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Don’t All Thank Me At Once

Don’t All Thank Me At Once: The Lost Pop Genius of Scott Miller
By Brett Milano
[125 Books]

“Scott Warren Miller, unsung master songwriter, chose to end his life on April 15, 2013.”

That’s the first line of Brett Milano’s labor-of-love biography of Game Theory/Loud Family frontman Scott Miller. It’s some groundbreaking journalism, too. Until the release of Don’t All Thank Me At Once, it’s been pretty much verboten amongst the underground to say that the proverbial quirky pop genius had wrapped up his fine career by killing himself.

But nothing’s verboten when it comes to pining for a great lost underheard artist. People love to talk about themselves and their relations to greatness. That gives Milano an awful lot to work with as he checks in with Miller’s old cohorts to compose the epic sad story of a pop underdog.

To be fair, Miller achieved a lot as an underdog. He had seven albums and EPs with Game Theory though the ‘80s, plus five more albums with the equally offbeat Loud Family through the ’90s. He never got to quit his fairly cushy day jobs, but that’s still an extensive catalogue for a guy who specialized in winsome hard rock and steely-eyed whimsy.

Don’t All Thank Me At Once is a rare chance to explore that fairly typical story in depth. Pretty much every city has a Scott Miller-type who never even managed to make a second album. Their stories never get told. But thanks to a publishing company owned by two big Miller fans, Milano gets to leisurely chronicle one of the many lost stories behind some cultish music.

It’s kind of fun to hear different angles about a familiar tale of showbiz woe. There’s the usual uncaring record executives, and the occasional flirtations with fame – in the case of Miller, mostly in the form of an unrecorded collaboration with Aimee Mann during her own peak of rediscovered respectability.

It probably means a lot to both the casual reader and Miller’s fans that Milano can also reveal the songwriter’s wilderness years. There was a 2006 release that stumbled out with Miller forced to use the Loud Family moniker in a collaboration with pop guy Anton Barbeau. There was also a book – Music: What Happened? – that collected short essays about Miller’s favorite songs. It mostly made you feel bad for him being a better rock critic than the people who reviewed his work.

Milano also opens up the world of Miller’s final days, when only whispers were allowed about him becoming a Christian because nobody wanted their intellectual pop hero to be that uncool. Milano helps to show that Miller’s theological impulses were rooted in lots of deep thinking. You also won’t find a better source for The Posies’ Ken Stringfellow comparing Scott Miller and Alex Chilton’s prowess as tennis players.

That’s just one way that the author isn’t burdened with chronicling a dark and cranky spirit. Things generally remain upbeat, and the book never feels like anything that wasn’t written with Miller’s approval in mind. We’re only on page 34 when Miller meets Mitch Easter and finds the producer who helped him craft Game Theory songs that didn’t make him wince.

There’s no real scandal when Miller’s wife Shalini leaves him for Easter during the Loud Family days, either. The reader is carefully assured of a very clear distinction between the end of Miller’s first marriage and her next big relationship.

It’s hard to tell who’s supposed to buy that. Probably everyone who’s also informed that Miller took it really casually when his Game Theory bandmate Donnette Thayer dumped him to run off with The Church’s Steve Kilbey and a chance to front her own band. She assures us in the book about how that was totally painless for Miller.

Milano’s a smart enough writer to tell a bigger story by not arguing the point. In that spirit, the book might be a passive-aggressive masterpiece.

Miller wrote a lot of passive-aggressive masterpieces, too. The book’s title comes from a Loud Family song that’s one fine example. Miller certainly had a viciously dry wit when it came to his own shortcomings. I once drove him from Atlanta to a show in Alabama. Miller dripped with charming venom while convincing me that he really was the rare sensitive pop soul who really was inept with women in real life.

Sadly, things worked out enough for Miller that he left behind a second wife and two young daughters when he killed himself. The children are probably why Don’t All Thank Me At Once treads lightly on the suicidal details. Milano still does a deft job of detailing Miller’s amiable path to that fatal day.

Which reminds me that the only other pop guy who ever convinced me that he was socially inept with women was Moe Berg. He fronted a really good band called The Pursuit of Happiness. They never got the fame they deserved, but Moe seems to be doing okay back in Toronto.

Don’t take my word on that, though. A few months after Miller’s death, a successful writer I knew jumped off a building just days after I was congratulating myself on being one of the poor guy’s more supportive and insightful friends. Suicides, man. Tough to figure, but some people have to make an attempt.