Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Moby, "Porcelain" (book)

After reading only a few chapters of Moby's new memoir, "Porcelain", I had already decided that it is one of the finest music autobiographies I've ever read.  The subject matter (NYC clubs, English raves) is fresh in the world of musician bios and certainly in need of chronicling, and his writing style is unlike any other star bio I've read.  In most bios, the story unfurls linearly, tracing the key steps in the advancement of the star's career.  In Moby's book, which is part coming of age story, part mish mash of moralist anecdotes, while his career somehow takes shape during his unpredictable journey.

The first chapter is about heading out from his 100 square foot "apartment" in an abandoned factory in Connecticut, and taking the train to New York to drop off a mix tape at a club in the hopes of getting hired as a DJ.  The style of this chapter sets the pattern for the entire book.  Moby the writer has a talent for turning the mundane into the spectacular, crystallizing the feel, look and smells of his functionally homeless life and the decaying atmosphere of NYC before it cleaned itself up.  It's a collection of stories and moments, oddball conversations and unhinged characters.  Most chapters take you into the weird minutiae of a particular day in his life but are page turners thanks to his gifts as a storyteller.  This includes a fair bit of cynicism and self deprecating humour -- 2016 Moby knows how messed up and insane things were, but stays in the moment to relate how things were, at all times.  In the meantime, his career slowly develops, almost as a backdrop to the stories he's telling. 

The first part of the book covers 1989-90, but the subject matter is equally NYC as it is Moby.  It's about recording the seediness of its neighbourhoods and of the club scene for posterity, Moby is almost a passive participant in these event who just happened to be around to observe all of it.  The second part covers the early 90's rave years in much the same way, and he himself becomes more of a central figure in what's going on.  Once we hit the "Everything Is Wrong" period, the narrative becomes less focused on a particular place, and jumps from one drunken exploit to another, with casts of characters and interesting hookups that vary depending on the city.  Somewhere in the chaos his career briefly flourishes, and then collapses. 

The wildness and debauchery keeps ramping up, and things never get any better.  At the start of the book he's desperately poor and eager to launch a music career (despite having no clue how to go about it), and talks at length about how happy he was living in what he calls the best city in the world.  By the end, he's at his lowest point, lonely and depressed despite having no shortage of parties or women in his life, clearly convinced that his career was over.  In the final chapter, he's listening to an early version of "Play" during a late night drive, which only serves to convince him that it was a badly produced mess that nobody will want to listen to.  He'd already begun planning to move back to Connecticut and start a different career.  And just like that, the book ends.  There's no light at the end of the tunnel, and no sense that things might start getting better. 

Of course this opens the door for a second memoir quite nicely, and in fact Moby has already begun writing it.  But sometimes the journey to stardom is far more captivating, and brings out better writing, than the stardom itself.  

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