December 15, 2003
Scott, I was wondering what your opinions were on the bootleg trend -- you know, the thing where you take the vocal track to one song and attach it to the instrumental track of another song and hopefully end up with something interesting when you're done. (It could use a better name, though, frankly -- I mean, "bootleg" already has a music-related meaning, and the alternate word "mash-ups" just sounds too juvenile to me.)
Scott: Your mail is the first I've heard of it.
Such songs, of course, dwell in that area of intellectual property rights where things start to get nebulous. One could come up with a defense of the practice claiming that bootlegs are critical speech (the implied criticism being, for instance, "This Christina Aguilera vocal sure does sound better with music by the Strokes instead of the crap on the original song"), but I find it a little depressing to have to get so legalistic. Thoughts?
It's nice to think of people having the right to create whatever they want for themselves, with whatever raw materials they want, and play it for as many friends as they can -- as a noncommercial, social experience, in physical space -- without having to pay anyone royalties.
And, if it turns out you also enjoy the genre, or at least intellectually approve of it, what do you think about making an a cappella version or two of your songs available on the site for people like me (yes, it's true, I have made a number of bootlegs myself, as you perhaps had guessed by now) to play around with?
I'm flattered, but I love mankind far too much to ever let it hear me singing a capella.
Just how unexpectedly great does this stuff sound? It's a little hard to imagine anything like radically serendipitous combinations. Have you tried playing "The Wizard of Oz," only instead of the soundtrack, you play Dark Side of the Moon, and instead of the Dark Side of the Moon vocal tracks, it's Christina Aguilera?
This isn't meant to imply your songs need improving! It's just that, as someone who acquired the technology to create bootlegs based on the fact that not enough other people working within the genre were really catering to my esoteric musical tastes, it gets hard to dig up interesting vocal tracks to work with.
If it makes you feel any better, I don't own any of my masters, so I wouldn't have the option of playing with my own vocal tracks even if I wanted to.
having a mash-up with the YardAikens,
December 8, 2003
Scott, a recent review of From Ritual to Romance in Uncut magazine referred to the Loud Family as "[t]he Chicago brood." As a native Chicagoan, allow me to be the first to welcome you to the Windy City. It was very clever of you to pretend to be from somewhere else every time you played here.
Scott: Well, thanks; I do love Chicago. And I love brooding. Our booking agent is in Chicago. I wonder if that's the confusion.
I was recently making a "Best of the Loud Family" tape (er, sorry) for a friend of mine who, despite her many positive qualities, has somehow managed to spend 36 years on this planet without becoming familiar with your work. As I was re-listening to all the Loud Family CDs, writing down song lengths, and considering the proper track order to ensure maximum listener impact, it occurred to me that I was spending way too much time and effort making something that I really ought to be able to purchase.
You know, you need Mac iTunes. It takes care of the song length computations and lets you audition the transitions.
So I need to ask: Is there any possibility that we will see a Tinker to Evers to Chance-type Loud Family compilation someday? The merits of such a CD seem so obvious that I don't feel the need to go into them here, but I will offer my suggested track listing if it will help ease the pain of trying to condense the Loud Family's history into 75 minutes.
Sure, I'd like to see it -- I value an opinion that's had some thought put into it.
Alias own the Loud Family master recordings, and I don't think they're putting new things out, so I'm not able to imagine how the release of such a thing would go.
Finally, thanks for signing my CD of Lolita Nation a few years back, and I'm sorry I joked at the time that I hoped to sell it on eBay someday to finance the educational needs of my as yet unborn children. I feel kind of bad about that whenever I think of it.
Better than selling your unborn children on eBay to buy CDs, though.
trying to condense the Loud Family's history into 10 years,
December 1, 2003
Scott, I feel a bit hesitant to ask a question, seeing how I have never heard a full song that you have written (my computer has made it about halfway through downloading "Erica's Word" once) or even seen an actual copy of one of your albums. I'm currently a college student at University of MD, songwriter/ guitarist/ bookstore manager. I actually was born after you released the early EP's with Game Theory (I was probably about 5 when Game Theory stopped releasing music) but positive reviews and obscure song titles have helped me find my way to your website. After looking at some of the Ask Scott archives, I've become even more intrigued with the band as a whole and especially the obvious devotion of your fans. My first question is whether you frequently receive feedback from people such as myself who wouldn't have any medium to hear anything by your band, and who are too young to have experienced it firsthand.
Scott: It would make sense that a fair number of "Ask Scott" submissions are from people in your category.
I'm assuming that comparisons to Big Star (who is practically unknown at my music-illiterate campus, which is actually one of my favorite -- Tommy Keene's -- old stomping grounds) have helped others discover the band. I also was intrigued by your top 20 lists; not only do I love reading lists of any kind (it could have been your top 20 shampoo brands and I probably would have read it) but I also wanted to see what bands besides Big Star shaped your musical direction.
Actually I wasn't well-informed enough to have known about Big Star in my formative years, that is, from 1972 to 1974 when those records came out. I first published those lists in 1982 in a piece in my college newspaper and kept doing them for fanzine publication, etc., until 1999. I think it was 1981 that I heard Big Star for the first time, in a "you sound like this guy" situation.
Now, again, as I am only vaguely familiar with the greater concept of Scott Miller rather than the distillation of the concept into 3 minute packages (quite different than the usual circumstance), I don't know exactly how you funnel these influences into songs. I was pleasantly surprised to see albums by T. Rex, the Knack, and Black Sabbath on your lists. I think that artists such as the Beatles and Led Zeppelin achieve greatness because their songs cover the expansive range of human emotions and aural dynamics symbolizing these emotions. I was a little disappointed that there was a lack of albums that would have made me go "Wow, what an all-encompassing list..." Now, clearly, picking an album for pure kitsch value is probably not the best way to introduce fans to new music, but I was seemed to notice a trend of "critical acceptance" among the artists you picked. Maybe I'm overstepping my bounds and will get laughed back to Baltimore for this one, but I was wondering what your take on some commonly laughed at, but really quite good bands are (no, not "guilty pleasures" -- remember my whole expanse of human emotions theory). Didn't you ever just want to crank up a Def Leppard CD in your car and sing along (really great melodies and production), or read David Lee Roth's book (one of the funniest people in pop music, and early Van Halen has proven impossible to duplicate), or steal a riff from Guns N' Roses?
Here are some positive statements about those artists: "Sweet Child O' Mine" is one of the twenty or so best songs of that year. "Jamie's Crying" is one of the thirty or so best songs of that year (1978 -- very tough competition year!), and I have laughed more than once at David Lee Roth's witticisms in interviews. "Bringing On the Heartache" is one of the thirty or so best songs of that year -- '81, wasn't it?
But speaking truthfully of my overall personal involvement with them, most of those bands' material is really boring to me, and would have been at any point in my life. I'm old enough that to me hard rock is Hendrix and Beggars Banquet; I like my hard rock fairly bluesy and arty. The White Stripes are much more my speed as hard rock goes.
I will also add that if you don't think it's dicier to admit to thinking Get the Knack is a great album than Appetite For Destruction, you know a different set of critics and rock fans than I do.
(Maybe you did these things and just don't really talk about them...) I mean, I love Pavement records and Big Star's 3rd/Sister Lovers is a classic, but I can't really listen to them very often...
Maybe it's just me -- I've always found Big Star Third to be one of the most pleasant listens ever. Although I'm very wedded to the "Stroke It Noel" PVC sequence. "Kizza Me" is an okay -- if brash -- opener, but put "Thanks You Friends" second instead of last, and I almost think "well of course you won't like it."
Pavement have plenty of songs I've always considered highly listenable: "Summer Babe," "Debris Slide," "Grounded," "Stereo," "Texas Never Whispers," "Ann Don't Cry." They're one of those bands that a lot of people like for, well, I won't say wrong reasons, but maybe the same reason they'd like a lot of other bands I think are terrible. You'd think from the press that they existed just to challenge the faint of heart with grating, half-assed recordings, but most of their material is quite thoughtful and entertaining. I find "Cut Your Hair" off-the-scale enjoyable and accessible and have some difficulty imagining anyone preferring to hear "Running With the Devil."
Maybe I just like a little too much red meat and sugar with my usually healthy musical diet, but I wonder if any of Mitch Easter's Mick Box fandom ever rubbed off on you.
Other people have asked me about Uriah Heep. Never heard a note.
Final question -- any chances for a rerelease of the Game Theory CDs, or a Game Theory box (I'm sure that Not Lame Records would take one look at eBay prices and jump at the chance, I hear the Posies and Jellyfish sets were excellent too). Thanks for listening -- if you want any recommendations for cheesy fist-in-the-air anthem CDs, I'll fill you in.
About half the material had one round of reissuing in the nineties, but nowadays I hear about reissue plans coming and going and I'm just kind of numb to it all. I was all set to be involved in a sort of Lolita Nation director's cut project (that's one of the Game Theory records, if you don't know), but that seems to not be going anywhere. Apparently one problem is that the masters to all that stuff are in the Capitol Records vaults and it's not clear who will be able to gain physical access to them.
thanks a lot for writing,
--Ramblin' T.S. Eliot
November 17, 2003
Scott, I have to admit that I had never heard of the Loud Family until quite recently. Jeez, where have I been?!
Scott: Where everyone else has been, it sounds like.
I came across an old Aimee Mann interview from the time of I'm With Stupid and she waxed lyrical about Plants and Birds and Rocks and Things. I was intrigued enough to track down a copy and, to borrow a Peter Tork song title, it's blown the top right off of my head! I must find more stuff. Soon!
Thank you very much. And, wow, a Peter Tork song I don't know.
I'm fascinated by your list of favorite albums from each year going back into the 1960s and I find myself agreeing with many of your choices. However, I've noticed that in the 1980s section you list albums by Black Flag and Husker Du but nothing by the Minutemen. Not even the magnificent Double Nickels on the Dime. How come?
Okay, it's not much of a question but I'd like to hear your views on this great band.
I've been asked that very question before. I only bought that album about two years ago, obviously long after I made that list, because people kept insisting it was a grievous oversight in my lists. Before that I'd only heard parts, which I'd mostly liked, but nothing that seemed like it was going to threaten to displace the Tall Dwarves at number 20.
Eighties music is a little tough to rank according to any sort of aesthetic theme, because it divides so obviously between ostensibly big-production, emotions-for-the-big-screen music (Prince, U2) and self-consciously indie music. I still feel there was a strange coldness to the decade despite all the various attempts to generate heat.
I think most people would admit Double Nickels is magnificent in a difficult way, and you can be a right-thinking person without being in quite the right mood for it. The Minutemen definitely don't schmooze up the community of melodic preciousness the way, say, Elvis Costello or the Smiths do. The tradition here is more beat poetry, art-jazz-funk stuff that for the most part traces easily to styles that were anti-traditional recently enough in history. This isn't bad, it just means the artist will be end-running my ear rather than coming right at it, so it's going to be reasonable for it to be quite good but still miss my top 20 if I'm not right in the sweet spot of the intended fringe audience.
Except that the Minutemen's lyrics have an honest ring, and don't use the words "dawn" and "man," Double Nickels reminds me in a couple of bizarre but striking ways of the ELP album Tarkus. The playing is very impressive in a jazzy way and the lyrics have the ring of something important and iconoclastic being said, but if you subtract off any "blown away" factor and you hold a gun to my head and ask "what does it actually mean? Are you positive you would embrace this if there was absolutely no cultural pressure to consider it significant?" my truthful answer would have to be it's not obviously stuff I'd hum in the shower, and where I'm actually able to pin down the cultural slant in the lyrics, I confess I'm apt to have the mental reaction that I know more about life than this person.
But that's just to explain negatives. The album is really a triumph of personality and intangibles, which of course Tarkus is not, so let's end by saying it would stand a chance of making my top 20 of 1984 if I scrupulously re-evaluated everything today. Unquestionably, there's something unique and compelling about D. Boon's delivery and lyric style.
bitches crystal knows how I twist all the lines
November 10, 2003
Scott, I recently got interested in Game Theory and The Loud Family. I only own The Big Shot Chronicles on LP, and Plants and Birds and Rocks and Things on CD. However, I have visited the Loud Family website, and love your best albums list.
Scott: Thanks on both counts.
I am also a fan of Radiohead and Weezer, and I noticed that you rated Weezer (The Blue Album) 4th in 1994 and O.K. Computer 4th in 1997. I checked 1996 for Pinkerton and 1995 for The Bends, and was surprised that neither was listed. I was especially shocked because you mentioned the Green Album as one of your favorite albums of 2001. In my opinion, The Bends and Pinkerton rival O.K. Computer and The Blue Album. Anyway, I'm wondering if those two albums slipped through the cracks, or if you just don't like them very much.
I like The Bends more today than I did in 1995. It would certainly be in my top 20 of that year today. The best cut is the opener, "Planet Telex." I've never been as crazy about "High and Dry" and "Fake Plastic Trees" as the rest of the world. Pinkerton I've never heard at all.
I don't like that Weezer green album all that much. I doubt it would make a formal top 20 of mine for 2000 if I did one. But 2000 wasn't that strong a year -- not nearly as strong as 2001 -- so I'm not certain. There are countless recent releases I haven't heard. I used to get sent free albums by labels and fans who'd keep me pretty well informed, but I'm off their radar now, so if I did favorite album lists it would almost be an accident of who I happened to run across.
--former enumeration junkie
November 3, 2003
Scott, it's me, the guy who got you into Harper's, for what it's worth. This is brief and doesn't involve philosophy or literature or anything as dignified as that (just as, as I expected, my
frivolous Harper's letter followed a more dignified missive involving the tragic plight of some peoples somewhere). But I had to write when, in answer to a fan's question as to why not soldier on alone, you replied:
Ever since the tragic plight of the Scott Miller Appreciation People has come to pass, I have been wondering, "what the hell is wrong with your acoustic guitar?" Not that you owe anyone anything, of course (except to me for the Harper's thing, but you know that already), but if you regret the circumstances of your situation, it seems like a great idea to put out an acoustically conceived record. I say conceived because I do not simply mean "unplugged" (sheesh -- did that make you cringe, too?). But I have wondered lately just how cool it would be if you were to work up some material to be recorded in a more off-the cuff and intimate way... something sort of Howe Gelb-like, I guess. Where the time between conception and recording is too short for much cranial interference. Of course, you are you and he is him, and that's why your records sound different, but I guess I somehow have the instinct that just such a recording is waiting untapped within you, and this is the ideal time to give that a shot. I know you've played acoustically at shows... so... whad'ya think?
(ok, it wasn't that brief)
Scott: Thank you for writing!
I think that's a fine idea -- if my project with Aimee Mann ever gets finished and released, it will be a lot like what you describe. It should have one new song Aimee and I are co-writing. I might release some more originals one of these days if there's a good opportunity, but it I'm not sure if it's likely to be more acoustic than other music I've recorded.
Scott, how are you enjoying fatherhood?
Scott: I love it. Like people say, there's a lot of work involved, but I love my little girl supremely.
October 27, 2003
Scott, I've been a fan since high school, blah blah blah. Here's my question: why do your songs have so damn many chords? I'm dumb and I suck at guitar but I want to learn your songs so either make me smart or stop using so many chords.
Scott: I tend to like a lot of chord changes, and I've never quite answered the question of whether it's really the best way to write, or I'm just obsessively adding chords for some spurious notion of improvement. It may be a mix of the two. I think Quincy Jones once said that a song is poorly written unless you can get the gist of it by humming it, or something, and I sometimes wish I could apply that ideal a little better. But part of it is I just have a busy ear. Songs that sound busy to some people sound just right to me. I think when I've done the best job is when you're not really aware that there are a lot of chords until you actually try to learn it. Not to presume it's true for my stuff, but for me, those can be the fun ones to learn because you learn the little secrets of why they sound satisfying.
Sorry if it's been asked before; I've never read Ask Scott before today, though I've been on the mailing list for what seems like forever.
Thanks for writing, Evan. I think there are some web sites that have chord charts for my songs. Just search on some lyrics.
October 20, 2003
Scott, I liked reading your list of favorite albums, esp. the nods to underappreciated records of different eras, i.e. Spirit or Royal Trux. However, no mention of Harry Nilsson anywhere. What gives? Aerial Ballet? :)
Scott: Thanks a lot for writing, Paul. I like the label you work for a lot.
Harry Nilsson is one of those artists I'm undereducated about. I own only one of his albums -- the Lennon collaboration Pussycats, which unfortunately I found quite mediocre the one time I listened to it. Taking inventory of what else I know about him: I like his "Daddy's Song" from Head a lot. "Coconut" was a cute novelty song -- maybe like the two hundredth best song of 1972. I liked "the Point" quite a bit as a child, but I haven't revisited it; using memory alone, I rather suspect the hit wouldn't grab me ("Me and My Arrow") but there was something that goes "this is the town and these are the people" that might (grab me). "Jump Into the Fire" is a fine rocker, but probably not as interesting to me as rockers on other records that wouldn't quite make my top 20, like, say, Moody Blues albums. "Daylight" was a more respectable novelty song in my book -- maybe the one hundredth best song of 1974, or whenever it was.
So I haven't had the experience it takes to get him into the category of my very favorites, but probably within striking distance. Any suggestions what albums I have to listen to?
Keep up the great work, I am a big fan of your records, recently re-discovered Days for Days (my favorite) and it hasn't left my CD player for days and days....
Thank you. I very much enjoy hearing that you liked it.
September 29, 2003
Scott, that two of the most talented, smartest, and flat-out nicest people I've ever met have decided to bring a new life into the world is great and welcome news for all of humanity. Here's hoping Valerie gets your chops, Kristine's moves, a Fisher Price keyboard for Christmas and an open 125 Records contract on her first birthday (watch out Britney, Christina, Mandy...)
Scott: Well, Valerie just turned one, and we didn't hear from 125, so she may keep a dialog open with Death Row.
I've been wanting to write to you to make an observation about your last album, which has been in heavy rotation on my CD player of late. As my previous borderline-psychotically enthusiastic letters to you about your music might have suggested, I've been a big fan of your music for years, but I'm remiss to admit that I didn't much appreciate Attractive Nuisance when it first came out for a reason that's now become clear to me: I hated the idea of you singing your own rock obituary so much that I didn't want to even countenance the idea. Seeing you lay down your guitar on your last tour seemed to confirm what some of the songs on Attractive Nuisance suggested, and this was terrible news for all of us who are passionate about your music.
In the years (years!?) since that time, I've somehow gotten used to stumbling through adult life without the joy and edification of a brand new Scott Miller album to help make the unfiner points of living tenable if not completely worthwhile. Ironically, finding no other suitably soul-bracing alternate consolation to your music in art or literature (The Corrections came pretty close), I found myself turning back to your last album which, now that I can listen to the songs with acceptance and a little detachment, I now regard as some of the best work you've ever done. To anyone reading "Ask Scott" who is un- or under-acquainted with your music, I'd like to recommend in particular to them the trifecta of songs that comprise the heart of your last album. These three songs -- "Nice When I Want Something," "Years of Wrong Impressions," and "Blackness, Blackness" -- showcase and encapsulate your musical and lyrical abilities like nothing before.
I'm glad to hear about more people liking that album than did when it came out. It wasn't exactly designed to be a hit, but it was really met with an exciting new level of indifference and misunderstanding.
"Nice When I Want Something" reads like an Edward Albee play or Mary Gaitskill short story. The lyrics are brutal, implosive, hilarious, mordant. Like the comic genius of our time, Larry David (our Charles Chaplin), you've made the apparent subject of your venom yourself, with an eye so sharp I'm wondering if you're a masochist or just play one on CD. The Mike Keneally guitar solo and Gil Ray drum fills make this crunchy, jarring Nirvana homage one of the best hard rock songs in your catalog, right up there with "Curse of the Frontier Land" and "The Softest Tip of Her Baby Tongue."... "This is home. This is where we spend weekends." Yeah, you and the Prince of Denmark.
Mike Keneally is really a talent. Besides being the god of prog he's most commonly known as, he's written these amazing unknown pop-rock classics. "Rosemary Girl" is every bit as good as, say, "Venus" by the Shocking Blue for that kind of song.
And from there you somehow segue to the bubblegummy pop that is "Years Of Wrong Impressions," a song that is Archies-Monkees catchy as it is heartbreaking. To me, the second stanza of "Years" might well be the lovers' pact our generation made with itself in some fifth-floor walk-up twenty years ago, and it's not so easy to look back at that day and what we've thus far become. Alison Faith Levy sings this song passionately in duet with Kenny Kessel, recalling all the beautiful vocal parts you've written for your female collaborators over the years, going back to Nancy Becker and her soaring "aws" and "ahs" on "She'll Be A Verb." When Alison sings the bridge of this song, the album's emotional highpoint, I'm also reminded that your happiest sounding songs -- "Hyde Street Virgins" comes to mind -- are sometimes your most despairing, but without any cloying irony. The carnival organ tones, the "la-la" third stanza lyric and the idea that being misunderstood and lonely might be inevitable, are reconciled to the point where it feels like your trademark to be able to reconcile unreconcilable things. How do you do that?
Like the liner notes say, I flattered myself that I was feeling a thematic connection with T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets, which in fact openly addresses the subject of reconciliation of what seems unreconcilable. I never would have guessed that was explicit at all in my lyrics, but that's the nice mystery of lyrics sometimes. One thing to say is: despair often happens to someone whose goal not achieved is, when you get right down to it, nothing so much as an intense wish for personal advantage; if you can watch that come and go with a little perspective, the despair can be seen to have a sweet and instructive quality.
The next audible sound on this album is perhaps my favorite sonic moment in all of your recorded music, next to the walls-crumbling breakdown on "The Waist and The Knees" with your "I hope I can wake up" lyric and Zach Smith's whinnying-horse guitar solo. I'm talking about those warbling in-and-out-of key piano notes, leading into what I believe is the best song you've ever written and one of the greatest modern poems I've ever read. Listening to "Blackness, Blackness," makes me wish you didn't have happen to you some of the things that have, so that you wouldn't know what you do to be able to write such a song, but since they have happened to you, I stand astounded that you could distill something as elegant and shattering as this from your experience.
That's certainly very nice of you to say.
With these songs and this album, your legacy is clear: you're among the first to have taken pop music to high art; to have given it the depth, complexity and personality of literature (while still rocking out like a madman -- an "Asleep and Awake"-like whoo to you!). On a more personal level, this is now the album I laugh and cry along to while I wash the dishes, drive to the post office, think about departed friends... It's the music that carries me along.
Best to you and your family,
Thanks so much for writing and for giving me the feeling I'm not writing this stuff from Mars.
who's afraid of Virginia Plain,
Scott, what kind of guitar did you use on "Regenisraen" on Game Theory's The Big Shot Chronicles LP? Do you still use this guitar today?
Scott: Hi Mark!
I think it was my Guild 12-string acoustic, which I still own, and Gil Ray's Fender 6-string acoustic.
Scott, I can remember a time when I would take my walkman and roam the outer reaches of the Lake Michigan shoreline and evaporate into Game Theory's ethereal sound. I would literally walk forever inside the music -- I felt like I wasn't there any more -- just these walls of sound. I suppose I miss those days -- or maybe not -- but your music -- ahhhhhhhh... Thank you.
Scott: What a nice message! Thanks a lot for writing.
Scott, it was awhile ago -- I believe it was the tour promoting The Tape of Only Linda -- when The Loud Family came to Toronto, playing at Lee's Palace. I can remember when my friend and fellow band member, also named Scott, casually told me, "That band you like is playing at Lee's." Since I had been a Game Theory fanatic, not to mention a True Gamester, I freaked! I wasn't going to miss the gig for anything; indeed, I'd been waiting for a chance to see you live for a long time -- I don't believe Game Theory ever made it to Canada... did they, and for that matter did The Loud Family ever return to Toronto?
Scott: No, but we played Vancouver several times. Kind of a drive from Toronto.
Anyway, after the show, I spotted you going to the bar so I decided to try and go talk to you. You were incredibly friendly and refreshingly unpretentious. In fact, you gave me the feeling that I could have talked to you for as long as I wanted, but, since you were such a big influence on me (I'm also a singer/songwriter) I was a little lost for words and wanted to treat you like a star so I pretty much let you know that you were a genius. Do you remember me?
I think so. The name definitely sounds familiar, anyway.
Finally, I wanted you to know I turned a lot of people on to your music and since I've detected a lot of frustration in your lyrics to the tune of "I failed, I didn't make it," many of these people think of you as a star, e.g.: I remember my ex-girlfriend stating after I permed my hair once, "you look like Scott Miller!" Lastly, are you at all into Van Der Graaf Generator or any krautrock?
I'm pretty ignorant of the genre. Maybe my favorite is Neu! I've never heard a note of Van Der Graaf Generator as far as I know.
Thanks for turning people on to my music. I think you just have to do music as a business for twenty years to appreciate how humiliating and discouraging the whole self-promotion process can get to be, even for someone who looks like a star from certain angles. I think I've said something like it before, but I can't tell you what a relief it is to turn to the ubiquitous potential "I'm just not sure there's enough interest in a new Scott Miller project" and say "well, God has shed his grace on thee, because there isn't one!"
P.S. I see I've typed you a fair amount so if you don't edit the responses you get for "Ask Scott" before putting them on the web site and I've sent you too much, maybe you can just email me a reply.
You obviously have no idea how excessively people are capable of typing at me, or I at them. It's our little ritual.
--Van Der Graaf Perm (ret'd)
August 11, 2003
Scott, I just saw Richard Linklater's at-times fascinating movie Waking Life, and was reminded of something that I was able to ask you about in 1998. One of the points that the movie made was that dreams allowed the main character to come up with fascinating ideas and concepts that he wouldn't have believed that his conscious mind could have conjured up. When I asked you about a particular line in "Idiot Son" ("And I saw real estate that I would not call land"), you told me in so many words that it was a dream image about ecology and land that had been spent of all of its resources barring its inherent financial value. You also have mentioned that a lot of your images have sprung from dreams. Could you characterize what qualities that you feel your dream images could posess vs. those images/lyrics/etc. that you came up while fully conscious?
Scott: Good question, Thomas. Thanks for writing. The short answer is that a satisfying album of lyrics typically has a few striking concrete images, and a dream can be good raw material for that. You may have no idea how an idea or feeling is getting communicated; you just trust the value of representing something that seemed strangely significant to you.
Taking that to an even deeper level, the art that you've come up with, are you of the mind that it comes from you, or simply through you? I realize that before you release a song, an album, you've tweaked the crap out of it to get it ready for prime time, and in that sense you are definitely the art's midwife. But ultimately (and this isn't meant to trivialize your role in the amazing music you have made), do you feel that the art originates from Scott Miller per se, or that you are the conduit, and that it springs from a vague, undefined "other" realm? And trust me, there isn't meant to be any judgment attached to that; an answer of "I made it" is not a selfish answer, it might be the true one.
In a way, it's hard to know exactly what distinction to make there. I remember reading a book called "Consciousness Explained" by Daniel Dennett, and I took his theme to be something like that we think of the self as a monolithic agent when really it's more a collection of processes acting as preferences, filters, motivations, etc., and when these processes get together, consciousness just magically happens (not incredibly well-fleshed-out as deep thinking goes, I didn't think, though what do I know?). But in a way songwriting is a similar question. I've picked up a lot of motivations for writing songs, axes to grind, reasons things sounds good to me, etc., and a lot of forces, social and otherwise, you could describe as acting through me. In a way Todd Rundgren writes songs through me because he influenced me to want to perpetuate certain aspects of music.
Dreams may in some sense be the source aspect that's the closest to being uniquely me. Dreams are egotistical, for good and bad. People have to work to build a moral and spiritual sensibility, and dreams may work within that, or may rebel against it in favor of desire and sentiment. The best art is probably both morally sophisticated and decisive while being quite sensitive to human desire (Dostoevsky springs to mind); dreams usually help with the latter, and require a disciplined mind to be helpful with the former.
Once again, thanks for your amazing music. P&B&R&T is still my favorite album of all time. Congratulations on your new family.
Copacetically dazed in a daisy glaze,
Thanks much for such a positive assessment.
Neon meate dream of a Oxfordprof,
ok,ok, i'll never see/ear it live uhhhhhh
Right now at Madrid (Spain) but too at Zaragoza (Spain too) I'll wait for 10 years more, meanwhile I'll grow up some ginkgo biloba seeds against sadness and try to get the rest of loud fam. cd's
And wait for a Good Year At Madrid and for Christmas hollydays.
Javier Martin Garcia Lopez
Scott: Buenos dias, Javier! Hey, if Ken Stringfellow can get to Spain to play live, then so can I. Wait a minute, I have that backward; it's that if I can do something, then Ken Stringfellow can do it. So close. I've wanted to go to Madrid ever since I saw "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown." I think it was the mod phone booths.
Erica esta en casa
July 21, 2003
Scott, have you heard the new Spoon record? I'm only asking because they've certainly heard yours! Their song "You Gotta Feel It" came up on my iPod right after "Erica's Word" tonight and I'll be damned if they aren't carbon copies of one another!
I pulled out the trusty Telecaster from under the bed and played along with both just to be sure. Besides moving the progression down a half-step, they are pretty near the same.
Can you sue them for ripping off your chord progression? If so, I want 25 percent! Of course, they don't sell any more records than you ever did, but with the present condition of our economy, I'm not ruling anything out.
Rob "half-diminished" Disner
Scott: Hi, Rob -- thanks for writing.
I appreciate your thinking of my music business interests -- God knows that's rare -- but it would hard for me to work up an aggrieved feeling short of their copying "Erica's Word" exactly and calling it "Erica's Word, Not By Scott Miller." Here's a little theorem of mine about music, which I'll now lay out in the following poor-man's Wittgensteinian manner:
1. All good music sounds like something you've heard before. If you hear good (to you) music, you will either:
2. All music which you identify as good, to the the extent that you correctly identify it as something you've never heard before
Music is a machine that requires the sound at hand, and also requires the set of subconscious echoes and reference points that make it act as music. So in my book, being a good writer of melodies is a matter of magic and blarney, stealing without getting caught. I still think it's a valuable pursuit, and I'm never intentionally underhanded when I write a song; it all only turns ugly if I start looking around for ways my material has been lifted.
All I've heard from the latest Spoon is a song called "Jonathan Fisk," which I thought was one of the best tracks of 2002.
everything fight about that spoonful,
July 13, 2003
Scott, since I know what a huge Beatles fan you are through interviews I've read and detecting the influence in your music, I was wondering when your father bought you Sgt. Pepper; I think you were born in 1960 (10 years before my post-womb existence), therefore, if you did possibly get it in 1967, did you buy each subsequent Beatles LP when they came out?
Scott: Close. After Sgt. Pepper, it was my friend Joe Becker and his parents through whom I heard Beatles material as it came out. Being 7 to 9 in the last Beatles years, I didn't actually have albums' worth of buying power.
If so, what was that like?
Like they were gods walking the earth, and a new Beatles album was the most radiant event in life. But always in a complicated way. The white album was certainly a strange experience -- I remember initially being just short of totally confused by it, but it was still incredibly compelling to imitate them even as they were pushing the boundaries of it being too weird to get away with doing that -- e.g. by having really long hair like John in that strangely captivating white album photo (and since that wasn't an option given my parents, I remember hunting down a flea-market pair of those round National Health spectacles, just to have and keep in a drawer).
Although, the great yet confusing white album was almost concurrent with "Hey Jude," which on the other hand spoke as directly to my soul as anything ever. That they came up with such a familial, encouraging take on love relationships is just one of hundreds of aspects of the Beatles I look back on and wonder: where did they ever find the mental poise to do something like that? To say nothing of the surreal filter of childhood that all of this was coming at me through -- metaphysical connections between, say, the green of the Apple logo and the lime green of lime green Hot Wheels cars. I'm sure anyone who was at least that old in 1966-69 understands the pop culture nirvana unique to that period, which probably sounds like incoherent nonsense to anyone else.
Where any Beatles release was too bizarre to be instantly lovable it was equally valuable as an aesthetic challenge, and this was even true when the breakup was occurring and they started releasing a whole bunch of disturbingly experimental records like "Zapple" releases. It seemed like whatever value was lost by them being unlistenable was compensated for by it all just being that formidable a mystery.
The Beatles' explosive breakup with all the bizarre solo records makes more sense when you consider that at the time, their music wasn't necessarily considered as bankable and timeless as pure musical craft as we all take it for granted to be nowadays. There was much more of a feeling of it all as super-fad -- essentially a souped-up dance craze which if it was of any lasting importance, was important as an exponent of a youth movement whose manifesto was something like: more freedom is always better. That category of idealism did most of its unraveling concurrently with the Beatles. When the Beatles had done classic work, it was all a very disciplined operation, and the problem of emancipation-as-freedom degenerating into anarchy-as-freedom is maybe nowhere clearer than in contemplating John Lennon being constrained to produce "Come Together" rather than being freed to produce "Unfinished Music #2: Life With the Lions."
But for a long time their instincts were all but infallible. It turns out to have been amazing and rare that the Beatles occupied a niche as top-rank cultural heroes for being creative and intellectually eclectic, yet adhering closely to real life for their subject matter. They were really these wild geniuses who succeeded as geniuses -- not as either a cult or as escapist entertainment.
I know you would have been pretty young, however, I was pretty precocious, getting Piper At The Gates of Dawn in grade 2 and the banana album in grade 5. Please elaborate with your memories! That would be way cool.
Keep making records or "Don't Doubt Yourself Babe" cuz yer a genius.
P.S. I'm well aware of your love of Alex Chilton so I'd thought I'd tell you that I once played in a short-lived band with guitar player and friend George Reinecke called The Golden Triangle, just after he left Tav Falco's Panther Burns, though we just did a few gigs but often talk about working.
Fun! Memphis musicians tend to seem kind of crazy to me. But then I guess so do San Francisco musicians.
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