A Miller’s Tale

Unsurprisingly, Scott Miller (Game Theory, the Loud Family) not only is a fine musician, but he would have made an excellent music critic as well, judging from his new series at the Loud Family’s website, “Music: What Happened?” While that title doesn’t work very well for me (okay, what did happen?), the concept for the series is that Miller each week writes about his favorite songs from a particular year (from 1957 to 2006). He’s written about six different years so far (non-chronologically), and his most recent entry, on 1967, features some very insightful commentary – as well as some examples of one of Miller’s verbal tics, syntax reversal as sentence interrogation. His consideration of “Carrie Anne” is one example, and it’s implicit in his consideration of Nico’s “Fairest of the Season” (written by Jackson Browne). Actually, the really cool thing about the last lyric he quotes from that song is the concept that dreams want whatever they’ve given you back – they’re only lending them to you.

But the high point of this particular entry is, for me, Miller’s mini-essay on “A Day in the Life” (the last track on his virtual mix CD). It’s also, implicitly, an argument for the value of the album (by which I do not mean a large black plastic disk but a sequenced arrangement of songs). Miller’s argument is that the impact of “A Day in the Life” is conditioned by the songs that precede it; the way their narratives frequently transcend the clichés of us vs. them (hey wait…that’s a cliché too…), and thereby silently solicit an acceptance, an openness, toward the different experiences and worldviews of others. While Lennon’s lyric is open-ended (as is McCartney’s, in the middle section), it constitutes a series of sketches of “how it might feel for the old quotidian reality to give way to the new,” to feel “the weight of tragic loss of life [as if] for the first time.”

Miller’s songwriting, too, tends to interrogate certain presumptions, certain verbal and thinking habits, to ask why, or whether, they’re necessary or helpful. And if refusing to file every idea in a preexisting cache, if daring to imagine that others actually think differently from yourself, is at all encouraged by such questions, then I think it’s of tremendous value. I think, in fact, that’s one of the chief functions of art generally: the sense it can offer of the activity of another consciousness, and the concomitant realization that one’s own consciousness is both as separate from someone else’s as theirs seems from one’s own, and that in beholding, experiencing the activity of that consciousness, one realizes commonality with others. Not in a stereotypical “music brings us all together” way (it also does a pretty good job of separating us – just play your Belle and Sebastian CDs for a bunch of metal fans) but in a far more complex, evocative way.

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