Tuesday, February 28, 2012
There's a track on Soul Coughing's first album, Ruby Vroom, called Mr. Bitterness. Presumably, songwriter Mike Doughty recognized that having already used the title for a song by a band he actively despises, he shouldn't re-tread it here as the title of his memoir. Fair enough. It would have been accurate though.The tone of this memoir is unremittingly bitter. 'Primal Scream' might also have been considered as a title, but another band already has rights on that, so...
When I say it's bitter, I mean it by way of description rather than as judgment. But man... at about page 150, I realized Doughty had yet to cast a positive light on anyone or anything. Hated his parents growing-up; fell into a music biz run by sharks and conmen; created a band and really hated the other three members. I mean, from start to finish...hated them. Became fairly successful and took no pleasure whatsoever in any of it. Slipped from casual drug use to extreme addiction along the way, and didn't even pause to enjoy the stations in between. There's a slight upturn in mood towards books end - when he's sober and medicated - but even that's muted. A survivor's victory, of sorts.
Except...there's something to be said for surviving, living a full life (whatever form it takes), and for continuing to produce work through the sheer necessity of doing so. I always thought Soul Coughing an interesting band (and that Screenwriter's Blues was a masterpiece), and I kept Doughty on my radar because of that. I've no idea whether ardent Soul Coughing fans knew of the animosity and disharmony at the heart of the band, but I suspect like me, most casual fans will have found this an eye-opener. Not that that part matters. It's one aspect of a familiar rock narrative presented here.
The book reads like a gargantuan clearing of the throat, a settling of debts. Also, a cleansing. Doughty is sober now, takes medicine for depression/bipolarism. He's extremely active as a musician and writer/blogger, forging a creative path. You suspect that he takes more responsibility for himself in life than he does within the pages of this book. For all that, he's still interesting. Still worth keeping on the radar.
Tuesday, February 14, 2012
Tuesday, February 7, 2012
Stunning. I don't recall the last time I underlined so many sentences in a book. It's a book filled with beautiful moments and heard-earned observations. The kind of book that made me want to be a writer.
'She has a wide mouth, the mouth of an actress, thrilling, bright. Dark smudges in her armpits, mint on her breath. Her nature is extravagant.'
'The city is a cathedral of possessions; its scent is dreams. Even those who have been rejected by it cannot leave.'
'He had never been so exhilarated after love. All the simple things had found their voice. It was as if he were backstage during a great overture, alone, in semi-darkness but able to hear it all.'
'Children are our crops, our fields, our earth. They are birds let loose into darkness.'
'The only words I'm afraid of are 'Ordinary life,'' Nedra said.
'Wine, stories, friends. He was a man lying fully clothed in the stream of days.'
'One of the last great realizations is that life will not be what you dreamed.'
Saturday, February 4, 2012
In a book I read recently, Los Angeles was described as 'a city that always looks like it was built yesterday.' It's not literally true, of course, but there's a certain poetic truth there. Los Angeles always feels like the future to me. I think back to when I lived there during the 1990's, to the time when the city banned smoking in bars in 1995. I couldn't imagine such a law would stick, but it did. Los Angeles - world capital of health nuts, of course.
Years later, when I moved to New York, frequented the smokey bars, I couldn't imagine that a similar smoking bill would pass there. And yet, in 2003 - eight years after it happened in LA - the bill successfully passed in NYC (albeit with more of a fight). The vast majority of the country toes the same line now. It's but a small example of the city's progressive nature. What happens today in LA...
A recent, brief trip to LA reminded me of this. Driving around the city, listening to the radio, I felt like I was living in the 21st Century once more. Splendid blue skies, crisp beats pulsating through the speakers...
Austin, where I live now, has a great many virtues I'm sure, but culturally, I feel that I'm forever reading yesterday's news here. In these parts, it's somewhat heretical to criticize the local music scene, and I suppose that if you choose to live in Texas then you're foolish to complain about the preponderance of twangy guitar-driven music. But even on KUT, a fairly decent public radio station (in, as we are told, the self-styled 'Live Music Capital of the World'), I just can't take it any more.
Perhaps it's a result of growing up in England, where new music is hyped to a ridiculous and destructive degree, but it drives me mental to have to listen to music for most of the day that could have been (and often was) recorded at any time during the last twenety-five years - or more. Ezra Pound, with his mantra of 'Make it new!' would have taken the first train out of here. But I digress...
Los Angeles...it remains for me a beautiful and foolish notion, and I still love it, every time I'm there.