Book Review “The Book of Drugs: A Memoir”

doughtyDuring a discussion on the Soul Coughing message board shortly after the release of El Oso a fan told M. Doughty that he hoped the next album would be more like Ruby Vroom. Doughty clearly bristled at the suggestion and responded that he would never ask anyone to “go back to kindergarten.”

For some reason that response has always stuck with me and because of it I’ve never questioned a musician’s desire to break the mold and evolve. Its part of the reason that while I do lament Soul Coughing ended prematurely I still appreciate the work Doughty’s produced as a solo artist.

That said, it does hurt in a very odd way that while I don’t hold the fate of what was an important band to my youth against Doughty, he seems to resent me for hanging on to the happy memories for which that band was such an important soundtrack. I appreciate that with this memoir he seems to be continuing his journey of coming to terms with that past, but the authoring of this book seems premature. He’s not there yet and it’s spelled out with cringe inducing clarity in his inability to even type the names of his former band members.

I don’t doubt that Doughty wrote most, if not all, of Soul Coughing’s music, but he didn’t play the instruments and he even admits that he didn’t have the vocabulary to explain the sound he was seeking. Toward the end of the book when he’s writing about seeking a new drummer for his solo project it sounds like he hasn’t changed much.

“We went through a few songs – I freaked him out by not explaining what I wanted, which is what I always do – in between, he’d ask, maniacally, How was that? Did you like that?”

It can’t be easy working with someone who can’t articulate what he wants, but when you eventually puzzle it out he wants the sole credit for the sound of the band.

This isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy the book. It’s fascinating to read his journey and see how he’s evolving to cope with both his past and his life as an addict. After reading so many pages of bitterness it comes as a deep sigh of relief when he finally starts writing about finding solace in the minor stardom he’s received as a solo artist – it’s much deserved.

Yet, the book feels half baked. He seeks to end it talking about how he’s struggled with making amends over the last few years, even extending an apology to a Spin reviewer for something written decades ago, but he spends the entire book going out of his way to not mention the names of the other musicians who contributed (whether he thinks that contribution is significant or not) to the story of his life.

What this book does provide is a fresh and honest look at recovery. Doughty isn’t shy about how 12-step has significantly changed his life. He also paints a very clear contrast between the fleeting high one experiences while on heroin and what his life is like with the haze of drugs peeled from his eyes. There’s significant perspective to be gained when his trip to Cambodia as an addict is held up to his trip to Ethiopia while clean. The first trip is nothing more than an escape while the second is clearly enjoying life for what it is.

Now that Doughty has churned out this first book I’m hoping he’ll have the confidence to turn his significant writing skills toward more literary endeavors.

  • April 27, 2013