Okay, commence recording. The light is on, folks. No, not THAT light! That’s the freaking microwave! That just means your burrito is cooked. I mean the production light. Jesus.
Oh, hi. Yeah … we’re working on some more music, but it’s not obvious what exactly we’re working on. Is it an album? An EP? A single? Some throwaway tunes for the podcast? Anyone’s guess. All I know is that the light goes on and I start playing. When it goes out, I stop. Sometimes it flickers on and off, and that makes my job a bit harder. I see that and I drop in a lot of eighth-note rests – it can sound kind of funky if you close your eyes (and your ears, too).
We’ve made something of a habit of recording over the decades. Given that we’re not a performing band at this point, at least not in the conventional sense, recordings pretty much amount to our “performances”. But recording has been a bit of an obsession over the years, from Matt’s reel-to-reel and cassette tapes, to 4-track cassette, to recording in various studios, to acquiring an 8-track Tascam DA-88 deck, then a 16/24-track Roland VS2480 workstation, and now a Cubase system. Hey … we’re archivists. Why fight it?
As part of our THIS IS BIG GREEN February podcast, I included a couple of old numbers drawn from demos. One of those was digitized straight from a standard audio cassette, simply because we never owned the original media it was on – a 2500-ft reel of half-inch audio tape from 1986, probably now nothing more than cinders. The 1981 recording (Silent as a Stone) was taken from a reel-to-reel stereo dub – you can hear the tape (or my playback machine) failing at the end. That song came from a session where we recorded four songs, including one of mine and one of Matt’s. The 1986 version of “Slipping and Sliding” was recorded on an 8-track reel-to-reel machine as part of a 4-song demo; that I only have an audio cassette of.
So here we are again, toiling away on audio artifacts that someone will happen upon years from now and scratch their heads over. Which is pretty much how we find listeners. It’s a process that works on geological time, basically, like making feldspar. (Hmmmm … good idea for an album title. Feldspar … )
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.
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!
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.)
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.
Big Green returns from its Summer hiatus with a brand new installment of Ned Trek, eight new songs, and some poorly rendered Dalek jokes. Resistance is futile.
This is Big Green – September 2017. Features: 1) Ned Trek 33: The Nimrod Seven; 2) Song: If You’re Listening To This, by Big Green; 3) Song: Commander I’m Dead, by Big Green; 4) Song: Doctor in the House, by Big Green; 5) Song: Wait For You, by Big Green; 6) Song: Nimrod, by Big Green; 7) Song: Neocon Captain, by Big Green; 8) Song: Yo-Ho, by Big Green ; 9) Song: Nixon Is Saving Us All, by Big Green; 10) Put the Phone Down: The cheap hello song; 11) What we did on our Summer vacation; 12) And the racists love you (imagine mechanical Nazi men); 13) Big Green pledge drive; 14) carl Sagan’s homecoming; 15) Gorka in the box; 16) Psycho Batman; 17) Who gets the special bad actor prize; 18) Pay for play Enterprise bridge; 19) Time to go.
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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.
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?
I’m still not sure this is a good idea. The memory of the last time we tried this still haunts me. And that Morlock with the sandals never answers my postcards. And yes, I’ve been dropping them down the hole. Jesus!
Okay, so someone, I won’t say who (Mitch), thought it would be a great idea to do a second subterranean tour, since we now have the equivalent of a superhighway to the chewy nougat center of the Earth. Mitch plans to fashion some kind of urban gondola (very popular in small post-industrial cities these days) that will allow us to treat the mega-hole in our floor like a kind of futuristic cargo elevator. I don’t remember where I heard this, but it seems like this mode of transportation might be problematic, to say the least, particularly when you’re dealing with magma and other natural hazards.
Mitch isn’t worried, of course. In his world, there’s a mad scientific fix for everything. That must be a nice feeling. When stuff goes wrong for the rest of us, we have little to fall back on other than playing instruments and/or writing songs, and maybe playing a few rounds of mumbly peg. (That doesn’t usually help, but it does give us something to strive for, since none of us knows how to play mumbly peg.) Everyone needs some kind of solution. For Marvin (my personal robot assistant), it’s a seven percent solution of machine oil and antifreeze.
Why does songwriting help? Don’t know, exactly. Ask Matt – he’s more prolific than me by a mile. As I’ve said before, he comes up with songs while walking the length and breadth of his rural domain, composing them out loud like a latter-day Ewan MacTeagle. Me, I take forever to crank out a few lines. My muse is like an old, rusty typewriter with an even older ribbon, very parsimonious and begrudging of every line. Even so, if we do undertake this underground tour, we should have plenty of material that hasn’t been heard down there before. Nothing the middle-Earth denizens hate more than old, recycled material.
So, yeah, we’ll consider it. Though God only knows why.
There’s my pocket watch. And no, it’s not a proper pocket watch, just a wrist watch I keep in my pocket because my wrists get sore when I wear it. As a result, the crystal is scratched to the point where it always looks like 3:54 last Wednesday. So …. happy Wednesday, everybody!
What’s new this week in Big Green land? Well, I’m guessing there’s more news coming out of regular old Greenland (That’s part of Scandinavia!), though they have the advantage of belonging to Denmark. It’s been suggested to us more than once that we should just ask Denmark to annex us, like the even bigger Greenland, so that we would have more to talk about on our blog and podcast. Another good suggestion, people. Keep them rolling in!
In all seriousness, though (and I’m making my most serious face now), we have been working our fingers to the bone on our next raft of Big Green songs. We’ve even worked a few of our toes to the bone as well. (You don’t know hardship until you’ve worn sneakers over bony toes.) All of this is leading up to the next episode of Ned Trek, which promises to be another musical – this time a takeoff on the Galileo 7 episode of the original series. At least I think that’s what the next episode will be. Because you know … shit happens. And it happens fast sometimes. Fast, fast shit.
As always, Matt has been doing the bulk of the songwriting. He’s a writing machine, people … just pacing through his duties on that nature sanctuary, talking out the lyrics of his various crazy-ass songs like a distinctly non-Scottish Ewan McTeagle. (Though, in the interests of full disclosure, this is probably a good time to point out that Matt’s partner does indeed play the bagpipes.) Matt wrote at a relatively breakneck pace before he spent his days out on the range, as it were, whereas I have always been the kind of songwriter that squeezes one out every once in a while. (If that sounds nauseating, it’s because it kind of is.)
Hey, Matt has his process, I have mine. Drop it into a 3-quart mixing bowl, set the beater on frappé, and voilà (or for you British listeners out there, what ho): Big Green casserole. Help yourself.
I know I dropped it around here somewhere. Marvin, have you seen it? What’s that? Oh, right … I dropped it on the internets. How could I forget?
Yes, well … we FINALLY got around to dropping a new episode of THIS IS BIG GREEN, featuring Ned Trek 31: It’s a Profitable Life. Yes, it’s a Christmas special, so think of it as that fruitcake you never opened in December, shoved to the back of the fridge, and you happen upon it one cold February morning – a happy accident! Except that, well … it’s a fruitcake. So, like it or not, here’s what you’ll find alongside the pecans and candied fruit:
Ned Trek 31: It’s a Profitable Life – Our parody of “It’s a Wonderful Life” as played by your favorite Ned Trek characters: Captain Willard Mittilius Romney in the James Stewart role; Peter Lorre as the angel- (or, rather, devil- )in-training (Gladston Goodstein); Paul Ryan sitting in for the main character’s younger brother; Bernie Sanders as the bank examiner who ends up running the bank as a worker-owned enterprise, and so on. It even features Thomas Malthus, the 18th-19th Century political economist, as the boss fallen angel. An hour of cheap laughs and satirical tirades fit for no man.
Ned Trek 31 also includes 5 new Big Green songs:
- You Can’t Do Anything – Straight rock number sung by Sulu that asks the question, “Are you having fun?” then talks about fascists on the couch at Christmas. What more can you ask?
- You Asked Me How – A 6/8, fifties-sounding song sung by Ned himself. Hear me, Android!
- Fountainhead – Another rock number, sung in the “voice” of Ayn Rand acolyte Paul Ryan, about his favorite subject …. him, and his bankrupt philosophy.
- Christmas Without You – Doc Coburn song. If you listen carefully, you can hear a bad imitation of his colleague, Dr. John, in the background vocals.
- Christmas Pearls – A jaunty little Christmas Carol sung by Mr. Perle, in which he makes the case for his return as a top White House advisor on foreign policy, defense, and getting us into endless (but highly profitable) wars. In other words, a different version of the same song he always sings on Ned Trek.
Put The Phone Down – Our stranger than usual conversation opens with something like a song, ranges into some apologizing, lamenting the loss of John Hurt (whose resonant Shakespearean voice is often badly imitated on our podcast), a look back at my turkey house apartment in the 1980s, and wrap up with an impromptu version of Special Kind of Blood.
So, hey … Happy Holidays. Belated.
Big Green celebrates the holidays two months late, with a new Ned Trek Christmas Special, five new Big Green songs, and some uncontrollable silliness. Hot holiday leftovers, coming right up.
This is Big Green – February 2017.
Features: 1) Ned Trek 31: It’s A Profitable Life – A Big Green Holiday Special, featuring 5 new Big Green Songs; 2) Song: You Can’t Do Anything, by Big Green; 3) Song: You Asked Me How, by Big Green; 4) Song: Fountainhead, by Big Green; 5) Song: Christmas Without You, by Big Green; 6) Song: Christmas Pearls, by Big Green; 7) Put The Phone Down: Serial apologies for the lateness of the holiday; 8) Lamenting the passing of John Hurt and others; 9) Which Jane Eyre?; 10) Life in the Turkey House; 11) Special kind of exit.
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Where’s Matt this morning? Where he always is – trudging across the landscape like Ewan McTeagle, writing crazy-ass song poems in his head and putting them to music … also in his head. And feeding the beavers. Curious fellow!
As we’re patching together the next episode of THIS IS BIG GREEN, featuring our holiday (yes, holiday!) installment of Ned Trek, it’s beginning to dawn on me just how many Ned Trek songs we have recorded over the last three years. If you piled them up, the resulting stack would be taller than the Empire State Building. (That’s assuming, of course, each song is about 1/50th the height of the Empire State Building.) But spacial relationships aside, we’ve got a big backlog of songs that are just screaming “Put me in an album!” Marvin (my personal robot assistant) tried to be helpful by picking up a photo album down at the corner drug store, but of course, that kind of album is a whole ‘nother thing. But semantic considerations aside …
Okay, well … 50 songs is a lot for an album, even one of ours. Here’s where both the spacial and the semantic relationships actually come into play. What the hell is an album, right? It used to be an LP with a limited capacity; then a cassette, same deal; CD, same deal. In the digital music age, those limitations have vanished. No more four-disc box sets, right? It’s just a big virtual bag of MP3 or .wav files. So both the semantic and the spacial constraints are history, man. That means the only constraints on what to include in our next album are those pertaining to aesthetics and good judgment. (In our world, that means no freaking constraints at all!)
The truth is, we haven’t completed a new album because we’ve been taken up with writing and recording new songs for the podcast. When we finish a bunch, we start on the next one. And when I say “finish”, I mean our typical fast-mixdown …. not finished in any kind of releasable way. That takes time and care, much care. Marvin has to lay down a coat of shellac. Then we get Anti-Lincoln started on the hand-carved details. And that’s just for the box it comes in!
Many’s the time I’ve thought, there must be an easier way. But even thinking about that seems way too hard.