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.

Words worth.

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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.

Yeah, that looks like a maybe.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.

What ho.

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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.

Lend me a bob 'til TuesdayAs 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.

Hammer day.

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What, raining again? Huh. Very well. Looks like it’s rainy day schedule, kids. Coloring books and tunafish sandwiches. Except that we don’t have tunafish. So … I’ll have Marvin (my personal robot assistant) make crayon sandwiches. Gotta make do as best we can, boys.

Hey, what would you do if you were stuck in an abandoned hammer mill and the weather went all pear-shaped? Probably something similar. They say that musicians do their best work behind closed doors, removed from all distractions. They also say that more songs are written on rainy days than on sunny ones – the theory being that crappy weather makes songwriters want to stay home more, and home with nothing to do means picking up the guitar or banging on the piano. Wanna know what else “they” say? What the fuck, I don’t know. Ask them.

This might be a good time to write some songs. As I’ve pointed out in these pages before, Matt and I have different approaches to songwriting, so the time may be right for one of us; likely not both of us. Matt writes songs on the hoof, tromping about the hills, streams, and woods, singing verses into his smart phone while he’s feeding the beavers, then harmonizing the song later when he gets within grabbing distance of a guitar.

Big Green in 1988My process is much more gradual. It usually starts in the shower with me humming some random bit of nothing. I do it and do it, and sometimes something bobs up that works with the various thoughts running through my head. I scribble it down on a cheap-ass notepad and maybe, just maybe, sing melody fragments into my phone. Then I take a swing at it every time I’m near the notepad. Matt’s more like Thoreau, communing with nature and all the rest of it. I’m like some tin pan alley hack, trying to turn nothing into something and usually failing. Hard to believe we were ever any more disciplined than this sorry spectacle.

Turns out, we were, as I mentioned last week. I reviewed some more of those old recordings with Jeremy Shaw, who played guitar with us for a while, and some of his parts were amazing. Then I started cutting up the video program, and as an experiment I exported a soundcheck we did using fragments of Sensory Man. I’ll post that when I’ve got the song to post as well. (The audio needs a little help. The video looks like us in somebody’s garage, which is pretty close to the truth.)

This may turn out to be a total YouTube summer … if it keeps raining.

What’s that they’ve written?

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I’ve taken to starting the day with a brief lyric from our storied past. (Mostly a two-storied past. We haven’t lived in a lot of high-rises in our time.) For some reason, this morning a particular song of Matt’s popped up, and I found myself humming along to this stanza from Natural Laws:

What’s that they’ve written all
up and down the wall?
Something about suction and my face.
I don’t know what they mean
or why it’s illustrated in green; is it
some tasteless reference to my
love for you?

Some people recite Shakespeare; others read Supreme Court decisions to their children. Me? My tiny mind focuses on the familiar, and there are few things more familiar to me than the boatload of crazy-ass songs I’ve been living with for the past three decades. Lots of material there – probably a couple hundred songs, poorly recorded on cassette 4-track decks or something meaner, all demos. The copyright folks down at the Library of Congress must think we’re a couple of crazy motherfucking crackers, though I’m sure most of the cassette collections we’ve sent to them as deposit copies have long since turned to dust. (They do digital file uploads now, of course.)

Us in the eighties (at an awesome wedding).Matt’s always been a very prolific crackpot. Myself? Less so, though my cumulative output over the years is less well-documented. Matt recorded practically from the very beginning of his songwriting days, whereas many of my songs floated around in my head and never got much farther (nor, frankly, deserved to). To this day, Matt writes about six or seven songs to my one. Not sure how he does it with that day job of his – tramping around the wilderness, feeding beavers, chasing falcons, snapping photos of butterflies, etc. My songwriting habits are pretty bad. Sometimes on a weekend I’ll pick up a guitar and play the same chords I always play, except in a different order. (One of these days I’m going to run out of orders.)

Of course, there’s always the piano. But most of my composing happens in the old brain case. If I don’t get a song in my head first, it doesn’t usually go anywhere. Sometimes I fram on the keys, record a snippet on my phone, and build it out from there, but usually not. Hey … whatever works, right? So long as you and the brick walls listen, we’ll keep tossing it out there. That’s how we roll.

Knob turning.

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That doesn’t sound right to me. Twist the knob a bit further. No, no – not that knob! The one below it. Give it a good twist. Wrong way! That sounds horrible. Try the next knob down.

Oh, man … these sound consoles are so confusing. All those knobs and buttons and sliders and levers, each one doing a whole different thing. And then there’s the analog/digital thing, so a lot of the knobs and switches are assignable, which means they do DIFFERENT things for DIFFERENT people. Holy shit, that’s complicated. My brain hurts.

You see … that’s the trouble when you spend most of your life writing and playing songs and very little of your life learning the complex technologies involved in putting those songs across. Like most musicians, our reaction is … you mean I have to learn TWO things? That’s outrageous! Double duty, indeed. (As you can see, we are truly in the mainstream of American thought and sensibility.) I think about this every time I listen to old tracks from our various albums and ramshackle collections of unreleased material. I remember the hours of pulling random levers, spinning random knobs, etc., that lead to the final product and I ask myself: How? How is it that it sounds like anything at all?

Too damn complex, Mitch ... Must be a reason that sound comes out of the speakers when you play our recordings. All I know is that we make noises, put them into machines, and voila. Maybe Mitch Macaphee goes in there after we’re done and fiddles around with the sound molecules, perhaps in hopes of precipitating some kind of sonic explosion. Perhaps not. (I know that there’s usually an subsequent economic explosion, or implosion, to put the matter more precisely.)

As you know, our process for writing songs is somewhat unorthodox. I’ve described it in these blog pages before. Matt pretty much writes songs in his sleep, which explains a lot. I tend to write best in the shower, but I usually don’t have much to show for it other than some sodden, blotchy shreds of paper.

Do what you do best; that’s what I was taught. Now if I can just work out exactly what that is.

Rainy day schedule.

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Okay, kids. Line up for lunch. No, we’re not going outside. Rainy day schedule today. Break out the coloring books and the tunafish sandwiches.

I got my process, man. Or somethin.

If you’re anything like me, that was your favorite kind of lunch hour in grade school. No going out on the playground and putting up your dukes against whatever red neck wanted a piece of you that particular day. Why the reverie? Not sure. I guess all that rain beating down on the roof of the abandoned Cheney Hammer Mill has made me think of some of the other sprawling, musty barns I’ve inhabited for years at a time. Other squat houses, apartments, schools, lean-to’s … hell, submarines, even. Don’t knock it! It can rain all it wants, and no leaks (unless you opt for the screen door).

What’s up this week? Just toiling away in the vineyards of Big Green-ville, scratching out weird new numbers, honking noisily into microphones, tapping away at Ned Trek scripts. Mostly just making stuff up on the fly – that’s what we’re best at. And when I say “best”, I mean “not worst”. Even Marvin (my personal robot assistant) gets into the spirit of honest creative toil once in a while, running his internal adding machine until spools of tickertape unravel from his nether regions. It’s a marvelous … or, rather, Marvin-lous sight to behold.

Some people (mostly derelicts along the curb outside the hammer mill) have asked if we’re working on a new album. I have no answer to that. Matt and I just work, and then one day maybe an album appears. It’s a kind of alchemy. I’ve described the process on this blog before, so I won’t bore you with the details of our songwriting and recording methods. Suffice to say that it looks more random that it is, and yet still, it is fundamentally random … and random-mentally fun. That latter part is what’s important.

I’ll keep you posted on our projects. Just enjoy your sandwiches … and try to color within the lines. There’s a good chap.

Slumming.

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Sure, it’s the middle of summer, the doldrums, as it were, and more often than not my feet are dangling off the end of a plank in the courtyard as I sit, hose in hand, splashing water on the dandelions. Hey, weeds have to drink too, you know.

Here comes another oneNot much getting done here in Big Green land. I think you’ve probably guessed as much. Personally, I think productivity is very overrated. All it means to me is more work for less compensation – how can THAT be a good thing?

Still in all, I did take the time yesterday to catalog all of the songs Matt and I (though mostly Matt) have written for our respective Ned Trek characters over the year or so since we finished Cowboy Scat: Songs in the Key of Rick. I have to admit to being a bit surprised … there were fully 25 songs on that list, including one or two asinine fragments. I had no freaking clue! (Of course, that’s evident to anyone who has listened to more than one or two of these Ned Trek numbers.)

I’ve got to hand it to brother Matt. Who the hell ELSE am I going to hand it to? No, really … the man is a songwriting machine. Back in the old days, say, 1980-95, he would crank songs out at an alarming rate sometimes. I reached the point in the 2000’s when I thought, with all the other stuff he has going on – his various naturalist duties, for instance, as chronicled in his very excellent blog, Tales from the Wild, that he wouldn’t find time to write songs. But what the hell – he writes them out on the trail, records them on his phone, patches them together. He’s a ma-ma-machine, I tell you!

Me, my process is the same as it’s ever been. I start singing in the shower, and when my wife comes in and hits me with a brick, I lapse into a dream state that produces, more often than not, useable song ideas. What I do from that point forward depends on how ambitious I’m feeling. Back to the doldrums … often that means, I do nothing at all.

Still, it’s a good alliance, Big Green, a creative collective that is surely not in it for the money (for there is none) or the fame (for there never was) or the glory (for there is no such thing). Just for the hell of it. Yay.