Five strings.

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I can play any instrument. Piano, bass, six string guitar, five string guitar – I broke a g-string yesterday (note that I didn’t say I could play them well) – kazoo, contra-bass kazoo … I think that’s about it. That’s all the instruments there are, right?

Actually, I’m not super good at any of those instruments. If I were, then I would be insufferable or famous or something; perhaps both. Or neither. Well, that covers all of the possibilities. I don’t like leaving things to chance. (And I don’t mean Chance the gardener.) Thing is, I like playing instruments, even if I do it, well … badly. So even though I’ve never been what I would describe as a punk musician, I do share that piece of the punk ethos – technical skill on your axe is not paramount. So if you see me strumming an acoustic guitar, don’t look for a pick; I basically use thumb and forefinger. Piano? Just thumbs. Gotta move fast to make that work.

I'm all thumbs, Abe. Honest.Many instrumentalists leave distinctive marks on their instruments – scratches in the soundboard or pickguard of a guitar, or in the keyboard cover of a piano, that sort of thing. My aging Martin D-1 doesn’t have a lot of marks, mostly because I don’t play it all that much, but also because I suck at using a plectrum. The guitar top and the strings are harder than my fingers; therefore, the instrument leaves marks on me and not the other way around. Matt, on the other hand, is a more traditionally trained guitar player, so his axes are all marked up. It’s been a few years, but when I last saw it his Les Paul Custom looked like a truck backed over it. (That’s what my hands look like.)

Why am I telling you this? Well, because no one else will listen. And it’s snowing outside. This time of year in upstate New York, we all get sealed inside our homes by a mountain of snow and ice, thanks to the relentless force of moisture rising off of the Great Lakes. (What the hell is so great about them? All I see of Lake Erie is seven feet of snow on my front porch.) So for that six months of snowbound sequester, we must amuse ourselves with random tales and tips and particles of useless advice. It’s the only way we can get to sleep in this drafty old hammer mill. Hey, did you ever hear about the time I played a New Year’s gig in Lake George, NY and …….


Just whistle.

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I’m sorry – that’s as soft as a piano will go. The very word “piano” means soft, for chrissake. (Sure, piano is short for pianoforte, which means “soft – loud/strong”, implying dynamics, but that’s beside the point!) Just get some freaking earplugs already!

Neighbors. I guess you have to have them, even when you’re living in an abandoned hammer mill. I like to think that we make every effort to be good neighbors. I like to think it because, well, it isn’t true, and thinking things that aren’t true is something of a hobby of mine. Actually, we are crappy neighbors – up until all hours of the night, banging on noisy instruments, tooting on sousaphones, launching rockets, creating energy dampening fields that affect entire continents (note: those last two are down to our mad science adviser, Mitch Macaphee).

Our neighbor to the north, a guy named Wilson, has been leaving subtle hints that we are making too much noise. Today, for instance, there was a scroll of parchment posted to our front door with a railroad spike. (Apparently Wilson used to work for New York Central or Amtrak or something.) The parchment had two words scrawled on it in a shaky hand: “TOO LOUD”. I brought it to Anti-Lincoln (who has become our de facto legal adviser, being the only individual amongst us to have attended law school in some centrury) so that he might determine the full implications of this writ. He scanned it with a look of consternation, then offered in his characteristically reedy alto voice, “Yep. Somebody writ it.” Not sure where we’d be without him. (Someplace more permanent, perhaps.)

Well? What does it mean?In spite of what our neighbors think (or demand), making music is an intrinsically noisy business. We are working on an album, for chrissake. That means take after take, recording rhythm parts, experimenting with sound – painstaking work that generates a lot of ambient sound, despite Mitch Macaphee’s efforts to soundproof our makeshift studio. His latest attempt involved having Marvin (my personal robot assistant) hold up sheets of foam core, one in each claw. Did it work? Your answer is nailed to our front door.

Well, we’ll plow on in any case. That’s what we do. If we didn’t do that, we’d have to do something else. And then I just don’t know what we would do. (Got all that?)

Keyed off.

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Going to have to transpose that one as well. Try it in B-flat. That’s right, B-flat. No, no… not THAT B-flat, the one that’s between A and B. Jesus.

Oh, hi, reader. (I think you’re out there, somewhere). Just reharmonizing a thing or two before Big Green gets underway with their upcoming interstellar tour 2010 (theme not yet announced). Matter of no small necessity, actually, as I just blew out a key on my Roland A-90ex – the A below middle C, as it happens. I think it died of overuse. (We seem to play a lot in A and A minor.) But, frugal as we are, rather than replace the sucker, I’ve been working around it. Hey… we’ve got to keep our tinder dry for this tour, man. Wouldn’t want to be halfway out to Aldebaran without a spare dime in our pockets, now would we? (Would we? Could be a question for Mitch Macaphee, our mad science advisor, who is an unaffiliated expert on interstellar economics. I myself cannot be certain. A dime COULD be worth a FORTUNE in space…)

Okay, so this is becoming kind of an annoying workaround, to tell the god’s honest truth. For instance, we might usually play “Johnny’s Gun” in A. That’s a non-starter. Key doesn’t exist, damn it, unless I have Marvin (my personal robot assistant) stand by and make the appropriate A-440 tone every time I hit the broken key. Seems less than a practical use of his time, quite frankly. Not that there is a truly appropriate use for his time. He’s a freaking robot, for chrissake. Built to serve man… and I don’t mean that in the sense of some contrived semantic turn of phrase meant to conceal the fact that he, in fact, cooks people for lunch (or perhaps supper). Not a bit of it. Marvin eats tofu and light machine oil, that’s it. Just like the rest of us.

You may wonder why it is that we take such a large complement of hangers-on along with us on these extraterrestrial tours. Well, you know the old saying, there’s safety in numbers, right? Well, that’s got nothing to do with us – we’ve never been particularly good with numbers. What I was about to say was that we need help, and lots of it. We’re not teenagers anymore, and we’ve long since lost track of our unicycles and pogo sticks. If we’re going to face multiple G’s, interplanetary turbulence, meteor showers, unexplained magnetic phenomena, irritable and unreasonable extraterrestrials with death-ray eyeballs, extremes of heat and cold, and so on, we’re bloody well not going to do it alone. That’s the bottom line, friends. We need human (and some non-human) shields and plenty of ’em.

And the first step in our self-defense strategy is learning everything in the right key. What? Oh, damn. sFshzenKlyrn broke a guitar string.  Now we can’t play in E either!