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.

Strumble bum.

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Twang. Ouch. Twang, twang, twaaaaaangg. Ouch! God damn it. Where did Marvin go, anyway?

If there’s one thing I hate like fire (aside from fire), it’s changing guitar strings, particularly on an acoustic guitar. Whenever I do it, my hands feel like big slabs of beef, like I’m threading a needle with a sledgehammer. Ham-fisted to say the least. (Think that’s rough? You should see me PLAY guitar!) Ergo, I get Marvin (my personal robot assistant) to do it whenever possible. Not a bad outcome usually, unless he insists on testing it out afterwards. (Not Greensleeves again, Marvin, for chrissake! I hear it in my sleep as it is!)

The reason I’m changing the strings on my 17-year-old Martin D-1 (nearly college age!) is that we’re currently producing the next raft of songs to be included in a future episode of Ned Trek, our Star Trek / Mr. Ed political parody. (Complicated enough for you? It’s a satire! It’s a polemic! It’s a musical!) I have a folk-like song in 6/8 that needs an acoustic, and I’m not going to ask Matt to learn it because, hell, he’s too busy and, hell x 2, he’s got a head full of his own songs and doesn’t need mine muddling up the works. It’s like a mixmaster blender in there right now. Crazy man.

Is that the only song you know, Marvin?So here I am, strumming the old D-1, grinding my fingers to a raw nub. I don’t use a flat pick. Nor any other kind of pick, actually. I just strum the strings with my thumb, forefinger and middle finger, mostly, and dud them out with the heel of my palm. It’s a cheap bastardization of that Joni Mitchell / Neil Young technique – pretty much the only method of playing six-string that I ever bothered to learn. Limited, yes, but when I play something in three, it’s pretty much useless, so I end up strumming like my fingers were a pick. (And by the time I’m finished, they pretty much WILL be a pick.)

Next week: Joe’s banjo tips. Find out how I pulled off banjo parts in Big Green songs such as “Box of Crackers,” “Limping Back to Texas”, and other hits. (Hint: used my fingers again.)


Cold porridge.

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No, we’re not having porridge this evening, cold or otherwise. That was Marvin (my personal robot) typing the title for me as he does most weeks. Explains a lot.

What’s happening around this place? Usual kind of stuff. We’re preparing for the warm weather, which typically comes around this time in the northern hemisphere (for those of you browsing in from Madagascar). That’s kind of an involved process. We have to put out the fire we started in the basement last November. No, we don’t have a furnace – that’s for bourgeois rock bands and… what do they call them? …. symphony orchestras. Hell, no – no furnace for Big Green. We just bust up a bunch of old furniture, baskets, hammer stocks (of which there are many lying around the abandoned Cheney Hammer Mill), and other combustibles, chuck ’em down the basement stairs, light ’em up, and keep it going until March.

Okay, so… first step, put out the fire. Second, open a few windows. I don’t know how many of you out there live in abandoned factories. (I’m guessing it’s less than a thousand on any given day.) For those of you who have permanent residences in actual houses or other appropriate human habitation, it’s probably hard to picture just what we have to go through to get some fresh air into this bloody great brick barn. All of the window hardware is rusted, all of the casings are cracked and paint-sealed. I think the only actual paint left is the stuff holding the windows closed.

Sure… I’m certain someone out there has already asked themselves (or their robot friend) “Why don’t they just break the windows?” Or perhaps you’re asking, “Does the moon weigh the same when it’s in crescent phase as it does when it’s full?” Or maybe you ponder other imponderables, such as the tides (they come in, they go out, never a miscommunication) or the weekend lineup on MSNBC. Well, thereĀ are answers to all of these questions…. but if I were to simply GIVE them away, you would think me an easy mark, wouldn’t you? No, no… everything has a price, my friend. Just let me know how much you want, and I’ll send it in the morning post.

Hmmm…. well, I’ve wandered a bit. Back to producing. Where’s that electric banjo?

Hard times.

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Where the hell is that banjo? What…. Marvin (my personal robot assistant) is using it again? Jesus… how’s a brother supposed to sing the blues around here?

Have to resort to non-banjo alternatives, I guess. That’s the way things go here at the Cheney Hammer Mill. You got complaints? Stand in line for the pluck string instrument. You may call it annoying mountain music. We call it aural psychotherapy. (Of course, when Marvin’s doing it, I don’t know quite what to call it. ) Be that as it may, you need some kind of relief in these troubled times, when money is as rare as …. well … rare earths. We’ve got lots of common earths. My point is… we’re freaking broke again. Join the select club of 90% of Americans, eh? Busted!

Well, if we have a middle name, it’s innovation. Big Innovation Green, that’s us. (People often associate another middle name with us… I believe it begins with an “f”). We’re constantly thinking of ways to float the overloaded boat of our miserable lives and careers. Sometimes that thinking involves a lot of bad ideas, it’s true. The vegetable stand never worked out, for instance. Not enough profit in selling discarded carrots and onions that fell off the back of the turnip truck. (Not to mention the offense that enterprise gave to our companion, the man-sized tuber.)

Speaking of bad ideas, Marvin had one. The gears were spinning hard inside that brass noggin of his. Next thing we knew, he was wheeling off to the local constabulary, resume in claw, looking for a personnel officer. You see, he’d run across an article in the local paper about how the police we’re saving up for one of those bomb-fetching robots you see on T.V. once in a while. It occurred to Marvin that he should, perhaps, apply for the position – that the amount of money they would spend on a robot could constitute a salary of sorts. That’s the story we got from Anti-Lincoln, anyway. My guess is that he sold Marvin to the cops and invented that cock and bull story to cover his own sorry ass.

I’ll tell you something, Anti-Lincoln…. you’re going to need something larger than that pathetic little lie. Thanks to you, Marvin is sniffing out explosives. Shame, Abe, shame.