First: the history lesson.
My first few exposures to Mike Doughty, I didn't know what I was hearing. They Might Be Giants had a song with this mysterious guy rapping nonsense. There was a meme video set to Super Bon Bon I watched in 2004, I thought it was a silly song. Later, when I was dating Josh, he played Soul Coughing's "El Oso" and I still had really shitty taste in music so again, I thought it was just beats and goofy lyrics with no substance. I remember asking him to make me a mix of "silly songs, like that Soul Coughing stuff."
I went off to college in 2006 and had a radio show with a goofy guy named Nick Roelofs. Since Aquinas was such a small college, nobody ever listened to the radio station, so we'd pretty much go in there, throw an mp3 CD in the computer, queue up a bunch of songs, and then take our laptops and spend the whole time talking and ripping CDs from the station's library of indie rock. This was a time of a lot of musical discovery for me and I stole a bunch of CDs from there, including Rachael Yamagata and the Dresden Dolls. We had these CDs we were supposed to play certain tracks from. One of them was Haughty Melodic. I think the song was Looking At The World... and I thought it was an awesome name for an album and a pretty cool song, so I snagged the album so I could play it for Josh because I thought he'd like it. Josh was living in an apartment in Hudsonville with Gerred at the time and it was cold and miserable in the apartment so we'd often just drive around listening to music for a while, get coffee or food, and just spend time out of the apartment without spending much money. As I recall, gas was pretty cheap back then, so driving around in the Explorer was one of the staples of what we'd do when we were together.
So we got in the Explorer and I said hey, I picked up this CD called Haughty Melodic and I liked the first track off it, we should listen to it. Now usually Josh didn't let me play music that I wanted to hear, he's pickier than I am, but for some reason he said yes, so we popped the CD in and started listening. When it ended, we started it over again. We got lost, both in the music and literally. Somehow we ended up in Illinois, turned around and headed back, listening to Haughty the whole time.
I had fallen in love.
The next time I was at the radio station I searched the shelves for more by this Mike Doughty guy. The station had a copy of Skittish/Rockity Roll, and I grabbed that one but it was quite some time before we got around to listening to it because we were so hooked on Haughty Melodic. The first time we listened to Skittish was in the car on the way to a marriage counseling appointment. By that time I'd figured out that Mike Doughty was M. Doughty from Soul Coughing. I ripped Josh's Soul Coughing CDs and tried to listen to them but just couldn't get into it.
Then I moved to South Carolina and had an hour commute each way to and from work, so the guy I was living with lent me an 8-gig MP3 player and I dumped a bunch of music onto it. One day at work I headed over to buy a sandwich from Subway and had the MP3 player on shuffle and "Screenwriter's Blues" played. I couldn't believe Josh had never played that song for me before. It was amazing. It was poetry. It was gorgeous. From that day on, my view of Soul Coughing changed and I was a fan.
Things went sour in South Carolina but I felt too ashamed to think about going back to Michigan. I knew I needed an exit strategy but had no idea what to do. I lost myself in Doughty's music, read his entire blog, and desperately wanted to know his life's story. My fantasy was that I'd run away to Brooklyn, somehow meet him, and offer to write his biography and apprentice to him. I threw myself completely into his music, learning the songs on guitar, memorizing every nuance, listening anytime I had a spare minute.
Anyway, that's when the obsession really kicked off. I've faithfully listened to every album since -- loved Golden Delicious while I was working in the factory, wasn't big on Sad Man Happy Man when I was going through the worst mental health shit of my life and missing Brian (I didn't relate to it. It wasn't until a few months ago that I started liking it), jammed out to Dubious Luxury, and adored Yes & Also Yes from the first listen (it made me fall in love with Doughty all over again because my experience discovering it was so similar to when I first listened to Haughty Melodic).
I read his whole blog. I followed him on Twitter. I friended him on Facebook. I subscribed to his Tumblr. I got a tattoo of his album art. I saw him three times in three different states, none of which were the state I lived in at the time. I met him twice. I learned all the trivia I could about him. I have fifteen bootleg Mike shows, four bootleg Soul Coughing shows, and an alternate, unreleased version of Skittish on my iPod.
There are artists I listen to more, but none I care about as much. And no amount I could learn about him was enough. I still wanted to hear the story he had to tell. And then I heard he was writing a book. And then the book came out, and I bought it on Amazon and signed up for that free trial of Amazon Prime just so I could get free 2-day shipping on it. It came to my mom's house yesterday and I read the whole thing over five and a half hours with about four breaks.
Here are my thoughts.
First off, I couldn't recommend it to everyone. While I did enjoy the fact that he got all romantic and poetic about all the different women he's slept with, my mom was wondering if she could read it (because of the addiction and recovery aspect) and I had to mark out the specific parts about addiction because I know she would hate reading about the times he fooled around with prostitutes, the discussion of going down on a few women, and the three pages where he just counts off a bunch of wildly diverse women he fucked while touring with Soul Coughing. Also, anyone who doesn't follow his music probably wouldn't give a rat's ass about the conflict between him and his band members.
But I found it fascinating. I'd wanted to know what went down to break up one of the most different-sounding and creative bands I've ever heard, and I was not disappointed. I now fully understand why he's bitter about Soul Coughing and why he doesn't want to play those songs in concert anymore. I was also fascinated by his descriptions of his creative process. It made me ache to pick up my guitar and write again, and I think when I go back to my apartment tomorrow I'm going to fiddle around with some songs I've had bumping about in my head. And of course it was really cool to be able to pick out the origins of songs like True Dreams of Wichita, Houston, and American Car. It was a little disappointing to find out that at least four songs off Haughty are about the girl with the unsingable name, but I know what it's like to have someone who inspires you creatively and write about them constantly.
I identified so closely with the mental health stuff. He's got that voice in his head saying he's worthless and sabotaging him too. I think the thing that rang the most true is that his former band members say that he's a liar and he starts to wonder if they're right and he was never an addict, he never wrote those songs. Sometimes I look at my life, at the mental illness, the hallucinations and delusional thoughts and I wonder if I made the whole thing up. It's easy to second-guess myself now that I'm medicated and stable. Was I ever actually crazy? And then I go off my meds and it's so plain that it was real and that I don't have to doubt myself anymore.
The addiction parts were extremely hard to take. I had known he'd been addicted to heroin but I didn't know he was an alcoholic after that, and I definitely didn't know how bad it got for him. He talks about pissing the bed every night while on tour, about getting fucked up on Ecstasy while onstage with Soul Coughing, about his heroin dealer cutting him off because he looked like death. Look at my history with this guy: his music has pretty much saved my life multiple times. I understand that people have pasts and that addiction is a powerful thing. I remember that when Sad Man Happy Man came out, I made a few comments about wishing that he'd relapse and make another Skittish. After reading this book, I hope he stays clean for the rest of his life. I want him to continue having that peace he talks about.
And along those lines, the recovery stuff was so encouraging. I hope people who are struggling with addiction pick this book up and it changes their lives. I know that hours after I read it, I couldn't shake it off. I fell asleep thinking about it. I'm not an addict, but the recovery message was so strong that I feel like I can apply it to my own life. It's just a message of pure hope, that you can hit rock bottom and with some help, pick yourself up again and make a new, better life. But it takes work and action, and now I know that I need to get my ass into gear and create the life I want for myself.
I'm glad that this was the first book I read in the new year. It's inspired me. 2012 is going to be different from last year, I'm going to try like hell to be less passive.
Anyway, I wish I knew more people who are into Mike's music so I could lend them this book. Angel wants to read it but I'm not sure she's old enough yet, and Josh likes Mike but isn't interested in the book. I really want to discuss it with someone. And I kind of want to pick it back up and read it again right away. It touched me more deeply than a book has in a very long time, even deeper than Infinite Jest did. I want to shake his hand and thank him for writing it. I know I'll read it many times in the years to come.