No Joker: Steve Miller
In the pre-SXSW insanity, I spoke to Steve Miller, who’s in town tonight receiving a Texas Medal of Arts Award from the Texas Cultural Trust at the Long Center. Among the honorees “having positively impacted the creative culture of the state” are Eva Longoria, Texas Monthly, Joe Sears & Jaston Williams, and the Houston Ballet.
Calling from his home in snowy Ketcham, Idaho, the guitarist was in exceptionally good spirits, enjoying his first vacation in two years and preparing for a tour of Australia. I had some basic questions for Miller, who’s originally from Texas, about his long career becoming a “Space Cowboy” and The Joker and then settling on bluesman.
By contrast, he was set on talking about what accepting this award meant to him, so I never got to ask about “the pompitus of love.”
“The Medal of the Arts is a way of making the public more aware of the value of the arts to our educational system,” he offered. “It means a great deal, because it gives me the opportunity to talk to you as a writer and say I’d like to see you get more involved in writing about the need to get serious about musical education in the school system of Texas.
“We gotta teach little kids about music so their brains develop well. So they can be creative when they run into hard decisions because that part of their brain has been exercised. We’re not doing a very good job of that anymore with all the budget cuts and all the politics as usual.
“This is just a little break from the stream of b.s. that runs 24 hours a day. To say, ‘Hello, music education!’”
Our discussion caught me by surprise, because the classic rocker’s not known for his political stances. Soon it became apparent, however, that Miller sees himself standing in the middle of the political spectrum. He’s adamant about the need for politicians to see more value in education.
“Our whole education system has become a political football,” he complained. “They’re fighting about jobs and unions and this and that, while the people who need the education are being shuffled around like they don’t count. Politics, I’m not interested in it at all. Everybody knows what politicians are. Everybody knows what’s going on.
“But what’s happening is very dangerous. Once you get into a small community everybody’s interested in the quality of education. Once you get into a city of about 400,000 people, it becomes political.
“In a city of 4 million you have bureaucrats and politicians gaming the system for their own personal benefit. It’s really sad. You know it’s not just Texas. It’s everywhere in the United States. Once you strip away the extremism, there’s good people who want to teach their kids good math and good history. The whole system’s been hijacked by extremists on both sides.
“I throw it back to the journalists, who give the extremists a voice as if they actually meant something.”
Getting back to music, we touch on his performing a few songs with Asleep at the Wheel’s Ray Benson tonight.
“I’ve met Ray before, but we haven’t played together. I like to jam and I look forward to coming down and doing what I do. It’s going to be good to step back a little and not be political. That’s why music is important. It clears the air.”