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 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 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?)