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Friday, December 15, 2017

Five strings.

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....

Step one.

There's a lot to say about the Republican's craven plan to push through a massive tax plan in a matter of days. I needn't point out that the final bill is likely to be a cobbled together mess, one that we'll be struggling with for many years to come if it ever finds its way to Trump's signing hand. Nor do I need to repeat the obvious fact that this is a tremendous giveaway to the richest Americans, to corporations, and to the GOP's donor base, one that demonstrates the degree to which the Republicans' supposed concern over budget deficits is just another ploy.

Rich folks get THIS much.What I find most infuriating about this legislation is that it is being proffered at a time when its chief beneficiaries - the richest of the rich - are doing just fine, thank you very much, and corporate America is sailing from strength to strength. The last thing they need is more money in their pockets. This is also a time when our armed forces are deployed in conflicts all around the world. Trump just signed into law a $700 billion defense bill, subject to repeal of the sequester agreement. When we're spending this kind of money and putting people in harm's way, why the hell are we cutting taxes? What effing justification is there for that? It is beyond shameful, frankly.

Even worse, this is just part one of a two-step routine the Republicans have been rehearsing for a generation now. Step one: cut the hell out of rich people's taxes, and blow a huge hole in the federal budget. Step two: almost immediately afterward, feign panic over a ballooning deficit and use that as a rationale to cut core social programs, like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and other extremely popular programs. They have tried this numerous times before, with only limited success. This time might be different, as they are more craven than in previous decades and control every lever of power. They really don't need any Democratic votes to push these cuts through.

The GOP has always hated Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid, largely because they are defined benefit, pay as you go institutions. To the current crop of crazies running Congress, insurance is now tantamount to Soviet-style top-down socialism. Don't think they won't try this: Paul Ryan has been working on setting this up for many years. We have to be ready to fight back, or you can kiss these vital public institutions goodbye.

That fight begins with killing this tax bill. Best get started.

luv u,

jp

Friday, December 8, 2017

Social obscurity.

Yeah, I'm back. Did you miss me? Didn't notice I was gone? Okay, then. (Sigh...) Not for nothing that Big Green was once described as one of the most obscure bands out there. We are freaking invisible - just ask the people standing behind us, all of whom you can see clearly, because ... again ... we're freaking invisible.

But just because we're invisible, that doesn't mean we're inaudible. That old adage about children being "best seen and not heard" doesn't apply here, as we are not children, and we are not quiet. Nay, we are LOUD. Well, loud-ISH, and occasionally louder than that. Exhibit A: our song Jesus Has A Known Mind, which we've featured a couple of times on our podcast, THIS IS BIG GREEN. That's loud, if you turn up the volume. Try it next time you play the podcast. Or put your iPod bluetooth speaker in the middle of a cavernous room, then crank it up to 11. That should be the advisory on all of our albums. That and "avoid using heavy machinery". (Not because it's dangerous, but because it is hard.)

Get out! We're not only musically obscure, Big Green is also socially obscure, I'm proud-ish to say. We're the only band I can think of who, when moving into an abandoned hammer mill, draws pointed comments of "there goes the neighborhood" from across the brickyard. Fact is, we're not even good enough to live in a condemned building. But we don't let THAT stop us. No, sir ... and thanks to the ingenuity of our mad science advisor, Mitch Macaphee (just back from MonsterCom, an annual gathering of like-minded crazy doctors in Madagascar), none of those local hostiles can get within thirty feet of our front door without being stopped by an impenetrable force field. (At least I'm told that it's there. Either that, or no one wants anything to do with us. Which is more likely? You decide, my friends.)

The happy by-product of our unpopularity is that we are able to work without fear of interruption on whatever it is we're producing at any given time. (Currently, it's the Ned Trek Christmas Pageant.) And with the help of Marvin (my personal robot assistant), who's helping us with the editing, we have a shot at finishing this sucker before the holiday ... so that we can share it with ... well ... whoever listens to us. (Note: the podcast is invisible as well.)

Donnie's excellent adventure.

It's been quite a week for our low-rent gropen-fuhrer, and as of this writing it's only Wednesday. First we saw him re-tweet Euro-fascist videos, then excoriate the FBI in response to Flynn's indictment, followed by a full-throated endorsement of Alabama Senate Candidate, state Supreme Court Justice (twice removed), and mall stalker (many times removed) Roy Moore on Monday, opening of vast Western lands to oil and gas development on Tuesday, and U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital on Wednesday. Throw in little details like the travel ban being reinstated by the Supreme Court Tuesday, his allies in the Senate passing a draconian "tax" bill (larded with much else besides) the weekend before, and stepped up provocative war games on the Korean peninsula this week, and you've got ... well ... just what you voted for, America.

Trump lighst the fuse. Again.The Jerusalem announcement basically lights a fuse that's been rolled out and set for decades. As Trump pointed out, Congress has voted for this more than once, passing resolutions in support of the shift by large bipartisan margins. In terms of the fundamentals, it's a minor step, but as a symbolic gesture, it has the potential for disaster. I'm certain it is already being used as a recruiting tool for Al Qaeda, ISIS, Al-Shabab, and what have you. Another tremendous gift to jihadists the world over. Trump may as well take out full-page ads for them, plaster billboards all around the Muslim world, and flood Facebook with pop-ups - Al Baghdadi wants you!

There's a temptation to frame this clusterfuck as something uniquely Trump, but that doesn't even begin to hold water. Trump is truly a reflection of America's worst tendencies, a fun-house mirror for us to peer into with fascination and horror. But having a drunk at the wheel of the wrecking machine that is Imperial America is only marginally different than having a college professor in the driver's seat. Yes, Trump is worse than even a neoliberal Democratic administration - court appointments and judicial decisions alone confirm that much. But America as it is currently configured is designed to kill and destroy on a massive scale, regardless of who is running the show. Destruction is the default position, and like any large exploitative enterprise, this machine has its ways of perpetuating itself. Every family Trump (or Obama) shatters in Yemen or Syria or Iraq generates more hatred against us. Our bombs and policies like the Jerusalem decision are investments in future conflicts that will fuel the military machine long after we're gone.

It's not hopeless, people. We live in a democratic society. We can change how we do things, but we have to get started ... like, now.

luv u,

jp

Friday, December 1, 2017

Don't give up the ship.

Perry's flag

In remembrance of our mom Iris, who passed away this week, I'm posting the lyrics to this song Matt wrote more than a few years back (one of my favorites) that keeps running through my head (and out of my mouth). It's called Don't give up the ship, and here it is:

Well, it grieves me when I see you
in some moldy homemade raft
You've no life jacket, there's no precautions
You're spinning downstream and you're laughing

Well, I'm not about to stop you
I've not the will and I've not the means
Still I stand here like I'm waiting
A world without you I've never seen
You say, read it off the flag, boy

Don't give up the ship
says the flag that flies above the turbulent waves
Don't give up the ship
Be a fool and hold the course away from the shore

Sailor learns something from each splinter
in those old and creaking boards
Now you're not apt to change your reasons
You'll never reinvent the doors that led you up the gangway

Don't give up the ship
say the words that are scrawled across the blue piece of cloth
Don't give up the ship
Be a fool and hold the course away from the shore

Red sky every morning
Sailor takes his tools out
and disconnects the warning lights
Never should have tied the knots so tight

On board the S.S. Something Sacred
you coughed up copy for the commodore
Now you're too old to keep your orders
Still you're dredging up the naval lore
and hoist it up the main mast

Don't give up the ship
says the flag that flies above the turbulent waves
Don't give up the ship
Be a fool and hold the course away from the shore

Don't give up the ship
say the words that are scrawled across the blue piece of cloth
Don't give up the ship
Be a fool and hold the course away from the shore

Saturday, November 25, 2017

You're welcome.

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.

Under the radar.

If you had your fill of thankfulness over the past week, this might be a good time to look in on some stuff that's happening at the national level that seldom gets reported on. So much media attention is focused on the current administration's relationship with the Russian government, various sexual harassment revelations, and Trump's latest asinine tweets (all important topics, to be sure), some of the more impactful stuff the administration and its Congressional allies have been doing is slipping by unnoticed. Time to fight back ... and give thanks for the Internets.

Reactionary policy vessel.Court-Packing. As Trump appoints circuit court judges at an unprecedented pace, his friends and supporters in the Senate have greased the skids obligingly, disabling the filibuster and individual Senators' right to put a hold on nominations - methods the Republicans used liberally during the Obama administration to prevent his nominees from being seated. Now the reactionary Federalist Society has proposed a court-packing scheme that would triple the number of appellate court judges, enabling Trump to appoint an unassailable majority of ultra-conservative jurists to lifetime appointments on the bench.

Census and Sensibility. Trump looks ready to nominate a right-wing academic with no administrative or data-analytical experience to the number 2 post in the Census Bureau, which is the main executive position in that agency. Now, there is no permanent director of that agency, and the number 2 spot does not require Senate confirmation, so this is a stealth appointment of an ideologue who argues that competitive elections are not good for Democracy(!) and who played a key role in the GOP's partisan redistricting last time around. That's the guy who will oversee collecting the demographic data that informs redistricting. Holy shit.

Media Matters. Meanwhile, over at the FCC, Trump appointed chair Ajit Pai has been working overtime. You've probably heard about his attack on net neutrality, and there's no question that that story deserves more attention, but less visible has been Pai's efforts to break down the already weak system of rules regarding media ownership. In a 3-2 party line vote, the FCC recently voted to allow cross ownership of a television station and a newspaper in a single market. This, along with the decision to again discount UHF channels with respect to the statutory national audience share cap of 39% spells greater media consolidation and expansion of right-wing companies like Sinclair Broadcasting.

These and other issues, though not leading the headlines, have the potential to affect our daily lives for decades to come. They constitute the core of the GOP's assault on public institutions as a constraint on concentrated private power. We ignore them at our own peril.

luv u,

jp