Friday, May 17

Scott Miller (R.I.P.) - admirer of The dB's, et al

It’s not only sad but also kind of strange that I’m falling in love with the music of a man who died just a month ago.
Scott & guitar, posing for the Real Nighttime cover shoot
In college, I heard about Scott Miller because of Game Theory, the group he fronted at the time. Although that was decades ago, I’m pretty sure I was turned on to the group’s music for two reasons: 1) Because they had a few singles that charted on “college rock” radio stations, and 2) Because Mitch Easter produced most of Game Theory’s albums.
The Dudes: Scott & Mitch

I have to confess that, after buying and listening to Big Shot Chronicles and Lolita Nation, I placed Game Theory in my second tier of artists worth a listen. I was drawn to the music’s melodicism, alt-rock crunch and frequently challenging wordplay. But some of the noise experiments and avant-garde elements didn’t do much for me — perhaps because I wasn’t ready to appreciate them. In the end, the 1980s weren’t the “opportune time” for me to fully get or dig Scott Miller and Game Theory.
Scott Miller (seated) and Game Theory, in an early incarnation
Fast forward to the last few years. Somewhere along the way, I learned that Scott had been fronting a group called The Loud Family, with the overall vibe being similar to Game Theory. I thought, “Maybe I should give Scott and his ‘new’ band another try.” I did, and once again liked a lot of what I heard — but didn’t really take the plunge this time, either.

But in the past few weeks, Scott’s death has prompted me to revisit and reconsider the music as well as the man. My conclusion? Scott Miller and the groups he led are essential to fully appreciating great alt-pop and indie rock from the 1980s and 1990s. One other thing worth noting for musical posterity: by all accounts, Scott was brilliant, funny, warm, creative, and supremely talented — including his “miserable whine” of a voice (per Scott’s own self-deprecating description).

The store sign tells you what he shoulda been...
Scott sang Big Star's "Back of a Car"

The jewel in the crown of my new-found appreciation for Scott Miller is that he was a huge fan of not only The dB’s, but also Let’s Active and all the music created by Chris, Peter and Mitch. Just last week, I was surprised to encounter The Loud Family’s cover of The dB’s “Tearjerkin’” (included in one of this week’s two music posts). I had the further delight of reading excerpts from Scott’s fantastic Music: What Happened? The book is a chronicle of music from 1957-2011 viewed from the singular perspective of a handful of songs (grouped by their year of release) that Scott writes about with an engaging and quite readable style. [Read excerpts for free and find links to buy the book at Scott’s official site.]

Here are some of the songs you will recognize that Scott includes in the book, along with a coupla choice quotes for good measure:

·     "If I can convert a thousand new people to [the music of] Chris Stamey, there is absolutely no chance my life will have been in vain."
·     1980 - "Black and White" 
·     1981 - "Tearjerkin' "
·     1982 – “Happenstance”
“Some significant percentage of my hope for music at the start of the eighties was pinned to The dB’s…. By 1982 The dB’s were putting out great, inventive, profoundly musical records, and the world wasn’t buying. The writing was on the wall.” In this last sentence, I’m pretty sure Scott was alluding to the dim prospects for the popular success of the music he wanted to make.
·     1983 – “Every Word Means No”
·     1984 – “Something Came Over Me,” “Darby Hall, “ “Grey Scale”
·     1986 – “In Little Ways”
·     2009 – “My Friend the Sun” (Peter and Chris’ version)
Peter H and some members of Game Theory: mutual admiration
There are yet more songs in the book that are related to The dB’s and Let’s Active. But you’ll just have to go find a copy and read it to discover which ones — not to mention what the late and very great Scott Miller had to say about them.

Rest In Peace, indeed.

And for the rest of us — yet to shuffle off this mortal coil — 
happy listening and reading.


  1. Nice post.

    He was a great one. "REM with keyboards" was my concise (and not fully accurate but close enough) description of his music.

    And he was a very good writer on music, and sometimes on other topics as well.

    I really, really felt sad when this person I never knew died.

    Looking forward to checking out your music uploads of Scott and his bands.

    Ace K.