the book of drugs
Diseased with terminal uniqueness: Soul Coughing's Mike Doughty explains himselfwith new book and national tour
Musician Mike Doughty has steadily built a large and dedicated cult following since the quiet release of Skittish, his first solo record, about a decade ago. But this is Mike Doughty’s second cult following, and he’s written a book, The Book of Drugs, all about it.
Doughty was the frontman for 90’s band Soul Coughing, a band he describes as “diseased with terminal uniqueness” in his new memoir.
The book is available Feb. 1, whereupon the songwriter will launch a tour to support the book and a new live CD, The Question Jar Show. He plays the Cactus Cafe on Feb. 14.
On the tour, Doughty plans to mix his songs with readings from the book, although he’s not exactly sure what parts he will read.
“It’s hard to figure out which tiny little sliver of your life you want to read in front of strangers,” he said during a phone interview before leaving for the tour, “I’m madly leafing through it.”
The book describes his upbringing as a kid at odds with growing up on a military base, his battle with drugs and his battle as the frontman of Soul Coughing.
Doughty was less than warm when I told him that I had been a Soul Coughing fan. “Uh huh” he said dismissively. I had read the first half of the book but had not reached the part about him being “bat-shit crazy about Soul Coughing.” And he doesn’t mean it in a good way.
Fans of Doughty, those who hang on his drawn syllables and poetic songs, will appreciate the book. It has all the sardonic humor that someone familiar with his live show would expect. Readers wondering how Soul Coughing quietly disappeared despite a legitimate hit song, “Circles,” from their third album in 1998 also get the insight they are looking for.
The rise of Doughty’s solo career coincides with his recovery from drugs. The book details his recovery, soul searching, and nagging battles with his former bandmates but does not offer more insight beyond the beginnings of his solo career.
At first he “busted [his] heart fighting a crowd that wanted old stuff,” trying to get away from Soul Coughing material. He shares a story about an Austin critic who wrote an article titled “Bitter man fights his past” after not playing Soul Coughing songs. Doughty points out that it was in fact people calling for his new songs.
Doughty shows humble surprise that fans at his early solo shows were already familiar with his new songs — despite limited distribution — but details the constant struggle for him with fans who wanted to hear Soul Coughing songs.
In truth his solo career has seen success. He’s played Madison Square Garden as a solo musician and his songs have appeared on TV shows and in movies. Two of his solo albums were released on the Dave Matthews founded ATO records label.
The book ends with nice words about his new PhD bassist, cellist and co-conspirator Andrew “Scrap” Livingston and a feeling that, despite all that he has been through, he is now at peace.
Livingston will join Doughty on stage at the Cactus Café for two shows; they will play songs that reflect back on the last decade of his solo career.
The new live album, The Question Jar Show, also features the two from their last tour. The album covers the last decade, including songs from the early albums like “Madeline at Nine” and “Grey Ghost.” Those songs, written in the early stages of his recovery, are full of wonder and despair. Later songs like “Rising Up” and “I Hear the Bells,” written ostensibly during happier times, are more hopeful, more upbeat.
When asked what it’s like to have your life story available everywhere, he rattled off a story. “I’ve started dating this woman recently and she actually read the book. I sent her the book before we dated…I wasn’t like trying to impress her with the book…long story, but she read the book. So we don’t really know each other very well but we’ll be talking about something and I’ll say, ‘Oh yeah this one time I’… and then I realize it's already in the book. It’s made my conversation game a little bit more on edge.”
To read more about Mike Doughty, The Book of Drugs is available on Feb. 1. To have the book read to you by Mike Doughty and hear him play his songs, he will be at the Cactus Café for an early and late show on Feb. 14. To hear him play his songs live without going to the Cactus Café, his live album, The Question Jar Show, is also now available.