Dorian Lynskey

The clean and the unclean

Porcelain is candid, engaging and funny

In 1991, Moby folded the theme from Twin Peaks into a remix of his dance track ‘Go’ and a diminutive, teetotal, vegan Christian abruptly became the American rave scene’s first pop star. He was not the obvious candidate: one critic dubbed him ‘techno’s crazed youth minister’. As a showboating entertainer in a culture sceptical of stardom, and a somewhat sanctimonious puritan surrounded by hedonists, he put a lot of noses out of joint. On one early online rave forum the phrase ‘Go away Moby’ became a mantra.

In his first memoir, Richard Melville Hall (nicknamed Moby due to his famous ancestor Herman) unpicks this paradox with an unusual degree of self-awareness and deadpan humour. Porcelain, which opens in 1989 with his first DJ gig and ends ten years later just before the release of his 12 million-selling electronic blues album Play, tells a quintessential Nineties story: the countercultural misfit becomes an unlikely star in a period of cultural flux, struggles to adjust to his new position and succumbs to predictable temptations.

You could say the same of Jarvis Cocker or Trent Reznor, but Moby’s faith frames this well-trodden path as a spiritual battle between purity and decadence. In one chapter he takes a breath of fresh air before DJing on a barge in Brussels. ‘The inside of the boat was like a Hieronymous Bosch painting, whereas outside was a quiet, bucolic night.’ Throughout Porcelain he observes the bacchanal with a mixture of repulsion and fascination, an astute anthropologist who isn’t averse to undertaking extensive fieldwork.

Moby doesn’t dwell on his childhood except to say that it was a mess. He loses his alcoholic father in a car accident when he is two and grows up poor and alien in middle-class Connecticut. A teenage alcoholic, he becomes a straight-edge Christian in 1987.

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