Mike Doughty Gets Relaxed, Joyful After his "deep slacker jazz" band Soul Coughing broke up in 1998, Doughty spent years on the road finding his voice with just a rental car, an acoustic guitar and a cult following. His new album, Golden Delicious, finds him in a relaxed and joyful setting.
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Mike Doughty Gets Relaxed, Joyful

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Mike Doughty Gets Relaxed, Joyful

Mike Doughty Gets Relaxed, Joyful

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A couple of years ago, musician Mike Doughty was invited to take a tour of Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, D.C., and meet some of the soldiers just home from the warfront. Doughty, who used to be part of the group, Soul Coughing, was best known for his experimental music and his introspective lyrics.

But he was so struck by how young the wounded were, he was moved to write a song about them, and what he thought those kids ought to be doing instead of convalescing in a hospital. It was the first song in his new album, "Golden Delicious." Mike Doughty recently came by our studio to talk about his new album and about that song, "Fort Hood."

Mr. MIKE DOUGHTY (Musician): People are calling it an anti-war song, it's not really an anti-war song. It bugs the hell out of me when people say, well, I'm against the war but I support the troops, but that is like explicitly what the song is.

(Soundbite of song, "Fort Hood")

Mr. DOUGHTY: (Singing) I'd rather watch movie star get fat. I'd rather hang up the flag and be done with it. I'd rather keep the fire and the frenzy out of my mind. I'd rather take sides in an argument. I'd rather crank up the bass in a dark basement. I'd rather leave the mobs and the murder in a distant land.

Mr. DOUGHTY: First of all, you meet someone who's lost his legs, or you meet like a family that's all gathered around this guy that is just like in a wheelchair in the sort of the sunlight atrium of the hospital. And who knows if he's ever going to wake up again. That's when you start kind of feeling that your problems are trivial.

There was another thing that really struck me. My dad's in the Army. He was in the Army from 1961 to 2005.


Mr. DOUGHTY: So yeah, he was a committed guy. He taught - the last part of his career he was a history teacher at West Point. My dad had been in Vietnam, of course, and in fact, all of the male adult population of the town I grew up in had been in Vietnam. You're living on an Army post, everybody's dad is in the army. And so there was this undercurrent of weirdness in the community.

Like, I had a paper route and some guy, like, blew up at me for having the paper an hour late and I just have all kinds of stories about this. And the fact is post-traumatic stress disorder was just rampant. And I met this guy and he was about to get discharged and apparently it's a very difficult process to get out of Water Reed. And…

SEABROOK: Because of paperwork and…

Mr. DOUGHTY: Paperwork and just bureaucracy, and he was just angry. And so I just really had this visceral identification of the guy.

(Soundbite of song, "Fort Hood")

Mr. DOUGHTY: (Singing) Let the sunshine in. Let the sunshine in. The sunshine in…

SEABROOK: You borrow a famous line from the musical, "Hair," why do you use that?

Mr. DOUGHTY: I have kind of a history with the song in the sense of, my dad never talked about the war. It drove my mom, I think insane that he really never said anything about it. Like, almost literally nothing. And my mom took us to see "Hair," the Milos Forman movie, and she sold it to my dad. I don't know how she did it, like, she got my dad to go see a movie about hippies because he was one of those guys that was legitimately spat on by hippies and called a baby killer, and you know, just the nightmare of being a veteran in those times.

I went to a Web site, you know, I'm always just looking for weird music on the Internet, and I found the original cast recording of the Japanese cast of "Hair." And I was, like, wow, this is cool. So I was listening to it and then when they got to the chorus they started singing, let the sunshine in, and I cheered up.

(Soundbite of song, "Girl in the Blue Dress")

Mr. DOUGHTY: (Singing) Frat boys gone to dogs, brawling and sparring…

SEABROOK: You've always been very conscious about siblings and sibilance and meter in your lyrics.

Mr. DOUGHTY: Yeah.

SEABROOK: Let me quote this. "I assess the essence of the mess, perfect hourglass of my loneliness, yes."

Mr. DOUGHTY: Yeah, that's Doughty country.

(Soundbite of song, "Girl in the Blue Dress")

Mr. DOUGHTY: (Singing) And I assess the essence of the mess, the perfect hourglass of my loneliness, yes, and I don't care to count my chances, I just want the girl in the blue to keep on dancing.

SEABROOK: It seems like you use lyrics as percussion instruments. You've done slam poetry, haven't you?

Mr. DOUGHTY: Yeah, that weird inflection. Yeah, pretty much that's where it starts. That's slam poetry.

SEABROOK: You know, it's so Ani DiFranco and I read that you and Ani DiFranco were in the same poetry class in college.

Mr. DOUGHTY: Yeah, yeah, we had the same teacher. We were in class with Seku Sundiata, who's a brilliant poet from the Bronx who passed away last year, actually.

SEABROOK: You quote him in the liner notes of this CD, "Golden Delicious."

Mr. DOUGHTY: Yeah, yeah.

SEABROOK: It says everything in the dream is the dreamer.

Mr. DOUGHTY: Yeah, yeah. I just got chills when you said that. I mean he was just so great. And like everything I do is informed by, I mean, the big lesson that I got was, like, you have to listen to the thing that you're making. You know, you can be like, you know, I really not want this to not be a love song. I really want it to be - no, and if it's going, look, I'm a love song.

Look, look, deal with it, I'm a love song. You have to listen to it rather than trying to make it do what you want to do.

SEABROOK: What's a good song on this album that could show us sort of how Seku Sundiata's tutelage affects your work?

Mr. DOUGHTY: Oh, my gosh. Well, an immediate thing is "I Got to Drop on You." Growing up in a military family is not easy, especially if you're, like, poetically minded. And one thing that I was told all the time is sorry isn't good enough, you know. Like, I would mess things up, you know, like I was off in my own universe and didn't want to do my algebra homework and sorry isn't good enough.

Mr. DOUGHTY: Sorry isn't good enough. Sorry isn't good enough. And so what I did was I added that line into the song and it made it really, in fact, I'm, like, saying it over and over again making it louder and louder and louder, and it just, you know, it turns the song into explicitly a song about my parents. And it's just, you know, it's not easy to do.

And I was, like, I don't want to, oh man. And the song was, like, look, I'm here, this is the deal.

(Soundbite of song, "I Got to Drop on You")

Mr. DOUGHTY: (Singing) Sorry isn't good enough. Sorry isn't good enough. Sorry isn't good enough. Sorry isn't good enough. Sorry isn't good enough, I got to drop on you. Then the last frame of the picture, well, I (unintelligible) no pity in the mixture. No pity in the mixture. No pity in the mixture.

SEABROOK: Mike Doughty is a singer-songwriter from New York City. His new CD is called "Golden Delicious." It comes out on Tuesday.

And Mike Doughty, thank you so much.

Mr. DOUGHTY: You're welcome.

SEABROOK: Check out a few tracks off that new CD at npr.org/music.

(Soundbite of song, "27 Jennifers")

Mr. DOUGHTY: (Singing) I went to school with 27 Jennifers, 16 Jenns, 10 Jennies, and then there was her.

SEABROOK: This song is called "27 Jennifers," and I can totally relate. My school was also full of Jennifers and Amys and Michaels, and Jasons. And it reminds me of what it feels like when you're a class in school. Your generation feels so cohesive, so together, like the little things that unite you really mean something, whether it's listening to Genesis or the way you talk, like, totally. Then suddenly school is over and your people fade into the general population.

This is foreshadowed in the iconic 1985 movie, "The Breakfast Club." The high school principal, who's trapped a collection of kids in detention on a Saturday, says to the janitor, now this is the thought that wakes me up in the middle of the night. That when I get older, these kids are going to take care of me. To which the janitor replies, I wouldn't count on it. Those are our parting words for tonight.

And that's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Andrea Seabrook. Have a great Saturday night.

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