Make it spin.

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Where’s the summer podcast? I don’t freaking know. Must have left it in my other pants. What am I, Kreskin? Maybe. I hear HE has more than one pair of pants.

You see, here’s the problem with living in the abandoned Cheney Hammer Mill. (And I should add here, it’s not the ONLY problem.) It’s goddamn hard to stay on a schedule. You can set up your little wall calendar or get one of those day planners at the stationery store. (Personally, I prefer stores that move around, like food trucks. Mmmmmm …. food trucks ….) Or you can vault bravely forward into the 21st Century and set your schedule on some phone app. Well, we’ve got none of that here. Nothing like it. Anti-Lincoln puts a mark on the wall every morning, but frankly, after a decade of that, it just looks like patterned wallpaper.

I guess what I’m saying is that we haven’t posted a new THIS IS BIG GREEN podcast in four months because, well, we lost count of the days. And days turned into weeks, weeks turned into months, and what the hell – here we are. That’s very nearly the truth, but like everything around here, it’s more complicated than that. The current episode of Ned Trek is a musical, so we’re in production – STILL – on I think seven songs. (Like I said, I lost count.) A couple of them have been mixed. I’m still working on rhythm tracks for the rest. We’re testing out a new system, and that’s been a bit of a process. Our tops won’t spin. Hey … just GET OFF MY BACK!

Really made your mark, didn't you?That wasn’t for you. There was a carpenter ant on my back. I’ve never been able to understand why they are named for something that is almost the precise antithesis of what they do for a living – namely, eat your house alive. (Carpenters, last I looked, build you house alive.) It’s another example of what we call the “Pelican Cove Principle” – naming things for either (1) something completely inappropriate to the thing named, or (2) something you destroyed to build the thing. For example: Pelican Cove was a tony bedroom community that had no pelicans and no cove, so it complied with principle (1). Then there’s Applewood Drive back in my hometown – a road built through an ancient stand of heirloom apple trees which were, of course, ripped out to make room for McMansions. You get the idea.

Well, there you go – I wasted another morning, didn’t I? That’s why we’re so far behind. Back to the basement with me.

Post not.

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Ask not what Big Green has been doing for you this week. Ask what you can do for Big Green. And yes, I am cribbing from John F. Kennedy – that’s how we roll around here. It’s all JFK, all the time.

Interestingly, president Kennedy did have a role in Big Green’s history, albeit a minor one. Back in the day when we were fighting the cat for the scraps that she had just wrestled away from some mice, we would record in our childhood bedrooms, our mother’s living room, some spare room – wherever we could fit a cassette machine and some battered instruments. (Those instruments!) Matt and I would bang around the way we still do now, hammer together a song, then release it on cassette. And when I say “release”, I mean something like tossing it out into the middle of the road and hoping someone chances upon it. (You know – essentially like posting it on the Internet … without the Internet part.)

Hey, Abe ... Does this song remind you of the war?Well, many of those cassette collections were made up of Christmas songs – not carols, but songs Matt wrote on the theme of Christmas. (He typically recorded these collections himself to retain the element of surprise.) The one Matt put together in 1989 was entitled “PT 109” and the sleeve featured a slightly modified version of the heroic cartoon-like cover of Kennedy’s war memoir by the same name. The song PT 109 was actually a country number ripping on George H.W. Bush, who had just become president and who had a heroic WWII story about how he had rescued a future president of the United States – himself – from a plane crash in the Pacific. The lyric was written in the posthumous voice of one of Bush’s crewmates, lamenting that he hadn’t served under another commander:

Had I served on PT 109
I would have had the good fortune to be
on patrol with lieutenant JFK
and I might just have survived to this day
‘Cause sometimes not only the hero survives to tell the tale

Anyway, that’s Kennedy’s contribution to Big Green. Not unique, of course – our songs feature many presidents, including the current one. Occasionally they show up in the titles as well. Fun fact: one of our cassette collections was entitled “Songs that remind Lincoln of the war”. Extra points if you can guess which president was on the cover of that sucker.

Loopy mofo.

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You can’t really expand it, Mitch. If you did, it would be too damn big for the tube. Then there’s the drag coefficient … you know, that thing you were telling me about yesterday, what the fuck …. WHY CAN’T WE JUST WORK ON MUSIC?

Sheesh. Back again, here at the Cheney Hammer Mill, with our mad science advisor Mitch Macaphee working on yet another crackpot scheme to make us all RICH while carrying us place to place more efficiently and, I don’t know, churning out mounds and mounds of cole slaw. Last week it was the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module – that patented modular space station component that Mitch was obsessing over. Now he’s focused like a particle beam on Hyperloop technology, the brain child of entrepreneur/inventor Elon Musk, a man Mitch loathes, envies, and idolizes all at the same time. (He’s got mood issues, frankly.)

What is Hyperloop? Well … the best I can describe it is as follows. If you’re of a certain age (and I most certainly am) you may remember a time when the local multi-story department store (in Utica, it was the Boston store) had an advanced method for getting money and paperwork from one part of the store to another. They had these funky vacuum tubes running everywhere; the clerk would take your five dollar bill, put it into a little capsule, stick it into the tube and it would go ’round and ’round until it reached accounting or wherever, then come back filled with change. It’s kind of like that thing in the bank drive-through, except more primitive. Got it? Well, take that thing, make it bigger, and put people in it instead of money, and you’ve got Hyperloop.

Just like the Boston Store change thingy.Mitch’s brainstorm of the week, aside from self-marinating beets (still in development, so don’t get excited), involves Hyperloop conveyances and our hole to the center of the Earth. I think he’s all excited about this because we just spent weeks trying to figure out how to fashion an air-tight elevator or tram car that would suffice for navigating through the mantle and down to the chewy nougat core. Now he’s discovered that Hyperloop has done all that work for him! All he has to do is pirate it, stick it in the hole, and down we go at 700 miles per hour!

I don’t know about you, but I’m excited, though not half as much as Marvin (my personal robot assistant), who will likely be the test pilot. Oh yes, Marvin … I’m looking at you, man.

Bigelow 4-9-0.

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No, you can’t have it. I’m not going to say it again. NO. Keep it up and you’re going to bed without your sawdust ration. I said NO, damn it! Oh, god …. all right.

Well, there you have it, friends of Big Green. That’s how mad scientists get what they want – nag, nag, freaking nag. Mitch Macaphee can keep at it for longer than any four year old. Next thing you know I’ll be taking him to Water Safari. Such a child! And I ask you, what’s worse than a child with the power to reverse gravity? Nothing I can think of.

What was Mitch asking for? Glad you asked. I blame NPR, frankly. They did one of their glib as fuck little morning stories about something called the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (or BEAM), a kind of collapsible space station section that can be puffed out like a popcorn kernel when they have some use for it in orbit. Handy little thing, really, and Mitch can see linking two or three of them together and mounting some ion drive propulsion units on one side or the other. It’s complicated, of course, but it all comes down to the simple fact that he wants one, he wants one, HE WANTS ONE!

I said NO, damnit!Actually, in point of fact, he wants two or three. And well, they’re expensive, for chrissake. Mitch has no sense of cost. I can’t even talk him into buying some generic knock off BEAM from China; no, he wants the brand name version. It’s essentially a quality argument … I get it. But what the hell, man – you’re an inventor. Why don’t you invent some freaking money for once?

I guess Mitch is picturing a kind of wagon train to the stars. He’s probably given up on our plan to do another subterranean tour, or wagon train to the Earth’s core, if you will. Again, typical ADD scientist: first he’s all excited about the hole he burned through the mantle, then a few days later he doesn’t even want to look at the thing. Of course, he may have a point about the BEAM. Our last few interstellar tours have been, well … less than stellar, particularly with regard to the accommodations. Finally, someone came up with a space trailer with some leg room. Maybe we DO have to have one.

Okay, okay … I give up, Mitch. Let’s see if it’s listed on Amazon yet. (My guess is that it’s not available in stores.)

Rewind.

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It’s the dog days, or at least we think it is. So where are the freaking dogs, then? Somewhere a dog is barking.

Well, dogs or no, it’s hot as hell out there, so it’s probably a good day to lurk in the shadows of the abandoned Cheney Hammer Mill and rifle through the archives of the last 30 years of Big Green history. Fortunately, I have Marvin (my personal robot assistant) on hand to help me with the heavy lifting. Yes, he can lift very heavy things. (It’s the putting them down part that he’s not so good at.) There’s a safe in the attic, but I think we’ll stick to the file cabinets and banker boxes in the main hammer assembly room.

Got a few old tapes, obviously … more than a few. When we started out as a band, we recorded on wire … I mean, tape. (We couldn’t afford wire.) Our first reel-to-reel was a broken down SONY machine that my dad bought used at some point. We recorded a few songs on old, thrice recorded tapes, though I couldn’t tell you even the names of any of them. Matt had some long instrumental pieces that still survive in that form, a few of which he wrote lyrics for. Then the revelation of cassette tapes arrived, and we bowed in humility before its sheer awesomeness. (That was about the time people started saying “awesome” when they meant something other than “awesome.”)

Look what I dug up.I listen to some of our earliest recordings, from back before we had even the name Big Green, and they sound like something from another planet. Most are very poorly recorded, scratched onto a cassette tape using a cheap mic or two. We did a demo at a local studio in 1981 that is a bit clearer – that basically captures what we sounded like at that moment. (It wasn’t overdubbed; we just DID IT LIVE, as Bill O’Reilly would say.) That tape was just me, Matt on bass, our guitarist at the time, the late Tim Walsh, and drummer Phil Ross, who still plays downstate. Maybe if I have too much port one of these nights I’ll post a song somewhere you can hear it.

That’s as deep as I can go into the history sack. We’ll see what’s a little closer to the top, maybe next week.

Punch out.

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I think it’s CMD-O or CMD-SHIFT-O, something like that. No? Okay, try CMD-ALT-5. Do it again. Okay, now divide 87 into 214 and multiply the dividend by the square-root of fuck-all. Jesus!

That was a bit of a tantrum, I admit it. It’s just that I’m living in the wrong freaking century, that’s all. I’m from that period in history when people did different things for a living and those things all looked different – the doctor had a stethoscope and a mirror on her forehead, the accountant an adding machine and a legal pad, and the musician a freaking guitar. Now everybody’s sitting in front of a computer, pecking at keys randomly and hoping for some elusive result. Smarty alec kids! Get off my lawn!

Matt and I are in production on another tranche of songs, and it’s taking a while because we’re transitioning between recording systems. Now we’re using a computer-based DAW instead of a proprietary hard disk system, and well … I miss the simplicity of just pressing record and punching stop. Those were the days, right? (Well … they were days.) Our autopunch back then was Marvin (my personal robot assistant) with his claw on the console and a complex series of eyebrow movements. What could possibly go wrong? (Listen to some of our albums and you’ll find out.)

Uh, dude ... Thanks, but no thanks.Right now we’re kind of winging it, I admit … though that’s a bit more considered a state than we’re usually in during recording sessions. I boot up the new system, punch a few keys, then start playing whatever instrument is called for – piano, sousaphone, kazoo, triangle, whatever – and realize a few moments later that nothing has been captured. Rinse and repeat. I need a team of scientists! And I don’t mean mad scientists – we’re all set on that score. If we were to ask Mitch Macaphee, our mad science advisor, to reconfigure our studio, we would end up with something on the order of what Magic Alex threw together for the Beatles back in the Apple Records days, i.e., a decorative, non-functional studio full of flashing lights with a speaker for every track and other non sequitur features.

Well, we don’t want that. (No offense, Alex, wherever you are.) So if you’re looking for me, look for that guy sitting at a computer terminal.

All in favor.

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Do we have a quorum? No? Where’s Matt, then? Oh, right …. watching the falcons. That’s fine. The mansized tuber can sit in for him for the time being. Okay, tubey … raise your right, uh … taproot.

Oh, hi. Caught me in the middle of a production meeting. We’re trying to work out who is going to be the first down the hole … I mean, the elevator to the center of the Earth. Since this is a question that affects all of us, it must be decided in council. That’s right – we are not tree dwellers here, my friends. We are civilized people, okay? And we are familiar with the principles of self governance. At least we know there are such principles. And if you don’t like them, well … we have other principles.

I’ve described Big Green as a creative collective more than once. That’s not far from wrong, though the creative part is a little sketchy. Nevertheless, we are very much a worker-run enterprise, operating out of an abandoned hammer mill, wearing recovered skins from the carcass of a failed industrial economy. Think of us as post-apocalyptic commie minstrels, sharing everything we scrounge together (including our lack of money). Routine matters, like opening windows or walking across the street, are passed by simple majority vote, but more weighty matters – like who is going to move that very heavy refrigerator across the room – require a consensus of four fifths plus one, with an extra vote on alternate Tuesdays.

All in favor, say aye.You might think such a flat structure would lead to some kind of anarchistic free-for-all or frequent proxy fights. Not a bit of it – we all get along swimmingly, particularly on occasions like last weekend when the skies opened up and we had 3 feet of water on the ground floor of the abandoned Cheney Hammer Mill. Not that it’s trouble free. I can remember one management meeting when Mitch Macaphee, our mad science advisor, fashioned three or four robotic arms so that he could win every show of hands. He already has Marvin (my personal robot assistant) as a proxy. That’s when we went to voice votes.

The simple fact is, when you don’t have much to divide, it’s a lot easier to be equitable. Everybody gets an equal slice of nothing. And everyone gets a say on who will be the first to explore the Earth’s core. Fair is fair.

Down under what?

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What the hell is that? Sounds like the howl of the wind in a box canyon. No, wait … I know that sound. I think it’s a distant didgeridoo. That’s it, fellows – we have dug ourselves a tunnel to Australia.

Well, barely a day goes by here in the abandoned Cheney Hammer Mill without some kind of discovery. Last week it was a new source of precious reverb – a commodity rare as hen’s teeth up here in central New York. Now we’re looking at (or staring down into, I should say) a superhighway to down under. And when I say “down under”, I don’t mean merely down underground. Nay, sir … I mean the actual land “Down Under”, meaning the continent of Australia.

What luck, eh? Here I thought this elevator shaft to the center of the Earth would yield only another string of unsuccessful and unsatisfying performances in front of restive gaggles of Morlocks or some other troglodytic denizens of the dark. But now it seems the tunnel is a bit deeper than we thought … like maybe twice as deep. Because you can just about see some light coming though from the other end, and it looks like Aussie sunlight. There’s also a vague scent of flat beer. (Though I think that might be coming from Anti-Lincoln. He’s been hitting the cache lately, and it shows.)

Then came MarvinWe could be wrong, of course. After all, one random strain of didgeridoo music does not a continent make. The only way to be certain is to send a emissary down there. It’s a highly dangerous mission, so there’s no way in hell that’s going to be me. Matt’s no stranger to danger, of course, but only in the context of helping birds, animals, and other living things. (Snowflake!) Then there’s Marvin (my personal robot assistant). If he’d been around in 1969, NBC might have done a show about him called “Then came Marvin.” He could have played a disillusioned android who starts riding a scooter around Minneapolis, then got canceled after two seasons.

Anywho, if we send Marvin down there and he comes up with an Aussie hat and a kangaroo’s footprint on his brass, we’ll know we hit Aussie paydirt. Sounds like a plan. Ish.

More verb.

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Give me a little more slack on this XLR. Little more … little more … woof! That’s good. Now point the speaker down over the side of the hole. There’s a good chap.

Right, well … you’ve caught us in the midst of a pretty typical dilemma for bands as unsuccessful and under-resourced as Big Green. You probably know what I’m talking about (because I sure as hell don’t). You’ve come to expect us to scrape our way through every situation, living in squat houses and lean-tos, taking the cheap seats on pretty much any mode of transportation you can name. So what the hell – we’re not some fancy-ass successful band that can afford racks of expensive gear. We’ve got a bunch of second-hand kit that’s held together with masking tape … because that’s what our audience demands.

So, when you need reverb, and you don’t have an expensive effect unit, or even an old, cranky one, what the hell do you do? I’ll tell you what – you just lower a microphone down the tunnel to the center of the Earth that’s in your basement and then pipe in your tracks. It’s a little boomy, but it beats the hell out of the reverb spring in my antiquated fender twin. This isn’t the first time we’ve had to go old school – and by “old school”, I mean effects that are almost entirely environmental in nature, like getting echo by scrambling up a hillside and shouting real loud. (Just be sure to bring a jar with you so you can catch the echo.)

No dice, Mitch?It’s when you get into things like distortion that this approach gets a little tricky. Sometimes we just plug a guitar cord into Marvin (my personal robot assistant) and have him jump in place; though that ends up sounding a bit more like tremolo. I was thinking of asking Mitch to attach a leslie rotating horn to Marvin’s head so that we can get a better B-3 sound while he’s jumping up and down, but Mitch would probably just wave that suggestion off. (He’s kind of picky when it comes to big ideas.)

Thing is, if you have a big empty space, or even a little one (like, say, between your ears), you can get a decent reverb effect. Tech tip for the day from Generation Reverb.

Drill down.

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There’s a hole in daddy’s hammer mill where all the money goes. At least that’s what it feels like. Christ on a bike, why is it every mad science idea ends up costing a fortune? What, between the magnetos and the giant vacuum tube-driven linear amplifiers, we are completely tapped out.

I should explain. Mitch Macaphee, our mad science advisor and inventor of Marvin (my personal robot assistant), has plugged together a special elevator-like tram car dubbed the Giardiniera Twelve for us to ride to the center of the earth using the handy hole to the center of the earth we now have in the hammer mill basement. We’ve already sent Marvin down a few floors for a look see, and it seems promising. He came back with a hotdog and a Dodgers pennant, so my guess is that we have found a tunnel to the 1950s. Think of all the songs we can lift!

That said, there is a bit of a problem monetizing this idea. I understand there may be intelligent life down under, but what are their tastes? Do they like 50s pop music or 90s grunge? It’s even conceivable that Where's all the work at?they may not like either of those things … though that would be okay, because we don’t really play either of those things. That said, finding an audience on the surface of the Earth is hard enough. Finding one in the mantle or (God forbid!) in the chewy nougat center of the Earth will probably be next to impossible.

And then there are the logistical challenges. Yes, they are many. It wouldn’t be so bad if we were an un-amplified banjo-toting accordion-squeezing polka band, but we are not that (at least this week). I ask you – how the hell are we going to pack amps, a drum set, an electric piano, a stack of guitar cases, and PA components – along with ourselves – into what amounts to a smallish elevator? Mitch is working on a solution as we speak, but I’m not sanguine. The last time we tried to do something like this, he pulled out a shrink-ray that reduced my Martin D-1 to the size of an ashtray. Now I use it as an ashtray. Not real good.

So we’re not that close to plugging that hole. Let’s see what Mitch can do … and how much it will cost.