I don’t know about you, but my definition of pop music has nothing to do with its popularity; my pop is entirely unfashionable. It worships Bacharach, The Beatles and Brian Wilson more than it does the blues or block rockin’ beats, with high ideals of melody, arrangement, inventiveness… heart, brain and body equally engaged.
Scott Miller of Alternate Learning, Game Theory and The Loud Family was one of my pop music heroes and he’s dead at the tender age of 53. I first discovered him in 1985 when Oxford, Ohio’s 97X had tracks from Game Theory’s Real Nighttime (one of the underrated greats of the ’80s) on rotation. That’s six years after he’d sprung onto the recorded scene with his second band, Alternate Learning, and their eponymous 1979 debut single. It seems hard to believe he was active for as long as many of the elder statesmen of post-punk and yet he somehow remained so relatively unknown. In my opinion he ranked up there with Elvis Costello in how much snarky, erudite verbosity could be crammed into a 3 minute pop song, and years later I still find so much to discover in the hyperactive density of his lyrics. His compositions and arrangements largely followed the same pace, with chords and sonic elements dancing wildly around in unexpected ways while yielding songs that remained catchy and memorable.
Here’s a wonderful essay by writer/critic/professor Stephen Burt on his remembrance of Scott’s music, naturally much more eloquent, thoughtful and thorough than my brief post. But the best tribute is to keep listening to and spreading knowledge of Scott’s music. The entire discography of his ’80s band, Game Theory, is available for free on his web site at the moment, and his later band The Loud Family can be heard here on Spotify. And there’s currently a memorial fund accepting donations here for his young daughters’ future educations.
I didn’t know Scott, but I deeply feel his absence. R.I.P.