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.

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.

Light work.

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Okay, ready? On three … one, two, THREE! Arrrgh. I meant, on the count of three LIFT the freaking thing, not wave your hands in the air. What the hell’s the matter with you? It’s like you just don’t care.

Yeah, I guess you could say we’re having a little moving party here at the abandoned Cheney Hammer Mill, Big Green’s adopted home for the last two decades. (I think we technically have squatter’s rights, but what law is there in a place such as this?) No, we’re not vacating the premises – far from it. I just wanted to move my piano from one room to another. No particular reason. Maybe that’s why I can’t get any cooperation out of this crew. I KNEW I should have done one of those leadership retreats! Curses.

Sure, there are useful things we could all be doing, but who’s got the time for that? I mean, I’ve been putting off restringing our borrowed electric guitar for about two weeks now. That sucker isn’t going to string itself, right? Things just keep getting in the way. Like Marvin (my personal assistant) – he got in the way yesterday when he was vacuuming the hall. To get to the guitar, I would have had to maneuvered around him. And well … I just don’t feel like stringing the guitar, Put your back into it!that’s the point. You see? When all else fails, the truth will out!

While we’re not moving things around at random, we are actually working on a music project. As I mentioned last week, it’s kind of similar to our first album in that we’re reworking some of the songs Matt wrote as low-rent Christmas gifts in the 1980s and 90s. The biggest difference is that we’re recording it for the podcast … and we’re twenty years older than we were for 2000 Years To Christmas. So this may sound more crotchety … or not. But hey … it’s free, right? To us, you’re all kids, and on Sundays, kids eat free. In fact, in my book, kids always eat free. That’s how we roll.

So, let’s put the piano the fuck over there, and let’s get recording, damn it. Christmas is almost here, right?

Technophobia.

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Not running again, eh? Try knocking it upside the head again. Harder. HARDER! Oh, wait … you knocked its head off. That’s probably too hard. Oh well….

Hey, welcome to the house of Big Green – that abandoned hammer mill we call home, because all of the groups live together. Just trying to get down to recording some new material, old material … whatever! If we can just get our technology to work for five minutes. (Actually, three and a half minutes would do, since this is pop music.) Seriously, we’ve got some old gear, folks. It’s almost as old as our asses. I’m not even talking tape recorders …. I’m talking wire recorders. I’m talking those wax record cutting machines they used when John-boy was being interviewed by a radio station on The Waltons after he got swindled by the vanity press dude. (Oh, you thought I forgot, didn’t you? Mr. TV Swindler!)

Ahem. Anyhow, we really are running on three cylinders down in Big Green’s clubhouse recording studio in the basement of the Cheney Hammer Mill. The eight-track DTRS machine we used to record 2000 Years To Christmas is a paperweight. The 16/24 track hard disc workstation we used to record International House and Cowboy Scat: Songs in the Key of Rick is 17 years old and ready for that farm upstate. We’re taping together our headphones and coaxing our pre-amps not to self-destruct. It’s a sad state of affairs, to say the least. Our neighbors keep saying, do a GoFundMe campaign or something, but hell …. that would require the invention of the personal computer. Our gear tells me it’s still 1982.

It was new when I bought it.Marvin (my personal robot assistant) is probably the most sophisticated piece of technology we have at our disposal. In fact, that’s exactly what he is –  a re-purposed garbage disposal. I’m told that our mad science advisor, Mitch Macaphee, added some arms and legs and popped a refurbished Commodore 64 computer in his noggin, then it was off to the races with him. We could probably use HIM as an audio recorder almost as easily as we manage with our antiquated Roland VS-2480, but it would require some modifications, and damn it, we’re Luddites. We just flip the switch and a light goes on – the rest is magic.

So, hey … we’ll get those songs committed to .wav somehow, never fear. Just don’t ask me how they got there afterwards.

Six days.

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No, it’s not the fifth day, Marvin. It’s the sixth. Doesn’t that processor between your ears do simple sums, for crying out loud? Six, man, six!

Yes, I am correcting Marvin (my personal robot assistant) on his math. Or his calendar skills. Not sure which, actually. I put him in charge of counting down our “Six Days of Christmas” celebration. Why six? Well, turns out we couldn’t afford twelve. And since we were too sick to finish our Holiday extravaganza on time, we all thought it only appropriate to provide a small … even half-assed compensation. You’re welcome, America!

For those of you who missed it, this is what our lame celebration consisted of:

Day One: Post of “A Very Neddy Christmas” on NedTrek.com. This is a rerun, yes, of our Ned Trek parody of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, featuring four songs, some bad celebrity imitations, and all the rest of it.

Day Two: Soundcloud post of Vital Signs, a song off of our first album, 2000 Years To Christmas. This is one of my personal favorites from that collection. But who the hell cares what I think, right? Damn straight.

Day Three: Soundcloud post of Merry Christmas, Jane, a song off of our EP Live From Neptune. This was recorded live to stereo DAT back in 1994, I think, with Jeremy Shaw on guitar. (We’ve played this on the podcast a couple of times.)

SIX days! Are you MAD?Day Four: Photo album of Matt and Joe, posted on Facebook. These are promo shots taken in, I don’t know, 1987, by our niece Mona. I think we were trying to mock a U2 photo spread in Rolling Stone for Joshua Tree, but it’s hard to tell.

Day Five: Soundcloud post of Jit Jaguar’s Christmas. This is a ridiculous Christmas song Matt wrote quite a few years ago that we recorded I think in 2013 as part of our ongoing project to record our back catalog. Pretty pared down, but I like this recording. Rough and ready.

Day Six: This shit. Hey … it’s like getting a load of wooden balls. We’ve got a pageant under construction, so … think of it as some delayed holiday joy. Keep your eyes open, people, and happy new year.

Wrap it up.

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Where did those scissors go? Right … I’ll just use my teeth then, shall I? What the hell. I hate the freaking holidays! Especially when they get this close. Christmas looks a lot better from a distance.

Yes, my friends, you caught us in the middle of another Cheney Hammer Mill meltdown. They’re becoming more frequent in this new era, I must admit. Still, I have cause – trying to wrap up another holiday extravaganza, and it’s not going all that well, frankly. I’ve got a em-effin’ cold, for one thing. What’s the other thing? Huh … Don’t remember. I always forget shit like that when I have a cold.

One thing I’m having trouble wrapping is this year’s Christmas show. It’s a little hard to voice these things without a voice. It’s like playing sousaphone parts on a tambourine. So the choice is either, croak everyone a merry Christmas, or …. we’ll have to cancel Christmas. There’s nothing I can do – it’s this weather. (Okay, now I’m randomly quoting dialog from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Another symptom of my illness.) We’ll be a little late in posting this year, let me put it that way. But there are consolations.

Hey, uh ... that's a really creepy get-up, Marvin.We’re thinking we might post last year’s extravaganza as a Ned Trek episode at NedTrek.com. And if I can get my voice working again, I might try to do more of a straight music podcast, playing selections from our holiday music catalog of the last 20 years. There are a couple of outtakes from 2000 Years To Christmas that have never seen the light of day. We’ve got some more recent recordings composed around a holiday theme. I might pack that together like a mincemeat pie and toss it out to the hungry masses as we continue to work on our current marathon-like production. Part-timers!

Anyhow, if you can tear yourself away from your holiday table in the coming days, look for additional posts between now and the new year. I’ll be holed up here in the Cheney Hammer Mill, hammering away at some piece of junk. Stick a bow on it and send it off! Feliz navidad.

It’s about time.

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I don’t know, I’m thinking it’s time. What do you think? Not sure? Okay. When do you think you’ll have an answer? I don’t know about you, but … I’m thinking it’s time.

Okay, well … I’ll be frank with you. (Just call me “Frank” from now on.) We are grasping at straws here in Big Green land, now that our interstellar tour has been scuttled. And here it is, the holidays. We were thinking that we’d be traversing interstellar space when Christmas week came, but no dice. Trouble is, that was going to be our excuse for not getting anyone presents – sorry folks, we’re headed to a big gig on planet KIC 8462852. No time to shop! Well, THAT’S out the window. Any other good ideas for cheapskates?

Marvin (my personal robot assistant) humbly suggested we hand out signed copies of our first album, 2000 Years To Christmas, which appropriately follows a theme somewhat tangentially related to the holidays. Of course, we’ve resorted to that tactic before – it’s been a full 17 years since we put the sucker out, so everyone we know (and quite a few people we don’t know) has a copy. By this point, they’re stacking them under broken table legs and using them for drink coasters. I saw one of our friends re-purposing the jewel cases. Talk about a post-apocalyptic music hell-scape – people are mining our album like it’s a natural resource. (And it’s anything but natural.)

Give them discsThe gift of music is always an early resort for us. That’s basically how 2000 Years To Christmas was born – Matt writing songs as holiday gifts, back in the day. Then there’s the gift of podcasting. There, we have some good news and some bad news. The GOOD news is that we are working on another Christmas pageant as we speak – a Ned Trek holiday classic that will have some new songs embedded in it. The BAD news is that … at the rate we’re going, it likely won’t be finished until AFTER Christmas, so … hot holiday leftovers are coming your way.

For the holiday week itself, we may put out a rerun podcast with some additional “members only” elements. (Oh, right – we don’t have membership levels. Scratch that.) Back to the grind, boys!

Jingle hell.

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What are you going to be for this year’s Christmas pageant? A reindeer? A slice of gooseberry pie? As small pile of pine cones? So many possibilities.

I don’t imagine that anyone reading this blog is unaware of the fact that the holidays hold a special resonance for Big Green. God knows, when they start blowing those freaking carols through every available loudspeaker, my head starts resonating like a church bell at Noon. That’s what I call old time religion. And sure, we did do a whole album of Christmas songs, entitled (not surprisingly) 2000 Years To Christmas (2KY2C) – our first formal album.

When I say “formal”, I don’t mean that we appear in tuxedos with massive red cummerbunds and top hats. I mean that we released a number of collections on cassette tape prior to 2KY2C that were anything BUT formal. More than a few of those were Christmas themed albums, from which we drew the 13 songs that appeared on 2KY2C. Okay, so … as we have in previous years, we’re planning on putting together a holiday episode of our podcast, THIS IS BIG GREEN, and in an effort to lard it out with some extra music we are ladling out compositions from those earlier “informal” releases. Last year it was “Merry Christmas from Henry K;” the year before we did “Father Christmas,”  “Christmas Spirit” and a couple of others. Plenty more where that came from.

Gooseberry pie?I’ve often said (and you’ve often heard me) that the difference between Big Green and a successful group is that all-consuming lust for fortune, fame, and higher achievements. Yeah … we ain’t got that. We’ve got the songs – scores and scores of them. We’ve got our modest musical abilities. We’ve got a sense of how to put an album together. We even half know how to record ourselves, with some struggle. But that other stuff – that “I’m the greatest” shit … that particular human chromosome was left out of our genetic inheritance.

So what the hell. Bereft of an Earthly audience, we please ourselves. If that involves putting antlers on for a few hours, so be it.

Inside Christmas.

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Well, so that was Christmas, eh? What the hell. Kind of … over, isn’t it?

Play it again.Hope all of you are having a good holiday season. Sure, there comes a time when the plate is empty, the music falls silent, and the final champagne bubble pops. But take heart, friends … that time has yet to arrive. So for the nonce, as Governor Scott Walker would say, Molotov!

So, what is your holiday story? Can hardly wait to hear it. Here at the abandoned Cheney Hammer Mill, we’ve been observing the season in the usual way. All the traditional rituals. And of course, the annual holiday podcast. Kind of puny, actually. I don’t know, maybe … 36 minutes of pure lame-ass awesomeness. WE BRING THE AWESOME.

I think you can imagine what the low lights might be. Here are some of the highlights:

Gold And Silver – Captain Romney sings a song of Christmas cheer from the perspective of an acquisitive, rapacious, mammon worshiper, bent on gain at all cost. Very festive indeed. Easy to waltz to. Contains a twist on every holiday music convention imaginable.

Winter Lock – A new version of a song Matt wrote for one of his Christmas tapes back in the day. What day? Not sure even I remember. Nineties sometime. Probably about the same vintage as most of the songs on 2000 Years To Christmas. Matt penned the majority of his Christmas songs between 1986 and 1996, so pick a year.

Head Cheese Log – This is a cut from 2000 Years To Christmas that we tagged on to the end of this super-skimpy holiday special just to round it off a little bit. Another waltz, for chrissake. What the hell – have we suddenly gone all Wagnerian on you?

Okay, well … it’s a humble gift, even by the standards of Big Green, but it is all we have to offer. We had the choice between too little and too late, and we chose the former. So hell … enjoy. Happy new year and all the rest of it. Now … back to work with me.

Yule be sorry.

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Marvin (my personal robot assistant)! Can you come in here for a few minutes and vacuum up all these fragments? No, not with your mouth! Use your upholstery attachment. Silly robot.

I don't know about this, Lincoln.Lots to do around the holidays, as you well know. Some tasks are more challenging than others. I’ve always found bending candy canes particularly difficult. A lot of breakage. There’s got to be a better way! (Matt is thinking about taking a correspondence course in pretzel-bending, so maybe some of those skills will be transferable. We shall see.)

As I was saying last week, we have some holiday traditions that we try to observe on a yearly basis. Some of them could be described as strange; others, just a little off the beaten path. Occasionally we try out a new “tradition” and see if it sticks, like that year we put the man-sized tuber on an upside-down wash basin and decorated him like a Christmas tree. I think that was Anti-Lincoln’s idea. Anyway, it lacked that kind of stickiness I was referring to earlier. (Tubey still isn’t talking to Anti-Lincoln … not that tubey talks all that much ordinarily.)

Probably our best-known tradition is writing, recording, and releasing a parcel of Christmas songs – that is, Christmas-themed pop songs. That stretches way back to the late 1980s when brother Matt used to hand out cassette tapes to all and sundry on Christmas eve. Our first album, 2000 Years to Christmas, was a collection of some of our favorites from those ancient tapes – 13 songs drawn from what was easily a catalog of about 60 to 75 songs in total over eight years or so. (That was a large component of Matt’s musical output, though by far not the majority of songs he wrote over that period.)

Now we put them out on our podcast, THIS IS BIG GREEN. Some of the ones we’ve put out in recent years are additional selections from Matt’s cassette tape holiday basket, re-recorded in our basement studio. Others are more recent concoctions.

So, look under your tree this Christmas for another parcel of holiday cheer from Big Green. Got a laptop and wi-fi? Plunk it under the tree and point your browser to big-green.net/pod. It’s that simple. Santa works in mysterious ways.