Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Michael Jackson Tribute on StageIt (06.27.11)

On Friday of last week, I got an email from Kristen Payne, the artist relations manager for StageIt. If you haven't been following along, StageIt is a relatively new online service that allows for people to see artists perform on live video over the Internet for relatively cheap (or free).

In any case, they were doing a special show on Monday 6/27, and asked if I'd like to participate. The show, the email went on to explain, was a tribute to pop icon Michael Jackson, commemorating the two-year anniversary of his passing. At first glance, I wasn't very interested, until I saw the format they'd set up: 12 artists would each have with five minutes of airtime to perform one song by the King of Pop. Well, that sounded fun, and it just so happened that in my large list of songs, there was one MJ tune that I'd done in 2009 shortly after his death.

Side note: I'm not a big Michael Jackson fan. I appreciate him; I respect what he did. I really liked his earlier stuff from his Jackson 5 days through Thriller. But just from a point of context of my doing this show, I certainly don't do his songs very often, and like many people, I eventually had trouble separating the music from the controversy that surrounded him in his later years. However, I do remember being a kid in junior high school who -- despite being into bands like Aerosmith and AC/DC at the time -- would still put songs like "Shake Your Body" on the family stereo and groove my ass around the room... mostly when no one was there to see. Even in high school, when my musical tastes ranged from Iron Maiden to the Grateful Dead, when Thriller came out it was like being on a beach and having a tidal wave hit. Its impact on society was inescapable. I think I blurted out, "Holy shit!" in front of my parents when I saw him do this on a TV special (listen to the crowd reaction starting at 3:45-ish).

Michael, circa 1983. This was the last point that he seemed kinda sorta like a normal human being (though he really wasn't, of course).

Seriously, I can remember the first time I saw Michael do his moonwalk as well as I can remember any major event in history.

Long story short: I told Kristen to count me in for the tribute show, and I'm glad I did. I decided to do "Off the Wall", one of the few Michael Jackson tunes that can be comfortably arranged for a guy playing acoustic guitar. I then spent an hour or two over the weekend determining how I could do the song well (which turned out meaning that I'd need to drop it down to A from its standard key of D... I'm not a glutton for punishment, after all). When Monday evening rolled around, I was ready. My only regret, being scheduled toward the latter part of the hour, is that I wasn't able to watch many of the other artists perform their MJ covers, since I was busy preparing for my own show. However, the song went off well, and my crowd seemed to really enjoy my five-minute performance of "Off the Wall". It had good energy, and I had a nice groove rolling on the guitar as I worked my way through the tune.

One thing: performing well on one song -- just one song -- is hard! You need to get all warmed up and ready, working yourself up to the point where you can do a kick-ass show, and then five minutes later, you're thanking your audience and saying goodbye. I have a lot more empathy for folks who play a single tune on an awards show, or on "Saturday Night Live". It's definitely a different experience than putting on a typical hour-plus concert.

Finally, it needs to be said: Michael was a weird guy who had zero chance of being a normal person, given his background. But he was a weird and extraordinarily talented guy. I'm not saying one cancels out the other, but in retrospect, his contribution to the world of entertainment will overshadow all of the tabloid talk about him in the long run. I mentioned at the end of my song that it was an honor to be involved in the tribute, and I meant it.

Farewell, Michael.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

SL8B (06.26.11)

I'm not sure if I mentioned this before, but I was a bit trepid about performing at SL8B, the eighth birthday celebration of the online virtual world Second Life. I'll explain why: the last time I played at the annual event was at SL5B, three years ago. While the show itself went fine, the lack of coordination and communication beforehand was maddening, and the team who ran the show seemed snotty and ungrateful to the folks who were donating their time and energy to perform.

I purposefully did not participate for the next two years of SL birthdays as a result of that experience. However, my friend Diana Renoir, who is involved in a number of large event coordination activities in SL, told me that the celebration was in much better hands now, and asked if I would give it a shot. I did, and I'm very glad to say that it was like a night-and-day difference by comparison. You would think that especially by today (the final day of the official celebration) that all of the hosts, stage coordinators, and liaisons would be completely fried. Instead, I found their system of confirming stream function in advance of the show (so there would be no issues for artists when they got onstage) to be very efficient, and as a result the technical side of getting live audio to a lot of people at once was handled smoothly.

Made it to the stage. Time to rock SL8B. Photo by Kat.

Also -- and don't underestimate the importance of this -- the folks running SL8B seemed appreciative and grateful to the artists who were performing. They were friendly to the crowds and supportive of every aspect of the event. Gotta hand it to them for their hard work; it was effective!

I'm that tiny dot in the distance. Photo by Kat.

So, on to the show itself. We had a very nice crowd of over 60 SL avatars in the 4-sim Main Stage area. I went on stage following Cypress Rosewood (who was performing along with fire dancers and an elephant), and I knew that my brand of silly rock and pop music wasn't exactly a smooth transition. So, I threw caution to the wind and opened up with a lively Joni MItchell tune, figuring that those who liked that kind of thing would hang out, and most of them did.

Zak's SL8B Set List...
Big Yellow Taxi (Joni MItchell)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Nowhere Man (The Beatles)
Landslide (Fleetwood Mac)
Broken Day (Zak Claxton)
Save It For Later (English Beat)
You're Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)
On the Way Home (Buffalo Springfield)
Man of Constant Sorrow (Traditional)
Radio Free Europe (REM)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
Redemption Song (Bob Marley)

Special thanks to the folks who ran SL8B for their fine work (especially Diana Renoir, Lisa Fossett, ChatBrat Pippita, Dagoth Graves, Jahman Ochs, and Doctor Gascoigne)! Congrats to Linden Lab on eight years! Finally, thanks to everyone who supported my show today!
fay Rehula, Tristan Rogers, Kat Claxton, Delphy Heungsung, pallina60 Loon, Liam Metaluna, Blindboy Gumbo, Diana Renoir, TheaDee, Juliette Venom, Toxic Darkmatter, Wildstar Beaumont, Janie Xofan, and Cordelia Cerise!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Liquid's first rehearsal in four years

I spent this afternoon doing something I love: rocking hard with a band in a garage. It was the first time since 2007 that my old band, Liquid, got together to make some noise.

As I've recently mentioned, this rehearsal was our first time back together in preparation for our reunion show, scheduled for July 23 at Keegan's Pub in Torrance, CA. My expectations were pretty high; Liquid was a pretty tight band with really good individual musicians, so I didn't think that four years away from each other was going to completely negate the simpatico we'd had when we were playing live all the time.

After our 3-hour jam today, I have to say that our playing exceeded my already-high hopes. Sure, there were a couple of tunes where we weren't 100% nailing everything, and we each had our individual moments of clamdom (my favorite was Dante's kick pedal foot going into auto-mode on "Good Times, Bad Times"), but altogether, I feel that we were actually tighter than we were at the end of our gigging days. Who knows why? Maybe the time away from our own set list gave us some better perspective on the songs. I can tell you that we've all stayed busy at music in various ways since then, with Phil and Randy both performing in their respective bands and Dante always in demand to sit in, or play on sessions (and my solo performing show I've done since 2007).

Whatever the reason was, I'm really confident that the show on 7/23 is going to be phenomenal. We got through a good chunk of our set today in rehearsal... here are the tunes we rocked today (obviously using the alphabetical order of the set list).

Alright Now - Free
Baby Please Don’t Go - Various
Back In The USSR - Beatles
Born To Be Wild - Steppenwolf
California Dreamin - Mamas & Papas
Cinnamon Girl - Neil Young
Come Together - Beatles
Communication Breakdown - Led Zeppelin
Custard Pie - Led Zeppelin
Dazed & Confused - Led Zeppelin
Everybody Wants You - Billy Squire
Gimme Some Lovin’ - Spencer Davis Group
Good Times, Bad Times - Led Zeppelin
Hard To Handle - The Black Crowes
Heart Breaker/Livin’, Lovin’ Maid - Led Zeppelin
Helter Skelter - Beatles
I Don’t Know - Ozzy Osbourne
I Want You To Want Me - Cheap Trick
Interstate Love Song - Stone Temple Pilots
Jenny (867-5309) - Tommy Tutone
Love Me Two Times - Doors
Man In The Box - Alice in Chains
Mary Jane’s Last Dance - Tom Petty
Money - Pink Floyd
My Own Worst Enemy - Lit
Tie Your Mother Down - Queen

One more rehearsal to nail down the rest of the songs in two weeks, and then we'll be ready to rip it up at Keegan's on the 23rd!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Band Reunions, Virtual Birthdays, and Michael Jackson

Wake up Zak; you have a busy few days ahead!

This is going to be a wacky three days of music-related activities here at Zak Claxton HQ!

Saturday June 25: Liquid Rehearsal

As I mentioned a short while ago, my last working band Liquid is going to be getting back together after four+ years apart for a one-night only special reunion show on July 23. By all accounts, interest is very high from our old fans, and we'll probably be playing to a packed house that night. Well, you don't just jump back onstage together after that long apart and expect to be good, so tomorrow, we have our first rehearsal together since spring 2007. I'm expecting it to be really fun; despite my years of playing as a solo artist, there's a whole different dynamic to rocking out with a group of talented musicians together in a room at the same time. Wish me luck!

Sunday June 26, 1PM SLT: SL8B

It's Second Life's eighth birthday, and I'll be playing an hour of live music right at the end of the official festivities on the Main Stage on Sunday at 1PM. I haven't performed at an SL birthday celebration since SL5B in 2008, so I'm looking forward to getting out there and helping Linden Lab mark eight years of making Second Life avaiable to us all. I believe I am the final live music performer of the event, so I extend an invite to all the people who worked so hard putting their displays together to take a break and come kick back and rock out with me!

Monday June 27, 6:35PM PDT: Michael Jackson Tribute on StageIt

I wasn't planning on my music marathon to continue past the weekend, but yesterday, the folks at StageIt wrote to ask if I'd like to participate in their special Michael Jackson tribute event that they are holding to mark the two-year anniversary of the King of Pop's passing. What they're doing is really neat: 12 different artists are onstage for five minutes each, and each will perform one MJ song. Obviously, I'm not the first artist people think of when it comes to covering Michael Jackson songs, but as I've mentioned before: my music really has no boundaries in terms of influences and genres, and I am honored to participate in this event! Look for my five-minute live video show Monday night at 6:35PM Pacific Time. I won't spoil the surprise by telling you which Michael Jackson song I'm doing, but I promise it will be fun. More info on StageIt and their MJ tribute at StageIt.com.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Relay for Life Ultimate Auction (06.22.11)

A few minutes after I finished my benefit show last night for Friends Fighting Cancer, a Relay for Life fundraising team in Second Life, I got a message from their chief, a guy named Zander Greene. It said, "You also might like knowing that this is the 3rd time you've played for a Friends Fighting Cancer event this year and your current 2011 total with our team is more than 50,000 Lindens. That just rocks, mate!"

Well, that put a smile on my face. "Lindens" are the currency used in Second Life, and what that means to the rest of you is that in performing three shows in 2011 for this charity, I've raised about $200 USD this year alone. Is that a ton of money? No. Is it going to cure cancer on its own? Probably not. But the fact is that I'm making use of my music that goes beyond my own income, or my own ego being stroked. By playing music -- something I love to do and would be doing regardless -- I am actually giving a little bit of help to someone who desperately needs it. That, as they say, is all good.

My view from the stage. Photo by Kat.

The crowd has fun while generously making donations to the RFL kiosks. Photo by Kat.

As mentioned above, this was my third event in 2011 for RFL, and I've done at least one or more per year for the past four years. This time, it was in support of FFC's "Ultimate Auction", where people could bid on exclusive items to help raise funds for the American Cancer Society. My role was simply to get people to come over there and check out the auction items, and meanwhile encourage people to donate to the familiar RFL kiosks that were scattered around the place. The show itself went just fine. I tend to choose songs for these charity events that are complementary to the theme of a positive outlook, giving, and helping (and avoiding songs about death, dying, and depression, as you would imagine).

RFL FFC Setlist...
Summer Breeze (Seals & Crofts)
Comes a Time (Neil Young)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
You've Got a Friend (Carole King)
Broken Day (Zak Claxton)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
Just Like Starting Over (John Lennon)
One (U2)
Shine (Zak Claxton)
After the Goldrush (neil Young)
California (Joni Mitchell)
Little Wing (Jimi Hendrix)

Thanks to everyone who helped support my show and fight against cancer! Special mention goes to the FFC team of Pinky DeVinna, Joonie Jatho, and Zander Greene! They are cancer's worst nightmare!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Triana's Music Trivia (06.19.11)

About twice a year, usually on special occasions, I get the opportunity to do a live performance at Triana's Music Trivia. TMT is Second Life's longest running trivia game, but much more importantly, it's run by a lady who's become one of my best friends: Triana Caldera. Triana, who's called Jess in her real life, is a wonderful person who has grown close to Kat and I over the years we've been participating in her weekly trivia game, to the point that on several different occasions, she's come out to the West Coast to visit us. We've gone on two vacations together this year alone (to the San Diego SL Music Jam in February, and just a couple of weeks ago to Joshua Tree National Park).

Rocking the TMT crowd once again. Photo by Kat.

The lady of the hour, Ms. Triana Caldera.

Anyway, last night was the celebration for TMT's 6th anniversary, and it's also about time for Triana's 7th rezday. As we did in 2008, 2009, and 2010, Triana asked me to perform live at a special show where she hosted trivia for an hour as usual, and then I spent an hour playing live music. When I play these events at TMT, the audience is made up of close friends, and I forego my standard set list to play stuff that I'd probably never do in other circumstances. It makes the TMT shows very fun, and very memorable both for myself and anyone who was there.

MrNoCal Honey. Photo by Kat.

Samantha Poindexter Photo by Kat.

Rey Tardis. Photo by Kat.

Diana Renoir. Photo by Kat.

Kaklick Martin. Photo by Kat.

Charriol Ansar and Atrum Slade. Photo by Kat.

Juliette Venom. Photo by Kat.

While we've had some fun events in the past, I'd have to say with all honesty that I might not be able to ever top the show I did this year. Almost everything I played either had some meaning toward specific audience members, or were wild and crazy versions of songs with which they were all familiar.

TMT6B Set List
Triana (Zak Claxton)
*Born to Run (Bruce Springsteen)
Thanks Anyway (Zak Claxton)
Mother (Pink Floyd)
Shine (Zak Claxton)
*Borderline (Madonna)
You're Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)
*In My Life (Beatles)
*Stacy's Mom (Fountains of Wayne)
*NoCal, You Got It Going On (Flight of the Conchords)
Pulling Muscles from a Shell (Squeeze)

*Indicates the first time I've performed this song in SL, or possibly anywhere

I never explain my set list choices on this blog, but I should this time. "Triana" is the song I wrote a number of years ago that is specifically about Triana and TMT. "Born to Run" was played in homage to the recent passing of "The Big Man", Clarence Clemons. "Thanks Anyway", one of my songs from my last album, featured an extended triangle solo by Kat that elicited more than a few WTF's from the crowd. "Mother" was played for TMT attendee Xerxes Ninetails, a big Pink Floyd fan, while "Shine" was dedicated to his lady, Diana Renoir, who likes this song of mine. "Borderline" was done purely because it was so incongruous to hear me playing a Madonna song. "You're Like a Cloud" was played at breakneck speed with a Primus-like rhythm, and included many references to meat (don't ask). "In My Life" is Triana's favorite Beatles song. "Stacy's Mom" is a favorite of Alchemy Epstein and her significant other, Nakira Tennen. For our great pal MrNoCal Honey, I modified a song from the show "Flight of the Conchords" to be personalized toward NoCal's quirky vibe. Finally, I did a semi-serious rendition of the Squeeze song since it was Triana herself that reminded me how much I enjoyed that band.

Kicking back with Triana on top of the giant "6" after my show.

Massive thanks to everyone who makes our lives wonderful every Sunday night at Triana's Music Trivia, and extra special thanks to those who helped support my show at TMT6B!
Charriol Ansar, Alchemy Epstein, Jordan Hazlitt, Nakira Tennen, Borealis Hammerer, Rey Tardis, Samantha Poindexter, Kaklick Martin, Wendy Swenson, wendela Beckenbauer, Jordan Hazlitt, Kat Claxton, MrNoCal Honey, Diana Renoir, Juliette Venom, and most of all, that beautiful and terrific person who makes it happen every week, Triana Caldera!

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Majestic (06.16.11)

Two years. That's how long it had been since the last time I performed live music at The Majestic in SL's famed San Diego City sim. Since then, it's gone through a change of ownership, becoming part of Ayesha Lytton's conglomerate of Solace Beach Estates. More than just a virtual real estate mogul, as she's been described elsewhere, Ayesha is a real music lover, and keeps a steady flow of many of SL's finest musicians playing at her various properties.

Ayesha's manager at The Majestic is Kalli Birman, and a couple of weeks ago, she let my manager Maali Beck know that they were interested in having me perform a regular slot there, every other Thursday night at 6PM. I gladly accepted; I enjoy having a regular place where my fans can plan on seeing me, and it's been over a year since I took on a regularly scheduled show in SL. I'm quite happy about that, and my show there last night was great, though I have to point out that for whatever reason, Thursday night at 6PM seems deluged with music events in SL. Like, there were at least 50 of them happening at the same time. Since this was my first event there in this new run, we did not have what I'd call a large crowd. Or a medium crowd. However, we still managed to a) play some good tunes and b) have a good time with the folks who did attend. I am positive that as time goes by, we'll build a larger group of people who will come see me at this terrific live music venue.

A big crowd? No. A fun crowd? Yes. Start marking your calendars for Zak at The Majestic every other Thursday evening! Photo by Kat.

The Majestic Set List
Accidents Will Happen (Elvis Costello)
Thanks Anyway (Zak Claxton)
Ashes to Ashes (David Bowie)
Shine (Zak Claxton)
Things Behind the Sun (Nick Drake)
Wish You Were Here (Pink Floyd)
What I Got (Sublime)
Fade Away (Zak Claxton)
Day After Day (Badfinger)
The Needle and the Damage Done (Neil Young)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)
Amelia (Joni Mitchell)
The Other Way (Zak Claxton)

Big thanks to the folks who supported my show!
Christine Haiku, Alexis Fairlady, Kat Claxton, TheaDee, Chuckie Breda, my manager Maali Beck, and Majestic honchos Kalli Birman and Ayesha Lytton!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Key West (06.15.11)

Ahhh. Key West at sunset. A lovely place to spend a Wednesday evening. Photo by Triana.

I was happy to get invited back to play at Key West tonight. It's really a good venue, and Liz Harley seems intent on bringing a selection of the best SL has to offer in live music.

The show was fun and we had a crowd of serious music lovers. Well, minus the serious part; they were quite fun, as usual, and I managed to contain my laughter while singing most of the time.

Here I am, Zak in the pixel. Photo by Triana.

Me and the Key West audience having fun on Humpday. Photo by TheaDee.

Key West Set List...

Broken Day (Zak Claxton)
Summer Breeze (Seals & Crofts)
Carey (Joni MItchell)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
Fire & Rain (James Taylor)
Hunger Strike (Temple of the Dog)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Perfect Girl (Zak Claxton)
Blue Skies (Irving Berlin)
Any Major Dude (Steely Dan)
After the Goldrush (Neil Young)
You're Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)

Big thanks to everyone who helped support my show today!
Gretchen Capalini, jsmn Yao, JamesCorachea, Triana Caldera, TheaDee, Diana Renoir, Alexis Fairlady, Anastasia Yanwu, Dallas Mirabella, Xerxes Ninetails, Key West owner Liz Harley, and my manager Maali Beck!

Monday, June 13, 2011

A weekend in Zakland (or, how to write songs without trying)

Some people will disagree with me on this matter, but that's okay. I am now going to tell you how to try to write a song.


As in, don't try. Some people made fun of the wisdom of Yoda, but when the Jedi Master said, "Try not. Do, or do not. There is no try," that little green guy was onto something. I didn't used to understand this, but now that I'm on the fast and slippery slope to Curmudgeonville, I am fully in favor of this philosophy.

Four years of writing on the Zak Blog, and this is the first appearance of Yoda here. The force is strong in me today. Better late than never.

Anyway, don't try. That's what I was doing on Friday afternoon: I was busy not trying to write a song. I did, however, swing my desk chair around, and there were several guitars sitting there, so when I went outside to have a smoke, I took one of the cheap ones with me... you know, the kind of guitar that if it drops and breaks into 50 pieces, you won't cry very much. Anyway, I took it out to my patio, and something mildly interesting happened: as I stood there not trying to play anything in particular, my hand grabbed the guitar neck in an odd way. "Odd" in that in made an interesting group of notes. I liked it.

I didn't think at that point, "Hey, I'm writing a song!" Instead, I thought, "There's an interesting series of notes." A chord does not make a song. I mean, it could, but chances are that you're a little more creative than that, and might like to add another chord or two to make the act of writing your song a bit more of an expressive experience. So, I let my hand drift down the neck of the guitar and strummed another chord, this time a very standard G chord. And that's all I did. I went back to the odd Bb chord, then again to the mundane G chord. Keep in mind that at no point did I start to convince myself that I was writing a new song. Instead, I was simply standing on my patio, playing some chords, and having a smoke.

Kids, don't try this at home. Here's the goofy chord I played that inspired what eventually became my newest song. You could call it an F with a Bb bass. You could call it a Bb Maj9. I call it pretty. Seriously, don't play this unless you have nimble fingers.

When Kat and I got out of bed on Saturday, we spent the morning relaxing. We'd been doing things lately, and sometimes it's really nice to not do anything at all. That was the plan: do nothing. That's a great time to actually do something. You don't have anything to get in the way of doing things when you have nothing to do. In that frame of mind, I recalled that I'd been playing with those chords the day, and decided to see if they still sounded interesting. They did. Then, while showering, I did some humming (if you think only non-musicians sing in the shower, you're way off base), and I found myself building upon the couple of chords I'd put together earlier.

After dressing myself and having coffee, I sat at the computer while Kat sat at hers, and I started imagining a structure for the song. Not that it was a song, mind you! But I did imagine that if I had some drums under the chords I was playing, it might bring some cohesion to the sounds in a pleasing way. So, even before I'd finished thinking through how the whole thing would come together, I started programming in some drum beats (the miracle of modern technology allows me to do these things). After awhile, it seemed like I'd put together enough beats for something to play along with, so that's what I did.

This may look like a digital audio interface with a song on it (if you're an audio geek like me), but I assure you, there is no song here. Anything resembling a song is merely an illusion.

I didn't do it all day. Every so often, I'd walk away from the music and hang out with my son, play some video games, stroll around outside, and so on. But since my inspiration to make something musical didn't go away, I rolled with it, and came back to the computer to once again launch Pro Tools and continue wherever I'd last left off. At some point, it was getting late, and as opposed to forcing myself to stay up late just to wrap up the song (something I would have done in my teens and 20s), I just turned everything off and walked away.

A good omen happened on Sunday morning; I awoke still immersed in my new little tune, as in, I was humming it as I got out of bed. Good sign. After the morning routine, I was back at the computer. At this point, I'd decided to start experimenting around with some different sounds for this tune (the song itself tends to dictate for me how it will be arranged). I plugged in a few synth lines for the verses, choruses, and bridge, and then put down an acoustic guitar line and a bass line over it all. It was starting to shape up.

Once again, I didn't attempt to force the process. At any point that I felt I'd run out of mojo, I would have closed the Pro Tools session and found something else to do with the remainder of my weekend. However, the juices seemed to keep flowing, so I kept going. Keep in mind that while I was recording the musical idea, I wasn't recording it. For all I know, I may start again from scratch when it comes time to committ the song to something people will listen to forever. At the same time, my ideas for the song were specific enough that I wanted to capture the entire vibe as well as I could. That meant that while I did bother to flesh out the details, I didn't get bogged down by them. Each pass at guitar and bass were single-pass takes that indeed included some mistakes. I didn't let that stop me at all, nor did I bother fixing them. There will be time later on to do that stuff. The main thing was to get the full idea down as quickly as possible, and I was happy to do just that.

Later, I recorded a couple of guitar solos that I'd planned for the end of the song. Finally, before the night was done, I did a very fast mix of the tune and exported an MP3 file that I could listen to anywhere without having to open up Pro Tools each time I wanted to hear it. And that, friends, is where it stands right now.

I may use high-tech tools to help with recording music, but for basic writing of music and lyrics? My important needs are a pen, paper, and a large cup of caffeinated something or other.

It's still not a song. Songs are musical pieces that are sung, and since there are no words and only the faintest idea for a melody that I could barely, it doesn't qualify as a song by any definition. However, it is a starting point for a song, and hopefully it will continue through its current embryonic state and grow up to be a song sometime soon.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Joshua Tree (June 3-5, 2011)


Friday June 3
I awoke on June 3 immediately aware that a day I'd been awaiting for months had arrived: it was time to hit the desert! Kat and I took our previous trip to Joshua Tree National Park in October 2010, and we vowed to get back there as soon as possible. Well, this time, we took a pal: our great friend Jess Smith (aka Triana Caldera from SL) flew out from Minnesota and arrived in LA on Thursday night.

On Friday morning at about 10:30-ish -- vacation time being less precise than normal time -- Kat and Triana came by my place and I threw my gear into Kat's Jeep. After running a few errands, we got on the road from our home in the Beach Cities in LA's South Bay, and headed east.

On the road again. We were singing along with the radio, until we lost reception of LA stations and had to sing with Triana's iPod (eek). Photo by Triana.

We had a leisurely trip along the 91, 605, 60, 10, and 62 freeways (whew!) before once again finding ourselves back in Joshua Tree. Pulling off Park Blvd., we got to take Kat's new little Jeep Patriot off the paved roads for the first time, and I was really impressed with how it handled dirt, rocks, and bumpy terrain. Well hell, it is a Jeep. That's what they were made to do. Pulling up to the Desert Lily, we drove straight to the cabin we'd rented for the weekend: Casa Rosita. Carrie Yeager, who owns and operates the Desert Lily (which is both a bed & breakfast and a number of rental properties) was so cool that she allowed us to arrive well before the usual late-afternoon check-in. The great part about this was that we were able to arrive early enough to spend most of Friday just kicking back and relaxing on our little slice of desert heaven.

Casa Rosita at the Desert Lily, our home away from home. Photo by Triana.

After we got settled in, the first thing on the agenda was intensive kick-back sessions. Photo by Triana.

Even on vacation, I can't go very long without picking up a guitar. Photo by Kat.

The first thing you notice at the Desert Lily is that it's incredibly quiet. If you're coming from any kind of city or suburban area, the silence (interrupted only by the occasional call of a quail or the howl of a coyote) is blissful. After we got settled in, we made a run into town to get lunch (oh Taco Bell, how do I love thee?), and then to hit the grocery store to get supplies for our love shack in the desert. That evening, we relaxed on our patio, watching the desert animals walk, run, slither, and fly by. We ended the night with a couple of beers and a DVD of "Lord of the Rings", which seemed suitably kick-back for the moment.

The view from our side patio where we spent much of our relaxation time. Photo by Triana.

Saturday June 4
We awoke to a glorious morning in the Mojave, and started the day with Chef Zak in the kitchen, whipping up some bacon and eggs (my sous chef Jess delivered the toast). After coffee and showers, we put on the sunblock and headed for the park! A side note: the high temps while we were there in the high desert peaked at about 82ยบ, which is pretty amazing, considering it's June. The weather couldn't have possibly been better, and the western entrance to the park is only a couple of miles up from the Desert Lily.

Kat's Jeep at dawn on Saturday morning. Photo by Triana (the only one of us up that early!).

We drove for a few miles into the park, letting Jess (who'd never been there before) soak in the beauty, and then pulled off at one of the many roadside viewpoints to take a few pictures -- Joshua Tree practically begs to be photographed. Our first real stop to cruise around was at Quail Springs, but the really cool stuff started when we walked down the climber's path at Hemingway Buttress. As you step along the trail, lizards and kangaroo rats scurry ahead of you into the brush, and you're surrounded on all sides by cacti, yucca plants, and countless joshua trees. It's like an alien landscape at times. An awesome one.

Heading into the park. Photos simply can't reproduce the precise color of blue sky you can only see in the high desert. Photo by Triana.

Our first foray into the Hemingway Buttress climbing area. Photo by Triana.

As great as Hemingway was, it was time to show Jess our favorite area of JTNP: the Hidden Valley nature walk. This is a short (1-mile) hike that circles the bottom of a rock-enclosed valley. It's got a terrific up/down terrain that makes it especially fun to cruise through, and all around you is every conceivable desert plant and animal life. Amazing. We got lots of pics, but we were starting to get hungry, so we left the park to go get lunch. Kat wanted to drive up the road to Twentynine Palms to see what the lunch choices were (grim, as we discovered), so we stopped at a Burger King and had some laughs while chomping down some Whoppers.

Hiking through Hidden Valley. Photo by Triana.

Seriously, anyone who knows Triana can't be surprised that she ran over to spank the Butt Rock in Hidden Valley. Photo by Kat.

Back at the cabin, we showered off a few layers of desert grit and sunscreen, then kicked back for awhile... what's a vacation without some do-nothing time? During our relaxation times, we'd hang out on the patio of our little house, watching the animals scurry by while I'd strum the guitar I'd brought along for this purpose.

There was a constant stream of animal life cruising around our cabin. In addition to the dozens of lizards, we had a steady stream of desert birds, rabbits, and even a coyote within a dozen yards of our door. Here's a scrub jay that hung out with us for awhile. Photo by Triana.

One roadrunner seemed to view Casa Rosita as his home, as opposed to ours. Here he is on our railing in front. We'd just seen him walking by with a delicious desert rodent in his beak. Photo by Triana.

Casa Rosita has an outdoor bathtub (if you're into that kind of thing), but it was only used by this desert iguana, who hung out there for most of our stay. Photo by Kat.

Later that evening, not wanting to deal with big crowds at Pappy & Harriet's, we instead rolled down the street to the Joshua Tree Saloon and had some quite delicious steaks with sides of BBQ beans and cole slaw for dinner while enjoying the local flavor of Joshua Tree's residents out for some Saturday night fun. The food was quite good and the folks seemed friendly enough. Fun place, but do keep in mind if you're going to drop by: it is a saloon, with all that entails. We had a great time while devouring our food, and got back to our cabin around 10.

Our luxurious dinner spot for Saturday night, the Joshua Tree Saloon.

Carrie had provided us with a bottle of cabernet sauvignon, and we drank a couple of glasses while playing a silly word-guessing game that we also found in the cabin. Eventually, exhausted from the full day, we called it a night.

Sunday June 5
We awoke and once again spent a leisurely morning enjoying coffee and the peaceful desert. Kat whipped up some bacon/onion/cheese scrambles which were unbelievably yummy, but we were in no big hurry. Carrie had let us know that we could leave whenever we felt like it, so there was no pressure to get packed up and out the door. We took our time as we got our stuff mostly packed up, and cleaned the cabin a bit before once again heading into the park.

Taking it easy like Sunday morning, sipping coffee and playing guitar on the patio. Photo by Kat.

Heading deeper into the park on Sunday in Kat's Jeep to visit Keys View and Cap Rock. Photo by Triana.

This time, we headed further in and started our day at Cap Rock, a little nature walk with some neat scenery. From there, it was straight up the road about 1,000 feet of elevation to the high point of Joshua Tree National Park: Keys View, which sits about a mile above sea level and offers amazing views of the entire Coachella Valley, the Salton Sea, Mt. San Jacinto, and the San Andreas Fault.

Enjoying our stroll around Cap Rock. Photo by Triana.

No words to describe this. Kat strikes a pose at Cap Rock while I wonder why. Photo by Triana.

Kat and Triana, doing the desert thing.

Triana at the top of Keys View, which is a mile above sea level and overlooks the Coachella Valley.

After descending, we decided to make one more stop at Hemingway, and this time took the northern path, cruising in and climbing around the boulders and rock formations. It was a blast. As usual, we treated the desert with a lot of respect, meaning that we never take or leave anything while there, and that we always carried packs with plenty of water which we consumed almost continuously. While we were lucky enough to get relatively cool weather, the complete lack of humidity will cause you to dehydrate quickly if you're not careful.

Hemingway rocks. Literally. Photo by Triana.

I could try to tell you that I was doing some risky free climbing, but in reality I just scampered around a few boulders at the bottom. Photo by Triana.

Getting high in the desert can have multiple meanings. Photo by Triana.

We swung by the cabin one more time and Kat made sandwiches for lunch. After eating and throwing our stuff back in the Jeep, it was time for the 2+ hour drive back to LA. Other than some insane wind blasts as we headed down the 62 toward the 10 near Palm Springs, the drive home was smooth. I will admit, as much as I love the desert, the feel of standing in my own shower for as long as the hot water would last was pretty spectacular.

I could write some silly conclusion here to our June 2011 desert trip, but instead, I'd like to impart the sense of calmness and "being at one with the universe" one gets from spending time in the high desert. I'd like to, but it's nearly impossible to describe, so I'll end this long post by saying that I'm already thinking about the next trip to Joshua Tree. Even after two recent visits there, I barely feel that I've scratched the surface of that amazing place.

Zak, Kat and Triana with our happy Joshua Tree smiles. See you again soon, high desert!