Social obscurity.

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Yeah, I’m back. Did you miss me? Didn’t notice I was gone? Okay, then. (Sigh…) Not for nothing that Big Green was once described as one of the most obscure bands out there. We are freaking invisible – just ask the people standing behind us, all of whom you can see clearly, because … again … we’re freaking invisible.

But just because we’re invisible, that doesn’t mean we’re inaudible. That old adage about children being “best seen and not heard” doesn’t apply here, as we are not children, and we are not quiet. Nay, we are LOUD. Well, loud-ISH, and occasionally louder than that. Exhibit A: our song Jesus Has A Known Mind, which we’ve featured a couple of times on our podcast, THIS IS BIG GREEN. That’s loud, if you turn up the volume. Try it next time you play the podcast. Or put your iPod bluetooth speaker in the middle of a cavernous room, then crank it up to 11. That should be the advisory on all of our albums. That and “avoid using heavy machinery”. (Not because it’s dangerous, but because it is hard.)

Get out! We’re not only musically obscure, Big Green is also socially obscure, I’m proud-ish to say. We’re the only band I can think of who, when moving into an abandoned hammer mill, draws pointed comments of “there goes the neighborhood” from across the brickyard. Fact is, we’re not even good enough to live in a condemned building. But we don’t let THAT stop us. No, sir … and thanks to the ingenuity of our mad science advisor, Mitch Macaphee (just back from MonsterCom, an annual gathering of like-minded crazy doctors in Madagascar), none of those local hostiles can get within thirty feet of our front door without being stopped by an impenetrable force field. (At least I’m told that it’s there. Either that, or no one wants anything to do with us. Which is more likely? You decide, my friends.)

The happy by-product of our unpopularity is that we are able to work without fear of interruption on whatever it is we’re producing at any given time. (Currently, it’s the Ned Trek Christmas Pageant.) And with the help of Marvin (my personal robot assistant), who’s helping us with the editing, we have a shot at finishing this sucker before the holiday … so that we can share it with … well … whoever listens to us. (Note: the podcast is invisible as well.)

 

Don’t give up the ship.

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Perry's flag

In remembrance of our mom Iris, who passed away this week, I’m posting the lyrics to this song Matt wrote more than a few years back (one of my favorites) that keeps running through my head (and out of my mouth). It’s called Don’t give up the ship, and here it is:

Well, it grieves me when I see you
in some moldy homemade raft
You’ve no life jacket, there’s no precautions
You’re spinning downstream and you’re laughing

Well, I’m not about to stop you
I’ve not the will and I’ve not the means
Still I stand here like I’m waiting
A world without you I’ve never seen
You say, read it off the flag, boy

Don’t give up the ship
says the flag that flies above the turbulent waves
Don’t give up the ship
Be a fool and hold the course away from the shore

Sailor learns something from each splinter
in those old and creaking boards
Now you’re not apt to change your reasons
You’ll never reinvent the doors
that led you up the gangway

Don’t give up the ship
say the words that are scrawled across the blue piece of cloth
Don’t give up the ship
Be a fool and hold the course away from the shore

Red sky every morning
Sailor takes his tools out
and disconnects the warning lights
Never should have tied the knots so tight

On board the S.S. Something Sacred
you coughed up copy for the commodore
Now you’re too old to keep your orders
Still you’re dredging up the naval lore
and hoist it up the main mast

Don’t give up the ship
says the flag that flies above the turbulent waves
Don’t give up the ship
Be a fool and hold the course away from the shore

Don’t give up the ship
say the words that are scrawled across the blue piece of cloth
Don’t give up the ship
Be a fool and hold the course away from the shore

You’re welcome.

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Okay, time to clear the table. That’s right – push yourself back a few inches, climb to your feet, and start gathering up the plates. Chop chop! Hey … don’t throw that ladle at me! OUCH!

Well, I hope YOUR Thanksgiving was better than this. Here at the abandoned Cheney Hammer Mill, it’s catch as catch can, as you might expect. We have no particular tradition with respect to this holiday; no frantic cooking, no decorations, no ritual television viewing or binge shopping. Just another pot of gruel, boiled to a fare-the-well, and ladled out to the dwindling contingent that is the Big Green collective. Solidarity forever!

Actually, it sounds worse than it is. Everybody wants an extra day off, right? Now, you might be justified in asking, “Day off from what?” My only rejoinder would be that it takes a lot of creative energy to write, record, and distribute songs in this day and age. In anticipation of the question, I have asked Marvin (my personal robot assistant) to use his electronic brain to calculate the number of calories required for the various stages of what we typically do on a weekly basis. He whirred and buzzed and blinked for a few moments, until a thin slip of tickertape emerged from his mouth-like grill bearing the following inscription:

START REPORT: COMPOSITION: 347 CALS; PRE-PROD: 140 CALS; RECORDING: 583 CALS; POSTING: 75 CALS …. ALL AMOUNTS AVG PER CAPITA … END REPORT

How many hoagies is that suit?Telling figures indeed. (Note: I may have transposed a couple of digits here and there, but no matter.) So, from start to finish, a Big Green song consumes 1,045 calories per person. That’s less than a standard hoagie from the corner deli. (Granted, they are bigger than the average hoagie.) If you were to try to put a precise cost on our songwriting enterprise, you could express it in terms of hoagie units, or you could convert the hoagies to dollars and cents. That would make it a more costly enterprise on a Monday than on Thursday, since Thursday is $2.99 hoagie day.

I know – we shouldn’t be tossing higher math problems at you on the day after Thanksgiving. This is just our way of expressing the value of our efforts on your behalf. So, you’re welcome, friends of Big Green. Keep those hoagies coming.

Write hand.

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I’m kind of busy right now, Marvin. Just tell them that I can’t talk. And in any case, I don’t want to go on a Caribbean Cruise, even if it IS free. Cheese and crackers. (Hey, that sounds kind of good right about now.)

Writing is a hungry business. Just ask Hemingway, the guy with the moveable feast. I’m a little sensitive about interruptions today, so I beg your pardon … Marvin (my personal robot assistant) keeps coming into my study (a.k.a. the old forge room in the abandoned Cheney Hammer Mill) with nonsensical requests. Stuff like,  “You’ve got a phone call from Missouri” or “There’s a brush salesman at the door” or “Leave the building – it’s on fire”. Be honest – would you listen?

What am I working on so feverishly? Ah, nothing. Just the script to this year’s Ned Trek Christmas Special. Last year we did an “It’s A Wonderful Life” parody. The year before I believe it was “A Christmas Carol”. And of course we began this annual comedic atrocity with a take-off on “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”, though I think our first Ned Trek holiday extravaganza was the Santorum’s Christmas Planet episode, based loosely on the classic Star Trek “Return of the Archons” script. I mean, how do you top THAT? I am sorely tempted to cop out and do a clip show, but I happen to know that there are some new songs in the works (again), so that won’t wash.

Forget the stupid tree, Willard.Actually, we’re recording a handful of songs, including some older numbers we’ve never properly tracked before using modern technology. There are a couple of new ones in the works. I am trying to write around this eclectic mishmash of musical material. As you know, we are sticklers for continuity and comprehensibility. And quality. And irony. Massive irony. Heh heh.

It is hard to concentrate in a hammer mill, no matter what state it’s in. (This one happens to be in New York.) But even with all the distractions, the diversions, the cold November wind blowing through chinks in the mortar, I SHOULD be able to write this freaking script. Hell, it should write itself. Shouldn’t it? Of course, last year’s Christmas show came in February … of THIS year.

There goes the phone again. Tell them I don’t want a higher limit on my credit card!

Inside November. (Again.)

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Man, is that the wind? Sounds like a freaking freight train. There goes the good weather. It was a nice couple of days, but hey …. all good things must end. (Hey Marvin … got any more platitudes I can borrow? Thanks, man.)

Well, it’s November in upstate New York. Things start slowing down a little bit around these parts. That’s partly why we had time to finish another episode of THIS IS BIG GREEN and post it this past week. Haven’t heard it yet? Well, this is what you have to look forward to:

Ned Trek 34 – Shitty and a Bit of a Stretch. Another Ned Trek non-musical episode, this one loosely based on the classic Star Trek script “City on the Edge of Forever,” originally written by famed sci-fi writer Harlan Ellison. Captain Willard, Mr. Ned, Mr. Perle, and the Nixon android all leap into Earth’s history in an attempt to stop a crazed Doc Coburn from changing the past and foreclosing on the future. Will they succeed? Well … robo Nixon does start a home for wayward clowns. That could make all the difference.

Put The Phone Down. Matt and I go into a wide-ranging discussion about Nixon’s happiest days, Seb Gorka’s descent back into internet racist rants, our somewhat spotty memories of the 1970s Eric Idle / Neil Innes parody of Beatle history called The Rutles, a look inside how Matt works on stuff, and a review of the television we used to watch with our parents back in the 1960s and 70s. Some impromptu singing and swanning about on various instruments.

Posted!Christmas Songs. We did a short block of Big Green Christmas songs by way of a little preview of the holidays to come. These include:

  • Christmas Green, a Willard song from one of our early Ned Trek episodes;
  • Jit Jaguar’s Christmas, a relatively recent recording of a quirky, older number we’ve played on the podcast before;
  • Horrible People, a Ned song from a few years ago, featuring the ubiquitous 40s guys on backup vocals;
  • Christmas Presence, a recent re-recording of one of Matt’s several takes on A Christmas Carol (this song appeared on his amazing 1994 Christmas cassette collection);
  • Make that Christmas Shine, another Willard song from that early Ned Trek Christmas special (the one with Santorum’s Christmas planet).

That’s about it for November. We have some more new stuff coming for the Holiday show, which will appear sometime around the holidays (hopefully).

Why Christmas?

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Okay, subject matter experts – let’s get down to it. We’ve written about fascists on the rise. We’ve written about space diseases. What’s left to write about? What? Christmas again? Oh, Jesus Christ on a re-gifted bike. Very well.

I’ll tell you, you ask a question around this place and you come away with six more questions. At least that’s an even number. That said, we’re still making music over here in Big Green-land (and no, I don’t mean big Greenland …. everyone makes that mistake), and well, Christmas is coming, so … that means more Christmas themed songs, right? Donald Trump and Bill O’Reilly will be overjoyed to hear that there’s music that uses the word “Christmas” occasionally, even if it is mostly for humor and ironic purposes. (Or porpoises. Like hipster porpoises who do shark-like shit just to be ironic. You’ve seen that, right?)

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, we are planning a holiday podcast extravaganza, with newly recorded Big Green classics never before heard by the likes of you, as well as some brand new material. (I don’t mean fabric, either – I mean music, music.) We’re in production, or Come again?pre-production, or something like that. This will be the first group of songs we’ve recorded entirely on Cubase 9, with no help from our trusty old Roland 2480 deck, which served us so well for the last 16 years. So we’ll just see how that goes, my friends.

Okay, so … we started working on the Roland deck a year or two after the release of our first album, 2000 Years To Christmas, and I have to say, this group of songs we’re doing are pretty closely related to the songs on that disc. Why Christmas? Because Jesus. Or because it starts with a C. I don’t know – that’s just what we hang the song on, much like a shirt cardboard. (We kind of used former Texas governor Rick Perry as a shirt cardboard for one of our albums, Cowboy Scat: Songs in the Key of Rick.) It makes it easier to develop a theme and … oh, who cares?

We’ll just keep making the songs, Christmas themed or not. You expect no less. And no more.

All present and accounted for.

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Okay, everybody – band meeting. Let’s do roll call. Matt Perry? Present. Myself? Present. Marvin (my personal robot assistant)? Present, but lacking in agency. Mansized tuber? Absent. (He planted himself in the courtyard again, and frankly, it’s just too cold today to have the meeting out there.)

Yeah, it’s been a while since our last meeting. A few weeks, anyway. Like August 1987. We are a self-governing collective, but not a very well organized one, truth be told. When you live in an abandoned hammer mill (or an abandoned refrigerator, for that matter), there’s little else to do besides wander around and try to keep yourself occupied between tours. We might go crazy for a spell and even (dare I say it?) rehearse a few numbers. Such madness has taken hold of us on more than one occasion.

I suppose you’re wondering how it is that we manage to support ourselves. Well, I don’t think I have to tell you that we are lousy salespeople … perhaps the worst ever. In a capitalist society such as ours, you have to charge for your music, no matter by what means it may be delivered. Of course, the availability of the post-industrial hulk known as the Cheney Hammer Mill makes it possible for us to basically give away our music and still have a roof over our heads, albeit a leaky one.

Present.We have, in the past, posted our albums for purchase on digital distribution sites – the Orchard, CDBaby, etc. My feeling – and I should raise this at the meeting, already in progress – is that we should just post songs for free download and give people an opportunity to contribute towards the good of the Big Green cause through a Patreon site or something like that. It’s basically a digital passing of the hat, which we’ve done as well (the Luddite version, in any case).

Our songs keep getting sillier. I think it may be something in the water. That’s another topic we should raise if this meeting ever gets underway. How do we turn up the serious? Doesn’t that have to happen before you’re born? All these searing questions, and there’s more where those came from. (Mind you, it’s a little dark up there.)

Okay, well … meeting adjourned until, I don’t know, 2047. Make it a Sunday in October. I’ll dial in.

Thirty (or thirty-one).

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Is this one of those years with a “7” at the end? Right, I thought as much. I guess that’s another decade in the can then, right? Fuck all – I am old.

Oh, hi. I was just having a little conversation with Marvin (my personal robot assistant). He keeps a lot of useless information in his memory banks, and among those bits and bobs are statistics about the history of Big Green, the music collective we formed some thirty years ago. Yes, I believe we adopted the moniker back in 1986, in a 2nd floor apartment in Ballston Spa, NY. That was the first incarnation of Big Green, which cracked apart in – yes – 1987, leaving it in the state it remains in today. (And no, I don’t mean the state of New York.)

Some may think it’s a bit of a problem that our band historian is a robot. That’s not that unusual, actually. I hear that the historian for “Captured by Robots” is also a robot. And then there’s Kraftwerk. All German bands have robot historians, from what I understand. (Though most bands choose not to read me in on the details.) Marvin can handle this task because he has what mad scientists call an “Electronic Brain”. Mitch Macaphee, our mad science advisor, invented it himself. The sparking contacts and dusty transistors inside that whirring little box function not unlike the synapses of the brain. Marvin can think, captain. And if he thinks, it’s only one small step from there to – dare I say it? – ruling … the world. Mwa-ha-ha-ha ….

Okay, well THAT took a dark turn. Why do we have multiple start dates for Big Green history? Well, it’s complicated. In point of fact, my personal opinion is that Big Green was born when Matt wrote and recorded the song “Sweet Treason” for a tape he sent me for my birthday in Spring of 1985. I think we’ve played versions of the song on our podcast. The original is a very scratchy recording that Matt did bouncing between two cassette tape decks and using a mixing bowl for a snare drum. The lyric, personalized for the occasion, goes like this:

Joe is "happy fitness" thanks to JFKEveryone into the pool
We’re all fun at the club
All of us nasty loud
Our metal detectors are safe from ambush
Our stomachs elastic with eclairs
Master’s beer

Joe owes much to gym class
Joe is “happy fitness” thanks to JFK
All of us join him, we’re grateful, JFK
All of us upside-down
Fungus on our knees

This time, it’s gonna be
gonna be easy
Sweet treason
Strange inclination has us warm up separate TVs
Every box word echoes neatly
Then it explodes

Joe, the mayor’s systematically going through your mail
He’s sifting, but not finding
He’s searching for some west-end sandwich
ten years good and stale

And on that day, Big Green was born. (Editor’s note: the “mayor” in this song refers to a kid we knew out in the Albany area back when we were trying to make a previous incarnation of this band work. Which brings us back even further, to 1979 … damn it!

 

Jump time.

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Time to crank out another number? Right, then. One … two … one, two, three, fo… What? Wait for what? Oh, right. We need to pick a song. My bad.

Well, obviously we’re a little out of practice. It’s been a while since Big Green performed in these parts, and while we don’t have any plans to set up at the local gin mill and run through the ’93 set list (just like the old days, Steve), we could do with a little rehearsal time. A friend once told me that rehearsal is just a crutch for cats who can’t blow. (No, he didn’t wear sunglasses and a tam.) I like to think he had a point. It makes me feel better about doing nothing, and doing nothing is nothing if it isn’t fun.

Not to say that we’re dead idle – far from it. This week we’re recording the next episode of Ned Trek. We’re also working on the songs for our Christmas Extravaganza, rummaging through our big burlap sack of old Xmas songs that was the genesis of our first album, 2000 Years To Christmas, in 1999. Yessir, I remember back in ’02, when the pump broke down and we had to haul water from the brook all the way uphill to our little log lean-to in Sri Lanka. Then there was the time that old Barney the mule lost a shoe in the middle of winter sowing. Hard times. Yep. (Yep.)

A bit spare.Thankfully, life is a lot simpler now. We have Marvin (my personal robot assistant) haul all of our water from the brook. Except now, unlike then, we have indoor plumbing (our lean-to was very old-school), so Marvin just dumps the water into the cistern and we tap it. Modern conveniences! When Marvin’s batteries run a little low, we ask Anti-Lincoln to do it, and he always says no. We still ask, though. Everybody pulls his own weight around here. Everybody except the mansized tuber, who needs a little help. But what the hell – he’s a freaking plant. Can’t expect him to grow arms and legs and start jumping around anytime soon. (Or can we …. ?)

Well, I’ve wandered a bit. The bottom line is that we’re dusting off a few of the Christmas songs Matt wrote decades ago – ones that didn’t end up on 2000 Years To Christmas – and recording them properly for the first time ever (i.e. not on a borrowed 4-track cassette deck). Again, modern conveniences, utilized for our mutual benefit. It’s a crazy little thing called civilization.

Music minus fun.

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There’s that funny music again. And the really strange thing is, every time I hear it, there’s someone at the front door. What’s that? A door bell? Oh … okay. Never mind.

Well, I thought I was on to something important there; maybe a new scientific principle born of some random observation, like noticing a minor irregularity in the orbit of Mercury. No such luck, my friends – looks like the Nobel Prize for Physics will be going to someone else this year … again. (Don’t know how many of these disappointments I can stand.) I understand that our mad science advisor, Mitch Macaphee, has been nominated for the Ignobel Prize in making things blow sky high. That’s a tough one to win – it’s a little hard to guess how high sky high is.

Lord only knows, we don’t do what we do here at Big Green for the love of prizes and little metal statuettes. Neither do we do it for the money. (The simple fact is that there IS no money in what we do.) Nay, we just do it for the simple joy of music …. that omnipresent mellifluous force that lifts our spirits up on high. That unseen power that unites us with the choir invisible. That … I don’t know …. ear worm that drives you out of your skull for three days; thanks an effing bunch, Matt! YOU AND YOUR CATCHY TUNES!

Not MY master's voice.Honestly, if we relied on positive feedback, like all of our coaches and half of our therapists suggested, we would have left this “business” years ago. I’ve known enterprising individuals who consider push-back a strong indication that you’re doing the right thing. That sounds good to me, but frankly … we don’t even get a lot of negative feedback. We’re like the band in the bubble. We’re music minus fun.

Hey, maybe we’re on to something, right? Matt wrote a song years ago called “Motivation X” which celebrated the sentiment: use your motivation to restrain yourself. That’s the revolution, right? Go easy on the world. Start a collective and make music because that’s what you do, not because you want to rip the world a new asshole and burn through a lot of money, a lot of trees, a lot of water, a lot of gas, etc. Make your revolutionary act the act of not succeeding.

Wait …. there’s that funny music again! Mailman, perhaps?