The Rumpus Interview with Mike Doughty

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When most people hear the name “Mike Doughty” they think of the famous musician who they’re waiting in line to see. At least, this is according to a recent survey of Mike Doughty fans standing in line to see him. A handful still had no idea who that was. I recently interviewed musician and Believer contributor Mike Doughty. In only a matter of minutes, his true identity was cast into doubt, we started our own band, and he exposed what is possibly his greatest weakness!

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Ted Wilson: What’s your middle name?

Mike Doughty: My middle name is Ross. Actually, it’s misspelled as “Foss” on my Social Security card.

Wilson: How do you know “Foss” isn’t your real middle name and that it’s misspelled as “Ross” everywhere else? I apologize if this question leaves you feeling unsure about your true identity.

Doughty: I guess I don’t really have any evidence one way or the other. I’m generally unsure about my identity, so there’s no need to apologize.

Wilson: Speaking of names, you used to be in a band called Soul Coughing. That’s a weird name. I knew a kid growing up named Chab Bliberg, which is also a weird name. He’s dead now.

Doughty: That is indeed a very strange name. My cello player, Andrew “Scrap” Livingston, sometimes makes music under the pseudonym Tad Gulworthy.

Wilson: Did you know I’m a musician, too? I play the tuba and harpsichord. If you’d like to start a band with me that would be neat. What would our name be?

Doughty: I did know that! I read up on you before the interview. Did you know that Patty LuPone also plays the tuba? She’s a hoofer of the Broadway stage.

I’d like to call our band the Fey Ombudsman. Or the Lambent Curvature. Or the Rubato Cahoot. Or the Uxorious Pukka. I feel we should have the sort of band that has a “the,” and that it should consist of two words, and that, by employing a “the,” we aren’t actually saying we are a multiple of a certain type of thing, e.g., the Strokes or the Imperials, but a kind of of superfluous “the,” the way Pink Floyd, in their early London days, were called the Pink Floyd.

Another band name I like is the Picayune Eminence.

Wilson: The Fey Ombudsman is my favorite! Is it too soon for me to announce we’ve formed a band?

Doughty: Absolutely not too soon.

Wilson: Great! I’m calling my nephew first thing, tomorrow. He’s in a band called Groove Flex and he asked me to give you his demo tape. He’s not familiar with your work, but said it would be cool of you to help him out, and if he gets a record deal he’ll give you an autographed copy of his album. He says a lot of things that he doesn’t follow through on, but you never know. What’s your mailing address so I can send you the tape?

Doughty: Great! I love to be involved with new talent. I’ve been in show business since 1994, you know. You can send it to me c/o Dodge Cuddley, 1 Taras Shevchenko Place, New York New York 10009.

Wilson: Recently, I went to Borders to buy one of your records. When I got there, they must have moved or something because the store looked abandoned and all the windows were smashed out. When I climbed inside, I noticed several of your albums littering the floor. Strangely, it was only your albums that remained. Was this some type of guerilla marketing campaign of yours?

Doughty: No, I think the store may have been the victims of a crime, and the criminals were very considerate to my potential future listeners.

I had a friend in a band called Crucial Youth, and he parked his car in the East Village in the 1980s. He had boxes of Crucial Youth 45 RPM singles in his trunk; his car got broken into, and the thief stole his tire jack, but left the records. He was offended and disheartened.

Wilson: It sounds like your friend is a little on the fragile side. Do you feel that as you’ve matured through the years, your friendships include people with greater self confidence and better judgment about where to park cars?

Doughty: I’d like to think that I’ve evolved, and I make better personal choices, but the crime rate has gone down considerably, and one is much less likely to have one’s car broken into—so, I have nothing to judge by.

Wilson: Do you think you can attribute the lower crime rate to you music? You have a song called “Get Along.” Is it possible your music has inspired people to be less criminal?

Doughty: Well, I do my best to be a good citizen.

Did I mention I’m allergic to fish? When I travel, I learn how to say it in the local language. For instance, “Sakana arrerugi” means “fish allergy” in Japanese, and “não tem peixes” means “There isn’t fish in this” in Portuguese.

Wilson: You didn’t mention the allergy explicitly, but I feel that it was implied.

Doughty: Sorry I usurped your agenda by mentioning my fish allergy, but I should be straight with you: as a public figure, I have certain goals in terms of what I want my publicity to reflect.

I’d also like to point out that if you search my name, you’ll find a Mike Doughty who blogs about fishing, and a square-dance caller named Mike Doughty who’s based in Florida. Though I don’t condemn those activities, I don’t condone them either, and I urge people just to use common sense when in an unfamiliar situation.

Wilson: It sounds like you spend a lot of time searching for yourself. Is this related to your name confusion we touched on earlier?

Doughty: Though I sometimes am confused about my name, I’m reasonably confident about my profession.

Wilson: When you write songs, do you ever imagine what it would be like if things in the song came to life? For instance, if you wrote a song about a monster attacking a pretty lady, do you ever hesitate and think maybe you shouldn’t write it because that could come true?

Doughty: For any artist, responsibility for other human lives comes first. Not only would I not write a song about a monster attacking a pretty lady, I wouldn’t write a song about a monster attacking a pretty man, an average-looking teenager, or a companion animal who might be what the French call “jolie laide.”

Wilson: Your philosophy is a refreshing one. To what do you attribute such a mature and thoughtful outlook on the world?

Doughty: As a pre-teen, or “tweener,” I immersed myself in the lyrics of Iron Maiden bass player Steve Harris. Though notorious for the cadaver-like totem character (one might even say spokesmodel) “Eddie,” and the song “Number of the Beast,” which to many implied a Satanic tendence, Harris’ worldview encompassed a crypto-Lewisian ethical relativity.

That, and a big stack of Alan Watts’ transcribed radio broadcasts, given to me by an AA sponsor.

Wilson: I’m not sure what a lot of what you just said means, but I am familiar with AA. I didn’t realize you were someone who had faced such struggles.

Doughty: I believe it was Charo who said: “Mi lucha es siempre.”

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Photo of Mike Doughty by Deb Lopez (who took it on her cell phone).


Ted Wilson is a musician, good friend, and widower. His website iamtedwilson.com features all of his reviews (even the banned ones), exciting videos, a live interview with Ted on the radio, and interviews with some of the world's top celebrities! More from this author →