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Mike Doughty's Soul Coughing demons still haunt him

"If somebody says they love Soul Coughing, I hear fuck you."

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Doughty reserves the sharpest language in The Book of Drugs for Steinberg and his other former creative partners, whom he refers to in one passage as a "horrible band of torturers and cockroaches."

"To a certain extent," Doughty says during a phone call with The Pitch, "I suspect that they're all just deeply self-destructive people, that they were consciously or unconsciously trying to wreck the boat. They just ended up with the wrong crazy person that wasn't going to let go of the boat. In my opinion, they were on a continuum between sociopathic and just straight-up delusional." 

The relationship between Doughty and everybody else in Soul Coughing deteriorated over differences of opinion regarding songwriting contributions and publishing royalties. Doughty viewed the music from a more traditional interpretation of the term "songwriting"; the other members came from a mentality that places a high premium on group interplay.

"There was a lot of stuff that came from jamming — a keyboard part or a beat," Doughty says. "But in the end, songs are things that are sung. And I was the only guy writing stuff that was sung." 

Naturally, former Soul Coughing sampler Mark De Gli Antoni sees the process from a different angle, but the overlap in their accounts is telling.

"I could enter a rehearsal with Sebastian and Yuval [Gabay, drummer]," De Gli Antoni says via e-mail, "begin playing a shell of something, and the two of them would then completely invent a whole drum-bass world around that. I would then drop what I was initially doing and do something else. Mike would then start riffing words, and eventually we would have a 'Super Bon Bon.' To me, the final result is something I would never say I 'wrote' even if I started it, because the end result was so something-else. Many, many of our songs were like that." 

None of this quibbling negates how much fun it can be to watch Doughty engage with an audience. His just-released live album, The Question Jar Show, nicely showcases his flair for banter. Gregarious and warm, if narcissistic, onstage, Doughty propels the experience using the same talent that makes his book so appealing: his way with words. On that, even his former bandmates agree. 

"The idea of Mike's book," De Gli Antoni writes, "that through a fog of drugs he behaved a certain way, is a ruse, a construct/fabrication. I was there in his apartment taking his watered-down heroin with him. To be meaningfully provocative requires telling the truth, having a clear view of oneself. That said, I'm glad he's writing print. Using words is what he's always been good at."

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