Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Daily Affirmation

That's Senator Smalley to you, Rush!

Monday, June 29, 2009

What If It Works?

Not the last day of June, but the final entry in this Month of Miller.

Scott Miller's most recent recording is What If It Works?, his 2006 collaboration with Anton Barbeau. The album was billed to "The Loud Family and Anton Barbeau", since most of the songs feature Joe Becker on drums and Kenny Kessel on bass (and Gil Ray and Alison Faith Levy appear on one track), but it's mostly Scott Miller and Anton Barbeau with backing.

There are four Scott songs, four Anton songs, one co-written song ("Kind of In Love"), and three covers, including this Cat Stevens song which features Alison Faith Levy on piano and Gil Ray on percussion. It's like a Loud Family supersession! (not here -- this is a recent appearance by Mr. Islam!).

One of Scott's songs on What If It Works?("Total Mass Destruction") is a leftover from the TTOOL era and one of Anton's songs ("Pop Song 99") was also a leftover, but most of the songs were composed and recorded with the collaboration in mind. The result is an album that's quite fun and listenable, but hardly earth-shattering.

The duo and band played a couple of gigs in Northern California to support the album, including a December 2006 show in Berkeley that, as of this posting, was the last scheduled Bay Area appearance by Scott Miller or Anton Barbeau. Anton has relocated to the UK, and Scott has been musically MIA for the past few years, other than documenting the last fifty years of music via "Music - What Happened?".

As far as other GT/LF bandmembers, Gil Ray has made a solo album (I Am Atomic Man) for 125 records, Joe Becker and Alison Faith Levy have recorded and performed with the Sippy Cups, and both Loud Family and Game Theory have myspace pages.

And Lolita Nation and Interbabe Concern still rock. THE END.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

From Ritual To Romance

Another performance from the LF Live 2000 DVD.

There were a couple of posthumous releases after the Loud Family split up following the Attractive Nuisance tour. One was the Live 2000 DVD and another was the live album From Ritual To Romance. Both releases are still in print and available from 125 Records, but everybody reading this probably already knows that.

The live album comes from the San Francisco shows on the 1996 Interbabe Concern and 1998 Days For Days tours. Both shows were the final dates on their respective tours, where the band was in top form playing for a hometown crowd and faraway fans who made the trip to see them. I was at both shows, and the album captures the vibe of both tours really well. Untitled DFD tracks, old Loud Family and Game Theory songs, almost as good as actually being there!

Every Loud Family tour had a "designated cover tune" that the band played during the regular set. 1996's cover was the Pixies' "Debaser" and 1998's was "When You Sleep" by My Bloody Valentine. Both covers are included on the album (as well as a snippet of Eno's "Here Come The Warm Jets") which provides a snapshot of the LF on each tour. The designated cover on the 2000 Tour was the dB's "Tearjerkin'", which is included on the DVD. Scott Miller has had great taste in cover tunes for his entire career, from the early days of Game Theory to his most recent solo appearances and most recent collaboration with Anton Barbeau, which will be the next (and final) installment in the month of Scott Miller.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

One More For St. Michael

In a strange bit of congruity, I heard the news about Michael while watching this video that was posted to Facebook and youtube.

My main memory of Michael was the series of "Alpha-Bits" commercials he and his brothers did during "Jackson 5ive" cartoons.

I always liked the commercials more than the show, and can't think about Alpha-Bits cereal without breaking into a "Alpha-Bits are tasty!" jingle. I wasn't hip enough to listen to Lou Reed or Roxy Music when I was six years old, so the first record I remember owning was a Jackson 5 single on the back of an Alpha-Bits box.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Attractive Nuisance

Attractive Nuisance was the Loud Family's fifth album in their five album contract with Alias, so common consensus stated that it would be the final album. It had the same lineup as Days For Days, but seems less structured, which is my nice way of saying "not as good".

After listening to AN, and looking at the track listing, there aren't any songs that I dislike, but it just seems like some random collection of songs without any unifying theme. Scott Miller's ten songs, from the opener "720 Times Happier Than The Unjust Man" to the coda "Motion Of Ariel", all seem to be variations on "good-bye to all that". The two songs Scott didn't write, Gil Ray's "Controlled Burn" and Alison Faith Levy's "Apprentice", seem to be ones that were tacked on because Scott didn't write enough songs to fill the album.

My perception of Attractive Nuisance nowadays is tied to my experiences on the 2000 tour. I saw six shows on that tour (Northwest, East Cost, and L.A.), and even though the LF were as strong as ever musically, it felt like the final ride before the end of the road. They weren't getting any promotion from the label or support from the tour, and the final homecoming show in S.F. got bumped and eventually cancelled. For the last show of the tour, and final show of "The Loud Family" experience, they were on the middle of the bill, sandwiched between two unknown bands at Spaceland in L.A., and had to play a short set without an encore. It was like Spinal Tap, only without the ending where the LF reform for a triumphant tour of Japan.

Many shows on the tour were filmed for a DVD (Live 2000, which is still available here), showing the rocking parts from the tour. Here's their cover of the dB's "Tearjerkin'".

Holsapple & Stamey have a new album of their own, and they're going on tour this summer, even hitting the West Coast. Cafe du Nord on 7/18, baby!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Column inches on the Page

Sky Saxon may be the third most famous person who died today, but there probably aren't any youtube mashups of Bettie Page dancing to Michael Jackson songs.

Coming of age when I did, I can't think of Farrah without thinking of this poster, which reminds me of one of my favorite lines from Just Shoot Me: "Ms. Van Horn, I used to look at your poster every day back when I was in 8th grade.. Sometimes twice a day!"

Days For Days

I'm trying to cover all five Loud Family albums during this week -- no rest for the wicked. The year and a half between Interbabe Concern and Days For Days was marked with more personnel changes for the Loud Family, with the last "original" LF member, keyboardist Paul Weineke leaving the band (replaced by Alison Faith Levy) and drummer Gil Ray rejoining the Scott Miller Express after an eight year absence.

This new lineup made for a more organic and band-like album than Interbabe Concern. For the first time on a Scott Miller album, the songs were credited to all four band-members (Kessel, Levy, Miller, Ray), giving the other members a 25% share of the lucrative publishing royalties, and suggesting that they were all more than backing musicians.

The eighteen tracks on Days For Days are divided into nine "regular" songs with titles (even numbered tracks) and nine untitled soundscapes (odd numbered tracks).

The titled tracks are all longer than usual by LF standards (mostly between four and five minutes, with "Sister Sleep" at eight minutes), but still sound like pop songs with regular verses and choruses. The odd tracks are all listed as "Untitled", but are usually known by their track numbers (#1, #3, #5, etc.). They're all really short (one minute or less), but after awhile I started programming them out part of the time, and didn't rip them into iTunes with the rest of the tracks.

My regular Days For Days has been the 32 minutes of the nine regular tracks, but it's a completely different experience with the nine untitled tracks in-between them. Unlike Scott's previous soundscape experiences (the shards on LN or PABARAT), these tracks are all sonically related to the next or previous titled track, so playing the CD in shuffle mode doesn't really work.

Listening to the Loud Family albums in order, Days For Days feels like a more successful attempt at The Tape Of Only Linda, the work of a band fully collaborating in the studio.

They didn't make any promo videos for the album, and there aren't any performances on youtube, so here's the new Weird Al video. Now Al has a "Craigslist" song to go with his "Ebay" song.

It's a Doors tribute/parody with Ray Manzerak on keyboards. For a tenuous connection to the Loud Family, one of the songs on Days For Days ("Good, There Are No Lions In The Street") takes its title from a lyric in the Doors' "Celebration Of The Lizard".

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Interbabe Concern

Is this the ugliest album cover ever? I think it might be.

The Tape Of Only Linda Loud Family lineup slowly disintegrated after the album and tour with three bandmembers leaving for different reasons. Bassist Rob Poor moved to Boston, guitarist Zach Smith left due to musical and personal "differences", and drummer Joe Becker left to become a Dad. This left Scott and Paul standing as "The Loud Family", and a series of help wanteds to the loud-fans list asking for a new bassist and drummer.

Scott Miller was also going through an upheval in his personal life, so work started on the next Loud Family album Interbabe Concern with uncertainty on many different levels. He began recording the basic tracks Interbabe on ADAT at his house, with help from Paul Weineke or new bassist Kenny Kessel (who replaced Rob Poor), which gives every song a layer of unhinged naked emotion.

Drum tracks were added later, usually at a "real" studio, but without diluting the original tracks. And the rawness of the recording is enhanced by the digital sound, where all the vocals are front and center, complete with warts and blemishes. "Everything in this album is on purpose".

When I did a facebook listing of the albums that changed my life, Interbabe Concern was near the top, because it's one of a handful of albums that I can't imagine living without. I have a deep relationship with this album, and am still profoundly affected with every listen. Both the best (glenn McDonald's two part dissection in TWAS) and worst (Mark Deming's 2.5 star dismissal in AMG) album reviews I've ever read were reviews of Interbabe Concern, and I named my blog after a minor space filler on the album ("Hot Rox Avec Lying Sweet Talk").

In short, I think Interbabe is an important album, but it's hard to summarize what it means to me in just a few short paragraphs. Here's the video for "Don't Respond, She Can Tell".

A great song with a cool (but confusing) video, and I'm even in it
(for about half a millisecond).

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Tape Of Only Linda

The second Loud Family album, The Tape Of Only Linda, came out the year after Plants And Birds And Rocks And Things with the same lineup as that album.

I was kind of out of the loop LF-wise when this came out, and didn't find out about it until I saw it at a record store. It wasn't even a cool indie store -- it was the crummy Tower Records at the Fremont Hub. Shortly after I bought it, I signed up for a Loud Family e-mail list (loud-fans), which I thought would keep me updated with upcoming shows and things. I was expecting one "playing the Hotel Utah next Saturday" mail every few months, but when I checked my email a few days after subscribing, there were more than 200 messages in my inbox! It wasn't an "announcements" list -- it was a "discussion" list. With tons of discussion, some only tangentially related to the Loud Family. Finding that list back when the internet was a large and scary place could have been one of the the best things that ever happened to me.

Anyway, back to TTOOL (in the net age, every album is its own acronym!). The album title comes from a bootleg tape of isolated Linda McCartney vocals that made the rounds in the early 90s, and features songwriting contributions from other LF bandmembers (one by Paul, two by Zach). I've always found that title choice fairly curious.

After PABARAT, TTOOL was kind of a letdown -- partly because of the bevy of non-Scott songs, and partly because Scott's own songs were somewhat weak. I was initially intrigued by a Loud Family Christmas song, but "It Just Wouldn't Be Christmas" is kind of a throwaway, and a couple of the songs ("Marcia & Etrusca" and "Ballet Hetero") are twice as long as they need to be. I almost never (as in not ever) play the entire album, and have copied only four of the ten songs to iTunes.

My four track TTOOL consists of "Soul Drain", "Hyde Street Virgins", "Baby Hard-To-Be-Around", and "Still Its Own Reward". The band made a really cool video of "Soul Drain" that isn't on youtube, but this less cool video of "Marcia and Etrusca" is.

The A-Ha style rotoscoping style is kind of interesting, but becomes more tedious when you realize that its the same 20 seconds of footage looped over and over for all 7+ minutes of the song.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Plants and Birds and Rocks and Things

After the Game Theory's MRBQ lineup fell apart in 1990, Scott Miller and Joe Becker carried on with a new lineup and a new band name, the Loud Family (after the 1970s PBS documentary). I remember seeing an ad for "The Loud Family" at one of their early shows at the DNA Lounge, and thought it might be Lance & his Santa Barbara siblings, and was confused to see "(ex-Game Theory)" under the billing.

I thought maybe it was Lance Loud backed up with Gil & Shelley or something, but it was Game Theory with a new lineup and a new name. This was sometime in early 1991, and it took a couple of years before the Loud Family to release their first album, Plants and Birds and Rocks and Things (from the lyrics to "Horse With No Name").

After Scott & Joe joined up with bassist Rob Poor (who'd played on the final Game Theory album), guitarist Zach Smith, and keyboardist Paul Weineke, the sound changed to something more "rock-oriented", so they probably wanted to find a name that wasn't stuck in the previous decade. They signed with Alias Records (then the home of AMC, YLT, and other respected acronyms) and recorded Plants with producer Mitch Easter.

When the album came out in early 1993, it was greeted with rave reviews in Rolling Stone and other national rags, and it seemed like the Loud Family had taken up right where Game Theory left off. I'd spent two or three years essentially waiting for the album to come out, and was excited to have any new Scott Miller, so I had the album on repeat play for the entire first half of 1993.

Many fans consider the album to be the high point of Scott's career (legendary rock writer Steve Simels recently called it "the best album of the 90s" on his blog), but I'd probably put it somewhere near but not at the top.

It starts out super strong out of the gate, but tends to tail off at the end, and always seems like it would be better limited to 15 songs or 45 minutes. Lolita Nation and Interbabe Concern are better start-to-finish albums, but the first half of Plants is as strong a collection of Scott songs as the first side of Big Shot Chronicles.

It's hard to imagine now, but Alias promoted the Loud Family quite heavily early on. As well as reviews and profiles in RS, and Option, and other mags, they released an EP called Slouching Toward Liverpool and a promotional cassette called Never Mind The Camera Crew that riffed on the "Loud Family" name with a series of fly on the wall band rehearsals and cover songs. Here's some video footage that would go really well with that tape -- Mitch Easter and the Loud Family in the studio recording Plants and Birds and Rocks and Things.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

When it rains and shines

Game Theory's 1988 Two Steps tour gave them the highest profile they'd had, headlining national venues with the album riding atop the college charts. But as things got brighter, there was VH1 "Behind The Music" narrator lurking in the shadows waiting for things to go wrong.

The band actually made a video of the tour, which shows the band especially breaking up as they kept getting better onstage. The personal relationship between Scott Miller and Donnette Thayer was breaking up as Game Theory went on tour, which caused a lot of "tension" within the band, and to cut the BTM episode down to thirty minutes, by the end of the tour the band had essentially dissolved.

Game Theory soldiered on for awhile as a four piece after Donnette left (I remember one show at the Berkeley Square where they headlined for Poi Dog Pondering), but gradually faded away, only to be resuscitated a few months later with a new lineup. Actually a rearranged lineup, with longtime drummer Gil Ray on second guitar, and a new rhythm section of Michael Quercio (formerly of the Three O'Clock, who'd just experienced their own band drama) on bass and Joe Becker on drums (then late of Thin White Rope, True West, and Scott's original ALRN).

BAM magazine called this lineup a "paisley supergroup", and I've always liked to call it Game Theory's MRBQ (Miller, Ray, Becker, Quercio) lineup. They were only together for six months or so, but played a few local Bay Area shows and one Northwest tour in 1989/90.

Here's GT's MRBQ lineup covering a famous Beatles' B-side in Vancouver.

This song appears to have Joe on bass, Michael on drums, and Gil on maraccas. Their setlists also included old Game Theory songs, a couple of Three O'Clock songs, more covers (Brian Eno, Roxy Music), and a batch of new Scott Miller songs that were to remain unreleased through George HW Bush's entire term. This lineup fell apart, but Scott Miller and Joe Becker carried on with a new lineup and eventually a new band name.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Two Steps From The Middle Ages

Less than a year after the ambitious double-LP Lolita Nation, Game Theory released the less ambitious single-LP Two Steps From The Middle Ages.

Since it follows in the steps of a masterpiece, this album has been derided over the years (notably in the Trouser Press Guide), but I think it's a fine album in isolation. Some of it sounds like Game Theory trying to break the "mainstream" (late-80s alt-rock version), toning down their quirk for more accessible tunes, but Scott's melodies were neither strained nor hookless, Mitch Easter's production was not "uneventful", and Gil Ray's drumming was the opposite of a "clunky distraction". And Two Steps itself is the furthest thing from "familiar monotony".

In short, TPRG's capsule review of Two Steps is one big bucket of suck, and this AMG review does a great job turning back the tide of critical consensus.

This Two Steps youtube embed is a performance of "Wish I Could Stand Or Have" from a show at SF's Fillmore where Game Theory opened for Robyn Hitchcock & the Egyptians (who I opined about in a previous month).

Thursday 9/8/1988. I was there (front and left, just in front of Shelley L.) and still have the concert poster on my back wall. This was right before the album came out and Game Theory embarked on their famous 1988 tour. More on that later.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Lolita Nation

Lolita Nation rocks! The End.

It's kind of apropos to write about Game Theory's Lolita Nation on the day after Bloomsday, because the album is kind of a pop Ulysses. If James Joyce had come of age in California at the end of the 20th century instead of Dublin at the start of the century, and all the religious and literary allusions in Ulysses were replaced by pop culture allusions to the Beatles and Star Trek and Stanley Kubrick, he would have created something like Lolita Nation.

The album is like a metastasized version of Scott Miller's version. The first track "Kenneth, What's The Frequency?" (taken from the 1986 attack on Dan Rather, with a title later borrowed by R.E.M.) begins with a mix of starts to previous Game Theory albums ("Here Comes Everybody" into "Shark Pretty" into "Here It Is Tomorrow"), and continues with cryptic references to other songs (Game Theory and others) and films and whatnot through its 74 minute span (double LP, single CD).

Songs start and stop at random moments, the end of side one ("The Waist And The Knees") segues seamlessly into the start of side two ("Nothing New"), side three consists of a series of sounds interspersed with contributions by other GT bandmembers (Gil's "Where They Have To Let You In", Donnette's "Mammoth Garden", Shelley's "Toby Ornette"), and side four has my favorite thirteen minutes of music ever ("Chardonnay", "Last Day That We're Young", and "Together Now, Very Minor").

I said before that Big Shot Chronicles was front-loaded with all the good ssong at the beginning. Lolita Nation is back-loaded, with all the great songs at the end, but the songs at the beginning are almost as great. It's as perfect an encapsulation of musical expression as there's ever been, but it's been largely unavailable for the past twenty years.

CD copies of Lolita Nation fetch upward of $50 on amazon and eBay, and even LP copies still can't be found for less than $20. I found a pristine vinyl copy a few years ago. The first thing I did was to defile it by actually playing it, and was blown away by how brilliant it sounded. My LN cd is mastered really crummily, and it was exciting to hear everything at its proper recording level. This album is crying out for a reissue, but there hasn't been one yet.

Here's a rough mix of "The Waist and the Knees", one of the touchstone tracks on Lolita Nation.

The ideal LN reissue in my mind would have an extra disc of rough mixes like this one, which lend a lot of insight into the recording process. A multidisc Lolita Nation Sessions box set would be the most awesome thing ever!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


Taking a break during this month of Miller to wish everyone a
Happy Bloomsday.

Hello, placard. Mirus bazaar. His excellency the lord lieutenant. Sixteenth today it is. In aid of funds for Mercer's hospital. The Messiah was first given for that. Yes Handel. What about going out there. Ballsbridge. Drop in on Keyes. No use sticking to him like a leech. Wear out my welcome. Sure to know someone on the gate. Mr Bloom came to Kildare Street. First I must. Library.

Straw hat in sunlight. Tan shoes. Turnedup trousers. It is. It is.

Lolita Nation is next.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Big Shot Chronicles

Game Theory's second album with Mitch Easter, Big Shot Chronicles, was recorded shortly after the first one, Real Nighttime was released.

The title refers to the Big Shot (photo) studio in Berkeley where the songs were rehearsed, but the album was recorded at Mitch Easter's Drive-In Studio in North Carolina. It sounds much more like the work of a band than Real Nighttime, but there's no doubt that Scott Miller is still The Man.

Scott wrote all 12 songs on the album, and the first half ("side one" for old timers) is sequenced like a pseudo-narrative, from "Here It Is Tomorrow" through "Regenisraen". There's a mini drop in song quality in the second half, but the finale "Like A Girl Jesus" rewards patient listeners with a gourgeous gem at the end.

The next album Lolita Nation is widely considered to be Game Theory's magnum opus, but I think Big Shot is the album that set the table for it. There are three or four songs that could have been hits with the right luck and promotional power. Here's the video for "Erica's Word" that seemed to be played a lot during the final 15 minutes of 120 minutes during a four month period in 1986-87.

I remember noticing that the lineup for the video was different than the pictures on the album cover. The short haired bassist was replaced by another bassist (with a mullet) and a blonde guitarist. Between all five members, this Game Theory lineup had the hair market cornered.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Real Nighttime

Game Theory's first official full-length LP Real Nighttime was recorded in the Summer of 1984, just after the release of Distortion, but didn't come out unti the following year due to band and label shakeups.

Real Nighttime was recorded by the same lineup that made the preceding EPs, but the band broke up after a tumultuous national tour. By the time the album came out in early 1985, Scott Miller for all intents and purposes, was Game Theory, and his photo was prominently featured on the cover.

Game Theory's label Rational had also entered a licensing agreement with Enigma Records that put Real Nighttime in release limbo for a few months, but gave the album national distribution. For most GT fans, including myself, Real Nighttime was our first exposure to Game Theory. I remember hearing "24" and "Shark Pretty" on an Engma compilation, where both songs stood out among the rest of the hoi polloi on the $4.98 label comp.

The album Real Nighttime was also discount priced, and I bought the cassette version that had a cover of "I Want To Hold Your Hand" as a bonus track. The album also ad a cover of a Big Star song ("You Can't Have Me"), was produced by Mitch Easter of Let's Active/R.E.M. fame, and featured cryptic Joycean liner notes, so it seemed to be engineered for my own musical aesthetic.

I was completely blown away that these songs with deep and meaningful lyrics still had hooks and melody and rhythm and all those other cool things. Most reviews were turned off by Scott Miller's voice, but I thought it fit the songs really well. There were also complaints that Real Nighttime sounded too much like an antiquated relic from the 60s (guitars are passe, man!), but nowadays if anything, it sounds like a synth and timpani mid-80s relic. The power of the songwriting overrrides any period arrangements and productions.

Here's the epic "Friend Of The Family" performed by the original band at that same Berkeley show (which was 1984, not 1983). Somewhere below Nancy's screechy keys and Dave's kettle drums, there's a great rock song crying to be unleashed!

Between the time Real Nighttime was recorded and released, Scott Miller move from Davis to San Francisco and formed a new Game Theory band (GT MkII) with drummer Gil Ray, keyboardist Shelley LaFreniere, and bassist Suzi Ziegler. This lineup toured the country and recorded a new album (Big Shot Chronicles) with Mitch Easter that wasn't released until the following year. By which time the lineup had changed again. And so on and so forth.

Thursday, June 11, 2009


Game Theory's 1984 Distortion EP is also front loaded with all the good stuff on side one. The top side has three of Scott Miller's best songs: "Shark Pretty","Nine Lives To Rigel Five", and "The Red Baron". The back side has the lesser Scott song "Too Late For Tears" and another Fred Juhos's "Kid Convenience".

If someone were to glue the second side of Pointed Accounts to the second side of Distortion, the resulting album would be one of Game Theory's best. If you did that and added a couple of extra songs, you'd have the Dead Center compilation, which is probably the collection of Game Theory's pre-Real Nighttime material. The Distortion Of Glory cd also has most of the good stuff in a single place, and is probably easier to find.

Here's a performance of "Nine Lives" from the same 1984 Berkeley Square show. This song was later covered by the band Gaze on their 1999 album Shake The Pounce.

"After this one was done, I checked the distance to Rigel and it turned out to be very close to nine human lifetimes if you go at the speed of light. To this day, science foolishly ignores my psychic gifts."
-- Scott Miller, from the liner notes of Tinker To Evers To Chance

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Pointed Accounts Of People You Know

One year after Blaze Of Glory, Game Theory made a proper release with the six song mini-LP Pointed Accounts Of People You Know.

I remember this EP being advertised and reviewed in Trouser Press, so it was a much higher profile release than Blaze Of GloryBoG with the addition of drummer Dave Gill, who replaced Michael Irwin. This was probably a net gain for Game Theory, but 25 years later, Dave's kettle drums give some 1980s carbon dating to many of their timeless early songs.

The first side of Pointed Accounts has three of my favorite songs by Scott Miller: "Penny, Things Won't", "Metal and Glass Exact", and "Selfish Again". These songs are all top-drawer, played and performed nearly flawlessly by the new band. The three songs on side two are more problematic. Two of them ("37th Day" and "I Wanna Get Hit By A Car") were written by bassist Fred Juhos, and another ("Life In July" was co-written by keyboardist Nancy Becker. Not bad, but definitely the b-side of the EP.

Scott Miller's attempts at band democracy are admirable, but Fred's songs and Scott's songs mix like single malt Scotch and Mountain Dew. The Trouser Press Guide says "Juhos' vision is darker and more intriguing, but he isn't Miller's equal as a tunesmith".

Here's the Miller/Juhos/Becker/Gill version of Game Theory performing "Penny, Things Won't" at the Berkeley Square in 1984, putting to rest the rumor that they weren't a very good live band.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Blaze Of Glory

After Scott Miller broke up Alternate Learning, he formed Game Theory, with bassist Fred Juhos (formerly of Boys Life), keyboardist Nancy Becker (Joe's sister) and drummer Michael Irwin. This band was formed expressly to back him up on a batch of songs that became Game Theory's debut album Blaze Of Glory.

When the album was recorded, Game Theory had only been a band for a few months, and hadn't even played any gigs. There was almost no recording budget for Blaze Of Glory, so the songs were recorded in Scott Miller's bedroom at his parents' house (reportedly he added the "way of the vacuum" line to the song "Tin Angel" because his mom started vacuuming during its recording, which forced Scott to find an artistic reason why there should be vacuuming sounds in the song).

There was also no money for printing or packaging the LPs, so the few hundred copies of Blaze Of Glory were packaged in white trash bags with a photocopied sheet of info. The album was also not "released" as much as mailed to reviewers and college radio as a calling card for a new band. All 12 songs were reissued on the Distortion of Glory CD compilation a decade later (which is difficult but not impossible to find), with minimal remastering and one song ("It Gives Me Chills") re-recorded.

Even though it was released less than a year after Alternate Learning's Painted Windows and features the same lo-fi recording quality, Blaze Of Glory boasts a much stronger collection of songs, and a more cohesive band vibe than any of the ALRN albums. There are a few duds among the dozen tracks (including the "vacuum" song), but Scott's songs and lyrics were miles ahead of anything he'd done before.

A couple of the songs ("Date With An Angel" and "Sleeping Through Heaven") are downright giddy, and a couple others ("Bad Year At UCLA" and "Something To Show") showcased Scott's developing talent as a lyricist. On the downside, even with the DIY minimalism, most Blaze Of Glory still sounds like it was recorded in the early 80s, and the drumming was still a weak spot. Game Theory got a new drummer after this album, Dave Gill, who added his own distinctive "style" to their follow-up records and helped them sound more like a real band.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Her boobs distract me

I just discovered the "literal video" phenomenon, even though it's been around for awhile. Searching youtube for "literal video" on youtube is a ticket to an afternoon's enjoyment, especially if you watched lots of MTV back in the 80s.

Here's the non-embeddable literal version of Crowded House's "World Where You Live".

Friday, June 5, 2009

Game Theory

Just after the release of Painted Windows, Scott Miller dissolved Alternate Learning who according to this interview had "reached that point of not being able to get along enough to function", and recruited all new musicians for his new band Game Theory.

The band name came from a branch of higher mathematics and pigeonholed Game Theory as "pop music for smart people". The band endured through multiple lineup changes during the 1980s, wonderfully displayed on this timeline (click for a bigger pic).

Robert Toren, who composed this chart, usually splits Game Theory into two eras, the Davis era (1981-1984)  and the S.F. era (1985-1989)  because the core of the band remained the same except for a drummer here and a bass player there.   I'm going to go through every GT recording in chronological order, starting with their debut Blaze of Glory.   

Needless to say, every Game Theory record is currently out of print, and difficult to find even on vinyl (forget about CDs), but that doesn't mean they're unworthy of being released. And there are still digital copies "out there" for the minimal cost of a Google blog search.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Painted Windows

Shortly after the release of the ALRN ep (which I still transpose as "ARLN", even though I know it's not correct now), Scott Miller moved from Sacramento to Davis, and Alternate Learning added bassist Carolyn O' Rourke and keyboardist Lynn Ross, and began plaing shows in the Sacramento/Davis area.

Eventually, original ALRN bandmembers Joe Becker and Scott Gallawa left the band due to "personality conflicts", replaced by drummer Eric Landers and keyboardist Byl Miller (no relation to Scott) replaced Lynn Ross, so by the time Alternate Learning got around to recording a full-length LP in 1981, there were no members remaining from the ALRN ep. For the next twenty years, Scott Miller would have a rotating cast of bandmembers, never making more than two records with the same cast of characters.

The Alternate Learning band that made the Painted Windows album (not to be confused with the band Tinted Windows, even though I confuse it with them)  featured Carolyn O'Rourke on bass, Byl Miller on keyboards, and Eric Landers on drums. All the songs were written by Scott Miller, and many of them (notably "Another Wasted Afternoon" and "Beach State Rocking", later "covered" by Game Theory on Tinker To Evers To Chance) showed Scott's developing talent as a pop songwriter.  Others like the title track and "Ulysses" showed that he was too ambitious and "Joycean" be constrained by any "pop" labels.   He would call himself an artist if he could make his meanings clear, but there’s a million things to think about when you’re cutting off your ear.”

Painted Windows could almost pass as a Game Theory album, if not for the lo-fi recording quality and slightly less accomplished musical backing. The drumming in particular is less than stellar, but everyone (including Scott)  sounds under rehearsed and over their heads trying to play Scott's complicated compositions.  Carolyn O'Rourke and Eric Landers also backed up a pre-Dream Syndicate Steve Wynn on the Fifteen Minutes single, which is now included on the CD reissue of Days of Wine And Roses, which also sounds like a talented songwriter with tentative instrumenal backup.  

Given the sketchy recording quality and iffy performances, it's not surprising that Scott Miller hasn't chosen to reissue Painted Windows, but it's worth searching out for SM completists.

The album was self-released in a limited issue, and original copies are impossible to find, but not as hard to download in this age when everything and anything is online. Follow the link from here that says "listen here", might turn up something that looks like a rapidshare archive of the album, way might still be active, who knows??

Even though there are very few sound recordings, there quite a few photographs of Alternate Learning in action. There are a bunch of ALRN photos at davis80smusic.com (courtesy of Robert Toren, who's photos and videos I'll probably feature prominently in this month's blog entries), including this one of a five piece Alternate Learning rocking out at Le Disque in S.F. sometime in 1980.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


The Scott Miller story begins with his first recorded band Alternate Learning (aka ALRN). Scott formed the band in high school with drummer Jozef Becker and guitarist Scott Gallawa. Some other band names they considered, according to Becker, were "Thin White Rope" and "Death Cab for Cutie" (!).

The picture above (taken by one of them) shows the billing for Alternate Learning's first gig at China Wagon in Sacramento (a Chinese restaurant that doubled as a punk rock club). Alternate Learning's debut record was a 7" EP called ALRN released in 1979. It had four songs, three by Scott Miller and one by Scott Gallawa, and a series of colorful inserts.

The less said about Gallawa's song "Gumby's In A Coma" the better (although in this age of Google Alerts, I'll state for the record that it's "okay"), but Scott M's three contributions showed him to be the talent in the group. The second song on side one ("What's The Matter?") was a slice of angry adolescent punk rebellion he wrote a couple of years before ALRN, but the other two ("Green Card" and "When She's Alone") show a pop songcraft beyond his years. "When She's Alone" sounds quite a bit like Big Star, which is interesting because Scott Miller had evidently never heard any Big Star when he wrote it.

The ALRN EP (and their later album) was issued in an extremely limited edition of 1000 copies, and it's been out of print for most of the last thirty years. The ALRN EP and Painted Windows LP have never been reissued, and Scott Miller once told me that he'd reissue them "over my dead body". For the longest time, I never even knew anyone who'd heard these albums, but after I joined the internet, I finally found a good Samaritan who owned these records and made tapes for me (and anyone else on the loud-fans list who wanted to hear them). Not really essential listening, but still worthwhile.

Update: The cover shows "ALRN", but I've always wrote the title as "ARLN". Maybe it's one of those "Fables of the Reconstruction of the Fables" things?

Monday, June 1, 2009

Crashing Into June

I haven't been on a daily blogging routine for the last few months (even though I'm a regular Cal Ripken compared to some of my current and former blogfriends), but still get monthly NaBloPoMo mails about their monthly blogging themes.

Their theme for June is HEROES.

My first choice was this obvious one, but my main challenge with covering Bowie is that I only own about half his recorded output, and don't know the first thing about 80s/90s albums like Never Let Me Down or Tin Machine (I & II).

Ziggy rules. That's most of what I know about Bowie. So I decided on another artist. One of my music heroes, and someone I was destined to cover one month or other, just based on the title of this blog.

I'm counting around a dozen albums, plus a few EPs and most recently a live album and a collaboration with Anton Barbeau. His output includes two or three of my most favorite albums ever, eight or nine others that I like just fine, and two or three that I don't really like. I'll be covering them one at a time, starting this week with ARLN and Painted Windows.