Song listlessness.

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Did you look in the silo? Okay. How about the forge room? No? Then take a look, for crying out loud. Not a moment to spare.

Well, I am proud of myself. It took all weekend, but I pulled together an exhaustive list of all of the songs Big Green has ever written, from our very first days to the present. Yes, I left out the future, but two out of three isn’t bad. Besides, predicting the future is hard. Don’t know if you noticed. That’s why we leave it to people like Kreskin … and Criswell. (You remember Criswell, right? Criswell predicts!)

Trouble is (and there is always trouble here at the abandoned Cheney Hammer Mill) Now that I’ve completed the list, I … well … can’t find it. I would describe it to you, but you probably won’t find it either … unless you have a gift of prophecy, again, like Criswell. Well, I don’t have a mentalist here at the mill. Though it’s fair to say that most of our entourage are mental, in the colloquial sense. My only resource in situations such as this is Marvin (my personal robot assistant), who most assuredly does not have a gift of prophecy, but he does possess some of the finer qualities of a bloodhound when it comes to finding lost things.

Amazing!How do you sniff out a list? Not sure. He took a look around the courtyard. No luck. He did turn up some promising papers in the forge room, but alas, they were forgeries. Another twelve hours of exhaustive search and I will resort to recreating the list from scratch. That part’s easy. Just start from “Sweet Treason” and work your way forward. (That original recording of Sweet Treason is a little scratchy, come to think of it.)

Why am I undertaking this seemingly pointless task? Well … not sure. When you’ve got a lot of songs and even more time on your hands, you try to find ways of busying yourself. Maybe when I finish the list, I’ll just sit in my room and play our entire canon from beginning to end. Probably about 300 songs, but that’s a wild guess.

Oh, excuse me. MARVIN? DID YOU TRY MITCH’S LAB? BE SURE TO WEAR YOUR BLAST SHIELD!

Hiatus be damned.

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Yes, I know the phone is ringing. Just let it ring, for crying out loud. Don’t people know we’re on vacation? Jesus Christ on a bike, try to take a week off around this joint! What? Oh … okay. It’s the neighbor’s phone. Stupid neighbors!

Hey, out there. You caught us taking a brief hiatus between the nothings that we have going on. (You can tell I’m on vacation because I say “hey” when I mean “hi” … though that might also make me an NPR correspondent.) Everybody needs a little down time. We tend to have a little more than most people. In fact, you could argue that Big Green is a bit like a downtime reservoir. People come here to waste time; that’s what makes the abandoned Cheney Hammer Mill such a regional treasure. (And one man’s trash, well … you know the rest.) That’s understandable – sometimes taking a hiatus can be heavy lifting. That’s how people end up with hiatal hernias. (I’m just going to leave that right there.)

Do not disturbOkay, so … when you’re on vacation, you end up doing a bunch of stuff you don’t ordinarily have time for. For me, that usually involves surfing the web, and in my idle wanderings a stumbled across another Big Green. No, I don’t mean another BAND called Big Green – lord knows, there are at least one or two of those. This is a nutrition advocacy organization that works out of Detroit. Which means they are actually doing something USEFUL with our name, which is more than I can say for us. They’re helping to feed people; we’re wasting time with stuff like this. Case closed.

I haven’t told our mad science advisor Mitch Macaphee about the other Big Green because I don’t want him to start doing what he always does, which is stew on something until smoke comes out of his ears. He sees threats everywhere, including the forge room at the mill, which mostly contains broken down machines and iron filings. When he wanders through there at night, he sees silhouetted in the darkness the hunched profiles of creatures he either invented or destroyed during his long, evil career. I can see how that might be unnerving, especially when you misplace your anti-depressant tabs the morning before. (We encourage Mitch to take his Paxil regularly. It’s a kind of self-defense.)

Well, that’s what we did on OUR winter vacation. And you?

Unwrapping.

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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.

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.)

 

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.

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.

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.

Summer’s end.

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Here comes the sun … and there it goes, right over the back of the mill. Must be autumn. This place is like freaking Stonehenge – you can set your watch to the movement of the shadows.

Well, the season passing doesn’t mean much around here. I’ll be honest: we of Big Green never went in for summer activities in a big way, so the warm months are just about keeping out of the sun and wearing open newspapers on your head like a tent. Unless you’re Matt, of course, who wears a hat and spends half of his life out amongst the wild critters, rain or shine, snow or hail, you name it. The rest of us? We all busy ourselves with indoor activities, like bending pretzels and juggling priceless objets d’art. (That last one we don’t do a real lot. Like, well … never.)

It’s hard to keep track of what our entourage is doing in any given season. Some are more active than others. Anti-Lincoln, for instance, had and idea for a discount retail business. He was going to plant it right next door to Dollar General and call the store Quarter Colonel. His business plan was to undercut the competition – everything in Dollar General is a buck; everything in Quarter Colonel would be a quarter. The cash registers were ringing in his Four score and seven blue light specials agohead like the bells of St. Mary. I know Lincoln had a reputation, perhaps apocryphal, of being a humble, frugal man of simple tastes, so true to form, his anti-matter self is the exact opposite. He’s going to OWN north central Little Falls, NY …. OWN IT!

Marvin (my personal robot assistant) has been busy these waning weeks of summer. He’s mostly been checking his way through my to-do list. Hey … don’t look at me like that. What would YOU do if YOU had a personal robot assistant? At least I’m not sending him out to some local small business to earn money for my ass. Though he was working for a time at a five and dime. (His boss was Mr. Magee). I don’t think I have to tell you how that turned out.

So, bring on the fall, people. We’ve got a pack of songs ready to record. Let’s track this mother! Ya-ho, ta-ho.

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.

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.