Fire rockets.

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What do you mean what am I listening to? Music. What the hell do you think? It’s my abandoned storage room. You got a problem with that? You do? Hmmm. Okay.

Well, here we are – another February at the abandoned Cheney Hammer Mill, and let’s just say things are getting a little slow around the Big Green collective enterprise. For the world is frozen and I have touched the sky. (Wasn’t that almost a Star Trek episode?) ‘Scuse me while I kiss the sky – how about that? Anyway, not much to do this month except catch up on my reading and listen to some tunes. I made the mistake of cranking up some traditional jazz – Lenny Breau, to be exact – and our mad science advisor Mitch Macaphee took exception to that. Not a jazz fan he. I think he’s partial to Wagner. Porter Wagner.

Actually, it’s not just the music that has Mitch acting ornery. He’s been at sixes and sevens ever since that Space-X launch of the “Falcon Heavy” and the subsequent touchdown of its twin booster rockets. I have never seen Mitch so glued to a television set (except that time he Nice ride, Mitch.was cooking up a new kind of super glue and, well, inadvertently glued himself to the television set). I may be going out on a limb, but I think the thing that is sticking in his craw is the notion that another private rocket launch would be so successful. He also has a strange fixation on the Elon Musk space car. I think he wants to hijack that ride and take it to Pluto.

I try to mollify Mitch with my assurances that, though the Falcon Heavy was a huge success, we DID do at least five interstellar tours by virtue of his spacecraft expertise. Sure, we were almost killed about a thousand times and, sure, we were stranded on strange alien worlds for weeks on end, but those are mere footnotes. The REAL story is that we didn’t make a dime on ANY of those tours. THAT’S what’s got ME all worked up. I don’t know what the hell MITCH has to complain about. (Phew. You can see why my effort to reassure Mitch kind of fell flat.)

Okay, so … keep an eye on the hammer mill. If you see the nose cone of a rocket sticking up out of the courtyard, give me a call.

Song listlessness.

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Did you look in the silo? Okay. How about the forge room? No? Then take a look, for crying out loud. Not a moment to spare.

Well, I am proud of myself. It took all weekend, but I pulled together an exhaustive list of all of the songs Big Green has ever written, from our very first days to the present. Yes, I left out the future, but two out of three isn’t bad. Besides, predicting the future is hard. Don’t know if you noticed. That’s why we leave it to people like Kreskin … and Criswell. (You remember Criswell, right? Criswell predicts!)

Trouble is (and there is always trouble here at the abandoned Cheney Hammer Mill) Now that I’ve completed the list, I … well … can’t find it. I would describe it to you, but you probably won’t find it either … unless you have a gift of prophecy, again, like Criswell. Well, I don’t have a mentalist here at the mill. Though it’s fair to say that most of our entourage are mental, in the colloquial sense. My only resource in situations such as this is Marvin (my personal robot assistant), who most assuredly does not have a gift of prophecy, but he does possess some of the finer qualities of a bloodhound when it comes to finding lost things.

Amazing!How do you sniff out a list? Not sure. He took a look around the courtyard. No luck. He did turn up some promising papers in the forge room, but alas, they were forgeries. Another twelve hours of exhaustive search and I will resort to recreating the list from scratch. That part’s easy. Just start from “Sweet Treason” and work your way forward. (That original recording of Sweet Treason is a little scratchy, come to think of it.)

Why am I undertaking this seemingly pointless task? Well … not sure. When you’ve got a lot of songs and even more time on your hands, you try to find ways of busying yourself. Maybe when I finish the list, I’ll just sit in my room and play our entire canon from beginning to end. Probably about 300 songs, but that’s a wild guess.

Oh, excuse me. MARVIN? DID YOU TRY MITCH’S LAB? BE SURE TO WEAR YOUR BLAST SHIELD!

Twang it.

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Okay, so the strings have been changed. Congratulations. Only trouble is, there’s four strings, not six. What is this freaking thing, a banjo? No banjos in my house! Well …. maybe one, but that’s it!

Wow, I guess you caught me laying down the law with Marvin (my personal robot assistant), who has been standing in for my guitar technician over the last week or so. Not a role he was born to play, that’s for sure. His rudimentarily prehensile claws can barely hold on to a guitar let alone change a set of strings. I think this time around, he quit the task at four strings just because it’s so damned impossible. (I gave him Mission Impossible.)

Why would I ask Marvin to change my guitar strings? Well, he should stretch a bit beyond his comfort zone, you know? He’s got to make something of himself one day, and with all of the automation happening throughout our global economy, I’d say he’ll have plenty of opportunities. If Factory tuned to concert pitch.that sounds odd coming out of a confirmed collectivist, just bear in mind – Marvin doesn’t have any material or animal wants or needs. He runs off of a little breeder reactor in his chest cavity. I think it looks like a cake frosting pipe with some arteries painted on the outside – it bobs up and down and makes a noise that recalls to mind a beating heart. (Oh no, wait … that’s an episode of Lost in Space.)

Actually, Marvin has volunteered to serve as the self-driving part of our self-driving car. All we need to do is add the car part. I tried to explain to his tiny brain that the car part is the hard part because it involves substantial cash outlays and various other activities that are difficult to perform when you are “off the grid”, if you catch my meaning. Still, it would put us in the forefront of independent bands if we started traveling about in a van driven by an automaton. This could be our ticket to stardom … or at least start-um. (You have to start somewhere.)

Back to the guitar strings. I am trying to teach myself a few songs on guitar so that I can start busking. Or at least do some virtual busking, as a professional busker, not a hobbyist. (Like I need a hobby, right?) The guitar case will be open, hungry for unwanted coins, at a subway stop near you.

Hiatus be damned.

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Yes, I know the phone is ringing. Just let it ring, for crying out loud. Don’t people know we’re on vacation? Jesus Christ on a bike, try to take a week off around this joint! What? Oh … okay. It’s the neighbor’s phone. Stupid neighbors!

Hey, out there. You caught us taking a brief hiatus between the nothings that we have going on. (You can tell I’m on vacation because I say “hey” when I mean “hi” … though that might also make me an NPR correspondent.) Everybody needs a little down time. We tend to have a little more than most people. In fact, you could argue that Big Green is a bit like a downtime reservoir. People come here to waste time; that’s what makes the abandoned Cheney Hammer Mill such a regional treasure. (And one man’s trash, well … you know the rest.) That’s understandable – sometimes taking a hiatus can be heavy lifting. That’s how people end up with hiatal hernias. (I’m just going to leave that right there.)

Do not disturbOkay, so … when you’re on vacation, you end up doing a bunch of stuff you don’t ordinarily have time for. For me, that usually involves surfing the web, and in my idle wanderings a stumbled across another Big Green. No, I don’t mean another BAND called Big Green – lord knows, there are at least one or two of those. This is a nutrition advocacy organization that works out of Detroit. Which means they are actually doing something USEFUL with our name, which is more than I can say for us. They’re helping to feed people; we’re wasting time with stuff like this. Case closed.

I haven’t told our mad science advisor Mitch Macaphee about the other Big Green because I don’t want him to start doing what he always does, which is stew on something until smoke comes out of his ears. He sees threats everywhere, including the forge room at the mill, which mostly contains broken down machines and iron filings. When he wanders through there at night, he sees silhouetted in the darkness the hunched profiles of creatures he either invented or destroyed during his long, evil career. I can see how that might be unnerving, especially when you misplace your anti-depressant tabs the morning before. (We encourage Mitch to take his Paxil regularly. It’s a kind of self-defense.)

Well, that’s what we did on OUR winter vacation. And you?

Stage fright.

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I like to play it in C. Mostly because it’s an easy key, okay? You got a problem with easy? Huh? All right then – WE’LL DO IT LIVE!

Whoa, was that mic live? Sorry, everyone. Caught us in the midst of what passes for a band meeting here in Big Green land. (And I don’t mean Canada, which kind of looks like a big Greenland.) As you probably know, everything I say gets transcribed into this blog, so you are truly getting a slice of life here. I obviously don’t do a lot of talking, or this blog would be waaaaay longer. No sir – I just talk for about fifteen minutes, twice a week, and you can read it all here. Hot off the presses!

Okay, that’s a lie. See what happens when I don’t want to talk about something? That “something” is, well, playing live, which is something we don’t do a whole lot anymore. Not saying we won’t do it again, God no. Only, well … we’re a little older than we were forty years ago, and Matt and I are kind of settled in our ways. The mansized tuber has put down roots, and Marvin (my personal robot assistant) doesn’t move as fast as he used to, owing in large measure to rust and loose The hell it is!contacts. (Yes, that’s right, lady robots – he wears contacts.) So it’s not stage fright. More like existential angst.

Funny thing is, when we DID play all the time, we sometimes played other people’s music. And one of those songs was Stage Fright, by The Band. So you could say that the reason we don’t play local clubs and dance halls is Stage Fright, but that would be suggesting that this particular song plays an important role in our repertoire, and we don’t remember how to play it. Yes, I play it in C, but everyone else remembers it in A or D or some other dumbass key. I think I’m right, they think I’m crazy – stalemate! And if that were the only song we play, well … we couldn’t play.

Well, we got that straightened out. Now … on to the Badfinger set. Oh, doctor.

Inside December/January.

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Did you toss it up there? Good. High enough for everyone to reach, I hope. Sometimes you have to warm the arm up a bit, like the old windmill baseball pitch, then let it fly, and hopefully it lands right in the sweet spot. That’s pretty much all you can do. Server technology is tricky as hell.

Oh, hi. As you may or may not know, we posted our Holiday/New Year episode of our podcast, THIS IS BIG GREEN, this past week, and already it’s generating serious buzz. No, seriously … I try to listen to it, and all I get is a buzz. (I’m told that’s my ear buds.) Now, if YOU listen to it, you’re likely to hear the following:

NED TREK 35: The Romney Christmas Special / Ned Trek Reunion Special. Well, we tried to make an extravaganza this year, and obviously failed. Then we tried to get the lousy show up in time for Christmas, and, again, we failed. However, it has been posted in time for New Year’s, and this special Ned Trek is certainly worthy of a holiday as nondescript as New Year’s. The intention was to put together something that resembles one of those lame reunion specials for The Brady Bunch or The Manson Family (hint: one of those is fake), including some unknown hireling actor playing Jan (or in our case, playing Perle). Also featured is Jimmy Sweetwater, the guy inside the Nixon robot (not the voice actor). The “special” is variously hosted by Gladston Goodstein (aka Peter Lorre), Dr. Carl Sagan, and Lee Majors.

Embedded in the show are six Big Green songs, including:

Romney Christmas Special Theme Song – A ludicrous little number featuring Nixon, Kissinger, actual Perle, Ned, Willard and other voices. Covers some of the thematic underpinnings of this failed adventure in audio entertainment.

Christmas Business – Another Willard number capturing the true confiscatory spirit of the holidays. Refreshingly brief.

Sorry, man. You're not needed this year.Plastic Head – This song is a slight redo of a number Matt did for his 1988 Christmas tape, this version sung by Ned. All about a vehicular encounter with a roadside Christmas miracle coupled with metaphysical transposition. Just listen – you’ll get it.

Bobby Sweet – A new song, roughly about America’s gun culture. At Christmas.

Christmas To End – This is another retread of a song Matt wrote for one of his gift tapes, this one from 1994, re-recorded as a Sulu song. Let the war on Christmas begin … again.

He Does It For Spite – Re-recording of a song from Matt’s legendary 1990 Christmas tape, about a spoiler spirit from the great beyond. True story.

PUT THE PHONE DOWN. Matt and I talk about … uh … I don’t know what. We do bad accents, talk about beavers, sing weird songs, and generally make merry by the standards of this dark time. Hope you enjoy listening to it as much as we enjoyed making it. (And hopefully a whole lot more.)

Unwrapping.

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I got socks this year. Lots of socks. And a few discarded ties. Plus some bricks from the courtyard. No, they weren’t loose – the mansized tuber just pulled them out of the courtyard and gave them to me. Yeah, I put them back. Now that’s a holiday to remember.

Well, I don’t know what kind of a Christmas YOU had, but here at the abandoned Cheney Hammer Mill in upstate New York, we had a rousing celebration that quite nearly woke the dead. No, it wasn’t well attended, but Marvin (my personal robot assistant) cranked up the stereo and started playing random sides from Sun Ra to Fountains of Wayne. It was Christmas in crazytown, and it didn’t go unnoticed by our neighbors, who (I feel compelled to say) were … ahem … a bit LACKING this year in the HOLIDAY SPIRIT. (You heard!)

Then there were random fireworks. Now, I hate to be a spoil sport, but I don’t like hearing explosions late at night. It makes me jump, and my mind goes straight to some imagined mishap in Mitch Macaphee’s lab. It took a moment to recall that he’s out of town this week, but the downside risk of having a mad science laboratory in your basement does tend to put you on alert. He was Keep it DOWN!muttering something about a “planet buster” last week. Sometimes that’s just idle rambling, but you can never be too sure. Look at what happened to the planet Zorchon. (Yeah, that’s right – there IS no planet Zorchon, sure …. not NOW.)

So, hey … there’s a lot to unwrap with the kind of holidays we have around here. People tend to save up their resentments and hard feelings all year, then let them loose on their relatives around the yuletide dinner table. That’s not what happens at the Cheney Hammer Mill, but only because we don’t have a dinner table. We typically sit around this old cable spool we found in the middle of the road one time when we were driving back from a gig at Middlebury College in the 1990s. It makes a fair table … not a HOLIDAY table, per se, but a fair platform for dishes, cutlery, etc. Then there are the boxes we sit on – can’t remember where we found those. Talk about festive!

Anyway, we survived it. Hope you survived yours.

Know well.

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Let’s see how we’re doing here. Shovel the front walk? Check. Peruse the local shops for root vegetables to give to the children? Check. Decorate the forge room with robots? Check. Yep, I haven’t done ANY of those things. (I keep checklists of things not done; a “to-don’t” list, if you will.)

I don’t think I have to tell you that Christmas is a very special time of year around the abandoned Cheney Hammer Mill. No, this I think you know well. Not because we’re religious or Jesus freaks or anything like that. No, the specialness is more about quietude. This sleepy little corner of post-industrial upstate New York gets a little sleepier around the holidays, mostly because people take off to visit relatives, friends, etc., in far-flung corners of the globe, leaving the village almost entirely to ourselves. No beeping delivery trucks backing up to loading docks. No drunken neighbors threatening the kid next door. Peace on Earth, man.

Even Mitch Macaphee, our mad science advisor, has taken off for the week. It looked like he was packing for a conference, but he told me he was headed for some sort of family reunion in Aberdeen. That made me scratch my head. “Do you really need to pack the death ray pistol?” I asked cautiously. He just smiled. Sucks to be HIS second cousin this year. (Maybe any year.)

Hey, you look great, Marvin.This year, I took the bother to replace some of Marvin (my personal robot assistant)’s lights with Christmas bulbs. So yes, he blinks red, green, and gold now when he talks or performs some computational task. (Oh, yes …. he computes. He’s a regular Turing machine, our Marvin … well … a touring machine, at least.) In previous years, we would trim the mansized tuber, in lieu of a Christmas tree, but he’s not having that this year. He’s getting a little touchy as he gets older. Age 18 is a difficult time for sweet potatoes, I hear.

Oh, and don’t think we’ve forgotten you this year. We’re still working on our 2017 Holiday Extravaganza episode of our podcast, THIS IS BIG GREEN, which I don’t mind saying is not in the least bit extravagant. I’ve been doing mixes all week and we should be posting soon, so keep an eye on that empty spot under the tree. Just keep a close watch, then check Twitter or Facebook and see if we’ve posted yet.

Hey, if we don’t see you (and we won’t), happy Christmas and all the rest of it. Now … back to the checklist!

Five strings.

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I can play any instrument. Piano, bass, six string guitar, five string guitar – I broke a g-string yesterday (note that I didn’t say I could play them well) – kazoo, contra-bass kazoo … I think that’s about it. That’s all the instruments there are, right?

Actually, I’m not super good at any of those instruments. If I were, then I would be insufferable or famous or something; perhaps both. Or neither. Well, that covers all of the possibilities. I don’t like leaving things to chance. (And I don’t mean Chance the gardener.) Thing is, I like playing instruments, even if I do it, well … badly. So even though I’ve never been what I would describe as a punk musician, I do share that piece of the punk ethos – technical skill on your axe is not paramount. So if you see me strumming an acoustic guitar, don’t look for a pick; I basically use thumb and forefinger. Piano? Just thumbs. Gotta move fast to make that work.

I'm all thumbs, Abe. Honest.Many instrumentalists leave distinctive marks on their instruments – scratches in the soundboard or pickguard of a guitar, or in the keyboard cover of a piano, that sort of thing. My aging Martin D-1 doesn’t have a lot of marks, mostly because I don’t play it all that much, but also because I suck at using a plectrum. The guitar top and the strings are harder than my fingers; therefore, the instrument leaves marks on me and not the other way around. Matt, on the other hand, is a more traditionally trained guitar player, so his axes are all marked up. It’s been a few years, but when I last saw it his Les Paul Custom looked like a truck backed over it. (That’s what my hands look like.)

Why am I telling you this? Well, because no one else will listen. And it’s snowing outside. This time of year in upstate New York, we all get sealed inside our homes by a mountain of snow and ice, thanks to the relentless force of moisture rising off of the Great Lakes. (What the hell is so great about them? All I see of Lake Erie is seven feet of snow on my front porch.) So for that six months of snowbound sequester, we must amuse ourselves with random tales and tips and particles of useless advice. It’s the only way we can get to sleep in this drafty old hammer mill. Hey, did you ever hear about the time I played a New Year’s gig in Lake George, NY and …….

Zzzzzzzzz….