Friday, July 26, 2013

Molaskey's Pub (07.25.13)

It's pretty rare for me that I end up doing live shows on back-to-back days, but for places like Molaskey's Pub in Second Life, I am definitely eager to jump onstage whenever the opportunity presents itself. I knew that this show in particular would be a good one; my pal Stacey Bell, who has been a longtime hostess at Molaskey's, was celebrating her birthday. Stacey is a huge Deadhead, and I rarely have a good occasion to whip out my repertoire of Dead tunes, so I planned a set that would be fun for her as well as the rest of the crowd.

With one small exception (see below), the show at Molaskey's was as great as I'd hoped it could be. We had a nice-sized crowd; I got to perform preceding one of my favorite SL musicians (and good pal), Lyndon Heart; and my guitar and voice were both behaving very nicely. In fact, I'm feeling and hearing a marked difference in my voice since I started my big cut-back in smoking last week. So that's all good.

What wasn't good was an unexpected technical problem (side note: aren't most technical problems unexpected?), one that's never happened in the 6-1/2 years I've been performing in SL. My little Mackie mixer, which is pretty damn old and has served me well for over a decade, blew a channel while I was in the middle of the fourth song of the show. This is not something that you want to experience as a performer or a music fan, but I thought you'd like to hear what it's like regardless.

So that happened. But I've said many times before, the job of the performer isn't just to sing and play, but to overcome the inevitable adversity that happens when playing live music. I took a 1-minute break, very quickly did some troubleshooting (and screaming profanities) and ascertained the cause of the problem, made a fast change, and was back up and running for the rest of the show.

As I mentioned during the show, performing live with an audience comprised of good friends is a great feeling. Photo and top photo by Kat.

Even the sound of a mixer exploding doesn't cause the crowd at Molaskey's to panic. All was well. Photo by Kat.

Molaskey's set list...
Man of Constant Sorrow (Traditional)
The Weight (The Band)
Let's Pretend that Everything's Okay (Zak Claxton)
Our Lips Are Sealed (Go-Go's)
Is She Really Going Out With Him (Joe Jackson)
Uncle John's Band (Grateful Dead)
I've Been Waiting for You (Neil Young)
Things Behgind the Sun (Nick Drake)
The Crystal Ship (The Doors)
Terrapin Station (Grateful Dead)
She's Leaving Home (Beatles)

Happy birthday Stacey, and huge thanks to everyone who came out and supported my show at Molaskey's!
warmpup, Bree Birke, Diana Renoir, Kat Claxton, Aurelie Chenaux, Richy Nervous, Cicadetta Stillwater, Woodstock Burleigh, Thinkerer Melville, Stace Silvercloud, my manager Maali Beck, and Molaskey's GM Mia Kitchensink!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Islands of New England (07.24.13)

While it may seem like I'm making out with Sesh Kamachi in this photo, I assure you that I'm merely giving him a sweaty man hug after my show. Photo by Aurelie Chenaux

Yeah, it would seem that I played two consecutive shows at the Islands of New England in SL. But that's not quite true. Last week, I performed at a benefit show for the Feed-A-Smile charity; for this week's show, we got back to doing my typical Zak performance, where things were just silly and wacky, and hopefully mixed in with some good music as well.

My friend who runs the IONE, Christine Haiku, had asked me to cover "Take On Me", that 1986 tune by Norwegian synthpop group A-ha -- yes, the one with the revolutionary (at the time) music video. I never asked her why she wanted me to do that tune, though I had the idea that it was some inside joke between her and our other pal Sassy Nitely (aka Barbie Horsley). It didn't matter; I did the song. As most of you children of the '80s know, the chorus of the song ends on a ridiculously high note. It's an E4, and it's four whole notes out of the upper register of my falsetto voice. Throwing caution to the wind, I did it anyway, and may have permanently damaged my gonads as a result. Ah, the things we do for our art, and to make our friends laugh.

Testicle injury aside, it was a fun show, and I'm always glad to play at the IONE, where it always seems to be fun. I also got to follow Jukebox Diesel, who is a fantastic performer whose music I always enjoy. Bonus!

IONE set list...
It's Good to be King (Tom Petty)
Here Comes the Rain Again (Eurythmics)
*Take On Me (A-ha)
You're Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)
Walk On The Wildside (Lou Reed)
Leggy blonde (Flight of the Conchords)
Alabama Song (The Doors)
Shine (Zak Claxton)
Rock and Roll Woman (Buffalo Springfield)
Sister Golden Hair (America)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)
Change (Tears for Fears)

*Indicates the first -- and likely last -- time I've performed this song in SL.

Big thanks to everyone who came out and supported my show at the Islands of New England!
Darcy Kingmaker, Noma Falta, Sassy Nitely, Aurelie Chenaux, Lyric Serendipity, TheaDee, Sesh Kamachi, Hawkwind Kegel, JennaPiper, Jukebox Diesel, my lovely manager Maali Beck, and my great pal Christine Haiku!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Feed-A-Smile at the Islands of New England (07.17.13)

Hanging out after the last show, and marveling at the total on the donation board.

You all know by now that I jump at opportunities to do fundraising shows for worthwhile charities. Those have ranged from dozens of shows for Relay for Life to shows for the Kidney Foundation, for animal sanctuaries, and many more. I hate to pick favorites among these valuable charities; they're all vitally important. But I have to say that it warms my heart the most when I've performed for a little organization called Live and Learn in Kenya, and their "Feed-A-Smile" program that's run in Second Life by a wonderful lady named Brique Zeiner.

On the wall of my office/studio here in fleshy life, I have only one framed picture hung. It's a shot of the LLK kids enjoying a feast courtesy of me. Any time I get depressed about what I've done to personally make the world a better place to live, I just glance up there.

Last night, instead of the usual location at Lavender Fields, the Fee-A-Smile event was hosted by my pal Christine Haiku at the Islands of New England venue. To say it went well is a massive understatement. Four artists (Sassy Nitely, Terry Lynn Melody, and Taunter Goodnight in addition to me) did 30-minute sets, which is great for a charity show in that it keeps fresh fans coming in (preferably with their own Linden dollars to donate). I arrived at the start and stayed for the whole two hours; the music was good and the vibe was positive and fun.

While I do my best to get the message of the charity across at these shows, I'm also aware that no one likes to be admonished and preached at for hours on end. So, I briefly explained that every L$100 donated (about $0.41 USD) buys a hot meal for a kid. It's a simple concept, and one that works well in SL. We ended up with a total for the two-hour event of L$60,010. That's about $240 USD, which will feed the entire school of 400 kids for a day and a half. What could be better than that? Not a whole lot.

Feed-A-Smile at IONE set list...
I Am A Child (Neil Young)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Summer Breeze (Seals & Crofts)
Broken Day (Zak Claxton)
Come Around (Zak Claxton)
Love Hurts (Everly Brothers)

Thanks SO much to everyone who hung out, made it a fun night, and gave so generously. You're all heroes.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Smoking, and Why (and How) I'm Quitting

If it all works out, photos of me smoking (like the one above) will be more and more rare.

I'm looking at the title of this post, and it has the words "quitting" and "smoking" in it. Honestly, I'm still pretty shocked by the very idea that these words are being applied to me, but they are.

I'm 44 years old, which means I've been smoking for close to 30 years. It's not something I'm proud of. I don't blame anyone except myself, and up until recently, I had never really considered quitting. Not once. Have I been aware of the dangers of smoking? Of course I have... the entire time. The fact was, and remains today, that I like smoking. The act of it. The feel of it. Everything about it. It's not easy to stop doing anything you really enjoy, unless you have a compelling reason to do so.

It turns out that I do. While I know this is a vague concept, it should be easily understandable: nothing good in my life over the next 15-20 years will happen as a result of my being a smoker. While I'm relatively healthy for now, the facts are clear that if I continue smoking, I will minimally run into emphysema or a related COPD that will affect my lungs and/or heart. I find it likely that while the symptoms aren't very evident, it's possible that I've already caused irreversible damage to those organs over the three decades in which I've been a smoker. These things will only get worse, and impact my lifestyle in a negative way. And that's the good possibility; the bad one is to get lung cancer. Let's not discuss the horrifying details of that disease.

So, that basically means that I don't want to die young, and that I don't want my remaining life to be filled with illness and pain. That alone is a trump card that beats my "But I like smoking!" excuse. In my mid-40s, I don't have a luxury of saying, "I'll quit later." Not to be melodramatic, but there is no later.

More Reasons
I'll be short with this: when I was in my teens and 20s, smoking was still socially acceptable. The fact is that it's simply not today. Now, I normally don't give a crap about what's in style or not, but the trend toward a non-smoking world is only going to continue, and it's going to make life mighty inconvenient for people who still choose to smoke. I'm also sick of being self-conscious as a smoker... the smell, the stigma, the special scheduling arrangements that I'd build in to allow for smoking. It's finally at a point where the effort isn't worth the return. Let's not bother discussing the fact that in 2012, I spent over $180 per month, approximately $2,200, on cigarettes that are all doing their best to kill me.

Step One: The Cut Back
I don't have a plan to quit smoking. In fact, I never planned to do it at all. Last Tuesday (July 9, if it matters), I'd been noticing that my chest was hurting a bit. Nothing serious. Just a slight discomfort that seemed to be exacerbated each time I had a smoke. Coincidentally, on the same day, I ran across an article about the upcoming implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, known commonly as "ObamaCare". In it, I noted that of all the groups of people who purchase health insurance, even under the act, as a self-employed 40+ smoker, I'd be paying some of the highest rates in the USA for insurance.

So, that day, I casually decided to see how I'd feel about cutting back on my smoking. A very simple plan: I've spent most of my time as a smoker using about a pack per day (20 cigarettes). That meant I was smoking on average of one per hour, with some more around mornings and mealtimes. I was aware that many times, I'd smoke not because I felt I really "needed" a cigarette, but because it was what I'd habitually do at certain times, and with certain triggers. Get done with a phone meeting? Have a smoke! Finish eating lunch? Have a smoke! Wrap up an assignment for work and hit the "send" button? Have a smoke!

What I decided to do instead was to be aware of those moments, and instead of automatically reaching for my pack of Marlboros and a lighter, I'd simply ask myself if I thought I really needed one. If the answer was yes, I'd smoke. If not, I'd wait. That's all. Well, I found something really interesting: I didn't "need" to smoke nearly as often as I thought I did. By about double. Yeah, really. Instead of smoking once every hour (or more), I found from that very Tuesday night that I could smoke every two hours and still feel like I was getting all the nicotine I really needed. That took me from smoking a pack per day down to a half pack. A 50% reduction, right away. I started setting little two-hour landmarks so that if I thought I was going to have a smoke, I'd note the last time I had one. If two hours hadn't passed, I'd give a serious effort to reaching that point before smoking.

Easy or hard? Both.
There are times where I've marveled at how much easier this has been than I thought it would be. Sometimes, the two hours between smokes just zip by. A few times, I got to my two-hour benchmark, and still didn't feel compelled to smoke right away. And then there are other times, where the sudden withdrawal of the amount of nicotine in my body is very apparent. I've felt physical withdrawal effects at times. I've had moments of irritability and anxiety, and occasional times where I've had trouble concentrating (with my mind preoccupied on my next smoking time). Plus, as a bonus, I've had some sweatiness and shakiness that one feels when you ingest a chemical for more than half of your life, and then suddenly cut the amount in half. But all in all, I'd have to say that it's easier overall than I would have predicted.

Anything good happening so far?
You bet. I didn't expect cutting down to a half pack to make a difference, but it really has. My lungs feel more open. I'm less stuffed up when I wake up in the morning. My energy level feels higher. The aforementioned chest pain is gone entirely. And, while this is an intangible, I feel pretty good about myself for even trying this, and that's encouraging me to continue.

This is awesome!
Hold your horses. There's a name for a guy who smokes a half-pack of cigarettes per day. He's called a smoker.

The fact is that I have not quit smoking. I've cut back. That's good, but there's no guarantee that I'll remain committed to this plan, or that I'll be able to take the next, much harder steps to eliminate smoking entirely.

I have friends who have been wonderful offering advice, suggestions, and personal anecdotes, and I appreciate all of them. There are tools like nicotine patches, gum, and e-cigarettes that I may need to eventually turn to so that I can cross the final path toward being a non-smoker. For now, I'm happy this is working out. While I'm not putting up some hard and fast schedule about quitting, it would be great to ring in 2014 without a cigarette in my hand. We'll see.

For now, I'm rather surprised that I've stuck with a rather spur-of-the-moment decision for the last five days, and that good things are already happening. I believe I'm up to this challenge. We'll see how it goes.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Key West (07.10.13)

Key West is such a consistently good place to play in Second Life, it astounds me. There will be many nights where I would swear that there's no way in hell I'd be able to gather a good crowd, and yet Key West somehow makes it happen. Last night is a good example. I knew for a fact that there were dozens and dozens of shows at 6PM (not unusual on a typical weeknight, but the schedule seemed even more packed than usual). I didn't care; I never allow those concerns to affect what kind of show I do.

However, I shouldn't have given it a second thought, or even a first. By the time I was a couple of tunes in, we had a really decent-sized gathering of people, and everyone seemed pretty enthusiastic. Perhaps someday, something will happen where I can honestly say that I had a mediocre or poor show at Key West... but it hasn't happened yet. They're always good, and I have to say that it all comes back to the efforts of owner Liz Harley and hostess Coreopsis Bluebird.

Good crowd, good tunes, good times. A typical weeknight show at Key West. Photos by Triana.

Word to the wise: do not leave your avatar unattended when Triana and Diana are around. Bunny, about to be molested by two of my lovely Zakster ladies. Photos by Triana.

A couple of notes; first, it's been fun adding some more new covers to my repertoire. A couple of the songs I debuted at Triana's celebration a couple of weeks ago -- Sublime's "Doin' Time" and Pete Townshend's "Let My Love Open the Door" -- have made it into my regular set. Second, we had a completely shocking surprise audience visit by Bunny Racecourse, aka Bunny Knutson (my bandmate in They Stole My Crayon). I'm pretty sure Bunny hasn't been in SL more than 2-3 times since he joined in 2006, so it was great to see him there. Even better was the fact that he left his avi parked while doing some real-life chores, thereby allowing him to be molested by my Zakster girls.

Key West set list...
You're Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)
Day After Day (Badfinger)
Let My Love Open the Door (Pete Townshend)
Long Time Gone (Crosby, Stills & Nash)
Fade Away (Zak Claxton)
Doin' Time (Sublime)
What I Got (Sublime)
Space Oddity (David Bowie)
Fire & Rain (James Taylor)
Waterloo Sunset (The Kinks)
Who Do You Love? (Bo Diddley)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)

Massive thanks to everyone who supported my show at Key West... can't wait until the next one!
Elyza McGinnis, Diana Renoir, Triana Caldera, Kite Bravin, me3, Kerli Pexie, Jukebox Diesel, SummerSails, samsam Newbold, Alexis Fairlady, and most of all, the person who keeps Key West rocking year in and year out, Liz Harley!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Private Party (07.06.13)

I'm always at a loss when I start to write about performing at private parties. I obviously have to satisfy my OCD-ish obsession for documenting my shows. However, a private party is, by its very definition, private. Oh, the humanity! What to do? There's a simple answer: I'll give you the details I want to give without divulging the specifics that would take away the privacy aspect. Win-win.

Saturday, I performed at a private surprise birthday party in Second Life given by a man for his beloved. I didn't know these people, and when I get booked for shows like that, I'm never quite positive how they found me. I suppose I should ask; my manager Maali Beck might know, since they contacted her to have me play there. In any case, I like to make sure that all my ducks are in a row well before performing at any place that is new to me, so early that morning, I stopped by the landmark I was provided.

I was very glad I did. First, the party had a "Game of Thrones" theme, and the man running the event gave me a stipend to go buy some appropriate attire so I'd fit in with the crowd. Second, the lady for whom the party was being given, I found out, had musical tastes that leaned toward the pop/love song area, which was fine; I have plenty of those in my bag. Third, the people giving the party were from Saudi Arabia and surrounding areas. It's always good to know if your audience doesn't use English as its primary language; that way I don't spend a bunch of time chatting.

Here I am in my medieval "Game of Thrones" tunic. So now I have this in my inventory. Photos by Kat.

Onstage at this way huge build that the owner put together just for this party. Photos by Kat.

I returned at about 20 before the hour (as I always do for SL shows, just to make sure everything is ready to go), and there was already a good sized crowd there. Plus, as I heard on the stream, there was a lady singing very prettily in an Arabic language. The owner let me know that he had a few friends singing, and that there were going to be multiple entertainers coming to perform. I said that was fine with me. A little while later, he told me to go ahead and do my show. I did. As it turned out, he'd also hired another well-known SL musician, Sara Tiemogo (Sara Marie Philly in SL) to perform, so after a half hour, I was already done.

Private Party set list...
Drive (Incubus)
Crazy Little Thing Called Love (Queen)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)
She's Always A Woman (Billy Joel)
Northern Sky (Nick Drake)
Longer (Dan Fogelberg)

All in all, it was a really good show. I got to perform for a big crowd who had never heard me before, all from an area of the world that (as far as I know) had never had any previous exposure to my music. The person running the show was very nice and generous, and I'd be happy to play for him and his friends any time.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

ROMA & Triana's Music Trivia (06.23.13)

Alright, before I do anything else, let me acknowledge that this post is almost two weeks late. I'd offer explanations of various kinds, but basically it comes down to 24 hours available on any given day, and my ability to spend those hours in ways that don't drive me insane. Therefore, sanity intact, here's a belated report about my shows from a couple weeks ago.

ROMA is the role-playing sim devoted to ancient Rome. Thanks to my wonderful manager Maali Beck, who is a member of their community, I've performed there a number of times over the past couple of years. It would be great if I could play a full hour of music and stay 100% in character to their Roman theme, but a) my Latin is pretty rusty, and b) at least I put on a cool toga when I play there.

I know I've mentioned this before, but it's worth repeating: I do enjoy doing weekend shows at relatively early hours. My show at ROMA was at noon, which is great on a Sunday; it allows me to sleep in, have breakfast, and still have plenty of time to warm up and do a good show. Plus, we tend to get some people at those shows who can't make it to many of my typical evening performances due to time differences in their area of the world. I also managed to try out one new cover at ROMA, and I changed the Who's "Athena" to "Minerva" as to not offend any Roman locals.

The people of ROMA are very nice, and I look good in a toga. Photos by Kat.

ROMA set list...
Long Time Gone (Crosby, Stills & Nash)
Athena "Minerva" (The Who)
Summer Breeze (Seals & Crofts)
Big Yellow Taxi (Joni Mitchell)
Stonehenge (Spinal Tap)
Wild Horses (Rolling Stones)
*You Don't Know How It Feels (Tom Petty)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Take Me To The River (Al Green)
The Man Who Sold the World (David Bowie)
Man On the Moon (R.E.M.)

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

Big thanks to all you Romans who helped support my show. I salute you!
Angelia Rees, Garnet Psaltery, Tonina Rodenberger, Airedale Magic, Kat Claxton, Celeste Ewing, Melanippe Karas, TheaDee, Barbara Mixemup, and my great manager and friend Maali Beck!

Triana's Music Trivia 8th Anniversary Party
Later that day, I did a live show for the eight anniversary of Triana's Music Trivia (and also celebrating Triana's 9th rezday). There's no one that reads this blog who doesn't know by now that Triana Caldera is the best friend of Kat and myself in Second Life. Ever since we first found her Sunday evening music trivia game in SL back in late 2006, we've rarely missed a single week, and many of our closest pals in SL are those with whom we hang out at TMT. For each of the past five years, I've performed a live show to celebrate the anniversary of Triana's Music Trivia, which just passed eight years total... a long time by any standard, and inarguably ancient in Second Life.

As usual per these special events, Triana held her trivia game an hour early at 6PM, and we started the show at 7PM. I always try and do some special stuff for these shows at TMT, and Sunday's party was no exception.

Friends make life worthwhile. Photo by Kat.

Oh, I forgot to mention; it was Underwear Night. We generally tend wear clothing on our avatar asses at Triana's Music Trivia.

TMT 8th Anniversary set list...
WTMT in Minnesota Opening Theme (arranged by Zak Claxton)
*Doin' Time (Sublime)
A Day in the Life (Beatles)
Fade Away (Zak Claxton)
Boyz in the Hood (Dynamite Hack)
*Let My Love Open the Door (Pete Townshend)
*Some Like it Hot (Power Station)
Northern Sky (Nick Drake)
Triana (Zak Claxton)
You Don't Know How It Feels (Tom Petty)
*Some Things I Can't Say (They Stole My Crayon)
You're Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)
Suite: Judy Blue Eyes (Crosby, Stills & Nash)
WTMT in Minnesota Closing Theme (arranged by Zak Claxton)

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

Thanks to our great TMT peeps for another year of super fun and friendship! Hugs and kisses to those who supported the show!
Nakira Tennen, Alchemy Epstein, Jordan Hazlitt, MrNoCal Honey, Samantha Poindexter, Diana Renoir, Kat Claxton, and the always lovely hostess with the hidden holes, Triana Caldera!