The Book of Drugs
by Mike Doughty
Mike Doughty in my mind is one of the best singer/songwriters in music today. So upon receiving his memoir The Book of Drugs, I was almost ravenous. I was going to get inside the head of one of my favorite artists. After just a few pages, I realized that this was not your typical memoir. There were no chapters or sections. In fact, it read more like a diary without the date stamps.
The book as a whole is loosely held together by the timeline. He starts off explaining how he was the oldest of three (one stillborn, on whose grave he would drink in his teen years) and how his father and father's father were drunks and his mother was prone to manic paranoia fits. The story skips along at a pace that would make a speed freak, well, freak out. It's a challenge keeping up with the textual jump cuts from one tangent to another. (He jumps from listening to "Tainted Love," to barely making the honor roll so his parents would buy him a guitar, to his dad getting a Ph.D. all in the span of a page and a half.) Despite the rapidfire notes, there are several aspects of the memoir that are fascinating, especially for a Doughty fan.
The biggest for me is that he hates Soul Coughing. Not just the band members, but the music they made and everything about the group. I won't go into too many details, but I'll just give you a hint: If you attend a Mike Doughty concert, don't ask for a Soul Coughing song. You may get berated. You may just get told "no." Just know that it really pisses him off.
He very briefly discusses meeting Jeff Buckley (who he says had a perpetual frown) and M. Ward (who just a couple years ago crushed Doughty by asking if he was "writing plays now").
Oh yeah, there are drugs. Lots and lots of drugs. Throughout all of his escapes from his teenage years to Soul Coughing to his solo stuff, there were mountains of drugs consumed. For all intents and purposes, he should be dead. And it actually took him becoming an alcoholic, not a drug addict, to make him realize that he had a real problem. That's because he didn't want to become like his father's father (and probably his father). He's been five years sober and it's a miracle considering what he put his body through for years prior. The road there reads like someone who was looking for a way to get all the stuff off his chest that he's been housing for years, throwing all of it at a page and then publishing it.
The book is choppy, but still manages to pull you in. The only issue is whether anybody outside of his fans would care. This certainly isn't a book to give to someone if you're trying to ward them away from drugs. Doughty embraces his drug-fueled years and says, endearingly, that he would not be the same without them. I just hope that he stays sober, otherwise this memoir is moot.
If you're not a fan of Doughty or Soul Coughing, then The Book of Drugs probably won't do much for you. For fans of either, this will put some clarity into the man behind the music. If you can make it through the speedballs.