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.
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."
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."
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.