With any pop culture product, we desire structural fixity. A pop song has a verse, a chorus, a bridge and (maybe) a refrain. When we hear a pop song we know what to expect – and we like it that way. Television shows and movies have a conflict-to-resolution arc that usually comes in standard time increments. So we always have a pretty good idea of where we are (as viewers) and where it’s going – and we like it that way. A Twitter post always comes in a short, sharp and (usually) brilliantly conceived 140 characters or less – and we like it that way, right? Well, maybe not. Yeah, fuck Twitter.
Meanwhile, back to pop culture products in the context of this review. Moby’s Porcelain hits that sweet spot where three beloved literary formats (the coming of age novel, the rock memoir and the picaresque tale) overlap. Porcelain is a coming-of-age novel because it’s a narrative account of how a nerdy Connecticut teenager named Richard Melville Hall morphed into Moby, the Alternative Nation’s archetypal, international star of electronic music. It’s a rock memoir because, well, Moby’s music is kinda/sorta, uh, rock – or at least has elements of it. And it’s a picaresque tale because it involves a whole lot of drinking and whoring.
So yeah, Porcelain is chock full of the usual garbage that comes in, aargh, “rock books.” But, baby, I am a fucking connoisseur of rock book garbage. And Porcelain is much, much better than the usual.
Moby actually wrote the book himself. And he’s a literate dude. Sure, Porcelain is a memoir and all – but it flows like fiction. Passages of the book are written with a level of retrospective acuity that is simply impossible. In truth, it’s highly unlikely that the author really remembers the exact way that a parabola of steam rose off his organically grown, Kona blend coffee through the dust motes of his dingy, 10×10 industrial loft space on a certain November day in 1988. But that’s OK. You know, creative license and all that shit.
Moby’s always been a bit of a conflicted gentleman, and that’s interesting. He’s kind of a three-headed monster: his first head’s a Tibetan monk, the second head is Michael Stipe, and the third head is Tommy Lee. He seeks peace and purity in all things, is an uncompromising aesthete, and he likes (or liked) to fucking party down and get down with strippers, dude – sometimes all at the same time.
“See, I was a Christian, but I was also a dick,” writes Moby. “I was a Christian, but I wanted more nights like this, with drunk and high women leaving empty bottles of Jack Daniels next to the little bars of Dial soap in the [hotel] bathroom.”
The odd (and good) thing about Porcelain is that it doesn’t cover the entirety of Moby’s career – only his humble beginnings through his Lollapalooza era successes in the mid ’90s. And Moby avoids the sin-and-redemption and the rags-to-riches motifs that bog down most addiction memoirs and (again, aargh) rock books. The book ends in the late ’90s as rave culture is at an ebb. Moby views his (then) current album, Animal Rights, as a total flop. (Funny, I don’t remember that the Animal Rights album actually tanked back in the day. It might not have sold as well as its predecessor, Play, but it certainly scored some airplay and moved some units.) At the end of the book, Moby is wondering what he’ll do next – and how he’ll do it. His career is at its nadir. It didn’t actually end up working out that way – but, hey, it works in the context of the book. And maybe Moby really felt like a failure at the time?
Anyway, Porcelain certainly works as a piece of literature. Moby is introspective but not self-obsessed. He takes himself and his art seriously, but not overly so. He strives for greatness, but admits he (and his art) is flawed. And it explains a lot about the (then) nascent IDM/EDM/techno (whatever) genre that that has connections and overlays with the rock world that Stomp and Stammer readers (I hope) hold so dear. What we want is entertainment content that’s fun and enlightening, right?
The quality of the writing is excellent. It’s a good book. It’s entertaining and to a degree enlightening. And it’s fun to read. Yeah, yeah. We want fun.
And yeah, it’s a coming-of-age story. Not just a bildungsroman but also a kunstlerroman, Porcelain is the engaging story of a young man’s coming-into-being as an artist, a “Christian but also a dick” who also happens to be smart, creative and damned interesting person. This one’s well worth reading.