Usual Rubbish

Monetizing sloth.

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Leave me alone, Charles. Can’t you see I’m trying to sleep? It’s obvious, for chrissake … I just called you Charles, and I don’t even know anyone by that name. So I must be effing sleeping, right? Charles?

Oh, hi. Fell asleep in my cozy broom closet. We are still in our highly restricted corners of the abandoned Cheney Hammer Mill as local venture capitalists eye the joint from stem to stern to see if it has any potential to make them serious bank. (I think there are more opportunities in the stem than in the stern, but I’ll let them find that out for themselves.) It’s like they have glass heads; I can see them picturing some knitting basket of a store, maybe a Hickory Farms … if such a thing still exists. (I remember stealing samples there as a kid. Strange, because I wasn’t even hungry … still, it was a good find.)

So, yeah … they’ll probably sweep us out of here like yesterday’s floor scum in a few months. Unless, that is, we come up with some cash … or Mitch Macaphee comes up with some kind of diabolical invention that will hold them at bay. Maybe a time-warp generator. Maybe a force field. (Even a little, teensy-weensy force field would help.) Maybe a great invisible ruler we can use to whack the invisible hand of the marketplace. Just throwing out a few ideas here. Are you listening, Mitch? Mitch??

A potential buyer visits.Oh, damn … that’s right. Mitch is off to Sao Paolo to attend the bi-annual convention of the International Society for the Purveyors of Mad Science (or ISPMS). I believe they’re giving him some sort of badge this year. (Not sure what it’s for, but it suspiciously glows in the dark.) In any case, we can’t rely on Mitch to keep the capitalist wolf pack at bay here at our besieged hammer mill squat house. We could have Marvin (my personal robot assistant) go out there and try to reason with the developers, but that would just make them laugh and point. We could coax Anti-Lincoln (perhaps with the promise of bourbon) to give one of his famous presidential addresses from the mill’s parapet, but again … pointing and laughing would ensue. (He’s not good.)

Thankfully, it’s a weekend, and I have the option of staying in my broom closet, strumming my unplugged guitar, while the realtor does walk-throughs. “What’s that sound?” the punters will ask, and the realtor will say, “Just the wind in the willows.”

Usual Rubbish

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?

Usual Rubbish


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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.

Usual Rubbish

Thirty (or thirty-one).

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Is this one of those years with a “7” at the end? Right, I thought as much. I guess that’s another decade in the can then, right? Fuck all – I am old.

Oh, hi. I was just having a little conversation with Marvin (my personal robot assistant). He keeps a lot of useless information in his memory banks, and among those bits and bobs are statistics about the history of Big Green, the music collective we formed some thirty years ago. Yes, I believe we adopted the moniker back in 1986, in a 2nd floor apartment in Ballston Spa, NY. That was the first incarnation of Big Green, which cracked apart in – yes – 1987, leaving it in the state it remains in today. (And no, I don’t mean the state of New York.)

Some may think it’s a bit of a problem that our band historian is a robot. That’s not that unusual, actually. I hear that the historian for “Captured by Robots” is also a robot. And then there’s Kraftwerk. All German bands have robot historians, from what I understand. (Though most bands choose not to read me in on the details.) Marvin can handle this task because he has what mad scientists call an “Electronic Brain”. Mitch Macaphee, our mad science advisor, invented it himself. The sparking contacts and dusty transistors inside that whirring little box function not unlike the synapses of the brain. Marvin can think, captain. And if he thinks, it’s only one small step from there to – dare I say it? – ruling … the world. Mwa-ha-ha-ha ….

Okay, well THAT took a dark turn. Why do we have multiple start dates for Big Green history? Well, it’s complicated. In point of fact, my personal opinion is that Big Green was born when Matt wrote and recorded the song “Sweet Treason” for a tape he sent me for my birthday in Spring of 1985. I think we’ve played versions of the song on our podcast. The original is a very scratchy recording that Matt did bouncing between two cassette tape decks and using a mixing bowl for a snare drum. The lyric, personalized for the occasion, goes like this:

Joe is "happy fitness" thanks to JFKEveryone into the pool
We’re all fun at the club
All of us nasty loud
Our metal detectors are safe from ambush
Our stomachs elastic with eclairs
Master’s beer

Joe owes much to gym class
Joe is “happy fitness” thanks to JFK
All of us join him, we’re grateful, JFK
All of us upside-down
Fungus on our knees

This time, it’s gonna be
gonna be easy
Sweet treason
Strange inclination has us warm up separate TVs
Every box word echoes neatly
Then it explodes

Joe, the mayor’s systematically going through your mail
He’s sifting, but not finding
He’s searching for some west-end sandwich
ten years good and stale

And on that day, Big Green was born. (Editor’s note: the “mayor” in this song refers to a kid we knew out in the Albany area back when we were trying to make a previous incarnation of this band work. Which brings us back even further, to 1979 … damn it!


Usual Rubbish

Punch out.

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I think it’s CMD-O or CMD-SHIFT-O, something like that. No? Okay, try CMD-ALT-5. Do it again. Okay, now divide 87 into 214 and multiply the dividend by the square-root of fuck-all. Jesus!

That was a bit of a tantrum, I admit it. It’s just that I’m living in the wrong freaking century, that’s all. I’m from that period in history when people did different things for a living and those things all looked different – the doctor had a stethoscope and a mirror on her forehead, the accountant an adding machine and a legal pad, and the musician a freaking guitar. Now everybody’s sitting in front of a computer, pecking at keys randomly and hoping for some elusive result. Smarty alec kids! Get off my lawn!

Matt and I are in production on another tranche of songs, and it’s taking a while because we’re transitioning between recording systems. Now we’re using a computer-based DAW instead of a proprietary hard disk system, and well … I miss the simplicity of just pressing record and punching stop. Those were the days, right? (Well … they were days.) Our autopunch back then was Marvin (my personal robot assistant) with his claw on the console and a complex series of eyebrow movements. What could possibly go wrong? (Listen to some of our albums and you’ll find out.)

Uh, dude ... Thanks, but no thanks.Right now we’re kind of winging it, I admit … though that’s a bit more considered a state than we’re usually in during recording sessions. I boot up the new system, punch a few keys, then start playing whatever instrument is called for – piano, sousaphone, kazoo, triangle, whatever – and realize a few moments later that nothing has been captured. Rinse and repeat. I need a team of scientists! And I don’t mean mad scientists – we’re all set on that score. If we were to ask Mitch Macaphee, our mad science advisor, to reconfigure our studio, we would end up with something on the order of what Magic Alex threw together for the Beatles back in the Apple Records days, i.e., a decorative, non-functional studio full of flashing lights with a speaker for every track and other non sequitur features.

Well, we don’t want that. (No offense, Alex, wherever you are.) So if you’re looking for me, look for that guy sitting at a computer terminal.

Usual Rubbish

Audio dynamite.

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Yeah, turn the bass drum up a little in my headphone mix. Yeah, that’s enough. That’s good. Okay, dial it back … Too loud. STOP!! Christ on a bike. Can’t you turn a knob in a direction other than clockwise? No? Okay. Good to know.

As you may have surmised, we have resorted to using Marvin (my personal robot assistant) as a sound engineer in the makeshift studio we maintain at the abandoned Cheney Hammer Mill. Not the optimal choice, I admit, but hey, look – we only have two hands. Actually, between us, we have four, but – and this is important – WE’RE USING ALL FOUR OF THEM. I thought Marvin, being a robot, might be a bit more precise in his manipulations of various sound parameters, but it appears that Mitch Macaphee (our mad science advisor) cut a few corners when he put Marvin together. His wrist joints only turn one way, it turns out. What the fuck.

Hey, did any of you hear something?When you are effectively a pop duo … and I think Matt and I constitute the duo part, at least … you need to rely on others sometimes to do some of the heavy lifting. Marvin can do some stuff. I’ve gotten Antimatter Lincoln to shake a tambourine more than once – that’s about his speed. The man-sized tuber is pretty good at holding things up, like a table.  These are all things we would otherwise have to do ourselves, so it’s not like I’m ungrateful. But man … a shred of musical ability would come in handy right about now.

Then there’s such a thing as too much help. Yes, I’m talking about Mitch. This one song we were working on, we wanted a colossal bass drum sound. Mitch said he could do better than our superannuated effects boxes, so we said go ahead, knock yourself out. The next morning, I’m awakened by this earth-shattering BOOM and the whole mill is shaking like a jello mold. Out in the courtyard, there’s a smoking crater where the tool shed once stood. There were about seven mics set up around the crater. I guess Mitch was thinking surround sound.

It took about a year to live that down. (We still get calls from the codes department.) So hey, now I’m careful when I ask for help.

Usual Rubbish

Seven up.

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Oh, Jesus …. I think I’m going to sleep over at the neighbor’s house for a few nights, guys. At least until the radioactivity dies down a bit after Mitch’s head explodes like an atom bomb.

Yes, you guessed it – it’s another one of those weeks, folks. Started out just fine. Marvin (my personal robot assistant) was vacuuming the drapes. Anti-Lincoln was out walking his imaginary dog and insulting the mail carrier. Matt and I were cloistered in the studio, digging through mountains of unpublished material. Everything was going just swimmingly …  and then NASA has to go an discover seven new Earth-like planets around a sun named Trappist-1. And no, not just any seven Earth-like planets, but the same freaking seven planets Mitch has been secreting away for the last decade. And he is going to bum, people.

This planetary search has simply got to stop. Not because it isn’t highly productive and stimulating from a scientific point of view – quite the opposite! I speak entirely from the perspective of narrow self-interest. Every time NASA finds new planets, it puts Mitch Macaphee into a funk. Often times they are worlds he has previously discovered – and even visited, in some cases. A true capitalist inventor, he has a decidedly proprietary approach to space exploration. Whatever he finds, he keeps. “Finders/Keepers” kind of cuts against the grain of NASA’s philosophy, so there’s bound to be conflicts. And it’s not such a good thing when both sides of a conflict have rockets at their disposal.

Mitch ... they're ALL yours?Now before you get alarmed, let me qualify this. Mitch is not … repeat, NOT … at the point of launching any rockets. He is principally an electrical engineer, so he’s always cooking up gadgets that bend time/space or generate black holes – that along with a lot of buzzing, whirring, and flashing. (Remember that he invented Marvin, who does a fair bit of buzzing, whirring, and flashing of his own.) In fact, I’m not convinced that Mitch hasn’t found a non-spacecraft method for traveling to other planets. And I am not talking about soul travel here, brother (though that would be an excellent name for a travel agency). There’s the time he hooked up that surplus department store revolving door to Trevor James Constable’s orgone generating device. That’s how we got Antimatter Lincoln. That was awesome.

So, hey …. seven new planets, seven new problems. That’s the story here at the mill.

Usual Rubbish


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Hey, got any old concert DVDs or VHS’s? No? Okay, well … that makes one of us. In fact, I have stacks of them in the forge room. That is, unless Mitch melted them down into something useful.

Oh, hello. You just caught us in the middle of doing our year-end inventory, housecleaning, etc. I know, I know – that seems like a strange choice, given our recent preparations for an interstellar tour, but this is the sort of thing we do every year at this time, whether we need it or not. We sort of turn the abandoned Cheney Hammer Mill upside-down and shake it a few times. Whatever drops out of the east-side windows goes into the junk heap. Then it’s the DPW’s problem.

Some stuff is easy to get rid of. That cardboard carton our electric roll-out radiator came in? Probably don’t need that anymore. Molded styrofoam from a shipping container? Fair game for the dumpster. Video tapes and DVDs, though …. that’s another story. You never know when you’ll want to watch the Concert at Big Sur movie (or what I euphemistically refer to as the anti-Woodstock) again, particularly that part when Steven Stills gets into a suburban grade school-level fight with some grizzled looking guy complaining about the high ticket price, then, after being led away by his bandmates, offers a lame little speech about how “everything’s going to turn out however it’s gonna,” before playing 4 and 20. Or when Joan Baez was having trouble keeping the stoned rhythm section together. That was awesome.

Yeah, baby, yeah. (Squx)Other gems from the junk pile? Well, there’s Marvin (my personal robot assistant)’s favorite: Rainbow Bridge! A “concert” movie that features about 15 or 20 minutes of Jimi Hendrix playing a set interspersed with about an hour-long montage of stoned hippies running up and down hillsides, being totally free. Why Marvin likes this so much I can only guess, though you can tell he’s been watching it when you see him rolling pointlessly around the mill with his claws up in the air. I might get him a headband for Christmas this year … or maybe some feathers and bells, and a book of Indian lore. (Apologies to Zappa.)

So, which is it going to be … fly off to the stars in our Plywood 9000 rocket or watch old concert tapes? Tough choices.


Up the creek.

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What the hell, Mitch. A week ago you didn’t care whether we went on this tour or not, and now you’re acting like the mill is on fire. What’s the matter with you, boy? And don’t point that deadly laser at me – you know how nervous I get about that kind of thing.

Well, it seems like Mitch is in kind of a hurry now to get off this miserable pimple of a planet known as Earth. Not sure what’s behind the sudden change of mood. He woke up in a bit of a mood Wednesday afternoon after a long night of what I assume was mad science experimentation, and now he’s all about planet KIC 8462852. That’s fine and good, right, but if we’re going there in the Plywood 9000 rocket we rented from SpaceY, well … we may have trouble breaking out of Earth orbit. In fact, we may have trouble clearing the treeline. The truth is, that thing isn’t getting off the ground at all.

Nah. That'll never work.What’s our plan B? Not sure we have one. There’s plan 9 from outer space, but hey … that’s a movie. Plan B might be to hunker down in the Cheney Hammer Mill, record some more songs, and venture out only to retrieve nuts and berries from the nearby Adirondack woodlands. Or pizzas from the nearby Adirondack Pizza Parlor. Or beer from the nearby …. well, you get the idea. I’m not at all sure why we opt for these interstellar tours in the first place. They’re not profitable. They’re long and pointless. They’re occasionally dangerous to the point of being life-threatening. But then, a desk job will kill you after 20-25 years, so … it’s probably just as well.

I told you last week about the latest episode of THIS IS BIG GREEN, our podcast, which should be posted soon-ish. We’ve done rough mixes of all 7 songs, and it’s a strange lot, I will admit, but you be the judge. Hey, be the jury as well. What the fuck, go ahead and throw our sorry asses in music jail. At least THAT would keep me from having to climb aboard a Plywood 9000 rocket with a madman at the helm. P.S. …. HAAAALP!

Usual Rubbish

Serious gravity.

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Well, maybe a larger booster rocket would help. Or some tightly wound springs. Then there’s the lever option, like a catapult – give me a lever large enough and I will move the world, that sort of thing. No? Okay, never mind.

Oh, hi. Yes, we’re grappling with the same conundrums that so vexed our predecessors in flight – how to defeat that old devil gravity. It’s a little hard to imagine being able to reach planet KIC 8462852 without finding some way to break the surly bonds of Earth, whatever that means. Sure, it would be easier for Big Green to just give in and start doing terrestrial tour dates, packing ourselves into a multi-colored school bus and teetering down the road to Springfield and Lodi and East Aurora (unless we get stuck in Lodi … again …), but that would be an abandonment of all we hold dear. And in all frankness, gravity would still be vexing us! (Especially after a particularly long night.)

The other day, a big semi backed up to the front gate of the abandoned Cheney Hammer Mill (our adopted home) and dropped an enormous cardboard box with Mitch’s name scrawled on the side. We had Marvin (my personal robot assistant) haul the thing into the courtyard as a precautionary measure – it was ticking and smelled vaguely of sulfur, so I certainly didn’t want to touch the sucker. Well, it turns out that the box contained our ride to the Khyber Belt: the promised Plywood 9000 space rocket we rented from SpaceY, some assembly required. It’s here, it’s here!

So that's it, then, is it?Mitch Macaphee retreated into his lab and began tinkering with the thing, and just yesterday morning I awoke to the sight of a nosecone peaking over the courtyard wall. He managed to piece the thing together, but there were apparently a few parts missing. Engines, for one. (Or more precisely, for four, since there are supposed to be four of them.) Being a mad scientist, Mitch took this as a kind of challenge. Whereas any sane person would just phone the company and tell them to send the missing parts, he started adapting some odd pieces of technology he had lying around his workbench. There was that anti-gravity device he tinkered with a few years ago, for instance.  Then there’s that big blow-dryer he invented.

So, I don’t know. Maybe a big catapult is more practical. If you have random thoughts on advanced interplanetary propulsion, please send them here.