‘After sex on the damp sheets, we passed out’: Lowlights from Moby’s memoir
Natalie Portman has disputed the musician’s account of their ‘relationship’. But fear not: his new book has plenty more steamy stories
Moby: older and wiser? Photograph: Michael Bezjian/Getty
You can tell a lot about Moby’s second memoir, the follow-up to his 2016 effort, Porcelain, from its title: Then It Fell Apart. You can tell even more from its preface, about how it came into being: “After finishing the book, rather than go to therapy, I kept writing.”
Then It Fell Apart, charting Moby’s “lost decade”, is a globe-spanning “morality tale” (so the publisher says) with so many dropped names that the index, if it had one, would make the book half as long again. Although it was published earlier in the month, this week it made headlines after Natalie Portman disputed his account of their relationship, and even that they had a relationship at all.
Imagined or not, this is among the happier moments of Moby’s memoir, which is soaked in self-loathing and giddying highs, suicidal lows and pages of self-described degeneracy. And did we mention the celebrities?
Moby is upfront – “All the stories in this book actually happened” – although he has “changed some names and details out of respect for other people”. (Would one of those names be Portman’s?)
It is worth noting that Moby is now 10 years sober and that the profits from this memoir are going to an animal-rights charity.
A low ebb in Kings Cross
It is 1999, near the end of the four-week Play tour, and our hero is feeling sorry for himself at his aftershow party. He has just a played 75-minute set to a half-empty Scala in Kings Cross, and no one is interested in having sex with him. “How badly was I failing as a musician that I couldn’t even find someone to flirt with at my own party?”
Leaving the party, he sees a sex worker standing at a bus stop, whom he describes for several sentences before clarifying that, though he has dated “a variety” of sex workers, he has “never paid money for sex”. Standing in the rain at 1am, he wonders if that changes now.
He imagines falling in love with the sex worker after discussing their “mutual brokenness”, before he is snapped out of his reverie by some passing record-label employees, who ask him what he is doing.
“I said, too quickly: ‘I was just walking back to my hotel.’ They were nonplussed, as I hadn’t been walking. I’d been standing. In the shadows at 1am in Kings Cross, staring at a prostitute.”
A near miss for Moby and his New Zealand fans
After playing a small concert near the Moulin Rouge in Paris, Moby has gone back to his friend Lorraine’s house, conscious that he can’t stay out too late: he has a 9am flight to New Zealand, where Play has gone gold. (Moby concedes that New Zealand’s small population is a factor.)
Lorraine’s “gamine” friend Mandy, whom Moby likens to “a beautiful elf”, expresses interest in him. Casting aside all thoughts of the 26-hour flight and the 6,000 New Zealanders who had bought Play, he and Mandy catch a cab to her apartment building near the Arc de Triomphe. “As we drove, I told Mandy the strange history of the Egyptian obelisk near the Tuileries Garden. She listened and nodded, but seemed bored.”
At her apartment, he tries to engage her in conversation about new-wave radio stations in New York, “trying to get to know the person I was probably going to have sex with”, but the mood is disrupted by her nervous chihuahua, George. “I wanted to tell her about my deceased grandmother’s dachshund, also named George, but Mandy started kissing me… We took off our clothes and had sex on the damp, wine-stained sheets, while her dog paced and whined around us. After sex, we passed out.”
Hours later, Moby goes to leave only to find himself locked in Mandy’s apartment, but disturbed by Mandy’s boyfriend. “Je suis désolé,” doesn’t cut it. Moby makes his flight to New Zealand.
Moby enjoys tofu pups at the Holiday Inn
At a Holiday Inn in Minneapolis, Moby makes himself a sandwich with some frozen hot-dog sausages, or “tofu pups”, as he calls them, “as warm as a lawn on a summer day” after being defrosted in the sink. “I didn’t have a knife, so I used the subscription card from a copy of In Minneapolis magazine to spread mustard on two pieces of bread. I put my tofu pups and bread on a hand towel, and ate them while watching an old episode of The Simpsons, and drinking day-old carrot juice.”
There was nothing glamorous about it, says Moby, “but I had a No 1 album in the UK, which made a lukewarm Holiday Inn tofu pup the most wonderful meal I’d ever eaten”.
Moby drops E and some celebrity names post-Glastonbury
As Play sells more and more copies, Moby finds it easier and easier to become promiscuous – “To keep myself from feeling creepy and ethically compromised, I told myself I was looking for love” – but his panic attacks keep him from pursuing relationships. Nevertheless, tonight, after Glastonbury 2000, a woman named Becks is charitable enough to spend the night with Moby. Although “usually Irish women were reserved”, says Moby, Becks is okay with him ripping the mirror off the wall of his “generic, but large” hotel suite and positioning it so that they can watch themselves having sex. The ecstasy may have helped.
“We spent the next few hours having sex and looking into each other’s eyes, and by the time we were done, it was late and most of the people at the party had left. Someone in the living room put on London Calling, but Joe Strummer, who apparently was still there, yelled: ‘Oh, f**k no!’”
After a brief interlude for cocaine, Moby goes in for the pillow talk. “I lay there, smiling and spooning beautiful Becks. As I was falling asleep, I heard Golden Years playing in the other room.
‘Can I tell you something?’ I asked.
‘Please,’ she said sleepily.
‘David Bowie’s my neighbour.’”
Some chapters later, Bowie comes round to Moby’s house, then Moby goes round to his house. Iman, Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson are there.
Moby finds the silver lining amid God’s cruelty
Listening to Proud Mary in a cab after taking “more than two” Es, Moby bemoans God’s cruelty to that night’s charitable companion, Lauren. “‘Lauren, you are so beautiful,’ I said, and kissed her. ‘But why doesn’t God let us feel like this all the time?… An omnipotent God could give us any resting neurochemical state, so why doesn’t he let us feel like this from the time we’re born until the moment we die?’”
Later in the book, Moby wonders if he is “actually divine” himself (“Maybe I was a new god. A benign god. But a complicated god, with a secular dominion over sweetness and filth,” he goes on).
For now, he and Lauren meet up with Bono, Michael Stipe and Salman Rushdie at the club, and Bono tells Moby he loved the Animal Rights album, and that he loves him. Moby tells Bono he loves him, too. Moby goes back to Lauren’s house to have sex. She has a dog as well. A Rottweiler.
Moby lands his white whale
On a “victory-lap tour” for Play, playing sold-out arenas, Moby finds he loves being famous. During interviews, he is often asked about being related to Herman Melville, and, although he never finished Moby-Dick, he has decided it is allegorical. “And now I’d found rock stardom, my own domesticated pet white whale. But my little whale wasn’t destroying me; instead it smiled at me while I rode happily on its back, more like a friendly pony than a malevolent force of nature. I decided that it was karma to have a benign relationship with fame, my own Moby Dick, and not end up lashed to the whale with harpoons and knotted rope.”
Later that chapter, he makes eye contact with Christina Ricci while playing Porcelain. They go home together – but not before Moby runs into Joe Strummer (“I hadn’t seen him since Glastonbury”), who tells Moby he loves him.
Moby has his nice moment with New Order ruined
Playing the Area: One outdoor summer tour with Peter Hook, Stephen Morris and Barney Sumner as his opening act, Moby is struck by the surreal thought that “the guys in New Order and I were peers”. “It was also unsettling that I almost thought of them as friends.” He then apparently teaches them the chords to their own song New Dawn Fades. “After we rehearsed it with an acoustic guitar, Hooky looked at me kindly, like an older brother. ‘Moby,’ he said. ‘Ian would be proud.’”
But the moment is ruined when Moby discovers the comedian Andy Dick, trying to poo on his vegan end-of-tour cake in front of a crowd of chanting onlookers. “‘Oh, OK,’ I said, only mildly annoyed that now I wouldn’t be able to eat my vegan cake.’” Charlize Theron, who is there for some reason, says: “That’s disgusting.”
He does not have sex with Charlize (unless I missed a paragraph).
Moby is dared to ‘knob-touch Donald Trump’
It is just after September 11th, 2001. Trump is a “mid-level real-estate developer and tabloid-newspaper staple whose career had been resuscitated by a reality TV show”. A “knob-touch” is “when you take your penis out at a party and brush it up against someone”. The woman whom Moby is trying to impress is Clarice, a former Miss USA runner-up. Moby’s penis, he clarifies, is flaccid.
Moby grapples with a fan’s request
Moby is in a club in St Petersburg in 2005, drunkenly telling Vladimir Putin’s daughter – “a lovely and shy young woman”, who is listening politely – of his love for 19th-century Russian literature and that he considers “Leo Tolstoy to be one of the patron saints of veganism”. Their conversation (?) is interrupted by a woman in a gold jumpsuit who demands that Moby sign her “pussy”. Moby is struck by the fact that “they have Sharpies in Russia”, and the logistical challenge.
“I’d signed arms, legs, stomachs, breasts, necks, foreheads, hands, feet, drum machines, Bibles, shoes, jackets, cars and copies of Moby-Dick, but never the area around someone’s genitals. I hoped that she hadn’t been perspiring too much: Sharpies didn’t work well on sweaty skin.” (Putin’s daughter, understandably, has legged it by this point.)
He and the woman have sex, to make her boyfriend jealous, she says, and, in the pink and blue light of the dawn, Moby looks out the window of his hotel at the Kremlin. “Red Square, just across the street from me, looked like a fairytale prison.”
Lana Del Rey triumphs
In 2006, Moby invites the musician Lizzy Grant, who would go on to be known as Lana Del Rey, to his apartment, which has multiple floors. Grant shakes her head, and tells Moby: ‘Moby, you know you’re the man.’”
When Moby thanks her for the compliment, she clarifies: “You’re a rich Wasp from Connecticut and you live in a five-level penthouse. You’re ‘the man’, as in ‘Stick it to the man.’ As in the person they guillotine in the revolution.”
“I didn’t know if she was insulting me,” says Moby, “but I decided to take it as a compliment.” They don’t have sex. Grant leaves and, alone in his enormous apartment, Moby takes off his shoes and, his feet bare on a Turkish rug, plays a Gymnopédie by Erik Satie on a $20,000 Swiss piano. – Guardian