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Ask Scott

December 16, 2002

Scott, I write this with the utmost of praise in mind. Lolita Nation, imho, was a brilliant statement, a highwater mark, an album that any creative artist would be proud to call their own. Absolutely original, energetic, versatile, exciting without sacrificing your skills as a pop songwriter of nearly unequalled ability. I am 40, was a GT fan and LF fan. To me, Attractive Nuisance almost appears to be a deliberate attempt at recapturing all the best aspects of Lolita Nation, and it does. It appears that you may have thought this would be your last release, because I find its emulation of LN on target. I also attended the NYC Knit show around the AN release and found your generosity, energy and good spirits so refreshing. I will never forget GT at Maxwell's touring behind LN -- in '87? Brilliant. Gil Ray's contribution throughout cannot be undervalued -- you and he seemed like kindred spirits. All the best -- you will succeed at anything, because GT and LF are proof positive of that.

Don Adler

Scott: Don, thank you for writing and for being so complimentary. See below for some LN/AN commentary.

Scott, I saw Dylan Friday night in Virginia, and came away impressed again by his ability to rock, trade riffs with his band ex-tempore, confidently do covers (Zevon, Neil Young, Rolling Stones), and make his own material unfamiliar by changes of pace. He's a marvel -- hope you don't miss chances to see him.

Thanks a lot for writing. I've never seen Dylan live in the flesh. He's definitely a national treasure -- and he's on a great winning streak lately to be sure.

I also have followed Wilco/Jeff Tweedy for years, and note the same tendencies -- thrashing out familiar songs, or slowing rockers into ballads, or remaking a crowd favorite into something else. Music keeps remaking itself and changing clothes, though staying in familiar forms.

I guess I pretty much agree with that statement. I'm not a huge fan of all reinterpretation as musical expression (I usually find other-artist remixes uninteresting, for instance). I also have to admit that when Dylan changes a song live, I'm more used to thinking he's being lazy about his performance than that protean inspiration is occurring -- but Dylan knows more than I do about a lot of things including everything about making music, so I try to stay open to learning something.

But some rearrangements are amazing. When I was in college in Davis, CA, I was friends with Steve Wynn and Kendra Smith, who were later in the Dream Syndicate but at the time were in a band called Suspects (Russ Tolman and Gavin Blair from True West were also in that band). They both moved to L.A. at some point and then came back for one Suspects reunion show, and the first song they did was this beautiful version of "All Tomorrow's Parties," with Kendra singing the lyrics translated into German, and with all the lights out -- probably still the most memorable cover version I've ever seen anybody do.

All a roundabout way to ask you about you, your catalog, and watching it age. You've been pretty self-deprecating about your earlier work -- lovesick tortured young man stuff, and I really appreciate your reflection here. Some stuff it's hard to go back to, I'm sure.

I'm not all that apologetic about the lovesick tortured subject matter. I'm happy enough that I expressed what was on my mind rather than trying to manufacture some sort of more blase point of view. But it would have been nice if I'd been a little more adept at some of the tasks I was attempting.

Watching yourself grow as a writer, as an artist -- watching rock grow up -- where do you see it all going?

Is "growing up" the right term? Was Rubber Soul really some kind of step in a mystical cultural striving toward The Eminem Show? I haven't made an ultra-serious study of what happens to artistic movements over the centuries -- painting, drama, whatever -- but my impression is that a spike of brilliant output is typically followed by a long decline into crap. I'm not inclined to think of good art as pointing the way to even better art by any sort of natural maturation process. At best, a lot of people see that a certain style wins favor, so for a while there's enough laboring in one area that you can cull a pretty good sampling of the best results.

Wilco (Yankee Hotel Foxtrot) and Radiohead (Kid A, Amnesiac) each/both spent two years imploding the rhythm and rock of their most daring convergeance pieces (Summer Teeth, OK Computer). I won't say that this space is yours -- the overlaps and backdrops of dissonance and cezura, but it's kinda been a trope that you used through the GT and LF years. You've been asking what's the frequency for a long time.

The benchmark album in that structure-expanding sort of style is probably the Beatles' white album, although Freak Out by the Mothers of Invention was an obvious forerunner to it.

I remember Lennon remarking that "Woman" was a remake of "Girl." It all circled back for him. Where does it go for you? Any opinions on the dissonance and dischord I threw you into with Jeff and Radiohead?

Long time fan. Mucho love to you and la familia.

Hairy krimble,

Steve G.

Dissonance and dischord are optional in the class of project you're talking about, and I usually try to avoid them except in small, well-integrated doses. My tolerance for non-music which is cast as music for the gestural value is really low. On something like Lolita Nation, my aesthetic model is more like A.M. radio with fast and silly edits than Cage and Stockhausen. Not in going for a fast and silly effect, but in trying to create something surprising and entertaining. I wouldn't have thought while making Lolita Nation "okay, it's 75 minutes of ponderous noodling, but that's what I want -- a challenge to the listener." Instead I would have been thinking, "those few seconds of ponderous noodling were fun, but before it gets tedious, back to the music."

I didn't want to try to have (what as far as I know will be) my last album, Attractive Nuisance, be any sort of fireworks-finale of breaking supposed musical taboos. Art like that tends to make an implicit promise that breaking taboos will set you free -- as an audience member, you'll join some elite group who see heightened academic beauty in it all. For the most part, I think that's a false promise, and definitely not the valedictory point I'd want anyone to key on. Not all formality is oppression, especially in music. I still stand by the sincerity of all my work that we might call experimental, but at the end of the day, there's a little voice saying, "we appreciate your taking the time to make your experiments; what is it that you conclude from them?"

fast and silly, the Mascara Snake!



December 2, 2002

Scott, my friend John is a musician. He is a very gifted and talented singer, songwriter, guitar player, recording engineer... not to mention a warm, caring, funny, intelligent soul. I care about him deeply. The other night someone stole his guitar from the stage after a gig. Being a musician yourself I am sure you can appreciate all the reasons why this stinks. In fact, being a musician, it is likely that you have even had a similar thing happen to you.

Scott: My 6-string acoustic got stolen on the road, and the dark blue Stratocaster I used to use a lot was stolen in a burglary.

What really makes this situation so horrible is that this guitar had extreme sentimental value to John. He and his dearest friend and mentor, Jim, found it and put it together over many a long afternoon the year before Jim died. Consequently, playing that guitar was not just a way to make music, it was a way for John to stay connected to Jim and to all the things Jim taught him -- a way to honor him. I know John will recover from this loss eventually, and I know that someday John will realize that he honors Jim's memory with or without the guitar, but in the meantime I am hoping that you have some words of wisdom and comfort to share with him.


Judi Winn

I recommend two ways to think about it, versions of which have helped me in the past, and they're both fairly bitter pills to swallow, so let me preface them with some heartfelt sympathy. It's hard and bitter to lose an irreplaceable embodiment of an aspect of life, and it's hard and bitter to be touched by human victimization.

First, this may be treated as a challenge to make sure the music takes up the slack that the guitar was carrying, and thus bring what was proprietary within the relationship to people listening to the music. To endeavor to bring the feelings across on a new guitar is to remove reliance on the old guitar, and, in doing so, very probably to get more actual feeling across.

Second, I've tried to endure such suffering as I've experienced (nothing too noteworthy) with the attitude of the great mystics who regard it as a privilege to be called on to absorb it from the world. Say, for instance: "thankfully, this suffering falls upon me, who can take it, because I know what it is like to be one of the people who could not take it, and it is immeasurably preferable that those people be spared."

let's go sufferin' now, everybody's learnin' how



November 25, 2002

Scott, I've had several opportunities over the years to gush to you about how much your music has meant to me, so I won't waste space here. You've written about how "there's a melody playing in some corner of my consciousness virtually 24 hours a day" and that, at any given time, you decide whether or not to pay attention to it. With no immediate plans to record, are you not paying attention? or do you still jot down chord progressions or play guitar riffs into a four-track or keep a notebook of lyric fragments?

Scott: All that. And, of course, forget most of it.

The last time that you took a break of longer than two years between recording, of course, the result was Plants and Birds, likely the consensus all-time favorite album of those reading this page. Is it reasonable to hope that -- perhaps around 2005 -- we might be the beneficiaries of an explosion of pent-up creativity?

It's not inconceivable I could do an album about then, but that's getting pretty far ahead of myself. Between now and then I'd like to do a little to improve my skills as a singer and a producer, if it did happen, and presuming I'm stuck producing myself again. I just did a live show opening for Aimee Mann and that was good singing practice, as is the record of my old stuff I'm doing with Aimee and Michael Lockwood. Watching them work is definitely inspiring. Actually, Aimee and I were going to try to write a song together for this project, and that hasn't quite gotten rolling yet, but if it does that would probably be one new song in 2003.

On another subject altogether: How do your daily co-workers acknowledge your music career? Are they all aware of your godlike status among a small but influential demographic?

Actually I'm usually pretty mum about the whole thing. I imagine them getting ahold of some of my lyrics and thinking: wow, Scott's a bit of a disturbed cat.

Matthew Budman, who herewith pledges $250 to Bill Belt's finance-Scott effort and won't even expect a celebratory ballad

Much honored, sir; thank you! You just put that in an interest-bearing account (well, with today's accounts, it's hard to tell), and we'll watch signs for the advent of the new system of democratic patronage.

"he's got writing in his blood, man..."



November 18, 2002

Scott, I loved reading through your favorite album lists! :) One question... I noticed Teenage Fanclub's Grand Prix is missing from your top 20 of 1995. Are you not a fan of that album? I think it's one of their best -- much much stronger than Songs from Northern Britain (some of which sounds a bit too fake-Byrdsian to me, if that makes sense!). Anyway, Grand Prix = "Sparky's Dream", "Neil Jung", "Don't Look Back", "Tears"... lots of great songs.

Scott: I absolutely agree. I don't like to radically revise those lists over time, but sometimes either I hadn't heard an album at all when I made the list, or I couldn't afford the time to let it sink in, and it seems only fair to those albums to slip them in according to a later impression, which I should do. Mabye you don't agree, but to me later Teenage Fanclub songs tend to seem bland on first listen, and then you start to realize they have a sort of phantom emotional content.

"Sparky's Dream" is a perfect example. I first thought "here we go again, a British band doing that music hall descending scale thing one more time, with a bunch of braindead jawing about crystal balls and shooting stars." But now that part with "fading fast from taking this too far" comes along, followed by that little solo fuzzy guitar line, and it seems to have this uncanny charge to it.

For Grand Prix, figure top ten definitely, and probably top five for that year.

I do totally agree with I'm With Stupid as the number one album of 1995. I loved Aimee's stripped down, focused but fuzzy guitar sound (i.e. "Long Shot", "Par for the Course") combined with some great melodies ("Amateur", "That's Just What You Are", etc).

And that's not even mentioning the devastating "You Could Make a Killing."

Also, I'm a big fan of your work... only found out about Loud Family and Game Theory a couple of years ago (I'm 21 years old)!

Yeah, sure you are. And I'm sure you just happen to own a lot of Phil Ochs and Spirit vinyl.

But thank God! It was like discovering Big Star or something. I wish I could rework that Paul Westerberg line "I never travel far/ without a little Big Star" into "I always carry/ a little Loud Family" or something! Hee hee. You're the best... thanks,

Patty Cottrell

That's awfully kind of you to say. Okay, I guess I do believe you're only 21, because otherwise you probably would have heard to avoid Alex Chilton comparisons because of my alleged sensitivity to it (although the truth is I'm always flattered when someone considers me worthy of it). I very much appreciate the feedback on my lists, too.

P.S. Are you into graphic novels at all?

I've always had a passing interest. I used to like underground hippie comics like Zap, and later Eightball and Chris Ware comics and things like that. Recently I got something called "Optic Nerve" by Adrian Tomine, the story of which is actually set at my high school (Rio Americano in Sacramento). It's sort of the teen psychodrama stuff you'd expect from a hipster publication, but really well-crafted and unusually attentive to little details of human nature.

--Middleage Fanclub


October 28, 2002

Scott, do you think there are a lot of cliques in heaven?


Scott: As all midnight movie dorks know, in heaven, everything is fine. If you feel left out of a clique, that is not fine. Therefore, there are no cliques in heaven.

thanks for visiting www.westernreligion.org



Scott, your music has lately seemed to me a study of decline, even as the quality of each new LF increases every release. I have been listening to you Game Theory, the LF, etc., since early high school in San Luis Obispo, and still find your work musically and lyrically beyond compare. This despite the fact that I am all grown up, publishing philosophy articles on Kant's aesthetics, teaching in the Cal State system, etc. -- something I give you at least a bit of credit for, although I also think Lolita Nation was clearly a central factor in why I was forced to take a sojourn from college, waste money pretending to be a writer in Dublin & London, and yes, exactly what you'd expect -- and ought to have long since had my fill of teen-angst and other Californian themes. But, alas, "the charm still works on me." But I wonder why? I have spent thousands of hours listening to more and more depressing albums, have been driven to meet you once (Bottom of the Hill, sometime last century), walked all the way across Berkeley (where is Big Shot?)

Scott: It's gone now, but it was on the corner of Ashby and something -- I want to say either Telegraph or Shattuck. Northwest corner.

to listen to you play at the Starry Plough, and now I am writing this letter. As you might expect, I am a little curious if you have any insight into your staying power for well, a born-and-bred Calfornian Scott Miller fan.

It occured to me that while English music has long been depressing because of the decline and fall of the British Empire, the steadily worsening state of parking in central London, Thatcher, and all the rest of it, Game Theory, Anglo-centric stylings aside, presented an advanced form of Californian optimism. Until quite recently, California had some claim to being the center of the Western world, and, well, it seemed sort of like we would have every opportunity to make our mistakes young.

From my point of view, California has been in some ways the center of the world for a while, mostly on the strength of Stanford University plus the U.C. system, and Hollywood--as in the film industry. As for how long "a while" has been, let's make it since the demise of the golden eras of Broadway, Bell Labs, and the Roosevelt presidency. By "recently," do you mean that the center of the world became Seattle due to grunge, Microsoft, and Starbucks? Due to the Posies, maybe!

Girls might give one a hard time -- from your songs, they apparently arrayed against you decade long campaigns of emotional torture and aesthetic entrapment -- but in the end, the Californian could be confident he had local access to Philip K. Dick's backyard of end-of-the-world, edge-of-the-West, Euro-American technology and barnyard haircuts. And be confident that from Tokyo to Helsinki, people would be imitating him. Generally, it was fly-over good feeling. What I am wondering then, does your music reflect the end of all this Californian over-confidence?

Well, besides overconfidence, California has a dimension of fatality, being the last major global frontier, where, to boot, a major gold rush came and went. I like that about it. Part of my family actually settled in California before the gold rush, which is a rarity among non-Indian non-Hispanics. Like they, we were just here for the avocados.

Obviously, the general cultural and social decline of the West is rather disturbing stuff, to make no mention of the record industry or the fact that LSD is no longer legally available in Contra Costa County. But is your music also about Californian tragedy, the burst bubble of that left-over dayglo optimism that no outside the States could find a supplier for anywhere but here? Specifically, do you think the "child-free" nature of central SF, the shrinking of the Anglo population in NorCal, and the decline of humanities education in the UC and sister institutes play a role in the despair you express?

Actually, I did have terminal difficulty fitting into the U.C. Davis art department, and that could be related to what you're talking about (not that I would bet money I know what that is), although I would sooner look to my lack of talent.

The last part of that is where I get really lost. Do you mean that since I'm "Anglo," and SF is "child-free" in the sense of having a low Anglo (?) birth rate -- which I don't know the statistics about -- do I have some sort of a back-to-the-wall, standing up for the dignity and identity of my people feeling? Kind of the opposite: I'm all for being part of a group that's voluntarily lowering its population, for ecological reasons. And I don't have much of a Chuck D. thing about my own ethnicity -- it's not like historically things were pretty dead around China and the Mediterranean, and then one day the Celts and the Vikings dragged us all out of the stone age.

I know these are all rough ones, but this is the sort of thing I experience and am brought to think about when I hit "play" on Attractive Nuisance. Inevitably I am adapting your art for my own ends, which is fine with me and I hope with you. But I am curious about the particular nature of my adaptions here. So a good solid Davis try would be deeply, deeply appreciated.

Your loyal fan in the sticks,

Marcus Verhaegh

Nothing about Attractive Nuisance was consciously intended to be peculiar to California, but I think you could say there was a general theme of trying to look past instinctual clinging to personal destiny, and it wouldn't be a completely futile exercise to compare that to the way people conceptualize California. But here I am getting serious and scholarly about some little rock and roll songs I wrote, and that's embarrassing.

thanks for writing and best wishes,

--Surfer Rosa Parks


October 14, 2002

Scott, you're probably sick of these questions, but... who has the rights to Game Theory albums? A friend said you wouldn't re-release Lolita Nation because you didn't like the sound (or something else)? A real rock tragedy that some of the best '80s music is essentially unavailable. Seems like this is the kind of thing Rykodisc usually jumps on. Any interest there?

Scott: Thanks, that's a swell thing to say. Rational Records (in the form of a person named Scott Vanderbilt) has the rights; it was licensed to its original label, Enigma, which is long out of business.

What I've wanted to do for some time is re-record a few of the vocals, remix a few of the songs, and remaster for CD. I think that could be done for not too much money by transferring the multitracks to ADAT or 24-bit hard disk, then doing the new work. The two things I like about doing it that way are (1) people would get to hear a "what the singer would have done if he'd had a few more hours and dollars" version, and (2) it wouldn't really compete with the original for fans' historical attention. (2) will be a stupid consideration by some people's reckoning, but I have some suspicion of rerelease projects which sneakily introduce current electronic aesthetics, which can turn out to be bad ideas in retrospect. I prefer something analogous to a "director's cut," which announces its difference from the first release.

Two problems: (1) "not too much money" is still far from cheap, especially if I were to try to get producer Mitch Easter and original mastering engineer Eddy Schreyer involved. (2) the clock is ticking; I'm 42 now, and I'm guessing there are only a few more years that I'll be able to sing those songs right.

P.S. I don't know much about how the music biz operates.

If you can find a detailed, start-to-finish documentary on the making of sausage, it's pretty much the same process.

P.P.S. When are you coming to Minneapolis? It's warming up -- 30 today.

Ken Binner

I love Minneapolis, but I've always had thin attendance there, so probably not soon for music biz reasons. But thanks. Last time I was there, Grant Hart was hanging out in our backstage area, which was fun, and surreal. It would be great to see Ed Ackerson again!

who can turn the world on with his '80s indie nostalgia factor?



October 7, 2002

Scott, a zillion jillion congratulations on becoming a father! Life is about to change sweetly -- and comprehensively.

Scott: Gigathanks!

We parent types certainly all have dreams for our children, and when we're expecting them (the children) is mostly when we have time to develop and dream them (the dreams). Perhaps much later we will have time to be bemused by them (both). If asking is too personal, this'll languish in the "Ask Scott" slush pile, but still I wonder, what are your grandest hopes for your baby? What do you want your child to know, and what are you most excited to teach?

I wanted to wait until we actually had the baby before I answered this, so I could be as clear as possible about my feelings, and little Valerie is here now.

Midway through Kristine's pregnancy, I had a vivid dream about my daughter at about age 6 or 7 (we were apparently floating rather freely in time) and she spoke her first words to me. She looked out at the world, then at me, and with concern and a kind of mild detachment asked me "so, who set all this up?"

It is, it seems to me, a question in whose answer I must ground any grand hopes and excited teachings. It's odd to carry a baby around in your arms and realize that she can look outside at the sun in the sky, or over at a lamp on a table, and not be clear from birth which is the more significant and prior of the two. Similarly, it's only after a lot of study and experience that we sort out what in our psychology is fundamental, and what is interpolation, custom, accommodation. I think for that reason I wish my daughter to have what might variously be called a prayerful life, a literary life, a contemplative life, a meditative life. Full personhood requires more perspective and contextualization than we absorb just making ends meet and pursuing happiness; we need to receive the gifts of the great traditions. This need affects us in different ways at different ages, but, at least for an adult, functioning well in the social order requires (somewhat paradoxically) moral resources that transcend the social order. To put it in a simplistic way, we have to in some circumstances be capable of choosing "the road not taken."

One aspect that applies even to childhood is the simple absorption of Christian values -- and I'm sure I need to clarify what I mean by that. I don't mean Christian as opposed to, for instance, Jewish, or Buddhist, or atheist. What I mean can, I believe, be stated in saying that if any one of us were transported back in time to the early Christian era, we would find life among, let's not even say Jews who followed Christ, but Jews who understood the late prophets, fundamentally tolerable. We would basically be among friends. If on the other hand we found ourselves among Roman citizens, it would not be a week before we found ourselves to be in a world that was unimaginably alien and cold-blooded, and wish for any way out of it.

It is easy to think we are all born with a distaste for seeing, say, a woman and a dwarf man armed with blades and forced to fight to the death in the Coliseum for the audience's delight in their bloody suffering, but you would find only a few wet blankets -- men or women -- in Rome who saw anything slightly objectionable, and they would be Christians. This is worth reflecting on. The mind which objected to, e.g., the Coliseum, was born fairly suddenly and dramatically into the Western world, and it was the mind of Christ the Jew, in what we often dismissingly refer to as the "Judeo-Christian" tradition. Of course, all people always found it unpleasant to see the suffering of certain people -- relatives, friends, and allies -- but the world did not always tend to identify with victims as victims the way it does today, in our culture. It was, after all, always glorious to kill an enemy in battle, and the idea of staging a version of that glory as entertainment was simple good showmanship.

We are not born with the mind which objects to victimization on principle, but we absorb it in upbringing, from variously attenuated cultural sources. I'm not a card-carrying doctrinal Christian by a lot of people's standards (I don't, for instance, believe that Jesus died to appease God's wrath against the sins of man), but I think this absorption is probably the most important ingredient for happiness in this world. As complicated as life is, it is usually good when there is peace and love, usually bad otherwise.

I feel the urge to add that anyone who conflates "Christian values" with "family values" or "American values" is badly confused. The principle of identifying with kin and developing an insulating layer between kin (or countryfolk) and the possibly-corrupting remainder of mankind may sometimes be as expeditious today as was for the ancients, but it is central to what Jesus is responsible for dismantling in the world.

In more mundane but still keenly important matters, what songs do you look forward to singing, and what stories will you tell? (They will be private performances for an audience of one -- two if Mom is around -- but as this is a fan's query, I'll mutter an aside about the potential of recording a children's album while you're at it...)

I plan to play a lot of Bowie, Beatles, and Dylan, and of course much more. At this moment I'm thinking "Kooks" and "Yellow Submarine." I've found the urge to write original songs (one with her name in it) and sing them to her. Mom likes to hear me play when I'm not annoyingly repeating a certain song againg and again (hey, it's called practice).

Stories, I will honestly need to research. Suggestions? No doubt some time-honored cautionary stuff for getting by in the world (like the boy crying wolf), plus a lot that is just for fun and imagination. I'm sure Beatrix Potter and Dr. Seuss books will be involved from an early age. Down the road, it will certainly be hard for this child to escape A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L'Engle.

And in Very Big Things, how would you change the world now if you could?

By revealing to the world the following bizarrely well-kept secret: cloth diapers via a diaper service are both cheaper and easier to use than disposable diapers. People: all you do is put the used diapers in a bag in a hamper, put the bag out once a week, and elves replace it with a bag of clean ones. No going to the store, no fretting about managing your trash to stay within the pickup limit.

Enjoy the attention and the excitement, and the last few good nights' sleep (I'm writing in early mid-August). The whole earth anticipates your little one. Blessings.

Janet Ingraham Dwyer

Thank you so much, Janet.

--Julius Seizure


September 23, 2002

Scott, my name is Lasky, otherwise known as warbling j. laskitude, an anagrammatic involution on the hop, and it would appear here that i am "adding myself to your lengthy list of Louders" (to rephrase a certain unctuous ode to Big Sur by the Beach Boys there) even tho it must be said that i have heard little of this latter-day combo, and must confine myself to a onetime raving enthusiasm for Game Theory... primary reason for this being a certain "renunciation" of music a few years ago to pursue the study-path; thus it is with some pleasure and even harmonious sense of rightness that, updating at last with your history recently, i find it lit up from stern to bow with Rene Girard and all that follows from him... and i do but baulk here for a moment wondering whether to indulge in any amount of critical asseveration musically-speaking, or to shoot straight for that flying f**k at a rolling donut called the origin of language/ otherwise known as culture, and ask if your two-year old comments on Eric Gans have borne any significant modification; and if in fact, sir, you would welcome an earnest invitation to join the (Generative Anthropology) GAlist?

Scott: Thanks -- I'm honored! You imply my remark about Gans was negative (Jeez, Lasky, I call him "a top modern scholar"), but really it was just crotchety. I find Gans's writing difficult; having to speculate that this is because I'm not learned enough for it is not pleasant!

I said reading Gans and others makes you wonder "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." I like Derrida, but part of my unlearnedness causes me to think of Derrida's great influence as a kind of bridge troll for academic writing: you have to pay the troll by qualifying your text against "logocentrism" and "totalization" and a host of other totemic buzzwords I don't find meaningful enough for their proliferation, and I credit what I call this "repair work" on the "sharing of knowledge" with obfuscation -- contributing, e.g., to Gans being quite a bit harder to read than Plato or Nietzsche.

The main reason I like and respect Gans is -- and this is really my main criterion for philosophical genius -- that he unerringly gravitates to important issues. Strangely, being onto something in philosophy seems to be more important than what one does with what one is onto. Plato and Nietzsche came to very few certifiably right high-level conclusions, but they have immense value from my perspective for having ruddered thought in productive directions.

We need members R, W, & A to Respond! Reticence, alas, is everywhere evident on the forum in the face of a theory so brilliantly succinct in its formulation that its almost saliva-depriving! I noticed with some amusement your assertion in abovementioned comments that you suffered at that time from a certain reaction to the discussion of signs 'n' signifieds, and i do wonder, as i say, if you have since had occasion to aquaint yrself more closely with that formidable and yes, quite mind-boggling work of intellection of Gans' that is known to some as the Formal Theory of Representation -- this to distinguish it from the Institutional Theory of Culture worked up by Girard, and if you have ever, ever had pause to appreciate that no thought would really be possible without acute paradox, then this forum is for you!

My main problem with being a worthwhile contributor would be that I fall short of "getting" the originary scene theory. I've only read Signs of Paradox, and I should be doing this with at least that book in front of me, but let me provide you with a check of my understanding: the origin of language is the point at which early man is dividing a kill from the hunt, and instead of giving in to the mimetic urge to replicate another's grabbing gesture for an available piece of food, which act would lead to social conflict, an individual aborts the gesture. This gesture of retracted acquisition constitutes the first sign for an object which is shared between multiple consciousnesses.

Okay, objections to that I-can't-say-how-flawed conception of the theory: If, say, a hyena runs for a scrap because it sees what it thinks is a less-dominant hyena running for it, but when it gets close it recognizes that the other hyena is dominant, and yields, we have the same mimetic cognition structure occurring as in Gans's originary scene, but no language origination. Why? Also, it's easy to imagine language developing out of any old grunt being accidentally associated with a beneficial direction of attention; and against a background of many such easily-imitated events, community-wide vocalization habits developing incrementally. To use a term of Gans's, why require of "verticality" a scene of social crisis? Isn't it more economical merely to require incremental advantage, since language grows incrementally? Finally, where is the actual benefit of language in the originary scene? Sign innovation is supposedly cognate with the aborted gesture, but aborting the gesture already alleviated the crisis; what is the added value of the sign structure?

Apologies if all this retreads an old rut worn by people who don't quite read thoroughly and intelligently. Perhaps you could give me feedback.

I have delighted in those most elegant articulations on this site o' yours, especially of course the sections where it is manifest that yr intellect has been irrevocably triggered by your readings of Girard... and feel that they could only recieve another mighty boost into the very midst-of-things by a huge helping of Gans. i myself am vastly intrigued by whatever "predilection" it might be that makes folks fall for either one or the other, and not so often it seems for the head-on collison of the two.But one could hardly settle for less than this wild juncture, i reckon, as the issues hinge on the question of nuthin' less than how thought can be possible, how it is possible if we refuse to settle for assigning it a sort of immaculate conception and insist instead on an evenemential origin... and methinks the likes of EG's "ceaseless oscillations between recognized inviolability and imaginary possession," at the putative site of an originary scene, make just hideous-kinky amounts of sense but perhaps i have already exceeded what is welcome here in terms of size, so i shall shrink back into my rap... again, bonza to see you have so much going on -- i wish i could make music and philosophical/religious headway all at once!

all kindsa sincere,

L (in NZ as it happens!)

Thanks for a very interesting "Ask Scott." Yes, I often wonder what keeps Girard from catching on in a bigger way. Maybe I am just around the corner from feeling the same way about Gans. Would you recommend a good, ideally not too long, introductory read?

we put the GANS in FINNEGANS WAKE,



September 9, 2002

Scott, just wondering: are you aware that a band from Dublin, Ireland called The Revenants recorded a song called "Scott Miller Said" on their last album, Septober Nowonder, which was released just over two years ago? Have you heard it? If yes, what do you think of it?

Scott: Actually, I had a copy which I thought I'd lost in a move, but I recently found it again. It's a terrific song (and album); I couldn't be prouder to have been referred to in it.

Personally I think it's excellent: it starts "Scott Miller said you can't get good in an afternoon" but becomes a stream-of-consciousness journey where the protagonist is walking around the area he once walked with his father, who we learn has since passed on. The song finds him documenting his innermost thoughts as he describes the scenery around him, finally ending up in the graveyard where his dad is buried. You're mentioned in it, I think, because he is listening to Game Theory on his Walkman as he rambles. It's a beautiful song about time, memory, family, nature and loss. It's only about 4 minutes but it's wonderful. I always wondered what you'd make of it if you heard it.

It reminded me a little of the early chapters of Ulysses by James Joyce (Irish, of course), where the character Stephen does a fair amount of walking around with an internal monologue going, in his case having to do with his recently deceased mother.

The Revenants aren't really still going, though I understand the singer Stephen Ryan is still writing lyrics, with a view to doing something with them later. They're also the only band I know whose drummer has a father who won the Nobel Prize for Literature. True! His dad is poet Seamus Heaney.

No kidding? I haven't read his poetry, but that's damned impressive. I'm sorry the Revenants aren't still going but, well, my band isn't either.

Anyway, on the back of that song, I ckecked out the Game Theory album, Real Nighttime, which I liked, especially "She'll Be A Verb."

I thank you. In case you're curious, the quote in the Revenants' song is from a song called "Andy In Ten Years," from two albums after the one you have.

One other thing: are you a different Scott Miller to the one who sings in a band called The Commonwealth, as they played in Ireland in May and I was initially quite excited before someone told me they thought it was a different guy.

Yes, different guy. I hear he's very good, but I still haven't actually heard the material. There's yet another Scott Miller who plays around San Francisco, too. Hard to believe "Scott" was a moderately uncommon name when my parents named me in 1960. What I heard was that there was a surge of popularity for the name in America when The Great Gatsby became required high school reading, and everyone started knowing who F. Scott Fitzgerald was.

Anyway, hope all is well,

Nick Kelly

Thanks much for writing,

--Whiny the Elder


August 26, 2002

Scott, did you catch the December issue of Harper's and Paul Limbert Allman's hilarious (and strangely compelling) article offering evidence of a "solution," intricately linking author Donald Barthelme to the Dan Rather "Kenneth, what's the frequency" incident? How cool, then, to see, a few months later, on the March Harper's letter page (p. 82), a letter (from Andy Davis of Jersey City, NJ) about your use of "Kenneth" on Lolita Nation!

Scott: Someone showed me that letter. I was excited to make Harper's! I didn't read the article in question, and all I've read by Donald Barthelme is a 1960s novel called Snow White (which I liked quite a bit, and thank you to the not one but two fans who sent me copies -- how could I not read it after that?). I hope Mr. Barthelme was not giving Mr. Rather any trouble.

Seeing you mentioned in Harper's and having read your "Ask Scott" columns for a while now kind of got me wondering if you are, or have ever thought about, writing an essay, if not something longer, about some of your experiences with Game Theory/Loud Family and the whole music business imbroglio you've touched on in many of your "Ask Scott" responses. Considering the critical notice of recent works like Michael Azerrad's Our Band Could Be Your Life, I think it's a subject whose interest goes way beyond just the readers of this website, and as one of the most literate voices in recent popular music, "underground," "independent" or otherwise, you're certainly someone who could provide some unique, entertaining insight.

It's almost impossible for me to imagine more than fifty people in the world having their interest held by my music business memories, which wouldn't include any coverage of the only publicly interesting thing I've ever done -- have girlfriend troubles.

I just noticed there was a compliment in there -- thank you for calling me literate. One of my greatest writing passions would be to go on and on about albums I like and why I like them, but that somehow doesn't seem like hot publishing property. Another book I could see writing is one on why Star Trek is a greater literary accomplishment than has yet been appreciated, and how it epitomizes a certain fairly recent phenomenon that might be called "genius by committee with respect to a commercial market" that hasn't really been identified or explored -- the Beatles are another example. But yet another Star Trek book, or, of course, yet another Beatles book, is almost not an option. Finally, I could certainly write a book that was pure "what the big issues in life are," to zero interest, I'm a hundred percent confident.

I'd guess that some editors might be interested in your experiences and ideas precisely because of your place as an independent figure who writes with as much analytical wit and intelligence in full paragraphs as you do in your songs.

Editors, publishers -- if you are interested in any of the possibilities we have discussed, you know you can find me sipping absinthe at Vesuvio's almost every night, so just pop over and wave a hand in front of my face.

Anyway, thanks for all the great music and your contributions to this website. Good luck with whatever you might decide to do in the future, whether it's songwriting, skydiving or cake-baking...

Phil E. Young

Thanks very much for writing and contributing to my not shutting up.

unpopular, overground, dependent,



August 19, 2002

Scott, every time you hint at the suggestion of a possibility that you might continue recording and releasing your music, my heart skips a beat. Telling your adoring fans of the melodies that float through your head is pure cruelty, Scott. Please, please, please stop keeping them to yourself.

Scott: Mark -- hi again! How is everything? Best wishes to you.

I've sent you a couple of recent fan letters but I'm not sure I could articulate the grand scale formative / informative influence your music has had on my adult life, the themes of both which seem to have been: loss, loss, loss redeemed by the joy of personal statement.

How can I attempt to explain what your music does to me? Your Interbabe Concern album is one of the greatest works of art I've ever experienced. Nabokov talks about the "spine chill" as the standard for judging what is and isn't a work of art. I can't once listen to that album without laughing ("Sodium"), crying ("St. Therese," "Depressed/School," "Just Gone"), screaming ("Headless," "Asleep") and simply going catatonic in goose-bump awe, captive to the sheer beauty you create ("Princess," "Classique," "Baby Tongue"). The courage, genius and artistry manifest in that album astound me every time I listen to it.

That is kind in the extreme of you to say, and I love the idea of someone reading "Ask Scott" for the first time and having a good squint at the potential for "goose-bump awe" and "sheer beauty" in something called "Baby Tongue."

For me, your work went from being great music to great art when you began producing your own albums. The command you have over your art, over every aspect of making and recording music, is unprecidented -- from the world-class modern poetry you write, to your musicianship (your guitar solo on "Blackness" is perhaps the most heartbreaking thing of its kind since "Layla"), to your finessed producer's ear (your studio judgment is impeccable and daring. You push your music into ferociously original directions I can't imagine possible with anyone else at the knobs).

There are problems to producing yourself. I do think I got surprisingly lucky (in terms of my own tastes) on Interbabe Concern, but I typically miss having someone taking care of the day to day duties of bringing the project in on time and within budget, and making it sound good, where "good" means delivering at least short-term satisfaction to the ears of the intended audience. And when someone else's job is to make it sound good, I'm freed up to work on my dance moves.

That you are alive and in the prime of your artistic life during such a time -- when musicians can create fully fleshed out works with such a great deal of autonomy, from their back bedrooms, to their eager-to-download-it from-a-pay-website-for-say-$99-a-year fans (HINT) -- would, I hope and pray, help give you the impetus (if only the means) to continue to bring your great, great gift to life.

Maybe if I can get the right kind of help. I'm not too much of a one man band; I can't play (or simulate on computer) drums or keyboards, for instance.

And I believe there is a much wider audience for you out there. I don't think my tastes are different than the American kids of my generation. I grew up reading Twain, Salinger, Anne Frank's Diary, Flowers For Algernon, and Bananas magazine while listening to the Banana Splits, Beach Boys, Beatles in the background. Moving on to Faulkner and REM, Joyce and Squeeze, Ray Carver and The Replacements. Your work has somehow taken all the pop and high culture that has shaped my life and become the next inevitable thing that I would hold dearest to my heart -- in delight, with fascination and with great gratitude. Since the first time Lolita Nation exploded my subconscious mind, your music has never done less than make being alive to hear it a joy.

Ain't Too Proud To Beg,

Mark Portier

Okay, I think I said something negative about cloning before, but they should clone you. Thanks very much for your words.

baby tongues look just how they felt,



August 12, 2002

Scott, first I want to thank you for the mere existence of "Ask Scott." I discovered it last week and spent many hours reading every word, hooting with laughter every few minutes. It's incredibly generous for you to spend so much time making yourself so available to folks.

Scott: What a nice thing to say! Thank you. I only very occasionally get a direct reaction to "Ask Scott," so it's usually easy to get it into my head that it's become disappointing to people just lately.

In the "Ask Scott" archives I felt a fair amount of "Oh wow, this famous person whom I admire greatly is actually taking the time to interact with lowly me!" Do you think of yourself as a famous person? Do you remember when you made a transition between ordinary and famous?

I'm not famous enough to make a living doing what I'm famous for, and I suspect few people in that position sustain a true Greta Garbo attitude year in and year out.

Oddly enough, I remember the exact moment I went from ordinary to (not that) famous. I had a show singing in my high-school-sophomore band Mantis -- sort of a Black Sabbath and Pink Floyd inspired standard lame band -- at a nearby Junior High, and I overheard some girls talking to one girl who happened to live next door to my house, and one of these girls said "you live next door to Scott Miller?" Maybe the level of payoff of that needs explaining if you've never been a 15-year-old boy with not too much social cachet going in, or maybe it doesn't, but it took me many years to compute the faultiness of being profoundly at the mercy of such rather random perceptions.

Is the gradient of fame such that you would feel the same effect if some other famous person that you admire greatly were to answer your question on a web site? Or can you stand on your own plinth of fame and see other famous people for the once-ordinary people that they were (and may still feel themselves to be)?

Mostly the first answer -- I'm still really excited to receive attention from a person I greatly admire. I have to think the main difference is that I've experienced doing some of the mechanical tasks they do: signing autographs, doing interviews, etc. So compared to some people's reaction to, say, meeting David Bowie, I'm guessing for me it would be a little more of a welling up of appreciation of his abilities, a little less shock as if encountering an alien life form.

I'm sure you'll discount your own fame, but your music has obviously had an effect on quite a few people, and I count that as famous.

And on an entirely different subject, what do you think of They Might Be Giants? They seem to share your interest in found sounds, and in very carefully crafted music. And in working for years without "burdensome worldwide superstardom."

They're great, and one of those artists I'd explore a lot more thoroughly if I had more time and money. I make "Ana Ng" to be the second best song of 1988, which means I consider them capable of a result that is about as good as it gets. The song "They'll Need a Crane" is a classic in my book, too.

And finally, how do you decide whether to fade out at the end of a song? I have to say that I'm often disappointed by fade-outs. Are fade-outs a conscious choice, or are some songs just impossible to end otherwise?

I'd be interested in understanding your dislike of fade-outs. I've never minded them, and I wouldn't hesitate to fade a song out if there were the slightest aesthetic advantage over a full-volume ending. Non-fadeout endings are better drama, but over an album my ear also appreciates variation and moderation.

I really, really like your music, I like the interplay between the rhythms of the music and the line breaks of the lyrics. I like the guitars. And I like the way you sing. Thanks for makings and sharing such great music.

Diana Foss

It was very thoughtful of you to write such nice things; thank you.

--He Turns Out Upon Investigation Not To Be a Giant


August 5, 2002

Scott, I read your Ask Scott with great interest on a regular basis. On January 14 you responded to Bill McKinley and said "I want the release to have some input to their aesthetics, and in turn some little input to their view of life." I think I can safely say for anyone who is a fan of yours that this is indeed the case. I also want to chastise Mr. McKinley for thinking that Attractive Nuisance "was OK -- maybe showing a little auto-piloting." I can't imagine anything Scott Miller works on being done on "auto-pilot." AN is IMHO your finest work.

Scott: Thanks. I'm happy a few people got what I intended for people to get out of it. I've always felt myself to be pretty far out of touch with what listeners want to hear. Bill McKinley wasn't alone in thinking I blew that record, I can tell you that. There must be some high comedy going on that no one will really ever know about in the area of what I think is good about a song idea, and what people actually get out of it. I'm always completely surprised by which songs or albums are audience favorites.

Also, I was startled to learn that Inverness was not particularly about Inverness, California. When I first heard the song it immediately brought to mind my first visit there and around Tomales Bay and Point Reyes. The spare, stark beauty of the place. Maybe the title started me on that road, but the melody and lyric took me all the way there. It must be a weird feeling for an artist to create a song from a specific idea and have it affect people in ways he didn't quite intend.

No doubt about it, I have to make the trip up to "Inverness" and discover the feelings behind that song!

Thank you very much for "Vado Via." You did an exceptional job with it. Your guitar playing (I assume it is you) is wonderful and your voice sounded better than ever. Great tune.

Tom Galczynski

Si, signore, e io che giocho il guitar. Grazie, grazie. It is a great tune (by Drupi, not by me).

--Scotto e mezzo


July 29, 2002

Scott, why place Help! before Rubber Soul?


Scott: Thank you for writing, G.L. if that is your real name!

To me a fair amount of the classic status I associate with Rubber Soul as opposed to Help has to do with the fact that when I was a kid, Rubber Soul was a lush, cool, atmospherically tuned album that started with "I've Just Seen a Face," and Help was a not very cool promo vehicle for a cheesy film with cheesy spy music padding the grooves where Beatle songs ought to be.

Of course, that was all Capitol Records as auteurs, not Beatles. What the Beatles delivered to EMI were two much more equivalent records, and that is what the world including America usually expends critical energy on these days. My rule is, when in doubt, rate the album according to the artist's release intentions.

It's close, but the short version of the verdict would be that the songs "Help" and "Yesterday" ("Yesterday" is on the British Help album) are just such phenomenal songwriting successes to me as to take on 800 pound gorilla properties; already there's practically no beating it. Add to that "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away" -- and to boot, American RS staples "I've Just Seen a Face" and "It's Only Love" -- are actually on Help -- and it's all over.

To me, the strongest songs on Rubber Soul are "I'm Looking Through You," "Norwegian Wood," and "Think For Yourself" (Jim Shapiro of Veruca Salt actually made the case to me for "Think For Yourself" being key to the Beatles' later chordal mojo, which began the steady ascension of George's stock in my eyes in recent years). Great songs, but not as utterly stunning. "In My Life" started gaining sentimental value when Lennon died, but I have to admit that before that, I didn't really go nuts for the song, so I have to enforce a little objectivity there.

"What Goes On" and "Run For Your Life" are closer to crap than peak period Beatles material ought to ever veer.

I wouldn't need any convincing that there are several other very strong songs on Rubber Soul; I'm sure "Drive My Car" is better than anything I'll ever write, but there's something not-quite-varsity-team about it as an opener compared to, oh, "Hard Day's Night," or "Come Together."

use new EMITEX record cleaner,



July 22, 2002

Scott, I can't express how dismayed I am to find out that not only had you never been to Inverness, Scotland, but the song isn't about Inverness, California either -- that's the small town in Point Reyes near Olema that has, for some reason, not one but two Czech restaurants.

Scott: I meant no slight to the people of the Czech Republic.

I spent a weekend there long ago housesitting at the home of Matthew Robins (Corvette Summer, Batteries Not Included, Bingo), and the song has always made me think of being in a beautiful but somewhat remote place that you couldn't really live in, both because it was impractical and because you just didn't fit in. A place where you can have the experience of feeling quite overwhelmed by beauty and tranquility and longing, but where all that feeling comes in a context where you know you're going to have to leave. I don't think any reading of the song's lyrics justifies that interpretation, but curiously I don't think the interpretation does violence to the song either.

I am bold enough to think that when I write something like "I'll bet you've never actually seen a person die of loneliness," it opens the door to that sort of impression, as opposed to, say, "I'll bet you've never actually seen a person die of botulism." And then you'd be up a tree when it comes to rhyming with any place, and could end up with a contrived, unlovely song, possibly involving Gus Grissom.

But I'm being very goofy now, and that was actually a very lovely evocation, albeit one apparently intended to chastise me about failing to write my song about the right place.

I am also delighted to read on your site that I'm responsible for Kenny Kessel joining the band. And I've never met him! Though curiously a friend of mine is a friend of Rob Poor's. And heck, I used to buy a croissant and a latte from Shelly LaFreniere every damn day -- back when I lived two blocks from Big Shot Photo. As you can see, I go way back.

Thanks very much for Kenny! Thank you also for helping Shelley's business, and for befriending the friend of Rob Poor, who I am not reluctant to speculate is deserving.

But as Art Fleming would say, I should rephrase my answer as a question. And I have one. I thought The Loud Family was an incredibly clever name for a band for just the longest time. Now that Lance Loud is dead, it seems, somehow, not quite as clever. That distancing embrace, the ironic reference, holding something at arm's length to express an appreciation for it it seems to crumble under the weight of mortal stakes. And I'm really only talking about what one naturally encounters in mid-life (like you, I was born in 1960). Let's not even get into our new-found fondness for firefighters.

There can be no excuse but laziness for an artist who says "I have raised false expectations by counterfeiting impressions of a town; my day's work is done," when there remains the unfinished business of packaging the result in short-lived cleverness.

What I might try to make a little clearer is that I didn't intend the use of the name "the Loud Family" as ironic in any way I can think of, but rather in a sense of evoking affinity with that family's having been scrutinized by mythologizing media. The press, I thought, sought to deny that the family was really average as a means of disowning aspects they considered aberrant, rather than saying "this is us" in a way that involves sympathy. (I also liked the name "Loud" for a pop group on that obvious silly level, but I wouldn't exactly elevate that to the term "irony").

So I'm not personally clear on the "ironic... holding at arm's length" part of that -- as a footnote, we actually contacted Lance and verified that the family did not for whatever reason object to us using the name -- but in a general sense I can at least imagine I am seeing what you are saying: we should not objectify others, as our sadness at their death makes clear.

Once you've gotten a good draught of the blight man was born for, irony doesn't seem like much of a tool. It's like trying to fend off a hail of bullets with an umbrella. So what do we do? Do we just put irony aside? Is earnestness what's happening now?

Robert Rossney

To me irony is a tool for disabusing someone of a false impression. In literary irony, for instance, we remark how a character behaves when he or she doesn't know as much as the reader knows. But I think Heidegger would warn us not to let the tool cause us to see the world as exclusively a vast set of false impressions from which people must be disabused. There is a greater need for gentleness, love, and civility.

Still, it's the earnestness epidemics that do the serious harm in the world, when you think about it, not the irony epidemics, so it's not quite so simple as choosing earnestness.

Thanks much for writing and for enduring my probably dismal attempts at humor in response.




July 8, 2002

Scott, a couple of us over 40's at where I work have started meeting twice a month to learn some songs and generally have some low-brow musical fun. I'd love to do "Sleeping Through Heaven," and know that you can probably pull the chords up out of your memory, as you did the song in Milwaukee (solo, as the band didn't know it) as part of the extended encore.

Scott: Here's how I'm remembering them, although I don't have a guitar with me at the moment to check.

[You can get the chords on this page.]

I actually rue the fact that I did not offer to put up some of the band at my place as I overheard a discussion about where to stay that evening -- guess you all just got in from Madison -- my self-excuse was that it was snowing and it was a half hour drive to my place. Guess I missed an interesting opportunity. Nevertheless, the Ask Scott part of your website may in part make up for missing a potentially interesting late night conversation.

Thanks -- typically the late night conversation you would have missed out on was "do you have an extra towel?" Sometimes the morning conversation was even more stimulating.

Why "Sleeping Through Heaven"? That and Mary Magdalene are distilled GT in my mind, they came first in my history and after listening to them one could tell that you were going to be something to look out for. It got tighter and there are some great songs later, but... An analogy is "If There Is Something" and "Sea Breezes" which were (and are) Roxy Music to me, to this day, although things got tighter and there were great songs later, but...

On another note, since the September incident is still causing quite a stir, I wonder if such may be the price we pay for our society in the context of the rest of the world. One could point out that 17K die each year from DWI incidents (the data is from a NPR program and I assume it's correct, though it seemed a bit high) and these deaths, a function of our societal set-up, are supported without the same level of consternation. Sporadic attrition by malcontents, be they local or foreign, appears to be insinuating itself as another factor. Perhaps what makes this a great place to live, and I think a needed part of planetary development, comes with these strings. Personally I was more scared that we will change in response in a way that will make us less like the US. This may be the anti-Viet Nam scenario, in which a war induces a swing to to right in a relatively organized way. The anti-domino effect -- we set up a "peace-loving" regime in Afganistan, following that, force an Israeli-Palestine peace, after that reform the Saudis, after that... A Pax Americana.

At the risk of sounding like I favor unrestrained U.S. force, it should be noted that as offensive as some aspects of Roman morality are to us, the Pax Romana was one of the most fortunate developments in the ancient world from the point of view of about everyone involved excepting second-tier tyrants. As a great improvement upon Rome, to get the support it needs, the U.S. is required to sell the world on the story that its goal is to oppose victimization; while being far from completely immune to abuse, that much is a happy state of world affairs.

I'd like to solve the problem of genocide by turning the hearts of potentially genocidal people toward what I think of as a peaceful attitude, but I do support the opposition of genocide by force where that is the only practical alternative to a program of victimization. But as you note, that attitude is subject to some ridicule. We know that powerful people or groups are always at risk of making self-serving moral judgments. I try to be aware that there are Judeo-Christian, capitalistic, and democratic biases to my worldview which might lead me to favor handling of interactions with radically different cultures in ways that turn out to be foolish. I try to keep love of all mankind in mind, and weigh the suffering of those I consider genocidal when I think of what it means to use force against them. As I've said before, it's a hard decision that if you can't talk the Nazis out of running a death camp, the next best course of action is to start shooting them.

In the end I remain optimistic, buoyed by the large moment of inertia built up in the society, which should make it hard for us to act like modern day Romans, being too busy being Americans to be able to seriously export our society using historical approaches, and thus evading major changes for the worse. In this way also avoiding falling into the trap of being like every one else that came before -- which would be pointed out by the instigators of these events. They would say, "See, the Americans, for all their espousal of freedom, human and religious rights, are no different than the Mongols, Turks, British and French."

It is a major difference that we have a vital culture of moral self-critique. What is most fragile about it is that when our intellectual mainstream puts its rational, philosophical hat on, it comes to the conclusion that our moral bases are arbitrary. If I were to write a book, it would be on something like the proper basis for a viable modern Western morality.

I've always though that our strength has been our society within itself -- in an example mode.

I tend to agree with that.

This example, as imperfect as it still is, is strong one as can be sensed by the fear in those in the rest of the world that would like to keep it out.

Please consider the request, and thanks.

Jack Gorski

Thanks for writing, Jack.

--Baba Aurelius


July 1, 2002

Scott, John Entwistle died on the eve of a major summer concert tour by the Who, a band he had been a crucial member of for over 30 years. I was astonished to hear that the tour will go on as planned -- in fact, they'll be playing shows here in Northern California less than a week after he dropped dead.

Of course, everyone is saying "this is what he would have wanted." A friend of mine pointed out that there are probably hundreds of people other than the band members who make their livings from such a big tour, and cancelling it abruptly would be depriving them of their livelihoods, but still, it seems kind of disrespectful to immediately scramble for someone to take the place of a master musician like Entwistle. What do you think -- when adversity strikes, should the show always go on?

Sue Trowbridge

Scott: Sue -- always a pleasure! You have surely just answered the question more intelligently than I shall.

The first thought that crossed my mind when I heard that John Entwistle died was: "whatever will this mean to future Who farewell tours?" Having been a gigantic Keith Moon fan (he was my all-time favorite drummer), my personal disillusionment about replacement Who members is concentrated 24 years back into my sensitive youth, and in 2002 Pete and Roger have my blessing to carry on as if it were actually their own personal lives which were affected and not mine, continuing to play with whomever they see fit, be it Les Claypool or Michael Quercio.

I always loved John's bass playing, and I really admired that song "My Wife."




More Ask Scott:

 January-June 2002
 July-December 2001
 January-June 2001
 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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