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.)


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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 …….


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:


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).