Tony Muggs is having a moment. A new moment. A redefining moment.
For more than two decades, the story of this Detroit-based songwriter and musician seemed to be defined by a single, dark moment, back on the night of Sept. 4, 2001, when he suffered a stroke. “In a window of roughly one hour,” Tony writes, “I was on my deathbed, paralyzed on my right side and unable to speak…” These poignant words are seared upon the first page of Muggs’s new book, Autobiograffitti, a unique sort of biography that comprehensively, and with unsparing emotion, lays bare the extent of his survival story. But this book, just as it is with the essence of Muggs’s lifeforce, is infused with a passion for music.
And so, in this redefining moment… Muggs is able to celebrate not only the recent publication of his autobiography, but with a brand new album being released this weekend under his musical moniker of DUDE, which is also titled Autobiograffitti, in purposeful harmony with the book. The book is the cathartic and inspirational story of his life, while the album features his now signature “ballads” which draw upon his love for classic pop-rock styles, and is distinct from the bluesy garage rock sound of his other band, the Muggs.
Muggs is, by now, a well-known figure in the local music scene, not only from the 10-plus years performing and recording as DUDE, but from his 22-year tenure as the bassist for the Muggs, with its lead singer-guitarist and songwriter Danny Muggs (aka Danny Methric), a bond of friendship (as well as a musical collaboration) that he’s had since their high school days, growing up together on Detroit’s east side (which is, of course, well documented in the book).
Muggs’s book details his journey back from the brink. “[They] didn’t tell me this until later,” Tony says, piecing together the span of weeks after being admitted to the ICU, “but I apparently wasn’t supposed to survive. My mom, being a nurse, pretty much thought I was fucked — that I was going to die. But then… I didn’t.” And while his late mother is given a lot of credit for support and encouragement on his road to recovery, “Danny is the other one who truly saved me… Because we were really turning heads back in 2001, as the Muggs. And after my stroke, he could have easily replaced me, but he didn’t.”
Methric kept busy, musically speaking, joining groups like the Paybacks and the Kingsnakes, but he held the Muggs in reserve, waiting for his best friend to return. And Methric waited despite the fact that any sort of return, whatsoever, was uncertain at best.
“It was tough to return to that night,” Tony says, referring to the recounting of the stroke. “It was weird and scary to walk myself back through it. Have you ever tried remembering something so harrowing that you start to worry that it could happen to you again? I started unrealistically thinking that this would happen to me again if I wrote about it, but I had to do it because it was important.”
Muggs says the book’s portrayal of his experiences “feels gritty and ugly,” adding, “I wanted you to get a sense of what it was really like, because Hollywood just glosses over all the dirty shit that’s not glamorous.” He’s candid about the feelings of “hopelessness,” and all the tempestuous emotions, including an understandable outrage, that followed in those first two years after the stroke. “But writing about it got me closer to my mom, again,” he says. “I lost her in 2015. But she was pivotal to my recovery – her and my stepdad, Gary. Whenever I was down in the dumps, thinking my life was over, she gave me wisdom to chew on.”
Writing about this slow, painful, years-long process was particularly important to Muggs. “I wanted to give you insight into how I was approaching [recovery] at the time,” he says. And by “at the time,” he specifically means late 2001 through late 2003. The book is actually only part one of two. The introduction details the experience of the Muggs auditioning, in the summer of 2007, for a reality television production on Fox called The Next Great American Band. “But then I rewind all the way back to 1986, where Danny and I meet in high school, and I take the reader on a journey up until 2003,” he says. “And then there’s a cliffhanger.”
As is evident, Methric wound up waiting and the Muggs would go on to substantial success and acclaim across the world stage, including several tours of Europe and a handful of albums. Those details, as well as the story of how Muggs taught himself how to play the Fender Rhodes piano as a bass, with just one hand, are what await the reader in “part two.”
Muggs’s urge, his conviction, to return to Methric, return to the Muggs, return to music, is a big part of what pulled him through. He doesn’t play down what might otherwise sound hyperbolic or cliche, when it’s suggested that “music” is his reason for living. “I’m a walking cliche,” he quips with a hearty chuckle. “But I’m here to remind people that cliches have been around for centuries for a reason – they’re true. And often we just get in the way of ourselves and we just can’t see what’s right in front of us. If you only have the courage to grab it, you can live your best life.”
Autobiograffitti the album has some subtle attributes that “unify it with the book,” Muggs says. The first song opens with the sound of a busily clacking typewriter; later, as the music rolls in, there are lyrics that pay homage to one of Muggs’s favorite bands, the ’70s power-pop group Big Star. “And another link,” he says, “is the title of the last track, ‘Tomorrow Is Promised to No One,’ which is also the title of a chapter in the book: it’s an expression my mom always used to say, so that’s also in homage to her.”
Muggs describes this album as sort of a true arrival for DUDE; his debut, Kid Gloves (2012) was “more of a softer, singer-songwritery side, but [Autobiograffitti] is more of a rock album. I found my voice as a power pop artist. And I’ve realized that I’ll just always write ballads because that’s just what speaks to me.” He says there’s a mixture of power-pop, rock, and even a flare of country western. “It’s a dense album with a little bit of everything, designed to reward multiple listens, because there are different things you can pick up on each time,” he says.
His musical brain and musical heart have both been a sponge, drawing deeply upon the Beatles and Beach Boys, but also the more eclectic, gritty-literate pop styles of the Pretty Things, or Todd Rundgren, and definitely Big Star. “There’s just so much good music out there – it amazes me that I’m still discovering ‘new’ music from 1972,” he says. And after a beat, he exclaims, with infectious conclusiveness, “I’m just in love with music!”
Autobiograffitti was co-produced by Carl Kondrat and Muggs and features contributions from local musicians like Michael O’Brien and Charlie Palazzola, even if they aren’t officially current members of DUDE. The longest tenured member, though, is rhythm guitarist Stephen Garcia. “Stephen’s stuck with me since 2016,” Muggs says. “I can’t be more thankful for his friendship and musicianship.” Over the course of the pandemic, though, Muggs said he needed to add a few new key players, including guitarist Mike Latcha (guitar), Alice Sun (keys), and Eric Roosen (drums).
On Saturday, DUDE headlines an album release party, joined by Audra Kubat, New Twenty Saints, and the Handgrenades. “It’s gonna be a unique show,” Muggs promises. “The DUDE band is a five-piece, but I’ve invited a plethora of talented musicians to each do a song or two with us during the set, some of whom helped me out on the album. We’re going for that George Harrison-lush-wall-of-sound. And since we’re going to try the ballads, too, I wanted as many people as possible to join me on stage.”
He adds, “It’s all about having fun and being brave.” That’s a promise for tomorrow worth keeping.
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