Mike Doughty’s Soul is Coughing.

This is probably the only song that will sound like this on this post and not even a Doughty original, but nevertheless an important song for me by him. My freshmen year roommate and I  listened to this song so many times at like three in the morning in college, often yelling the lyrics. The band Drink Me wrote it and I’ve never heard of them or anything else they did.

After over a decade, Mike Doughty is re-embracing his Soul Coughing roots and doing a whole tour of covers by the band that made him big. SC is a band that I’ve liked as long as the Pixies or Zeppelin or any other band I’ve mentioned that I’ve listened too since elementary school. Their three albums are good from beginning to end and this alone is enough to make them a favorite band.  They had a jazzy,alternative, and hip-hoppy vibe that no one came even close to in the 90’s. Like Primus and as my brother mentioned, it might have been their uniqueness that kept them from the mainstream and big financial success.

This was their first huge hit, one of the two songs most people will recognize and one my brother runs to on a regular basis. It’s way different from anything by the Foo Fighters or Pearl Jam and makes you want to move. Even though obscure, this video from an old Playstation game is the only one I could find without ads.

Although very unique and off the beaten path of commercialism, Doughty and SC had what I’d consider to be a pretty standard rock and roll trajectory. Doughty was a struggling artist/poet with some drug problems (a la Jim Morrison) who ended up collaborating with some heavily talented jazz musicians to form the band. Doughty met the whole band through working the door at the famous Knitting Factory in NYC and turned an off night jam session into an almost decade-long career with the band. After some minor airplay with “Super Bon Bon”, they released a third album which had their most popular hit, the catchy and relatable “Circles”. This was their epoch, even if things were disintegrating internally due to songwriting credit disputes and Doughty’s increasing heroin dependency.

This song was in inescapable during 1998, seemingly on the local alternative station every other song. Doughty even makes light of this in his big solo live release “Smofe and Smang” , where he plays the song with snatches of other hit songs like “Brimful of Asha”, ” Closing Time” and the refrain “I don’t need to walk around with Urkel”.  Doughty is a funny dude, on the junk or not, and his humor has always been a draw for me.

From my observation and a little research, it’s amazing they lasted as long as they did.  Doughty’s drug use was rampant and from his book entitled The Book of Drugsthe acrimonious relationship among the band members was enough to break the band up many times over. Doughty paints such a negative picture that it’s a wonder he stayed in the band so long, a criticism some reviewers of the book have made. It’s unclear specifically who or what was the final linchpin for the break up, but Doughty quit the heroin and spent a few years drinking heavily and crossing the country multiple times on solo tours afterwards.

This was a mainstay in Doughty’s drunk repertoire and remains to this day as he’s been sober for something like ten years. “Smofe + Smang” was also a mainstay in my listening for basically my entire college career, even superseding the SC albums temporarily. The song is constructed around samples of a voicemail an ex-girlfriend left for Doughty, sample usage being another example of why SC was different from any other band of their era.

Doughty sobered up, got signed to ATO records in 2004 after meeting up with Dave Matthews at Bonaroo and has maintained a career ever since. Because of the SC negative memories, he largely did not play their songs for the last several years and it was crazy to read that he was re-recording a bunch of SC songs for a new album. He referred to the “dark marriage of Soul Coughing being annulled” on NPR and apparently this fan-funded album is doing better than any of his other solo releases. Here we come to what is my main point of this post: did Mike Doughty do this album because he has genuinely  come to terms with his SC past or because he’s broke?

I will not include any of the new songs on this blog post. I’m sure they are solid and I will listen to them someday, but the SC originals are what I grew up with and love, so it is what I will stick with. To meet him halfway, I’ve chosen many songs that are on the remix album so at least you hear some semblance of the new album if you have never before listened to Soul Coughing.

I don’t think I can say for sure what the man’s intentions were because I am not him. I did meet him one time briefly and he did seem pretty smug; however, I was newly 21 and suffering from a severe case of consuming cold beer too fast. I am sure it is annoying to have a solo career and constantly have people yell out your former band’s songs, which happened each time I saw him live. Adding to this are his feelings of anger at the band and the relation to his substance abuse problems of the past, I can see why the songs would drum up some weird feelings for the dude. Apparently, not weird enough not to play the songs ever again and to make an album of remixed songs which is selling fast.

I love the jazz bass line. The stand up rig really sounds great in every song and is yet another thing that sets this band apart. I wish more bands would have the cahones/inspiration to come up with music like this that is unapologetically original.

I’ve been the biggest cheerleader of Soul Coughing  since “Super Bon Bon”. Its one of those bands that I’ve liked since I was aware of them in the early 90’s and I’ve kept an ear out for Doughty solo stuff since the beginning as well. My heart is with SC, but I don’t begrudge Mike for trying to forge his own path or even for trying to make a little extra dough with songs he knows so many people already love. I can’t say for sure if this is his motive because he could have just finally come to terms with his animosity and this was the best way to exorcise the demons of the past. Regardless, he helped to write these songs and he should be able to do whatever he wants with them. Listen to  Soul Coughing if you haven’t, keep listening to them if you haven’t, and go see Mike Doughty if he travels to a city near you. You won’t regret it.

This is top five favorite songs by SC for me and a fitting conclusion. Like soft serve, everyone should like this band and Mike Doughty.

The Pixies: The Coolest Alternative Band

Top five of my favorite Pixies songs and classic example of the loud-soft dynamic.

Since we have covered multiple bands from the nineties recently, specifically Pearl Jam and Soul Coughing, I wanted to go back a little further before  writing on the latter band (because they are also one of my favorites). When “Smells like Teen Spirit” dropped back in the early 90’s, Kurt gave an interview saying he was trying to rip off the Pixies on that groundbreaking song. They were one of his favorite bands he said with a smile, with their loud to soft sound dynamics. Let’s be honest, that’s what made the song work, the juxtaposition of of the mumbled vocals with the loud and nearly grating crunchy guitar licks and shouts. This song will probably always represent the Gen X slackers and grunge sound and we have the Pixies to thank.

The dynamic here is almost all vocals, my favorite being when Frank Black screams “THEN GODDDDD IS SEVEN”. I have a good friend who only listens to Hip Hop, but for some reason, I got him into the Pixies and he routinely cites this as his favorite song. Also, I learned about this song via the Bloodhound Gang and their hit  “Fire Water Burn”.

After Bloodhound Gang, I stole the Elder J’s albums by the Pixies and became transfixed. I was already into Led Zeppelin, the Foo Fighters, Nirvana and The Beatles amongst all my other early musical influences. The Pixies fit right into this mold, even without a lot of guitar solos that I loved even at a young age.  They write interesting songs lyrically with a consistent unique sound that is never overbearing, which may be antithetical to my love of prog rock but I’ve always liked a variety of tunes. I didn’t know until recently that the band started at UMass at Amherst and that Kim Deal didn’t even own a bass when she answered lead singer/songwriter Frank Black’s ad for someone who liked both Peter, Paul and Mary and Husker Du. That’s funny stuff.

Kim Deal is not a crazily intricate bass player, but she is solid and inventive while also laying down some sweet backing vocals and the occasional lead like on this track supposedly dedicated to well endowed males. She left the band as of June 2013 which sucks because she was a driving force and  an inventive artist while not being the most musically trained individual. Hey, maybe it’s Breeders reunion time!

From the early touring years, after getting big in Europe, problems arose between Kim Deal and Frank Black with one incident where Frank threw a guitar at Kim while on stage. They butted heads due to musical/personal differences and what sounds like Frank’s desire to be the sole writing force. Kim was a headstrong woman and never fully warmed to the fact that Frank saw himself as the leader because he was the lead singer. They didn’t even talk for much of the last few years in the early 90’s before the hiatus and she quit for what sounds like forever last June. On one hand, this sucks. On the other, the tension helped to create some of my favorite music of the last thirty years and make a permanent mark on alternative music.

This was probably the closest they came to a pop song and another one of the first few that I heard by the band. It was this song and  “Monkey’s Gone to Heaven” that got me to delve into their albums further and discover tracks like “Caribou” and “Gigantic” amidst what is quality output pretty much throughout. A big selling point for me has been that you can listen to their albums all the way through and never need to skip a track. Few bands are like this anymore.

The Pixies never got huge, getting most of their airplay on college radio and alternative stations. They never to my knowledge got into heavy drug use, with Frank Black once saying the hardest stuff he ever got into was marijuana and it never allowed him to do anything more “creative than parallel parking.” They also never got big enough to become real conceited, except for a few things I’ve read about Frank Black. They don’t even take credit for creating anything new with sound dynamic, with Frank saying they didn’t know how to play any other way except for loud and soft, even calling it “dumbo dynamics”. Their uniqueness and a few other reasons is why they may be the coolest alternative band ever.

My brother wrote on this song before and it deserves another mention. The use of it in the end of  Fight Club may be my favorite use of a song in any movie ever. I’m thinking it’s right up there with “Born to be Wild” in Easy Rider and “Damn it feels good to be Gangsta” in Office Space. I believe Frank wrote the song about scuba diving in the Caribbean while abroad at UMass.

The Pixies are cool for a myriad of reasons. First, they seem to be very modest about their role in alternative music and I think that’s rare in a recording industry rife with arrogance and narcissism. They’ve been compared with the Velvet Underground in that they never had mainstream commercial success, yet they have influenced scores of other bands. Secondly. they have a very unique sound which is unlike any other band I’ve ever heard. As with Primus, progressive rock and most of the bands I really like, I think this is important above all else. Not just in their music, but also in their lyrics which often deal with Biblical themes and other topics atypical of traditional alternative music. Lastly, I have loved them since about elementary school and this can be said about very few bands for me, Zeppelin being the only band that comes quickly to mind. I haven’t seen them live but I hope to and I hope Kim comes back. Long live the Pixies!

This has always been high on my list of favorite Pixies jams. I love the “Buy me a soda” lyrics, even though it sounds like it has to do with a hands preacher when I read the song’s lyrics as a whole. What I’d do to be able to go back to 1987 and see them in their prime.

Target(ing) Profitability: Corporate (T-Shirt) Rock Whores

A few months back I was shopping for clothing for my toddler son at Target and I was immediately taken by a pint-sized Pink Floyd t-shirt. I know: I recognized immediately that this was a simple but effective ploy to play upon a combination of adult nostalgia and a parental desire to make children look ‘cool‘ (especially for those Gen Xers and younger who were always too cool to want to appear to try to be cool.)

Welcome to the corporate jungle, Axl. Is this what you were afraid of when you spent a decade working on Chinese Democracy?

My wife mocked me a little. I felt both less and more self-critical when I saw not one but two little boys at day care wearing the same t-shirt. I over-compensated by getting a science officer Star Trek (original series) shirt for my son and trying to squeeze him into a one-year old’s shirt emblazoned with Carthago Delenda Est.

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The Foo Fighters….how they went from my first favorite band to my least favorite band

I wrote a while back about how my first cd which was the first Foo Fighters  album, the self titled one with the weird ray gun on the cover. I remember going into Best Buy and buying the cd with my own money so it probably was  not my first cd…..just the one I first actively purchased. I supposed all my cds before were presents or lifted from my brother. And, contrary to my earlier stated distaste for Whitney Houston, I did have the soundtrack to The Bodyguard in my room for one summer and for some reason listening to it to fall asleep. But, I digress…and the concept of my finding Whitney soothing is positively bone chilling. I loved this cd and it hurts me to say so, but I now hate this band and not because they suck. They don’t suck per se, although I do think many of their songs sound the same. I hate them because they are relentlessly and unmercifully played on alternative  rock stations across the country.

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