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!

 

Music minus fun.

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There’s that funny music again. And the really strange thing is, every time I hear it, there’s someone at the front door. What’s that? A door bell? Oh … okay. Never mind.

Well, I thought I was on to something important there; maybe a new scientific principle born of some random observation, like noticing a minor irregularity in the orbit of Mercury. No such luck, my friends – looks like the Nobel Prize for Physics will be going to someone else this year … again. (Don’t know how many of these disappointments I can stand.) I understand that our mad science advisor, Mitch Macaphee, has been nominated for the Ignobel Prize in making things blow sky high. That’s a tough one to win – it’s a little hard to guess how high sky high is.

Lord only knows, we don’t do what we do here at Big Green for the love of prizes and little metal statuettes. Neither do we do it for the money. (The simple fact is that there IS no money in what we do.) Nay, we just do it for the simple joy of music …. that omnipresent mellifluous force that lifts our spirits up on high. That unseen power that unites us with the choir invisible. That … I don’t know …. ear worm that drives you out of your skull for three days; thanks an effing bunch, Matt! YOU AND YOUR CATCHY TUNES!

Not MY master's voice.Honestly, if we relied on positive feedback, like all of our coaches and half of our therapists suggested, we would have left this “business” years ago. I’ve known enterprising individuals who consider push-back a strong indication that you’re doing the right thing. That sounds good to me, but frankly … we don’t even get a lot of negative feedback. We’re like the band in the bubble. We’re music minus fun.

Hey, maybe we’re on to something, right? Matt wrote a song years ago called “Motivation X” which celebrated the sentiment: use your motivation to restrain yourself. That’s the revolution, right? Go easy on the world. Start a collective and make music because that’s what you do, not because you want to rip the world a new asshole and burn through a lot of money, a lot of trees, a lot of water, a lot of gas, etc. Make your revolutionary act the act of not succeeding.

Wait …. there’s that funny music again! Mailman, perhaps?

Missing pieces.

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This tape recorder has that Leroy Brown kind of problem. You know … it looks like a jigsaw puzzle with a couple of pieces gone. Guess it must have been messin’ with the wife of a jealous dehumidifier.

All right, well, it’s no secret that Big Green has a technology problem or two, even with an in-house mad science advisor like Mitch Macaphee. Our machines are aging, our circuits are frayed, our relays are frosted, and the electric bill’s unpaid. (That was an accidental rhyme, by the way.) Most of our recording devices have at least one tooth missing. I’ve got an Evil Twin direct box that needs surgery. Our VS2480 deck has finally been retired for a system that’s maybe six years newer (i.e. only nine years old).

Hey … if you’re a real band, that shouldn’t matter, right? Got a second-hand guitar and a panama hat? Start busking. Got a broken-down upright piano that’s barely upright? Grab a tin cup and start pounding those dusty keys. That’s the musician’s work ethic. Not super popular around here, I must say. We make music without much of a thought to monetizing it. God no – that’s Anti-Lincoln’s job. We just put our heads down in the studio. Old antimatter Abe sits in the den and moves the numbers around. Occasionally they add up to something edible.

I think I see what the problem is...Speaking of missing pieces, our podcast, THIS IS BIG GREEN, is massively overdue. The reason/excuse? Well … we produced eight songs, mixed seven, and thought we were freaking done. Matt was plugging the show together and, well … there was this gaping hole where a Nixon song should go. So it’s back to the mixing board with us, and the June episode is now turning into the September episode. But people … think of it. Eight new songs, written on the fly and recorded from scratch … on a new (to us) recording system, no less! Add to that some chasing around after falcons and the usual summer distractions, and you’ve got an abysmally late podcast. But, hopefully, it will be one for the books. (Eight new songs, people.)

I think that brings our Ned Trek catalog up to about 70 tracks. Christ on a bike. There’s got to be an album in there somewhere, right?

Loopy mofo.

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You can’t really expand it, Mitch. If you did, it would be too damn big for the tube. Then there’s the drag coefficient … you know, that thing you were telling me about yesterday, what the fuck …. WHY CAN’T WE JUST WORK ON MUSIC?

Sheesh. Back again, here at the Cheney Hammer Mill, with our mad science advisor Mitch Macaphee working on yet another crackpot scheme to make us all RICH while carrying us place to place more efficiently and, I don’t know, churning out mounds and mounds of cole slaw. Last week it was the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module – that patented modular space station component that Mitch was obsessing over. Now he’s focused like a particle beam on Hyperloop technology, the brain child of entrepreneur/inventor Elon Musk, a man Mitch loathes, envies, and idolizes all at the same time. (He’s got mood issues, frankly.)

What is Hyperloop? Well … the best I can describe it is as follows. If you’re of a certain age (and I most certainly am) you may remember a time when the local multi-story department store (in Utica, it was the Boston store) had an advanced method for getting money and paperwork from one part of the store to another. They had these funky vacuum tubes running everywhere; the clerk would take your five dollar bill, put it into a little capsule, stick it into the tube and it would go ’round and ’round until it reached accounting or wherever, then come back filled with change. It’s kind of like that thing in the bank drive-through, except more primitive. Got it? Well, take that thing, make it bigger, and put people in it instead of money, and you’ve got Hyperloop.

Just like the Boston Store change thingy.Mitch’s brainstorm of the week, aside from self-marinating beets (still in development, so don’t get excited), involves Hyperloop conveyances and our hole to the center of the Earth. I think he’s all excited about this because we just spent weeks trying to figure out how to fashion an air-tight elevator or tram car that would suffice for navigating through the mantle and down to the chewy nougat core. Now he’s discovered that Hyperloop has done all that work for him! All he has to do is pirate it, stick it in the hole, and down we go at 700 miles per hour!

I don’t know about you, but I’m excited, though not half as much as Marvin (my personal robot assistant), who will likely be the test pilot. Oh yes, Marvin … I’m looking at you, man.

Bigelow 4-9-0.

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No, you can’t have it. I’m not going to say it again. NO. Keep it up and you’re going to bed without your sawdust ration. I said NO, damn it! Oh, god …. all right.

Well, there you have it, friends of Big Green. That’s how mad scientists get what they want – nag, nag, freaking nag. Mitch Macaphee can keep at it for longer than any four year old. Next thing you know I’ll be taking him to Water Safari. Such a child! And I ask you, what’s worse than a child with the power to reverse gravity? Nothing I can think of.

What was Mitch asking for? Glad you asked. I blame NPR, frankly. They did one of their glib as fuck little morning stories about something called the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (or BEAM), a kind of collapsible space station section that can be puffed out like a popcorn kernel when they have some use for it in orbit. Handy little thing, really, and Mitch can see linking two or three of them together and mounting some ion drive propulsion units on one side or the other. It’s complicated, of course, but it all comes down to the simple fact that he wants one, he wants one, HE WANTS ONE!

I said NO, damnit!Actually, in point of fact, he wants two or three. And well, they’re expensive, for chrissake. Mitch has no sense of cost. I can’t even talk him into buying some generic knock off BEAM from China; no, he wants the brand name version. It’s essentially a quality argument … I get it. But what the hell, man – you’re an inventor. Why don’t you invent some freaking money for once?

I guess Mitch is picturing a kind of wagon train to the stars. He’s probably given up on our plan to do another subterranean tour, or wagon train to the Earth’s core, if you will. Again, typical ADD scientist: first he’s all excited about the hole he burned through the mantle, then a few days later he doesn’t even want to look at the thing. Of course, he may have a point about the BEAM. Our last few interstellar tours have been, well … less than stellar, particularly with regard to the accommodations. Finally, someone came up with a space trailer with some leg room. Maybe we DO have to have one.

Okay, okay … I give up, Mitch. Let’s see if it’s listed on Amazon yet. (My guess is that it’s not available in stores.)

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.

All in favor.

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Do we have a quorum? No? Where’s Matt, then? Oh, right …. watching the falcons. That’s fine. The mansized tuber can sit in for him for the time being. Okay, tubey … raise your right, uh … taproot.

Oh, hi. Caught me in the middle of a production meeting. We’re trying to work out who is going to be the first down the hole … I mean, the elevator to the center of the Earth. Since this is a question that affects all of us, it must be decided in council. That’s right – we are not tree dwellers here, my friends. We are civilized people, okay? And we are familiar with the principles of self governance. At least we know there are such principles. And if you don’t like them, well … we have other principles.

I’ve described Big Green as a creative collective more than once. That’s not far from wrong, though the creative part is a little sketchy. Nevertheless, we are very much a worker-run enterprise, operating out of an abandoned hammer mill, wearing recovered skins from the carcass of a failed industrial economy. Think of us as post-apocalyptic commie minstrels, sharing everything we scrounge together (including our lack of money). Routine matters, like opening windows or walking across the street, are passed by simple majority vote, but more weighty matters – like who is going to move that very heavy refrigerator across the room – require a consensus of four fifths plus one, with an extra vote on alternate Tuesdays.

All in favor, say aye.You might think such a flat structure would lead to some kind of anarchistic free-for-all or frequent proxy fights. Not a bit of it – we all get along swimmingly, particularly on occasions like last weekend when the skies opened up and we had 3 feet of water on the ground floor of the abandoned Cheney Hammer Mill. Not that it’s trouble free. I can remember one management meeting when Mitch Macaphee, our mad science advisor, fashioned three or four robotic arms so that he could win every show of hands. He already has Marvin (my personal robot assistant) as a proxy. That’s when we went to voice votes.

The simple fact is, when you don’t have much to divide, it’s a lot easier to be equitable. Everybody gets an equal slice of nothing. And everyone gets a say on who will be the first to explore the Earth’s core. Fair is fair.

Down under what?

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What the hell is that? Sounds like the howl of the wind in a box canyon. No, wait … I know that sound. I think it’s a distant didgeridoo. That’s it, fellows – we have dug ourselves a tunnel to Australia.

Well, barely a day goes by here in the abandoned Cheney Hammer Mill without some kind of discovery. Last week it was a new source of precious reverb – a commodity rare as hen’s teeth up here in central New York. Now we’re looking at (or staring down into, I should say) a superhighway to down under. And when I say “down under”, I don’t mean merely down underground. Nay, sir … I mean the actual land “Down Under”, meaning the continent of Australia.

What luck, eh? Here I thought this elevator shaft to the center of the Earth would yield only another string of unsuccessful and unsatisfying performances in front of restive gaggles of Morlocks or some other troglodytic denizens of the dark. But now it seems the tunnel is a bit deeper than we thought … like maybe twice as deep. Because you can just about see some light coming though from the other end, and it looks like Aussie sunlight. There’s also a vague scent of flat beer. (Though I think that might be coming from Anti-Lincoln. He’s been hitting the cache lately, and it shows.)

Then came MarvinWe could be wrong, of course. After all, one random strain of didgeridoo music does not a continent make. The only way to be certain is to send a emissary down there. It’s a highly dangerous mission, so there’s no way in hell that’s going to be me. Matt’s no stranger to danger, of course, but only in the context of helping birds, animals, and other living things. (Snowflake!) Then there’s Marvin (my personal robot assistant). If he’d been around in 1969, NBC might have done a show about him called “Then came Marvin.” He could have played a disillusioned android who starts riding a scooter around Minneapolis, then got canceled after two seasons.

Anywho, if we send Marvin down there and he comes up with an Aussie hat and a kangaroo’s footprint on his brass, we’ll know we hit Aussie paydirt. Sounds like a plan. Ish.

More verb.

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Give me a little more slack on this XLR. Little more … little more … woof! That’s good. Now point the speaker down over the side of the hole. There’s a good chap.

Right, well … you’ve caught us in the midst of a pretty typical dilemma for bands as unsuccessful and under-resourced as Big Green. You probably know what I’m talking about (because I sure as hell don’t). You’ve come to expect us to scrape our way through every situation, living in squat houses and lean-tos, taking the cheap seats on pretty much any mode of transportation you can name. So what the hell – we’re not some fancy-ass successful band that can afford racks of expensive gear. We’ve got a bunch of second-hand kit that’s held together with masking tape … because that’s what our audience demands.

So, when you need reverb, and you don’t have an expensive effect unit, or even an old, cranky one, what the hell do you do? I’ll tell you what – you just lower a microphone down the tunnel to the center of the Earth that’s in your basement and then pipe in your tracks. It’s a little boomy, but it beats the hell out of the reverb spring in my antiquated fender twin. This isn’t the first time we’ve had to go old school – and by “old school”, I mean effects that are almost entirely environmental in nature, like getting echo by scrambling up a hillside and shouting real loud. (Just be sure to bring a jar with you so you can catch the echo.)

No dice, Mitch?It’s when you get into things like distortion that this approach gets a little tricky. Sometimes we just plug a guitar cord into Marvin (my personal robot assistant) and have him jump in place; though that ends up sounding a bit more like tremolo. I was thinking of asking Mitch to attach a leslie rotating horn to Marvin’s head so that we can get a better B-3 sound while he’s jumping up and down, but Mitch would probably just wave that suggestion off. (He’s kind of picky when it comes to big ideas.)

Thing is, if you have a big empty space, or even a little one (like, say, between your ears), you can get a decent reverb effect. Tech tip for the day from Generation Reverb.

Drill down.

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There’s a hole in daddy’s hammer mill where all the money goes. At least that’s what it feels like. Christ on a bike, why is it every mad science idea ends up costing a fortune? What, between the magnetos and the giant vacuum tube-driven linear amplifiers, we are completely tapped out.

I should explain. Mitch Macaphee, our mad science advisor and inventor of Marvin (my personal robot assistant), has plugged together a special elevator-like tram car dubbed the Giardiniera Twelve for us to ride to the center of the earth using the handy hole to the center of the earth we now have in the hammer mill basement. We’ve already sent Marvin down a few floors for a look see, and it seems promising. He came back with a hotdog and a Dodgers pennant, so my guess is that we have found a tunnel to the 1950s. Think of all the songs we can lift!

That said, there is a bit of a problem monetizing this idea. I understand there may be intelligent life down under, but what are their tastes? Do they like 50s pop music or 90s grunge? It’s even conceivable that Where's all the work at?they may not like either of those things … though that would be okay, because we don’t really play either of those things. That said, finding an audience on the surface of the Earth is hard enough. Finding one in the mantle or (God forbid!) in the chewy nougat center of the Earth will probably be next to impossible.

And then there are the logistical challenges. Yes, they are many. It wouldn’t be so bad if we were an un-amplified banjo-toting accordion-squeezing polka band, but we are not that (at least this week). I ask you – how the hell are we going to pack amps, a drum set, an electric piano, a stack of guitar cases, and PA components – along with ourselves – into what amounts to a smallish elevator? Mitch is working on a solution as we speak, but I’m not sanguine. The last time we tried to do something like this, he pulled out a shrink-ray that reduced my Martin D-1 to the size of an ashtray. Now I use it as an ashtray. Not real good.

So we’re not that close to plugging that hole. Let’s see what Mitch can do … and how much it will cost.