Interview: Mike Doughty of Soul Coughing

  • Photo by Deborah Lopez
By Columbus Alive
From the May 10, 2012 edition

Somewhere between the army-brat tomfoolery of his childhood and his current station as an alt-rock cult hero, Mike Doughty got way into drugs — hard drugs, the kind of drugs that ruin your life until they kill you. Doughty was headed that direction, but after years writhing around in that particular pit, he scaled the steep, treacherous climb to sobriety and lived to write about it.

The former Soul Coughing frontman’s new memoir “The Book of Drugs” presents his story in the stark honesty and dark humor that have always marked his songs. He is shameless and forthcoming. By the fourth paragraph, he proclaims: “I can’t renounce drugs. I love drugs. I’d never trade the part of my life when the drugs worked, though the bulk of the time I spent getting high, they weren’t doing s--- for me.”

To promote the book, Doughty is touring rock clubs to read selections from the text and perform songs from his deep well of material, including a stop Wednesday at Ace of Cups. As he explained during a phone call last week, the tour was supposed to feature a Q&A portion, but it became too chaotic, so he sticks to answering the most common questions.

That means the shows are slightly less interactive than the ones preserved for posterity on Doughty’s double-live album “The Question Jar Show,” in which Doughty answered off-the-wall queries along the lines of “Have you ever killed someone softly with your song?” as submitted by the audience. But every Doughty show is about connecting deeply with the crowd.

“I sometimes make a joke about degradation porn, you know, when I read some really deep, low bottom drug story,” Doughty said. “‘This is degradation porn,’ I’ll say. And if somebody laughs, it’ll be like the deepest cackle. When somebody laughs, it’s like, ‘You are my people. You are my tribe.’”

“The Book of Drugs” is an immersing read. That’s partly because Doughty is such a gifted storyteller and partly because there are no chapter breaks, just 252 straight pages of uninterrupted prose. The format encourages marathon reading sessions, but according to Doughty, doing away with chapters was accidental.

“I sent them to my editor thinking he would have notes,” Doughty said. “The dude said, ‘Great idea man, no chapters?’”

The memoir is the latest in a string of diverse projects by Doughty. He blogs frequently to comment on pop culture; he’s published poetry, comic books and protest songs. Countless disciples gobble up his fruitful solo catalog and flock to his shows, where anybody with common sense knows not to request old Soul Coughing songs.

Lots of lead singers never escape the shadow of their breakthrough band, but Doughty seems to have succeeded on sheer force of personality.

“Certainly I’m a willful motherf---er, but I’m just lucky to have listeners who dig the albums I’ve been making,” he said. “Some people make records that are good, and they just don’t find their people. These songs have really found their people.”