Monday, April 30, 2012

Key West (04.29.12)

Oh... My... God.

I suppose I should start at the start. Yesterday, I had a special show with my buddy Lyndon Heart, with whom I've been performing dual-streaming shows in Second Life for quite a long time. Key West owner Liz Harley had put together a terrific weekend as a Relay for Life benefit fundraiser. Both Saturday and Sunday, she hosted nine straight hours of musical performances with dual streams. The schedule featured some of SL's coolest musicians performing as duos or even trios via the magic of multi-streaming, where one artist sends his/her stream to another, who then adds their part and sends it into SL. Among many others, the teams of performers included acts like Phemie Alcott & KevinMThomas Carpool, Lexie Luan & Zorch Boomhauer, Maximillion Kleene & Marky Helstein, Voodoo Shilton & Mulder Watts, Frogg Marlowe & Jaycatt Nico, and many more.

Well, having done probably 7-8 shows as a dual-streaming team at this point, Lyndon and I pretty much have this wired. We take turns being "on top" of the stream )i.e., being the one who leads the song, while the other one adds harmony and lead instrument parts), and Lyndon was driving the bus this time. I was concerned right at the start of the show because when Lyndon's stream first came in, it was a distorted mess of sound. However, he did a quick restart and everything was fine... for most of the show.

He'd chosen some cool tunes, many of which I'd never done before (and several of which I'd never even heard before). However, I'm a quick study, and we really didn't have any difficulties with the songs throughout most of the show. We got all the way through to the second-to-last number, "So Into You" by the Atlanta Rhythm Section, when Lyndon's audio stream spontaneously went back into psycho robot mode. Listen to the example below... the first 30 seconds or so show you the previously good-sounding performance we'd been doing when all hell broke loose.

LISTEN: Zak & Lyndon: So Into Robotic Madness

As you can tell in the recording, I started laughing uncontrollably when my musical partner turned into RoboLyndon. I mean, I was hysterical after awhile. I could not stop laughing. Just when I'd get my shit together, I'd start trying to play along and I'd lose it again. As a result of my reaction, the crowd also began rolling with laughter (in a virtual way). Here are some quotes during this moment of craziness:

• Rosa Gardner: Lyndon is no longer able to generate his human form
• Spiral Silverstar: ......and a new genre of music is born!!
• adina46 Magic: He has been captured by alien music lovers
• Phobe Cazalet: Lyndon spilled coffee on his equipment?
• Triana Caldera: it's like lyndon manson
• Noelani Lightfoot: Lyndon acid rock
• Kat Claxton: It's like a Zak Claxton and Number Johnny Five duet!!
• Maali Beck hands Zak a Depends
• Grace McDunnough: I have concern for Zak's spleen

When your friends and audience members start expressing worry for one's internal organs, I'd say that's the true mark of an excellent show.

We had a great crowd at this RFL benefit show at Key West. Photo by Kat.

The crowd boogies and makes donations to RFL while Lyndon and I rock, little knowing what insanity is about to befall us. Photo by Kat.

Zak and Lyndon, doing the voodoo that we do so well. Photo by Triana Caldera.

Key West RFL Set List
Stuck In The Middle With You (Stealer's Wheel)
The Joker (Steve Miller)
*I've Just Seen a Face (Beatles)
*Three More Days (Ray LaMontagne)
*Lyndon's Jimi Medley (Jimi Hendrix)
*And It Stoned Me (Van Morrison)
*Home (Marc Broussard)
*Drop Baby Drop (The Mana'o Company)
*I'm A Believer (The Monkees)
*We Are The Ones Who Read As Children (Lyndon Heart/Salome Strangelove)
*I Am So Into You (Atlanta Rhythm Section)
*Back in the USSR (Beatles)

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

Thank you to everyone who came out and supported Relay for Life, and enjoyed the show! Lyndon and I appreciate all of you!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Relay for Life Fantasy Faire (04.26.12)

I'm trying to imagine how I could be happier after my first live music performance back in Second Life since I came down with the flu and then pneumonia back in mid-March. I suppose a bikini-clad supermodel could have come by during my show with a copy of my Grammy nomination and a tray full of sushi, but apart from that, it went as well as I could have possibly hoped.

I arrived at the 2012 Relay for Life Fantasy Faire pretty early, mostly because I knew it tends to be a bit laggy there and I didn't want to take a half hour to make it to the stage. It was good, since I got to see my friend Rapture Damone performing in the slot before me, and she was playing along with her teenage sons who were on bass and drums. Fun. It was then my turn to get rolling.

I seem to be enjoying myself. Photo by Kat.

My view from the stage at RFL Fantasy Faire. Photo by Kat.

We had a great crowd comprised of extremely generous folks. Photo by Kat.

I told Kat not long ago that I only had one goal with the show performance-wise: I wanted to make it through the hour without my voice giving out on me. I mentioned that it would also be nice to not sound like a giant ball of phlegm trying to sing, and not to feel like I'd run a marathon after a few songs. Well, I have no complaints at all. My singing, while not quite up to the power and range I'd had before my illness, was fine for a typical SL show. I mostly stuck to a repertoire which didn't have me straining for high notes, and as a result, I was able to do a pretty decent job. By the end of the show, I felt confident enough to pull out a song by the Band that I had never done before, dedicating it to its singer Levon Helm, who passed away from cancer just last week.

There was a bigger purpose for this show, of course; it was for Relay for Life, the fundraising arm of the American Cancer Society. I have performed every spring for five consecutive years for this organization, and I managed to beat my record from last year by raising about L$35,000 (aka about $130 USD) during my one-hour set.

2012 RFL Fantasy Faire Set List...
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Polly (Nirvana)
After the Goldrush (Neil Young)
Brain Damage/Eclipse (Pink Floyd)
Things Behind the Sing (Nick Drake)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)
Blue Skies (Irving Berlin)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
Love Hurts (Everly Brothers)
Pink Moon (Nick Drake)
*The Night The Drove Old Dixie Down (The Band)

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

Giant thanks to everyone who supported Relay for Life during my show, and throughout the 2012 RFL season. You're all terrific people!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Here I Come, I Come, I Come

Well, loyal readers (I assume you exist), I realized that it was high past time to give you a mini-update on what's happening with me and my music. Despite having had the longest hiatus I've ever taken in recent years from performing live music (six weeks!), there's been quite a bit happening. Since I return to SL this Thursday night with a show at Relay for Life Fantasy Faire (more on that below), it's a good time to also get back on the blog train... choo choo... and throw words at you.

My Short Film
Here's some advice if you ever want to write and direct a short documentary: do it on someone other than yourself! I grew about as sick of me as possible within three days of starting the thing, but I did manage to get some possibly decent stuff, and have continued to add to it as time has gone by. I've decided to have it culminate with my hopefully successful show on Thursday night, and finish editing over the following few days. If all goes well, by early next week, I'll debut it in the usual places.

My New (Yet Very Old) Demo Song
I never enter contests... really. Never. But my old musical inspiration Neil Young is doing a new album with Crazy Horse called "Americana", and as a promotion, he's having people do covers of certain classic American songs. It's not my usual cup of tea, but I got this idea out of the blue to do a Zak-like arrangement of "Oh Susannah". On Sunday, I did a quick demo here at Frothy Studios, and I'm enjoying what I'm hearing so far. I really am not concerned about winning any contests; I just thought it was a cool reason to stretch musically and do something different. I need to wrap up the final recording of the song and submit it by May 7, so you'll be hearing it as well soon enough.

My Return to Performing
It finally happens tomorrow evening. Yesterday afternoon, for the first time since getting sick six weeks ago, I ran through a whole show's worth of tunes... about ten of them, back to back. While I was pretty hoarse after the last one, I made it through, and now feel really good about my show on Thursday, 6PM SLT at Relay for Life Fantasy Faire. It seems appropriate to have an important benefit show mark my return; I tend to put my own worries aside much more when I'm doing something to help someone else. As usual, all the proceeds from the show go to the American Cancer Society, so there aren't many worthier causes.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Making Lemonade from Life's Lemons

After yesterday's whinefest in regard to my delayed return to singing due to my recent bout of pneumonia, I heard from a bunch of people. That was nice. It's good to know that random folks actually seem to care about a semi-decent, semi-professional singer. More accurately, it's good to have friends who take a couple of minutes to pick you up when you're down, regardless of the circumstances.

I was chatting with Cicadetta Stillwater, who is a hostess at Molaskey's Pub in Second Life. It's a place where I've performed many times over the last five years, and Cica has heard me do my silly show numerous times (and yet she still speaks to me). I mentioned to her that since I'd be spending some time recovering and allowing my voice to return to its former, uh, glory, it might be cool to document that process. I thought at the time of making a video blog (or "vlog", as the cool kids say), but I've always had the tendency to take simple things and make them much more complicated than necessary. Besides, with all this time I'm not spending doing live music shows, I need something to keep me out of trouble. Idle hands are the devil's workshop, so I needed to stop my hands from idling. No snickering, please.

So yesterday, I started on a short film, currently titled "Zak Comes Back". If all goes well, it will show the process I'm going to undertake to get my voice back. Also -- and this is true -- I'm genuinely concerned that I might not make a strong enough effort to spend time each day going through the exercises necessary to regain my singing power. If I have an external reason to do this (i.e., getting footage for the film), it will likely help me stick to a daily routine.

That's the plan for now. I figure that I'll tape a short section each day over the next couple of weeks, editing while I go along, and then premiere the film sometime before my first actual post-sickness gig, whenever that will be. Perhaps it will be fun to make, and hopefully fun to watch as well -- even with all they whiny "woe is me" aspects that will inevitably pop in. I think there will be some more lighthearted aspects as well, and if it comes together as I hope it will, a heartwarming happy ending. I guess we'll all wait and see!

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Singer Who Couldn't Sing

Once upon a time -- which is how most half-decent stories start, except this particular time happens to be right now -- there was a man who loved music. He loved it when he was a small child; so much, in fact, that he began to learn to play piano when he was just three, and guitar before he turned seven. As he grew older, his love of listening to and playing music didn't fade away; it grew. He was educated in the fine details of music. He began writing his own songs, and, along with playing various instruments, eventually learned to sing pretty well too.

People seemed to like to hear him sing and play, so he kept doing it. He knew he wasn't the greatest singer in the world, or occasionally in the room, but he wasn't bad by any means. People who heard him sing and play seemed happy, and in turn he enjoyed their happiness. He joined bands, and performed in front of larger and larger groups of people. It was fulfilling for the man; he enjoyed it. After many years of doing this, he felt it helped define who he was. "What do you do?" people would ask, and the man would reply, "I'm a singer-songwriter." He couldn't imagine being anything else.

One day, the man got sick... very sick. He was very sad. Because he was so sick, he couldn't play his instruments, and certainly couldn't sing. He knew, though, having been through sicknesses before, that he would eventually get better, and was really looking forward to being healthy enough to sing and play music again. After weeks of recuperation, the man felt mostly well again, and decided to try singing and playing again. The man didn't want to try singing again in front of any people, since it had been so long since he last did so, but didn't mind trying it out in front of his very special lady. He got out his guitar, made sure it was in tune, and strummed a few chords. Satisfied that his ability to play his instrument was still intact, he pulled out a sheet of paper with the lyrics to one of his songs and launched into it.

But then, something terrible happened. He opened his mouth to sing, but his voice -- formerly clear and mellifluous -- was weak and hazy, as if he was singing through a pillow. He made it through the song, and gave a worried look to his special lady. The lady encouraged him to try again, so he did. Clearing his throat (though not needing to), he played another of his songs, and once again, his former voice was nowhere to be found. Going on the baseless adage that "the third time's the charm", he once again took out a song and gave it a shot. The result was devastating; not only was his voice a shadow of its former self, but by the end of the song, he felt winded and needed to stop for awhile, sucking large breaths of air into his lungs as if he'd just run a mile or so. Taking off his guitar and putting it back in the case, the man spent a moment getting his breath back, then said to his special lady in a very sad voice, "I don't know if I'll ever be able to sing again."

"Don't be silly," his lady replied. "You have been very sick for a very long time. Why would you think you would be able to sing perfectly on your very first try? You need to spend some time building up the strength of your voice again. It won't happen overnight."

"Overnight?" the man said incredulously. "It's been weeks!"

The lady shook her head. "Yes, but you've only just now tried to sing for the first time. Give it awhile to get your strength back, and your voice will come back to being as good as new."

The man looked doubtful but he believed in his special lady, so even as he huffed and puffed, he allowed a small smile to return to his face. "Maybe you're right," he said. "I will try again tomorrow."

The end?
That's where the story stands now, Dear Readers. I find it likely that I will not be able to do a show I have scheduled for later this week, but I'm not about to give up yet. I have had some disturbing thoughts that involve my becoming an instrumental-only performer, but we'll save that choice as a last resort. For the time being, I'm going to do whatever it takes to get my singing voice back. It's just going to take some time, and being the most impatient man on Earth, that won't be easy for me. However, I'm willing to do whatever's necessary; I am a singer, and singers sing. That's what I plan on doing, as soon as I can.