Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Serenity Gardens (01.15.18)

Having a good show at Serenity Gardens before my annual hiatus from SL performances. Photo by Kat.

I awoke yesterday morning with no idea what kind of music I'd be performing at Serenity Gardens in Second Life for my scheduled bi-weekly Monday night show there. A few hours later, my set list was completely clear, due to both happy and sad reasons.

Last Show for Awhile
As I mentioned last week, I'm now officially on hiatus until after an upcoming business event. My next scheduled show is on February 12, so I wanted to make sure last night's show was a good one for the sake of both myself and my audience. There's this kind of weird paranoia among some SL musical performers that if they don't do shows constantly, they'll be forgotten or something. Look at it this way: in real life, bands don't tour 100% of the time. They tour, they work on an album, they have lives, and then they tour again. I actually think it's a good and positive thing to step away from doing shows in SL every so often. In my case, it's a forced but necessary decision, with a business event that eats my time (and then consumes my body and voice to the point where singing and playing just isn't an option for awhile). But each year, I find that my January hiatus works out fine, and leaves me with a renewed interest in doing my shows upon my return.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day
For reasons of the above-mentioned hiatus (which usually starts a bit earlier than it does this year), I don't believe I've ever before done a show on the MLK Day holiday. Once I realized the significance of the day, I wanted to be sure to perform some music that had a theme of Dr. King and the civil rights movement... something that's important to me on multiple levels. Most of the people reading this blog are likely aware that I'm a supporter of causes that promote equality and justice for all people, so I wasn't going to miss the opportunity to spread my message on such an auspicious day.

Dolores O'Riordan, 1971-2018
It was a few hours into the day yesterday that some heartbreaking news starting filling my Twitter and Facebook feeds. Dolores O'Riordan, the singer and main songwriter of The Cranberries, had passed away suddenly at age 46. Beyond being sad on its own, it made me aware that The Cranberries had an unexpectedly big musical impact on the early/mid-90s period. I'd previously only had one song of theirs in my repertoire, but I was well acquainted with many others, and decided to do a few of them in tribute to this good musician and lovely woman.

The Show
I never know what kind of crowd I'll get, or how well I'm going to perform. I really don't. Some days everything feels fine and then my hands and vocal chords decide to not cooperate, and other times the reverse happens where I think I'm unordered or not feeling physically perfect and then have a great show. Well, I'm happy to say that last's night's show at Serenity Gardens went well on all fronts. We had a nice audience who seemed to enjoy themselves, and I felt good about the tunes I did. The show kind of got divided into three parts... a tribute to Dolores, a batch of songs for Dr. King, and a mishmash of indie rock and original tunes. I think they all went pretty well.

Me onstage, looking out at my friends and fans. Photo by Asimia Heron.

My crowd at Serenity Gardens always seems accepting of whatever I choose to play, which is a good feeling. Photo by Asimia Heron.

Wrapping up my show and getting ready to change my brain mode from musician to music businessman... a very different mindset, I promise. Photo by Kat.

Serenity Gardens set list...
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
*Zombie (The Cranberries)
*Dreams (The Cranberries)
Linger (The Cranberries)
Same Sun (Real Estate)
Pretty Pimpin (Kurt Vile)
Runnin' Down a Dream (Tom Petty)
Abrasion (They Stole My Crayon)
Things Behind the Sun (Nick Drake)
Pride (U2)
All Lives, You Say? (Wilco)
Redemption Song (Bob Marley)
Alabama (Neil Young)
*Goodbye Fans Improv (Zak Claxton)

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

Big ol' thanks to all who came out to my last show before my hiatus, with special kudos to the following who helped support the show!
ErikKottzen Resident, Aurelie Chenaux, Sesh Kamachi, Asimia Heron, go2smoky Resident, Tyche Szondi, Lunette Kyomoon, Kat Claxton, my manager Maali Beck, and the great management team of Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde!

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The Islands of New England (01.09.18)

Enjoying a good show at The Islands of New England, with Lyndon Heart waiting for me on the wings. Photo by Thea Dee.

Pretty much every person in every kind of business has a "busy time of year". For me, that time is now. My career is in the musical instrument and audio products industry, and the big event in that business happens each January. You may have heard me mention and/or complain about it before; it's called the NAMM Show. This year, 2018, will mark my 25th consecutive year working at that show. I was a 23-year-old kid when I first worked at NAMM in 1993. It seems like a lifetime ago.

As I'm sure is true for many others, NAMM gives me mixed feelings. I do enjoy getting together in person with many friends and acquaintances that I tend to only see in person at the show. On the flip side, there's a tremendous amount of work that goes into making the show successful for my clients, and I'm extremely busy throughout the multiple days of show itself. It's a pressure-packed environment, and being what it is, it's constantly loud and crowded. For someone like me who really prefers quiet and somewhat isolated environs, it can be nerve-wracking and difficult at times to handle.

Why am I writing about this now? Simply because we're getting close to the time of year where I need to take a hiatus from live music shows due to a) being too busy while doing final preparations for the show, b) working the show itself, and c) allowing my body and voice (and brain) to recover sufficiently after it ends to be able to perform again. Officially, I am on hiatus from Second Life shows from January 20 through February 1, but after my next and final show before the break on Monday of next week, I don't currently have a show scheduled until February 12.

I find that little break I am forced to take each year to be a good thing. Granted, I enjoy performing and miss it when I am forced to stop for awhile. At the same time, like anything in life, you can start to take it for granted, and that sometimes leads to a performer not putting the highest level of effort and focus into each show. Ennui kicks in, and audiences can tell when a musician is just going through the motions. I'd also prefer to do less shows, but have each one be something I can enjoy and be proud of, and hopefully my audiences recognize that fact.

Getting Classic at New England
One of the side results of being so busy this time of year is that the amount of time I can spend preparing for each specific show is lessened. I'd been making a strong effort to include new material at nearly every single show in recent months, and I've enjoyed doing that. However, what's required to allow me to do that confidently is a lot of work in really learning a song well enough to perform it at a professional level; I simply won't add a new tune and then do a shitty job with it. It means I'm rehearsing the song a bunch of times, making sure I know the chords, the vocal phrasing, and figuring out any little performance tricks I can throw in to best represent the arrangement on solo acoustic guitar.

Well, I didn't have that kind of time for my show last night at The Islands of New England, so I make some lemonade out of that musical lemon, and chose a set that was nearly entirely classic singer-songwriter songs that I've heard many, many times, and most of which I've performed many times over the years. Whether you're a musician or actor or dancer, the key element of good performance is being completely confident that you know the material, and since I wanted to do a really good show despite having minimal time to prepare, I wasn't going to throw in stuff that I was learning while onstage.

The last thing I want to add is that it's always a pleasure when my musical buddy Lyndon Heart performs before or after my set. He's a great player and singer and all-around entertainer, and I enjoy him as a fan almost as much as I do as a friend.

It always feels like hanging out with friends when I perform at TIONE. Photo by Thea Dee.

The Islands of New England set list...
Space Oddity (David Bowie)
Heart of Gold (Neil Young)
Help Me (Joni Mitchell)
Landslide (Fleetwood Mac)
Cat’s in the Cradle (Harry Chapin)
Pancho & Lefty (Townes Van Zandt)
Alison (Elvis Costello)
From the Beginning (Emerson, Lake & Palmer)
The Waiting Boy (Zak Claxton)
Blew the Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
Northern Sky (Nick Drake)
Lost Cause (Beck)
New England Is Fun Improv (Zak Claxton)

Big, big thanks to everyone who came out to be there at my show, with super duper thanks to the following people who helped support it with their patronage!
Keiko Zoon, RansomTalmidge Resident, Brianna Beresford, RoxxyyRoller Resident, ChipLoose Resident, Alexis Fairlady, DeaBella70 Resident, Sommer Shepherd, Tyche Szondi, CadenceBlue Resident, TheaDee Resident, my great manager Maali Beck, and New England's extraordinary event manager Christine Haiku!

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Serenity Gardens (1.01.18)

Starting a new year the right way, with a great show at Serenity Gardens. Photo by Kat.

2017 wasn't a great year for most people, and while I did my best to maintain my optimistic outlook as usual, losing my father unexpectedly on September 8 (and then Christina losing hers the following month) made it particularly difficult for both of us. Combined with the dismal leadership the country has been forced to deal with under Trump, I was more than happy to bid that year goodbye... more than any other year of my life, frankly.

So, as the end of the year approached and I was immersed in trying to make the holidays fun for myself and my friends and family, I noticed on the calendar that my scheduled bi-weekly live music show at Serenity Gardens in Second Life fell on January 1, aka New Year's Day. I wasn't positive that the venue would definitely be open to host the show on that day, so I sent a message to its lovely owner Ilsa Flanagan. I got a fast response to assure me that the show was on as scheduled, which made me happy. What could be a better way to start 2018 than to play a live show in front of an audience literally on the first day of the new year?

Looking back through this blog, in addition to a number of the expected New Year's Eve shows, I find that I'm fortunate to have spent a number of years playing live right as the year began. In a way, it sets a tone for the year. Think about it this way. First, in performing live, I'm doing something I love and that I'm good at. Second, I'm pushing past any fear that people typically have of singing and playing an instrument in front of a crowd. Third, I'm doing an activity that brings happiness to others. If I can take those three aspects of doing live music and apply them to all areas of my life in 2018, it will be a fantastic year. And, as long as we're making a parallel between live music shows and the rest of life, I made a point of doing several songs I'd never done previously, which perhaps equates to my willingness to continue to be open to new actions and ideas. Some people seem to avoid trying new things well before they get to my ancient age of 48. I'm glad I still find excitement in the challenge of the unfamiliar.

A brief side note to all of this: my avatar has remained virtually unchanged over the 11+ years I've been in SL. Perhaps 2018 will have me seeking some changes in that regard... but don't hold your breath. Photo by Kat.

Playing new tunes and being optimistic on January 1 at Serenity Gardens. Photo by Kat.

Take Your Punches and Keep Fighting
Another analogy between doing my my show and experiencing the coming year: it's never easy. It takes time and effort to properly prepare to do a live music show of which one can be proud. It may seem effortless to outside observers, and that's good... but it's really not. I spend time thinking through my set list, preparing lyrics, rehearsing ahead of time, and warming up before I play.

2018 may be very similar for a lot of people who are hoping to make changes this year. There's an old cliche about being a fighter you've probably seen in many films; it's not about how well you can hit; it's how well you can take a punch and keep going. The last year may have felt like a barrage of punches of the face and kicks in the nether regions to many people. What lies ahead is a lot of opportunity to make the world a better place to live, not just for yourself but for literally everyone on the planet. It's not going to happen by itself; it's going to take planning and work, and a lot of folks already feel pretty beat up. The choice to either give up or keep fighting is one we all make every day. I'm here to tell you that I predict your efforts will pay off in 2018, perhaps in ways you can't even imagine right now.

The Show
Ah, yes, the show. It went really well. I looked back on some of the shows I've done previously at the start of a new year, and saw that I'd made it a point to perform multiple new songs as a theme of sorts. I did so again last night, and all went well. We had a good crowd there. I wasn't sure that people would be up for coming out to see a show after a night of partying that many have on New Year's Eve, but my concerns were for nought. With few exceptions, my shows at Serenity Gardens every other Monday evening have gone very well. It's a nice place that's well staffed and makes people feel welcome to be there. I feel very comfortable there at this point, and really look forward to each performance there.

Beautiful venue, cool crowd, happy Zak. Photo by Kat.

Chilling after my show with Triana and Kat. Photo by Kat.

I should make note of something I mentioned at the show last night. When I did Lionel Richie's 1984 ballad "Hello", it was inspired by one of our four cats. Pan, the cute little cat, was frightened of everything when she first got here in June of 2016, and over the last 18 months has gradually warmed up to interacting with people (if it tells you anything, her original name was Panic). One thing I started doing was to sing the word "hello" at her when I was reaching out to try and pet her, and it seemed to make a big difference in her willingness to be touched. So, I wanted to give some credit to little Pan Pan for inspiring me to do that tune.

Serenity Gardens set list...
Wonderwall (Oasis)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Rock and Roll Woman (Buffalo Springfield)
*Hello (Lionel Richie)
The Worst (Rolling Stones)
Frigid Spring (Chairlift)
Dusty Rhodes (Lotus Plaza)
*Fall In (Pixx)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)
Half Moon Bay (Sun Kil Moon)
*Right Hand Man (Joan Osborne)
Radio Free Europe (R.E.M.)

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

Big thanks to all who came out to the show last night, with special mention of the people who helped support it!
ErikKottzen Resident, Triana Caldera, Kat Claxton, DianaConway Resident, TheaDee Resident, and Serenity Gardens's great management team of Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde!

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Feed-a-Smile Benefit (12.23.17)

Feeding people with music at Feed-a-Smile. What an odd idea, and yet somehow, it works. Photo by Kat.

Before you begin to define what music can do for the world, you first must ask yourself what music is, and the more you think about it, the weirder it is. Music is sound... vibrations that travel through a medium such as air, with molecules crashing into one another in the space between the source and your eardrum where it is perceived and processed by your brain. We musicians take various sounds and organize them in some way that is pleasing or at least interesting to ourselves and other humans, and we call that music. It's an art form based on... what? Vibrations and air? It's bizarre. Does music even exist? Is it all some dream we share?

Now, in this modern era, let's get even more weird. I stand in a room in front of a microphone with a guitar in my hand. My vocal chords vibrate. The strings of my guitar vibrate. These vibrations are converted into electrical signals which are then converted into digital data which travels literally into space, going to satellites and back to various parts of the planet where they are received thousands of miles away by equipment that can decode them and changed back into acoustic vibrations that hit the eardrums of various people who are able to listen to these vibrations almost instantaneously. It boggles the mind.

Regardless, music has been part of the human experience since time immemorial, and it's an important part of the daily lives of a good percentage of people. Music is considered an art by those who create it, and entertainment by those who receive and enjoy it. But it can sometimes be something more than that. Music can affect a human's emotional state. Music can be considered happy, or sad, or thrilling, or calming. No one really knows why; it's a part of our humanity, embedded in our DNA, perhaps from a time before we'd even evolved into the beings we are.

The final thing I want to say about music is that it can be inspiring. Just ask Brique Zeiner, my lovely friend who runs the Feed-a-Smile charity via Second Life. As I've written about many times before, Brique is a wonderful human being who has dedicated a good portion of her life to helping children in Africa via a foundation called Live and Learn in Kenya. At some point, Brique quite correctly deduced that music-based events in Second Life draw the largest crowds, and that Second Life musicians each have their own followings, which is a good combination for successful fundraising.

I had no idea that this show would end up being the most successful fundraising event I'd ever done, which just goes to show you that until you strum that first chord, you never know what's going to happen. Photo by Kat.

While now based in Germany, Brique actually grew up in the same suburb of Los Angeles I call my home: Redondo Beach, California. We share many of the same influences in life, which perhaps is one reason why I am so supportive of her efforts to help feed and educate these kids. Her inspiration is likely more based on religious reasons than mine, but even as the atheist that I am, I see nothing but good in helping to create a generation of people who see that their lives are important and have meaning. It's not only good for them; it's good for the world. If you want to fight terrorism, dropping bombs does nothing except create new terrorists. Dropping music and love instead lets them know that people want to offer them happiness, hope, and a chance at a good life.

L$100,000 in One Hour
So, I'll get to the point now. Unlike most SL shows I do, when I perform at Brique's SL venue Lavender Field for Feed-a-Smile, the goal is not just to make good music and bring a little happiness to the people who happen to come to my show. It's to raise money for her cause. I've done plenty of successful fundraiser shows in Second Life for various worthwhile causes. I've probably done a dozen shows or more for Feed-a-Smile alone. I don't have a specific amount of money raised to be considered successful. Sometimes you just don't get a large crowd to show up; sometimes those who do simply aren't able to contribute more than they can afford. There's nothing wrong with any of that, and frankly, I wasn't expecting a good crowd or a large amount of funds raised at yesterday's show. It was two days before Christmas. A lot of folks are at the end of their limit in terms of spending, having bought gifts for friends and family, or budgeting for travel over the holiday season, and so on. All completely understandable.

That's why, at about the halfway point of my show when Kat tapped me to glance at her monitor, I was truly shocked to see that we'd already raised over L$50,000. She alerted me again while later to show me the number was then at L$75,000. And at the very end, as I got off the virtual stage, I turned around to see the donation counter having just passed L$100,000. That's about $400 USD. In one hour. Pardon my language, but holy shit! Look, if we'd raised L$20,000, I would have been very happy. Here's why: the way Brique has set up Feed-a-Smile is very smart. The numbers work out so that basically each L$100 (about $0.40 USD) donated gives a kid a hot meal. Each L$100 equals a meal, so if I'd raised L$20,000 as I would at a typical successful show, that's wonderful. It's the equivalent of 200 meals. That's really nice.

I don't know, frankly, what happened yesterday. I do know that several of my Zakster fans were being very generous with donations, but I also get the idea that someone else in that crowd was being an angel benefactor, matching and doubling (or even tripling) funds being donated by others. All I know if this: at the end of my show, we'd raised enough for a thousand meals for the school kids in Nakuru, Kenya. I've performed at plenty of successful fundraisers in the past for many worthwhile causes, but never have I been a part of raising that much that fast. Here I am the following day, and I'm still in shock and disbelief about it.

Just... wow. Photo by Kat.

Kat and I after my show, listening to Beth Odets while still in shock over the L$100,000 show I'd just completed. Photo by Kip Yellowjacket.

In addition to what these generous people did for the kids, I can tell you what it did for me. It filled me with happiness and a renewed belief in the positive nature of humanity. Thinking about it today, on Christmas Eve, it's particularly touching to consider how people can be so kind to others whom they'll almost certainly never meet. But that's what makes the world a great and wonderful place. It's an ancient proverb that a society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they'll never get to enjoy. What I witnessed yesterday was the selfless act of people who are literally changing the lives of strangers for no reason other than that it's the right thing to do, with no expectation of personal reward other than being able to feel good about having made the world a little brighter for a moment.

I have no way of thanking those people individually; their donations are anonymous to me. Therefore, I can only thank them collectively, and tell them that what they did was amazing. My own small part of having invited some folks to attend and then spending an hour making live music was really minor compared to what they did; they are the heroes, and they merit all of our respect and admiration.

Feed-a-Smile set list...
Northern Sky (Nick Drake)
Hunger Strike (Temple of the Dog)
River (Joni Mitchell)
Same Sun (Real Estate)
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen (Traditional)
The Waiting Boy (Zak Claxton)
She’s Always a Woman (Billy Joel)
Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth (Traditional/David Bowie)
Nothing Compares 2 U (Prince)
I Am a Child (Neil Young)
The Christmas Song (Net King Cole)
Low Key (Tweedy)

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Serenity Gardens (12.18.17)

Rocking in a winter wonderland, at Serenity Gardens. Photo by Kat.

Even a short hiatus from playing live can throw a musician off his/her game a little bit. My last show was on November 28, and it was just a couple of days later that the tell-tale signs of a bad cold started coming on. That cold ended up hitting me like a brick and progressing into a chest/sinus infection shortly thereafter. Thanks to the miracles of modern medicine, I was back on my feet pretty quickly, but in the meantime I had to cancel a couple of shows... it's hard to sing with a hacking cough, as you'd imagine.

That made me all the more appreciative to see a good-sized crowd gathering for my return to Serenity Gardens in Second Life. It had been a somewhat rough day, even as far as Mondays go. I got a call from an old friend who let me know that a former business colleague of ours, a gentleman named Richard Ruse, had passed away due to complications stemming from an aggressive form of cancer. I don't know how old Richard was, but he always seemed like a young guy to me; he was maybe 60 or so, if that. It saddened me greatly because Richard was truly one of the good guys... hilariously funny, super smart, and both an admirable businessman and a phenomenal musician. We'd worked at the same company in the '90s, when I was in my twenties. We'd discussed partnering our respective sales/marketing companies in the mid-2000s. Learning of his death was like a part of my youth having been ripped out from under my feet.

But as a fellow musician -- and I know this to be true -- the best way to honor a man like that is by performing music in his memory. So, amidst a bunch of other music I played, I dedicated one song to Richard (James Taylor's "Fire and Rain"). I didn't want to dwell on it or bring down the otherwise festive mood at the show, but I knew it was the right thing to do. I'm glad I did; I feel a little more at peace with his passing today than I would have otherwise.

All photos by Kat Claxton.






Speaking of the show... damn, for having been on hiatus for close to three weeks (most of which I was completely unable to sing and barely touched my guitar), it went really, really well. Serenity Gardens was all decked out in winter/holiday decor. I threw on a Santa hat for the occasion. We had a good crowd right from the start. Also, love them or hate them, there are certain songs that one can do this time of year that aren't even considered at other times. I'm not just talking about Christmas songs. You simply look stupid playing "Long December" in August.

Serenity Gardens set list...
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth (Traditional/David Bowie)
Jane (Barenaked Ladies)
Ashes to Ashes (David Bowie)
California (Joni Mitchell)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
Pink Moon (Nick Drake)
From the Beginning (Emerson, Lake & Palmer)
Holly Jolly Christmas (Burl Ives)
Long December (Counting Crows)
Pretty Pimpin’ (Kurt Vile)
Fire & Rain (James Taylor)
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas (Blane/Martin)
Serenity Improv (Zak Claxton)

Big thanks to each and every person who came out to the show last night, with special thanks to the following who helped support it!
ErikKottzen Resident, Triana Caldera, Snow Carrasco, Robert69 Little, RoxxyyRoller Resident, go2smoky Resident, Kat Claxton, Asimia Heron, TheaDee Resident, Bob43 Silversmith, Tyche Szondi, my happy manager Maali Beck, and the great management team of Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde!

Monday, December 11, 2017

Go See the Doctor


I'm the worst at seeing doctors. Why? First, like millions of Americans -- especially those like me whom are self-employed -- I'm uninsured. Second, I tend to underplay any physical malady... probably a result of my upbringing, when men were told to "tough it out" when injured or not feeling well. Third, I've had a few experiences where seeing a doc was a bad experience that, while being expensive, also didn't fix whatever was going on with me at the time.

Well, those are all understandable reasons, but they're also stupid. Let me get to the point.

On Friday 12/1, I awoke with a bad sore throat. That was less than shocking; my son had been sick, and I'd spent the previous afternoon with him at a meeting at his school. Also, about half the people I know had been similarly ill in recent times. I figured I'd suffer with this minor virus for a few days, get better, and go on with my life. I certainly wasn't going to run to a doctor for a cold, which is ridiculous. I did have to cancel a live music show that I'd had scheduled for Monday, but these things happen.

Getting Better, Getting Worse
By the following Tuesday, my throat was much better, and the illness had predictably wandered toward into my lungs. Again, no big thing. A little annoying coughing and sneezing, and I'd be better in no time, right? It seemed this plan was going to work out; I was feeling more chipper within a couple of days... until nighttime came around. When I'd lay down to go to sleep, the goop in my lungs would send me into these horrible paroxysms of coughing that just wouldn't stop. I'm talking 45-60 straight minutes of horrible coughing where I was barely able to catch a breath here and there. It was awful.

And still, I had no plans of going to a doc. I got some more over-the-counter meds to try and make my lungs work more effectively, and those seemed to help a bit. But the coughing fits were becoming more and more severe and painful. As some of you may recall, back in 2012 I got a pretty serious case of pneumonia. It was my second pass at the ailment; I'd first had it in 2007. Well, some of the symptoms I was experiencing were frighteningly reminiscent of what I'd been through before. Both of those previous times, I'd waited until it was close to emergency mode, where my doctor said that if it was any worse, I'd be hospitalized.

I guess one gets a little wiser as one gets older. If you don't, you just... don't get older, if you get my drift. On Saturday night, despite having been trying to rest and get liquids and take my OTC meds, I had a coughing fit that was the worst one yet, and I made the decision right there and then -- perhaps with a little persuasion from Christina -- that I was going to nip it in the bud and see a doctor.

Easy Like Sunday Morning
Once again, morning arrived, and I was feeling pretty good... and that meant that once again, I started talking myself out of seeing a doctor. "I feel completely silly going to the doctor with a cold," was what I said. But memories of the night before lingered, with my keeping Christina up into the wee hours while I struggled to breathe, and the pain and misery that accompanied it. Keep in mind, there were no specific signs of something worse going on. I couldn't hear my lungs making any odd noises as I took deep breaths, and as long as I was upright was able to control the coughing. i didn't have a fever. I was able to function mostly normally.

I was actually apologizing to the front desk at the urgent care center, saying, "Look, this is just a cold, but I'm only here in the off-chance it's something worse," and so on. They checked my vitals, which seemed pretty decent. And then they took a chest x-ray, and sure enough, I had a noticeable infection in my lungs (which is likely in my sinuses as well). It's basically "pneumonia light" which, had I let it keep getting worse for a couple days would have absolutely grown into full-blown pneumonia. An important side note: once you've had pneumonia, your likelihood of it coming back goes up exponentially.

I will be fine, and after one day on heavy antibiotics -- a shot of Rocephin in my ass and starting a course of azithromycin -- I'm already much better. Big thanks to the folks at Ocean Medical, as usual. I'll continue on my antibiotics and keep my liquid intake heavy and get rest, as one should. But my hesitance to go see a doc could have had dire repercussions had I not gone in. I don't need to go into the details.

Just Go
Look, I get it. No one wants to feel like a hypochondriac or a wuss. No one wants to pay for expensive medical treatment over what might end up being something minor. But the flip side of taking care of an illness early on before it becomes life-threatening beats those excuses into the ground. I'm very glad I went, I'm glad I'm being treated, and I'm glad I'll be getting well quickly. Next time you have a minor illness that just isn't going away on its own after a reasonable time frame, just bite the bullet and see a doc. Even if just for peace of mind, it's worth it.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

17 Cool Songs from 2017


As the year begins waning each December, I give you a list of songs that I enjoyed in some way. These may not be the best songs of the year. They may not even be my favorite songs of the year. But they are cool songs, and yes, they came out in 2017. In alphabetical order...

Aimee Mann - "Simple Fix"

Like many people, the first time I heard Aimee Mann was in 1985, when her band 'Til Tuesday had a pop hit with "Voices Carry". Then she inexplicably popped up on backing vocals for Rush's "Time Stands Still" a couple of years later. Then, in 1999, she had the magnificent song "Save Me" from the Magnolia soundtrack. Since then, there's been nothing she's done that I haven't enjoyed, including this tune off her latest album Mental Illness. Buy it on iTunes.

Art School Jocks - "Catdog"


Four girls from Atlanta doing lo-fi basement pop? Sure, sign me up. There's something about "Catdog" that reminds me of bands I had in my early teen years, when none of us knew how to play well enough to be anything but awesome. Buy it on Bandcamp.

Beck - "Colors"



It's Beck. No matter the genre, if you expect anything less than genius, you're listening to the wrong guy. I heard it said quite well that Beck goes through an insane amount of detailed work to make his albums sound effortless. He succeeds; we all win. This is great pop. Buy it on Bandcamp.

Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile - "Over Everything"



So... I'm a huge fan of Kurt Vile and Courtney Barnett individually, so I sorta freaked out when I heard they were working on a collaboration album. When it came out, it did not disappoint. This song and the album it's on, Lotta Sea Lice, ended up toward the top of every indie rock critic list for the year. I liked it so much, I actually left my comfortable home and saw them perform it live in October. Buy it on Bandcamp.

Dave Catching - "Bought and Sold"



Most of you know that I am a huge aficionado of the Mojave Desert and visit Joshua Tree as often as possible. My friends and I are also fans of the music of the area, and have spent plenty of time seeing shows and eating ribeyes at Pappy & Harriet's. Dave Catching, a member of Eagles of Death Metal and a producer/contributor to much of the music that we call Desert Rock, released a kick-ass solo album called Shared Hallucinations Pt. 1: Sonic Salutations From The Venerable Vaults of Rancho de la Luna 1972-1984. Buy it on Bandcamp.

Grizzly Bear - "Mourning Sound"


Grizzly Bear is more of a Brooklyn hipster band than I'm used to enjoying, but I liked "Mourning Sound" from the moment I heard it. Just because it was a critical fave doesn't mean it doesn't merit being on my annual list. Buy it on iTunes.

Kalbells - "Craving Art Droplets"


I like Kalbells for three reasons. First, this song is awesome. Second, her bio says that Kalbells is the solo work of Kalmia Traver, lead singer of Rubblebucket, but I have no idea who Rubblebucket is. Third, I read somewhere that the project was named after a folder in Dropbox she was using to send stems back and forth to her engineer, which seems like something I would do. Buy it on Bandcamp.

Melkbelly - "Kid Kreative"


This is from Melkbelly's debut album, but the stuff I've heard from this band doesn't sound like most first efforts. I think they'll have more cool stuff in the future. I hope so, anyway. Buy it on Bandcamp.

Ohmme - "Fingerprints"


This might be complete bullshit, but I recall reading that Ohmme was originally called Homme, as in Josh, the frontman of QOTSA. That didn't work out, so they juxtaposed the first letters and carried on. I really don't care; I just like their vibe and their willingness to be experimental. And their voices. And stuff. Buy it on Bandcamp.

Oro Swimming Hour - "Marshmallow"


Seriously, my friend Nicholas Stevenson makes my list every year, because his sound is just great on everything he does. His latest venture has him teaming up with Oliver Wilde, and the result is spectacular in a "we recorded this in a week in a kitchen" kind of way. The songs hold up. Buy it on Bandcamp.

Palm - "Walkie Talkie"


Palm is an experimental/prog/pop band out of Philly. They're arty, noisy, and I like them. How about that? Get their music on Bandcamp.

Priests - "Nothing Feels Natural"


I know very little about this band, except they seem to be all female, they seem to sound post-punky, they seem to be out of DC, and I like them quite a lot. Buy it on Bandcamp.

Queens of the Stone Age - "The Evil Has Landed"


So, it had been a number of years since QOTSA's last album. Josh had remained busy doing various cool things, but this album was very highly anticipated. And then a bunch of people freaked the fuck out when they heard it was being produced by Mark Ronson. Look, if you want every song by a band to sound the same throughout their entire career, go listen to AC/DC. I really enjoyed Villains. No, it's not my favorite QOTSA album, but it's really good in places, such as the hooky-as-fuck song here. Buy it on iTunes.

The Sadies (feat. Kurt Vile) - "It's Easy (Like Walking)"


The Sadies are cool, but they're a little more country than I tend to like at first listen. But throw my pal Kurt Vile and a set of repetitive but great lyrics into the mix, and bingo-bango... a song I listened to and performed a ton of times in 2017. Buy it on Bandcamp.

sir Was - "In the Midst"


You ever associate a song with a particular moment? Of course you have. With "In the Midst" by sir Was (a jazzy electronica guy named Joel Wästberg from Sweden), it's Bunny, Christina and I cresting the hill up the 62 from Morongo Valley into Yucca Valley heading toward Joshua Tree and being very happy. Buy it on Bandcamp.

Spoon - "Hot Thoughts"


Spoon is one of those bands that I still think of as a new band despite having been around for like 25 years, meaning I'm just old. But they've been very influential on indie music, and their latest is really excellent. Buy it on iTunes.

Wilco - "All Lives, You Say?"


First, I enjoy so much of Jeff Tweedy's creative output, it's no surprise I'd like this kind of random single that hit over the summer. But the fact that I really appreciated the theme of the song, that Jeff dedicated it to his father who passed away this year (as did mine), and that it's a charitable effort toward causes I support, makes it a winner by all definitions. Buy it on Bandcamp.