Doug Hoekstra: Bothering The Coffee Drinkers

Doug Hoekstra: Bothering The Coffee Drinkers

Musician Doug Hoekstra probably wouldn't balk at being called a "songwriter/academic," since he'd be the first to admit that he spends as much time thinking about popular culture as contributing to it. Hoekstra has written songs about soul singers, old movies, favorite books, and fragments of American history, all delivered in a reedy, almost conversational whisper. Now he's carrying the conversation into print with Bothering The Coffee Drinkers, a collection of essays and "musical fiction." The title story is an example of the latter: it's a sliver-of-life tale about a touring singer-songwriter who takes a gig at a chain bookstore, where he's more tolerated than appreciated. Hoekstra clearly writes from experience as he describes his protagonist flipping through the local alt-weekly to see if his CD got reviewed, and getting jealous at a colleague's national attention. "Bothering The Coffee Drinkers" is insider-y, but everyone who's ever felt stuck in a ditch on the side of a chosen career path should be able to relate.

Elsewhere in the book, Hoekstra makes up stories about a Mississippi saxophone player who sells kudzu to tourists, and about a couple of Chicago kids who take a road trip to Memphis and end up traveling back in time to the day Otis Redding cut "That's How Strong My Love Is" with Booker T. & The MG's. Hoekstra writes firsthand about gigging in Europe and becoming a father, and via the prism of other characters—almost all musicians—he writes about bandmates with drug problems and the difficulties of applying theoretical aesthetic principles to pop music. Some of these stories read like one of Hoekstra's vivid story-songs, freed from their verse-chorus-verse container. But the best pieces in Bothering The Coffee Drinkers are all about the small personal details, like in "Another Successful Breakfast," where a man remembers the Mexican breakfast he and his bandmates had at the South By Southwest music festival, and tries—with no small amount of metaphor—to make it himself. Hoekstra has a plain, poignant way of describing what it's like for a DIY-level musician, having too-brief post-show moments with the fans, and trying to get them to sign up for the mailing list before they disappear into the night.

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