After Moby spoke out against Eminem’s misogynistic and homophobic lyrics at the Grammys in 2001, the rapper called him a “36-year-old baldheaded fag” and declared “nobody listens to techno” in his single “Without Me.” Turns out that the angry 8 Miler was wrong on both counts: Though an ultra-liberal vegan, Moby’s not gay, and if the international success of his critically acclaimed CDs (particularly his 1999 pop breakthrough Play) is any indication, electro club jams do have an audience. Now releasing his sixth studio album, Last Night, which he calls “a love letter to dance music in New York City,” our 42-year-old baldheaded friend celebrates his androgyny and searches for a fresh feud.
By Brandon Voss
The Advocate: First off, the cover art for Last Night only features busty babes — and they don’t look transsexual. Where are the men, Moby?
Moby: Oh, you haven’t seen the inside yet! There’s a really beautiful shirtless Polish boy with long red hair cascading down to his waist. He’s sort of the centerpiece of the art on the inside.
So what did you do last night?
Oh, last night was very glamorous. I flew back to New York from California, so my last night was spent watching Everybody Loves Raymond on the in-flight monitor on crappy American Airlines.
Are your nights fairly low-key nowadays?
As of late, yeah. For the last couple of years, I’ve found myself going out way too often. I mean, I’m 42 years old, and I hate to say this — it sounds like an old-age cliché — but it’s started to catch up to me. There were decades of my life where I could stay out until 6 in the morning every night with really no consequences, but I’ve found now that if I stay out until 5 or 6 o’clock in the morning and even have just four or five drinks, the whole next day is kind of shot.
Does an ideal night out in New York involve gay clubs?
On occasion, but the only problem is that I live right next to the Lower East Side, and all the good gay clubs are in Chelsea — and I’m nothing if not provincial. Also, the bigger gay clubs — and bigger clubs in general — kind of turn me off. I almost prefer a sleazy dive bar to a big shiny new club. I’m really not particularly classy when it comes to my taste in bars and nightclubs. I’ve been to Motor City on Ludlow Street probably about 500 times.
Last Night is your most dance-oriented album in years. Will you still be making dance music even when you look like the “nursing-home Moby” from your “Natural Blues” video?
Maybe not when I’m in my 90s, although who knows? It’s funny, because dance music is slowly becoming like a musical idiom, almost like folk music or jazz. I did a photo shoot recently for Mix mag’s 25th anniversary, and the average age of the people in the shoot was probably around 40. It’s just funny that this very progressive, technologically driven musical genre is slightly graying.
Well, just look at Madonna.
Yeah, she’s 120.
How do you reconcile your art with the drug use that permeates the hard-core club scene?
I don’t think there’s anything inherently good or bad about drugs, just like there’s nothing inherently good or bad about bricks. If you use a brick to build a house, it’s a good use of it; if you use it to drop on someone’s foot, that’s not such a good use. Everything really depends on use and context. I would safely say every single person I know has either done or continues to do drugs, and manages to live a healthy, happy life. In moderation, I think drugs are fine, but I don’t know too many light, moderate crystal meth users. There are some drugs, like crack and crystal meth, where it’s hard to argue for their therapeutic benefit. It’s not like a couple of glasses of red wine with dinner that lowers your cholesterol.
How can one dance past sunrise without drugs? Because Red Bull isn’t cutting it.
Speaking from experience, there are lots of ways. A few of my friends who are still late-night clubgoers come home and sleep until 3 in the morning, then go out at 3. In extreme cases, they’ll sleep until 6 in the morning and go out at 6, but the contrast is that if you walk into a club feeling bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and everybody else in there has been up for the last four days and looks like they’ve been dead for the last few years, then that’s not so sexy.
You’ve been such an ally to the gay community that you’ve taken some heat for it — like when you stated in an interview that gays were “superior to straight people.” Do you stand by that?
Yeah, and I also said that if and when I ever have children, I want gay children, which didn’t really endear me to the Christian right wing of America. There are a lot of people in the world who are virulently homophobic or misogynistic or anti-Semitic, and what baffles me is that if you just look at it empirically, gays, women, and Jews are certainly responsible for far fewer violent crimes than straight white guys. They’ve started fewer wars, and they tend to be well educated, fun to hang out with, and they have nice homes, bars, and restaurants.
Hard to believe you haven’t met more stupid, boring gays.
Well, I’ve met some depressing leather queens. [Laughs] But in general, and this has been the case for as long as I can remember, I’d much rather go to a really fun gay bar than some straight club where it’s guys with too much cologne trying to put date rape drugs in secretaries’ drinks.
You jokingly suggested feeding extra soy milk to a pregnant mother to ensure a gay child. Any other hints for making a gay baby?
They seem to be getting pretty good at manipulating the human genome, so maybe they can find the gay gene and feed it more. Or just play Dead or Alive and Donna Summer when the child’s in the womb.
But seriously, would you have reservations about bringing a gay child into a world in which he’d face prejudice?
It depends on where we’re living. One of the things that makes me most proud to live in New York is that it’s so tolerant. It’s really one of the few places in the world where anybody can walk down the street holding hands with anybody else, and that’s remarkable considering how intolerant so many parts of the rest of the world are. It really is something precious. People can come here and live however they so choose without any fear of reprisal or judgment.
How did your relationship with the gay community begin?
My upbringing in Connecticut had been relatively sheltered, so it first began around 1980 or ’81, when I first started coming out to clubs in New York to see punk rock bands. I’d go to CBGB, A7 — but we’d also go to places like Danceteria, the Fallout Shelter, and the Peppermint Lounge. And what was fantastic about the bigger clubs then is that you’d go for one type of music but almost inadvertently be exposed to lots of other different types of music, and exposed to the scenes that those other types of music generated. So you’d go to Danceteria to see a punk rock band, but then all of a sudden you’d find yourself on the second or third floor at 5 o’clock in the morning dancing to fantastic proto-house. It was such an open time, with Larry Levan being the poster child for that celebratory eclecticism and tolerance: an African-American gay DJ playing punk rock, hip-hop, and disco records.
Was this a time of sexual experimentation for you?
The only experimentation I did from the time I was about 14 until 24 was musical experimentation. I’d had a really strange early drug period: I’d started doing drugs when I was 10 and stopped when I was 13, so by the time I actually started going to nightclubs I was straight-edge and didn’t drink or do drugs. I only started drinking and doing drugs again in my 30s.
But the sexual experimentation started at 24?
No, that was actually much later. I was a really uptight, straight-laced kid, so just as I’d been really closed and conservative in my personal habits before I was 30, from 30 to 40 I went to the other extreme to see what was out there.
You’ve described yourself as “neither straight nor gay.” Do you consider yourself bisexual?
I just like to think of myself as being pretty open-minded. Also, you never know what the future might bring, so I have no idea. It’s a cliché to say this, but in a perfect world, the dichotomous definition of straight and gay would probably carry less weight.
John Cameron Mitchell, in whose 2006 film Shortbus you invested, once called you “the perfect androgyne, with all the loveliest qualities of male and female.”
That’s a nice compliment. I just think I’m a middle-aged bald guy who lives on the Lower East Side. [Laughs] John Cameron Mitchell must have a portrait of Dorian Gray in his closet somewhere — he’s ageless. For the last 10 or however many years, every time I’ve seen him he still looks like he’s 22. And he looks like the most innocent, guileless person — he does have a really beautiful soul — but there’s a very dark side to him as well.
Have you ever been in love with a man?
Hmm, let me think. Have I? You know, it’s a sad truth, but I don’t know. I’ve loved lots of people — I’ve loved men, I’ve loved women — but when my friends talk about being in love, I still don’t know what they’re talking about. The ways in which people describe being in love, I’ve never experienced for a man or a woman.
Aside from the time that you were mistakenly “gay-bashed” in Boston years ago, has being labeled as gay ever annoyed you or caused you problems?
No, I wear it as a badge of honor. Honestly, I’d much rather align myself with the gay community than the straight community.
Do you blame Eminem for creating that confusion?
No, because there’s always been some gender confusion attached to me. I remember being 9 or 10 years old with quite long hair, and I was always mistaken for a girl.
Do you miss your hair?
I don’t necessarily miss it, because when I had it I did terrible things to it. At one point I had this really embarrassing raver haircut where my head was shaved but the front was quite long and stuck up off my head — a little bit like David Yarritu back in the ABC days. And at one point I cut my hair very short and then bleached leopard spots into it. So karmically, I do think the reason I have no hair is because I was so bad to it when I did have it. The universe stole it from me just for mismanagement.
Is it satisfying to hear that Eminem got fat?
Oh, I’m getting fat too. I think Eminem is such a fascinating character. I honestly don’t know what to make of him. He’s certainly not an uncomplicated person. I don’t know if he’s genuinely misogynistic and homophobic. He’s done some things that I actually quite admire, like the video he came out with called “Mosh,” which was very critical of the war in Iraq at a time when very few people were speaking out against it — especially given his fan base. It’s no big deal for me to speak out against the war in Iraq, because all my fans are lefties, but a lot of his fans are not the most progressive people in the world.
You’re due for another feud. Who pisses you off now?
After Eminem, I learned never to pick a feud with the most successful musician on the planet who’s always surrounded by men with guns. Whatever feud I pick in the future is going to have to be someone really innocuous — like, find some generic indie rock band, and I’ll pick a feud with the percussionist. Or maybe the drum tech for Clap Your Hands Say Yeah.
You campaigned heavily for John Kerry. Who has your support in the current presidential race?
I’m just sort of enjoying the fact that Bush is the lamest of the lame ducks. I think that Hillary would be a great president, and I think that Barack Obama would be a great president. Not to be too wishy-washy, but I’ll gladly support whoever gets the nomination.
You produced the track “Early Mornin’” on Britney Spears’s In the Zone. Has that made it particularly difficult to watch her decline?
Oh, I love Britney. As long as she doesn’t die… I like all the late-’90s teen stars and what’s become of them — like, it’s fascinating watching Christina Aguilera turn into Dee Snider from Twisted Sister — but Britney especially. She’s like this Tennessee Williams tragic figure. The fatter she gets, the weirder she gets, the more I love her. I found her moderately appealing in the late ’90s, but now I would marry her in a heartbeat.
The Advocate, April 2008; extended online version.