Mike Doughty: Question Jar Show, Book Of Drugs
The Question Jar Show
The Book Of Drugs
Da Capo Press
By Grant Britt
The artist formerly known as the frontman for Soul Coughing wants you to disavow any knowledge of his former musical actions. However Mike Doughty doesn’t mind telling you about it in his new tell all rock chronicle The Book Of Drugs. The Soul Coughing founder/composer just doesn’t want to revisit it in song, refusing to perform any of his old band’s songs since he’s gone solo. That policy makes for awkward moments when audience members call for SC tunes, but Doughty just says no.
“My insane–slash-conniving bandmates convinced me that I’m not the songwriter,” he asserts in The Book Of Drugs, revealing that the band claimed everything SC did was a group effort, even though Doughty maintains he wrote the chord progressions, lyrics and melodies for all the band’s songs. “We could have been Led Zeppelin,” he writes, if only his bandmates had let him be a bandleader. “There was something great here,” he says of his former outfit, “but we failed to let you hear it.”
The book reads like Jim Carroll’s The Basketball Diaries, a close-up chronicle of a heroin addict. “It’s bad news when your dealer cuts you off because he doesn’t like watching you die,” Doughty reveals in the book, which came out at the same time as the album.
Nobody ever really figured out how to describe Soul Coughing. At times it sounded like an acid tripping Dave Mathews Band, (see “Um Zoom Zip” from ‘94’s Ruby Vroom,)but for the most part, it was an encounter with extraterrestrial hip-hop loosely tack welded to free jazz.
What Doughty does these days bears no resemblance to his former musical career. “Small rock” is the term he’s concocted for what he does now, acoustic renderings of his own compositions, which, while still quirky, are not nearly as off the wall as the SC material.
His latest, a 22-song live compilation recorded in venues all over the country during his ‘08 tour, accompanied only by cellist Andrew Scrap Livingston, is like Pearl Jam unplugged, down to Eddie Vedder soundalike vocals.
Highlights include “27 Jennifers,” with Livingston’s cello taking the role of bass and rhythm guitar, punctuating Doughty’s lyrics in a way that has not come across in studio versions. “Down On the River By the Sugar Plant” again benefits from Livingston’s accompaniment, this time on electric guitar, jabbing Doughty in the ribs as the singer murmurs like Leonard Cohen while proclaiming “My flag of doubt is unfurled.”
But Doughty leaves no doubt abut his future. “All I can do is write songs that I love and believe in,” he says in the book. “I feel like I’m genuinely an unrecognized champion.” With material this good, presented as dynamically as it is here, that championship is as good as his.