August 31, 1998
Scott, "Gerontion" by T.S. Eliot--what do you think the title means?
Scott: It's well established that "Gerontion" is the diminutive of "old man" in Greek. I think Eliot feels the need to treat the collision of the Greek mind with the Hebrew mind in the early Christian era as the big bang of our intellectual cosmos, and I get the sense of a stern caution against allowing the Greek mind to dominate as much as it has.
The old man in Gerontion is spiritually barren in old age, as was J. Alfred Prufrock; he's Nietzschean in that his impulse is to lay the failure of his philosophically-based individualism at the doorstep of Christ, and by extension, the Judaic tradition.
If you want to get at the crux of this matter, you get drawn inexorably to the prologue to the Gospel of John and the "Word," especially because Eliot makes a direct reference. "Word" here describes divine incarnation of course, but the Greek and Hebrew words translated as "Word" are telling (and of course well known). The Greek is logos--system of discourse, way of the cosmos in which things are intelligible (interpretation mine). The Hebrew is dabar--commandment, divine utterance which creates material reality. The crucifixion transcends discourse, if only in that at the heart of discourse is success through ouster in debate; if you take away the ousted party with his ousted idea, you have nothing, no basis for knowledge--a tautology: "all utterances are true." The crucifixion says analogically, structurally--you can't build what it says syllogistically--that there is always a victim against whom worldly culture, e.g. either dialectic, or protection of the Temple from heretics or the Empire from enemies of the citizenry, convenes to define its own rightness by comparison.
The Hebrew mind can at least conceive of divine reality outside logos; the Greek mind figures to be vulnerable to the problem of trying to consider transcendence of discourse using discursive methods.
Eliot's direct reference to John's prologue is: "The word within a word, unable to speak a word,/Swaddled with darkness. In the juvescence of the year/Came Christ the tiger" (what a line!). What Christ the tiger attacks is the viability of a primitive or classical hero system in which the Gerontion character feels he might have thrived, hence the bemoaning of his absence from any battle scene ("heaving a cutlass," etc.). Whether it is ouster in combat or ouster in debate, Christ the glorified victim has thrown light on the victimization--the necessity by definition for there to be an ousted party--inherent in any such quest for one's authentication.
and try boosting the lows before the fuzz pedal,
August 24, 1998
Scott, I had a question about what goes on during the rest of your day while on tour. Obviously there is the "showtime" part of the day and the "drivetime" part of the day, but what goes on when you folks have five or six hours to kill? Sightseeing? General mayhem?
Scott: Sometimes there are official duties like radio or record store visits, but yeah, mostly mayhem--we'll get to a town and see what we can do to bring about an outbreak of crazed bloodshed.
There are not that many stretches of five or six hours to kill. Typically travel and meals take up the entire pre-sound-check day. If we do have a day off and we're staying at someone's house it's nice to have an outing and socialize with them because they usually know the good food and fun places in their area. If we're just in a motel, it takes on the feel of a window of sanctuary from unknown factors and obligations, and often you'll just feel like sleeping or generally doing as little as possible besides at some point dragging your ass over to Denny's.
Also...do you ever schedule days off on the tour, or do they just happen when the next coolest place to play is about 26 hours away?
Both. It's a complex formula better explained by booking agents than by me, but my observation is that they often give us Sundays off, and sometimes one more day some time during the week if it coincides with a long drive.
Good luck and congratulations on the new release,
No wasted days,
August 17, 1998
Scott, just a few more days before Days for Days...the anticipation would be too much to bear if I hadn't bought, like, ten other CDs this week to occupy my time.
Scott: Okay, I'm a little behind in answering these. For all I know you found Days For Days to be a big letdown and have hated me for months.
This question has a longish lead-in. I first heard of your band in an interview with the near-perfect songwriter Aimee Mann, who waxed quite enthusiastic about Plants and Birds and Rocks and Things. I trusted her taste, so I went and bought it soon after. I must admit, I liked it fairly well, but I wasn't overwhelmed. Still, I was intrigued enough to pick up Interbabe Concern, and the upshot is that eventually all your albums grew on me in a big way. It's the sort of thing that happens when a CD's on, you're half-listening to it while doing the dishes, say, and suddenly a musical moment goes by, and you stop and think, "What was that?", and run over to rewind the CD. Ever had a similar experience with a band you like?
These days I make a decision quickly and tend to stick to it--I think because I'm older than most new artists, and have a certain predictive capability about how their minds are going to work. If they in five songs haven't written any true-ringing lyrics, for instance, it's almost a dead certainty they don't have musical subtleties that are going to grab me unawares down the road.
Of albums I've liked a lot in the 90s, Submarine Bells by the Chills is the only one I can think of that took a few listens to click; other than that I've tended to know something's coming at me from the first listen.
For what it's worth, I knew I liked both of Aimee Mann's records immediately.
a couple of drinks and he was a fortune teller,
P.S. Several people wrote and said AA is not overtly Christian in any way they found off-putting (I invited correction that this aspect might give certain people pause). Nothing at all against Christians, by the way; see original message.
August 10, 1998
Scott, why do you hate New York? Last time I saw you was at the old Knitting Factory back in Nov '94 when I requested you play "Re-make/Re-model." Thanks, by the way.
Scott: Hate New York? It's probably tied with Chicago for my favorite place to play. They're not as familiar with me as San Francisco is and so don't have as much contempt. There was a 1996 Loud Family show in New York; I can't imagine how the saturation coverage of the event escaped your notice. (Editor's note: There was a show in July 1998 as well.)
Steve Wynn told me you had an even earlier band called Alternate Learning that that y'all did an album together. That sounds like something amazing and impossible to find.
We didn't do anything like a whole album's worth of split-down-the-middle collaboration. It was more like we helped each other out with resources--he had access to the college radio station and I had a home studio. Plus I just really liked him and his material. I remember having pretty serious plans to produce an album of his at the time he moved back to L.A., but he broke into the industry for real with the Dream Syndicate, which precluded the need for a homemade job.
But, yes, I had a band at that time called Alternate Learning which released an E.P. and an album--none too obviously worth the effort of checking out if you want an opinion on that subject--but with no Steve Wynn, who undoubtedly would have done them a world of good.
"Ain't that some kind of answer? Yeah, but no question was posed"
Scott, I used to pride myself on being a fairly knowledgeable fan of music, with tastes ranging from The Turtles to Todd Rundgren to Tommy Keene, but somehow the realm of your musical influence has always escaped me. That is to say, I did not even become aware of the existence of Game Theory (and subsequently, The Loud Family) until I came across a rather concise review that appeared in the innocuously entitled Rock -- The Essential Album Guide. For what it's worth, the editors decided that your collective body of work merited ratings ranging from 3 and 1/2 "bones" for Two Steps, to 4 and 1/2 bones for virtually everything else in your catalog.
Scott: I'll go against my first couple of romantic intuitions and assume it's better to get more bones.
I began to purchase these items, commencing with Plants and Birds, and I was quickly hooked. I subsequently went on to acquire every other item in the catalog, with an exception that leads to my next, rather obvious question. I have desperately sought out used CD copies of Lolita Nation, but to no avail. I'm guessing you get this question all the time, but I'm curious. I want to complete my collection, and hence, quench my increasing thirst for your music. My search thus far has only revealed LP versions of the record. Unfortunately, I made the grave mistake of failing to replace my Gerard Turntable years ago. Any thoughts would be appreciated.
Thanks for the kind words!
A person named Dennis Sacks (misprinted as "Stacks" on the recent album) owns an e-mail discussion list called loud-fans, which I'm told has become somewhat more a social phenomenon than a distribution of band facts, and I've been known to direct people to this as a resource for people who would notice copies of my CDs in used bins.
I have exactly one Lolita Nation CD and I can't give it to you, as whenever I'm at home, I listen to nothing but that, over and over and over.
methinks he did call him "Bones"
August 3, 1998
Scott, I'll keep this brief--don't want to babble on for too long. Just finished looking through your "list of ages" and went "Geesh!"
Scott: Do you mean to say that some part of you exploded?
I could easily pick over 3/4 of my #1 picks since 1965 (which, ironically, has always been the date I've started my year by year list) right from your encyclopaedic effort.
Before then, the best music didn't resolve to albums very well. Often there were multiple encapsulations of jazz pieces, Broadway shows, singles collections, etc., that were hard to pin down to a particular release in a particular year. After 1965 it was much easier to correlate as there was global emulation of the Beatles.
Which, weirdly enough, brings me around to all things Joycean. I've always enjoyed reading your thoughts about literature, especially Joyce (Loud Family isn't going to be performing "Finnegan's Wake" in concert anytime soon, are they? the trad. folk song as opposed to the prog. rave-up). As for a random thought, what do you think of this sentence? "To restore silence is the role of objects." Courtesy of Beckett, first couple pages of Molloy.
I haven't read any of Beckett except WAITING FOR GODOT (which was terrific), so this is uninformed freewheeling at its filthiest: I'm thinking by "silence" he means cessation of discourse. A lot of our reality is discourse--haggling over significance, putting spins on things, indoctrination into systems of mediation. When anything is acknowledged by all concerned to be an "object," some aspect of the world reads as a shared reality and will admit no new mythological reality to be overlaid; silence on a particular subject is accomplished.
Just a quick question. Oh! Thanks so much for your great songs!
Thanks. We got some kinda little show here, you betcha.
waiting for El Goodot,
July 20, 1998
Scott, why "where"?
princess, in this context i'm a freak,
Scott: Well, Ana, I assume you mean to ask why the last four songs on INTERBABE CONCERN all start with the word "where."
It's very loosely modeled after chapter titling in some piece of classic literature I skimmed long ago--I think it's CANDIDE by Voltaire but I don't have a copy to check that.
I had put on my Jungian psychologist's hat and tried to convey the core idea behind four dreams I'd had--what seemed to me to be my four most enduringly significant dreams. One of them is a flooding river or ocean. Of the dreams I wake up remembering, several of the most vivid and resonant have been about rising waters.
Maybe I had to pee.
where a train goes through a tunnel
Scott, do you think that consciousness is a manifestation of the years of intense stimulation that sentient creatures are exposed to in their early years? If a computer were programmed to receive and compare equivalent stimulus, do you feel that it could achieve self-awareness? What type of moral structure would such an artificial life form have? Would you consider it to be a life form?
Scott: Since early in this century, we've thought "now that we have calculating devices, it should be fairly straightforward to create consciousness--we just have to make a machine that can store as much binary data as a brain and mimic all the fetching and comparing processes in the brain." Putting aside my hunch that this not far from expecting that if you build an exact replica of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and place any 25 people on the stage, they will spontaneously perform Hamlet, I think we've shown disrespect for the issue by thinking of it as a solvable problem.
As one can only speak with authority about one's own self, the only test I'd ever believe of whether a machine had self-awareness would be that it had my self-awareness. That is, the verifier must be given the experience of being alive in a machine, and even then in order to get it to work you might well have to fool the verifier into thinking he or she was still in a human body, so even with the thing working, we probably have as tricky a problem in ontology as we've ever had to deal with just to yield a verifying community of one.
Here's another conundrum: as we can replay programs exactly, would an event of machine consciousness in the cosmos occur twice if you played it back twice? My answer would be no; because uncertainty of outcome maps to a unique set of world events (in this case the parameterization of the program), though you'd convinced yourself you set things in motion nondeterministically, machine-consciousness time would not be in any sort of synch with natural consciousness time, but with a haphazard calendar of changes to the machine's nature which were for its own purposes significant, and none of which we'd have any basis for thinking is a change to consciousness which still qualifies as consciousness. That is, any moment we know it works, it had better change to something else--which might not work--or it is really just dead silicon after all.
To me, the idea that consciousness didn't need the cosmos to happen, that a freestanding instance of it could be accomplished on a simulator independent of bodies, relationships, desires, and uncertainties, is arguably to presume the cosmos acted less than economically in a way that offends Darwinian logic if nothing else.
we can't wager for anything as trivial as quatloos,
July 13, 1998
Scott, have you ever noticed that from time to time a band decides that it would be cute to record a song written by Charles Manson, and then they actually do it?
Discounting the quality of the songs and the suspicion that people sometimes do this just for attention, what do you feel are the ethical ramifications of recording music written by such a person? Are there any? I mean, If "Back of a Car" had been written by Charles Manson, would you still have covered it?
Ethical firmly suspended, tee-hee,
Scott: The short answer is I'd probably go ahead with it if the song really were "Back of Car," and you placed me at the moment of having to make the decision to release, ignoring the unlikelihood of the situation ever arising; but no, nothing like this would happen with things being as they are in the real world.
There's no community of listeners that I know of who would, after 25 years to form an opinion, reassess the wrongness of the murders for which Manson was convicted because I did a song of his, were it a brilliant composition with lyrics about being a teenager in love; their reaction would be "how odd that a convicted killer could write so well and so sensitively," which seems to me a worthwhile thing to ponder if it were the case. If the cover of the song were presented as trading in vicarious danger, or we were talking about one of his real songs, such as "Look At Your Game, Girl," I would have serious qualms.
Here is how I see the issues breaking down: on one hand, none of us is fundamentally incapable of doing anything Charles Manson or his "family" did, we simply lucked into unpbringings and circumstances which didn't lead us to involvement in such things, and it would be bad to reinforce a hunch that what maintains the disparity is our becoming in some sense ceremonially cleansed of any association with certified pariahs. On the other hand, a gratuitous show of solidarity with the particulars of wrongdoing starts down the path of generating social energy at the expense of others--those who could be labeled prudes and sheep for not being so broad-minded as to, as you say, find such a move "cute." That is, it would be a low-grade recapitulation of the victimization machinery that brought the "family" together in the first place.
And then, if this does pose an ethical problem, where should one draw the line? Would it be wrong to cover a Lou Reed song since has been confirmed that he is often not very nice or since it has been alleged that he is sometimes downright abusive?
It's every artist's own call, obviously, but this reminds me of a quote which I believe was from Virginia Woolf. Someone asked her if she thought higher education suppressed the creativity of young writers, and she said something like "it obviously hasn't suppressed the creativity of nearly enough of them." We are in very little danger of excessive ethics stanching the flow of indie rock.
Scott, what action would you take if a close friend were on the downward spiral of self-corrosion? Someone very dear to me is haplessly falling into a dismal pool of alcohol abuse. When he is disappointed in himself, for instance, because of [...] he utilizes alcohol to numb his emotions. In turn, due to the alcohol, he [...], which then leads to further consumption of alcohol--a vicious cycle. I've pointed out his abuse to him, but he fails to recognize the problem.
[editor's note: descriptions deleted to preserve anonymity]
Scott, I am aware that the subject matter of this e-mail is rather personal, but as I do not know anyone else, I am asking you to help me help him. I'm uncertain as to whether or not you realize who I am speaking of, but nevertheless, I want your intellectual advice. Is this an intellectual matter? Not really, but I've used other strategies, and I have made a prominent crease in failure. In an effort to save him, I fear that I will lose him. (I'm fairly insouciant about his turning away from me; it's not that that which I am concerned with, yet the possible loss of his life that worries me.)
By witnessing his gradual--almost subtle--deterioration, I've competed with the anti-altruistic desire to be ignorant and negligent, but I lose. My question remains on the top portion of this letter; please.
Scott: This is certainly disturbing; I wish I could be of more use than I'm going to be. Of the people I've known with substance abuse problems, about a third have turned things completely around for themselves, about a third hover in some grey area, and about a third have died.
By most accounts what turns people around is the realization that drinking is a serious problem, and it's always clear to those around drinkers long before it's clear to drinkers. Drinking seems always to invent a new way of looking at the world in which however much drinking they're doing is okay, and so it's sometimes the case that not until they've hit absolute rock bottom is the logic of drinking even disturbed (let alone broken).
I'd just keep gently suggesting, over time, that they watch it, and that from your point of view it's getting close to time to seek help. There are going to be people who won't go the AA route because they're not Christians and AA is overtly Christian (or I should say has struck me as such; I invite correction), but I think it's well worth noting that the religious dimension is no accident. However they come to that point, Christians feel justified in Christ, and I think that, at a level we're not used to considering, an alcoholic is using alcohol to stave off an encounter with absolute justification. He or she may even have come to be clearer-thinking than the rest of us on this point: justification in the social order--"I'm okay because I'm doing as well as person B, at least in person C's eyes"--is going to fail, and when it does, we're going to know desperation, and the distractions from this inevitability which work to pacify the rest of us don't work for him or her.
hair o' the God that bit ya,
June 29, 1998
Scott, please shed some light on your songwriting processes for the Loud Family. Is it stream of consciousness, jam into a boombox and painstakingly edit later, or stare at a blank page for awhile and then go check the fridge again? Caffeine, booze, pot, other? Morning or evening?
Scott: Sometimes booze or coffee helps when I want to finish something, but I seldom do more than two drinks or two cups of coffee per day for normal health reasons. If I did like pot, I wouldn't feel free to talk about it in the current truly ugly political climate. Persecution of pot clubs for the terminally ill after a popular vote legalizing them? Are the people carrying this out not ashamed?
The songwriting process is no more or less interesting than something like accounting work, by which I mean the process isn't that closely related to the results. Whether an accountant likes to work methodically or furiously probably says more about deadlines than about how inspired the deductions are.
To me the key is a love for getting an inspiration across, and to keep that going far into adulthood requires that I keep a certain amount of background up. If I ever stop feeling like I have a firm handle on what pop music can convey to an audience, and in turn a firm handle on what there is to convey and what has proven in the forums of the world to be worth conveying, I start feeling as if I shouldn't be doing it, I should be using that energy to alert people to what others have done. The most important process is tuning my efforts to what I learn has gone before in history, staying one step ahead of learning of my own inadequacy.
Solo acoustic on the edge of the bed or full-on-electric with band on hand? I suspect your answer will come back something like "it depends...," but is there anything tried and true that gets your creative juices flowing? Just wondering. I'd like to write some Loud Family songs too. Thanks!
What a nice thing to say! Here are some fairly tried and true things to do: (1) Listen to a lot of the music you think your audience listens to, (2) Notate or record musical or lyrical ideas scrupulously, (3) Try out a lot of ideas on a solo acoustic guitar--so many that after awhile it's statistically impossible for them all to be bad.
People were asking me about Bob Pollard. He said one of the best things I've heard on the subject: he considers four random people from something like a high school yearbook and asks himself what kind of a record he'd be excited about them making, then he makes that record.
Scott, I was wondering if you are much of a cook, and if so, if you have a recipe which is your specialty that you could share with the Ask Scott readers.
Scott: Take a swordfish steak, some butter, fresh green onions, oregano, chicken stock, salt, white wine, and a medium sized bottle of saffron.
Sell these for twenty dollars and buy yourself a nice grilled swordfish.
June 22, 1998
Scott, I've never heard the Loud Family before, but I just picked up Interbabe Concern about a month ago, on a fluke (can I say that here?) so regard this as the question of a Loud Family neophyte.
Scott: I'll suspend my curiosity about what sort of fluke causes someone to buy that record; mistook it for a virtual-igloo-building CD-ROM?
First, let me say you guys/gals are on the wings of something truly great. References to L. Ron Hubbard? Drunk on Civil Rights? Velvet melodies backed by gruffly guitars and touchstones to Smile-era Brian Wilson? AAARRRHGHHGGH!!! (and I mean that as high compliment).
Two quick questions. First, what would it mean if I were to find out that my wife "has sodium laureth sulfate"? Should I call someone? Join a support group?
You will need 20 gallons of tomato juice, a copy of the Bible Code, and an arc welder's apron...
And lastly, having learned that you are a C++ programmer, what is your take on multiple inheritance? Are the payoffs worth the possible pitfalls (i.e., jinxing the name-space)?
Since the payoff is job security for C++ programmers, you bet it's worth it.
Your obt. srvt.,
P.S. You all ever play in Ohio?
We can't do it too often, since as those who've seen us there know there's the constant threat of it turning into a bacchanalian frenzy, but we may be routed through Cleveland on 7-13.
Your obsolete sportvest,
Scott, me, Dave and Joe are listening to 'Idiot Son' and we've just been to a series of cosmology lectures. Joe was too shy to ask this to anyone actually lecturing so it's up to you. Given that heavy elements are formed during supernova explosions, and this material is then dispersed into the interstellar medium, what effect does this have on future star formation? Dave says do you still remember the Mark E. Smith version of the R.E.M. song that he inflicted on you, and are you ever going to come and see us in Calne, Wiltshire, UK, again. ( The question is serious, by the way )
Lots of love,
Pat Moore, Dave, Joe
P.S. We're coming to SF in August.
Scott: Wow, great to hear from you! How is Paul Ricketts? I should be back from touring August 1 so definitely drop a line and let's get together.
I had the impression that star deaths and star births were more or less independent--that stars formed due to conditions apparently determined by the big bang, not that stars formed and ended, formed and ended, again and again out of the same material. You remind me that to all the accumulated dark and heavy matter is now added Mark E. Smith, which may mean the fate of the universe is to get into a drunken brawl and decide to stop touring.
--Scott M., prof. of Cosmetological Physics
June 15, 1998
Scott, we will surely head to Cleveland if the Loud Family plays up there again this spring. Or Pittsburgh, or somewhere. You just do your tour, play great music and try to have fun in between as well. I'm not surprised (disappointed, of course) about the probable lack of a Columbus gig, though you do now have a substantial fan base here among people who find themselves humming "We've Only Just Begun" from time to time and only just begin to question why.
Scott: Janet, because you're you, we're bringing the love to Cleveland on Monday, July 13th at the fabulous (one just knows) Grog Shop.
Today we had a little incident on the loud-fans mailing list. One of our august party wrote, in reference to Nicholson Baker, "...his gadfly activities with regard to the SF Main Library" and another misread it as being in reference to you instead. So why not - how do you feel about the SFPL's sweeping embrace of technology at the apparent expense of good old books? Apparently a large, clandestine discarding of books took place last year as the new library doesn't have space for 'em. The voters were, I understand, told that they'd be getting more books in return for funding their metropolitan library. That's what I'm told.
My gadfly activities with regard to the SF Main Library haven't including going there, I'm a little ashamed to admit. Having no organizational skills when it comes to reading, it doesn't work for me to borrow books, but only to buy them and strew them around me for years of varying amounts of attention. And for someone like Joyce, I need to mark the margins up silly. When I go to a library, it's for easy access to nonspecific critical material; I don't want to have to check anything out and, heaven forbid, return it, which would mean parking in San Francisco a second time.
Of course, I don't want them throwing books out; it being San Francisco, there's every chance they'd throw out exactly the wrong ones. Allow me to guess that they would throw out five books I consider indispensable to the wellness of culture before they would throw out The SCUM Manifesto by Valerie Solanis.
More importantly, a learned guy like you - have you any amusing library stories to share?
I'm ready to declare myself half of the way to being learned--a dramatically pleasing race with senility, I think.
I wouldn't call it "amusing," but it's interesting what you learn when you pursue a subject beyond what makes the newspapers. In college I did a research paper on nuclear weaponry, and I found out that during the Carter presidency there were all sorts of close calls--seven-minute-alert situations and so forth (that is, where the system thinks you have seven minutes to launch a counterstrike or be disabled). I'd probably mangle any actual details I tried to recount now, but I kept finding out about these events and thinking "Jesus, how come we never heard about this?"
Also, if the American Library Association successfully solicited you to model for one of their promotional "READ" celebrity posters (and wow, can I see it now!), which book would you brandish for the photo-shoot?
It would probably have to be something not too obscure, so maybe one of the usual things I stump for like Ulysses. Although, a pile of books from the LIFE Science Library would be a nice in-joke in a way--Sound, and The Mind, and so forth. They obsessed me when I was a kid, especially The Mind, which has that amazing "symbols inside a skull" painting that I must have spent anywhere from ten to fifty hours staring at and thinking about.
What a difference between something like that and what grade school libraries offered: the same story of a young man's heroism or a young woman's navigation of society, told over and over again, life presented to adolescents as if it were a nursing home for sick and dying systems of validation.
Clearly, I'm trying to decide whether I really do want to go back to being an active librarian someday, or whether being a passive librarian is plenty. Any wisdom you can send my way would surely prove illuminating, as always.
Um, okay here is my wisdom. Being a librarian is good cause they are smart and cause they read a lot.
Janet Ingraham Dwyer
and 25 or 6 to 4 to you, too,
June 8, 1998
Scott fills out an icebreaker questionnaire, a list of questions designed to help you get to know someone better, sent to him by Andrew Hamlin...
Answer 'yes' if you (the person taking the quiz):
1. Knows pi to seven (or more) significant digits
Scott: I know it to six. You are wrong about the one I don't know. It is not significant at all.
2. Knows e to seven (or more) significant digits
Can they be digits of my own choosing?
3. Knows c to the nearest whole number
Ha. A trick question. C is a letter, not a number.
4. Knows what C8H10N4O2 is
That is what they're saying after certain lines in "Re-Make/Re-Model"
5. Knows at least six programming languages
Not unless you do some fudging at least as bad as counting C++ as a programming language.
6. Has been shot
7. Has been shot at
No. I'm telling you, they're dead before they can reach.
8. Does not have email
Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Aw, this is another trick question!
9. Has a rotary dial telephone
Yeah, right. Try calling phone sex with one of those!
10. Has never downloaded pornography at work
I once downloaded the cover page from these people who will make you a life-size simulated woman for five thousand dollars. Hell, in two years the price will come way down and then everyone who bought one now is going to feel SO STUPID.
11. Has been to Las Vegas or Reno and not gambled
Last time I was in Las Vegas I ate at the Circus Circus buffet.
12. Has been to four or more continents
No, but at ages four or more I have been continent.
13. Has never eaten at McDonald's
No. That is, I have not never. It is not the case that never have I.
14. Can speak three or more languages
I have spoken French and Spanish but was shot at.
15. Has been mistaken for someone of the opposite gender
Not after I show them my penis.
16. Has bitten or been bitten by a human to the point of drawing blood
You have been listening to the townsfolk. Such foolish stories they tell.
17. Has won more than $50 in a lottery
No. Wait, you mean you win money? I thought they were selecting people to die according to obscure small-town customs.
18. Has seen a ghost
No, there's no such thing as a ghost. BOO! Ha ha, only kidding. Ha ha ha ha.
19. Has been arrested for something that shouldn't have been a crime
They go around entrapping people, is what they do.
20. Can name more than nine Muppets
Are you kidding? I watched Sesame Street my whole life. Miss Piggy, Kermit the Frog, Fozzie Bear, Bert, Ernie, Elmo. That's nine.
21. Has never flown in an airplane
I have always remained in my seat while in an airplane.
22. Is packing heat
Packing heat RIGHT HERE.
Well, I have a lot of other icebreaker questionnaires to get to today.
June 1, 1998
Scott, quickly, to get it out of the way; thanks for many years of wonderful music.
Scott: Thanks, that's very nice. I had a lot of help.
Songwriting Questions: I have noticed in trying to play some of your songs on guitar that they tend to not follow the "proper" (I ii iii IV V vi vii) pattern, and when I try to force them into that pattern, they don't sound right. When writing music, do you go more by the feel of a good riff, or try to plug it into a certain key? Feel free to discuss music theory at length.
I gravitate toward fairly routine chord progressions with one particular odd thing about them. Anything that involves doing some one thing differently from how I'd ordinarily do it. Just as an example, one of my favorite tricks is to have a progression that involves a major of some chord wander around till it comes back to a minor of that chord--or the other way around. If you know my song "Idiot Son," that's one that does that in one part--it plays a D major against an F and then a D minor against a G.
To me the tastiest changes are always a high wire act. They're always one step away from total cliche or from not making sense at all. But that's only one way to like to listen to music, and clearly it's pretty different from what most people like or I'd be selling a lot more records.
Kurt Cobain once said that once he got the hang of songwriting, it quickly became formulaic for him. Thoughts?
My impression is that he was pretty ill at ease with the fact that the more he stuck to formula, the better the response. That's just how large audience success works, though. However many of them want to share the knottiness of your worldview, the majority just want you for an ornament, like an earring, and for that they want simple elegance; they don't want a big complicated thing hanging off of their earlobe.
As a celebrity (very minor), how do you feel about your public coming up to you and chatting you up before shows?
I feel great about it.
Best shoulda-been-a-band-name you've come up with?
The English Einsturzende Neubauten.
Thanks for your thoughts
knotty by nature
Scott, P & B & R & T is one of my DID's (please excuse the acronyms)
Scott: thank you kindly
and after browsing your music lists, your favorite records share approximately 90% homology (please excuse the molecular biology reference) with mine.
That's pretty amazing, and good correlations like that support my faith that's there's something like a language-correctness layer of musical taste. Languages use arbitrary signs, but they have very knowable systems of consistencies, and I think the musical ear is a lot like that, only the fact that the system is in a certain amount of flux leads to a world of confusion about what those consistencies are.
I also believe there are other ways of getting the same set of tastes that are more suspect, but of course that would apply to other people, not people who agree with my tastes!
I did notice, however, the glaring omission of any Marshall Crenshaw records on your list. What gives?
The thing is, I have no doubt I've left off a lot of great records just because unless a person is actually a professional rock critic his or her access is going to be limited. A quick check of the database shows that I have his debut at #27 for '82, FIELD DAY #24 for '83, LIFE'S TOO SHORT #31 for '91 and MIRACLE OF SCIENCE #36 '96. Which is certainly not bad. I haven't heard his other records.
your favorite waste of type,
May 25, 1998
Scott, driving around the other day listening to Lolita Nation, "What was it we were always wanting...", I burst into tears. Driving around, weeping, on a nice sunny day. I blame you.
Scott: Thanks for writing; that's nice of you to say. And you did the right thing. We nihilists hate sunshine. It makes the pavement too hot to walk our ferrets.
Anyways. I'm curious about something and want to milk your extensive insider knowledge of the music biz. Hypothetical questions follow. Suppose you were you, except really wealthy and really ambitious. Given that you already have talent, would it then be possible to buy fame? If so, how would you go about it?
Of course you can buy a certain amount of fame. I guess I'd hire an expensive producer and spend a lot of time recording in an expensive studio, then I'd make an expensive video or two, hire expensive press and radio promotion people, take out a bunch of expensive magazine--even TV--ads and tour with an expensive stage show.
Or, taking it from another angle: say your favorite underappreciated, label-less young rock songwriter just inherited an absurdly large amount of money, and wanted to use that money to expose as many people as possible to their music. Not seeking Michael Jacksonesque fame, just "success". Just "not slipping through the cracks". Could he or she somehow buy the attentions of their favored label?
Big labels are probably used to turning down artists with a lot of money fairly routinely; maybe this artist could pay a regular producer on the label to come up with a demo tape specifically designed to win the heart of a certain A & R person. And this tape should be in a gold cassette shell. A demo tape actually made of gold.
Could they buy a successful tour? Could they buy their favorite producer's services? What advice would you give them, what order would you recommend doing things? Agent, PR firm, producer, studio time....?
(and that's an order)
I believe one hires a personal manager and they do all that for you.
Oh--if the sky is really the limit I would also hire someone to dance next to me on stage with a big mirror like the Time in Purple Rain.
Scott, I recall at one point seeing a copy of Lolita Nation that was abridged. I want to say it was a single record, but that could be my imagination. Maybe it was just a shorter CD. Either way, it existed somewhere. Why was it, at one point, abridged, and what was left out of this version?
Scott: As I remember it, Enigma Records were licensing to Europe rather than exporting, and as it was told to me, the European manufacturer insisted that no one in Europe would ever buy a double album. Yes, this seems a little broad; the original utterance was probably more like "lose half of this crap and we'll talk."
So they made it into a single not too likable vinyl record. The song "Waist and the Knees" and most of the unconventionally structured songs got jettisoned at the horse latitudes.
still furiously pumping my stiff green gallop,
May 18, 1998
Scott, I noticed that you list My Bloody Valentine as a band that you enjoy. I've been addicted to their stuff for a long time, always looking for something like that. Interbabe Concern has a similar attention to sound and noise, really great job, and great lyrics.
What's the new album like? What are your new frontiers musically?
I'd say the new album tries to be find some coherence in feelings about music and about life in general that seem to contradict each other. A good example would be the feeling that music is stagnating, that to reach a wide audience you have to rehash the same old cliches in the thinnest of disguises, and a contrary feeling that the whole idea of thinking music has "frontiers" is faulty--that any attempt at radical innovation necessarily leads to music designed to be talked about and not listened to.
And I really do believe those two statements have hard-to-resolve truths to them, and not only as a personal conundrum, but as one showing signs of heading for some sort of spectacular public collision. For one thing, people are more and more hyper-aware of the workings of nostalgia. Everyone jokes about how musical trends are recycled with ever-shorter lag times, and the new challenge might be dealing with the fact that belief in the notion of lasting musical revolutions is going away, period, and if so, I think there's going to be a crisis of music's claim to being a connection to deeper things.
One great thing about My Bloody Valentine is that while their overwhelming concern is obviously texture, they keep their melodies prominent, too. They're not trying to say "see, we've evolved past melody," the battle-cry of duddiness if there ever was one.
By the way, your last show in Seattle was great. Sadie is sexy! The ultimate live rock lineup, g,b,p,d, with vocals sensuously spread round.
Thanks much. We hope to sensuously spread for the whole country this summer.
evolved past tree shrews,
Scott, which is your favorite Spice Girl?
Scott: The red one with the circular antenna who rides a scooter.
Scott, because of your joking reference to Guided by Voices in the liner notes to the most recent Loud Family album, and because I remember reading somewhere that you marveled at the contrasts between your approach to recording and Bob Pollard's, I was wondering: what is your critical appraisal of Guided by Voices/Bob Pollard?
Scott: Extremely high. His voice is one of the very best, and their stuff always sounds good to me, which is incredible considering the volume of material they put out. I don't remember what I thought was a big difference, unless maybe it's that--since I only write about six or eight songs a year. And I thought it was about the best thing for music ever that they had a hit mastered on Realistic cassette, but I just couldn't have gone that route myself without it being a contrivance.
I ask because, after my many years as a Game Theory/Loud Family fan, the first time that I was exposed to Guided by Voices, I was struck by the band's similarities to your music. Even a friend of mine who ardently dislikes both the Loud Family and GBV has commented to me that my taste for GBV must arise from my taste for Miller music.
Not to put words in anyone's mouth, but is there any chance they just meant one of us must have used the other as a model for how to be so horrendous?
In particular, I believe that you and Bob share an unalloyed sense of guitar pop and its history, from Prog-Rock, to Folk Rock, to Big Star/Beatles, to Psychedelia, and that you are two of the few pop songwriters working who manage to conspicuously incorporate the entire range of your influences into your songwriting without sounding derivative. Additionally, although your songs tend to vary in length more than Bob's, you both seem to understand that, at times, the most poignant pop songs are less than two minutes long. Also, you both utilize, shall we say, affected yet endearing vocal styles. Finally, although your lyrics simply make more sense (at least to me) than Pollard's Jabberwocky talk, you both manage to come up with truly evocative, albeit warped, song titles, many of which are rather long.
Truth be known, I don't know what Pollard is talking about too much of the time, so I'm not going to presume to guess how much we think alike. It may be that we appear to have long titles by sheer contrast with everyone else. We like to get a lot of info in anything if we can, and not many artists do, and this was especially true in the early 90s when it was all the rage to have your band be called "Lint" and your songs be called "Rug" and "Blink."
On the other hand, I am aware of the differences, sometimes notable, between the Guided by Voices aesthetic and yours. Aside from the fact that you rarely release anything with such a "tossed-off" feeling as much of GBV's work has, Pollard clearly revels in mid-70's "Rawk," while I just can't see the Loud Family doing stage kicks and twirling the microphones in giant circles, although you are welcome to try. (Incidentally, I suspect that it is only Pollard's "Rawk" pieces that have afforded him more commercial success than the Loud Family and/or Game Theory.) However, in GBV's more "contemplative" works (which is to say that Bob "contemplated" the songs for the hour or so that he spent recording them), including the newly released Tonics and Twisted Chasers (which, if you haven't heard, is truly worth ordering from Rockathon Records) and Under the Bushes, Under the Stars, I can almost imagine the two of you singing harmony. In fact, there are times when, while listening to GBV, I find it impossible to believe that Pollard, after having spent the 80's singing other people's songs to himself in the bedroom mirror, never listened to and was influenced by Lolita Nation (although I have never heard him mention you as an influence).
Thanks. I'd personally rather he listen to Interbabe than Lolita if that's the first thing he's going to hear. The singing on Lolita just really sounds like a drugged 12-year-old or something, and you wonder who's going to find that fascinating and who's just going to be irritated.
How about it? Am I only imagining the similarities between your music and Pollard's? If not, have you ever met the man and/or heard whether he knows and appreciates your music?
Terence D. Friedman
Never met him but I saw them live with the Tobin Sprout lineup and they stomped me concave.
my name is legion for we be thousand,
Scott, any chance of doing an enhanced CD? I would think it would be a natural for you given your interest in computing.
Scott: I'd love to, but I'm not all that savvy in the area of expertise that would be relevant to this, and to take on that big a project I'd have to have a lot more and different resources at my disposal than my tiny little career as a recording artist affords me now.
How about making the ultimate fragmented cut and paste CD ... like the finer points on Lolita Nation and Plants ... something almost like a collage ...
Maybe I could do such a thing as a joint project with a pool of people on the web or something.
Do you practice any religion, would you say you are a religious/spiritual person?
I don't practice Christianity with regularity; I'm still in the process of figuring out what religion is all about. I feel safe in saying religion is profoundly misunderstood by most people.
It's probably true that we all walk around practicing the same amount of religion. Our only choices are to correctly identify our religious behavior as religious or to misidentify it as always reasoned, and the latter is dangerous in exactly the way we think fanatical religions are dangerous.
Great to hear you are a fan of GBV's as they slay me.
I too am dead at their hands.
Thanks for your time.
guided by guide vocals,
May 4, 1998
Scott, fortunately, my job has me in town for the Terrascope concert. Unfortunately, it's sold out.
Scott: It was fun. It turns out KFJC did a live broadcast of it.
Do you have any travel tips? Are there any must see Game Theory/Loud Family historical sights in SF/Davis? Thanks in advance.
Oops. The perils of answering these in the order received: I'm always a month behind so nothing current applies. Well, as far as Game Theory or Loud Family theme parks, in-costume historic re-enactments, any of that sort of thing goes, San Francisco has dropped the ball. Capturing any sort of feel is hard--a field trip to any SF Recording studio, for instance, is guaranteed to be as exciting as visiting a closed H & R Block office; most of our experience of external San Francisco involved, oh, looking for parking. One good locale would have been Big Shot Photo Enlarging in Berkeley, where GT practiced. You could have dropped in and taken Photo Robert out to lunch in exchange for humiliating stories about us. But it's closed now.
Despite the utter lack of history involving my bands except that I've had many a tasty meal there, here are my most-frequented SF restaurants: Oritalia, Neecha Thai Cuisine (as I believe Zach Smith said, "that food which does not kill us makes us stronger"), Tanuki, and for breakfast the Curbside Cafe.
I'm going to assume that every standing structure from when I was in Davis will have been turned into a juice bar at least once.
coming soon: "Tow-Away Mountain"
Scott, my friends all tell me I'm too other-directed. What do you think?
Scott: Is that a set-up? That is, if your friends can call your "directedness" into question, is the issue decided? Or, the pronouncement may say more about your friends than about you.
I assume that's some psychological term about which I don't know the particulars. Here's my take on the subject in general (probably drawing extensively on Sartre and Martin Buber): no one has an isolatable personality. One's personality is the sum of one's relation to others. If you ask if someone is too other-directed, I say everyone is 100% other-directed 100% of the time. The concept of self-actualization is yet another artifact of our concern to be regarded a certain way by others. In short, we all change our stripes according to what we think people are looking for, and when, as will inevitably occur, we find out someone disapproves of us changing our stripes, we change our stripe-changing stripe to accommodate that person, too.
What "too other-directed" probably means is that certain others who constitute one's personality do so in ways that become discordant. If you ever listen to what schizophrenic people on the street are saying, they're--in my experience--going over and over an unresolved conflict with someone. I believe I could quote Gil Bailie here and say that this gets to the heart of what demon possession meant in classical and biblical texts. The feedback regulating their constituting-otherness is broken.
Then again, maybe each of your friends just wants you to listen to him or her, not those other friends.
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