‘From one of the most interesting and iconic musicians of our time, a piercingly tender, funny, and harrowing account of the path from suburban poverty and alienation to a life of beauty, squalor and unlikely success out of the NYC club scene of the late ’80s and ’90s.’
Porcelain ~ A Memoir by Moby is a novel that was selected as my bookclub’s choice for December 2017. With the onset of the festive period we never got to have a book meetup so we pushed it forward to January. I decided to hold off reading it until the weekend before the get-together as I wanted to completely immerse myself in Moby’s words over a short period of time.
This book has received mixed reviews but I have to admit I was blown away by the sheer rawness of the writing.
Read on for more on the book and my full thoughts…
There were many reasons Moby was never going to make it as a DJ and musician in the New York club scene. This was the New York of Palladium; of Mars, Limelight, and Twilo; of unchecked, drug-fueled hedonism in pumping clubs where dance music was still largely underground, popular chiefly among working-class African Americans and Latinos. And then there was Moby—not just a poor, skinny white kid from Connecticut, but a devout Christian, a vegan, and a teetotaler. He would learn what it was to be spat on, to live on almost nothing. But it was perhaps the last good time for an artist to live on nothing in New York City: the age of AIDS and crack but also of a defiantly festive cultural underworld. Not without drama, he found his way. But success was not uncomplicated; it led to wretched, if in hindsight sometimes hilarious, excess and proved all too fleeting. And so by the end of the decade, Moby contemplated an end in his career and elsewhere in his life, and put that emotion into what he assumed would be his swan song, his good-bye to all that, the album that would in fact be the beginning of an astonishing new phase: the multimillion-selling Play.
Porcelain is about making it, losing it, loving it, and hating it. It’s about finding your people, your place, thinking you’ve lost them both, and then, somehow, when you think it’s over, from a place of well-earned despair, creating a masterpiece.
‘My mom had been unemployed for over a year, and her last relationship had ended when her boyfriend tried to stab her to death. Sometimes I would find her crying while she folded the neighbors’ clothes. She would be folding furiously, a cigarette lodged in her mouth, tears falling onto the neighbors T-shirts. I was ten years old.’
The year is 1976 and from the opening page of Porcelain we are immediately introduced to the life of a young boy, who witnessed the daily sadness of his mother as her life spiraled out of control. Moby knew even then that there was a better life out there, somewhere, and he promised himself that he would find it.
Growing up for Moby wasn’t easy. The road he chose in his formative years was paved with alcohol and destructive living but he never let go of his dreams and ambitions.
His story really begins in a squat in Connecticut in 1989. Living in an abandoned factory for two years, Moby manages to survive in an environment that was far from pleasant. No running water, no bathroom and no heat, Moby was ‘functionally homeless’ yet happy. His one frustration was that he was not in a position to promote his obvious talent and passion for music with the Manhattan set. He needed a break.
By now a confirmed teacher of the Christian faith and living a strict vegan lifestyle, Moby spent his days listening to the music of both the African-American and Latino community. He accepted the abuse he received, as he was not an obvious fit for this community, but that did not deter him from absorbing the rhythm of the music into his blood.
New York was within 40km of where he lived. He had dreams of being in front of an audience who would accept him and who would ‘get’ his music style but for Moby this was never going be easy and he had a very rough few years ahead.
I grew up in a house filled with music, as I have a brother who was involved with the local music scene in Cork for years. He instilled a passion for music in me that has now become part of my life. I don’t play an instrument, but I always have music on when reading, working, running. With my taste ranging from Jazz, Operatic and Pop, from Pink Floyd to Dan Fogelberg, from Thin Lizzy to Christy Moore and Julia Fordham and so much more. And, of course, I have my copy of Play, bought in 1999 for £14.99, the sticker still on the cover.
While reading Porcelain I pulled out my CD of Play and, to be honest, I have been playing it since. As my OH mentioned, it feels like a mix of Groove Armada and Café Del Mar rolled into one fabulous collection of tracks.
I got lost in Porcelain and it’s a book I have been raving about to anyone who will listen to me since. I remember listening to this music the first time around, but the story of the man behind it was an eye-opener for me. Moby doesn’t spare us anything of the ten years he spent on the circuit, as his career shot up to great heights and also collapsed to very low lows. The descriptions of his years spent as an underground DJ and his love/hate affair with alcohol is vivid and very very honest. My stomach churned, my nose twitched as the smells just hit me in such a realistic manner. Moby mentioned in the Afterword that he had initially considered hiring a ghost writer to help him put his words together and shape it into a book. It is the fact that he eventually chose to go alone that makes for very raw and honest read.
New York is portrayed with such an intense and powerful language. This is New York in the 90’s where Moby introduces us to Madonna, Run DMC, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jeff Buckley and even Miles Davis. His interaction with these people had such an impact on his life and his career. He supported many great artists, until finally his music became increasingly popular in the rave scene of that era. He lived a hedonistic lifestyle of sex and drink, until eventually it all just plateaued to a halt.
For Moby 1999 was the pivotal year when his life changed. He assembles what he thinks will be his final release, the album he believes will be his last, this album was named Play.
It was to become a world wide phenomenon, an album that would have a stratospheric rise up through the music industry.
Porcelain ~ A Memoir leaves us there at that point, wanting more……
Porcelain is an extraordinary book that charts the life of a man who just wanted to play music that made people happy, that made people dance.
Moby’s story is a remarkable one. It’s intense. It’s chaotic. It’s energetic. It’s crude. It’s coarse. It’s funny. It’s real…..
Purchase Link ~ Porcelain : A Memoir