Mike Doughty Finally Looks Back

Mike Doughty doesn’t exactly know why he’s doing what he’s doing on his current tour, but he’s doing it anyway. He’s excavating songs from his ’90s alt-rock band Soul Coughing—a group that not only steered him heavily into drugs, but one to which he ultimately signed away his rights to the music he’d written. In the two decades since Soul Coughing split, the balding, bespectacled 43-year-old has built a respected solo career, but has been devoutly distancing himself from the three albums he made with the group. Doughty was so sour on his old band that he often lashed out at fans who dared to mention it to him, both on- and offstage. But—like John Fogerty, who for many years refused to play Creedence Clearwater Revival songs—Doughty has had a change of heart.

In his 2012 autobiography, The Book of Drugs, Doughty wrote candidly about his fondness for illegal substances and his not-so-fondness for his former bandmates, refusing to call them by name, opting instead for simply “the drummer,” “the bass player,” and “the sampler player.” But the writing process excised some demons. “[The book],” he wrote recently in The New York Times, “was deeply supportive of the new self I was trying to become. At some point, though, I began to wonder if I could ever again own my old Soul Coughing songs—not legally, but in my own heart.” To start the process, Doughty crowd-funded an album of reworked versions of 13 Soul Coughing tracks. He wasn’t sure what the fan response would be, but the album was fully funded just 16 hours after being announced.

For this tour, Doughty will play nothing but Soul Coughing songs, playing guitar, singing, and triggering samples accompanied by an upright bassist and a drummer. The experience so far, he wrote in the Times, has been transformative. “Every time I play a song, there are microscopic alterations in how I phrase this or that word, or play a chord. Over years, it can amount to radical evolution.”

There’s a sense that the evolution of the songs is helping Doughty’s personal growth as well. Perhaps, sometime on the next tour, the songwriter will combine work from his pre- and post-Soul Coughing days, giving fans a look at the scope of his output that’s not as compartmentalized as it appears now. As it stands, here’s hoping that if you go see him tonight and request “27 Jennifers”—one of his solo songs—you won’t get chastised.

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