MIKE DOUGHTY brings 25 years of SOUL COUGHING “Ruby Vroom” Memories

I’ve got 25 years worth of stories about Mike Doughty. And most of them came flooding back into my head when, after six years away, Doughty returned to Vancouver to play through his 1994 Soul Coughing debut, Ruby Vroom at the Fox Theatre. I loved that album. Like, loved loved it.

And you spin, like the Cadillac was overturning down a cliff on television.

Doughty had a pretty fraught relationship with his band Soul Coughing. It’s all documented in his bio The Book of Drugs. But before I knew all that, I knew Ruby Vroom. The CD showed up at my record store as part of some guy’s used-CDs-for-sale pile. And for no apparent reason, I put on spin, and kind of never took it off. It was/is…just weird and wonderful. A white-guy-rapping the most absurd lyrics, esoteric samples, acid jazz and groovy beats. I probably played “Screenwriter’s Blues” about a thousand times, and there’s a line in every song that I just, really dig, you know?

A man cuts in half/just like he/snaps a pencil

And it booms as cool as/sugar-free jazz

The five-percent nation of nipple clamps

Spoon to the lighter to the lighter to the gun/Devil lapsed out in a pool of sun

So there was no question I’d be there, up in front, cheering on my buddy. And the show started off tasty, too, with opening act The Ghost of Mr. Oberon (aka Rachel Benbow Murdy) in a wig and suit, doing a kind of old-skool New York drag king, latter-day Tony Curtis thing, and speak-singing…wait…what? A WHOLE BUNCH OF OTHER SOUL COUGHING SONGS. You had to be there to see it (or watch it here), but it was a JOY. Her set included SC sounds by Wheatus’ (and Doughty bandmember Matthew Milligan), goofing off by Doughty cellist Andrew “Scrap” Livingstone in a retro bear head, and there was also a ghost-white sheet with eyes cut out, headstands, hula hoops and Murdy’s small dog named Bibi Lama. Was this all just a comment on the absurdity of the Soul Coughing era? *Shrugs* But it was sure as hell fun.

Doughty followed in short order, looking all aesthetically pleasing (in other words, fly). He’s living in Memphis now, says he loves it. He’s surrounding himself with musicians and recording constantly on his Patreon. “It’s not for everyone,” he says about the fan-funded platform that I think more musicians should be using, “but it’s working well for me. I do a ton of stuff”.

The anniversary set – how has it been two and a half decades since this thing came out? – started with a brief, latter-day Soul Coughing warm up. “Super Bon Bon” and “Circles” kicked it off, before the song-by-song rundown of Ruby Vroom (“kinda eliminating the possibility of surprise”). And yeeeesh, was it GREAT to hear those songs. They were unmistakably SC but super fresh and reimagined. The guy next to me beamed, like me, shouting to each coundtown in “Casiotone Nation” and every line in “Screenwriter’s Blues”. By the time Benbow Murdy came back on stage for the last song – she is actually and truly the singing voice on the answering machine throughout the song “Janine” – we were all been dipped and rolled in 1994.

One wondered how any other band could vibe like Soul Coughing did but he’s done it – Scrap has always been an incredible right hand on cello, but with Milligan on samples, Madden Klass on drums and Ori Arevena on guitar – and MD conducting them – the band was tight. Supra Genius, even.

There was something awesome about hearing those songs again, without any of the haze of history. So thanks for the groove down memory lane, Doughty, it felt even better this time. \m/

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