Thursday, April 18, 2013

In memoriam: Scott Miller, 1960-2013

Bay Area musician and songwriter Scott Miller died on Monday at the age of 53.  No radio station is going to play his music all day long, and crowds aren't going to gather weeping outside his house.  But to me, personally, this is maybe the single biggest loss in music at least since Elliott Smith died, and maybe ever, because Scott Miller was pretty much the biggest musical influence in my life.

In the late 80's I was in college and a good friend of mine urged me to listen to Game Theory's album The Big Shot Chronicles.  It is an understatement to say I was immediately hooked; that album, along with Game Theory's other albums, became a borderline obsession, and I listened to them over and over again.  Scott Miller formed Game Theory in Davis in the early 80's and they became college radio darlings, including at my college radio station, and the mix of unbelievably hooky power-pop and lyrics dripping with literary and cultural references was irresistible to me.  I can remember driving around with my friend Pete trying to figure out what the lyrics to Erica's Word meant.

Game Theory's masterpiece was probably the double album Lolita Nation (inevitably described as "sprawling"); it's long out of print, and copies of the CD go for well over $100 on eBay.  It's an incredible album, full of lush, carefully crafted pop songs as well as quirky little oddities.

Game Theory eventually fell apart and Scott went on to organize a new band, the Loud Family, which put out a string of albums that I still listen to regularly and can't get out of my system.  Their first album, Plants and Birds and Rocks and Things, is probably the album I've listened to more than any other.  The only other one in contention might be Abbey Road, and that's mostly because it was on constant repeat at the art studio where I studied drawing and painting in high school.  Anyway, PBRT is chock full of great songs, like this:

 About a week after I moved to San Francisco, in 1990, I was walking down Haight Street (cliche alert! I know, but still) and I spotted a flyer on a telephone pole advertising a Scott Miller solo acoustic show at the Hotel Utah later that week. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. I went to the show, of course, and watched my musical idol spin his way through 10 or 15 of MY FAVORITE SONGS OF ALL TIME.

 I would go see Loud Family a number of times over the next few years, to the point where Scott kind of recognized me and we talked a few times. I was more than a little awestruck, but he was totally cool and down to Earth and everything else you'd want. I hadn't really focused on Loud Family's last couple of albums, but a song from an album Scott recorded with Anton Barbeau recently came up on shuffle and blew me away. I've been listening to it over and over again for like 2 weeks. It's pure pop magic.


I have no idea what he died of; people don't normally just die at 53, and the official website is mum on the details. I guess it doesn't really matter. Even though Scott unfairly labored without widespread mainstream recognition for most of his musical career, he had a deeply felt effect on a lot of people, including me. I write songs, too, and I can hear echoes of his much better work in almost everything I do. I'm bummed we'll never get to hear another new song from him.

And write the obit when you do
He never ran out when the spirits were low
A nice guy as minor celebrities go
All right all together now, very minor I know

- "Together Now, Very Minor," 1987


Stoney said...

Literary and cultural references is right. You could spend days Googling Scott Miller references.

Game Theory

Loud Family

Tape of Only Linda

Plants and Birds and Rocks and Things

Tinker to Evers to Chance

Kenneth, What's the Frequency?

celeste said...

To honor Scott, please donate to this educational fund set up for his children: Peace to all.

amy.leblanc said...

"unfairly labored without widespread mainstream recognition" -- in some (most) cases, this was for the best.