If you’ve heard of Soul Coughing, you may have enjoyed “Circles.” “Super Bon-Bon” is another one of the group’s better-known tunes.
They were released during the mid- to late-1990s, when the rock band enjoyed a cult following that catapulted them briefly into the alternative music mainstream.
But eight years was all the band could stand, and it broke up in 2000 after releasing just nine singles.
Even so, fans hung on — largely because they were fans of the band’s frontman, Mike Doughty, a versatile musician who gave Soul Coughing a signature sound with his voice and a staying power with his tattooable lyrics.
Doughty was 22 when Soul Coughing formed, and he was just hitting 30 when he personally axed the source of his young fame.
To complete the picture of many young, affected musicians in the late 1990s, Doughty was on a steady diet of heroin and alcohol. Constant fighting within the band during this time led to its demise.
Whether the substance abuse caused the fighting or vice versa is not exactly answered in Doughty’s new memoir “The Book of Drugs,” but the stereotype of Doughty’s experience is a bit clearer.
Doughty hated his band. In “The Book of Drugs,” he outlines his combative relationship with bandmates Mark De Gli Antoni, Sebastian Steinberg and Yuval Gabay — though he does not use their names. To Doughty, they were bullies, and the four of them were permanently suspended in a proverbial high school lunchroom, with Doughty playing the part of insecure Brian Johnson in “The Breakfast Club.”
“I listened to (record label artist and repertoire man) Stanley Ray, who shook me to my core with masterful strikes of passion-aggression when I made feeble efforts to convince him that I could leave — because I couldn’t just walk away from the band, I needed someone to tell me it was OK to do so,” Doughty, now 41, writes about his seventh year in Soul Coughing.
“… I said to myself: There’s no way off this despairing march. My promise to myself to keep the heroin use somewhat in control, because I wanted to protect my artistic faculties, had become laughable. Why? I was going to get high first thing this morning, and the next, and the next. I’ll stumble along, show up when they tell me to, sing when it’s time to sing. I’d eke out a mediocre existence,” wrote Doughty.
Doughty went on to write death was not frightening to him, and it was possibly a relief to the fame he was stuck in for music he didn’t want to make.
Page 2 of 3 - “It’s very depressing … that’ll ruin my day,” Doughty said during a telephone interview about hearing Soul Coughing played on the radio or in a bar. “I don’t like that music very much at all … I’m not at peace with the darkness and emotional abuse that dominated the experience of the band, but I wouldn’t say I’m not at peace with the work.”
Michael Tedder of The Village Voice said Doughty is clearly not at peace with his legacy, after reading Doughty’s memoir and then speaking to him about it.
But Doughty disagrees, saying the memoir is a collection of stories he and others have found funny, powerful or interesting over the years.
“I basically had a bunch of good stories … I didn’t feel I had some kind of over-arching perspective or wisdom, I just had a bunch of stories and had been threatening to write a book for a lot of years and somebody pulled up and said here’s some money,” Doughty said.
The memoir is written in Doughty’s signature stream-of-consciousness without chapters, maybe proving to skeptical readers that he did not use a ghostwriter.
“I wrote them story by story; it was my kind of primary way of not totally losing my mind in the overwhelming thought of writing a book,” Doughty said. “I put them in chronological order and sent to (my) editor thinking he’d have suggestions on how to (divide) them into chapters, (but) he dug it the way it was. It was a mistake that turned into a non-mistake.”
In “The Book of Drugs,” Doughty recounts a long list of hookups and even longer list of drugs and alcohol-fueled endeavors. He offers the names he can remember, but calls his band mates The Sampler, The Bass Player and The Drummer.
It appears to a reader they wouldn’t give consent, but Doughty said he hasn’t spoken to them for years.
“It’s kind of unfair given the perspective … (There could be a difference in) what I believe happened and in what someone else believes happened and I don’t think that many people are going to jump on Google and try to figure out (who they are),” Doughty said.
More to the story?
Memoirs, which are typically reserved for the twilight of a person’s life, may turn out to be Doughty’s outlet for the waterfall of thoughts and experiences he likes writing down. Doughty has a popular blog where he recounts his days minute-by-minute at times, often through photos. Writing a book was a natural progression for a man who calls himself a writer more often in a conversation than a musician.
But at 41, he’s young to already have achieved his life’s story — especially after kicking heroin.
Page 3 of 3 - “I’d like to (write another book),” Doughty said. “I don’t have an idea, … (I’ll be) waiting another 41 years and see if anything interesting happens.”
Follow Molly Beck on Twitter at twitter.com/MollyBeckSJR.