Big lessons: Candid Doughty offers sa-sa-something
The man who sings about his reticence in "Na Na Nothing" turns out to have plenty to say– or at least write about. If fans haven't always been privy to intimate stories from Mike Doughty, they've had their chance since the January release of his tell-everything memoir, The Book of Drugs, which examines not only his adventurous lifestyle and experience with addiction, but also the gut-wrenching days of his time in Soul Coughing, the quirky and experimental band noted for Doughty's poetic lyrics.
“People have always felt really close to me because I'm an over-sharer,” Doughty says in a telephone interview in advance of his upcoming solo performance in Charlottesville. “I was on AOL messageboards when I was 23 putting out my first album.”
Now 41, Doughty finds himself in the middle of a tour that emphasizes that openness, mixing readings from the book with songs from his solo career and time for Q&A from the audience.
Doughty says many fans think that "Q&A is code for 'I will tell you gnarly things about Soul Coughing.'" He says he won't speak about his old band, but he will take on strange hypotheticals like the one from a fan who asked if he'd "rather play Twister with Dick Cheney or punch a kitten in the face."
Such questions can be heard on his new live album The Question Jar Show, and much of the book looks at the problems in the band, a revelation which Doughty thought was common knowledge.
“I was deluded into thinking that people were psychic and understood just how messed up Soul Coughing was," he says. "I thought it was radiating off my skin."
And how was his time in the band? "It was," he answers, "emotionally abusive and emotionally violent.”
Doughty says he's putting that behind him now, as The Book of Drugs allows him to be defined by the present– not denying his history, but without getting stuck in it. So why write a memoir now?
“I had been talking about writing a book, and one day a publisher called and said, 'Here's some money,' and my bluff was effectively called. I don't think I'd have pursued it if they hadn't called me first.”
Writing a book, he found, was “a whole other sort of experience" compared to his work as songwriter and essayist.
"I fooled myself into getting it done by doing it story by story, and then at the end I just stacked them all together in relative chronological order.”
The process proved an effective means to cover a large amount of material in a strikingly intimate manner, and the book's most important material comes not from Doughty's struggles with addiction, which could have been a cliché if told less skillfully or less directly, but from his analysis of anti-drug propaganda.
“I wish I had been told when I was a teenager; 'Look, this sh*t feels amazing, and you might really like it.' But here is the nature of the choice you have to make, and here is the risk that you're taking.'
"When we first got high, we thought, 'You lied to us.' If you're an addict, you're going to find those drugs, or you're going to find something. It amazes me that [anti-drug campaigns] would come at it that simply.”
As for Doughty himself, he's making some of the best music of his career, including last year's Yes and Also Yes, which includes "Na Na Nothing," a track that gets a lot of indie- and college-radio airplay.
He says he's been sober for a long time now, and he seems to be as open as ever– even without the AOL messageboards.
Mike Doughty provides a concert, reading, and Q&A at the Southern on Thursday, May 10. Doors open at 8pm, with tickets $15 in advance and $18 day of show.