Ex-alt-rock kingpin Mike Doughty explores the nitty-gritty of addiction in new memoir
Published: February 2, 2012
Mike Doughty8 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 7
The Social, 407-236-1419
The Book of Drugsby Mike Doughty
(Da Capo; $16; 256 pages)
Drugs and rock & roll are old, tired bedfellows. They’ve stuck together for so long that the union has graduated from shocking to cliché. Singer-songwriter Mike Doughty, former frontman of inventively bizarro experimental/alt-rock outfit Soul Coughing, is well aware that stories of rockers indulging in narcotics are played out, so he uses his new memoir, The Book of Drugs, to poke fun at the archetype’s existence. On his book’s second page, Doughty half-jokingly classifies his story as “JADN: just another drug narrative,” right before launching into a look at his past addiction (the memoir features dalliances with weed, cocaine, heroin, ecstasy and speed, among other substances).
“I don’t know how to make a claim that [my drug narrative is] worth reading per se, but I do think what’s different about it is that it’s me as a person,” says Doughty, whose date this week at the Social involves a reading, concert and Q&A. “It’s the essence of the individual in the story that makes it different in any memoir.”
Acknowledging the potential triteness of its very premise isn’t the only thing that gives The Book of Drugs its personality. Doughty’s narrative is written with self-deprecating nakedness; it’s rich with amusingly awkward encounters (such as sex scenes that are never particularly sexy) and recaps of his personal turmoils and failures (such as unsuccessfully trying to become bisexual). The book also has no chapters (passages are broken up with hefty spaces) and was written in the order the stories came back to Doughty. The author aptly summarizes his book as “sad, comic and kind of haunting,” which speaks to how fucked up his life was while Soul Coughing did solid business in the 1990s. He freely lays everything bare, which is what makes it such a page-turner. “I’m not trying to say that I have any kind of wisdom or great perspective on what’s happened in my life,” he says, “but I definitely have a lot of stories that I’ve told people and they’ve laughed at.”
On the music side, The Book of Drugs features cameos from Jeff Buckley, Dave Matthews, Ani DiFranco, Redman and the Black Eyed Peas in between examinations of the strife that went into the “nightmare marriage” that was Soul Coughing.
Doughty doesn’t look back at those times fondly. He writes, “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.’” But as he explains, this bitterness isn’t just born of personal circumstance. “It was a horrible, horrible bunch of years that I am so bitter about and regret so tremendously, but honestly, the music wasn’t what I needed it to be. Part of that was I was high and I was an unhealthy person, and maybe I could have made the music more what I wanted to be if I wasn’t, but that’s assuming that my bandmates wouldn’t have been as difficult as they were. But I thought we had the muscle to give the Beastie Boys a run for their money, [or] Beck a run for his money, but we just ended up this weird little cult band,” he says. “I can’t fault somebody for being a Soul Coughing fan. That’s absolutely fine. I’m just really not a Soul Coughing fan.”
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