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!

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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!

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.