Monday, June 12, 2017

A Song A Day: Game Theory, "Where You Going Northern"

JUNE 12, 2017




I still can’t write, or even think, about the late Scott Miller without feeling a catch in my throat.

Miller, writer/guitarist/singer of Game Theory, committed suicide in 2013 at age 53, bringing to a close a life and career that had made a lot of people happy, but maybe not him.

I didn’t really know him, but interviewed him once, probably in 1986 before their show at Chicago’s West End club. They were touring to promote their new Big Shot Chronicles album, which Game Theory had recorded at Mitch Easter’s Drive-in Studios in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Miller was nice, and funny, and a complete pop music freak. We saw them several times and were always pleased by their gigs and records.

Winston-Salem was certainly an alien place for Scott Miller, a Californian by birth and in his soul, but he loved Easter’s production style. For his part, Easter loved Miller’s songs. The two shared a love for classic 60s material, but also for the 70s hard rock, and even prog, that were absolute anathema to most indie kids of the time.

Not everything on The Big Shot Chronicles worked, but most of the 12 numbers were strong, professionally written pop. The sound was modern, with a production sheen refreshingly independent of the 12-string electric guitar/trebly bass/tambourine sound quickly becoming orthodoxy among American mid-80s fringe-headed combos.

Miller’s songs were highly personal but cloaked in mysterious metaphor, wordplay, and pop culture reference. Sometimes, though, he let his guard down enough to show the hole in his heart. I’m thinking of songs like “If And When It Falls Apart,” from the Real Nighttime album, and “Where You Going Northern,” from Big Shot Chronicles.

These are lost-love songs, sung from the viewpoint of someone already left in the rear-view mirror, knowing what he’s done wrong but hoping for one more break, knowing the future but praying it won’t come true, realizing that youth ain't necessarily all it's cracked up to be.

The support on “Where You Going Northern” from drummer Gil Ray (who, sadly, passed away earlier this year) is outstanding, driving the song along and allowing no time for slush or self-pity. Miller (who credited his voice on the album sleeve as a “miserable whine”) is especially good both vocally and on a mix of electric guitar, acoustic guitar, and dobro.

Miller went on to more albums with Game Theory and his later group The Loud Family, wrote a terrific book called Music: What Happened?, got married and started a family, and worked successfully as a software engineer. But he had some hard, sad personal times and felt regret about his lack of success in music. For some people the pain never really goes away despite the support and love they get from everyone around them. 

I’m still sad for his family and friends that he left so early.

1 comment:

  1. That book - "Music: What Happened" has been on my "buy someday" list for years now, probably since it was first released. I was reading this all the way through, and then went... "wait, that's something I recognize!"