In 1996, a lot of my diaries included references to the guy that just went by the name Doughty. We used to email a bit, and hang out. Hang out, smoke, be awkward. That was it, really. The first email I got from him – on an AOL account – a bunch of time after I’d interviewed him following Soul Coughing’s debut, said this (among other things):
“I got your email a few months back and left it in the Soul Coughing box overnight, and when I returned, one of my no-doubt stoned bandmates had erased it. I was crushed…We just finished making another record– it’s gonna be called “Irresistable Bliss”– and I’m totally exhausted. We just finished the sequence a couple of days ago, and now we’re off again, doing the photos and artwork and beginning the dreaded rounds of interviews….I [also] bought a four-track, and have been locking myself away and recording all these weird little garage-rock songs that Soul Coughing has rejected over the years, maybe for a little indie-label solo project or something…”
Then, a few months later:
“Yikes, I’m in South Carolina — we’re in a bus now, we slept out of New York and woke up here. Very strange…Hope yer kool. Just wanted to tell you – dropped my New York apartment, being that I’ll be there for five cumulative minutes in the next three years. So this is the only known way I can communicate with the exterior world. Wonderful feeling of vertigo, I have.”
Then, in 1997:
“Thanks for the 90210 update. I’m back in the States but have slacked off in my prime time duties. We’re rehearsing in New York for a minute and a half, I’m drenched in stress.”
I dug these up to bring these up because Mike Doughty, on tour to support his last album Yes & Also Yes has also been touring his achievement of a memoir, The Book of Drugs. To be incredibly reductionist, it’s about the life of a musician in a band who hated and undermined him, whom he hates as a result, and how drugs became inexorably weaved into the fabric of his world. Go buy it.
So here we are, on the eve of Good Friday at a gig that BackstageRider.com (hey! That’s me!) was co-presenting, and Doughty’s preaching to a good and swoony crowd. He’s trying to explain just how headfucky being in Soul Coughing was, but he’s not being nasty. Just explanatory.
Some of his references to the Bass Player and the Sampler Player and the Drummer make me laugh because I’d met them all back then. And he’s right. The (Israeli) Drummer could NEVER REFER TO ANYONE WITHOUT SAYING “YO, G.” And the Sampler Player was kinda weird. And I knew the 135lb guy who was barely able to get through a set ‘cos of smoking and drugs. I remember him wheezing on stage in Buffalo – a show I’d bussed to get to, and we’d hung out aftewards; he gave me his book of poetry, Slanky. I remember him gasping for air on stage, looking like death. I like him better now. Alive, yunno?
But now he’s making us laugh, and awww, describing how his former bandmates used to pick on him and make him think he didn’t write the songs he did. The stories are almost unbelievable. But they are his. And at one point I literally almost walk on stage to hug the guy. He talks about the drugs, about nodding off in therapy. But it’s okay. This is kinda therapy for all of us. He’s making us smile, and it’s okay.
He’s talking about how “Na Na Nothing” was sort of co-written with Nikki Sixx from Mötley Crüe and Semisonic’s Dan Wilson. He’s shushing the drunk girls in the front (thank gods they weren’t mine…I warned all my friends not to talk, you gotta know this about a Doughty show), and he’s calling this the “Gratitude Tour”; the tour in which he can thank us all for being there for him. He restrings his guitar, reads out passages that are mostly funny – about taking E on stage with the Dave Matthews Tour and being dogpiled by 15-year-old girls at Madison Square Gardens.
He sings: Madeline and Nine, Busting Up a Starbucks, Day By Day By, I Hear the Bells (“You snooze, you lose/Well, I snost and lost”), I Just Want The Girl In the Blue Dress To Keep On Dancing, Telegenic Exes #2 (Astoria), Thank You Lord, For Sending Me the F Train, White Lexus, Your Misfortune, 27 Jennifers, Na Na Nothing, Russell, and introduces his cover of Mary J. Blige’s Real Love, by explaining that he stopped playing it after a critic in Nebraska slammed it. “But I now imagine him with Doritos powder all over his face, drinking a Dr. Pepper” and plays it, beautifully. And then he blasts out “Looking at the World From the Bottom of the Well” and all of us on anti-depressants nod knowingly.
After the show, he comes out to a surprise. A friend – Lizz, who sadly couldn’t make the show – Tracy fromVancouver’s The Cake Conspiracy and I arranged to have a cake made with the cover of Doughty’s book. The Cake of Drugs, as it were.
Why? Because putting it all out there needs reward. I tell myself this everyday (where’s my cake?). He comes out to sign books and his eyes light up at the site of this massive box with a thing with his name on it. As his track on his instrumental album Dubious Luxury goes: WHERE’S THE CAKE? I LIKE CAKE! GIMME THE CAKE!” Well, it’s here. At the Media Club, yo.
He’s pretty thrilled by the Book of Drugs cake. And he should be, the thing is giant. Fans take pics and we carve it up to share. Doughty signs stuff, then offers slices to folks. The city of Vancouver mainlines sugar, happily. It’s, yunno, kind of wonderful.
Yeah, putting it all out there deserves reward. The next night, in Portland, a friend of his brings cookies. The women of the world wanna feed Doughty, sometimes. It’s probably ‘cos we can’t go onstage and give him a hug. \m/
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