Mike Doughty, once the lead singer (and rapper) of Soul Coughing and now performing as an extra-melodic solo artist, croons as follows in “American Car” from 2005’s Haughty Melodic: “Aimless sister you’re surroundin’ / Angel face that I’m astoundin’ / How sweet you are / In your long black American car.” Now, operating under the premise that “It takes one to know one,” it would follow that Mike Doughty himself is as well aimless, validating his statement.
And under the premise that I’m now talking about it, it’s damn good music. In fact, it unveils a feeling which I think is very akin to Zen, a spiritually enlightened mind state of wavering-at-best advantageousness in America. Kendrick Lamar, for instance, reaches fame and accolade not by easy acceptance, but through anger, inserting an acronym for “my angry adolescence divided” into the title of his 2012 album, and proclaiming “I got a bone to pick” on one of the better songs on his 2015 album. Sure, Doughty’s brand of Zen could be construed as conducive to American success for his line “I want to run away and join the office,” but this is obviously an unorthodox take on corporate upward mobility, coming as it does from someone in no way immersed therein.
What it actually is is a desire to have everything at once — yet not to change anything, or oneself, in any way. It’s a simple quest for total being, such as a state of divinity rather than humanity (and yes, surely some say heroin can get you to such a phase, in a songwriting realm). It is, the song “American Car,” a provision to the world of that which is some way the world’s opposite, hence having a certain value for it, an easy nonchalance combined with an accompanying senselessness.
Now, I can say from experience, the worst type of state of mind to be in is one where you’re hoping to gain something from other people, but not really having any clear picture of how you fit in, or how you can originally catalyze those around you. You are complacent, you are feeble, you are vulnerable and see-through.
But this is indeed the exact state of Doughty’s here, and it makes for the perfect songwriting — it makes for something that tautologically chafes convention, or ubiquitous American objective. In this way, what kills music is actually just simple adaptation to success’s rubrics, whereas obviously, what kills sociological chasm, the result of an off-kilter society, is art itself.