A way with words
Friends pay tribute to Scott Miller, the late Davis artist who combined his love for music and literature into an influential career
Music fans the world over were stunned and saddened by the news of the death of Scott Miller, the brilliant singer-songwriter who fronted Game Theory, Loud Family and Alternative Learning, better known as ALRN. Miller, a Sacramento-born musician, was considered an influential force in the ’80s- and ’90s-era Davis and San Francisco music scenes. Miller died earlier this year on April 15, at age 53 and left behind a wife and two daughters. His cause of death has not been released.
Now, members from all of Miller’s groups in addition to other local musicians, including Mitch Easter, Jackson Griffith and Allyson Seconds, are convening on Saturday, July 20, at downtown Sacramento’s Shine for a tribute show.
Nan Becker, a keyboardist in ALRN and an early incarnation of Game Theory, remembered her late friend with admiration.
“I’ve known Scott since I was 10 years old, and he was my brother’s [drummer Jozef Becker from Game Theory, Loud Family and Thin White Rope] best friend,” she said. “He [followed] music like some people would follow baseball, which he also did. He had the most incredible mind that I have ever encountered.”
The bands that Miller started are a testament to not only of his encyclopedic knowledge of music, but his love of literature as well. The Game Theory album Lolita Nation references Vladimir Nabokov, and he claimed T.S. Eliot and James Joyce as his two favorite writers.
That affinity made its way into Miller’s music. A Rolling Stone review of Lolita Nation likened it to “Big Star with lyrics written by Thomas Pynchon”—a near-perfect encapsulation of the sound of Game Theory and Loud Family. (To hear Miller’s work, all of Game Theory’s albums are available to stream at www.loudfamily.com/game.html.)
In 2006, Miller took a hiatus from music making after the release of What If It Works?—a collaboration between the Loud Family and Sacramento expat Anton Barbeau—and turned to writing a blog. His posts were wildly entertaining and had a huge following of musicians and fans. There, Miller reflected on the songs he loved and wrote about them in a style that was part confessional journal and part music critic, choosing a handful of songs from a specific year, ranging from 1957 to 2009, and explaining why he loved those songs, pointing out details that only deep listener and a lifelong fan would hear. Soon, he was approached to compile these lists into a book, and in 2010, Music: What Happened? (125 Records, $15) was released to widespread acclaim.
Sacramento writer and musician Jackson Griffith says Miller was as talented a critic as he was a musician.
“I think he [was] fucking brilliant,” said Griffith. “His insights [were] completely original. He basically [wrote] what he [thought].”
That’s not always the case, Griffith added.
“With music critics, a lot of people are always looking over their shoulder to see what someone else is saying. I read one of his pieces—it was about a Kanye West and Jay-Z record—it was quite droll, and it seemed like he was giving props to them, but if you read in between the lines, it was like, ’Whoa!’ I thought it was very well-done.”
The tribute show will highlight the late musician’s body of work. Becker, now residing in Wisconsin, has found herself behind a keyboard relearning ALRN and Game Theory songs, as it’s been almost 30 years since she’s last appeared on a stage.
So, how does it feel playing these songs again?
“That’s a huge question. I’ve been trying to figure that out for weeks. I’ve admired Scott’s music since I was about 19 years old, and it still blows me away,” she said.
“He was an amazing songwriter, an amazing lyricist. … He had the simplest ideas that could express the profoundest thoughts,” she said. “He was wonderful at being able to string words together in an original way.”