After 14 years, Moby has final created a worthy successor to 1999’s game-changing, bazillion-selling Play. MAGNET scales the walls of celeb-studded, anecdote-guarding Moby Castle high up in the Hollywood hills to find out what took so long.
BY JONATHAN VALANIA
This story starts in Moby’s apartment on a sunny pre-9/11 morning in New York city. Moby and his neighbor David Bowie are sitting on the couch strumming “Heroes” on acoustic guitars. They are prepping for a Tibet House benefit concert at Carnegie Hall organized by Phillip Glass. This is too good to be true, Moby thinks to himself. What if it isn’t? What if I’ve lost my mind and I’m institutionalized and just hallucinating this? Does it even matter? Just go with it. As hallucinations go, you could do a lot worse.
Then Moby thinks to himself: If I could somehow travel back to 1977 and tell the 12 year old version of me that was standing in line Johnny’s Records in Darien, Connecticut, waiting to purchase the first album he would buy (Heroes, on cassette) with the money he earned from his first job (caddying at Wee Burn Country Club), that 24 years from now he’d be sitting on his couch with David Bowie rehearsing the version of “Heroes” they will perform at Carnegie Hall later that night…Nah, even a wide-eyed 12 year old wouldn’t buy a cock-and-bull story like that.
Maybe this story starts a few months back at the Hollywood compound of his pal David Lynch, who has nailed a dead chicken to the wall in the hopes that it will draw maggots, for reasons unclear to everyone but David Lynch. Naw, that’s too weird.
Maybe it starts back in 1975 when a nine-year-old Moby is starring in a super-8 movie with Robert Downey Jr., his BFF at the time, directed by Downey’s father, the iconoclastic filmmaker Robert Downey Sr. Naw, Moby hasn’t spoken to Robert Downey Jr. since he was 10. Or maybe this story starts in bed with Natalie Portman circa 2001 — nah, people don’t want to read about that kind of stuff.
Or maybe it starts at that party Shepard Fairey threw a year or two ago, and Neil Young was there and somebody offered to introduce him, but Moby declined for fear yet another long time hero would disappoint in person. “I’m sure he’s a great guy,” he thought to himself, “but on the off chance he isn’t – if he’s mean or a jerk – all of the sudden I lose 30 of my favorite songs.” Nah, too anti-climactic.
Maybe it starts at Club Anthrax in Stamford CT, circa 1983, where the Vatican Commandos, the punk band of then-16-year-old Moby, is opening for The Circle Jerks. The guitar player from Hose, the other support act on the bill, wants to borrow Moby’s amp. His name is Rick Rubin. No, too name-droppy.
Or maybe it starts in the audience at MTV’s Video Music Awards where Triumph The Insult Comic Dog is trying to negotiate an uneasy peace between Moby and Eminem, who has been shooting Moby in effigy at his concerts for the past year. It does not go well. With television cameras rolling, Eminem loses his shit and winds up punching out Triumph. No, people don’t like reading about dogs being punched in the face — not even sock puppet dogs.
Or maybe it starts in 2001 and a drunken Moby is dancing to Donna Summer with an equally drunk Joe Strummer at some club in Los Angeles. They bro hug. “You’re the best.” “No, you’re the best.” There would be a bunch of gloriously drunken nights with Joe Strummer. And then he just up and died. No, too much of a bummer.
So maybe it starts in 2007 with Moby opening a letter from Karl Rove. You see, Moby has a half-brother out there somewhere that he’s never met. A few weeks prior to receiving the letter from Karl Rove, Moby was at a party to celebrate the release of a documentary about the gay anti-gay preacher Ted Haggard directed by his friend Alexandra Pelosi, daughter of Nancy. At one point the topic of Moby’s long lost half-brother came up and Moby joked — within earshot of a Politco reporter who then wrote about it — that maybe Karl Rove is his half-brother. Two weeks later Moby receives a letter in the mail that reads: “Dear Moby, it’s not me. For one thing, I’m 17 years older than you and I have no musical ability. Have you considered James Carville as he is bald and plays the guitar too? Sincerely, your pal, Karl Rove.” Naw, fuck Karl Rove.
So maybe it starts a few months ago at that pool party at Moby’s $6 million castle high up in the Hollywood hills when Steven Tyler showed up and Moby told him how the first time he ever got to second base, the first Aerosmith album was playing. “I had it on repeat, and I told myself that when the record started over I was going to go for it. Turns out she had no breasts to speak of, so it was kinda anti-climactic.” Oh man, Steven Tyler thought that was so funny, but no.
All that stuff really happened, but that’s not how this story begins.
This story begins at a place of Moby’s choosing, a juice bar called The Punchbowl in Los Angeles, which is where I first meet up with him. He is small and pale, bespectacled and bald as Mr. Clean, but bright-eyed, warm and friendly. He’s one of those guys who seems lit from within. He’s wearing shorts and a ball cap and a Flipper T-shirt, all of which makes him look younger than his years. The only outward indicator of him having weathered 47 years on Earth is the gray tint of the stubble ringing his magnificent ivory dome. A diehard New Yorker for most of his life, Moby moved to Los Angeles three years ago and he wears it well.
“I thought I would live in New York forever because from my perspective it was the greatest place in the world because it was dirty and weird and filled with artists and bars and clubs and record companies,” he says. “It was just so interesting and run down, and scary and challenging, and sort of beautiful at the same time. I thought this is where I want to live forever. Then as time passed I changed and New York changed. I feel like such a cliché saying this, but New York has become like Singapore, in that it’s only for rich people. I noticed maybe 12 or 13 years ago that most of my friends who were artists couldn’t afford to live there anymore so they were moving to Philadelphia, they were moving to Portland, they were moving to LA, they were moving to Berlin because New York had become so expensive. One day, about four years ago, I woke up and realized that I was sober and living in a city that exclusively caters to drunks fantastically so. If you’re going to be a drunk, New York is the best place to be a drunk. The bars are open until four, you can walk everywhere, and everyone is drunk. I was sober living in an area that had been populated by artists, but had been colonized by hedge fund guys. Nothing against hedge funds guys, I just don’t want to live around them. That grimy, filthy cold in winter and that oppressive heat in the summer and no nature. I started asking myself where else I could live that’s warm in the winter time, has access to nature, and is filled with weird artists – and honestly LA is the only place I could come up with. It’s a really interesting place to live because it’s such a new, weird, dysfunctional city.”
Hang on, he’s not done yet. Moby has a lot to say, about a lot of things.(I was originally told that our first meeting would be short. Moby does not commit to spending more than a hour with people he’s never met before, his publicist told me. In fact, our first meeting lasted four hours.)
“All things considered, I maintain LA – at least by my standards – is probably the best city in the world right now,” he continues, “It’s not to malign other places, but simply to say it’s warm in the winter, it has two and a half million acres of state park, and David Lynch lives here. In New York almost everyone you meet works in finance. In LA almost everyone you meet is involved in some sort of creative endeavor, even if it’s terrible. Even if they’re working on a reality show about fat people falling down, there’s still creativity involved in what they’re doing. It would make so much sense if people started referring to LA as a county. If it were a county, it would suddenly have 20 of the coolest towns in the world. When you come here, you sort of expect to have some conventional urban experience, but here the center of LA doesn’t exist. It is like the anti-city – the center is nothing and the good stuff is all on the outskirts – so the outskirts are wonderful. It’s so suburban. Having said that, I feel sort of sorry for people who come here looking for conventional liquor-fueled degeneracy because the bars close early and you have to drive everywhere. And everybody wakes up a 7 a.m.” MORE