Stage fright.

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Usual Rubbish

I like to play it in C. Mostly because it’s an easy key, okay? You got a problem with easy? Huh? All right then – WE’LL DO IT LIVE!

Whoa, was that mic live? Sorry, everyone. Caught us in the midst of what passes for a band meeting here in Big Green land. (And I don’t mean Canada, which kind of looks like a big Greenland.) As you probably know, everything I say gets transcribed into this blog, so you are truly getting a slice of life here. I obviously don’t do a lot of talking, or this blog would be waaaaay longer. No sir – I just talk for about fifteen minutes, twice a week, and you can read it all here. Hot off the presses!

Okay, that’s a lie. See what happens when I don’t want to talk about something? That “something” is, well, playing live, which is something we don’t do a whole lot anymore. Not saying we won’t do it again, God no. Only, well … we’re a little older than we were forty years ago, and Matt and I are kind of settled in our ways. The mansized tuber has put down roots, and Marvin (my personal robot assistant) doesn’t move as fast as he used to, owing in large measure to rust and loose The hell it is!contacts. (Yes, that’s right, lady robots – he wears contacts.) So it’s not stage fright. More like existential angst.

Funny thing is, when we DID play all the time, we sometimes played other people’s music. And one of those songs was Stage Fright, by The Band. So you could say that the reason we don’t play local clubs and dance halls is Stage Fright, but that would be suggesting that this particular song plays an important role in our repertoire, and we don’t remember how to play it. Yes, I play it in C, but everyone else remembers it in A or D or some other dumbass key. I think I’m right, they think I’m crazy – stalemate! And if that were the only song we play, well … we couldn’t play.

Well, we got that straightened out. Now … on to the Badfinger set. Oh, doctor.

Overseas.

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Political Rants

Hmmm… crazy racist grandpa has been mouthing off again. Trump is truly breaking all records in the bigot category, at least with respect to the modern presidency. But I digress.

There has been so much news about various story lines in the Trump scandal that a lot of consequential international news gets blown out of the water. These are extremely volatile times and we would do well to pay closer attention to what’s happening overseas, particularly when our country is playing a significant role in it. Of course, some attention is paid to the Korean crisis, perhaps in part because of the high human stakes involved, but more likely because of the insipid pissing match between Kim Jong Un and our madman president, who is singularly uninformed about the history of that region. Our news media loves pissing matches – so easy to report on.

There he goes again.The two Koreas have taken some tentative steps to de-escalation, and I for one am glad to see that. In fact, I wish they would just bury the hatchet and tell us to take a hike, frankly. But it’s the kind of detente that can easily be upended by a volatile president, and Korea is one of those issues over which even the craziest commander-in-chief can find willing allies in Congress. Israel/Palestine is another. Trump’s policy on Jerusalem is appalling, but it also happens to be the same policy Congress long ago approved and a previous president (Clinton) signed into law. This is a symbolic issue domestically and a very substantive issue internationally; I am guessing that most Americans have no idea what the implications of this policy are, no notion of how large the municipality now called Jerusalem has grown over the past three decades. Underwriting Israel’s unilateral annexation of this city essentially eliminates any chance of a two-state solution, period. Some of my countrymen know this; many more do not, or simply do not care.

Even Trump’s domestic policy, enabled by Congress’s inaction, has international implications. Take his ending of Temporary Protective Status for refugees from El Salvador. There is no way in hell that the husk of a country those people left behind decades ago can absorb 200,000 of them, even if they wanted to go back. Haiti is a similar story. But this is the reality we live in now. This executive policy shatters lives and threatens the stability (to the extent that there is any) of Central America and the Caribbean. Again, Congress could stop this … but does nothing.

Color me disgusted.

luv u,

jp

 

Inside December/January.

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Usual Rubbish

Did you toss it up there? Good. High enough for everyone to reach, I hope. Sometimes you have to warm the arm up a bit, like the old windmill baseball pitch, then let it fly, and hopefully it lands right in the sweet spot. That’s pretty much all you can do. Server technology is tricky as hell.

Oh, hi. As you may or may not know, we posted our Holiday/New Year episode of our podcast, THIS IS BIG GREEN, this past week, and already it’s generating serious buzz. No, seriously … I try to listen to it, and all I get is a buzz. (I’m told that’s my ear buds.) Now, if YOU listen to it, you’re likely to hear the following:

NED TREK 35: The Romney Christmas Special / Ned Trek Reunion Special. Well, we tried to make an extravaganza this year, and obviously failed. Then we tried to get the lousy show up in time for Christmas, and, again, we failed. However, it has been posted in time for New Year’s, and this special Ned Trek is certainly worthy of a holiday as nondescript as New Year’s. The intention was to put together something that resembles one of those lame reunion specials for The Brady Bunch or The Manson Family (hint: one of those is fake), including some unknown hireling actor playing Jan (or in our case, playing Perle). Also featured is Jimmy Sweetwater, the guy inside the Nixon robot (not the voice actor). The “special” is variously hosted by Gladston Goodstein (aka Peter Lorre), Dr. Carl Sagan, and Lee Majors.

Embedded in the show are six Big Green songs, including:

Romney Christmas Special Theme Song – A ludicrous little number featuring Nixon, Kissinger, actual Perle, Ned, Willard and other voices. Covers some of the thematic underpinnings of this failed adventure in audio entertainment.

Christmas Business – Another Willard number capturing the true confiscatory spirit of the holidays. Refreshingly brief.

Sorry, man. You're not needed this year.Plastic Head – This song is a slight redo of a number Matt did for his 1988 Christmas tape, this version sung by Ned. All about a vehicular encounter with a roadside Christmas miracle coupled with metaphysical transposition. Just listen – you’ll get it.

Bobby Sweet – A new song, roughly about America’s gun culture. At Christmas.

Christmas To End – This is another retread of a song Matt wrote for one of his gift tapes, this one from 1994, re-recorded as a Sulu song. Let the war on Christmas begin … again.

He Does It For Spite – Re-recording of a song from Matt’s legendary 1990 Christmas tape, about a spoiler spirit from the great beyond. True story.

PUT THE PHONE DOWN. Matt and I talk about … uh … I don’t know what. We do bad accents, talk about beavers, sing weird songs, and generally make merry by the standards of this dark time. Hope you enjoy listening to it as much as we enjoyed making it. (And hopefully a whole lot more.)

In with the old.

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Political Rants

It’s manifestly obvious that Trump is an incompetent boob, grandfathered into the presidency by virtue of that mother of all mulligans served up by our founding fathers: rich white guy can’t win the support of the majority, so kick it to the electoral college. (Apparently Trump’s win came as a real shock to his family and himself.) That said, it would be a mistake to suppose that his ignorance is in any way blissful for the opposition – quite the contrary. The President and his party are making tremendous strides across a broad front, setting policies that will take a generation to turn around. Nothing less than that.

World's most effective boneheadI’ve written about the speed-dating approach to judicial appointments; suffice here to say that Trump has broken a first-year record on this. (These are lifetime appointments, mind you, and his picks are ghastly from a left-progressive standpoint.) He has also made a full frontal assault on regulations, removing the ban on fracking on public lands, fines for abusive nursing home care, safety requirements for blowout protectors on deep-water oil drilling operations, the fiduciary rule requiring financial advisors to put their clients’ interest ahead of their own, and so on. Other great accomplishments of the last year include loosening the already weak DOD restrictions on civilian casualties, trashing net neutrality despite massive, broad-based opposition, and canceling national monument status for large swaths of land in western states, thereby opening them up for resource and mineral extraction. There’s a lot, lot more, but I will stop there.

As we start the new year, we are faced with some truly grave prospects regarding this administration and the GOP agenda more broadly. Trump’s terrifyingly childish nuclear threats are bad enough in and of themselves – this tragic-comic display could easily result in terminal thermonuclear war, no joke. If we survive the year, we will be grappling with part two of the wrecking crew’s plan to tear down what’s left of America’s social safety net, from the ACA to Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security – programs we all rely upon to some extent. In that respect, this is merely an extension of a long-term project; a “generational” obsession, to borrow Speaker Ryan’s favorite modifier. That is going to be a fight, my friends.

So 2018 is looking a lot like more of 2017. No rest for the weary. Just keep your marching shoes handy, and plan on voting as if your life depended on it.

luv u,

jp

THIS IS BIG GREEN: December 2017

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Podcast

Big Green hoists a frosty mug to the holidays with a special yuletide episode of Ned Trek, some weird new songs, and surly banter of a most disagreeable variety. Onward!

This is Big Green – December 2017. Features: 1) Ned Trek 35: The Romney Christmas Special / Ned Trek Reunion Special; 2) Song: Romney Christmas Special theme, by Big Green; 3) Song: Christmas Business, by Big Green; 4) Song: Plastic Head, by Big Green; 5) Song: Bobby Sweet, by Big Green; 6) Song: Christmas To End, by Big Green; 7) Song: He Does It For Spite, by Big Green; 8) Put the phone down: No robots for Christmas; 9) Bad Irish accents; 10) People who died in 2017; 11) Tens of Wives (an impromptu ditty); 12) Beaver pond update; 13) The nacho cheese song; 14) Time to go.

Unwrapping.

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Usual Rubbish

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.

Cold day.

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Political Rants

No, this isn’t a post about the weather (though it is cold as hell out there). I just wanted to make a couple of points about the possibility of bipartisan cooperation in 2018 – something that’s being kicked around the corporate media as if it were somehow desirable. This is consonant with the oft-stated desire to see “things get done” in Washington, as if the precise nature of the things being done was somehow irrelevant; that legislation passed is a good in and of itself, abstracted away from the substance of the bill. Another piece of conventional wisdom, served up daily. I expect I’ll pass on this, and I would recommend my fellow left-leaning Americans do the same.

Why the GOP loves Trump. As far as I’m concerned, the GOP has demonstrated its bad will in about as many ways as can be imagined. And before anyone gives me a lesson on how politics works, on how you can disagree from morning to evening but at the end of the day you need to work together, etc., let me just say that the Republicans have become an extremist party bent on wrecking the country, and the only thing to be done with them is to beat them at the ballot box and then drag their sorry asses into the future along with us, kicking and screaming if necessary. Nothing short of that will do.

I know there are many in the Democratic party who feel that we need to provide a positive example and be willing to compromise as a stark contrast to the other side’s absolutism. There’s some of this sentiment circulating around discussion of an infrastructure bill next year. This is ludicrous. The Republicans just voted to blow an enormous hole in the federal budget, diverting a trillion and a half dollars from essential programs and handing it to the richest people in the country. If they want to make a deal on infrastructure, tell them to cancel that bill. And while you’re at it, tell them to stop working overtime to pack the federal judiciary with twenty-something Nazis. Change course and we can talk.

If the GOP says no, just say “see you in November”. Let’s let the people decide what kind of country this is going to be.

luv u,

jp

Know well.

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Usual Rubbish

Let’s see how we’re doing here. Shovel the front walk? Check. Peruse the local shops for root vegetables to give to the children? Check. Decorate the forge room with robots? Check. Yep, I haven’t done ANY of those things. (I keep checklists of things not done; a “to-don’t” list, if you will.)

I don’t think I have to tell you that Christmas is a very special time of year around the abandoned Cheney Hammer Mill. No, this I think you know well. Not because we’re religious or Jesus freaks or anything like that. No, the specialness is more about quietude. This sleepy little corner of post-industrial upstate New York gets a little sleepier around the holidays, mostly because people take off to visit relatives, friends, etc., in far-flung corners of the globe, leaving the village almost entirely to ourselves. No beeping delivery trucks backing up to loading docks. No drunken neighbors threatening the kid next door. Peace on Earth, man.

Even Mitch Macaphee, our mad science advisor, has taken off for the week. It looked like he was packing for a conference, but he told me he was headed for some sort of family reunion in Aberdeen. That made me scratch my head. “Do you really need to pack the death ray pistol?” I asked cautiously. He just smiled. Sucks to be HIS second cousin this year. (Maybe any year.)

Hey, you look great, Marvin.This year, I took the bother to replace some of Marvin (my personal robot assistant)’s lights with Christmas bulbs. So yes, he blinks red, green, and gold now when he talks or performs some computational task. (Oh, yes …. he computes. He’s a regular Turing machine, our Marvin … well … a touring machine, at least.) In previous years, we would trim the mansized tuber, in lieu of a Christmas tree, but he’s not having that this year. He’s getting a little touchy as he gets older. Age 18 is a difficult time for sweet potatoes, I hear.

Oh, and don’t think we’ve forgotten you this year. We’re still working on our 2017 Holiday Extravaganza episode of our podcast, THIS IS BIG GREEN, which I don’t mind saying is not in the least bit extravagant. I’ve been doing mixes all week and we should be posting soon, so keep an eye on that empty spot under the tree. Just keep a close watch, then check Twitter or Facebook and see if we’ve posted yet.

Hey, if we don’t see you (and we won’t), happy Christmas and all the rest of it. Now … back to the checklist!

One of them.

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Political Rants

Weeks like this give the lie to any suggestion that Donald Trump does not reflect the true character of the Republican party. If there has ever been a more nauseating display of fawning over an American president, I have yet to see it. The celebration over the passage of the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” was reminiscent of those bizarre, banana-republic type cabinet meetings where officials take turns falling all over themselves to praise the Dear Leader. This time, it was congressional leaders (many of whom have momentarily taken issue with the president) crowing about what a great legislative partner he is, and Mike Pence, who mostly delivered the national security strategy speech he memorized from earlier in the week. I could see my own Trumpite Representative, Claudia Tenney, in the front row, applauding, gawking at the president in apparent awe, taking snapshots of his ample ass with her phone like some teen fan at a concert.

Where's my Rep? Too close, that's where.The conventional wisdom on talk television, of course, has it that Trump is his own invention; that he sprang fully formed from a crack in the Earth’s crust sometime in 2015; that he was never a conservative but, rather, a “lifelong Democrat”; that his views represent only himself, not the broader party. Total bullshit. Trump is the end-stage product of a Republican party that his been careening to the right for more than 30 years. Sure, he has been in the public eye for that long and longer, as a big-mouth heir to a real estate developer, shameless self-promoter, casino magnate, serial financial failure, and reality show star. America’s right-wing media, its nutcase reactionary movements, and its corporatist Republican party made the very space that he moved into in 2015 as a presidential candidate. He makes perfect sense from that perspective, and almost seems inevitable.

The charge about being a lifelong Democrat, leveled by the likes of Joe Scarborough and others, is perhaps the most laughable. Trump has no ideology other than himself. He was pro-Democrat, mildly, as a real estate developer in New York and New Jersey because the prominent politicians in those states came from the Democratic party. It was a completely transactional relationship; when he began to have national ambitions, he moved away from that and towards his natural place – namely, the core money party, and the one most favored by the KKK (of which his father was once a proud member).

No, the true picture of Trump’s place in the Republican party was illustrated by that moment on Dec. 20, when he was being cheered enthusiastically by the lot of them. Remember in November.

luv u,

jp

Five strings.

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Usual Rubbish

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 …….

Zzzzzzzzz….