Words by: JC McIlwaine
Mike Doughty :: 11.15.07 :: Joe's Pub :: New York, NY
Mike Doughty has never actually soul coughed, or at least that's what he'd have us believe. As for the meaning of the name Soul Coughing, the band he fronted until their breakup in 2000, well, it's simple. He put together two words that he liked that "kind of sound good together." And according to the man himself, "it's still one of the worst band names ever."
| Mike Doughty by Andy Argyrakis|
Doughty and cellist Strap Livingston are currently on their Question Jar Tour, playing to smaller crowds in intimate venues. Before the show, audience members write down questions and song requests and put them in the Question Jar. Doughty and Livingston answer the questions throughout the night, and humor the crowd by playing most of the requests that come to them, either from the jar or shouted between songs.
Questions put to Doughty at the Joe's Pub show ran the gamut from his favorites (favorite book: Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath; favorite word: inscrutable) to his take on why birds fly ("'Cause they dig it"). Few questions were left unanswered, and for a few of the answers there was even audience participation. Asked what the audience was missing on that night's Democratic debate, Doughty agreed with an impromptu answer hollered from the crowd: "That's right, my friend – nothing." In this age of well-tailored sets, the interactive nature of a show like this is refreshing. How often does banter bounce back and forth between artist and audience for the entire night? How often does a performer play any and every song the crowd desires?
The pair covered much of Doughty's solo catalogue, drawing from Skittish, Rockity Roll and Haughty Melodic, while also slipping a couple Soul Coughing gems into the mix, namely crowd pleasers "True Dreams of Wichita" and "Circles." They also showcase some songs from the upcoming Golden Delicious (being released February 19, 2008) after asking the audience's permission. The most stirring was "Fort Hood," named for the Texas military base that has lost the most soldiers in the Iraq War. The song ended with Doughty repeating the chorus from "Let the Sunshine In," the '70s flower power, anti-war anthem from the musical Hair.
As a musician, Doughty has always been a study in contrasts. For starters, juxtapose Soul Coughing's hard-hitting electronic, industrial music with the often-nonsensical lyrics - even Doughty himself has admitted he isn't always sure what they mean. Then there's the grave subject matter of a song like "Fort Hood" which jostles against ridiculous song titles like "Thank You Lord For Sending Me The F Train" or "I Just Want The Girl In the Blue Dress to Keep On Dancing." Doughty's range is not so much contradictory as it is comprehensive - an honest picture of an artist, taken from all sides. He shows off his various facets with equal vigor - his confidence and his vulnerability, his rage and his remorse, his romanticism and his cynicism, his apathy and his bleeding heart, his seriousness and his humor. It's all in there, the well-rounded human condition finding voice through an expressive artist. This is a man one might actually get to know through his music.
| Mike Doughty by Mr. Willoby|
By the end of the show we had learned a great deal about Doughty, some of it telling and some of it rather insignificant. For instance, we knew he would get pummeled by Rico Suave in a fight but not that he would stomp on a circa-1966 Bob Dylan, who would be distracted daydreaming about Joan Baez. We learned that when you die your energy is absorbed into the Earth, end of story. We learned that Han Solo is his favorite Star Wars character, that he was suspended in high school for pouring a strawberry milkshake over a classmate's head and that he's just as likely to fall for redheads and blondes as "all them tremendous brunettes." He is currently listening to a lot of Jose Gonzalez and loves the Magnetic Fields, and believes that it takes three shots to get drunk and five to find your soul along with confessing a former fondness for drugs.
Just how many of the answers provided were true opinions and how many were offered for the benefit of the audience is unclear, but for a man like Doughty that's beside the point. A forum like the Question Jar is as much about the questions asked as it is about the answers given. Near the end of the show this question was drawn: "What's the best time you've had on drugs that you can fully remember?" Doughty responded, "The answer, my friends, is in the question."
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