This book recalled to my memory the most excellent book review of James Frey’s a million little pieces.  More specifically, it reminded me of this paragraph in particular;

“A Million Little Pieces is the dregs of a degraded genre, the rehab memoir. Rehab stories provide a way for pampered trust-fund brats like Frey to claim victim status. These swine already have money, security and position and now want to corner the market in suffering and scars, the consolation prizes of the truly lost. It’s a fitting literary metonymy for the Bush era: the rich have decided to steal it all, even the tears of the losers.”

(the complete review is excellent.  For those interested )

If someone is interested in the very short version of this review, there you have it: M.Doughty would like victim status.  He doesn’t go about this very well.

I love Soul Coughing.  Alas, by the time a friend had introduced me to this band, they had already disbanded.  When I discovered that Mike Doughty was off on his own making music, I gave that a listen to.  And found myself greatly disappointed.  The lesson I should already have learned by that point was simple; a frontman is not a band, and just because I like a band does not mean I will like the frontman when he goes solo.

But I bought this book anyway.  While what I loved about this band was how the music worked in combination (I to this day still make the claim that the best bands are bands featuring an upright bass), I always did think that Doughty did some wonderful things with words in the band.  Doughty certainly had musical talent, as you can tell from those parts of his music where he gives us rhythms with nonsensical words (see ‘Sleepless’ from Irresistible Bliss), but he also could construct fantastic hallucinatory narratives (see ‘Lazybones’ from the same album).  In other words, I had faith that Doughty could do something with Book of Drugs.  And with such a title, I was expecting something a little more Naked Lunch-esque.  I was disappointed.

The worst part of it all is that the book is not particularly well written.  This is a great disappointment coming from a person who built a career on constructing very beautiful images.  But he cannot make it happen here.  Samuel Delany has made the claim prose is about sentences, while poems are about words (which is to say that good prose is about good sentences.  I would tell you what good poetry is about if i had any idea).  If that is the case, then this book is truly awful.  Every sentence is basically the exact same, and almost all of them begin with “I…”  It becomes very monotonous, very quickly.  And that in turn makes us care very little about the story in itself.  We occasionally get wonderful little gems, such as “Beats dopplered down broadway” but not nearly enough of them to make this book worth anything.
I do find it rather funny that at one point early in this memoir a teacher of poetry gives some advice to aspiring poets, one of which was to scrap a bad poem and keep just the one or two lines that work really well.  The advice should have been considered to condense this book down to one really nice poem.

But the subject matter might have been beyond redemption even if the writing had been superb.  The book gives us some background on Doughty’s life, but before you know it he has formed a band and has become the world’s largest victim.  He doesn’t get credit for this, he doesn’t get respect for that.  Blah Blah Blah.  All the while, he spirals down into junkie-hood, never actually getting Last Exit For Brooklyn bad.  His prose, dead and wooden as it is, denies us the vicarious high we get from good drug narratives.
And at some point, I stopped believing him.
I am sure he did the drugs he did and had the experiences he had, I would not take that away from him (as we would with James Frey).  But at some point I realized that the relationships Doughty had through those year could not have been all bad.  I simply refuse to believe that one could be in a band with three people, each one worse than the next.  I as well refuse to believe that he could have done all the work for all the songs and still have been unappreciated by the other band members.  Had he put so much work into the music, the other band members would likely have treated him as a cash cow.  But perhaps the proof is in the pudding.  If the songs Doughty had played with Soul Coughing were solely or mostly his, then why has his style and content drifted so heavily in his solo career.  I can understand burning bridges, but would you really burn down your own, hard built bridges?
I wouldn’t.  And if I had to, I would make more bridges in that same style.
Maybe the point Doughty is trying to make in the book is that at that point he wanted to complete come away from his past live.  Its not clear from the text, and its not very believable.
According to his website, Doughty had put together a new band, complete with an upright bass,  Should he come into my town, we shall see if his new stuff holds a candle to his old.  And that might give some validity to this book.

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