A Whale of a Tale: Moby's Porcelain

A Whale of a Tale: Moby's Porcelain

It's been a good long while since I've written anything. Fortunately, my sister has come to the rescue.  Please enjoy her contribution to my blog.

By Katie Scherer

Since Music Mom seems to be taking a casual approach to blogging these days, I thought I’d fill the void with a music-related book review: Moby’s new memoir, Porcelain. In the early 2000s, Moby was everywhere, thanks to his smash-hit album Play. It became the first in history to license every song for film, television, or commercials, which contributed to its ubiquity in those years. If you are interested in hearing about how Play was developed, its subsequent commercial success, its impact on the music scene, and its effect on Moby’s life, then this is not the book for you.

Porcelain covers the period from the late 1980s through the late 1990s, as Moby progressed from DJing at clubs and raves to composing original music and touring to support it, evolving along the way from a sober Christian to a questioning “alcohol enthusiast.” Because this is a memoir rather than an autobiography, he is not obligated to tell a cohesive chronology of events. Instead, each chapter offers a snapshot of a moment or event that illustrates his life at that particular time—salvaging a poorly attended rave from disaster, showing up as the lone vegan at his grandmother’s Thanksgiving dinner, having a one-night stand with a stripper. His narrative focuses heavily on the personal—girlfriends, family, the grind of touring, the economic realities of being a struggling artist. It doesn’t dig too deeply into the details of composing the techno music for which Moby is best known; instead, music serves as the backdrop to the compelling story of his life.

Moby worked without a ghost writer, wisely relying on the genetic talents of being a descendent of Herman Melville. He is funny, honest, likable, and self effacing. He doesn’t take himself too seriously (or ask us to), and his personality shines through his writing. He does an admirable job of painting a vivid picture of New York life in the 1990s, especially the world of clubs, raves, and the artistic community he inhabits.

At times, however, it seemed like Penguin Press had put a B-team editor on the project. There were a few surprising technical mistakes (CD titles don’t go in both italics AND quotation marks), and tighter editing would have addressed many of the book’s redundancies. I wish I had a dollar for every time Moby made reference to the homeless folks around his neighborhood (we get it—New York is gritty). The later portion of the book seemed to move from one episode of drunken hookups and subsequent soul-searching to the next, with little to distinguish them.

My biggest disappointment was that the memoir ended as Moby is putting together Play, the album that catapulted him and techno music in general into the mainstream. We never get to see the album’s release or subsequent acclaim, Moby’s ground-breaking live TV performances, or his nominations for major music awards. After getting to know and like this self-proclaimed underdog, I wanted to revel with him in his victories and hear his perspective of events that unfolded in the national spotlight. I remember his electrifying performance of “Natural Blues” with Jill Scott and Blue Man Group during the 2001 Grammy Awards, and the confusing grudge that Eminem displayed against him at the 2002 MTV VMA awards. I’d love some back story and Moby’s reaction to these events—I saw them from a distance, so I wanted the inside scoop. This is the inevitable consequence of choosing to limit the scope of his memoir to one defining decade, but I felt like I was missing out on some of his best material.

Overall, I enjoyed this book very much and heartily recommend it. You don’t need to be familiar with Moby’s music or a fan of techno to be highly entertained—Moby is a great story-teller with an interesting tale to tell.

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