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Hardboiled Wonderland 

Moby's electronic overtures for sentient beings

Wednesday, Jun 16 1999
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Photo by Corinne Day
"I HAVE AN INHERENT DISTRUST OF PEOPLE whose first sexual experience was good," Moby explains while discussing his loss of virginity at age 16. As my own experience was wholly unsatisfying, completely unromanticizable, it's good to hear that counts for something in this world. Or at least to a pale, scrawny musical genius.

While I bask in bad-lay satisfaction, he continues: "There was this woman named Vivian. There weren't too many punk-rock, new-wave kids in Darien, Connecticut, but she was one of them, and a few years older. She was very pretty, extremely quiet, and never spoke, like this ethereal, bleached-blond gothic figure." Attaining "disgustingly drunk" status at a party one night, Moby and Vivian flounced to his home, where they swapped mutual cherries. Afterward, Vivian decamped while Moby showered for an hour, cleansing away the evidence. In many ways, he's still scrubbing.

"There're all these clichés that follow me around," says Moby, sitting in his sparsely decorated, recently purchased co-op apartment in New York's East Village. (He'd been renting, but after begrudgingly moving from unit to unit every six months as people bought each successive space, he finally broke down and went owner.) "Like the Christian-vegan-porn-fan-environmentalist-Puritan-Calvinist whatever. And none of them are really true."

Porn fan?

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"This is a stereotype attached to me," he shrugs. "I like pornography as much as everybody likes pornography. Every man I know, be he straight, gay, bi, whatever, likes to watch people fuck."

Vegan?

"I'm not a vegan . . . well, I guess I am a vegan. I'm pretty much as extreme a vegan you can be, but at the same time it's just my choice. I don't buy leather, I don't eat animal products, I won't use products tested on animals. But my friends all eat meat, and it
doesn't bother me."

Christian? Moby bristles at this one.

"It has to be made clear: I am not a Christian. ã
I am not a born-again Christian. I am not a Christian by any stretch of the imagination. I don't know what the word means. I am not anything. I don't want to define myself in any way. I don't see why I have to, and I don't see what purpose it serves. I'm not a raver, I'm not a techno kid, I'm not a Christian. I love techno music. I love Christ."

"I don't go to church," he continues. "It's the language they use -- I don't know what it means. I mean, to be 'saved'? From what into what? How can you bandy such ambiguous terms in such a serious way? On a very personal level, I hate the idea of a vindictive god, and I hate the idea of people being punished for their sins, because it's so hard just being human. If life is short and brutish and difficult, how dare the church make people feel bad? People feel bad enough as it is -- work that's not particularly satisfying, families that probably aren't particularly satisfying, and a church that makes them feel guilty for jerking off!"

Moby is particularly dismayed by the Christian Right, citing their views on no-no's such as sexual relations between men, or women, or in multiple combinations, "and more. You're young, you live in a big city, you go out and explore hedonism and debauchery, and it's fun. I want to be in the melee. I want to experience the messiness of the human condition. I cherish the experiences of walking home from a nightclub late at night, kind of drunk, feeling really lonely and sad, because that's one of the things that makes us human. And on
a selfish level, it's one of the things that helps me make records."

Actually, the above designations aren't all that far-fetched. A self-scribed Moby biography reels off terms like "militant vegan, animal-rights activist, environmentalist, militant non-smoker," and his CD booklets overflow with veracious, intelligent, factual essays devoted to said ideologies, the ultimate thrust being basic rights for all sentient beings.

"My feeling is, as an artist, musician and public figure, I put myself out there," he says. "So obviously a part of me feels compelled to be personally involved and share myself through the process. There are a lot of musicians who just want to make music. Fine, that's their choice. I don't think one is better than the other."

Same goes for Moby's catalog, as many nonplused and pissed-off fans will attest.

"My approach to music is my approach to a lot of things -- open," he says. "It's not intentional genre-hopping. It's just that I like everything."

1995's acclaimed Everything Is Wrong amalgamated premium house and techno into a smoothie of perfection. Animal Rights followed in 1997, a shocking plate of industrial punk, speedcore and melancholy instrumentals. That same year, under the quasi pseudonym Voodoo Child, Moby ("the little evil ninja idiot") released The End of Everything, a floaty, ambient electronic effort, and I Like To Score, a compilation of his soundtrack contributions, including the James Bond theme rework for Tomorrow Never Dies. Artistic schizophrenia at its finest.

Moby looks painfully earnest. "There are no laws written anywhere saying that once you pick one type of music that means you can't work in any other genre. I'd be so sad if someone said I could make only one type of music. The same way I'd be so sad if someone said I could only have intimate contact with blond women from Ohio. I like them, but I also like Latino boys from Brooklyn and Russian women from Ukraine. Why pick when the world is so filled with interesting stuff? Why limit yourself?"

But what about the fans? "I'm sure someone who likes the dance records I made and then buys the one that's more punk-rock-oriented -- well, it makes me sad when they dismiss it just because it's a punk-rock record. But if they listened to it and said, 'You know what, I just don't like it,' if they're open-minded and still don't like it, that's their prerogative. Culture is democratic."

A quiet chuckle follows, but no money-back guarantee.

MOBY'S BRAND-NEW PLAY, PERHAPS HIS best album yet, is a democratic helping of three distinct styles, boasting dreamy instrumentals, a return to Everything Is Wrong­flavored ditties, and six songs incorporating black American voices recorded by folk-music historian Alan Lomax. "I found these old blues vocals which had been recorded in the '20s, '30s and '40s, and fell in love with them," he says. "I loved their emotional, sonic and lyrical quality. They were a cappella, so I sampled and wrote songs around them."

"Honey," the album's first single, is a blues-soaked shred of b-boy bravado. And another ditty from the blues batch, "Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad," brings "tearjerker" to mind. While talking about these songs, whose vocalists are either long buried or long lost, a prankish spark lights in my eyes. Moby catches it. I inquire whether he'd be amused if someone bribed a bluesy-sounding elderly man to call and introduce himself as the crooner of, say, "Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad." Heck, anyone from Mississippi would do . . .

"I'm gonna kick your ass," he snarls -- "pacifist" is one of Moby's other well-known labels. But before I can challenge that with at least an arm wrestle, he insists we cease and desist.

"A part of me is envious of people who can define themselves strictly and conveniently," he sighs, "but for myself, I just can't. My sense of identity is there, but it's sort of nebulous."

In the distance, I can hear a label machine punching that one out.

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