Then It Fell Apart by Moby review – sex, drugs and self-loathing

The superstar DJ’s account of his journey from poverty to wild parties in mansions is funny and often harrowing

For many people, evacuating your bowels in a squalid Times Square strip-club lavatory because you have drunkenly ingested a furious stripper’s entire bag of cocaine might qualify as “rock bottom”. Not for Moby, the superstar DJ and musician, an “alcohol enthusiast”. The second instalment of his memoirs bumps along so many of these notional rock bottoms, it’s like a dredger scraping an undersea mountain range. “I used to teach Bible study!” Moby laughs, hysterical at his own self-abasement, Versace trousers round his ankles, security pounding on the door.

We are all overly familiar with my-drug-hell stories touted by celebrities seeking redemption and a pay cheque, however reduced it may be. Moby’s memoirs are a little different: peopled by everyone you have ever heard of (Bono! Madonna! Hillary Clinton!), they are often squawk-out-loud funny and unexpectedly lyrical in places.

“I’d just had sex with a tall she-wolf aristocrat who’d disappeared like a pale vampire before the sun touched her,” he writes of having his scrawny bones jumped by a Russian gangster’s moll in St Petersburg, 2005. “I felt like an anonymous dissipated spy.” These are cautionary tales from the several circles of hell where the 1% meet the ultra-famous. You highly doubt he can remember all the conversations he recounts, but Moby makes for a compelling Virgil.

Porcelain, his first print outing, detailed the gilded scuzz of a decade in which the techno plate-spinner came into renown in 90s New York. It was a sort of pilgrim’s progress in which a suburban misfit found his people and his calling, pulsating with the joys of raving. This was all before Play, Moby’s multi-platinum 1999 hit, which enjoyed Adele-levels of ubiquity.

But, ooh, lordy, the trouble that ensued. Then It Fell Apart moves back and forth along Moby’s lifeline, mixing episodes from his childhood in Connecticut with vignettes from the post-Play years. We go down the other, more perilous face of the fame mountain.

It’s often harrowing. The book opens with a 2008 suicide attempt: asphyxiation by binliner. Intended as considerate towards whoever found his body – no blood – the metaphor is rich: throughout his life, Richard Melville Hall, the distant descendant of Herman Melville, struggles with the psychological toll taken by an impoverished upbringing at the hands of a flaky mum.

His ancestors are too Mayflower to be white trash, but his hippy widowed mother struggled to put food on the table while living a suburban version of the 60s dream. The young “Mobes” hides in closets while the grownups get scarily out of control. One night, he unwittingly saves his mother from being murdered by a knife-wielding boyfriend. In an ad-hoc nursery, he is sexually abused. The irrational shame of poverty sings loudly from these pages: watering down milk, being overly polite in nice houses to make up for his charity shop clothes. You want to hug that little escapist sci-fi fan very hard.

Later, Moby seems to live on peanut butter – his teenage Christianity eventually wanes, but not his adult veganism. Eventually, he gets everything he dreams of: adulation, a fortune, the love of a slew of beautiful women (he dates Christina Ricci and Natalie Portman) and an apartment he dubs “the sky-castle” overlooking Central Park.

Eminem hates him, for Moby’s habit of calling out his misogyny, but Moby has been elevated to a kind of music obsessive’s heaven. He plays Joy Division songs with New Order. He is not just neighbours but friends with his idol, David Bowie.

Moby in Norwalk, Connecticut, 1968
Moby in Norwalk, Connecticut, 1968. Photograph: From publishers

Hyper-celebrity opens other, stranger doors, too. A month after 9/11 – his birthday – Moby is helicoptered to a party at a mansion by the co-inventor of the Cabbage Patch doll, where the DJ and some allies play “knob-touch” – a self-explanatory prank – and Moby reportedly ends up brushing his penis against fellow guest Donald Trump.

There is often something a little naive about Moby’s writing style that lends itself to comedic ends, a kind of blinking, innocent abroad reportage that endears you to him through these strange encounters with colourful figures – Russian mafiosi, Patty Hearst’s daughter, Holly Woodlawn from Walk on the Wild Side.

But just as frequently, Moby admits to being “a dick” – horrifying and alienating friends, misusing the women who loved him, uttering the unforgivable phrase: “Don’t you know who I am?” Unsurprisingly, this morality tale, in which fame and money fix nothing and, indeed, make a lot of things worse, all ends in AA: you could read these memoirs as part of the 12-step amends-making process. Ten years sober, Moby now gives the profits from his vegan restaurant and other ventures to animal rights charities, this memoir included.

• Then It Fell Apart by Moby is published by Faber Social (£14.99). To order a copy go to guardianbookshop.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £15, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99

Contributor

Kitty Empire

The GuardianTramp

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