Sunday, February 26, 2012

Maali Beck's Rezday Party (02.25.12)

A couple of days ago, I was here at Zak Central, chilling like the proverbial villain, when I got a message on Facebook. It was from my friend and fellow SL musician Sassy Nitely (aka Barbie Horsley, and was sent to myself as well as Taunter Goodnight and Lyndon Heart. All of us have something in common beyond the fact that we all perform live in Second Life; we're all managed by a terrific lady named Maali Beck.

Well, I don't really pay much attention to people's rezdays. What is a rezday, you ask? It's like a birthday, but it's based on the day that one first joins Second Life, i.e., "rezzing" into the grid for the first time. For example, Kat and I both joined SL on October 12, 2006, so every October 12, we get another year older in Second Life terms. Anyway, I tend not to note these things, so it's not surprising that I was completely unaware that February 25 was Maali's fifth rezday.

The lady of the hour, Maali Beck, looking very happy. Photo by Kat.

The three co-conspirators for Maali's fun surprise party: Taunter Goodnight, myself, and Sassy Nitely. Photo by Kat.

In her message, Sassy let us know that Maali's big day was on Saturday, and suggested that we should do something for her. Taunter and I immediately agreed (and Lyndon would have as well, were he not already booked for all-day real life responsibilities). Maali does an amazing job for each of us, booking our shows in SL and being the world's best cheerleader at our gigs. She helps our SL careers in innumerable ways, and I think it's easy to say that we all very much appreciate what she does for us.

So, after some back-and-forth of ideas, we realized that Maali tends to spend her Saturday nights at BS's Bring A Friend, a venue run by her close pal Still Braveheart. Maximillion Kleene plays there on Saturday nights at 7PM, so someone came up with a plan: Sassy, Taunter, and I would perform a couple of songs each starting at 6:30. The only challenge would be to make sure Maali arrived early enough to attend her own party!

That evening, we all arrived at 6:15 as per our plan, but there was one slight problem: Maali wasn't even online! After a few "oh shit, what do we do?!?!" moments, I decided it would be worthwhile to pick up the phone and call her. Here's how the conversation went:

"Is this the lovely Maali Beck?"
"It's Zak Claxton. You need to get in world now."
"... What?"
"You should get in SL. Right away."
"What? Why?"
"They need you at Still Braveheart's place. Go. Now."
"Uh... isn't it early?"
"You just... need to go there right away. Go now."

Hey, I didn't have time to prepare any excuse better than that. But it worked; a few seconds later, we saw Maali had logged into SL. By then, Sassy, Taunter and I were all positioned on the stage, and there was a good sized crowd awaiting her arrival. It couldn't have gone more perfectly. Exactly at 6:30, I teleported Maali (who landed onstage with us), and everyone cheered for her. As the rest of the venue rezzed for Maali, she saw that Still had decked the place out with all kinds of rezday decorations for the occasion. It was, in a word, great.

We'd chosen to perform in alphabetical order, doing a couple of songs each, so Sassy kicked it off right away, doing two very nice tunes with her guitar and pretty voice. Taunter went next, with her big voice filling the room as usual -- overflowing it, in fact. She is just a terrific singer. Being last in line (the danger of a name like Zak) was actually cool, since I got to rock out right before the ever-popular (and deservedly so) Max Kleene took the stage. Since I'd just written a brand new song the morning before, I decided to use the occasion of Maali's rezday to perform it. It was the shortest time frame I ever had between writing and playing a song for a live audience.

Maali's Rezday Set List...
The Other Way (Zak Claxton)
*Let's Pretend That Everything's Okay (Zak Claxton)

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

Sassy gets things rolling with two great tunes. Photo by Kat.

No one in SL sings like Taunter. Photo by Kat.

I rock the crowd with some Zak Tunes while thanking Maali for being Maali. Photo by Kat.

Max Kleene, one of my (and everyone else's) favorite performers in SL. Photo by Kat.

In between our songs, each of us talked about how special Maali was. I got to tell the tale of meeting Maali, exactly a year earlier at the San Diego SL Jam, and about how lucky I was to be part of Maali Beck Entertainment. After my little set, Max took the stage and did a great show, but how often doesn't Max do a great show? I've never seen it, if it's indeed ever happened.

Long story short: I'm so glad that Sassy had the idea to put together a little event honoring what Maali has done for us. It was tremendously fun, and I know that Maali enjoyed it a lot. Special thanks also go to Still Braveheart for making her venue look like a Maali shrine for the night... it was awesome! But most of all, thanks again, Maali, for being a manager who exceeds all expectations, and yet being an even better friend!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

A Murder in Redondo Beach

Being a creative writer, I wish that the title of this post was some fictional mystery that I was working on. Sadly, that's not the case.

Yesterday, February 22 2012, seemed like a pretty normal day here in Redondo Beach, CA. I've lived here since 1995, but my association with this city goes back much further than the 16+ years I've resided here. As a small child growing up in nearby Palos Verdes, it was a regular weekend activity in the mid '70s for my family to pack up a wicker basket full of snacks and drinks along with a blanket, and pile into the car to head to the broad sands of Redondo. In my teen years of the '80s, there were summers where damn near every day, I'd grab my surfboard and head down to The Avenues. If there were decent waves, I'd spend most of the time in the water trying to catch them. If there weren't, I'd be on my towel, catching rays and chatting up girls instead. For over 35 years, I've been well acquainted with this place, and it's no wonder that I chose this to be my permanent home.

The view of Redondo Beach, CA, as seen from Palos Verdes. Top photo: the crime scene on Agate Street near Harkness (photo by Daily Breeze).

Redondo is often described as idyllic, and in many ways, it truly is. The city is bordered by a huge expanse of the Pacific Ocean. We have beautiful weather and lovely scenery. We have a great school district. And, for the grand majority of the time, we have residents who are friendly and peaceful, and who comprise a pretty wide range of racial and economic backgrounds. I've traveled around the world quite a bit and have seen some wonderful places, but no place offers everything I seem to enjoy so much about my little beach town I call home.

Hearing the News
I spent most of my day as I usually do: working. Since 2003, I've run my own small marketing services firm from my townhouse. I do a little of everything that pertains to marketing: copywriting, graphic design, public/media relations, web development, and so on. So that Wednesday was like most of them; I woke up, made sure my son was up and getting ready, had coffee, and drove him to his middle school down the street. Then I came back and dug into my list of duties for my clients that day.

This was the official hand-out photo of Russell Goldberg and his vehicle when he was identified as a "person of interest" in the killing. I'd seen him and his car around this neighborhood often.

So, it was like any other day. I worked; time went by. My ex-wife had the job of picking up my son from school that afternoon, so at about 2:30, they walked in and dropped some news on me: there had been some kind of serious crime about two blocks up the street, right here in my little neighborhood. They'd heard from the lady at the gas station mini-mart that someone around here had been shot. That, in and of itself, was pretty shocking. The crime statistics for Redondo Beach show that any kind of violence is a big anomaly. For a city with over 66,000 residents (and one that's adjacent to Los Angeles), Redondo still has a bit of a small-town vibe. According to the statistics at, there have been only four murders here in the last ten years (and only one since 2004). These stats include the slightly rougher north part of the city; in the area where I reside, those stats would be quite a bit lower. Despite that, Redondo's crime index is way under the national average for the USA as a whole.

This chart (click to enlarge) shows that Redondo Beach has much lower crime statistics compared to the USA's averages. Chart courtesy of

Since this happened so closely, I walked out of my home and through the alley, and looked up Harkness Street. Indeed, the entire road was blocked by police vehicles, and there seemed to be some news crews there as well. Since I was already out (and Kat was at a work meeting up in Santa Monica), I decided to go across the street to the Bean Counter, our local coffee house, and see if anyone knew what was going on. It soon became apparent that the situation was worse than I originally believed; someone had been murdered within a few hundred yards of where I live.

Finding Out More
I got my coffee and walked home. By then, it was 3:00, and the local news was beginning to give coverage to the story. It seemed as if this was a case of domestic violence; a woman had been killed by her husband, Russell Scott Goldberg, with whom she'd been going through a bitter divorce. At first they called him a "person of interest", but it wasn't long before they switched his description to "prime suspect". Worse, he was still at large. I looked at his picture, as well as the photo of the car he'd been driving, and recognized him right away. It's a small neighborhood, and all the long-term residents tend to see each other around at the grocery store, the coffee shop, and other spots in the area. I also know I'd driven behind his green Saturn on many occasions. It had a yellow radio station bumper sticker placed at an odd diagonal angle, and I'd often seen him on the road or parked in the street next to my home.

The day went on, and more and more information was breaking on the news. Her name was Margaret Ann Goldberg, and went by the name Peggy Duffy. It seemed that the couple was well known for having explosive arguments, and police had been summoned many times to their home during screaming matches. This morning, the Redondo Beach police got a call from someone in New York, who had apparently been concerned for Peggy and had RBPD do a "welfare check" on her home. They discovered her body. I also learned that they had two kids, and the older one went to school with my son. It was all very, very sad. At about 4PM, we got a call from my son's school with a pre-recorded message from the principal, who explained how they were aware of the situation and were taking measures to help ensure the students' safety, as well as to provide counseling to kids as needed.

It wasn't long before my neighborhood was packed with local media reporting on the crime. Top: KCAL. Bottom: KTLA.

On the Run
While I wasn't terribly concerned about it, the police had made it clear that Goldberg was considered to be armed and dangerous, and asked for residents to keep an eye out for him. Because this was a domestic violence situation, I didn't feel as if there was a crazed killer out in our streets who would attack randomly. But still, I told my son to stay inside that afternoon (not a problem for him; he tends to spend a little too much time inside on his computer and video games for my liking, as many kids these days do). Throughout the late afternoon and evening, I would periodically check the news online to see if any new information was coming out.

It was about 7PM when I got some surprising news, courtesy of the Twitter feed of reporter Janelle Stecklein from the Salt Lake Tribune. It seemed that in a little place called Beaver, Utah, Goldberg had been stopped by the Utah Highway Patrol. At first, I assumed he'd been arrested, but a few minutes later, I realized that he was in an armed standoff right there on the I-15 freeway. He'd refused to pull over when they first found him, and his car had been stopped by blowing out all of the tires with a spike strip after a brief pursuit. I knew it wouldn't end well from that moment on. Sure enough, within a half hour, news was breaking that he'd killed himself via a self-inflicted gunshot while surrounded by a SWAT team there in the middle of a freeway.

Top: murder victim Peggy Duffy. Bottom: Another shot of Russell Goldberg. Photos from KCAL.

During these kind of horrifying events, my brain tends to get very analytical. Perhaps it's a defense mechanism of some kind. But for whatever reason, all I could think about was the timeline of events. Goldberg had murdered his ex-wife sometime around 8:30AM after she'd dropped the kids at school a short while earlier, and was over 500 miles away less than eight hours later. He literally, I thought to myself, must have killed her and gotten into his car and left immediately. I don't think he had a plan; I imagine that he realized what he had done and panicked, and just... left. Hit the road, with no destination in mind, and ended up on the northbound 15. Made it past Vegas and kept going. What I can't imagine is what was going through his head during that final journey. The killing of his ex-wife had to be at least somewhat premeditated; he had the gun with him when he went to her apartment. Still, it seemed that it may have been some sort of crazed fit of anger; according to news reports, they'd had several very contentious court sessions recently. But after he killed her, perhaps he realized the severity of what he'd done, and left in a panic. I don't think he'd put together a plan beyond that moment.

Moving On
Life will go on for me and the other folks around our still-friendly, still-peaceful neighborhood. It's hard, though, not to get caught up in the emotions surrounding the welfare and the future of their children, currently aged 10 and 13 respectively. Losing a parent through any means is a terrible thing to happen to a young kid; losing both your parents in a single day through such a horrible act is beyond my ability to comprehend. For the rest of us, life will get back to normal around here, but I can tell you: from my perspective, it's going to take a long time before I can walk around near the corner of Agate and Harkness without feeling this deep sorrow.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Key West (02.20.12)

I never, ever have a bad show at Key West in Second Life, and I honestly don't know why.

This brings us to a tangent (after one sentence, Zak? Really?). The process of analyzing everything in your life can actually be detrimental to enjoying life itself. If you spend time picking apart each success and each failure, that's time not spent creating more things and having new experiences. So -- back to my little story -- when I note that I seem to always have particularly good shows at Key West, it really doesn't matter why. Sure, it's a nice-looking place. Sure, I tend to get good-sized and enthusiastic crowds there. And it's also obvious that owner Liz Harley and her staff do a terrific job. But none of those qualities are hardly unique to Key West; there are a good number of other venues in SL that fit a similar description. So, I'm happy just to accept that it's a great place to play, and always look forward to my next gig there.

Me, doing my thing. Photo by Kat.

It was an overcast wintery day in real life, so why not in SL too? Photo by Kat.

Anyway, the show was really good. As has happened many times at shows in SL, the crowd was very light when I was getting started, but over the first few minutes of the show, we had people appearing in droves. I was particularly pleased since there was no one playing directly before or after me at Key West, so anyone who was there was specifically there to see/hear me. That's a good feeling.

Key West is a great place to play live music in any season. Photo by Kat.

I pulled out a couple of songs I've never done before in SL, including one song I'd never played anywhere before in any world (virtual or otherwise). Since it was the birthday of Kurt Cobain, I did a Nirvana song I'd never played in my life... not that it went very well. One should probably practice a song more than once before performing it in front of a live audience, but hey, Kurt wouldn't have minded. This I know for sure.

Key West Set List...

Heart of Gold (Neil Young)
De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da (The Police)
*All Apologies (Nivana)
Thanks Anyway (Zak Caxton)
Court & Spark (Joni Mitchell)
Wish You Were Here (Pink Floyd)
Things Behind the Sun (Nick Drake)
Broken Day (Zak Claxton)
Carey (Joni Mitchell)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)
*Allentown (Billy Joel)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)

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

Many, many thanks to everyone who came to my show, especially those who helped support it!
Maximillion Kleene, FatebyChance, ChrysTeRox, AnenomeSweet Pippen, Borealis Hammerer, TheaDee, Grace McDunnough, Aurelie Chenaux, Brynn Barthelemy, Gideon McMillan, Kat Claxton, Spiral Silverstar, my manager Maali Beck, and Key West owner Liz Harley!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Zak Claxton Happy Fun Show #14 (02.16.12)

Click the Play button and see/hear the whole show above.

Holy shit! A post about a show!

Yes, this year so far has been pretty light in terms of live Zak performances. I don't offer any excuses except that life sometimes gets in the way of living, and vice-versa. The short and rather pedestrian story is that I've just been too damn busy with other stuff, and that the number of worthwhile shows in Second Life has seemed to dwindle as of late. So, with that in mind, I was happy to schedule a Zak Claxton Happy Fun Show on Ustream for Thursday evening.

I've been doing this live video show every so often for just over two years. We debuted the Zak Claxton Happy Fun Show on February 6, 2010, and for awhile, we did it pretty regularly. Then, as tends to happen, it changed. We started doing some live video shows via other services like StreamJam and StageIt, and I pretty much blew off my own Ustream show. Anyway, that's all history. It was very fun to get in front of the camera again and be silly for my little group of friends/fans.

By the way, sorry for the audio quality of the clip above, if you watched it. In previous shows, I'd had a problem with the signal being too quiet, so of course I overcompensated and sent the signal too hot, which is why you definitely hear some distortion happening. Ah well, worse things have happened to better people.

ZCHFS #14 Set List...
Big Yellow Taxi (Joni Mitchell)
*Allentown (Billy Joel)
Fade Away (Zak Claxton)
Ashes to Ashes (David Bowie)
Northern Sky (Nick Drake)
Shine (Zak Claxton)
Theme from Greatest American Hero (Joey Scarbury)
What's Going On (Marvin Gaye)
You're Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)
Broken Day (Zak Claxton)
Tribute (Tenacious D)

*Indicates my first-ever performance of this song.

Many thanks to the people who spent an hour of their Thursday night listening to me rock! You rule!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Story of "Thanks Anyway"

"Thanks Anyway": Listen Free and See Lyrics

Buy now on iTunes

I was on Facebook yesterday afternoon, as I often am (I handle social media for a number of my marketing clients in real life, which means I'm usually on Facebook and Twitter for actual non-screwing-around reasons), and my friend and fellow artist/performer Suzen Juel (aka Juel Resistence) posted a question about what makes a venue in Second Life good. After a couple of responses, my pal (and fellow musician) Dann Russo mentioned that he'd been getting into telling the stories behind his original music, and that people enjoyed it.

Well, I agree with Dann. Some artists absolutely refuse to offer explanations for their music, preferring the work to speak for itself, and I'm cool with that too. A few of my idols like Neil Young and Bob Dylan fall into this category. However, I've always had a fascination with the origins of specific songs, and have personally enjoyed hearing those kind of stories time and time again from artists who I respect.

In my case, the songs don't always have a very specific origin, or perhaps in some cases, I'm not comfortable discussing how the song came into being, for a variety of reasons. However, some of my tunes have very, very specific points of origin, and I thought that today, I'd share one here for you blog readers. After that long preamble, here's the full story of my tune "Thanks Anyway", which I've never completely explained before now.

Kat's Power
In 2007, I was doing a lot of songwriting. Like, a whole lot. Of the 11 songs on my debut album, I wrote eight of them over the course of that year. One of those songs was "Thanks Anyway". Everyone has their own approach to songwriting, but for me, 95% of them have me composing a piece of music, and then writing lyrics afterwards that align with the mood of the music and the rhythms of the song.

So, I was actually working on those lyrics that very day, and not getting very far on them, when my girlfriend Kat called up, sounding very distressed -- an unusual mood for such a calm and generally optimistic lady. At that time, she was living in Washington, and I was down here in the Los Angeles area. Kat had spent a few months working full time in Second Life as the co-owner of a company doing serious builds, mostly for corporate clients. Unfortunately, as many of us can attest, only a fraction of a percent of people can make a real living with SL income, and Kat eventually found herself in a situation where she was forced to return to the more mundane workforce. She took a job at Microsoft (she's got a strong tech background, if you hadn't figured that out by now), and had just gotten started there when...

"My power is out," she said, sounding none too happy about it, on her cell phone on the way to work.

"Why? What happened," I asked her.

"I was late paying the bill," she said, obviously sad about her finances having bottomed out momentarily. "Now I'm going into work and I can't deal with it, so I'll have to throw away everything in the fridge when I get home, and-"

"I'll take care of it," I said. Hey, what are boyfriends for, if not keeping the lights on? Kat really wasn't happy about that either; she's a very independent lady, and the last thing she wanted was charity, even from me. However, she acquiesced, and I was happy to deal with the issue on her behalf.

You Kept Me Hanging On The Line
It sounded easy enough. I got the name of her power company where she was living (in Tacoma, WA at the time), and got the account information from her. All that remained was getting them paid, which is usually a pretty simple process. I called them up.

"Tacoma Public Utilities, how may I help you?"

"Hi, I'd like to pay a power bill."

"Great, let me transfer you."

Thus began the first of several times I was to wait on hold that day. After a few minutes, someone picked up.

"Tacoma Public Utilities, how may I help you?"

"Hi, I was calling to make a payment for power service."

"Oh. Did you call this number directly?"

"Um... no, I got transferred here from the main number."

"Oh... okay, hold please."

I held.

"Tacoma Public Utilities, how may I help you?"

"Hi, is this the billing department?"

"Yes, can I help you?"

"Yes, I'd like to pay a power bill please."

"Okay. What's the account number?"

I read it off to him, and heard him clicking keys in the background. Then, things got weird.

"Who am I speaking to?"


"Are you the holder of the account, sir? I have it listed as- "

"No, I'm paying this for a friend."

"Okay, I'm not sure we can do that."


"I think we need to get the payment directly from the holder of the account."

I slapped my forehead. "That can't be right," I said. "You can accept payment from anyone."

"Let me get my manager. Hold please."

I'm So Sorry That I Waste Your Time
I went through this complete process again with another person. You'd think that they'd be a little more anxious to accept payment of a past-due bill, but seemed much more concerned with the money's point of origin than its payment. But upon telling my tale a second time, the managerial-like being agreed that the payment's source was irrelevant, and went to go ring up my credit card for the amount needed to turn Kat's power on again.

click click, click click click click... click...

"Uh oh," he said.

"Uh oh?" I asked.

"The system is giving me problems. Can you hang on for a bit?"

"I, uh... yeah, I guess." Well, hang I did. About 15 minutes later, he got back on and nicely apologized for the inconvenience. But then I got the news: their in-house payment system had just gone down, and I was to be transferred to their outside payment service. I'll spare you the rest of the hellacious experience; I was transferred another three times, and at one point realized I'd invested over 90 minutes into an experience that should have taken no more than ten minutes tops.

My Hand Still On The Phone
Back to the start: as I mentioned, I'd been working on lyrics for this new tune at the moment Kat first called, so during the longer periods of being on hold, I'd turn on the speaker phone and pick up my guitar and pen, continuing what I'd been doing. As a songwriter, you really can't choose the times nor the vehicles of inspiration. It's like waiting at a bus station with no schedule, and being aware that you might get picked up by a Volkswagen, or a tricycle, or a Lear jet... or not at all. But this time, the very act of waiting on hold planted a theme in my head.

I ended up getting Kat's power turned back on, and maybe 15 minutes after that, had a nearly complete song. It seemed to be about a person who was perplexed about the end of a relationship, as many of us have been at points in our lives. Perhaps this was inspired by Kat's realization that her juice was unplugged; I'm not sure. But I do know for a fact that the lines of the song that relate to being on the telephone ("I tried to call you one night...", "You left me hanging on the line...", "This song about our disconnection..." and so on) were directly taken from the mundane act of being on hold with a utility company.

The only thing I was missing was the bridge, and that came serendipitously as well. My good friend Jace had gone through a divorce, and Jace tends to obsessively dwell on certain aspects of life that may never really be quantifiably analyzed. He'd written an email to me, saying that occasionally he wondered if his marriage had managed to get past its stumbling point if things would have worked out for the long term, and then answered himself in that they probably would have gone south regardless. BOOM. I quoted him nearly word for word in the bridge of the song; it was perfect in context.

It Really Gets Me Thinking
People seem to like "Thanks Anyway", and I'm glad people like it. I started performing it right away, and during the second recording session for my album, I recorded the song on June 28, 2008 (on the same day as "You're Like a Cloud"). Like most recording artists, I listen to the song today and can pick out 20 things I think I could have done better, but it is what it is, and I've long since moved on to new tunes for new sessions in the future. But all in all, it's a poppy little song that arose from nowhere, as most of them seemingly do, and I'm happy to have it in my bag of tricks.