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February 17, 2012

Book Notes - Mike Doughty - "The Book of Drugs"

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, David Peace, Myla Goldberg, and many others.

Mike Doughty's memoir The Book of Drugs covers his years as frontman for Soul Coughing and time as a solo singer-songwriter, but first and foremost this is a captivating and brutally honest story of addiction and recovery.

For a taste of his solo material, check out a collection of live performances I shared a couple of weeks ago.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"This is a compelling look at one man’s struggle to come to terms with the much-discussed connection between addiction and art."

Stream a Spotify playlist of these tunes. If you don't have Spotify, sign up for the free service.

In his own words, here is Mike Doughty's Book Notes music playlist for his memoir, The Book of Drugs:

My book, The Book of Drugs">The Book of Drugs, is a memoir. This is a timeline of songs that shadow the curve of my life story.

1970. Beatles, "The Long and Winding Road"

Number one song the week I was born. Perhaps my least favorite Beatles song--and I am, in fact, unapologetically, a McCartney person. Surely, you must be thinking, "Rocky Raccoon" is worse? For me, not so. In fact, I think there's a weirdly haunting quality to "Rocky Raccoon", the kind of odd tumbling phrasing of the first line. There's a pinch of LSD in there.

1974. John Denver, "Country Roads"

I had a cassette of John Denver's Greatest Hits, and one of those shoebox tape recorders you used to find in school libraries. I laid in the back seat of our vast, green Oldsmobile, holding the speaker up to my ear.

1978. Myself, "The Battle of 1978"

I had an idea for a movie in which everybody from Planet of the Apes, and everybody from Battlestar Galactica, and everybody from Star Wars all fought each other. The first song I ever wrote was its theme song. It went like this: "The Battle of 1978. The Battle of 1978. The Battle of 1978."

1982, AC/DC, "For Those About to Rock", Billy Squier, "The Stroke", Soft Cell, "Tainted Love"

There was a teen center with a jukebox, a pinball machine, and the arcade game Tempest (largely forgotten, that game was an insane, kinetic piece of vector-graphics art).I would pull up a chair to the jukebox and rest my ear against it as I pumped quarters in and listened to the same three tunes. It was a truly intense focus that scared the older kids.

1985, The Replacements, "Answering Machine"

I would go to Uncle Phil's Records and Tapes in Highland Falls, NY, and use lawnmowing money to buy whatever was in the "punk" bin--it had about twelve albums in it, and nobody else bought them. It was just a question of which I'd buy that week. The big score, up to that day, was the first Violent Femmes album. The Replacements' Let It Be was life-changing. I bought it on a football Saturday at West Point--I remember the unreal golden light, refracted on colored leaves, and the crispness of the air. I was absolutely transfixed by the album. When it ended, with "Answering Machine," my life was changed. I remember what John Cage said about that famous concert, in the 60s, where a succession of pianists played an Erik Satie solo piano piece repeatedly for twenty-four hours, which Cage attended in its entirety. He said that, afterwards, "The world was absolutely new."

1988, Miracle Legion, "You're the One Lee"

I remember driving my inherited beige Accord over the hill from West Point to Cornwall-on-Hudson, listening to Me and Mr. Ray. Such a beautiful ballad--a truly great love song. There was a tribute album to Miracle Legion--and (singer/songwriter) Mark Mulcahy in general--and I couldn't believe nobody did this tune, or, in fact, anything else from Me and Mr. Ray. I was extremely regretful that I hadn't heard about the tribute before it came out--I would've been on it like spots on dice. I probably wouldn't have asked to do "You're the One Lee," simply because I'd think somebody else would've snatched that tune up like a dime of the sidewalk--there'd be no way that somebody hadn't claimed it already.

1991, Miniature, "Jersey Devil"

This is exemplary of the experimental music I was hearing at the Knitting Factory--it was on Houston Street then, smaller, and mostly avant-garde stuff, very little rock music at all--a hypnotic cello line and these keening peals of shimmering noise and saxophone. Such an intense rhythm. Soon, I'd hear this kind of gorgeous atonality mirrored in the hiphop music that was exploding in New York at the time.

1992, A Tribe Called Quest, "We Got the Jazz"

I was definitely hearing this kind of stuff in early-90s New York, going to Giant Step and other clubs where this kind of sound was being incubated. I saw the video, which is actually quite tedious--black and white shots of the band lip-synching, clearly really unaccustomed to, and uncomfortable in front of, cameras. What an incredible sound, that oozy, textured sample against that awesome stuttery snare. I bought the album at a mall in Connecticut, where my girlfriend was from, right before I caught a ride with her brother and some friends of his back into Manhattan. I put The Low End Theory on, and when it was done, turned to everybody and said, incredulously, "Should we listen to this again?" The whole car yelled, "Nooooo!" It was so strange to me that other kids had that I-hate-rap-music thing. This stuff was all over New York, booming from cars, and it was so beguiling, atonal, and massive.

1996, Elliott Smith, "Christian Brothers," and Magnetic Fields, "Sunset City"

I accompanied a friend to a show at Fez--under the Time Café, in a basement so low that you'd hear the 6 train rumbling past--to hear these bands, who I'd never heard of. I don't think the club was even half-full. Can you imagine such a double bill? Amazing. I went out the next day, in a blizzard so intense that there weren't any cars on the streets in Manhattan, and I could hear my boots crunching the snow. I bought the CDs at a tiny store on Avenue A. Very shortly thereafter I decided that I was going to abandon the Soul Coughing sound and seek something more along these lines.

1996, Josh Wink, "Higher State of Consciousness"

Such an amazing big-beat track. Again, with this stuff blowing up all over the place, I just couldn't understand why people were paying any attention to rock music.

1997, Natural Born Chillers, "Rock the Funky Beats (Urban Takeover Remix"

I crashed with a girlfriend in London for about a year. We basically hated each other. We had a really good ecstasy connect, which was super-rare in the UK at the time. Everybody was on shitty coke, and you could feel the resentment and envy as we bounced around, e'd out of our skulls. We went out to Goldie's Metalheadz Sunday night at the Blue Note, on Hoxton Square--it was actually more like Metalheadz afternoon, because, weirdly, it went from 5 pm to 11 pm--and heard the great jungle DJs of the time: Doc Scott, Kemistry and Storm, Grooverider, DJ Krust. The genre was new, and just exploding like a motherfucker. All the DJs played dub plates (acetate 10-inch records of songs that came straight from the studio, not officially released yet), so everything was ridiculously crisp and new. This tune, with one of the most amazing sampled-and-chopped vocal hooks of all time, was remixed by Aphrodite, who basically made the same tune over the same structure repeatedly--starts in half-time, gains a little tension, then a little more, then there's a really long, loud roll, and then it bursts into a full-on bump-chak!-bump-chak! groove. (Sidebar: I hate it when drummers take jungle as a means of playing a shit ton of notes. It's in fact a pretty elemental beat, just with crazy snare clattering every eight bars or so)

1999, Backstreet Boys, "I Want It That Way"

So gorgeous, and shiny. Written by the great Max Martin, a Swedish wizard of these kinds of songs. Repeatedly, I'll love a pop tune, then Google the writer, and, bam, it's Max Martin. One of the best features is how he writes totally incomprehensible garbled English lyrics, filtered Scandinavianly. I mean, the chorus is, "I never want to hear you say I want it that way." What the hell is that? Another Backstreet Boys song he wrote: "Show me the meaning of being lonely." What the fuck could that possibly mean?

2011, myself, "Na Na Nothing"

Yeah, I'm macking my own stuff. I think it's a pretty great song, and one of the rare moments where fuck-you-stupid-ex suddenly flowers into a song. I'm generally a discipline guy, not a sudden-inspiration guy. This song just burst out of the air into my hands. Part of the hook is written by Dan Wilson ("Closing Time," aka, probably your prom song), Matt Gerrard (wrote the Corbin Blue songs in High School Musical) and Nikki Sixx. May I repeat that? NIKKI SIXX. Dan's a good friend, and he was put together with those two dudes at a kind of millionaire-songwriter-summer-camp put on by Chrysalis Music. I begged him to let me hear this song, which is pretty hilariously awful. Nikki Sixx raps. May I repeat that? NIKKI SIXX RAPS. He rhymes "shady" with "Warren Beatty," and "smell" with "Taco Bell." There was a genius hook buried in there, and, with Dan's permission, I ganked it.

Mike Doughty and The Book of Drugs links:

the author's website

I Will Dare review
Kirkus Reviews review
PopMatters review
Publishers Weekly review

BlackBook interview with the author
Crib Notes interview with the author
DC9 at Night interview with the author
The L Magazine interview with the author
OffBeat interview with the author
Orlando Weekly profile of the author
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle profile of the author
Salon interview with the author
Savannah Now profile of the author
Soundcheck interview with the author
Spinner interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

other Book Notes playlists (authors create music playlists for their book)

List of Online "Best Books of 2011" Lists
List of 2011 Year-End Online Music Lists

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
52 Books, 52 Weeks (weekly book reviews)
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists

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