Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Whisky A Go Go in SL (08.28.12)

Hello reader. I've mentioned several times before in this blog that bored musicians tend to give boring performances, so I take measure to make sure that I'm never bored while playing guitar and singing for an audience. That quest for excitement can lead in any number of directions, which is why I've been seen doing things like wearing a dress onstage, and many other antics over the years.

Last night before my show at the Whisky in Second Life, I started my typical process of deciding what songs I'd play that evening. To be frank, I was a bit burned out on many of the songs that I play on a regular basis. Also, I'd performed at the Whisky nearly every Tuesday night for over two months, and the last thing I wanted to feel like is that I was doing the same show, over and over again.

That's why I purposefully pulled out songs from my Big List that in nearly every case represented tunes that I almost never, ever play (which became the official theme of the night... "Shit I Never Play"). In the case of several of them, I had only performed them once before, and a few of them were songs I hadn't done in years. Check it out.

Whisky Set List...
Drive (Incubus)
Off the Wall (Michael Jackson)
All-Star (Smash Mouth)
Love Ain't for Keeping (The Who)
Borderline (Madonna)
Raised on Robbery (Joni Mitchell)
Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic (The Police)
Who Do You Love (Bo Diddly)
The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down (The Band)
Rocket Man (Elton John)
Tangled Up In Blue (Bob Dylan)

There's a catch, of course: as most musicians will likely tell you, the less you perform a song, the worse you'll do it. Practice makes perfect, and my performances of last night's songs was anything but. Also, perhaps because of it being back-to-school week and my having done a show just a couple of days earlier, we had a particularly small crowd last night. As a result, I decided to make things a bit more intimate by hopping down off the stage and playing while standing amongst my friends/fans, the Zaksters.

Regardless of all that, it was still a fun show, and now I can put those songs away for another few years until I need them again. Also, the act of pulling those songs out made me aware that it's once again time to refresh my repertoire, so I'll soon be adding some more new tunes to the Big List.

Thanks to all the Zaksters who braved my experiment in rarely-played tunes, especially those who supported my show!
alana Dorchester, Diana Renoir, Alexis Fairlady, Cicadetta Stillwater, Triana Caldera, Kat Claxton, my great manager Maali Beck, Whisky DJ/Host Dmitri Polonsky, and owner Cameron Trenchcoat!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Back to School

As most of you know, in addition to all the other stuff I am, my most important job title is called "Dad". Today is the first day of school this year, so now I'm back on my non-summer schedule, which means instead of sleeping until the luxurious time of 7AM, I'm up at 6AM every weekday to get my boy up and ready to head out by 7:30. He's in his second year of middle school, 7th grade, and each year that he heads back to class, I'm reminded of my own school years.

The Young One
I spent all of my pre-college school years as being the youngest person in my class. I was a smart little tyke, and skipped Kindergarten entirely. In retrospect, it probably wasn't a great idea. While I was pretty decent academically (especially early on), there were times where being the youngest wasn't easy for me. Not only was I a grade ahead of my age, but my birthday isn't until June. I had just turned 17 when I graduated high school and moved out on my own for the first time.

My earliest school memories go all the way back to the 1974-75 year, when I was five years old. This was before we moved to California; I was living in a nice town called Marblehead, Massachusetts, and I attended a private facility called the Tower School for first grade. Not so surprisingly, my two main memories from that time were performing in the school plays (I was a von Trapp child in "The Sound of Music"), and my first kiss from a girl. A little lady named Katie pulled me into a coat closet and planted one on my lips. I certainly didn't complain.

By the way: I was already a musician at that point, having started on piano lessons at age 3, and writing my first tunes before my fifth birthday. I literally cannot remember a time of not being a musician.

Ladera Linda Elementary
When we moved to California in August 1975, the school district advised my parents to have me repeat first grade again, to be more in line with the ages of my classmates. My parents, pointing out my 99th-percentile test scores, were adamantly against it, and I entered Mrs. Hupp's second grade class instead. Again, with hindsight being 20/20, there were some problems that would arise from this decision, but at the time things were pretty good. I did well in my little elementary school, which was right there in my neighborhood, and I'd walk to school and back every day (in fifth grade, I started riding my bike there, which I thought was very cool at the time).

Me, around 1977. I was already playing piano, violin, and guitar, and my teeth were on their way to my patented snaggletooth look of today.

I played violin in the school orchestra (well enough to make it into the district's Honor Orchestra by fifth grade), and after abandoning piano lessons, picked up the guitar in 1976. Ladera Linda closed not very long after I left there, which is a pattern you'll see moving forward. All of my schools below the college level are now gone, so all I really have are these memories.

Side note: that neighborhood where I spent my formative years used to sit perched above a lovely open field of chaparral that bordered cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Today, that field is long gone, replaced by Trump National Golf Course.

The site of my former elementary school, Ladera Linda.

Margate Intermediate
As mentioned up top, I'm now the parent of a middle school kid. I certainly remember my own middle school years. I'd have to say that my biggest problem wasn't a lack of maturity, despite my young age relative to my classmates. Instead, it was a desire to grow up too fast, and middle school (which I entered in Fall 1979 at age 10) was the time when I started exploring life beyond childhood, and not always in a positive way. I recall my first girlfriends around that time, and certainly was in a massive period of music discovery as well. But I also had my earliest experiences with drinking and drug use by the time I got into 8th grade. You can be sure that I am very watchful in this regard with my own son now.

By 1980, I was already a guitarist with four years of playing experience (despite being a 6th grader). Here I am (middle) with my friends Randy and Ian (who would become my first two bandmates a couple of years later).

I was fortunate in one aspect; despite my young age compared to my classmates, I was a tall kid and pretty athletic, so I didn't get messed with too badly. However, middle school is probably the prime time for bullying, and I wasn't immune from it. But the other saving grace was that my two closest friends were a grade ahead of me, and they did a pretty decent job of making people know that messing with me would result in retaliation by them. I survived.

My middle school, Margate.

Margate closed within a few years of my graduation from there. What was happening to cause these closures was that the area where I grew up, in Palos Verdes, CA, had a population that was aging, and few families with school-age children could afford to live in the affluent city, so no new kids were moving in. The schools couldn't justify their existence with this dwindling population. Several have since re-opened but often in different formats (i.e., my high school is now a middle school, etc.). Margate, I'm happy to say, is once again an intermediate school, though called something else today.

Miraleste High
I was crushed when, during eighth grade, I found out I'd have to attend Miraleste High School instead of Palos Verdes High where 90% of my classmates were headed. The reason was simple: Miraleste's declining population, combined with the location of my family home, caused the district to redraw the boundary lines, and I was just on the other side.

So, I started high school knowing very few people there. At first, this was the cause of a lot of stress, but then my dad gave a good perspective: I'd have an opportunity to completely redefine myself, getting a fresh start with people who had no preconception of who I was. Pretty good advice.

My former high school, Miraleste, which is now a middle school.

Like a lot of kids that age, I was finding out who I was, and I ended up going in a number of directions at once. I played basketball on the freshman squad (not very well, but I did play). I got involved in the drama department and made friends there. I met some girls who liked my vibe and my curly hair, so I started dating more (though as a 13-year-old, I probably wasn't that great of a date, having to take the bus everywhere and so on). And, of course, there was music. My friends and I started putting together bands and jamming, and there's probably no easier path to popularity as a teenager than being in a band.

I went through many phases during those years. At one point I was huge fan of Duran Duran, and dressed accordingly in swanky new-romantic clothes. A year later, I got way into the Grateful Dead and was in ripped jeans and tie-dye. I look back and note that all of this was good; it gave me exposure not only to different kinds of music but the subcultures that went along with them. High school was also the time when I began to realize that I could write pretty well; I took journalism and advanced placement English literature and composition, and I still draw upon some of the things I learned at that stage.

Here I am in 1985 or so, all 125 pounds of me, performing at my high school.

By the time my junior and senior years rolled around, while I still had the facade of being an honors student in certain areas, my home life wasn't so terrific. My mom and dad were on the verge of a breakup, and they eventually separated right around the time I was leaving for college. Meanwhile, with both of them working and my having a lot of unsupervised time, my forays into drinking and drug use had become a daily activity. My friends and I started skipping school far too often, and I ended up in trouble from both the school and law enforcement on several occasions. Despite the fact that I was taking honors classes and was chosen as a representative for my school's Academic Decathlon competition, due to my unwillingness to do homework and often being ill-prepared for tests, I just barely managed to graduate in June 1986.

But graduate I did, and I went straight off to San Diego State University, where I failed miserably before doing some serious growing up and getting my bachelor's degree elsewhere, but that's another story for another time.

What I Learned
Perhaps the most important training I got during my school years was how to recognize the signs of trouble in a child. My son, who I love and trust completely, still has a much more supervised life than the one I was leading at his age. I am deeply involved in his school activities, and keep my eyes open on his choices in social activities as well.

School is a microcosm of life. You are put into an environment with many different kinds of people, and who you choose to follow, to befriend, and to be influenced by will have a huge impact on your future in ways that aren't always apparent at the time. I am one of the fortunate ones; the experiences that I had -- good and bad -- were valuable to me in gaining perspective and real-world knowledge. And, I was lucky enough to not cause any long-lasting damage to myself or anyone else as a result of my immature actions. If you're at all like me, you probably know people who didn't manage to turn things around, and ended up dead, in jail, addicted to substances, or just plain miserable.

Today, I consider myself a very happy person, with a good business, a healthy family, great friends, a wonderful romantic relationship, and a bunch of interests that keep me very busy. I can't wish much more than that for my own son. In fact, if I had to sacrifice everything except one aspect of my life, it would be that of keeping him on a good path from now through when he goes out into the world on his own. I don't have as much time as it would seem between now and that inevitable point, so I'm doing all I can to give him the ability to make his own decisions... and make sure they're the right ones. If I do that, I've done my "Dad" job well.

Monday, August 27, 2012

7 Reasons Why I Don't Take Requests

There are many musicians in Second Life as well as in-the-flesh performers who do live shows where they take requests from their audiences and perform whatever people want to hear. While I admire many of those people, I am not one of them, and it's not because I am an asshole. I mean, I certainly can be an asshole, but I have actual non-assholistic reasons for not doing requests at my shows. Here they are in no particular order.

1. I Actually Plan My Shows
Despite my occasional references to having my set list come together at the last moment, there is always a reason for performing certain songs and not performing others. Sometimes it involves playing songs that fit a theme; sometimes it's the mood I'm in when getting ready to play (see below for all the details). But in any case, having the audience randomly pick songs doesn't necessarily make for the better shows. I know there are songs I do that specific people want to hear often, but the fact is that out of the 300 or so songs that I draw from in my solo shows, I purposefully spread them out so that the rest of the folks don't burn out on the same tunes over and over again.

2. In the Mood
Let's say it's an autumn day and the sky is overcast. I'm feeling the slight melancholy and/or wistfulness that comes with the season. And then, someone requests a song that is upbeat and happy and silly. Well, I don't blame them! But I do know that when I build my set list, I intentionally include songs that feel right for the moment, which is mostly based on my mood. I simply am not going to shift gears emotionally to play something that is in stark contrast to how I feel. That is the difference between a musician and a jukebox; the jukebox doesn't care, but the musician should.

TOP PHOTO: You can almost always find me with a yellow pad and a pen in my hand an hour or two before the show, jotting down ideas for the set. ABOVE: While I'm playing, I like to put together specific songs that take audiences through different vibes, which is hard to do with random requests coming in.

3. Sticking to the Theme
At a good portion of my shows, I put together some kind of loose theme for the music, especially when I play at the same venue on a regular basis. There are an infinite number of themes that can be done... I've done "female songwriters", "two for Tuesday", and "songs that start with the letter A" in the last month alone. I think it goes without saying that taking random requests tends to screw up the flow of said theme, understandably.

4. Things I Can Sing and Play at That Moment
Ask any honest musician, and they'll gladly tell you that they are not a machine who plays the same songs the same way every single time. There are days when my voice can handle the higher registers with ease; there are other days that I simply can't do my best on certain songs. Some days, my fingers fly all over the fretboard, and on others, I feel like I'm playing while submerged in Jello. So, I simply don't do certain songs on days that I don't think I can play them well, and I don't want to be put in a position to turn down people who would otherwise request those songs. Simple enough.

5. Covers & Originals
Since the music I perform can be most easily grouped into two broad categories -- my original music and cover songs -- it's important to me to try and put together a set that includes some of each. How many of each? It depends on the venue and the crowd, and what I feel their receptiveness will be to either original music or stuff they're more familiar with. Since there are only so many songs one can do in an allotted time slot (usually 11-13 in an hour for me), accepting requests throws off my balance of covers versus originals.

As crazy as it seems in a virtual world, the setting and vibe of the venue influences what I choose to play at each show. Some places are definitely more formal than others, while certain venues seem to enjoy a lively and rambunctious show. I plan accordingly with my set list.

6. Goodbye Spontaneity
Wait, you say. What could be more spontaneous than getting a request from an audience member and playing it there on the spot? Well, the audience has to choose the songs from somewhere, right? That means that people have to get a copy of a preset list of songs to choose from. So there I am playing, and someone is busy searching through a list of 300+ song titles instead of listening to the show? Again, not to belabor the jukebox analogy, but as soon as someone says "I'd like song number B-103 please," I've stopped being the kind of musician I like.

7. Disrupting my Mojo
Finally, there's the actual act of taking requests. I have a terrific manager who books my Second Life shows and handles in-world promotion for me, the lovely Maali Beck. I could easily have Maali collect requests from audience members and send them to me while I play, as she does with some other artists. But once I start my show, unless there's something I really need to know, I want 100% of my focus to be on just two things: a) my performance and b) the audience's reaction to the songs. I like to acknowledge folks who come and thank them for their support when I get tips. But I don't want to be stopping to read IMs and finding songs lyrics, thereby imeding the flow of the show.

So there you have it: seven solid reasons why I don't take requests. By the way, I did decide while writing this that at least half of these reasons actually are rather selfish and assholish as a result, but I'm sticking with them anyway.

Warung Beats (08.26.12)

As far as Sundays go, yesterday was a pretty damn busy one. My son starts school again tomorrow, so Sunday was our last free day to wrap up the back-to-school shopping -- both school supplies and clothes. So, Kat and I took the boy to Target and then to the mall, and I think I spent the equivalent of the national defense budget on various binders, t-shirts, and #2 pencils. Once the shopping was done, we had steak sandwiches for lunch, and then headed back home. Truthfully, it took less time and less money than I'd thought it would, which was good; it left me a good while to relax before 5PM, when I did my first show ever at a Second Life venue called Warung Beats.

I wasn't sure what to expect at this place in terms of the crowd, but I needn't have worried; in addition to a really nice turnout of Zaksters, the place filled up pretty quickly with the Brazilian folks who hang out there on a regular basis. One really nice aspect was that I'd been booked for the show by Ursula Cinquetti, who I've known in SL for the last 5+ years. Ursula has only been associated with the better live music places in SL, and Warung Beats was certainly no exception. It's a nice beachside build, with low lag and consistent textures. More importantly (to me, anyway), as I got into playing my show, I looked up and saw a nice big crowd of people who seemed to be enjoying themselves. I don't ask for much more than that, and Warung Beats definitely delivered!

My buddy (and fellow Maali Beck Entertainment artist) Lyndon Heart stands ready to do his show right after mine, while I rock the Warung Beats crowd. Photo by Kat.

Ursula! Though we're not always in touch as much as I'd like, she's been one of the coolest people I've known in SL, going all the way back to our noob days in 2006, and definitely a great supporter of SL's live music scene. Photo by Kat.

Big bunch of Zaksters? Check. Big bunch of cool Brazilian people who like good music? Check. Really good show? Check and double-check. Photo by Kat.

Also good was the fact that I felt pretty confident about my performance. I don't want to jinx myself, but lately it seems that everything -- my singing, guitar playing, and set selections -- have been working together very nicely. When I finished the show (and got out of my sweat-soaked clothes, another sign that I put my heart into my performance), I went over the set list with Kat and couldn't really find any song that I could have done better than I did.

Warung Beats Set List...
Radio Free Europe (R.E.M.)
You're Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)
On The Way Home (Neil Young)
Let's Pretend That Everything's Okay (Zak Claxton)
1979 (Smashing Pumpkins)
Come Around (Zak Claxton)
Ashes to Ashes (David Bowie)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Northern Sky (Nick Drake)
I Like You (Zak Claxton)
Everyday I Write the Book (Elvis Costello)
I Like You (Zak Claxton)
What I Got (Sublime)
Shine (Zak Claxton)

Huge thanks to everyone who made my debut show at Warung Beats fantastic, especially those who helped support the show!
Triana Caldera, TheaDee, Cicadetta Stillwater, Kat Claxton, Spiral Silverstar, Liz Harley, my manager Maali Beck, and Warung Beats hostess Ursula Cinquetti!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Liquid Rehearsal (08.25.12)

As I mentioned not long ago, I'm reconnecting with my good friends in my old cover band, Liquid, to perform at a block party event next weekend. We had our second of two rehearsals yesterday, and as I could have predicted, things were smooth as silk. We're definitely ready to rip it up next Saturday.

One special aspect that I'm looking forward to: a visit from our friend Jess Smith, who is flying out here from Minnesota to spend some time chilling with us and seeing me rock with a full band live for the first time. All in all, after having played this same Labor Day event in many previous years, I know it'll be a great time for me and everyone attending. Yeah!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Whisky A Go Go in SL (08.21.12)

Today is Registration Day. That sounds like the name of a really cheesy movie, doesn't it? I can imagine the trailer as read by the late Don LaFontaine... "In a world where the school district does more than teach, you'd better have your forms filled out and checks signed... or be ready to face... the principal. Registration Day... don't be tardy."

Anyway, I just dropped my son and his mother off at the middle school he attends. The school actually has a pretty damn good system so that you take care of everything at once, and I mean everything. They set up a line, and as you go through, you drop off all the student info forms, health info forms, field trip permission slips, agreements about using computers and cell phones, PTSA membership forms, and so on. It ends with the school picture being taken. In between, they also happily accept a giant pile of cash or checks that covers all the crap a kid will need for the year (i.e., gym clothes, combinations locks, yearbook, and so on). The whole process takes about an hour, and then he'll be ready for school to actually start (which happens Tuesday of next week, by the way).

In any case, I'm glad that's done so I can tell you about my show last night at the Whisky A Go Go in Second Life. As I was looking through my giant pile of song lyrics, pulling some tunes out kind of randomly, I noted that several songs had some level of significance in my life beyond being something to which I could tap my foot and bob my head. For example, the Beatles' "A Day in the Life" was the very first song I ever played for my son after he was born. Jimi's "Little Wing" was a huge lesson for me as a young musician in emotive guitar playing and songwriting. So, that became my musical theme of the night, and it worked out nicely.

Another Tuesday night, rocking and laughing at the Whisky. Photo by Triana Caldera. Top photo by Kat.

Somehow, much of my audience turned into food and drink. I'm not kidding when I say the Zaksters are silly, silly people. Photo by Kat.

I've enjoyed my weekly shows at the Whisky in SL, and I think the Zaksters are getting used to marking Tuesday nights on their calendars for my gigs there. A short note about last night's show: my voice was really behaving well, as was my guitar, so I'm happy about that. However, during my final song ("Tribute" by the mighty Tenacious D), I did a complete brain lock-up toward the end of the tune! We're talking about a song I've played live at least 150 times. So funny how that can happen; it's the musical equivalent of looking down at your shoelaces and wondering how to tie them. Despite that moment of sonic amnesia, it was a terrific and fun show, and I was happy that it seemed good for the Zaksters too.

Whisky Set List...
†Driven To Tears (The Police)
Comes a Time (Neil Young)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)
†Ramble On (Led Zeppelin)
Things Behind the Sun (Nick Drake)
Jane (Barenaked Ladies)
Redemption Song (Bob Marley)
Little Wing (Jimi Hendrix)
Save It For Later (English Beat)
A Day in the Life (Beatles)
Our House (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young)
Tribute (Tenacious D)

†It's been over four years since I played either of these tunes. Not sure why; they're both good.

Huge thanks to all who came out and helped support the show!
Triana Caldera, EvaMoon Ember, Kaeko Freenote, SensualMale, Cicadetta Stillwater, Alexis Fairlady, Kat Claxton, TheaDee, my terrific manager Maali Beck, and Whisky DJ/Host Dmitri Polonsky and owner Cameron Trenchcoat!

Monday, August 20, 2012

A Weekend in Zakland

I don't know what a normal person is, but I seem to be one. In this regard, it means I do things that should be familiar to most people who share similar aspects of their lives with me. In my case (in no particular order), I'm a father, a musician, a boyfriend to a lovely lady, a small business owner, and a guy in his early 40s who likes to spend at least a little time each weekend doing things that I can't easily do during the week.

Sometimes those are things that aren't exactly my idea of fun... responsibilities that aren't work related, and so on. But if you're smart, you can sometimes turn even those things into a kind of small adventure. Case in point: my son, like millions of other kids, is heading back to school shortly. Well, in many places across the country including my home of Redondo Beach, CA, kids entering the seventh grade are required to show proof of a Tdap vaccination ("Tdap" being an acronym for tetanus, diptheria, and pertussis, aka whooping cough).

Well, the good news is that my son is well taken care of and quite up to date in his vaccinations. The bad news was that the little form proving this was nowhere to be found. Since school registration is this week (and classes start next week), there was no time to delay. After a call to his pediatrician's office and finding out they'd be closed by noon on Saturday, Kat and I made plans to head over to Torrance, the city just to our east, and pick up his immunization record.

Saturday in the Snark
We slept in on Saturday -- a rare and glorious event -- but made it there with plenty of time to spare (they even had the form pulled and ready in a nice envelope for me... hats off to Children's Medical Group of Torrance). It was a quick stop, but we were already pretty ravenous by then, and I wanted to take Kat to breakfast somewhere out of our usual range of restaurants. Driving aimlessly for awhile, the idea popped into my head to go to CJ's Pantry on Catalina Ave., a little hole-in-the-wall near the beach. I hadn't been there in years, but my dad and I used to go have decadent breakfasts there when I was a kid. Well, it was every bit as delicious as I remembered, and we devoured our omelets with glee.

CJ's Pantry. Yes, that place with the weird statue of a chef who stands outside on Catalina Avenue. Yummy.

Walk on the Ocean
Since we were right there and it was a gorgeous morning, we then cruised down the Esplanade a little ways to Avenue C, and amazingly found a parking spot. Then we walked down the ramp, across the bike path, and onto the sand. Since it was a hot weekend here in the Los Angeles area, the beach was already crowded with sunbathers and families, but we found a nice little spot and kicked back for awhile in the sun before walking down and cooling off in the Pacific Ocean. We didn't stay very long; we hadn't really come prepared with towels or sunscreen or other beach-like stuff.

Down the ramp toward the sand at Avenue C. Yes, this is where I live. Don't hate me.

After heading back home (a 10-minute journey), we hopped into the shower to rinse the sand, tar, and beach bacteria off of ourselves. Then it was time to have some more fun. Since my son was spending the weekend at his mother's place, we borrowed his Wii and played a game of Monopoly on it. Ah, the crazy life of a rock star.

After the game (Kat won handily, by the way), for a short while, we did one of my favorite weekend activities: nothing. Yes, nothing. We browsed around the Internet, talked about recent news stories, and generally sat here like lumps. While I like to stay busy, the fact is that both of us work hard all week, and those few moments of basically shutting down really help the recharge process. We took a brief break from our nothingness to walk across the street to the Bean Counter, our neighborhood coffee house, and got some iced coffees and blended espresso drinks to keep us cool while getting a needed caffeine boost. Then it was back here to chill for awhile longer, but then we were hungry again, and it was really damned hot, so cooking was pretty much out of the picture.

That's me last year, doing a gig at the Bean Counter. We're there so often that owner TK and his wife Christina, and their employees Francesco and Jayna are practically family.

Dishes of Fishes
That's a good excuse to have something cool and delicious... like sushi! Our little place directly across the street (next door to the coffee house), Ichiriki, has some really great fish (and is relatively affordable as far as great sushi in Los Angeles goes). At about 5:30, we strolled over and took a seat at the bar where owner and head chef Peter took care of our foodie needs. Word to the wise: don't go out for sushi when you are absolutely starving unless your bank account is in good shape. Despite the financial impact, Kat and I ate insane amounts of hamachi, albacore, and unagi sushi, spicy tuna rolls, rainbow rolls, spider rolls, and those delicious little spicy scallop on the half-shell dishes that Peter hands out to customers at the bar. In a rare moment of adventurousness, Kat and I even drank a Kirin Ichiban... a pretty wild thing, considering neither of us have more than a few drinks per year.

After dinner (and a whole lot of moaning about being too full), we headed home. Lacking anything very exciting to do on our Saturday night, we went back to the Wii for a round of Mario Party 2. I'm proud to say that for the first time, I managed to beat Kat. Sometime around midnight, we headed for bed. As I said, the thrilling life of a rock star will boggle your mind.

Easy Like Sunday Morning
We got up a little earlier on Sunday morning than we did the day before. If anything, it was even hotter, and being stuck in a little box with no air conditioning didn't sound like a good time. So, after some coffee, we puttered around the house for a bit. My phone rang several times but since I'm not too keen on picking up private caller ID numbers, I didn't know for awhile that my ancient landlord (whom I think is about 120 years old) wanted to show off the building to a prospective buyer. I wasn't about to waste my weekend for this cause, especially on such short notice, so I eventually called him back to olet him know I'd be available for a very short time slot between 3:00 and 3:30; his arrival before or after would have me not being here.

Shortly thereafter, my son arrived home, and Kat and I realized that we were hungry. Yes, we eat a lot; food is good, and without it, you die. No apologies. So, she volunteered to make a run to Denny's to pick up some brunch-like meals, and we ate and enjoyed our Sunday relaxation for awhile.

The Clean Scene
But not for long... I'd postponed doing laundry for several days too long, and had hit that crucial point of having run out of underwear. Not good. So, while Kat read a book and cat-napped, I gathered a hamper full of dirty clothes and headed once again across the street to the laundromat. While our complex as its own washer and dryer, they're almost always in use, especially on the weekends. Besides, I had several loads to do, and the laundromat has those great triple-loaders so I could knock them all out at once.

As soon as that was done (and the clothes were folded), there was a knock at the door, and my landlord and his potential buyers arrived. Nice folks. They only spent about 10 minutes looking around the place, and then left.

Remainder of the Day
The rest of Sunday was pretty kick-back, as it should be. We cruised around the Interwebz and watched some DVDs. Early in the evening, Kat and I walked once again across the street (I will tell you, having a mini-mall and a grocery store about 100 yards away has always been a blessing here), and got fixings for sandwiches. I also got an entire custard pie, but we won't speak about such things.

The view from my front porch. Behind me is a little mall that includes a post office, a grocery store, a laundromat, a dry cleaners, a sushi restaurant, a coffee house, a dog washing place, a Chinese restaurant, a cigarette store, and more. Convenience, thy name is Beryl Street.

At 7:00, as we do on almost every Sunday for the past five-plus years, we went into Second Life and joined our friends there for Triana's Music Trivia. Triana is a close friend who will be visiting us in less than two weeks, and we had the usual amount of zany fun there. Afterwards, Kat and I watched an episode of one of the best series that ever was produced for television -- the Sopranos -- and then it was time for the weekend to come to a close. I spent a little while afterwards watching some more videos and chatting with friends on Facebook, and then it was time for bed.

That's All?
Yup. And I consider that a really good weekend. It's not at all uncommon for Kat or I (or both of us) having to work over weekends, or to have other responsibilities that take us away from the simple act of relaxing and spending time together. So this weekend was pretty ideal in that regard. While I may be a relatively well-known musician and a guy who likes to have fun, I find that I get the greatest pleasures from simple things. This weekend, while not seeming very spectacular on the written page, was just fine by me, and now I'm ready to tackle the grueling work week in a much better mood than I'd left it on Friday. That's what weekends are for.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

How do you play live music in Second Life?

My Facebook friend list is pretty diverse. It combines folks from all different areas of my life. Some are old friends I've known since childhood. Some are business colleagues with whom I've grown close. But the majority of them are people who are involved in Second Life, the often-maligned 3D virtual environment that's been around since 2003 and that I discovered in 2006. It's no wonder that from time to time, I have people who don't know about Second Life (or SL, as we tend to abbreviate) asking what this thing is all about, and how they can get involved in its live music scene.

It would be nice if there was a reference point online so I could just send over a link that would explain everything, but as far as I can tell, there's not. In fact, there's probably more misinformation and outdated information than there is accurate stuff. I've done my best by writing published magazines articles in Electronic Musician (2008) and Live2Play (earlier this year) magazines, but those are simple overviews. Most people need specific info. Therefore, I'm happy to offer this little guide that will answer many of the questions.

1. What Is Second Life?
It's an online world, a 3D Internet environment that's been built by its users over the last 9+ years. What's there? Lots of stuff, some which may be interesting to you and some which may not. What interests me there is the ability to perform live music for fans around the world.

2. Why play live music there?
This could be an article of its own, but the short story: you can expose your original music to people with a much further reach than you can by playing locally. You can count on appreciative crowds for every genre of music. And yes, you can make a little money via performance fees and tips. SL has its own virtual economy, and you can convert that into your local currency in a couple of ways. More on that later.

You can see me in the foreground of this image from Second Life performing on a virtual stage in a beach-like setting, in front of a nice-sized crowd. One of the neat things about SL is that there are no physical limitations to the types of places you can play. Chances are that you'll be awed by the creativity that goes into the creation of virtual live music venues.

3. How do I get my music into SL?
Pretty simple. You need three things: an audio interface to get your audio into a computer, some software that allows you to broadcast (like Nicecast for the Mac or SAM Cast for Windows), and a connection to a ShoutCast server to get your audio out to the people. What you do, essentially, is the same as an Internet radio station: you stream your audio out on a specific web address, which can be plugged into a parcel of land in SL and heard by those in attendance.

Nicecast running on my MacBook Pro. You can choose many settings for the source and quality of the audio you're broadcasting.

4. How do I book shows?
Getting started as a live performer in SL is much like real life: if no one knows you, it's unlikely you'll have audiences or be able to be booked in the more popular spots. Regardless of your background and talent, you'll need to establish yourself, which takes time. My best advice: start by attending tons of other peoples' shows. To find a show, simply search for live music in Second Life's event listings. This will not only familiarize yourself with the expectations of performance quality, but also allow you to get to know the different venues (there are hundreds) and the people who run them. Also like real life, your best bet is to start by playing some "open mic" kind of gigs. When you attend one, ask who runs the place, and see if they have an open slot for a show.

5. Do I need a "premium membership" to play live music?
Absolutely not. SL is free to join. The only reason to have a premium membership is to be able to purchase "land" (similar to renting server space from a web host).

There are all kinds of venues in SL. Some attract larger crowds, some get more intimate audiences. I've played entire shows for 10 people, and shows for 100 people. As you build a base of fans, you'll see familiar names popping up at shows no matter where you play.

6. Can I make any money?
Sure, but most musical artists don't make much. Keep in mind that SL uses its own virtual currency called the Linden Dollar (L$) in a micro-economy where about $L270 equals $1 USD. New artists rarely are able to charge fees to venues for their appearances, since they don't bring in crowds and offer little benefit to the venue. I won't say what artists get paid in SL, simply because the range is ridiculous. Some people play 3-4 times a day; some (like me) play a couple times a week; some play less. Some choose to play for free; some demand high fees. There really are no standards, so whatever you work out is between you and the venue who hires you. Tip payment is also all over the map. In any case, I would not advise a musician to get into SL for the money... you should play there for the love of performing, and possibly for the exposure to a global audience. Very few make enough there to consider it their primary income source. In my case, a decent show has me making about $20-$25 for an hour-long performance, counting audience tips and venue fees. Keep in mind, though: no loading gear in trucks and onto stages. No travel time to and from shows. It's a trade-off that I find worthwhile. And really, if I perform in real life for an hour at a local coffee house or book store, I really don't expect to make more than I make at an SL show.

On a specific note, to be paid, you can either have the makers of Second Life send you a check for a fee, or (highly preferable) you set up a PayPal account and deposit your SL currency into it every so often.

7. I'm an experienced musician in real life, so I should have an advantage over most of these SL performers, right?
Wrong! First, don't assume that the rest of the SL musician community are there because they're not good enough to be hired in real life musical situations. I've heard many very, very good performers there, including many folks like myself who have decades of RL experience on stages and in studios. But even so, there are particular idiosyncrasies to putting on a good show in SL that you don't get in real life. First, you don't have direct contact with your crowd. You finish each song to silence, not applause (though you do get your positive feedback in text). Also, the audio stream is delayed, so the audience might not hear that last strum for 30-45 seconds anyway. You might get distracted by trying to see what your audience is writing to you while you play. Your best bet is, no matter how experienced you are, go into playing in SL like any new situation where you're humble and willing to learn, and you should be fine. Your real life experiences, of course, will help you do confident musical performances, and that's as important as anything.

8. What are the benefits of playing live in SL?
• Connect with fans from all over the world.
• Make friends and develop a base of fans whose company you enjoy.
• Make a little cash... getting paid to play from your home is pretty cool!
• Find other musicians for collaboration.
• Promote your real life music to your SL fans.
• No travel time to and from gigs.
• No lifting heavy amps and gear for each show.
• Enjoy the receptiveness of fans for all kinds of music, not just the flavor of the moment.
• Perform at fundraisers for established charities.
• Be involved in a community that goes far beyond music performance.

If you're lucky, your Second Life musical relationships can cross over to the real world as well. Here I am at an SL live jam (in San Diego, 2011) with fellow SL musicians Eva Moon, Raspbury Rearwin, Max Kleene, and Lyndon Heart.

9. What kinds of music can I play in SL?
I'll not lie to you; most SL musicians, including myself, tend to play acoustic guitar and sing pop and rock songs. However, there are scenes within SL for every possible genre of music. There are virtuoso lead guitarists. Reggae artists. Jazz players. Electronic/dance musicians and DJs. Avante-garde music. If you can play it, you'll find an audience for it in SL.

10. Do I need a manager in SL?
No. I spent from 2006-2011 managing myself the entire time. That means I was booking my own shows and doing all the promotion for myself. However, I will say that working with a manager in SL, as I have since early 2011, has been terrific for me. She handles all of my bookings and much of the promotion so I can focus on performing. It's great. I love it. That having been said, finding a manager probably shouldn't be anywhere near the top of your priority list when starting out.

11. What are some downsides to Second Life and live music in SL?
• It's a bear on your computer's processor and graphics card. Between rendering the virtual world and working to broadcast live audio, you really need a pretty damn nice computer to do it well.

• Just like real-life hecklers, there are people in SL who like to disrupt events and gatherings, including music shows. We call them "griefers", and you can waste a lot of time trying to fight them... or do what I do, and realize that you can't control everything and deal with each situation as it comes.

• The process of building an audience is time consuming, and the benefits might not be immediately apparent.

• You might feel silly playing dress-up with a little cartoon version of yourself. Keep in mind, it's all part of providing an entertaining experience for your fans.

• Like any online environment, you'll find that people can misrepresent themselves in SL. You really don't know who is behind the avatar. That pretty girl dancing in front of the stage might be a fat guy in front of his computer in his boxer shorts.

• There's a limit to the number of people who can attend any particular event. In almost all cases, the most you can play for at once -- due to the limitations of the servers -- ranges from 40-100 people.

• With a limited number of people in SL at any given time, and a lot of performers at particular time slots, it can be a challenge to attract crowds, even for established long-term performers. In my case, a really good show in SL at a premium time slot might have 30-35 people there to see me.

12. Are there other ways to enjoy and be successful in SL music than what you've written here?
Absolutely. This is only my perspective based on a relatively successful run over the past 5-1/2 years of performing in SL. Yours may seem much different. The only real advice I can offer is to jump in and see what it's all about for yourself. Sign up for SL, and start going to shows. See what it's all about. You're always welcome to add comments here and I'll try and answer specific questions you probably have. In any case, despite any shortcomings, I find playing live music in SL highly rewarding in ways that aren't always easy to describe. I hope you are able to find out what I mean by experiencing SL music for yourself.

Whisky A Go Go in SL (08.14.12)

Today would have been Julia Child's 100th birthday. She almost made it; her death in 2004 happened two days before her 92nd birthday, despite the fact that her cooking recipes used tons of butter, fat, heavy cream and so on. Something to think about while you adhere to a strict diet.

Anyway, Julia and I share an outlook on life. She really felt that life was meant to be enjoyed, and that being cheerful should be the rule rather than the exception. She also seemed to be a person who enjoyed experiencing many different things -- another area that she and I have in common. For example, during WWII, that sweet and happy cooking lady was also a top-secret researcher working for the OSS, the government agency that preceded the CIA. Yeah, really.

I like this top-down photo, courtesy of SuperZakster Triana Caldera.

So what does this have to do with my show last night at the Whisky A Go Go in Second Life? Well, much like a good meal, a good music show has a variety of flavors that complement each other. I've noticed that the great concerts I've seen, be they pop, jazz, hard rock, classical, or otherwise, take you through a range of feelings and emotions. While my shows are mostly known for their silliness and fun, there are always some moments where I'm being pretty serious in my song choices and performances. I can't tell you which portions of my shows are the appetizers, the main courses, or desserts, but I do try and serve up a balanced meal, so to speak, each time I get on stage.

I usually am not too particular about having my avvie look like myself, but I so enjoyed having buzz-cut my hair last weekend that I did the same for my digital alter-ego. Photo by Kat.

Yup. This is what a good show looks like. Photo by Kat.

I try and pull up some kind of theme for each show, usually something that's unplanned and happens rather randomly. Last night, I noted that nearly all the songs I'd pulled for my set had some really high vocal parts. The height of this phenomenon was focused on my doing a Rush song after hearing that DJ/Host Dmitri Polonsky was a fan. So, much of the banter between myself and the crowd had to do with my having to wear tight pants in order to hit those notes.

Whisky Set List...
Behind Blue Eyes (The Who)
Perfect Girl (Zak Claxton)
*Closer to the Heart (Rush)
Summer Breeze (Seals & Crofts)
Space Oddity (David Bowie)
Look Out For Me (Zak Claxton)
Plush (Stone Temple Pilots)
One (U2)
Old Man (Neil Young)
Nobody Home (Pink Floyd)
Man of Constant Sorrow (Traditional)
†Stuck in the Middle with You (Stealers Wheel)

*Indicates the first time I've performed this song in SL.
†My only other performance of this Stealers Wheel song was together with Lyndon Heart awhile back, so this was the first time I did it on my own. Good stuff.

One more note on last night's show: Maximillion Kleene stopped by to hang out, and apparently enjoyed the vibe of the place, since he did an impromptu set there right after mine. Max is absolutely in the top tier of SL entertainers, and it's always a blast when we can hang out. In addition to his being a cool guy, I truly enjoy his music!

Big thanks to everyone who came out to the show... I'm really blessed to have connected with people who, for whatever reason, understand my silliness and add to the experience. Special thanks to those who helped support the show!
Triana Caldera, Alexis Fairlady, Maximillion Kleene, Selene Setsuko, Diana Renoir, Christine Haiku, Sassy Nitely, jsmn Yao, TheaDee, Cicadetta Stillwater, Sesh Kamachi, Crap Mariner, Kat Claxton, my manager Maali Beck, Whisky DJ/Host Dmitri Polonsky, and owner Cameron Trenchcoat!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Whisky A Go Go (08.07.12)

Hello again, reader. Nice to see you here. By the way, I can't actually see you. That would be weird, and pretty creepy.

Last night was Tuesday, and for the past couple of months, that means I was performing my live music show at the Whisky A Go Go in Second Life. I didn't put together any big theme for last night's show; it simply wasn't necessary, and I never force these things unless they seem to happen naturally. Of course, with my Zaksters, themes can kind of pop up on their own. And, more often than not, it's the fault of the seemingly prim-and-proper Maali Beck, my manager.

[18:20] maali.beck smacks Sesh in the back of the head w/ a wet fish
[18:20] Christine Haiku: hahaha
[18:21] maali.beck: he's gonna wonder where that wet fish smell is coming from

It's my recommendation for newer SL musicians to ignore the local chat going on. Even experienced musicians aren't used to performing live music while reading other people's conversations, and it can throw off your performance in a big way. However, those of us with years of SL playing experience know how to juggle this sensory overload, so I do glance down while I play to see what my silly audience is talking about. At that moment, all I saw was Maali's "wet fish smell" statement, and it was off to the races from then on. I started inserting fish references into my songs, and the Zaksters chipped in with all manner of somewhat suggestive fish talk.

So there was that, which was fun. The other thing that perhaps made this show memorable was my self-announcement. If you've never seen my show (uh... why haven't you seen my damn show? I've been doing this shit since 2006), you might not be aware that I tend to say things like, "Thanks for coming. I'm Zak Claxton, your musical madman," and so on. I say whatever I'm feeling at that moment, which could be anything from "your musical moron" to "your musical master of insanity". For some reason that perhaps will never be determined, last night at the Whisky, I gave myself a new title by saying the following sentence:

"I am Zak Claxton, your musical gooby gooby! (Maniacal laughter) Jeeeesus, I have no idea what I'm saying, ever."

Or, just listen to it yourself.

And, I have to admit, that's true. Part of the fun of my show, for both myself and my audience, is that I'm a huge fan of spontaneity and improvisation, and the reality is that I plan very little and allow things to happen on the spur of the moment. That includes almost everything that I say when addressing my audiences, and the results can be as silly and surprising to me as they are to anyone. Speaking of surprising, I did a few tunes last night that probably were high on the unexpected scale.

Whisky Set List...
I've Been Waiting For You (Neil Young)
Come Around (Zak Claxton)
*Torn (Natalie Imbruglia)
The Crystal Ship (The Doors)
Fade Away (Zak Claxton)
De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da (The Police)
Free Man In Paris (Joni Mitchell)
†Sweet Caroline (Neil Diamond)
For What It's Worth (Buffalo Springfield)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
Lola (The Kinks)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
†50 Ways to Leave Your Lover (Paul Simon)

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

†I only did "Sweet Caroline" once before, specifically to tease my friend Triana who is an avowed Neil Diamond hater. I did it again last night for the same purpose. I'd only done "50 Ways" twice before, the last time being on August 28, 2010.

Triana moons me in retaliation for maliciously subjecting her to "Sweet Caroline". Photo by Kat.

Big thanks to my Zaksters... the Zak Show is as much you as it is me! Special hats-off to those who supported the show!
Triana Caldera, KarenMichelle Lane, TheaDee, Kat Claxton, Sesh Kamachi, Christine Haiku, Alexis Fairlady, Cicadetta Stillwater, SL's finest manager Maali Beck, DJ/Whisky host Dmitri Polonsky, and owner Cameron Trenchcoat!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Whisky A Go Go in SL (07.31.12)

Hello, and happy August to you. Whenever I think of days and dates, I think of my friend Jace, with whom I've been close since our college days in the late 80s/early 90s. Jace's obsession with dates and numbers in general borders on a fetish. I think it might stem from the fact that he's a drummer, or perhaps it's the other way around (i.e., that his fascination with time and timing led him to the drums... who knows?). Anyway, for a guy who you'd figure would be some kind of mathematics whiz, Jace ended up being an acclaimed fiction author. Funny how life is like that.

I'm very different in that regard. While I'm good at associating dates with events (I know that Live Aid was in 1985 because I was at Berklee College of Music that summer, for instance), the actual numbers themselves are meaningless to me. The Gregorian calendar itself is based on a rather arbitrary birth of a guy in the Middle East over 2,000 years ago, and as we eventually discovered, a year -- the time it takes for the Earth to travel one loop around the sun -- isn't even 365 days exactly. Add to that all we've learned about the relativity and elasticity of time itself on a grand scale, and the result is that my impression of time and numbers in general is much more nebulous than the precise and predictable aspect that I believe Jace enjoys.

One thing for which I do find calendars useful is arranging a moment in time when I can show up somewhere, and have other people be there so I can perform live music for them. And that, friends, is what I did last night -- the final day of July 2012 -- for my regular Tuesday evening show at the Whisky A Go Go in Second Life. Unlike the past few weeks at the Whisky, I didn't have a specific theme for the show. That lack of framework and guidelines can be freeing; I didn't limit my set list to any specific direction. I played what I felt like at that moment, and sometimes that's a good recipe for an entertaining show.

At the Whisky, doing what I do. Photo by Kat.

For some reason or combination of reasons, my recent shows at the Whisky in SL have been pretty well attended. I've also noted a few folks showing up there week after week who hadn't come to my shows at other places. These are the types of people who eventually develop into fans, and it makes me happy to see them out there. Add them to the support of my Zaksters who come to most of my shows, and it turns into a really good, energy-filled evening.

Speaking of energy, I kept the pace pretty high last night. A little too high, at points, if you ask me. I was really sucking wind at a few points. However, while I finished the show as a sweaty, drained mess, I think the crowd dug it, so it was worthwhile.

Whisky Set List...
Athena (The Who)
Thanks Anyway (Zak Claxton)
Heart of Gold (Neil Young)
†Brown Eyed Women (Grateful Dead)
Broken Day (Zak Claxton)
In My Time of Dying (Traditional)
Big Bad Bill (Van Halen)
Into the Mystic (Van Morrison)
You're Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)
Accidents Will Happen (Elvis Costello)
In My Life (Beatles)
The Man Who Sold the World (David Bowie)
Let's Pretend That Everything's Okay (Zak Claxton)

†My last performance of this Dead song was, ironically, August 2, 2008; nearly four years ago to the day. It could be that subconsciously, I was aware that it's Jerry Garcia's birthday today; hence the same song on nearly the same date. Take that, Jace!

I usually make it off the stage without collapsing. Don't ask. Really, don't. Photo by Kat.

Big thanks to everyone for coming out to my Tuesday night Whisky show, and special kudos to those who helped support it!
Kitten Alecto, Triana Caldera, Leyah Renegade, KarenMichelle Lane, CYAN333, Cicadetta Stillwater, Kaeko Freenote, Crom Vyper, Kat Claxton, my great manager Maali Beck, Whisky host/DJ Dmitri Polonsky, and owner Cameron Trenchcoat!