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Don’t All Thank Me At Once: The Lost Pop Genius Of Scott Miller

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Author Brett Milano strikes a lot of very smart, delicate balances in his new book, Don’t All Thank Me At Once: The Lost Pop Genius of Scott Miller.

More an authorized oral history than strict biography, it is as successful at painting a picture of a very complicated and private man as it is in illuminating the brilliance of his work, with just the right amount of musical detail and personal detail required for both. It also beautifully explores his singular artistic vision while celebrating the collaborators who were such an important part of bringing that vision to life.

It helps that those collaborators are almost all colorful, bright and entertaining personalities.

Former bandmates dominate the storytelling with tidbits about the making of the records, tour stories (who doesn’t love tour stories?) and glimpses of his humor, warmth, struggles and creativity. Producer Mitch Easter (behind the boards for all of Scott’s albums with Game Theory and The Loud Family from 1984-1994) is one of the strongest voices in the book, framing the creation of each record in the context of Scott’s creative development as well as the context of the state of indie rock at each juncture. His longest tenured bandmate, Gil Ray, is a treasure trove of great anecdotes and was involved at both career peaks and low points. Donnette Thayer was both romantically and musically involved, a unique and controversial perspective that is never handled in a remotely exploitive manner, but with great respect and insight. Nan and Joe Becker (brother and sister, but bandmates of Scott’s at different times!) knew him longest and, perhaps, deepest — their recollections full of great humor and familial affection. Only the voice of key Loud Family member Paul Wieneke seems somewhat absent, especially during the recording (and touring in support of) 1996’s Interbabe Concern – Scott’s most fascinating and challenging album. Appropriately, it’s a book full of “what if’s”, a question that unfortunately dogged his career and the resulting frustration is well documented here.

Friends and family help round out the picture, too. I knew Scott from around 1996 until his death in 2013. I was a fan at first, treated with all the care and attention that his fans received (an aspect of Scott’s relationship with his audience that is recounted many times.) Later, we became friends and played music together (mostly casually, occasionally on stage.) I learned an enormous amount about songwriting from him and spent a lot of time with him and his family, but, like almost everyone else in the book, never felt I was allowed inside his private world. I could only guess at how he was feeling. Seeing my own quotes in print is a little disorienting and I can’t help but wish I’d had more insight to offer.

Like everyone else, I was lucky to be a part of musical journey (even in a small way) and am deeply enriched by my time with him.

That Scott ultimately took his own life is the cloud that hangs over the entire book. Milano wisely addresses it in the first paragraph (and handles it with great delicacy and thoughtfulness later,) but it’s nearly impossible not to spend the book looking for signs and clues. Here again, Milano allows dissenting opinions to exist in a kind of warmly affectionate conversation – whatever finger-pointing or passions that inevitably accompany such a profound tragedy, the book continues to reflect facets and shifts its focuses back to the music.

There’s a grittier story that could be told (and maybe someday will be), but this is a loving tribute to an extraordinary body of work by friends, fans, collaborators and family. With the Game Theory reissue campaign underway, the Loud Family catalog ripe for re-discovery, a tribute album in the works and even the possibility of unfinished songs seeing the light of day, Don’t All Thank Me At Once is a worthy introduction and celebration to accompany the growing recognition of Scott Miller as one of the great artists in rock and roll.