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Friday, June 15, 2018

Inside June.

The Show So Far: First there were two guys talking, then we saw some cartoons, then a fully dressed naval officer jumped into the North Sea, then there were more cartoons, then some guy told us about what happened so far, then .... Oh, wait ... that was another show. Sorry.

As some of you may have noticed, we dropped the June 2018 installment of our podcast THIS IS BIG GREEN, which breaks a kind of long hiatus. Still, it's 2-½ hours of stuff, including eight new songs, so hey ... that took some time. We may reside in a hammer mill, but we're not running a factory here, man. Unless you count the robots Mitch Macaphee plugs together in the basement. (He's considering establishing an assembly line. Not sure where that's going, exactly.)

Anywho, if you haven't listened to it yet, here's what to expect:

Ned Trek 37 - Return to The Carl. This ludicrous musical episode of our Star Trek parody Ned Trek is based on the classic Trek episode entitled Return to Tomorrow, which had the Enterprise crew come across a dead civilization whose only survivors concealed themselves in glowing orbs and who talked Kirk, Spock, and some random scientist into letting them use their bodies to build android bodies the space aliens could use permanently. The head alien's name was "Sargon". In our version, it's Sagan. The heavy from the planet's "other side" is played by Edward Teller - he occupies Ned's body, then calls everybody "puny". Silliness ensues. Featured songs include:

Light Thing. A doc song, referring to the glowing orb receptacle that held Sagan's consciousness (as opposed to the bubble gum machine that held Teller's). Put your childish things away.

Sagan's Song. Just what it sounds like - a Broadway-like number sung by Carl Sagan in which he lays out his ambitious plan for making the crew of the Free Enterprise smarter than total lunkheads. (Or, failing that, teaching them better table manners.)

Risk Is Your Business. Romney song based on Kirk's heroic monologue from the Star Trek episode we based this on, only cross-pollinated with what unconsciously approaches a Marxist critique of capitalism. Oh, and sung in a French accent. Don't ask me why.

Congratulations. Sung by the Nixon android, this touches on the usual Nixonian tropes of resentment, bitterness, self-aggrandizement, etc. Sixties-style "na-na-na" singalong thrown in for good measure.

Here's what we got for you, folks!Teller. A literally incendiary musical rant sung in the voice of Edward Teller while in Ned's body. Think of it as a love sonnet to the H-bomb. Super.

The Other Side. Perle sings this perky little number about all the advantages of trading with the other side, whatever side that may be.

Fat Captain. A wrenching Sulu song about how Shatner soaked up the limelight at his expense back in the day. Based on a true story or two.

Blow The Man Down. Show-ender by Sagan, mopping up after the mess made during the preceding 90 minutes of ridiculousness. A song of grateful resignation. And yes, you get to hear Carl Sagan singing "dum dum-de-doo." You're welcome.

Put The Phone Down. Our typical impromptu back-and-forth gab session starts with a rough rendition of "All Saints Come", a song off of our first album, 2000 Years To Christmas. It goes downhill from there. Just give it a listen, you'll see.

Opposite day.

Trump finally did something constructive - met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un - and the chorus of protest is deafening. I'm not a deep-state conspiracy theorist, but that broad consensus around our imperial foreign policy does not look favorably upon this development. Readers of this blog may recall that I have occasionally wondered aloud (or in html text) whether there are deeper motivations behind this 70-year-old war that never ends. The U.S. relationship with South Korea is one part alliance and perhaps two parts lord/serf. That second component became more evident when Trump announced that there would be no more "war games" - just the use of that term alone exploded heads throughout the talk-show tele-verse.

Right, but still a total dickAs Bruce Cumings and others have pointed out for many years, the South Korean military is essentially under the command of U.S. generals. That is, in the event of a war, South Korean commanders would take orders directly from our military. Add to that the fact that the U.S., South Korea, and North Korea have technically been in a state of war since 1950, and you have a sense of how this works. Think about it - what does it say about South Korea's sovereignty that they are not in control of their military? Recall, too, that the country was under the rule of generals and assorted dictators into the 1980s, all backed by the U.S. So when a president threatens the sanctity of "military exercises", essentially admitting that they are, in fact, war games and, as such, "provocative," as Trump accurately described them, national security reporters and consultants on every network start spinning like crazy.

In all honesty, Trump is a disaster in practically every respect. But his ideology is simply himself. Absent imperial designs, the Korea problem has always been a relatively easy one to solve, given the right conditions - namely, sane leadership in South Korea like Moon Jae-in. The North has always, always wanted direct talks with the United States. Their nuclear weapons program was obviously an attempt to build a credible deterrent to a preeminent military power that literally laid waste to their country in the 1950s. All Trump had to do was say yes. Would Obama have done the same thing, given the same conditions? Hard to say. Trump's one advantage is that he's not hide-bound by training and knowledge. In other words, it sometimes takes a dunderhead to see the obvious.

Lest this sound like a praise fest, trust me, I have no illusions about this president. With Bolton and Pompeo at his side, he's probably doing this to free us up for a war with Iran. We're already helping Saudi and the UAE pound the living shit out of Yemen. So, eyes open, this is one good thing in a sea of troubles, and we should encourage our compatriots to see both the benefits and the risks. In other words, tell Democrats, liberal talking heads, etc., not to take the other side just because it's Trump. War in Korea would be an unmitigated disaster - anything that ends that threat is a good thing.

luv u,

jp

Friday, June 8, 2018

Going up.

What the hell's that sound? The street sweepers again? Probably a lawn mower. Lawn mowing! What the hell is this neighborhood coming to?

Well, here I am, down in the basement of the Cheney Hammer Mill, tapping away at my keyboard as I often do this time of week. Strange how you can hear everything that's going on outside from down here. Of course, there are probably mouse holes in this place you can drive a front-loader through. Though I have to admit - I myself have never seen a mouse drive a front-loader. It would be one way to defend themselves from those awful snap traps. Diabolical contraptions!

Anyway, summer has kind of arrived here in upstate New York, now that we're on the climate change calendar, so naturally my mind turns to more leisurely pursuits. I know what you're thinking - what on Earth could be more leisurely than being a member of a band that never plays anywhere? Well, you might be surprised by my response to that question. I find all kinds of pointless uses for my time. My illustrious brother Matt, not so much - always doing things, that one. Me? My natural state is at rest. And while I spend most of the year going up the stairs, in the summer I go down them.

This thing's friggin' WRECKED!My summer pass-times usually include deep archive stuff - you know, threading old reel-to-reel tapes onto antiquated and dysfunctional playback machines, just to get a momentary listen in to what they contain. We have a few of those, and many, many audio cassettes with both stereo and four-track content. We also have Hi-8 DAT tapes from our Tascam DA-88 days (the system we used to record our first album, 2000 Years To Christmas) and, of course, standard DAT cassettes. I'm guessing that if you add it all up, it would amount to less content than we've produced in just the last five years, but it may be close. Matt did a lot of recordings in the 80s and 90s - probably hundreds of original songs.

Oh, then of course there's our podcast, THIS IS BIG GREEN. My guess is that we will be posting the next episode in just a few days, but I'm terrible at predicting things, so I won't say anything. Beyond what I just said. Arrgghh ... I'm no good at this. Should probably be mowing the lawn.

Old glory, old story.

Flag day is next week - as it happens, the very day I'm scheduled for a colonoscopy. (Coincidence?) That said, it has felt like flag month - or even flag year - in this obligatory cheap seat reality show known as the Trump era. Literally must-see t.v., right? This past week we were treated to the hilarious spectacle of our trust-fund baby president with his hand over his heart, faking his way through a martial rendition of God Bless America by what looked like the Marine band. (Bad Lip Reading did a good version of this.) The occasion was Trump's decision to un-invite the Philadelphia Eagles over the National Anthem "take-a-knee" controversy, which he exploits as a means of race-baiting and working up his bigoted base.

Stand beside her ... This transparent political ploy prompted some complaints among talking heads that this was in some way unprecedented. Nothing could be further from the truth. The national anthem, the flag, all of these superficial patriotic symbols have been used for political purposes pretty much my entire life through. Nixon rolled out the flag all the time, as did Reagan. The now-sainted George H.W. Bush made the pledge of allegiance a kind of litmus test for patriotism during the 1988 election. And protests like flag-burning become a major culture-war issue from time to time, particularly when the Republicans are in power and they have little else to complain about (because they're getting their way).

So aside from being a far more transparently pathetic pantomime, there's nothing unprecedented about a president demagoging the flag, the national anthem, etc. Trump is just talking to that 25 to 30 percent of the U.S. population that would follow him off a cliff and then back up the mountain again. He may be a big, greasy, over-privileged ball of shit, but to them he represents the very embodiment of white aggrievement. The bulk of his followers - not all working class by a long shot, by the way - respond to this kind of symbolism as well as his complementary attacks on people of color, with particular attention to those who attain some level of status (like professional athletes).

Reality television has taken over the Republic - that's kind of new. But speaking as someone who has lived through the Nixon administration, the Iran hostage crisis, 9/11, and more, wrapping abusive politics in the flag is anything but.

luv u,

jp

Friday, June 1, 2018

Dictating machine.

Hmmmm.... damn thing won't upload. Stupid internets! Marvin - are you on the phone again? You're supposed to wait until I'm done using the web. Stupid phone!

Man, I'll tell you - it's not easy living in an abandoned hammer mill. None of the familiar modern conveniences of American life. No wi-fi, no broadband, no blender, no dry ice ... I could go on. But we're used to that sort of thing. As you know, Big Green has always flown pretty low to the ground. That's why so many of our contemporaries have become famous while we remain in the alt-pop toilet. When we go low, they go high. It's like a freaking see-saw. (Did you see what I saw?)

Anyhow, people like us, we learn to do without. When Matt and I were piecing together the first iteration of this band, back in the late seventies / early eighties, we had the cheapest equipment any band ever thought of using. Our PA speakers sounded like kazoos. Our guitar and keyboard amps were underpowered and flaccid. Even worse, we never had anything decent to record on. One stereo reel-to-reel deck followed us around for a while, but it was of little use beyond serving as a tape echo. A friend of our early eighties drummer, Phil Ross, gave us his old dictaphone mono take deck, which we used to record demos of songs we might take into the studio if we could get the scratch together (which we did, eventually).

Yeah, that's the shit.It took a couple of years, but at some point we moved up to a Panasonic audio cassette deck, the kind that you would use in a home stereo system. We used that and a couple of mics to record ourselves playing in the living room, etc. (Excerpts of those sessions made it on to Matt's very early compilation, "The Todd Family Chronicles".) Matt got a second deck and started bouncing tracks, overdubbing, then around 1985 he bought his first cassette portastudio. That kind of took us to a different place musically, though where that place is, I'm not entirely certain. As we could, we got better gear, but our songwriting and recording process has remained about the same as it was with that first portastudio.

Now we record like everybody else does - on a freaking computer. Fact is, a depiction of pretty much any profession now looks like somebody sitting at a freaking computer.

Descent of man.

When I was about 14, I got obsessed with books of various descriptions and started ordering volumes practically at random from overstock houses like Publisher's Central Bureau and others. One of the mail-order books I pored over was an oversized tome titled Prop Art, which I still have in the bookcase in my office. It's an illustrated history of propaganda posters from the late nineteenth Century up until the 1970s, and some of the most memorable iclasllustrations were those of pseudo-scientific racist posters and handbills from one of the neo-NAZI stormtrooper organizations in the 1960s. One sickening example presented a comparison between a black person and a gorilla, arguing feature-by-caricatured-feature that the two were very similar and that the "Races are definitely NOT equal".

Could've seen THAT coming.I thought of that poster this week when the Rosanne Barr story broke. I will admit that I was never among her fans, but I like to think that fandom would not have kept me from despising her when she started hurling racist epithets. The fact is, that did not start this past week. Since her hey-day in the 1980s-90s, apparently Barr has been careening to the right, adopting and promoting bizarre-ass conspiracy theories, endorsing an increasingly more militarist and oppressive Israeli government, race baiting black women and Muslims, and so on. Clearly, ABC - which has garnered a lot of pundit credit for having fired Barr so quickly - never should have hired her in the first place. But then again, they are in business to make money, right?

We may as well face it - when it comes to the major media content corporations, the bottom line is the bottom line. ABC had a big hit on their hands with Barr, until she, quite predictably, shit all over it by letting her bigoted freak flag fly. They probably made some of the money they were planning on making. NBC did the same thing with Donald Trump. As Lawrence O'Donnell has pointed out, NBC made Trump's bones as a reality television star, kept him on the air through his racist "birther" campaign against Obama, and ran his election rallies from end-to-end during the campaign. That, more than anything, made that bigot president. But it also made NBC money. And as that CBS chief executive said after the election, it may be bad for the country but it's good for the corporation.

So I guess some congratulations should go to our corporate media for propelling the descent of man that is the Trump era. Nice work, folks.

luv u,

jp

Friday, May 25, 2018

Record plant.

Is that where the part comes in? Doesn't seem right, but ... okay. Just can't trust my ears. Not after Cowboy Scat, our last million seller. (We've got a million in our cellar.)

Hello, Big Greeniacs. We're hip-deep in mixing, as you might have guessed. This batch of songs, composed and recorded for the next episode of Ned Trek, is proving to be both challenging and time-consuming. What the hell, we've been working on these songs since January, and now it's ... what ... May? Really? I should get out more. Anyway ... we've been at it a long time. This better be good.

I've said it before, but I'll say it again - we have recorded enough songs since the release of Cowboy Scat: Songs in the Key of Rick to make three new albums, with some left over for party favors. After we've finished these six or seven songs, I'm sure we'll be nudging 70 recordings over five years. We don't have much trouble coming up with new material. Monetizing it? That's another issue.

Got a little job for you.Let's face it ... we're crappy capitalists. (Or crapitalists, if you will.) Matt has no interest in money or notoriety. As for me, well, I couldn't sell songs to my mother ... and I did ask nicely. In a world that measures quality in terms of the price the product commands, we strain to reach the lowest rung. Our production quality is commensurate with the resources available to us. (i.e., we're not recording at Big Blue North, even though it's right up the freaking street.) We are evolving in that respect, but like Issa's snail, slowly ... slowly.

Hell, we can't even afford proper production assistants. When Big Green needs craft services, we're reduced to asking Marvin (my personal robot assistant) to carry in a pitcher of tap water and some paper cups. When we try to market or even give away our discs, we either toss them into the street in front of the mill or hang them on the branches of the mansized tuber. (That's why the neighbors have taken to calling him "the record plant.")

Okay, well, I have some mixing to do. We're having biscuits tonight. After that, I'll do more mixing ... of cement for the front walkway. There's something I'm leaving out, but I'm sure it will come to me.