Monday, September 14, 2009

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Charles Bristol's Metaverse Blues: 87 Year Old Bluesman Becomes Avatar-Based Musician in Second Life

Charles Bristol Plays in Second Life

When Charles Bristol was born in 1921, the electric guitar did not exist, and slavery was a living memory still, related to him by grandparents who worked beneath the lash themselves. But as fate would have it, Mr. Bristol would nonetheless live to see a black man made President, and perhaps just as unexpected, see himself made into an avatar, so he could extend his decades-long music career into something called the metaverse.

But as it happens, he has been doing just that on a regular basis for over two years, via a snow-haired avatar named CharlesEBristol Xi; last August, I finally managed to attend a live show at a down home live music club called Hotlanta Blues. Even better, Ms. Toxic Menges came with me and she shot his gig live, creating a machinima-made testament to a lifetime of blues that somehow wound its way into a virtual world:

Second Life became Mr. Bristol's latest venue thanks to another blues musician, known in-world as Etherian Kamaboko (MySpace page here), who lives near him in North Carolina.

Shazuka Tigerpaw dances to Charles Bristol

Kamaboko met him through his son's high school teacher, and they first got together for a traditional jam session. Since he already played in Second Life, he tells me, "I asked Charles if he wanted to play on-line while we recorded his material."

Mr Bristol Plays

He agreed, and they've been playing together with other musicians at clubs who'll take them since August 2007. "[W]e ask around if anyone would like us to play at their venue or we have a few meters of land and when we can spontaneously stream into SL land." Their gigs are highly dependent on Mr. Bristol's energy levels, "As Charles is 87," Etherian notes, "it is really when he feels good enough to play for one to three hours."

Hamlet Digs Bristol

As it happens, Charles Bristol is among the many reasons I remain writing about Second Life, after so many years. I discovered him last October, entirely by accident. During my Making of Second Life book tour, a Los Angeles design group invited me to speak, and during sound check, casually asked me to show them what people did in Second Life for fun. I mentioned that many musicians performed live in SL, and randomly teleported into a ramshackle nightclub packed with dancing patrons. And there CharlesEBristol Xi was, performing before a capacity crowd who were happy to hear him play, but evinced little surprise that someone so rare would be there in the first place. And the truly shocking thing was this: Up until then, I had no inkling he was in SL at all, encountering him now only by blind luck. Who else was in there, I wondered, and how did a virtual world so comparatively small manage to attract people as rare as him?

On September 22, 2009, Mr. Bristol's birthday will make him 88. I plan to wish him a happy one, and many more in the metaverse to come.

Follow Mr. Bristol's SL gig schedule by joining his Charles E. Bristol Blues Project; see and hear more at his MySpace page. Photo courtesy Russ Roberts/Etherian Kamabuko.


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Adric Antfarm

The best article in the time I've been around and it's by chance which is gold.

You want to read about unique residents like this but if you did I guess they would not be so special given their number.

I guess you will have to make some people up or you will have peaked creatively.

Kenny Hubble

Awesome story!

Pituca FairChang

Great story! I guess I am not the oldest resident in SL after all.

Hamlet Au

So glad you liked it! Charles is actually not even the oldest Resident. But I'll be writing about that one soon too. :)

Katydid Something

Awesome post! I've heard Charles before but never the story behind him! Thanks for sharing it!

Hitomi Mokusei

I had not heard of Charles Bristol before, but really enjoyed reading about him, so thank you, Hamlet, for the great post and letting others know about him. I love old time favorite music actually.. so really enjoyed listening to him play through the link you included to his MySpace page, and so nice to know one can go and hear him in SL.

I have a lot of admiration for him being in SL, and playing his music there at almost 88 years old...and for two years now!!, quite amazing. He is really an inspiration as to how to go through life...keep following what has meaning for you...and never tell yourself you are too old to try something new.

Komuso Tokugawa

The [first] SecondLife Blues n'Roots festival
featured Charles and others at a special ticketed event on 15th December 2006

Music Machinima
Harpin' Bitchin' Metaverse Machinima Blues

Harper Ganesvoort

I was wondering if Charles set the age record. I'm looking forward to seeing who does!

DonPaul Cale

I'm the owner of Hotlanta Blues, the club where Mr. Bristol played (in the video). When I was first approached about him and Kamaboko doing a live show that evening I was stoked. They did a great extended set of old time blues and made the night very special for us at the club. You're welcome to come back anytime, Mr. Bristol. It is an honor to have you play for us.

--DonPaul Cale

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