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Moby finds inspiration in Cheever for memoir

Melissa Danis

The musician Moby grew up in Darien, Conn., where boys had names like Bill and John. “I spent a lot of time explaining where my name came from.” The nickname, bestowed by his parents, was inspired by his very distant relative, Herman Melville. Moby reads from “Porcelain,” his new memoir, at 7 p.m. this Friday at Brookline Booksmith.

BOOKS: Did moving from New York City to Los Angeles change your reading?

MOBY: One difference is my subscription to The New Yorker lapsed, and I didn’t bother to renew it even though I love it. Something about being in LA and reading about hipsters opening pizza parlors in Bushwick didn’t have the same resonance.


BOOKS: Which books capture the time frame in New York you cover in your memoir, from the late ’80s into the ’90s?

MOBY: Tom Wolfe’s “The Bonfire of the Vanities” would probably come the closest. What characterizes New York for me is that strange dichotomy of extreme wealth and extreme poverty that exists 10 feet away from each other. For nonfiction, Robert A. Caro’s biography of Robert Moses, “The Power Broker.” It’s a biography of one person, but also a biography of a city.

BOOKS: Did you read memoirs in preparation to write your own?

MOBY: Before writing my book I bought any music memoir or biography I could find. What I found is that I didn’t like them. My favorite memoir, if you can call it that, is “The Journals of John Cheever.” I’ve been an obsessive Cheever fan since high school. There’s just a level of unflinching honesty to his journals. That became an inspiration. It was like someone learning how to play guitar listening to Jimi Hendrix.

BOOKS: What are you reading currently?

MOBY: Tablets have become a godsend for me. I used to bring 15 pounds of books on a trip. Now I can bring 1,000 books with me wherever I go. In the last week I was reading Bertrand Russell’s “A History of Western Philosophy,” which I loved when I was a philosophy major in college. I was reading books about early Sufi poets. I’ve become friends with some mystery writers so I make a point to read all their books. I was just reading Harlan Coben’s “Fool Me Once.” I’ve also started an obsessive rediscovery of Walker Percy.


BOOKS: What started that?

MOBY: In the ’80s someone gave me “The Moviegoer.” I just loved it. Since then I had forgotten about him. There was a time when he was firmly established in the literary canon and maybe something about his weird, existential Catholicism just confused a lot of literary people. I hope there will be a Walker Percy renaissance.

BOOKS: Now that you use a tablet, do you try books you wouldn’t have before?

MOBY: There are so many weird self-help books I would have never bought in a million years in a bookstore that I’ve had a gander at on my Kindle. A friend recommended one because her therapist wrote it: “The Tools” by Phil Stutz and Barry Michels. There’s a reductionist simplicity to it that I really like.

BOOKS: What are your favorite books on spirituality?

MOBY: There’s a really wonderful book by Stephen Batchelor, “Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist.’’ Then not a month goes by that I don’t crack the classic, the Tao Te Ching, which I first bought when I was 16 because I had a crush on an 18-year-old girl who loved it.


BOOKS: Did you grow up with books in the house?

MOBY: I was a latchkey kid so, especially during the summer when I had nothing to do, I’d go through my mom’s books, especially the ones with the cool titles. When I saw “A Season in Hell” by Arthur Rimbaud I wanted to read it. Rimbaud, Faulkner, and Charles Bukowski were my junior high into high school reading.

BOOKS: Have you read “Moby-Dick’’?

MOBY: I presumptuously think that because I’m descended from Melville that I have an insight into the book, which is doubly absurd because I haven’t finished it.


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