so last saturday, mike doughty of soul coughing fame stopped by the hattiesburg campus on his way to new orleans, and read us some passages from his book of drugs. doughty is a likeable, intelligent guy, and he really does look a lot like the picture below (including the – might i say – rather awesome frames):
mike has also published some poetry if you want to read more of his, but for now, let me talk about the book of drugs.
as a sort of disclaimer, mike assured us that a) “not every musician is a dick” and b) “perspective is psychedelic”, meaning, memories differ between people even if they were all there at the same time. the line between memory and imagination is difficult to draw.
the book is not written to offend, though he joked that, well, if some people wanted to call him a puppy-kicker after this he wouldn’t care. in mike’s eyes, the memoirist is a worrier, “dogged, exposed, and denounced” and “afraid to be caught with things [he hasn’t] stolen.”
as for the title of the book itself,
[the publishers] wanted the word ‘memoir’ on the cover, and they were ecstatic that i wanted the word ‘drug’ in the title. (hattiesburg q&a)
mike has been clean for 11 years now – i am happy to take his word for that, and he sure does look in good health.
his style is elegantly straightforward, his prose very readable. he relates his encounters with various musicians, forming the band soul coughing, girlfriends, some of his experiences at college, his poetry professor sekou sundiata, and various jobs. the connecting theme however is the virtual omnipresence of drugs, from weed to heroin to ecstasy. mike himself explains on the opening pages of his book that if drugs did not at some point lose their potency, if they would still make him feel the way he first felt, he might never have pulled away from them (2). about looking back, he says:
I loathe myself in a lot of those stories. I feel compelled to tell you now that eventually, I turn into a kind, loving person who struggles to live the first line in Saint Francis’s prayer: ‘Make me a channel of your peace.’ Not to demand peace, but to transmit it. (3)
the book is a flow of individual episodes in fairly chronological order, starting with him as a young boy growing up with the town’s drunk as his father. the stories in this book are full of mischief and often rather funny, at least for the reader. if you wanted some ideas on what to do with a found credit card, for example, you’d find some in here.
i’ve not finished the book yet, but still want to give you a sense of the tone, so here’s a sample from page 33, fairly early on. mike is in new york city, working as a doorman seven nights a week, staying with a girl who likes him so he won’t have to pay rent:
I seethed with frustration – when applying the hand stamp that audience members got in lieu of a ticket, I’d bang the stamper down on their wrists so hard they’d yelp in pain. One night a saxophone player known for his assholery – an 80s icon due to some suave roles in black-and-white indie movies – had packed the joint. He called up and said petulantly that he was considering canceling the show. My guess: he wanted to hear the club plead with him.
Do it, I said. I want to go home.
And I slammed the phone down.
during the q&a after the reading, someone asked about mike’s style of writing, and mike explained that he tried to form a style by reading “the jedis” of writing, which for him were nabukov, steinbeck, etc, – essentially people who were much, much better than him.
another thing that interested him (and influenced him) was his five year stint of studying german. he adores the “strange and elegant sentence structure” of german, and its simplicity. the fact that progressive tenses are virtually not used.
yet another influence was twitter, the restrictions it imposes, forcing you to condense what you want to say to a small number of characters. calling himself an over-sharer, a twitter-addict, and a story-teller, mike explained that there was nothing in the book that he hadn’t already told ‘a gazillion people’ before.
if you’re not one of those ‘gazillion people’ i highly recommend this book – take it with you on a flight, on a long bus ride, or just to read between all those countless articles and criticism essays for school. it’s a pleasant distraction. i have never used drugs, but i would be lying if i said i had never been curious or tempted. mike’s perspective on drugs is disarmingly honest and personal. he communicates very well the allure, the attraction of drugs, the kind of mindset he was in when he was using them. he also shows how they do not necessarily keep their promises. the book ends with his breaking away from drugs – which he described as a process at least as bewildering and intense, though not as pleasant, as getting into them.
mike, thanks for stopping by!
as a little post scriptum, here’s a reading i found by his former poetry professor: enjoy!