Last Friday we lost singer/songwriter Jaik Miller of Xanax 25 of the JMB, a friend of this site since literally our first week. We asked Marc Millman, who had a long history with Jaik, to share his thoughts on the life and the passing of a one-of-a-kind spirit.
When was the last time you stopped to give the trees advice? Jaik Miller was nobody’s kind of fool (Maybe mine). He was a prolific songwriter. He was a gentle and kind spirit. He was a friend with way too many words tumbling out of his mouth or emanating from his fingertips as he Facebooked, Freaklisted, Tweeted or texted you in the middle of the night. He had a very big heart. One that quite unfairly, gave out very early on the morning on February 24th.
[All Photos by Marc Millman]
Like many people I write about, this is one more that can be filed under the category “Another one of Millman’s musician friends.” So I will not pretend that I write this as a pure “rock critic” or a staff writer at his local upstate paper tossing off one more obituary. I knew Jaik by face starting some time around the Summer of ‘89 when my friends and I would venture in almost nightly to the Wetlands Preserve on the corner of Hudson & Laight. We were all Deadheads from Joisey. And with about 300 like-minded brethren from the City and the surrounding boroughs and suburbs started a scene that split time between the “blues” bars of Bleeker Street, this corner in TriBeCa just outside the Holland Tunnel…and a dirty little hole in the wall bar on the corner of 2nd Avenue and 13th Street. It was on this corner outside of Nightingale’s, right down the street from Dan Lynch’s and the Deli of Life, sometime around ’91-92 if I had to guess, that Jaik first approached me and a few of my friends while Blues Traveler were on set break.
He was handing out cards with his oddly spelled moniker on them. He explained that it was going to be him with his acoustic guitar and some beats & loops on a tape deck playing at The ‘Gale. He said there would be some special guests. He knew that my friends & I taped shows, mainly on video. And my friend Andy was intrigued. I can barely recall the night he played other than the songs seemed fully formed, concise and the beats were good. Plus members of the Jungle Brothers showed up to rap on some stuff. There was also one with a killer electric guitar playing off the tape. The lead was psychedelic and searing. I immediately recognized it to be that of a man that was quickly becoming a favorite of mine (and soon a good friend to both Jaik & myself), Warren Haynes.
After that, Jaik was everywhere I was. I didn’t really think about his music again until after he started playing some shows with his new band, Xanax 25. I was working a boring-as-hell job in advertising and looking to get into the “music biz.” So one night after another mind-numbingly awful day at the office, I called up Warren and went over to his place to hang out, listen to music and pick his brain about how I could follow my heart. As it turned out, Warren’s girlfriend (and now wife), Stefanie was ready to leave her job at Island Records and start up a management company. With that, I never looked back. Hard Head Management came into being and consumed every waking hour for the next three and a half years other than waiting tables at City Crab. And my main task? Booking gigs, calling college radio stations and any publication (of any size) that might be willing to book, play or write about Xanax 25.
There was no money in this for any of us. And waiting tables was grueling. But I believed in Jaik’s music. His lyrics were heart felt (if sometimes a bit too heavy and dark for me). But the great thing about Jaik was that he had two “faces.” One face was the angst that the dirge of “grunge” acts starting to appear on MTV and radio were all playing. But the other face was all about upbeat, fun and very “pop-y” songs. These to me were the true pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. And the debate went on for years between us at the office and Jaik and the band.
Xanax 25 was a true refelction of Jaik. The band was named for the 25 prescription pills that his younger sister and best friend Polly swallowed in a cry for help. To me, it always seemed a bit too over the top and twisted. But to Jaik, it worked. And the band forged ahead. The live shows were wild. Jaik had a way of mixing in great pop songs like Jenny (867-5309), Beat It, Madonna’s Express Yourself and Elvis Costello’s take on Nick Lowe’s (What’s So Funny Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding with his own compositions. And as the band matured, Matt Stein’s guitar colored in the sketches laid out by Jaik’s acoustic playing. And Jack D’s throbbing bass lines truly locked into place when the original drummer Larry left the band and the beast with the dreads, Rob Cournoyer stepped behind the drum kit.
We made several records. And there were flirtations with the major labels. A few memorable nights saw Patti Smith, always a fan of Jaik’s, show up to Nightingale with Michael Stipe. And John Kalodner, then working for Geffen Records, stood in the back corner by the pool table one night. This led to visions in my head of a Xanax 25 video with John in drag! And of course there were many shows with Warren Haynes joining in to play lead on several tunes.
The band toured up and down the East Coast. I booked them in colleges and small clubs from Maine down to Orlando. And with Jaik’s best childhood friend Rob Schneck (“Bert”) as their tour manager, their cult following flourished. But eventually I burned out after too many hours at two jobs. And after a bit too much of the “excesses” of the Rock & Roll lifestyle and not enough response to get them to the next level, they eventually broke up.
Along the way, Polly died ironically from an allergic reaction to a bee sting. This meant Jaik had lost his mother and his sister. And this was tough on him. There was time spent searching for a way to a more pure place. And a bit of a spiritual awakening. And for the most part we had very little contact for about eight years. Just the occasional update about a project like TRUStY. It would mean a CD in the mail or one thrust into my hand. And it was always followed by some pleading for me to start handling the reins and help to book and manage his career again. I always begged off, mostly because I couldn’t find the time.
But somewhere around 2006 I became aware that he had a new band playing a weekly gig at a bar on the Upper East Side just around the corner from my apartment. How could I not go check it out?! The Jaik Miller Band featured JP Bowersock on guitar. He best known for his work with Ryan Adams’ Cardinals and production work on the first Strokes record (he also produced their self-titled debut). So one Wednesday night I met my friend Jon who was an early supporter of Xanax’s at Danny & Eddie’s to see what Mr. Miller was up to. The band was incredible. It was everything I wished that Xanax always was. The music was all upbeat and happy. And like other side projects he did over the years (Chicken Truck, TRUStY) the dark side seemed to have lifted. And at the end of the night, I was again holding a CD and being begged to work with them…and this time I considered it. I even sent out a few press kits and CDs to see if I could be of any help. But as usual, the time wasn’t really available in my life anymore.
And then two years ago, right around this time of year, all of us from the old scene got some terrible news. Dave Nolan, the quintessential “audio archivist” had died. He was also one of Jaik’s biggest supporters. In fact, he had pushed my friend Jon into checking out the new band. Dave got on the subway to head home one night and died of a heart attack. It was sudden, unexpected and sad. And what happened next was interesting. There was a benefit at Brooklyn Bowl to raise money for his daughter’s education. And Jaik opened the show solo. Then that November, a second annual “Nightingale Reunion” took place in the bar that was now a sort of “posh” lounge rather than a corner of hell that smelled even worse. And low and behold, set up in front of the old mirrored North wall were Jaik, Matt and Jack with a new drummer (Rob has since moved back down to Texas). And they blasted through a short set of everyone’s favorite Xanax 25 songs. And they sounded great! And a year later when it came time to try & raise more money for Dave’s family with a second show at Brooklyn Bowl, Xanax 25 took the stage and kicked ass again.
The truth is I don’t know much about what was going on in the year since that second reunion show. I know that there was a lot of rambling on the web (Jaik loved to tweet and Facebook and yell at people on the Freakslist email chain. In fact, his Twitter account is still sending out some sort of daily horoscope tweet every day!). And I believe there was some talk of some new Xanax 25 sessions. What I do know is that there was a lot of time spent with his father Marty who was his best friend. And I think that Jaik was in a good place spiritually and mentally. But sometimes life isn’t fair. So it was quite surprising to hear that he was taken from us at 42.
If you want to hear the brilliance of Jaik, then search out the Pre-Allman jam performance from Wetlands on August 5th, 1993. Halfway through the second set of a Warren Haynes led jam show, Jaik, Jack and Matt joined Warren and Brendan Hill on drums from Blues Traveler and Danny Louis (then of the original Warren Haynes Band) on keyboards with Arnie Lawrence (the New School mentor of the Nightingale scene) on saxophone. Jaik turned the opening lines of Warren’s Broken Promised Land into the perfect intro for his song City Rain. This then segued into Freestyle Fellowship’s Inner City Boundaries rap and even quoted the Arc Angels for a Jaik scat over a Haynes guitar line that Warren would adopt for his own shows.
I’ll be 44 in 21 days. And somewhere around seven days after that, my own first child will arrive. I don’t want to sound like a Talmudic scholar, but I know that life springs up after death in an endless circle. And I know as surely as most of my friends hated the sound of Jaik’s voice back then, others thought he sounded like Cat Stevens. To me, he was just Jaik, a talented Jewish kid from Westchester, too hard to nail down. Impossible to pigeonhole. Always smiling, always rambling, always pointing his hand up above his head and singing up to the heavens…the place that held his mother, his sister and then his dog, Boogie. Now he’s there too, on The Other Side working on another new Painting, no longer feeling Beaten, no need to prove whom The Strongest Child is. So while it’s gray and ugly outside and a cold City Rain falls over his beloved Manhattan, rest assured that Jaik is sipping some Sweet Vermouth, no longer afraid of the Scary Monsters. He’s hanging out with Polly and his mom. And lest you had any doubt, don’t U Think 2 Much, because if you cared enough to read this and now go search out his music, Jaik Miller was Your Kind of Fool too!