Some music fans probably remember the late ’90s as that “spooky” time when boy bands were booming and Britney Spears posters lurked on every corner. But not Moby fans.
For them, 1999 was the landmark year when the then unknown club DJ released his fifth album Play and put the techno rhythm on the world music map.
Literally overnight, dance music comes out of the shadows and reaches top positions in the world charts, and Moby from an ordinary face of the New York crowd turns into the most famous DJ on the planet.
For a moment, he seemed to have it all – money, fame, an opportunity to heal the traumas of his poor childhood, but that’s an empty impression created by the tabloids, who fall in love with the story of the poor country boy with talent who rises to global stardom. It fits so well with the spirit of the American dream come true.
Behind the scenes, however, the story is different. The musician struggled with depression, uncontrolled abuse of alcohol, drugs and painkillers, which he talked about in his documentary Moby Doc.
“It’s ironic in a way that now I’m living a boring and happy life as a middle-aged man, and 20 years ago I was a world-famous narcissist and egotist, addicted to alcohol and drugs. I look at this guy and I can’t recognize him,” Moby told the magazine. People after the premiere of his film.
When he goes back in time, he clearly remembers the first moment he felt fame. It was the night after he used the Twin Peaks soundtrack for one of his mixes.
“One day I’m walking around East Side, New York on a Sunday morning collecting used bottles to recycle in exchange for food stamps, and the next day I have a Top 10 single between Michael Jackson and Phil Collins.” says the DJ, whose real name is Richard Melville Hall.
It is a success he has hoped for since he was a child. Growing up in wealthy Darien, Connecticut, Moby often felt like an outsider because he didn’t have the same financial opportunities. He was raised only by his mother, Elizabeth, because his alcoholic father died in a drunk driving accident.
“I was the only kid at school who wore clothes donated to charity. Until I was 18, I hadn’t met another poor person. I thought I was the only poor person not only in my town but in the whole world. That’s when my permanent feeling was born for shame,” the musician recalls.
Moby in concert in 2003.
At the age of 10, he took his first sip of alcohol after a friend handed him a glass of champagne at a New Year’s party, and from then on began stealing bottles of vodka and whiskey. In order to impress his richer peers, he does not refuse when they offer him to mix alcohol with drugs.
Nine years later, when he moved to New York to work as a DJ, Moby was addicted to LSD and cocaine, and sporadically suffered panic attacks as a result of his addictions. However, he is full of ambition to make a name for himself in the modern techno and house scene.
“If you had told me as a teenager that I would be signed to a major record label, rich and famous, I would have thought, ‘Wow, that would make me the happiest person on earth’. But I would have been wrong,” he commented. Moby.
The big jump in his career came with the release of Play, which made the DJ what Taylor Swift is to modern pop culture – everyone knows his songs, even without buying the album, because it is heard everywhere.
In record time, Moby is catapulted into the A-list of modern music, sending his bank account to financial heights he never imagined. But instead of being relieved by the spectacular achievement, he became even more anxious, depressed and addicted to alcohol and drugs.
On his weakest nights, he drinks 20 beers and spends several hundred dollars on cocaine. And under their influence he becomes a completely different person.
“One time I woke up at 8 in the morning and my house was full of people I didn’t know. There were bags of drugs around me and I had sex with a stranger. But then I thought it was a great adventure. I was an alcoholic and I was miserable, but I lied to myself that I was funny, charming and extremely insightful,” Moby recalls.
During this period, he enjoys life only after getting drunk, and because he is popular enough, a company quickly forms around him to match his pace. Everyone told each other that they were young, that life was short and that now was the time for parties and drunken tricks to tell their grandchildren.
And in this tone, one of his friends comes up with a joke, which subsequently becomes something of a tradition for each of their parties.
“We’d get drunk, we’d find some famous guy, one of us would take off our pants in front of him and challenge him to touch his hot dog. We did it once with Donald Trump. It was at a restaurant on Park Avenue at some fundraiser. Then Trump was just a real estate developer in New York. I’ll leave it to you to guess who the guy was who flashed his sausage in front of him. Sometimes I wonder if that really happened or if I’m making it up,” Moby told the Guardian.
Looking back now, the musician says he feels deep gratitude for his current monastic life in Los Angeles, where he moved in 2008 for his 12-step program of sobriety and drug renunciation.
After nearly two decades on the fringes of the industry, his new goal is to stay as far away from the “pop star” label as possible, although he continues to record music, write a memoir and participate in animal rights campaigns.
“I’ve realized that neither fame nor material success is the solution to my mental problems. In fact, on an emotional level, I’m content with the simple things – going for a walk, reading, tending to the trees I’ve planted. When you’ve spent a certain part of your life in pursuit of great success, it’s hard to admit that something so small can bring you happiness,” says the musician.