God, it just never added up to me — the constant, incessant bit**ing on the part of singer M. Doughty, the breaking up two years AFTER their final album came out, and just all the bad pub. that the Soul Coughing band relations used to get. Well, there are other things that never sat right with me, too, like how Pitchfork’s Brent Dicrescenzo could so mercilessly rip a song as catchy and seemingly innocuous as “Circles” (I mean I realize that innocuousness probably the encompassed the exception he took to it, but you know what I mean), and how people can be so opinionated about their non-Ruby Vroom albums when even in their later days they were still head and shoulders above, say, Cornershop, or Tonic.
Well, it’s sort of sad to say, but after seeing the music video for “Super Bon Bon,” it’s sort of coming together to me as to why Soul Coughing’s lead singer would detest his tenure with the band that made him a famous musician. Actually, though, it may have nothing to do with personality hostilities in the band, and everything to do with the era in time in which Soul Coughing existed.
See, I don’t think that the music video was Soul Coughing’s strength — not to say that their cinematic spots for “Super Bon Bon” and “Circles” were BAD, necessarily, but the music itself is already so colorful and effervescent that it fully stands on its own. The ’90s, on the other hand, were UNDOUBTEDLY a time of music videos — I can’t think actually of a single notable musical act that made it big between ’92 and ’98 without shooting them. Sure, Pearl Jam would gripe about having to participate in such an expedition and would cease doing them for the middle part of the decade, but only after having orchestrated the riveting, time-stopping visuals for “Jeremy,” as well as I think one other video where Vedder’s like jumping off some huge structure into the crowd, at a concert. Oh yeah, all that and we hate doing videos. Well leave it to Radiohead I guess to ruin it for everyone, as usual, whether it’s being the one stick in the mud band who stands up and volunteers to still play shows in Israel when everybody else is boycotting and desisting, to like early Pearl Jam unleashing some undeniably gripping videos on us, whether it was the gas can homicide of “Karma Police” or Thom Yorke holding his breath for over a minute in the one-shot “No Surprises” (I personally never got into that “Paranoid Android” cartoon clip… maybe I’m just not adventurous).
Now, without question, Soul Coughing, like the ’90s, seems to have more MISUNDERSTOOD traits than it has total traits at large. For instance, in terms of what’s arguably their breakthrough hit, and their first chronological track with any accompanying visuals on Youtube (to this day I have no idea if it’s an amateur video or an official one), your first impression would be that they were a comedy act, like some hilariously nerdy white guy using all these big words in a “rap,” a vocal technique mostly dominated by black people. It’s not until the song’s second half that Doughty rattles off that postmodern slab of gloriously nervous beat poetry (“Moving up to the double M 2000 / I eat up a decade like a flan… I crack nouns brother fu** the verb tense”), and by the point most bong-ripping adolescents would have relinquished attention, like it was chemistry class.
This trippy brand of lyricism would arguably come to define Ruby Vroom even more so than would anything musical, especially since, at the end of the day, what the band was doing early on here was basically regular jazz-fusion and not groundbreakingly original. Unfortunately, such subtlety really had no place in ‘’90s lyrics, as we all know, giving way to “Despite all my rage / I am still just a rat in a cage” or “My 44 makes your all y’all kids don’t grow” or “I did it all for the nookie”. Throw in the natural disadvantage the band was at in the endeavor of shooting videos and you see how the collective was really at odds with the time they were in, as much, if not more than, each other. He**, as I look at Doughty’s puppy-dog stare in the “Circles” video, his Cubist-hipster dancing form which is really quite passable and that band mate in the light bulb suit, I can’t help but ruminate that these were his brothers in life — these bandmates, Sebastian Steinberg, Mark de Gli Antoni and Yuval Gabay, were the
confidantes who went through all the same stuff he did and were really the buoying forces in his life, to juxtapose themselves against the voyeuristic, superstar-seeking media and mainstream.