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Ask Scott

June 25, 2001

Scott, I hope you can take a minute to recommend any on-line music magazines that avoid the all-too-typical promo swill and snotty jive. Are there any sites that are both literate and truly eclectic?

James Hopkins

Scott: The best is The War Against Silence. I used to suspect my admiration to be an artifact of my own stuff getting reviewed well there, but contributors to the not-very-pop-music email list I'm on (which asks you not to quote anything so I'll leave it anonymous) immediately piped up with that site in answer to a similar query.

My favorite online audio streaming station is 3wk.com.

My favorite print magazine was SPEAK from San Francisco, but they folded. It wasn't a music mag, but it was so good I have to mention it. Any old copy is worth snapping up, and I'm eagerly awaiting whatever publisher Dan Rolleri does next (for comics fans, SPEAK provided my introduction to artist Chris Ware).

Anyway, start your own site and make it good!

--PoMo swill


June 18, 2001

Scott, have you by any chance read a book by Sylvia Nasar called A Beautiful Mind?

Scott: I haven't read that, no. I don't know anything about Mr. Nash.

It's a biography of John Nash, a brilliant mathematician whose research into game theory while at Princeton in the 1940s-50s won him a Nobel prize in the 1990s. His quite horrific descent into schizophrenia and withdrawal from society is painful to read but at the same time riveting (as the pain of others so often is). This book made me think about the relationship between math & melodic invention; Nash quite often whistled Bach, whose music has been called mathematically perfect, while he did his thinking.

I have heard people describe Bach's -- and Mozart's -- music as mathematically perfect, and I have to say I don't have any sense of what they mean. In Bach's case, it may be that the counterpoint always maintains pleasing intervals despite the variables he's juggling (I must have read that in Goedel, Escher, Bach); fair enough, except that would mean you couldn't reproduce any of the perfection by whistling it.

I have to say I think Bach and Mozart probably had their interest in structural challenges, but the music sounds good to us today primarily because they played well within cultural rules of expectation, familiarity, and surprise -- pretty much the same reason Beethoven and Iggy Pop sound good today.

Unless I'm forgetting one, I've never heard a deliberately mathematical approach to composition result in anything but drivel.

You're known for being a brainy kind of guy; to what degree do you think your grasp of the "cold" sciences is responsible for your ability to make melodies that are so emotionally affecting and at the same time so, for lack of a better word, perfect?

Johnny Turner

That's very kind of you, and I'm sorry to say you could probably find some disagreement. Of the actual disciplines, none really applies except to studio engineering, and maybe the very (very) rare thought about harmonic ratios. Yet, science teaches you to solve problems in an unsentimental way, and that helps put results on the table when it's all to easy for them to just swim around in your imagination (like they do with me these days).

thanks much for writing

--Einstein-on-the-Beach Boy


Scott, scanning through some of your lyrics today, I was shocked to find out that you aren't actually singing "Need a low-slung Telecaster 1969" on "Nine Lives to Rigel Five" like I thought you had been for the last fifteen years or so. I guess there really aren't any lions in the street after all, huh? Any more mis-heard Scott Miller lyrics that you remember people bringing to your attention that you can share with the class?

Cryptically yours,

Rob Disner

Scott: Hey, Rob, thanks for writing.

Another immortal one was from Kenny Kessel himself. I was teaching the band the song "Blackness, Blackness" over the course of a few rehearsals, and one day when I was telling Alison the words "oh baby, I guess I just am" for the chorus backing vocals, Kenny expressed surprise at learning that I wasn't saying "oh baby, I got such a stem."

oh, baby, I got ketchup on Chris Stamey,



June 11, 2001

Scott, I recall reading a blurb about Game Theory in an issue of Spin from '87 or so. In it, you indicated that you like to make albums alternatingly "weird" and "normal."

Scott: It seems now that it was less a matter of "liking" than that being the somewhat inevitable result because of a lot of factors.

I have noticed that, by my definition, you have followed this formula faithfully (weird indicating a prevalence of short snippets, experimental tracks, etc.). Lolita Nation, current at the time of the Spin article in question, fits the weird list; Two Steps = normal; Plants and Birds = weird; Only Linda = normal; Interbabe = weird; Days for Days = normal, despite its alternating brief snippet tracks. I must admit I've yet to hear Attractive Nuisance; though that'll change eventually, as of now I have no idea if it follows the "formula." Have you consciously followed that formula, or is it all a grand coincidence based on a tossed-off comment?

If anything I have consciously avoided that pattern, for the sake of the structure continuing to bring anything valuable. I must confess a certain regret I usually keep to myself, which is that Lolita Nation really settled pretty easily back into a closed system where "experiments" and "snippets" and "self-reference" played a very similar role in my little college rock world to moon-in-June and rock-and-roll-all-night in the commercial world. It was the one time I truly connected with the in crowd, which is great, but I have to chuckle a little at my eagerness to take that as confirmation that I was laying down a fearsome artistic gauntlet -- and how now anyone who thinks of it at all considers it as a sort of comfortable, period collectable, maybe like Smiley Smile.

Now for the ridiculous and vague part of this message. For whatever reason, I've recently rediscovered Days for Days. I thoroughly enjoyed it when it came out, but after not playing it for a year and a half or so, I've been playing it a lot lately and have come to the conclusion that it's my favorite Loud Family record after Plants and Birds (which I'm convinced merited Grammy nominations for everything from Album of the Year to Producer of the Year).

I'm blushing!

For me, and this is part of its appeal, there is something palpable but not quite explainable about Days for Days: while I'm not quite suggesting it's your There's a Riot Goin' On -- it's not exactly zonked-out -- it seems to have a certain aura of detachment about it. I suppose one could speculate on this without listening to it, based on the existentialist tone of the inner sleeve's skull cartoon and titles like "Deee-Pression". But what I'm talking about isn't based on these things or even on any specific lyrics, rather an ambiguous visceral tone that seems to imbue many of the performances.

I hadn't read this far when I made my comments above, but I would like to think that you're getting some of what we shifted into the lyrics and the structuring in a way that was somewhat off-axis from the Lolita Nation approach.

This will seem like a real stretch, and I suppose it is: though I'm not comparing the albums to one another, the feeling I'm talking about is akin to some of the moments on Neil Young's Tonight's the Night. That album's not exclusively downbeat but there is always an undercurrent telling you something is going on (the Young-paraphrasing "Cortex the Killer" has nothing to do with this suggestion). So, what I'm getting at is this: without wishing or caring to pry into personal details, on a general level were these sessions the result of any sort of experiences or atmosphere that might explain the feeling I get from it?

Two senses that I can think of. I imagine Neil Young in that period being interested in the reckoning of the young and spirited: your options are that you eventually either flame out or find yourself part of something outside the logic of what you thought of as burning brightly. Days For Days involved something of a parallel resolution, to my mind. It was the album where I made the heaviest use of my own dreams since the mid-80s, but I was now out to reconcile them with Western culture at a deeper level than simply the most convenient pop references. Also, I did a lot of my work on that record in a somewhat spacey frame of mind -- often late at night.

Of course, it could all be in my imagination, but I thought you might be interested to see another example of how your artistic endeavors end up re- (or mis-) interpreted by listeners later on down the road. (By the way, "Sister Sleep" is a real showstopper -- your most epic track in my book.)

You thought right -- I often feel pretty starved for feedback about whether the enormous amount of energy I put into songs and albums resulted in very much getting through. Me and a lot of bands, no doubt. Anyway, your letter is very much appreciated.

Thanks for the music,

Chris Perry

weird = normal,



June 4, 2001

Scott -- big fan. Brilliant. Genius. A couple questions.

Do you have any opinion on Zen? It's been sorta "speaking" to me lately, and then I had this dream where someone (it may have been Noam Chomsky) accused it of "obscurantism." What do you think?

Scott: I like Noam Chomsky, but he's not one of the handful of people I'd let influence my religion or lack thereof. I've been moderately interested in Buddhism and Zen (especially koans!), but at the end of the day I'm too much of a Westerner to ever do it right. It's difficult for me to feel I can talk about Zen because it is so intent on breaking down the objectifying mind; I have no quarrel with that agendum, but when the words "I" and "Zen" are off-limits as agreed-on concepts, it's probably optimistic to think an informative chat is at hand. Still, I think you can pin Gautama Buddha down, canonically speaking, to have proclaimed that desire is to be avoided if life is to be happy. That seems to me to be one way of saying a great truth, but it would be a long, great war to get my mind to address that truth that way, as livable reality. I am terribly, terribly, wrapped up in desire, in everything I do.

I've said before I take our culture to be in one sense a hybrid of Greek and Hebrew. The Greek mind would think desire is inevitable but manageable, able to be set off to the side of one's primary life, which is in relation to a cultural community. The Hebrew mind is restless to expose the centrality of desire -- to be prophetic in the biblical sense is more to expose human motivation than to predict the future. Modernity has made a somewhat incoherent stew out of it all, where desire is felt to be charged by a mysterious Freudian/Jungian sexual unconscious, and happiness is tied up in some bizarro, subjunctive-mood act of -- how to say? -- refusing the gesture of decentralizing desire. That is, if you feel guilt in modernity, you have some disincentive to view it as an occasion for contrition, because you're treating the guilty aspect of yourself as a dark beast to be shoved back into the cave of the unconscious, and that's unhealthy in the Freudian dispensation.

Ontologically, modernity bears a superficial resemblance to Zen. The similarity is close enough that many moderns aren't cut off from Zen the way they're cut off from, say, Evangelical Christiantiy. Modernity and Zen are both post-religious operations which seem to have a nihilistic element -- a fairly blind faith that if you hack out enough mental and cultural deadwood, you will ultimately get to reality and bliss. Yet, both operations would take issue with faith (therein may lie enough "obscurantism" for us all to pass around). Practically, I wonder how much spiritual benefit Zen could offer non-acolytes; if you're not really committing, does it have therapeutic value as a subject of study? It would seem to be arrogant to think we are so very much more capable of getting it than the poor lifers who didn't get it until one day the master chopped off some body part or other.

Do you think there's a point in a relationship (maybe, arbitrarily, oh ... two months) wherein it's "safe" to give up the L-word? (No, not "lobotomy," "love.") Or is it always a gamble?

The way I see it, saying "I love you" in a relationship means you're proposing exclusivity.

Do you ever read Hermenaut? Or visit the web site? It's good. There was an article and discussion on there recently about "The Simpsons" and its pop allusions comparing it specifically to Eliot's "Waste Land" and its more respectably Modernist allusiveness. If you've read this, I'd love to hear what you think.

I have not checked it out yet (and I have to go to bed right after I finish this answer), but consider it publicized.

I used write questions to Scott Miller, but it didn't make my life okay,


thanks for writing, and for the interesting question(s) (and recommendation).

--hermeneut munster


May 28, 2001

Scott, it was nice getting to see you and the gang in Phoenix. I didn't end up making it to Los Angeles due to poor planning and a sick spouse.

Scott: How rare that we plan a spouse's sickness as well as we should.

As a fan it is wonderful to be able to query you about lyrics and meanings, but as an artist do you ever feel like saying "gee, let the music speak for itself, I don't want to explain every little detail"?

I used to think there was some indication that a lot of people (at least several hundred?) would be interested enough in my lyrics to discuss them well into the future, and my commentary would distract from that, since my unconscious agenda would always be to shade my meaning in a way that flattered me. Now I'm inclined to think maybe ten people in the world will have that level of interest in my lyrics going forward, so, really, what the hell?

The lyric "Classify the lemur" from the wonderful "Cortex the Killer" makes me wonder which taxonomy system you subscribe to. Is cladistic taxonomy the way to go?

Thank you for the compliment ("wonderful"). I prefer baconic taxonomy, where features of organisms are categorized according to their level of dissimilarity to Kevin Bacon.

Also, you've mentioned building songs by trying something over and over until you find the thing that fits. What do you think of the idea that creativity is synonymous with a good search algorithm for finding items in what is a field of virtually limitless possibilities?

It's definitely not synonymous. A good search algorithm doesn't care whether its result is original or not, it just cares whether it's correct, and creativity involves the opposite; creativity looks around like a classroom cheat to see what results others are getting, and decides the merits of its own result according to its novelty. Creativity even seeks to displace what is correct by seeking adoption of a new notion of correctness. In the worst case, creativity is simply another word for orneriness. Jack Nicholson's "the Joker" character is kind of a decent send-up of the "artistic temperament."

But taken less literally, the answer to your question could be "yes": a creative person would do well both to reflect on his or her "search algorithm," and to avoid being merely lazy about carrying out the "search."

Thank you for continuing to create really good music. I know I'm speaking for a bunch of people when I say that I really appreciate it.

Dennis Sacks

You are very welcome, Dennis! Good to hear from you and thanks for writing.

--Marquis de Clade


May 14, 2001

Scott, about the time of Big Shot Chronicles, I saw Game Theory play with Daddy In His Deep Sleep -- a Bay Area band that I heard you later produced via Mitch Easter. Was this album ever released? And have you worked with them since?


Scott: The album came out in 1987 on Reckless. Mitch Easter wasn't involved. They were a great band; they moved to Los Angeles and I've been told that for a while were going by the name "the Shivers" but they've been broken up for a long time.

daddy isn't here, Mrs. Torrance



Scott, I'm sure you hear this all the time...but it's so nice to have an intelligent band out there.

Scott: Hi, Brianna! Well, that's a nice thing to say, and I don't hear it all the time. Thank you.

When can we all see you guys play again? We miss you!!! Any San Francisco/Bay Area shows in the future?


On June 30th there's going to be a 125 Records party at the Starry Plough, Berkeley's favorite Irish Communist theme bar, and I'll be participating in what in 1983 used to be called a Hootenanny, doing some of my songs with Kenny Kessel, with some help from Yuji Oniki, Anton Barbeau (who's also doing a full set), and perhaps members of Belle da Gama (who are doing a full set as well).

Erin go Bolshevist,



Scott, do you know where/how I could acquire a CD of the Game Theory album Tinker to Evers to Chance? I've checked some internet stores, such as CDNow and Amazon.com, and they don't have it.

Todd Sherman

Scott: Ytray ookinglay on ebay.



Scott, my family and I have recently had the privilege of hosting a show by Pat DiNizio (of the Smithereens) in our home as part of his "Living Room Tour". As we enjoyed the experience, we have started looking for other artists to play in our home. We have already booked another artist for our second concert.

I was wondering whether you might be interested in participating in this type of event? I've been a fan for about 15 years and would love the opportunity to host you in my home. I realize that you are from California and we are in NJ; however, should the opportunity present itself, we would be interested in hearing from you.

Scott: Thanks very much! The Pat DiNizio show must have been fanstastic. I heard he was doing that.

We are doing this for our family and friends, and you can expect an audience of about 50 adults and a bunch of children.

For a small additional charge we will appear as the Teletubbies.

Thank you for your time.

Ira Rosen

Thanks a lot for thinking of me/us.



May 7, 2001

Scott, I've been a fan of your work since The Big Shot Chronicles, though I think your work with the Loud Family has even more depth and variety. I'm saddened to hear that it might all come to an end. An enomous, Everest-sized pity. I shall be lost without you.

Scott: That's very nice of you to say.

So, rather than heap praise upon you all day (which I can, incidentally, if it would cheer you up), I suppose I should ask a question so that my response might be a little more than "thanks." And I suppose it is what this forum is for. So, on to it, but not without a lengthy preface (I'll try to keep it short-winded).

As a fellow pop-culture junkie (I'm assuming you are for reasons I'm about to state), I notice you have a lot of references to world events, television shows, movies, etc. in your songs. To use an example from your latest effort, the "Slim on the Bomb" reference to a very cool actor Slim Pickens and a very cool movie (you Kubrick fan, you). I guess a question that has been plaguing me since I bought 2 Steps from the Middle Ages is this: Is the song title "Room for One More, Honey" a reference to a "Twilight Zone" episode where a lady keeps having a dream about a scary lady open the door to the Morgue and saying "Room for one more, honey?" I could go on, but if this reference is correct, I'll let you finish the tale, if you so desire.

It is one of my favorite episodes of "The Twilight Zone," and excites me greatly that you would honor it in such a way. Also, if I am correct, why did you choose that as the title to song (if you still remember)?

Yes, that's the song title reference. It's been thirteen years since I wrote that song, but I'll describe what I remember trying to get at. There are various "catch phrases" thrown out in the song that in my mind signify something like the promise of a new frontier; when I say "will it be our new America?" I mean in the sense of a new place to occupy now that all of America is physically occupied. The only literal action in the song is flying in a plane further Westward, toward Asia, as if compulsively chasing the American frontier past where the land runs out, perhaps to a promised land that is mental rather than physical.

To me, "elegance of line" and "sense of place" were somewhat overly abstract aesthetic terms that would seem to point to a transcendent, spiritual way of viewing the world, but which related to me only as the vague and arbitrary privileging of some remote sensibility. Similarly, I noticed that Asian religions were, in Western popular culture, usually assumed to be much more profound than Western religions. What an odd mental tendency, in a way; I was trying to overlay a few images that conjured up that tendency for me, not attempting a real analysis of the elements. That is, "sense of place" may or may not have merit as a concept, I wouldn't know, but I was aware of being tempted to assume it did, without a shred of evidence, simply due to its exotic implications -- its seeming to me to be on the other side of some psychological threshold.

So, I was in a mood to be wary of the mechanism by which something presents itself as a promising direction in life, and I thought of that "Twilight Zone" episode, with the nurse in the morgue in the nightmare saying "room for one more, honey." The nightmare image isn't even of being forced into the morgue; it's as if some unwitting part of us might walk in voluntarily just because someone offered us the blind opportunity to be elsewhere.

As someone who finds song creation fascinating (as well as someone who enjoys the little tales you hear about movie creation, which I why I love my DVD player), can you tell me a little interesting story about coming up with the concept or music or whatnot of one of your songs, or a particular lyric? It would bring a little joy into my bleak life.

I'm afraid I'm completely spent just from that at best modestly entertaining recollection, but allow me to say that if you are after bringing joy into a bleak life, you can do a lot worse than cranking up "Sister Havana" by Urge Overkill. Now that is a rock record! Who knows what effect some of my gloomy old stuff is going to have?

In closing, I'm writing a novel, and while I'm not striving for the Great American Novel (as you can see illustrated by this posting), I do want to say that a good part of my inspiration for the main character came about while listening to your music.

Now there is a disturbing thought.

I would like to thank you for helping me to write.


the overwritten

thank you very much for writing and best of luck with the novel,

--Rod Surly


April 9, 2001

Scott, first of all I want to express how sorry I am for having missed the last two tours. I live in Houston, TX these days and the drive to Austin is not always convenient for a grad student income.

Scott: I hear that. You should try the drive from San Francisco!

My question concerns Blaze of Glory. I have been listening to my LP copy of it recently (I was not too impressed with the CD release. Seemed to ruin things that I loved about the album.) and was wondering ... Did you speed up the tracks or did the band really play like that way back when? The pacing is furious in places and the voices seem ultra sped up. Or did you use the old Paul McCartney "When I'm sixty-four" trick and speed up the tracks? I guess in my experience with drummers I simply find it hard to believe this is how the band played.

That's how we played it, and for the most part it was too fast. The serendipity is that my voice naturally sounds sped up, so the listener can get decent results by just pitching the whole thing down a bit. On a related note, Joe Becker once alerted me to the fact that Queen's "Tie Your Mother Down" gains new life when played at very low speed.

Or were there some early eighties vices involved?

Hell no, there was no junk bond trading in my group.

A long time fan,

Mike Fuller

Great to hear from you, Mike!

--the wild pitcher


April 2, 2001

Scott, what are your thoughts on the use of the word "baby" in pop lyrics?

I'm fascinated by its use; why, contextually, it's completely cool when Morphine uses it and completely idiotic when Night Ranger uses it. Is it what's being said or who's saying it? Or both?

Scott: My wife has been playing me some Scorpions with the purpose of getting me to say "womahn." I guess "baby" is mildly offensive to some people; it seems like I've heard that criticism before (I say "baby" in lyrics once in a while). As far as I'm concerned, it's an affectionate term for a lover, coming from early blues and crooner pop idioms. I wouldn't be too shocked if someone told me that's not 100% accurate, but at any rate, it had no negative ring in rock and roll that I can tell.

Maybe some singers can't deliver a hipster term very well -- I notice you didn't claim I do -- but I don't think it, say, begs deconstruction on grounds of gender bias. I grew up with the Ronettes and Ella Fitzgerald singing about their babies.

Gushing Praise Dept.: Thanks for the great set at Nita's Hideaway. I had just described the LF to a friend earlier that day as power pop's answer to Yes, and lo, Gil and Kenny quote "Heart of the Sunrise" smack in the middle of "Waist and the Knees." Too much! Attractive Nuisance stuff sounded great, and I couldn't believe I was hearing "Tearjerkin'." A thousand thank-yous.

Slouching toward Tempe,

Jeff Owens

Ah, those were the days. Every now and then one of these questions reminds me of how far behind I am answering them. The good news there is that things have been much quieter in the old in-box since my little vacation from market presence, so look for convergence with current questions in about three months. Anyway, thank you, thank you, gushing praise department! I finally listened to the MP3 of Aimee Mann and me singing "Inverness" that's on this site, and, well, my vocals next to hers -- ach, could I be any worse at what I do? -- so gushing praise makes me feel a tiny bit better about having groveled for so much attention over the years.

--power pop's answer to Sebastian Cabot


March 26, 2001

Scott, I am listening to a dodgy old Game Theory recording; it's great!

Scott: A dodgy old thank you.

I am asking about the couple of albums that you supposedly did to try and gain some commercial success and my friend tells me that you "did it for the band." I find this hard to believe. (I am referring to the album with the immortal line "she's not your little pony.") It would be an end to an argument.

If "did it for the band" means I didn't have as much dictatorial artistic control as on the one before or the one after, your friend is correct. If "did it for the band" means the band were demanding commercial success and I said okay, then your friend is wrong -- there was no discussion along those lines at all.

Keep in mind, to have any chance at bona fide commercial success, you need a big promotion budget, which we didn't have. It was smarter business for us to put out something that would strike the indie eye and ear as being fashionably uncommercial. Which wasn't any supreme motivation, either (if you're only giving a different set of people back a version of their own expectations, where's the improvement over being "commercial"?).

Also with that philosophical knowledge you could explain Barthes' version of semantics.

Oh, no. You need to buy the 1996 album to be able to do that.

All this while running a show and holding down a day job, ha ha ha.

Ever read any Steve Erickson? If not then you should and thank 'em for it.

Can't say I have. Will watch for.

The Prune
Some base their claims
on tang alone
but i prefer a fruit that does a job
(Robert Shure)

Joanna Jackson

Thank you for that moving poem, and thanks for writing, Joanna.

--Prune-Tang Clan


March 5, 2001

Scott, thanks for the wonderful new record. I have been traveling for a few months now, and I can testify that four out of five train trips are significantly improved when one carries a copy of Attractive Nuisance.

Scott: Thanks very much.

Unfortunately, the fifth trip in in Finland, which brings me to my question.

Finland, while otherwise a really interesting, nifty country, has become the center of the global epidemic of cell phone abuse. During a recent train trip, I noticed that a new feature allows cell phone users to substitute a snippet of a song for their cell phone ring. So far, I've heard "Hot Stuff" (the bridge), "Waterloo" (the chorus), "Smells Like Teen Spirit" (the intro), "Physical" (the chorus), "Living on a Prayer" (The chorus), "Mamma Mia" (the chorus), tons of eighties metal songs I remember but can't identify (various bits) and -- far and away the most popular -- "The Final Countdown" (the intro). Actually, I have Europe (the band, not the continent), to blame for the dreaded fifth train trip, during which you were sadly drowned out by endless repetitions of "The Final Countdown" in high pitched electronic bleeps.

I have to confess here that I don't know that band or that song.

This brings me to my questions:

1. Assuming that we cannot eliminate cell phones, which is better: incessant ringing, or the musical version?

The little musical things I at least equate with someone acknowledging the human beings sharing physical space, albeit in a somewhat irritating way. It's kind of like, "haha, I put in a funny ring so we can share this witty gesture," which is okay, if not generally successful at actual hilarity. Most aspects of cell phones are less conducive to acknowledging that there are other human beings around. I have to be a little contrite about the fact that people are often having pleasant conversations on cell phones, and the fact of my being, say, trapped on a train near them makes me angry at them. I really ought to somehow be happy they're there enjoying life and chatting amiably. Still, are these people aware that none of the nearest fifty people around them can read a book or have a few moments of quiet contemplation?

2. Why do hair bands seem to have found new life as cell phone rings? Is there something about poodle-metal that is particularly suited to cell phones?

I have been spared this phenomenon. I mean, hearing that sort of music on cell phones. I was in fact not spared poodle hair.

3. What snippet of song will you use for your cell phone when the Finns have taken over the world? (Assuming that that's inevitable...)

I don't know, but if I ever develop a really intense grudge against some composer or songwriter, I'll know where to begin my plan for making him hated in posterity.

Thanks again for a great record!


thank you again, care of cell 44,



February 12, 2001

Scott, 'twas a pleasure seeing your band grace Boston a few days (weeks, by the time you get this) ago. Such beautiful music!

Scott: Thank you. Bostonians -- my people. I like an aggressive driving town like Boston or San Francisco, but somehow San Francisco aggressive driving is without honor, as if obstinacy or competitiveness were at work rather than a lusty delusion that we might all have a place worth getting to fast.

Anyway, two questions.

Have you heard any particularly interesting / funny / touching / bizarre mondegreens to your songs from fans or bandmates?

I should tell you that I have a vague recollection that "mondegreen" means a misheard lyric, but my dictionary doesn't have the word, so my apologies if I answer a question you didn't ask.

My wife Kristine reminds me that there is a clear standout here, and that is the bridge from "Inverness," which at least two people have heard as: "I used all I had / I wasted my dad." It is hard to imagine that being surpassed.

And, what's the significance of the "song captions" on the rear sleeve of The Tape of Only Linda?

They're just little blurbs I wrote in hopes of clarifying the tone of the lyrics. That album was the farthest out of my control any record I've made has ever been -- more or less because I was allowed to dominate on Plants and Birds a little more than some people in the band found enjoyable, and that left me in the position of having to back off. On a strictly lyrical level, though, I felt I had a little bit of a thematic breakthrough going on, and less than the usual range of deployment options. For one thing, mine weren't the only lyrics on the album.

Those notes were my way of exploiting the packaging stage in a last ditch effort to pull my intended themes into sharper focus. God knows it probably didn't actually work as far as listeners were concerned, but though that kind of move figures to be the stuff of supreme later embarrassment, I actually look back on those little things as among my rare correct crafting decisions on that project.

best wishes in whatever you're doing now,


Thanks -- stop on by Cap'n Scott's Lobster Trap just off Highway 1 in Pacifica and find out.

--thwarted lobster


February 5, 2001

Scott, I hadn't seen you performing since years ago: must have been Game Theory at the Rat in Boston. So I dragged my spouse to TT's, and y'all were wonderful, wonderful.

One question: The dB's cover was lovely ... but what would your Holsapple cover have been?

John G. Norman

Scott: Hey, thanks, John. Thanks for coming to the show, by the way.

That's a good question. In a way I think of Holsapple as being to Stamey as both McCartney and Harrison are to Lennon. Stamey, like Lennon, is a natural modernist. In Stamey's and Lennon's early days, they lived to share ideas, but were always loath to cooperate very much with the going medium for sharing ideas. Being something of a modernist by milieu, that resonates strongly with me, and yet I have to say that as I get older I have more and more respect for McCartney and Harrison, and the same -- albeit very large -- amount of respect for Lennon.

The parallels aren't exact (if only because my respect for Stamey has increased, too), but for some reason I feel it instructive to explain how I'd choose a Holsapple song. In a word, I don't think one usually goes to Holsapple to be shocked. To me, "Tearjerkin'" is still edgy and nervy even after twenty years, as are most Stamey songs from the period, and I wouldn't really find that card to play in a Peter song.

On the other hand, and somewhat unlike the Beatles comparison, Peter is typically more emotionally direct and freer from affectation. (And conversely, Stamey and McCartney were more responsible when it came to making sense in the context of a larger tradition).

I've always wanted to do "Moving In Your Sleep"; that might be my answer. There's some first rate melodic genius in that one -- the way he comes in higher on "there may come a day" toward the end, and varies the resolution upward, is an amazing touch. I'd do "Darby Hall" certainly. Any of "Black and White," "Big Brown Eyes," or "Change With the Changing Times" would be a lot of fun.

keep thinking too hard,



January 22, 2001

Scott, I've been listening to the new album. "Blackness Blackness" is definitely my favorite song on it. Another job well done.

Scott: Thank you much. That one ended up being more or less a pleasure to do, but I remember when we were working it up, I couldn't sing it at all, and I really couldn't play the slide guitar parts at all. It wasn't just weak, it was a train wreck any time I came in. I kept saying, "well, that's good, uh, we'll come back to my parts I guess."

Not to get all psychological on you, but I have to say that your lyrics have been very different over the last two albums. You now write like someone who is afraid to say directly the stuff that you feel the need to write about. T.S. Eliot was in that boat to a great extent, and I wonder if that explains his increased appeal to you of late.

Don't ask me to speak for the great poets, but in my case it's not exactly a fear of saying things directly. Rather, the medium -- rock lyrics in my case, but all art -- has an unwitting code of what is the thing to say and what is not the thing to say, and if don't say the thing to say, your punishment is that you will be considered indirect.

Not to ignore the possibility that I'm not enough of a lyricist to write a good direct line like "I want you so bad/It's driving me mad," but my own ego-biased opinion is that that isn't the issue.

Usually I feel a desire to get something across in a lyric which I feel was not quite clear to me until recently. How do you do that? To start with, how do you do it directly? Listen to an expert, a top modern scholar -- Derrida, Heidegger, Deleuze, Wittgenstein, maybe Eric Gans, Julia Kristeva -- share as clearly as he or she can knowledge about being alive, and if you are like me, you will quickly start wondering whether you are so much meant to share in any knowledge, as to understand that in the past, sharing of knowledge has been flawed, and before we can share knowledge properly, hard technical repair work must be done to the machinery, the end of which is nowhere in sight.

Fine. But if you ask me, T.S. Eliot is much more generous in his efforts to share knowledge while tearing down machinery. To do this, he uses analogies, which because he is T.S. Eliot are difficult analogies. I think the academic fashion in our era is to reject analogy on the grounds that it introduces ambiguity about how exactly the analogy applies to the subject. But I've come to believe -- probably along with Wittgenstein, actually -- that analogy is the best we can ever do. All real understanding boils down to our ability to say "it is like this."

So I am for analogy, and for poetic analogy. But I like it to require reflection -- and potentially benefit from discussion -- in an atmosphere unconducive to rash conclusions. Plato didn't want poetry in the Republic because he thought it represented the mere viral spread of ideas, and he had a point. Think of "Deutschland Uber Alles." Just because you can sing along doesn't mean it's ultimately desirable; you may be dangerously ignorant of the very real need that both Plato and Derrida saw (albeit in conflicting ways) to question the machinery of idea transfer. When the Four Quartets by Eliot presents an idea, it seems unclear, pedantic, and unfashionable because care was taken that we not absorb what we are hardwired to absorb. It has the true potential to tell you something you don't already know. It works against the machinery.

When Eminem presents an idea, it seems direct and real, because it works in perfect harmony with the machinery. A great David Bowie line was "the shame fell on the other side." With Eminem, the shame falls on the other side. Some third party -- not Eminem and not the listener -- is the pretender, the deserver of criticism, weak, objectionable. Put just about anything in that structure, with the appropriate degree of subtlety for you or me as an individual, and we will think: how direct. How real.

If you're infinetly direct, you say infinitely little.

By the way, how do you feel about slo-core as a music movement (i.e. Low, Spain)?

What I've heard is pretty good. I think I prefer more chiaroscuro sorts of music -- different modes and feels played thoughtfully against each other for a dramatic, polychromatic whole.

Here's hoping we get another Loud Family album in short order.

Eric Vogel

Thanks, but it looks like that short order would be: Adam and Eve on a raft, wreck 'em!



January 15, 2001

Scott, over the last 2 decades, you were able to absorb all them heady books, make those wonderful records, have a social life and have a grasp of current events and pop culture. I like to believe that I at least achieved the last three. In some of the stuffier circles of this social group I belong to, they tend to be heavy on the books and the current events and not so much on the rest. With my grasp of pop culture, I feel as though I'm Rupert Murdoch crashing a Pulitzer convention. Fortunately, most of my friends are not of the stuffy fringe. Jeez, am I digressing or what? So to get back to the original question, how did you find time for it all or are you now finally getting some sleep now that your musical career's on hiatus?

Waxing narcoleptic and waning insomnic,

Jack L.

Scott: Hi, Jack! Thanks for writing.

Having "a grasp of current events and pop culture" is pretty far from being any sort of bullet feature of my life nowadays. You say "Marshall Mathers," I think: "as the Beaver." And let us be kind and say that the demand for wonderful records is more than manageable these days.

So we're only really talking about balancing reading and socializing, and, well, Nietzsche had trouble, but this isn't usually a fearsome dilemma.

I read mainly on the train during my work commute. To Spain. No, wait! But, seriously, a train commute is so, so much better than a driving commute. If you can work out a train commute, do it. I'm currently on a binge of reading all the material in the footnotes to "The Waste Land." Jessie Weston's FROM RITUAL TO ROMANCE, Petronius' SATYRICON, Baudelaire's LES FLEURS DU MAL, etc. Thomas Aquinas's SUMMA THEOLOGICA in the background. To get the kind of time on your hands that you need to read the SUMMA THEOLOGICA, your options are (1) felony conviction, and (2) train commute.

riding the little surrey with the (stuffy) fringe on the top



More Ask Scott:

 July-December 2000
 February-June 2000
 July 1999-January 2000
 March-June 1999
 September 1998-February 1999
 May-August 1998
 January-April 1998
 July-December 1997

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