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Ask Scott

June 30, 2003

Scott, I just read this on "Ask Scott":

One project I'm fervently hoping gets finished is an album of quasi-acoustic versions of my songs with Aimee Mann and her guitarist/ producer Michael Lockwood (who's an incredible talent in his own right). It's about half recorded, but of course she's a pretty big star these days and we need to find some time to finish it that works within her touring and recording schedule.

I've never written to you before, but reading what you wrote above compels me to do so.

I'm not the flattering type, really, but I think your recordings remain to this day among the most interesting and literate that I have ever heard, or probably am ever likely to hear in my lifetime. When you discuss Auden or Joyce (I'll throw Wilde in as a comparable favorite), you refer to them naturally as masters or geniuses within their particular area of artistic expression.

Scott, through your work in Game Theory and the Loud Family, you occupy this same hallowed ground within power pop, or post-Beatles rock -- I don't know what to call it exactly. I can only tell you that I've listened to hundreds of records of this nature and no one ever equaled your ability to create interesting, tuneful, soaring music that never failed to be a reflection of a keenly intelligent, musically gifted mind: writing from the heart when you wanted to, being enigmatic when you wanted to, challenging everyone that listened to simply pay attention and reap the incomparably unique benefits of your musical and literary viewpoints, or kindly step out and soak up the new Ratt album instead.

Scott: Well, I'm blushing, of course; thanks very much for saying all that. I honestly don't think I know what Ratt sound like. Less Auden influence, you say?

Personally I've never been more than half satisfied with my attempts to tie in with what I consider great literature. I have the vague goal of presenting certain interpretations I came by with difficulty in a way I imagine I would have found more approachable; but even if I'm successful at this reeling in of a putatively lofty idea from literature down to the reality of my own life, I've likely made it uninteresting to everyone except someone like you who has unusual patience with a project that's laborious in this way.

So I appreciate hearing when it works out for someone. As an example of what I take to be the more typical reaction, this Attractive Nuisance review is handy. Besides the just praise of Alison's contributions, I like as a closing put-down the writer's declaring that my efforts made him "painfully aware of [his] own mortality while putting [him] to sleep" -- oddly close to something I might have offered as a stated goal (I might have said "invite consideration of ultimate concerns without using shock tactics").

To people that love the idiom of music that you contributed to and brought true artistic growth to, you are a genius and immortalized in our eyes. Anyone who does not believe this either never heard your music in the first place, or for whatever reason could not listen carefully enough. Your contributions to popular music are much greater than I think you, or the world at large, quite realizes yet.

I thank you from the bottom of my heart that you have dedicated yourself to your art for as long as you have; had you not, my life and those of many, many others would have been far poorer without your voice somewhere in the mix.

I thank you again. I don't predict any sort of snowballing interest in my recordings, but to provide a pleasant experience to an always limited but fairly steady number of listeners is very gratifying.

Now that I've gotten that off my chest....

I hope this project with Aimee comes to fruition. She is a very intelligent and concise musician who makes impeccable music with an absolutely unique and original approach, just as you have done in your own career. Her keen observations of human relationships contain unusual insight; her talent is a gift to all of us, just as yours is.

I hope that it does not appear too lofty to say that the fact that she regards you as a musician as highly as you regard her is a undeniable testament to the strength of the human spirit; your mutual collaboration reflects one element of the highest aspirations that people working together could ever hope to achieve in their lifetime.

It's a dream experience. I still have to pinch myself. Michael Lockwood is now working steadily with Lisa Marie Presley, though, so that may mean our producer is not too available for a while.

I anxiously await the fruits of your work together. Save the realization of true love or the birth of a healthy child, I'm hard pressed to think of anything that would lift the emotional fabric of the admirers of your craft to a higher level.

Lawrence Sweet

Highly encouraging words. I am very grateful.

born to be Wilde



June 23, 2003

Scott, I was a fan of yours in high school and even saw you play at Northwestern in Chicago in the mid eighties. I would love to be able to find Real Nighttime and ALRN's Painted Windows on CD. Are they available?

Stephanie Grove

Scott: ALRN -- no. Real Nighttime, on eBay quite a bit, sometimes Amazon.


Scott, I've recently undertaken the arduous task of converting a centuries-old coal bin in my basement into a writing/recording space.

Scott: Wonderful. I have heard of writers trying to go it without a coal bin, or with a contemporary or unconverted coal bin, and I wonder what they are thinking.

I've always regarded the Loud Family albums as sterling examples of skillful self-recording, so I wanted to ask you a technical question. Recording vocals has always been my weakest point as an engineer. Assuming that most of the tape hiss and ambient noise isn't coming from my own throat, what microphone(s) do you use for such a purpose?

Most of my vocals have been done with an AKG 414, but don't let stop you from using them -- I think they're the best mics you can get for about a thousand bucks. For acoustic guitar right in front of the sound hole or miking an amp, a Shure SM 57 -- around a hundred bucks -- has always sounded as good to my ears as anything else.

If you have a lot of money, it's really done these days to throw in a fancy pre-amp, but I'm not completely confident the money for those things always ends up on the screen, whereas time put in learning to compress is essential -- including learning to use the side-chain feature to control hissy-ess frequencies (a skill I think I finally got good at around the song "One Will Be the Highway").

Do you scrub down the raw tracks with any outboard compression / noise reduction gear, or is it all about post-production in ProTools?

I'm actually waiting for ProTools to port to Mac OS X, then I'll buy it. All my stuff has been on ADAT (or in the old days, 24-track 2", or in the very old days, Teac 4- and 8-track).

I have dbx 166A compressor/gate/limiter that has just been the workhorse of my home recording life. I always record with lots of compression and some limiting -- the hotter, the better -- and unless it really bugs the singer, noise gating.

Incidentally, I've discovered that The Tape of Only Linda is the best possible album for scrubbing down concrete floors in abandoned coal bins. It happily beat out strong competition such as Wire's 1985-1990 The A List (too murky), Ultra Vivid Scene's Joy 1967-1990 (too robotic) and Maria Kalaniemi's Iho (too NPR).

Myke Weiskopf

It will take the paint off most anything. Thanks for writing, and happy recording!

--Alfred E. Neumann


June 9, 2003

Scott, this "Ask Scott" thing is getting to be a habit. This is going to be a bit dicey, so if you don't answer it, I'll understand; although none of the loud-fans know where I live.

This is my twisted little take on deity. It just might ruffle the feathers of believers, agnostics and atheists alike. I expressed this thought to a regular at an establishment I go to often and I must have scared the be-jesus out of her, because I haven't seen her since.

Okay, here goes: "I believe there is a God. But in light of the power, scope and secrets of the universe that we can't begin to understand, I just don't believe we humans are a significant part of God's plan. An odd paradox exists in many -- if not most -- believers. These believers display the ultimate in humility and fear in God, yet they often have the arrogance to believe that we humans have the power to offend or protect God."

Scott: You're right -- people who value humility and believe in God ought to be open to the possibility that God might, in the vast possibilities of all universes, have more significant creations than humanity. I guess anyone who's read Milton has a flavor for that Puritan theology where God is a sort of cabinet-maker whose newest project in Paradise Lost is humankind -- but that's probably not quite what you're getting at.

There, I said it. Although I haven't come across anyone who has expressed a similar outlook, I imagine they're out there. I'm curious if you have come across any.

A grayer shade of pale,

Jack Lippold

I may never have heard that before, or looked at it that way myself before -- I congratulate you for a rather original thought! But my personal impression is that human consciousness is enough more remarkable than anything else in my realm that I wouldn't know how to begin to imagine something more significant. When I say I believe in God, the core of what I mean is that I can't talk about the specialness of my own consciousness -- the subject world -- without bringing in the concept of God, and were I to say I don't believe in God (which I don't, because people would take it as a cheap rejection of Western spirituality), the core of what I would mean is that I don't have a coherent way of talking or thinking about a privileged aspect of the object world which manipulates the rest of the object world as a result of motivations we would have some chance of understanding.

Short sentences, Scott. Hemingway. Short sentences.

thanks for writing Jack, and best wishes

--the God-doesn't-play-dice man


June 2, 2003

Scott, I wrote once approximately four years ago, and now am writing again with an admixture of intellectual inquiry and sad avarice. (Speaking of "admixtures," are you a fan of Donald Barthelme's short stories?)

Scott: All I've read is his novel Snow White, which I enjoyed very much, although I'm not sure I'm quite on top of why so many people I know seem to single him out as the author to recommend. I mean, I'm sure I've had ten times the number of Donald Barthelme recommendations as Anne Sexton, Kingsley Amis, V.S. Naipaul, and J.G. Ballard recommendations combined -- what could that mean?

First, as far as Husker Du, I have always been among those who fall on the Hart side of the coin, like those who fall on the Lennon side of the Beatles coin. Even in my punkiest days circa 1983-84, I loved Hart's compositions, sad, melodramatic, sometimes whimsical hippy stuff though they were (i.e., "Diane," "Pink Turns to Blue," "Turn on the News," "Flexible Flyer"), more than Bob Mould's angry stomping.

I'm not really a Husker Du adept; I've managed to form opinions about most of their albums, but I don't actually own any, nor would I probably ever play them if I did.

That said, I'm with you -- I like Grant's Husker Du stuff better than Bob's. The critical overrating of Bob Mould's Husker Du material was truly a thing of machinelike beauty that I don't think has been equaled since -- and that's saying something, since his songs certainly weren't bad at all. There was just sort of no such thing as not thinking that sound was an out-of-the-park home run every single time (which it just plain wasn't). Bob's stuff starting with the Sugar record has been much, much stronger, and gets nothing like that level of critical attention. "Deep Karma Canyons"; "Classifieds" -- amazing songs!

That said, are you familiar with Hart's oeuvre post-Huskers? If so, waddaya think? I for one believe that the first Hart solo album was practically impeccable, even the sappy Billy-Joel-on-Dope coda of "The Main." Likewise, I love the first Nova Mob album and all of its goofy historical images (Last Days of Pompeii? To my knowledge, although you delve into esoteric literatary references, you've never sunk into advanced high school history as far as lyrics go). The second Nova Mob album was horrible, and I wonder whether he hadn't relapsed as far as the drug use goes. Finally, the most recent solo Hart album showed signs of promise, though only about half the songs had the melodical strength to sustain the poppy production. Are you familiar with these releases? Can you become so and give me your thoughts? Did you ever at all consider yourself (while in Game Theory) a contemporary of the poppier side of Husker Du in anything more than a purely temporal sense?

Only in the sense that people used "college rock" as a catch-all term; we were a hated harmony-mongering, keyboard-using band to any Husker fan, I'm sure. "Diane" was probably my single favorite song by them, which my friend Dan Vallor played for me when it came out. F*** me! I'd kind of considered Land Speed Record the sort of thing people still did if they were still stuck in a teenage frame of mind, which I considered myself well beyond at the time (rather embarrassingly, now that I look back), but with "Diane" I came to respect the emotional impact they were capable of deploying.

I probably ought to get Intolerance; I'm not sure if I'm up for studying Grant's whole catalog, but I've heard a few post-Husker songs that are pretty damn engaging.

Next, here comes the blatant avarice. I really, really want a copy of Lolita Nation and the first and fourth Game Theory albums on CD. I have them on LP but don't currently have the technology to transfer them, and anyway my LPs are long since scratched. If anybody out there in Millerland is willing to trade with me, I have a fair deal of 80s stuff, as well as decent 90s stuff on LP and CD, particularly a pretty complete backlog of Guided by Voices rarities / live versions, etc., on CD. If anybody is willing to trade (and if you, Scott, have any thoughts on the latest GBV offering, Universal Truths and Cycles), please feel free to post here or write me at tfriedman@nc.rr.com. Thanks.

Terrence Friedman

Let the swindling begin.

P.S. My vastly younger 19-year-old sister (14 years younger than me, arghh) is just now getting into intelligent pop, starting with Aimee Mann. I'm waiting about another year to spring you on her.

Here's hoping that move doesn't grind the whole program to a halt.

everything's in boxes at 2541,



May 19, 2003

Scott, I am not writing you for the first time after having been a fan for many years. Actually, um, who are you again? Oh, that's right.

Scott: Thanks much for writing, d. -- IF THAT IS YOUR REAL NAME.

I had a dream in which people, including you and including me, were travelling across the country in a van. Actually, I had to sort of stand on the back bumper and hang on to the door and the molding, while someone on the other side of the bumper poked me with a carrot to try to knock me off.

I have to jump in and say how sad it is that classic psychoanalysis would be at such a total loss for words at this point.

We stopped at some cramped hovel, where dwelt an old man and a scruffy-looking black dog. The old man apologized for his dog's apparent lack of socialization (due to unfortunate circumstances in the dog's early upbringing) but defended the canine's essential worth thusly:

"That dog smells better than any calamari around! You want to talk about loving your enemy... that dog loves calamari."

What does this mean?

d. (doug mayo-wells)

Why we dream is a good juicy mystery. In a way, it's farfetched to think dreams are constructed complete with meaning somewhere in the unconscious, and then they're exposed like a movie to consciousness, which then might or might not figure out that meaning. It would be an odd evolutionary inefficiency for the brain, once it had the meaning in hand to begin with, to go through this risky, cinematic process go get the meaning to some other aspect of the brain. Though maybe not inconceivable.

But I'm more inclined to think there's not so much an inherent meaning in dreams as there is the possibility of some class of encounter which the brain feels like playing out to test its own reaction and interpretation. Which sort of goes along with my theory that it's not all that mindless to watch what is typically thought of as mindless TV. By watching something like a soap opera, I'm thinking that to an extent you're doing brain work that's valuable in the same way that dreams are valuable -- you're doing on-the-cheap refinement of your reactions to provocative situations to be better mentally prepared for similar real life situations. The down side is the untrustworthiness of it all: you're probably also receiving recommended resolutions from people who are poorly qualified to do anything besides get your attention; but that's another subject, and I'd better start circling back to yours.

In a way the "meaning" of the dream is exclusively the way it made you feel; I'd have to ask you what it means. But you're a pretty good writer. I'm going to suppose you may have captured the essence of that dream enough that I could imagine the reasonable generic human reaction to it, which may be pretty close to my attempting to say what the dream means.

In your dream, you go traveling, which I presume has the feeling of venturing beyond your cultural boundaries. What you find there -- here the dream is very realistic and significant -- is a representative of culture's non-included. In a way the sickness of culture is that it assigns worthiness in a big invisible pyramid scheme, which by its very nature requires a bottom layer of those who are utterly abject. But the old man in the dream is giving you testimony that even those abject according to the paradigm of "socialization" have, in your words, essential worth. And maybe as added significance, the old man isn't testifying to his own self worth, but another's: the dog's. So your dream has the potential to enlighten you to the absolute worth of another despite cultural interpretation.

Calamari for the dog? That's what those people do with their food stamps??

re-elect Gore,



Scott, in your opinion, could a vampire force him/her/itself to eat actual food instead of blood?

David Werking

Scott: Commonly observed approximations may be: (1) a cat, and (2) a goth person. Both would prefer to drink blood but will survive on non-bloody food for long periods. So I will say that a normal, newish vampire will be able to force him or herself to eat food at least for a while, although perhaps some sort of science diet involving blood byproducts is necessary for immortality and a shiny coat.



P.S. http://hometown.aol.com/eiregrl/myhomepage/business.html (please post this link to my gallery)



May 5, 2003

Scott, did you ever play in the UK at all in any of your incarnations?

I've been a fan of The Loud Family since they started and even managed to track down some Game Theory CDs a while back. Feel as though I missed out a bit not seeing the Louds live as I've seen most other singers I rate like Tori Amos, Aimee Mann, Suzanne Vega and All About Eve. Also, have you heard of a singer called Nerina Pallot? Her album Dear Frustrated Superstar from last year was superb. I think you'd really like it.

Scott: No, I don't know her. Nice title!

I've played in and around London a couple of times. The first time was a solo show in 1991, set up by a friend, at a place called the Mean Fiddler. Then the first Loud Family line-up played a few shows in 1993. We did a Greater London Radio spot, played a place I think was called the Powerhaus, played a place I think was called the South Cross Venue, played some place in Leicester, and played some place in Aldershot. The main thing I remember about the Aldershot show is that Elastica were on the bill. I remember talking to someone in Elastica (who I am now deducing from their web site was "Donna Matthews, vocals and guitar") and being flabbergasted to learn that they were getting cover stories in national magazines and all they'd done is release one single. What -- you don't have to have three college radio hits and tour for years over there? I like England!

I'd love to play England again, but I no longer really have the kind of connections and career momentum where some promoter in his right mind would fly me over.

Any truth in the rumour that you'll be working with Aimee soon? If not, then I guess we'll just have to respect your retirement and know that another musical genius has been lost.

Franko Kowalczuk

I'm blushing! But actually, I'm thinking pretty positively about the Aimee project (which I won't describe in detail now, having described it in other messages). It's about half recorded, and as part of finishing it up, we're writing a song together, which I think is coming out great. It's fantastically thrilling to work with Aimee.

thanks for writing; don't forget to shop at Minus Zero!

--Young Blighty


April 14, 2003

Scott, let's get physical.

Working with the notion that light is composed of wave particles called photons, a theory (fame theory or shame theory) occurred to me while going for a jog (wonderful things, those endorphins!).

Scott: Thanks very much for writing, Jack.

It's been a long time (23 years) since my modern physics education, so expect some high impedance in my brain. My feedback won't be scholarship, but maybe the exercise is useful for purposes of (1) publicizing of your idea, and (2) talking an amateur through it.

These photons, of course, have a velocity component of 'c' in one dimension, but there just may be much slower velocity components created by the wave oscillations themselves in the other 2 (known) dimensions. Unlink the forward 'c' which is independent of frequency and amplitude, these other 2 dimensions have velocities that are dependent on frequency and amplitude.

Are photons thought to have a velocity component in directions other than their direction of travel? What I thought was that light has wave and particle natures, the photon concept describing the particle nature, and so you couldn't really talk about the y and z velocities of a photon -- y and z components are electrical and magnetic amplitudes, not physical oscillation of the photon.

Even if I take a classical wave example like sending a wave down a jumprope by wiggling it, I wouldn't think I'd talk about a velocity component of the wave going down the jumprope in the x direction and another velocity component of the rope molecules at any point going up and down in the y direction. There isn't any actual movement of matter in the x direction -- it's the nature of a wave system to propagate energy in some direction without accounting the local displacement as a velocity component of that propagation.

Going back a very long time ago to The Big Bang (memories are a bit foggy, because I was just a teenager then), the theory states that an incredible burst of energy occurred at a rate of 10 to the minus 43 seconds. If one were to plot this on a Laplace/Fourier frequency vs. amplitude plot, one would get almost incomprehensibly high frequency components.

Personally, the Big Bang theory has always sounded a lot like creationism to me, only updated to what we know about constituents of matter. In biblical times you could say something like "one day there were just continents and animals and humans," and now you have to say "one day there were just photons and electrons." Maybe it's just me, but it seems at some important level like a bit of a lateral move.

A little quibble is that 10**-43 seconds is not a rate, it's a time, and it's hard for me to even think about what you (or anyone) must really mean: in that much time, all the energy of the current universe is flowing out of a sphere of some definite size, for no reason, and limited by nothing. Some part of my mind wants to know something like: how do you know if you have high amplitudes at high frequencies, since at one end of the measurements you're taking, there's no time or space?

Sorry, that's all pretty much digressing.

Perhaps the aforementioned other 2 dimensions have a velocity limit of 'c' as well. So here's the gist (finally): when the oscillations approach 'c' this is the point at which energy changes back into matter.

Something about this seems like an interesting thought, but it's mostly beyond me. For one thing, I think I only know about high energies changing more matter into more energy, not high energies causing a net change back to matter -- except, I'm imagining, in black holes or something beyond my comprehension. Maybe something like what you're talking about is why there's matter in the universe, not just energy, but as noted before, my building blocks of knowledge don't go that high -- I'm stuck at that problem I was describing earlier of conceiving photon oscillations.

I shared this theory with a fellow citizen of Planet Mensa, who seemed open to the concept. What are your thoughts?

Light travels at 186,000 mi/sec... here comes some now,

Jack Lippold

P.S.: you should hear me on "York or Sargent: which Dick was the superior Darrin?"

Sargent was never quite silly enough -- he was just sort of miffed all the time. York was addled, and I think there was something kind of funny in being able to imagine him having a somewhat indistinguishable amount of anxiety over meeting a big client if he'd lost his briefcase, or he'd been turned into a golden retriever.

social Durwoodism,



March 31, 2003

Scott, I just saw you play at Highland Grounds here in LA and enjoyed it immensely. (Scott Miller playing for free, how can that suck?) This was the first time I'd seen you since a Game Theory concert in San Luis Obispo that I promoted (at a tiny little Caribbean style bar/restaurant called DK's which I'm sure you don't remember) back in the late 80s sometime. Thanks for the version of "Erica's Word" at the end of the show; it was really great to hear it again.

Scott: Well, thank you for coming, and for promoting that show!

My question is this: You mentioned on stage that Lolita Nation is in the early stages of being remastered for re-release. Can you give any information about this? What label, when, etc., and will Mitch Easter be involved at all? (You also professed to having forgotten about "Chardonnay" and what a good song it is, which nobody would ever believe!!)

Thanks and take care!


To be honest, it's too early to talk about it in any detail. Nothing concrete has really happened yet except that I listened to the album to figure out which songs I might like to remix if that were an option (and it would only be an option if Mitch were involved). For a while I was saying I wanted to re-record a bunch of the vocals, but I guess I've been mostly talked out of that because, you know, the exhibit in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame would have to be updated and all. But I'd like it to be reasonably spiffed up at any rate, with today's mastering technology, some at least minimally interesting packaging, and, if at all possible, the uncut version of "Chardonnay."

But the rub there is this: I hadn't listened to that song in years and years, and I'd become more and more convinced it was a really stupid song, but I finally listened to it and I thought it was okay. Yet, I'm now thinking, it could be that the particularly stupid parts were in the cut verses! I just don't remember a damn thing about them. One embarrassing detail is that I was listening to Moss Elixir by Robyn Hitchcock, and I think Mr. Cambridge pronounces "Di Chirico" right and I don't.

thanks for writing, Dave,

--a tiny little Caribbean style bar band singer


March 24, 2003

Scott, I was looking over my old True Gamesters newsletters from about 1990 and found the one where you listed your 120 favourite records. It's an interesting document that inspired me to get a lot of the albums you ranked. What would a list of your 120 favourites look like today? I'd particularly like to see how many Nineties and Naughties releases would make the list and what old favourites would be shunted to the hinterlands. If you don't want to take up valuable Ask Scott space, maybe you could put the list with your year-by-year ones.

Scott: I don't quite have the resources to generate that much detailed critical commitment right now, but just off the top of my head, some of the big news albums of the '90s for me were Exile in Guyville by Liz Phair, the Aimee Mann albums, Frosting On the Beater by the Posies, Either/Or by Elliott Smith, 69 Love Songs by the Magnetic Fields.

Also, I'd like to goad you into some "trash talk" about the WORST or most disappointing records you've ever heard. Your comments on Roger Waters a while back were very perceptive (but you can't criticize music until you've heard "Eleanor Rigby" by Vanilla Fudge).

There are many levels of bad, disappointing, okay-but-vastly-overrated, and so forth. Here's a random sampling:

Never Let Me Down by David Bowie was almost superhumanly disappointing. Born to Run and What's Going On are two plenty okay albums, but my reaction to the ubiquity of their presence on rock critics' best-of-all-time polls is: huh? Pretty much any post-Syd Pink Floyd splinter project except the first David Gilmour record, which has the mighty "There's No Way Out of Here." The soundtrack for L. Ron Hubbard's Battlefield Earth with Chick Corea stands a decent chance of being the worst record ever made. The live jam from All Things Must Pass and the live jam from John and Yoko's Some Time in New York City both raised an already high bar for ex-Beatles releasing crap. Everyone loves the group Portishead except me. Everyone loves that last album by Beck except me.

How's that?

My last question is about a subject that recurs in your lyrics, interviews and in Ask Scott: the desire for fame and success as an artist. Over the last few years I get the feeling that you have worked hard to understand this desire and deal with the source of it, but what do you think would have happened if your deepest, most extravagant desires for fame had been realized? How would this have affected you and the music? Would it have been different if it had happened in, say, 1985 or 1993? Would you have tried to maintain your success by giving the people what they want or would you have been more bold than you were? Could there have been a happy medium of success for your groups?

There are always a few ways that can go -- the worst is you get just enough fame to get a major label deal, but don't quite have enough clout to get to make the albums you want to make. Fortunately, except for a limited budget here and some compromises for the sake of democracy there, I've gotten a lot of my artistic intentions down, and they've been as marginalized as God intended. I'm glad I didn't release albums that sold fifty thousand instead of five thousand but were subjected to a lot of market pressure.

I've rambled on but I'm dying to know what you think about these things. I wish you could know how much your records and the things that you've inspired me to check out (like Joyce and Girard) have meant to me.


David Thomas Lynch

It means a lot that you'd say so; thank you!

Zapple forever,



Scott, I just wanted to take this opportunity to thank you for a stunning live album. From Ritual To Romance is a classic.

Also, an extra special thanks because it contains my favorite Loud Family song: Baby-Hard-To-Be-Around. What a blistering version!

You f-in' ROCK!!

Tom Enroth

Scott: Much appreciated! It was a real treat to have so many talented people contribute to both the audio and visuals of that release.

--I, Finrock


March 3, 2003

Scott, don't write any more songs if you don't want to, but I submit that it's time for you to stop insulting those of us who know you're a great musician, especially since we're the only ones reading your Ask Scott answers to begin with. Do you seriously think anybody believes you wrote songs hoping to be Bryan Adams or Vangelis? You better not. And this crap about your music's only justification being membership in some fad? Did you have your self-esteem accidentally amputated?

Scott: Thanks much for the message. I am a big fan of your writing.

I seem to have achieved an apparent crescendo of self-pity last week that truly grated on some nerves.

I've still got it!

I'll reassure everyone reading this that I think awfully highly of my bands' recordings, and I'm also convinced that some of my results are good in a way that is tied up with most people not knowing what to make of them. And certainly I'm very grateful to the people who have shown me enduring support, and I know that includes many people reading this!

I didn't make my meaning clear about the "fad" business. I don't think the only justification for my music is membership in a fad. I think the justification is the communication of my feelings, the exploration of human nature as I see it, and the shaking of groove things, and those are fine justifications. What I'm saying is that if I'd happened to decide one day years ago that my medium of expression was to be doo-wop music, doo-wop's going out of fashion as a fad forever would have probably spelled a fatal squandering of my efforts. Unfortunately, getting pop music across depends a lot on being in the right place at the right time for the tender ears of the mob, and my efforts to isolate and win an audience which would somehow spell viability have been -- statistically -- disappointing.

As for Bryan Adams and Vangelis, it is my sad duty to inform you that I had every intention of reaching that level of popularity, cannily inducing millions of people to listen to music more like the way I listen to it.

Listen: you are great. Really, really great, and it's not your prerogative to disagree with me or the rest of us. There's no reason that should bear on your music making or lack of it in one way or another, but it should bear on how you answer these emails. Your self-deprecation has crossed over into a bizarre inverse egotism.

Stubbornly yours,

glenn mcdonald

Thank you so much -- consider me encouraged. It would be easier to express myself in these matters if everyone had the experience of putting out nine or ten albums over a twenty-year period. Eventually there is a note you didn't used to hear, or at least you didn't know you'd ever dislike, in the reception of the releases, along the lines of "here is his latest attempt to please us; how has he done?" And you think, no, that's not it anymore. You want people to ask -- and you begin to understand it's not going to happen -- "what is he bringing to us that we don't expect, in advance, to want to hear?" You discover that the only way to produce something that will be taken as innovative is to stealthily imitate another work which has recently been taken as innovative, and never, but never, to actually innovate. God bless punk rock, but ever notice how a hundred alarmingly similar 1977 punk albums can be taken as simultaneous out-of-nowhere bolts of original expression?

maudlin lang,



February 24, 2003

Scott, here's what I've been wondering: Until very recently, you wrote songs on a pretty regular basis for all of your adult life and then some. I get the impression that you write the way Randy Newman does -- namely, that you sit down and will yourself to come up with songs whenever there's an album to be made or a deadline to be met (instead of being like, say, Robert Pollard and writing entire albums while stuck in traffic). Still, I'm guessing that it's also become somewhat second nature -- that whenever something moves you either emotionally or intellectually, you'd naturally channel that into a lyric or a melody. So now that you're (temporarily, we all hope) retired, what do you do with the energy that used to go to songwriting?

Scott: Brett -- it is always a great pleasure to hear from you.

And: good question. I used to be somewhat infatuated with the idea that I was skilled as a songwriter, and felt writing was part of the holy process of increasing my fame. These days I'm sufficiently disabused of the impression that I owe it to us all to battle for a place in the music business that I don't just reflexively dump a bunch of energy into a song idea anymore. The ideas still come regularly enough, but now the reflex is to just count to ten and go do something useful, like my laundry. If it's a particularly stupendous idea, I'll record a little piece and jot down a lyric.

Let's say for the moment that despite popular consensus I'm a worthwhile artist, and despite even minority consensus my later material is exciting and worth following. I sort of have to hope that enough people miraculously arrive at that conclusion to even pretend that the pop music deployment mechanism is worth my cranking it up again on what will be even later material. W.H. Auden can write later poetry that people think is disappointing until 25 years after he's dead when they start to get it, but the kind of arty pop music I do just isn't going to have an audience of any kind unless it's part of some kind of ephemeral, fad-thinking at some level -- let's not kid ourselves.

But to answer your question, I find that the songwriting energy is in fact resulting in laundry that is better folded, and less frequently overdried.

If some great hook should pop into your head, do you store it away anywhere or let it go back into the ether? A lot of us former college DJs have developed that conditioned response where you start back-announcing the records you play in your own living room, and I was wondering if there's an equivalent of that for songwriters.

I guess I have a good laugh, like: a hook! Oh my goodness, how quaint. My, but the music world has walked with a purpose away from anything remotely resembling the world of pop hooks as I imagined it.

This is also an excuse to say hello and send an overdue thanks for all the music (especially that last LF show at TT's, which for all the frustrations of that tour, was probably the best I ever saw you play).


Brett Milano

I had a great time at that show, too. Thanks for coming, Brett, and thanks for writing.

Romance? Not in this weather. [--Auden, "Plains"]



February 17, 2003

Scott, with artists like Joan Jett and Joe Jackson making their material available by selling albums in MP3 format on thier websites, perhaps the out-of-print Game Theory recordings could generate more profit for you (or someone you know) by being sold in this manner too. Would you consider this an option that could be achieved in the not-as-of-yet-but-maybe-next-Thursday future?

Scott: I don't own the Game Theory masters, so, no. There might be a higher than usual probability of some out-of-print Game Theory stuff getting another run in the near future, but there's still thicker uncertainty than I can see through at the moment.

(And now for the free psychological counseling portion...) Secondly, is it unhealthy for me to be so fixated on these matters in the first place? Does the research suggest that albums which held enormous importance for me in 1987 or 88 still having personal relevance today indicate I've failed to grow as a person and get beyond the experiences I underwent at that time to become a more fully developed human being?

I like to think not, and I appreciate someone being concerned about it; it's the kind of important question people don't generally seem to feel the need to expend much work answering.

Being a "fully developed human being" too often just takes the form of getting older, and gravitating toward sympathies and philosophies which are advantageous to older people. Developing as a human being should always mean being less anxious to achieve personal success and happiness relative to what others achieve. That can go against the grain of human nature, but it's amazing how much less absurd the universe becomes as such an outlook becomes internalized; true development beyond youth can't (slightly paradoxically) involve disowning youth.

Let's say I used to like "Anarchy In the U.K." by the Sex Pistols, but now I'm old and, with any luck, more unhappy with spiteful lyrics like "I want to destroy passersby." I don't think it's effort well spent to mentally distance myself from my previous enthusiasm for the song. I think it's good to preserve the ability to enjoy the visceral power of the song (with maybe a bit of social prudence when it comes to handling such power with care), and to appreciate that art can be good because it expresses how people feel as well as for higher achievements like adding perspective which will change how we feel. Denying youthful, embarrassing tastes too much in a misguided attempt to falsify to ourselves what we were in the past has unfortunate consequences: we exaggerate our current immunity to bad impules; we distort the standards of taste and behavior to which we expect young people to adhere naturally, without anyone's help.

So while I wouldn't recommend cultivating the attitude that how you fit into the past is worth dwelling on yet how you fit into the present is not, I applaud continued openness to the reality of past passions -- the willingness to be that passionate person plus some perspective, not that person minus the passion. It leads to civility. We can see passions in others which we might consider misguided, and more reflexively realize they have a place in the world, and might be treated with gentleness rather than suppression.

Finally, could you record a version of "Walk Away, Renee," place it in an airtight bottle, and set it adrift in the Pacific Ocean in the hope that it may travel around the world to be discovered purely by coincidence on a beach on the east coast of Canada where I just happen to be walking along?

I will try to play a version of "Walk Away, Renee" in San Francisco on the 29th of March, and if it's recorded and bottled, let Canada beware.


Kevin Wakelin

Thanks much for writing, Kevin.

this is your war, this is your war on drugs; any questions?



February 3, 2003

Scott, first of all, thanks for putting out From Ritual to Romance. Having seen you guys live just once as Loud Family (and a few times as Game Theory), it's awesome to have a CD to keep those great evenings fresh. Must say, to this day I think your work is the most overlooked, underappreciated collection of ground-breaking music ever. When asked to list my all-time favorite bands I respond with 1) Husker Du, 2) The Pixies, 3) Game Theory/Loud Family. To which I invariably get a "What theory?" It used to piss me off, but now I immediately use the open door to lend the uninformed cohort a tape or CD and in a matter of days they're off scouring for CDs for their own collection.

Scott: How generous of you, all around! I certainly appreciate it, and I'm glad to hear the material gets a positive reaction. I have moods where I feel pretty good about what we've put out and think my bands deserved more success, and other moods where I think I'm one of the most inept people ever to get fairly widespread attention doing music.

Again, thanks for writing such amazing music. Just wondering, are there any Game Theory live recordings, and are you currently working on any projects I might be able to find?


There are some live recordings of Game Theory floating around out there. My friend Dan Vallor did a pretty good mix of what I believe is the second to last Game Theory show in Vancouver, B.C. There seem to always be nebulous plans to release or re-release certain things, but it's rare that they pan out. Alias were going to do a Game Theory box set and i know they had some live recording or other that they were going to add to it, but they ended up only releasing three of the albums. I'm still amazed that From Ritual to Romance actually made it out.

One project I'm fervently hoping gets finished is an album of quasi-acoustic versions of my songs with Aimee Mann and her guitarist/ producer Michael Lockwood (who's an incredible talent in his own right). It's about half recorded, but of course she's a pretty big star these days and we need to find some time to finish it that works within her touring and recording schedule.

Oh, another one of these things that may come out is a DVD of footage shot by indie film whiz Danny Plotnick of the last Loud Family tour in 2000.

thanks for writing!

--Frumpton comes alive


January 13, 2003

Scott, this isn't really a question -- just a couple of comments:

1. In your July 8, 2002 "Ask Scott" you state, "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." A book has already been written on this, namely After Virtue by Alastair McIntyre. I'd send it to you if I had your address, but I haven't and I suspect there should be bookstores in your neck of the woods which could get it. If not, send me your address by return e-mail, and I'll send you my copy.

Scott: Thanks for the tip -- but do I take it you mean you think McIntyre did a good job? I'm aware that there have been attempts, but none that I have read or been told about that seem to focus enough of the scholarly resources I know to be available in taking a systematic crack at the task.

2. In your most recent "Ask Scott" you refer to yourself as "Whiny the Elder," in what you think is a reference to Pliny the Elder (I think); but Pliny rhymes with "whinny". With "Whiny"? Neigh... enough for the horselaugh here.

Actually, I knew that. Not that I've read Pliny, or that ever since prep school I've naturally anglicized my classical references in perfect Oxford manner. Like all pseudointellectuals, it's my fate to get laughed at more than I get laughed with, but because of the frequent opportunities for embarrassment, if there's anything my sorry ilk do right, it's accrue preferred pronunciations. If your short-lived forte were erring primers on Pepys and Dvorak, you would weep at the beauty of my saying this out loud. Maybe it's just me, but it won't detract from a Van Gogh pun (in the unlikely event that there's something to distract from) that I know half the room is ready to slap the offending hand and say "f'n gucch!"

I've enjoyed your bands over the years, and have kept my CDs and cassettes. As soon as I can, I'm going to make archival copies of the cassettes -- until then, they aren't getting played. Oh well.

Enough for now.

Hudson Luce

Thanks very much for writing.

It stands for "urban haute bourgeoisie"...



January 6, 2003

Scott, I came across your site while looking for Uriah Heep mentions. What's with the reference to Mick Box of Uriah Heep?

Kevin J. Julie

Scott: Some sort of mistake. I've never heard any Uriah Heep and couldn't name any members -- although I enthusiastically support the name Mick Box.


Scott, I had only ever bought & heard The Tape of Only Linda, Interbabe Concern and Days for Days. I had heard somewhere (in this forum maybe?) that every other release by the Loud Family was hands down brilliant, but not the reverse.

Oddly, very very oddly, I find this to be true. If you don't mind a bit of critical wankery, The Tape of Only Linda seemed a bit too Roxy Music-drenched for me and somewhat scattershot (though "Soul Drain" is on heavy rotation in my car stereo & is on the short list of best Loud Family songs I can quickly name).

Scott: There is such a thing as being too Roxy Music-drenched?

In contrast: Interbabe Concern is an album that people will still be writing about decades from now. And Days for Days seemed ambitious as anything, but a little weak in places. I give it high marks but, frankly, I don't return to it much.

Last month I just found Plants and Birds at a Local Large Retail Chain Conglomerate (only 11 beans!). I bought it (because I've learned to buy anything you do, basically) and took the shrinkwrap off and played it....

It is one incredible disc. It is a disc for all ages.

Thank you very much.

What do I like about it? It is hard to pin down, but I think in some ways it shows very clearly how you are rock's answer to -- forgive this comparison -- Orson Welles. You deftly juggle any mood or style around by merely flexing your fingertips, and your flair for orchestration, multi-layering, is untouchable. You are a perfectionist at the service of real emotion. Hats off.

I have not bought Attractive Nuisance yet, but clearly (based on the formula) it should be good.

Not a bet I would make, although it's hard for me to predict the ongoing likability of those Loud Family albums if only because I think of them all as so utterly synonymous with audience disappointment. To speak only of college radio, once my strong area, I think Plants and Birds and Interbabe Concern peaked at numbers 60 and 95 on CMJ respectively, compared to even a not-very-well-loved Game Theory album like Two Steps which was still top ten. And it's not that Alias Records couldn't do college radio, either -- I think Archers of Loaf were number two when Interbabe was number 95. So maybe my honest impression is that Plants and Birds was just the right album for about a hundred people in the universe including you, Interbabe for about fifty people, and Attractive Nuisance for about seven people. So while I don't think you will actually like AN, I will say for the record that despite a mixing/mastering regret or two, it's still what I want the lyrics to be saying and how I want the music to be sounding (probably ditto for what you consider the weak aspects of Days For Days, unless you're thinking things like "he should have sung that word without a rasp" or "the EQ and reverb in the middle section of 'Sister Sleep' aren't very good").

Having said all that, my question is: do you like any Lilys albums? For some reason I tend to put you and Kurt Heasley on the same velvet-draped pedestal (i.e., perfectionists at the service of real emotion).

trent d. (creates diversion, then lobs in real question)

I've only heard The 3-Way, and I think it's a terrific album. The song "Socs Hip" is a classic.

now in Lee Abrams's service,



More Ask Scott:

 July-December 2002
 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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