photo & text by nacrowe
memoirs written by musicians are funny things. there is always the question of motive for presenting such a personal narrative to the world and what agenda is being bolstered or spurred by such an effort. oftentimes it is a rehashing of the salad days of an artist or worse, "correcting" musical history. the better memoirs, and what comes immediately to mind is THE DIRT (review linked HERE) by NEIL STRAUSS / MOTLEY CRUE and LIFE (review linked HERE) by KEITH RICHARDS, often tend to celebrate a bygone era. the movers and shakers of the past contextualize the decisions of the artist and are very much on equal footing structurally and emotionally in the narrative. the artist themselves serves almost as a conduit or representative of a larger whole or particular scene.
i'd put PORCELAIN: A MEMOIR (PENGUIN, 2016) by noted DJ / PRODUCER / MUSICIAN and animal rights activist MOBY in that later category. his memoir is very much a celebration of the downtown MANHATTAN club scene of the late 80s and early 90s from the perspective of an economically-depressed HARDCORE kid from CONNECTICUT who was conflicted with his talent, ambition, self-doubt, social awkwardness and immense intelligence. in that 80s club scene he found a inclusive community that was very much about living in the moment and celebrating and supporting on another, and the upbeat music and drugs of that period reflected such. what i found particularly interesting about this memoir was how MOBY's career tracked with the evolution in ELECTRONIC MUSIC in the early to mid 90s when harder drugs like heroin and ketamine took over and darker down-tempo music became more prevalent. it was as if the carefree atmosphere of the scene had sobered into a walking nightmare.
now i am going to completely out myself here. i am familiar with AMBIENT groups like APHEX TWIN, ORBITAL, THE BLACK DOG, BOARDS OF CANADA, AUTHECHRE and SEEFEEL, ELECTROCLASH groups like LADYTRON, FISCHERSPOONER and LE TIGRE and POST PUNK groups like DEPECHE MODE and NEW ORDER, but for the most part i am a neophyte when it comes to the HOUSE MUSIC that this book gets into. such is why i decided to read this book. i am mostly familiar with MOBY's later more subdued string of records such as PLAY (MUTE, 1999), 18 (MUTE, 2002), HOTEL (MUTE, 2005) and LAST NIGHT (MUTE, 2008) that came out after the time period covered in PORCELAIN. which is basically saying i only knew him after he gained worldwide success with his PLAY album and his genre-crossing hits like "BODYROCK," "NATURAL BLUES," "WHY DOES MY HEART FEEL SO BAD?" and, of course, "PORCELAIN." i say all this because its very interesting to learn at the close of the book that it was this sense of being resigned to failure that led to his biggest success as cliche as that sounds. KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR in one of his memoirs talks about the fact that athletes die twice, once when they pass their athletic peak and the other when they pass on like the rest of us. during the making of PLAY, MOBY has lost his mother to cancer and had begrudgingly come to terms with his own irrelevance in a scene that had moved beyond hm. those songs from that breakthrough record, came from that mindset which to me is endlessly fascinating.
this book covers a lot of other subjects such as MOBY's relationship with FAITH and CHRISTIANITY, as well as SEX and ALCOHOL. seems fitting that those two sets of obsessions are continuous throughout and are never resolved. makes sense to me.
i shouldnt be surprised that a musician so well composed and thoughtful in his interviews would not be capable of writing such a well-considered memoir, but there you have it. i highly recommend this memoir whether or not you are a fan of his music, which is probably the highest complicated i can make. enjoy.
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