Mike Doughty's Memoir About Drugs, Sex & Soul Coughing

Posted by Rachael McGovern, January 25, 2012 11:44am | Post a Comment

The Book of Drugs - Mike DoughtyFor most of my life I have been an avid reader, but for the last six months - or even a year if I'm being honest with myself - I've struggled to finish books, forcing myself to make the time to read. Happily, that streak has been broken with the new memoir by Mike Doughty, The Book of Drugs (Da Capo Press, 2012). I read it the first time in about two days, inhaling it as fast as I could between work and sleep. As soon as I finished it, I began reading it again. 

Mike Doughty is a solo artist today, but I came to know him as the frontman for Soul Coughing. The book's primary plotline is about his relationship with drugs, the trajectory of his addictions, and his recovery. But the secondary plot is about his relationship with, and to, his former band. Admittedly, that is why I picked up the book. Addiction in and of itself isn't as interesting to me as the person who is telling the story of addiction, and I was very interested in what Mike Doughty, the former lead singer, guitarist and lyricists for one of my favorite bands, had to say.

One of the things that I most appreciated about Soul Coughing was the mixture of intelligence and quirkiness, the wordplay and the soundplay (we'll pretend that's an actual word). Doughty uses those strengths in The Book of Drugs, telling his story with humor, wit, honesty, self-reflection, anger, passion, and sorrow. (For someone who says he was out of touch with his feelings for so long due to his addictions, he has come a long way in accessing those emotions and laying them on the page.) 

For me, the most salient scene from the book that illustrates how much his addiction affected him involved his daily trip to the ATM four blocks away. He would call his dealer and then descend his apartment building's stairs (a thirty minute process one way), walk down the block, and across a larger intersection. The whole trip - four blocks - took him ninety minutes, sometimes two hours. The fact that the ordeal of walking a few blocks seemed to him like a natural side effect of aging (he was thirty-something at the time), and not a by-product of his drug habit, was heartbreaking.

After reading The Book of Drugs, I can say with total certainty that Mike Doughty doesn't want to hear about anyone's love for his former band.

"I'm full-bore bat shit crazy with regards to Soul Coughing. If somebody says they love Soul Coughing, i hear fuck you. Somebody yells out for a Soul Coughing song during a show, it means fuck you. If I play a Soul Coughing song, and somebody whoops - just one guy - I hear fuck you." - The Book of Drugs

At first I was devastated to read this, as he rightly predicts in the book, but having heard his story, I understand. I wish, for his sake, that he hadn't had such a negative experience with the band, but perhaps it was part of his journey to sobriety and his evolution as an artist. Ultimately his story doesn't take away from my personal associations with the music. I am probably the more fortunate one because I can still enjoy the music and savor those memories, whereas he still seems to be tortured by anger, resentment, and bitterness about it.  

I was living in Minnesota when the first Soul Coughing album, Ruby Vroom, was released. Soul Coughing had a large following in Minneapolis, I believe due to a local radio station called REV105. REV105 had a giant influence on my life - not only was it there that I first heard Soul Coughing (and The Replacements, Sugar, Semisonic, and a whole host of other bands) but it was also what sparked my interest in music and led me to my college radio's airwaves, and ultimately to Amoeba. I saw my first Soul Coughing show at First Avenue in Minneapolis, not long before I moved to the Bay Area for college. I was lonely that first semester and I found an online community in the Soul Coughing chat rooms, making friends with other fans. We would see the band play live whenever we got the chance, even convening in Minneapolis for a 3-night Soul Coughing stint at First Avenue (an event we lovingly named "Coughstock"). We weren't groupies, we just loved the music. Their live shows were incredible. After finishing the book, I listened to all three Soul Coughing albums again, for the first time in years (I don't know if I've played El Oso since 2000). But even today, what I hear in my head - and what I prefer - are the live versions, dancing and singing with the audience.

 Yes and Also Yes - Mike Doughty

The Question Jar Show - Mike Doughty


I went to a couple of Doughty's solo shows in Los Angeles on his first few tours, but I stopped going. It made me too sad to hear him perform Soul Coughing songs. I was hearing the live, full-band versions in my head and, at that point, I didn't understand why he left the band. I was glad to read that he doesn't play those songs anymore. He sounds happier with the musicians who play with him today, and writes about them with affection and respect. It made me want to see his solo shows again.

Doughty's latest solo effort, Yes and Also Yes (Snack Bar), came out at the end of August last year and I listened to it for the first time ths week. Dan Wilson of Semisonic co-wrote some of the songs and there's a duet with Roseanne Cash called "Holiday (What Do You Want)." I need more time to digest the album - I've been too busy reading his book. On January 31, he is releasing The Question Jar Show, a double disc recorded live of Doughty and his sidekick "Scrap" performing and answering questions audience members put in a jar onstage.

In February, Doughty will embark on a tour reading from The Book of Drugs, performing and taking questions. He comes to San Francisco on April 10 at the Swedish American Hall (get tickets) and to Los Angeles on April 11 at the Bootleg (get tickets). Both shows go on sale on Friday, January 27. I know I'll be there.


Relevant Tags

Book (1), Soul Coughing (1), Yes And Also Yes (1), The Question Jar Show (1), Minneapolis (2), Mike Doughty (1), The Book Of Drugs (1), First Avenue (1), Drugs (23), Review (17), Sex (14)