In the early 2000s, a shy, nerdy, underground producer named Moby joined the ranks of the mega-rich and mega-famous: gold- and platinum-certified records lined his hallways, he spent his days hanging out with movie stars and models and lived across the way from his childhood hero, David Bowie. One of the decade's most popular rappers, Eminem, even had beef with him—meaning he'd finally made it into the pop culture pantheon.
But as Moby reveals in his new memoir, he felt perpetually out-of-place and lonely, and was suffering regular panic attacks. In the music video for his 2002 hit "We Are All Made of Stars," Moby sings, expressionless and wearing a space suit, while TRL-era celebrities party around him—a not-so-subtle metaphor for his mental state at the time.
Moby's way of coping? Near-constant binge-drinking, party drugs and risky sex, which eventually became unsustainable and destructive. He's been sober for 11 years now, and looks back on the highs and lows of his substance abuse in Then It Fell Apart (on shelves May 2), which picks up where his 2016 book about the 1990s rave scene, Porcelain, left off.
"The elevator pitch for the book would be fixing childhood trauma with clueless adult decisions, or trying to fix childhood trauma with egregiously bad and clueless adult decisions," Moby says in a recent phone interview ahead of his appearance at the Bay Area Book Festival on May 4, where he'll be in conversation with San Francisco Chronicle critic Peter Hartlaub. "Not surprisingly, it doesn't work."
Moby acknowledges that writing about addiction in a non-cliché way is a tricky proposition: people know, on an intellectual level, that drugs, money and sex don't bring long-term happiness. But as difficulties befall us throughout our lives, we look for short-term relief that steers us away from the hard work of healing our traumas.
Rather than taking a didactic approach, Moby conveys these hard-won life lessons by laying bare his painful childhood memories (including his father's suicide, his shame at growing up poor and the sexual abuse he experienced at a daycare in San Francisco). Flashing forward into his adulthood, he delves into his trauma-related mental-health symptoms and the ways he attempted to alleviate his pain with the trappings of celebrity.
"My belief, before I got sober, was that fame was going to fix my feelings of inadequacy; that degeneracy was going to fix my depression; and promiscuity was going fix my childhood trauma," says Moby. "I longed for things to work in that way. I wanted to be fixed by these unhealthy external things. Part of sobriety—and a degree of spiritual fitness—is that we can’t, in adulthood, hold on to crazy, magical thinking."
In fast-paced, conversational vignettes that weave between his childhood and music-industry heyday, Moby navigates these nuanced themes with great care. He divulges juicy stories involving the biggest celebrities of the 2000s, but even during the glamorous parties and ecstasy-fueled sex, the shadows of Moby's childhood traumas lurk near. Without glorifying or self-flagellating, Moby offers a candid look at his triumphs and mistakes. The memoir reads as heartfelt rather than preachy, and his attitude is one of compassion and understanding towards himself and, by extension, readers who see themselves in his struggles.
There's plenty of comic relief in Then It Fell Apart. Like when Moby, new to the Hollywood scene, goes out with Natalie Portman wearing an oversized, gold-lamé Elvis suit because he doesn't yet own celebrity-worthy attire. Or when he realizes Eminem actually hates him (the two meet for the first time at the VMAs and the rapper threatens Moby on stage).
In addition, the book contains touching triumphs, like when Moby finds himself in disbelief at the surreal experience of performing with his idols, New Order, as well as crushing lows (including suicidal ideation) that happen more and more frequently as Moby's celebrity starts to fade.
Surprisingly, within nearly 400 pages, Then It Fell Apart doesn't delve into Moby's journey of recovery, instead ending on the day the self-described "alcohol enthusiast" admitted he had a problem and decided to seek treatment. He's saving what came after for his next book, which he says won't be about recovery per se, but about a larger theme of spirituality.
"I’m not a Christian but my life is geared towards God, understanding God, trying to do God's will," says Moby. "Keeping in mind, I have no idea who or what God might be."
Since getting clean, Moby has released several albums, enjoyed lucrative music-licensing deals and opened a nonprofit vegan restaurant that raises money for animal rights causes. But he no longer cares about being cool, focusing on his spiritual well-being instead—which has been liberating.
"It’s really nice to just accept age, accept hair loss, accept diminishing commercial viability," he says. "Accepting these things and trying to learn from them is a lot more enjoyable and a lot healthier than angrily fighting entropy."
Moby appears at the Bay Area Book Festival on May 4. Details here.
Care about what’s happening in Bay Area arts? Stay informed with one email every other week—right to your inbox.