The summer of 1992. It was at the Knitting Factory, the late set—11 pm?—on a Monday night. I had turned 22 five days beforehand. (technically speaking, I had played a couple other gigs under the name Soul Coughing, but this was the lineup that made the albums)
My bandmates agreed to it because because they had nothing better to do at 11 on a Monday. They were playing with a zillion other people—as all instrumentalists in New York were—and this gig would be, maybe, $20? Making $20 is better than not making $20.
They’d only do one rehearsal—which they spent most of eating breakfast, while I stood there, desperately trying to get them to learn songs before my money—the rehearsal studio was $15 an hour—ran out. The sampler player showed up at the tail end of it, and didn’t bring his sampler. He brought a video camera, on which he said he’d record audio and then rehearse to later.
Such disdain they had for me.
17 people paid. Every time I managed to get a gig, I’d call a couple hundred people—literally, spending hours on the phone—to try and scare up an audience.
My emotions are mixed.
On the one hand, it was when all the toil I went through—begging snide bookers for gigs, scaring up a few people to attend, putting demo tapes together—turned into something. I was desperate, haunted by my desire to be a musician. I didn’t think it could happen for me—I kept pushing myself, through the hopelessness I felt.
Looking back, I see that I did an insane amount of work. At the time, I reproached myself, repeatedly, for not trying hard enough. Having the self-esteem I have now, I think I would’ve succeeded at becoming a professional at this job. I might’ve been much more successful, I might have been much less successful, but I think that, no matter what, given the anguished drive that I had, I’d be doing this for a living. So June 15th is, in part, a wonderful validation.
On the other hand, it was the beginning of an abusive, emotionally violent marriage. I think a healthier person wouldn’t want to continue working with players that openly disdained her or him—much less, a year later, give them equal ownership of the band, the songs—many of which I’d written a couple of years before June 15th, 1992.
Such tremendous regret. The recordings were never what I wanted them to be. (Had I been strong enough to make the recordings I wanted to, it probably would’ve sounded more like A Tribe Called Quest) How strange that so many people are fans of this music that I hear as essentially watered down, compromised.
We had a lot of muscle. We could’ve given Beck and the Beasties a run for their money. Instead, we made these self-consciously quirky, spazzy, almost sneeringly complicated recordings.
Fans of Soul Coughing often can’t believe this is true. They think that, somewhere within me, I like that stuff. Surreally, horribly, perversely, that’s not the case. I put on a brave face throughout the band’s recording and touring career, because I didn’t want my dream to turn to shit. But I was in despair.
Such regret. Such regret.
I wouldn’t be here, now, if I wasn’t there, then. Where I am feels pretty fantastic. I make music that I love, that I’m fiercely engaged in. The mental abuse of that relationship brought me to a desperate place. That desperation was a tremendous gift. I surrendered, and from there things got better. Much, much better. I can’t believe the life I have now.
I’m an addict. That’s just who I am. No matter what, I would’ve found my way to substances. If Soul Coughing had become a big band—and, with a little less spite towards my desire to lead the band, we might’ve—I might still be in it. The more successful a band—or, really, any enterprise—is, the harder it is to let go. So, I might still be getting high—had less of an incentive to get clean—might be dead.
For many years, my bank PIN was 061592. Set it when Soul Coughing got a record deal, and just never bothered to change it. I just changed it. Happy anniversary to us.
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