Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A book, with drugs

Mike Doughty first gained fame as the lead singer of Soul Coughing, a late-90s band that gained a pretty fierce cult following without quite breaking through to big mainstream success. The band broke up, bitterly, in 2000. Doughty's solo career has consisted of a series of thoughtful albums, quite unlike Soul Coughing in mood and style. In his songs, he often confesses to a sordid past: addictions, women, family problems.I like Doughty's songs; I've been a fan since the 2005 album Haughty Melodic. When I heard that he was writing a memoir, I knew I wanted to read it.

That memoir, The Book of Drugs, takes Doughty's confessional songwriting style a step further. It is a pitiless airing of his worst failings and biggest problems. His description of his lifelong compulsion to lose himself in drugs, alcohol, and meaningless sexual encounters is nothing short of self-lacerating.
The memoir also covers his journey to sobriety. He seems almost bashful about describing his recovery, as though he fears that a healthier life might be inauthentic in a rock star:

"As a teenager, I scoffed at the TV stars in pastel sweaters, on the cover of People magazine, I'm-off-the-drugs-and-high-on-life! But here I was. Off the drugs and high on life. I was awakening to what was around me, and in doing so, realized I'd no idea just how shut off I was. One evening I had the TV on, and the weather man said, 'It was unseasonably cool today.' Yes it was! It was unseasonably cool. I was there!"

Does anyone remember the controversy surrounding James Frey? Frey's addiction memoir A Million Little Pieces was enormously successful and well-reviewed; then the book's fabrications were exposed. I'm pretty sure Doughty remembers that incident. Turning memories into a coherent story is an act of imagination, and Doughty repeatedly reminds us that his memory might be unreliable.
The Book of Drugs is the rambling, sometimes-funny, bitterly candid story of one messed-up guy. It's an interesting read; I recommend it.

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