreal...

[14:29] Zak Claxton: The leader of the crows flew up to her
[14:29] Zak Claxton: And said "CAW CAW CAW!" because crows can't speak.
[14:29] Kat Claxton: CROWS HAVE A LEADER??? We're all so fucked
[14:29] Zak Claxton: But the girl found she could understand the crow.
[14:30] Zak Claxton: And what the crow said was, "Hey zucchini girl! How do you taste?"
[14:30] Lilly Ann Setner-Matfield (lillyannsetner): Ok that's flirty
[14:30] Trouble (trouble.streeter): oooh. frisky crow
[14:30] Zak Claxton: And the girl said, "What are you talking about crow? I am but a normal human girl!"
[14:30] Ɲιηα Rσѕε Sεтηεя (nina.brandenburg): rofl
[14:30] Trouble (trouble.streeter): I HAVE QUESTIONS
[14:30] Zak Claxton: And the crowm speaking in Crow Tongue, said, "If you're a human girl, you must pass three tests."
[14:31] Zak Claxton: For the first test, you must dive a mile into the sea and come back with the golden locket.
[14:31] Kat Claxton: Ok, a regluar person couldn't even do that
[14:31] Trouble (trouble.streeter): crows like shiny things.
[14:31] Ɲιηα Rσѕε Sεтηεя (nina.brandenburg): they do.
[14:31] Kat Claxton: This test is already unfair
[14:31] Zak Claxton: For the second test, you must climb Mount Fartybottom and pluck off the purple leaves of the violet rose.
[14:32] Lilly Ann Setner-Matfield (lillyannsetner): ...............
[14:32] Zak Claxton: For the third test, you must fly into space and take a picture of the C-beans glittering in the moonlight."
[14:32] Lilly Ann Setner-Matfield (lillyannsetner): the hell's a c-bean

And even more weird...

[14:35] Zak Claxton: I was getting my hair cut in 1986
[14:36] Zak Claxton: And the lady who was cutting my hair was named... something.
[14:36] Zak Claxton: I don't remember.
[14:36] Zak Claxton: Anyway
[14:36] Zak Claxton: It was a Saturday
[14:36] Trouble (trouble.streeter): can we call her zucchini?
[14:36] Zak Claxton: I was 17
[14:36] Zak Claxton: This story has no zucchini
[14:36] Lilly Ann Setner-Matfield (lillyannsetner): Trouble enough with the zucchini

After awhile, everyone was a player in this bizarre performance art piece...

[14:43] Zak Claxton: And to this day, i don't know how we found the room where the party was.
[14:43] Kat Claxton: Did you follow the sounds of cracking whips?
[14:44] Zak Claxton: IT. WAS. A REGULAR. HOTEL.
[14:44] Trouble (trouble.streeter): whips happen at regular hotels too
[14:44] Lilly Ann Setner-Matfield (lillyannsetner): Stop yellin Zak it's aggressive
[14:45] Zak Claxton: There was a loud banging on the door
[14:45] Ɲιηα Rσѕε Sεтηεя (nina.brandenburg): ruh roh
[14:45] Lilly Ann Setner-Matfield (lillyannsetner): WHOA
[14:45] Zak Claxton: BANG BANG BANG
[14:45] Lilly Ann Setner-Matfield (lillyannsetner): Told ya it was a sex dungeon
[14:46] Zak Claxton: Police! DEA agents! Hotel security!
[14:47] Kip Yellowjacket: where are the innocent boys on bikes?
[14:47] Zak Claxton: Those boys grew up, Kip.
[14:47] Kip Yellowjacket: oh
[14:47] Zak Claxton: Now they're with cocaine and hookers and they're far from home, with no bikes.

And so on. It genuinely was... well, weird, but everyone seemed to be having a super good time, and I found I was as well. I'll tell you one thing; had I just packed up my stuff and stormed off after the audio system failure, it would have ruined my day. I'd have been grumbling and pissed off for the rest of Sunday and would have awoken angry about it the following day. So, I suppose the moral of this little story about storytelling is that there's a reason why the phrase "the show must go on" exists. No matter what happens, never abandon the show. There's always something you can do to brighten people's days, even if it's a bit outside the realm of your comfort level or abilities.

As usual, my Second Life avatar remained masked just like my real life self throughout the pandemic. It will indeed be a happy day when, in both real life and the virtual world, I feel comfortable being out in public without the mask. It's still gonna be awhile before that happens. Photo by Kat.

More About Feed-a-Smile
I'd be negligent if I didn't make mention of the actual reason I'd appeared at Lavender Field in Second Life that day, which was to help raise funds for Feed-a-Smile, the ongoing charitable effort run by my friend Brique as part of the Live and Learn in Kenya program. I've done many, many shows for Feed-a-Smile over the years (my first show for them was ten years ago in 2011), and have been rewarded with wonderful drawings and lovely notes from the kids in Kenya who are the recipients of the benefit's actions.

The best gift of all is seeing them sitting down at tables to eat the food for which I'd had a hand in raising the funds that paid for them. That's a tremendous feeling as a musician, to know that some sound you made resulted in a tangible bettering of another person's life. I never did benefit shows in my youth, but now I can't recommend it highly enough for all performing musicians. Nothing will ever make you feel as good.

Although she's been based in Germany for much of her life, Brique hails from my same little section of the Los Angeles area as where I've made my home, Redondo Beach, and has become a good friend over the years we've been acquainted. I will always be glad to help her efforts with Feed-a-Smile whenever I can.

I don't have many things hanging on my wall here in my office/studio, but this framed set of pictures featuring the kids of the Ronda/Barut slums of Nakuru, Kenya who are directly helped via Feed-a-Smile was a gift from my late father, and is something I treasure.

I have no way of knowing who contributed to Brique's day of fundraising, but I do want to send thanks to the folks who were present and participated in my bizarre story hour at Lavender Field. 

Tom Sparkle, Kip Yellowjacket, Trouble Streeter, Joel Eilde, Lilly Ann Setner-Matfield, Nina Rose Setner, Sunray Moonites, JameJame, Lilith Dagostino-Coonery, Diana Renoir, Beachy Piers, Bee Lockjaw, my excellent manager Maali Beck, and the wonderful lady who makes everything happen for Feed-a-Smile, Brique Topaz!

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