Mike Doughty founded the alternative band Soul Coughing in the 90s, recorded three albums, toured the world and became an addict. He made the choice to detox, join the 12-step-program, see a psychiatrist (he was diagnosed as bipolar) and become a solo artist. The Book of Drugs, just published, is his memoir of the darker days of his addiction.
Why did you want to write a memoir?
I was asked. I basically had a bunch of good stories. It's really just a bunch of stories I've told to friends over coffee. I don't have any gained perspective.
How does writing a memoir compare to writing songs?
It's nowhere near the same thing. Long form is terrifying. Writing a song is utterly non-linear and you can write without knowing what you're writing about until late in the game. Obviously that's not the case with prose.
You said as a teenager that you hated and feared your parents.
Yeah, pretty much.
Why was that?
Was that a quote... I wouldn't put it like that. It was a strange household.
You said "my parents berated me nearly to suicide the same year." Maybe when you went to Simon's Rock, the alternative college in Massachusetts?
The year before.
Was that the military influence, being at West Point with father career military?
It wasn't as strict as other's families and others at West Point. My parents never put that pressure on me to go into the military.
Why did you decide to go to Simon's Rock?
It was a escape and for whatever screwed up kind of environment the house was, my parents paid for college and I said, "thanks for the opportunity and got the hell out of there."
So you went to Simon's Rock and then transferred to Lang at The New School. Did you graduate?
Well technically I didn't graduate because I was 11 bucks short on a library fee. Nobody has ever asked to see the diploma and it's completely not relevant to anything I've done in my life.
Did you study writing there or anything like that?
Poetry and playwriting.
Well, that relates to songwriting doesn't it?
Maybe but the diploma isn't relevant.
You worked at the Knitting Factory.
I just walked in and got a job. I went to meet a girl who stood me up and ended up working that night.
How did that influence your music career?
Well, it was an avant garde jazz club and there were some amazing experimental bands. I really related to the hip-hop I'd been listening to: the atonality; the weird noises. I don't have a great intellectual take on music but I think the great lesson is that it's not necessary. It's kind of giddy, funny, amazing sounds.
What made you addicted to pot?
There's an awful lot of pain and self-doubt. It made me feel smarter than I was it allowed me to write songs without utterly punishing myself. In my head. Constantly.
You said you used heroin but did you not use it as much?
I went on a long binge from 1999 on. And it nearly killed me.
How do you get out of that? Did you have a real rock bottom?
There wasn't a white light bulb or anything, necessarily. I was dying and I did not want to die. It was alcohol-dependent drinking from the moment I woke up until the moment I passed out.
What do you think the physical effects of addiction are?
Well, it depends on the drug but it's incredibly punishing to your body. The heroin depressed my lungs severely so I could barely breathe most of the time. And I kept doin' it. For a while I was in denial that that was what was causing it. Alcohol just makes you fat and bloated and pukey and you piss your pants all the time.
What about the mental effects of addiction?
It's punishing. There's one thing in the world that will get you away from that pain but you spend a lot of that day in a different kind of pain. It's just insanity.