In This Episode
Ground-breaking musician Moby joins to discuss his sobriety and all that comes with it: humility, serving others, and looking somewhere else beside fame to fill the emptiness inside. His new auto-bio-pic, “Moby Doc,” is in limited release to theaters now. Then, on this week’s “With Adorables Like These” Mina Kimes joins with her dog (and podcast co-host) Lenny.
[Moby song plays]
Ana Marie Cox: Hi, I’m Ana Marie Cox. Welcome to With Friends Like These. Our guest this week is Moby. He has been around for a while and he’s known for a few things, including his music and his animal rights activism. But this interview isn’t about any of the things you think you know about him. This interview is about hitting bottom, getting sober, and what happens when fame isn’t enough to fill that gaping hole inside you. These are all issues that come up in his new autobiographical film, Moby Doc, which is in limited release in theaters. He also has a new album, Reprise, which is made up of acoustic and orchestral remixes of his own music. I’m going to throw in a content warning for discussion of depression and suicidal ideation. But please know the conversation itself is not dark. It’s pretty hopeful and it’s coming right up.
Ana Marie Cox: Moby, welcome to the show.
Moby: Well, thank you so much for having me.
Ana Marie Cox: I saw your movie. I have so many questions, and the first one I want to start with is you kind of open by saying this isn’t going to be just another biopic by some weird musician. Right? So I wonder when you were going into this, what did you want to do differently? How did you make it different?
Moby: So I had been a documentary judge at the Tribeca Film Festival. I was a judge for the International Documentary Association. In the course of my life, I have watched way too many music documentaries. And some of them are delightful, but structurally they’re all sort of the same, and they all tell this story largely through talking heads, interviews and archival footage, and, which can be great for some subject matter. Like, if you’re watching a documentary about Nina Simone, you want to see archival footage, you want talking heads, but it becomes this sort of very repetitive trope. And so the director, Rob, and I, when we started working on Moby Doc—and I apologize for the pun, it’s just, it’s the best name we could come up with.
Ana Marie Cox: [laughs]
Moby: When we started working on it, we sort of had these relatively modest goals. One was to make it unlike any other music doc that we’ve seen. Which the reason that’s a modest goal is our goal was not to make it better than other music docs, just to simply make it different. The other was to try and be honest. You know you know the idea of being of service, which I guess at some point we’ll talk about when we get into the 12 Step section. And the third was, and this is going back to my days of when I was a philosophy major, I went briefly to SUNY Purchase, State University of New York at Purchase, and they had an experimental film program and I got—what’s the word, is it inculcated, indoctrinated? Basically brought into the world of experimental film and realized that conventional narrative structure and film is largely, is arbitrary. And you can play with devices as much as you want. There doesn’t have to be a three-act narrative. There’s nothing that you have to do in making a movie. And we found that to be really creatively emancipating or liberating. And so those were the three goals, largely informed by the fact that I’ve watched way too many music documentaries.
Ana Marie Cox: Was there anything you specifically didn’t want to do?
Moby: Well, the heartbreaking thing is we went out and we interviewed about 50 people, from friends, people I’d worked with, fans, and after watching them, we realized we didn’t want to use any of them except for David Lynch. We interviewed David Lynch and we sort of thought, you know, if David Lynch is willing to be interviewed for our movie, we have to use his talking head footage. So the only, the only traditional interview in the movie is with David Lynch, which by definition is untraditional.
Ana Marie Cox: Why do this? You’ve seen a thousand music documentaries. But you have something to say.
Moby: Yeah, I mean, the core and boy, oh, boy, I always, I do all this sort of self-editing in my head, and I don’t know if it’s a function of being an uptight, anxious WASP from Connecticut or what, but like—so I’m going to try not to edit too much, especially because you are that word that I don’t know, implicated in the 12 Step world as well. So—
Ana Marie Cox: You can use the jargon with me if you want.
Moby: OK, easy does it. So, with, like I’ve written a couple of autobiographies with this documentary, the idea is simply to share experience, strength, and hope. You know and the way that’s translated is talking about my experience with the human condition, and how basically you could almost say, broadly speaking, there are two facets of the human condition—which I know is an overly broad thing to say—but they’re sort of like the objective and the subjective, you know. Like an individual’s experience of the human condition as opposed to the shared experience of the human condition. And regardless of whether it’s collective or individual, the human condition is baffling, you know, and so we all have these ways of managing our experience of the human condition. Sometimes that’s a result of specific trauma, and sometimes it’s just being alive for a few decades in a universe that’s 15 billion years old. You know, being descended from scared monkeys makes us, by definition, scared monkeys. And so the idea is to sort of say that, again, the 12 Steps thing of like: what was it like then, what did I do, what’s it like now? That’s, so really Moby Doc is it a surreal 12 Step testimonial.
Ana Marie Cox: I’m going to impose some conventional narrative here because I want to talk about your childhood a bit. The movie goes way back to that. Like you do talk about pretty early childhood on, and I think it’s safe to say it was a traumatic childhood.
Moby: Yeah, I mean, I don’t have a ton of perspective because I’ve only had my childhood. And when I was growing up, I thought I was the only poor—literally poor as in on food stamps and welfare—I thought I was the only poor person in the world because I lived in Darien, Connecticut, the most affluent town in the United States. And so growing up on food stamps and welfare, being physically abused, just having a lot of trauma and stuff around me, I thought it was all normal and I thought everybody else was fine. So one thing I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older and this is so self-evident, is that everybody’s had struggles. Mine might be a little more dramatic and a little more obvious, but like other people have struggled as well. And I’ve thought for a while, and I don’t know if you ever went through this, but for a while I thought that my historical pain and my struggle, my PTSD, sort of justified a lot of self-involvement and a lot of bad behavior. I had an ex-girlfriend who actually wrote me this line once, she said, what was it? Are you, something about, are you hurt enough to justify your cruelty? And I was like: oh God, you’re absolutely right. I’m using past pain to justify present narcissism and bad behavior. And so that’s my only hesitation, saying, like yes, my childhood was traumatic. It shaped who I am. But I have to assume, but I have to assume that everybody has experienced their own unique type of dysfunction and trauma.
Ana Marie Cox: I think that having an alcoholic household, and your father died when you were pretty young. I think those are objectively tough things to live through. Now I, but I love—go ahead.
Moby: The was some [unclear]. Then there was some sexual abuse as well. There’s, you know like, just a lot of, just a lot of really, like—sorry, I apologize for interrupting, but it reminded me when I finally went to therapy after so many years of perfectly fine, I go to therapy on the Upper West Side of New York and I started talking about my childhood to my therapist and at one point I looked up and he had this look of horror on his face—.
Ana Marie Cox: [laughs]
Moby: And I realized, like: wow, like what sort of child do you have to have to get this, like seventy-year old Upper West Side therapist who’s everything, to respond with shock and horror?
Ana Marie Cox: Like I said, I think objectively pretty tough, but I do love the observation everyone has it tough in some way, right? And I think that is a really valuable lesson of the rooms in a way too. So I was wondering, though, one of the things that got you through this time was the animals of your household. Right? They were your emotional support animals before we had that term.
Moby: Yeah, I mean, I at an early age, it makes me think a little bit of the Terminator movie. You remember the first Terminator movie by chance? Where Arnold Schwarzenegger, as the Terminator goes into the world, he’s looking for Sarah Connor and so he looks at everything in the world, and if it’s not Sarah Connor, it doesn’t register to him. And so I sort of had this filter as a child, whereas, like something either felt safe or unsafe. Even though I didn’t have that language back then, I didn’t know that existed, but I gravitated towards the thing that provided comfort and felt safe, and stayed away from the things that didn’t feel comfortable and felt unsafe. So an early age safety was: animals, music, books, and being outside. Unsafe was humans and everything pertaining to the world of humans.
Ana Marie Cox: So that sounds familiar to me as well. And I know for me the next discovery was chemicals, as a way of being safe in the world. It was a suit of armor, among other things. Is that something that happened for you?
Moby: Oh, yeah. I mean, well, it depends how we’re defining chemicals. It we’re talking about, like rotten—
Ana Marie Cox: Mind-altering chemicals?
Moby: produce drinks. Basically, yeah. Like I remember so clearly, I’m not going to name names, because even though this was like 40 some odd years ago when I was, I think, 10 years old, nine year or 10 years old, I was at the New Year’s Eve party at a friend’s house, and my friend’s mom gave me a glass of champagne—relatively innocent—hands a 10-year old a glass of champagne. And I drank it. And I remember thinking so clearly, I was like, what is this magic? Like, like, how has this one bubbly drink fixed everything? So I quickly had three glasses of champagne, and then that night I remember like I was in the bunk bed with my friend, like he had bunk beds with like probably Battlestar Galactica sheets, and I was falling asleep and I just remember thinking to myself: I never want to not feel this way. At that point someone should have just given me a copy of the big book and said: like, go out, like do what you’re going to do, but like at some point we’ll save a seat for you.
Ana Marie Cox: I’ve always found it fascinating and yet never fails that is, for those of us for whom drugs and alcohol have that effect, that life changing effect, we never forget that first time.
Moby: And then, so that was the first alcohol I had. The first drug time was so legal and so delightful: it was laughing gas at the dentist’s. I was, I think, again, 10 or 11-years old, having some teeth pulled, and they gave me the laughing gas, and I actually do remember this, walking out of the dentist’s office and saying something similar like that was so great, why can’t we do that every day? And a friend of my mother’s or someone saying: oh, you watch out. She says: just be careful, because that can be, like—she probably knew that even at 11, like I was bound for the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Ana Marie Cox: Something I’ve heard, I wonder what you think of it is the idea that normal people use drugs and alcohol to feel good. Addicts and alcoholics use drugs and alcohol to feel normal.
Moby: I’ve never heard that before, but that is succinct and accurate. Yeah, but, but, I’d say you could expand on it because, of course, like alcohol and drugs made everything flawless, but they also I mean, alcohol for me, especially, like I love drugs, the only drug I never liked was marijuana.
Ana Marie Cox: Ah. Same.
Moby: That’s the only drug, I tried everything, the only drug I actively disliked. Of course, I kept doing it, but I didn’t like it. But alcohol was such a magical chemical because, like, if I needed to wake up, it woke me up. If I needed to calm down, it calmed me down. It gave me insights that I thought were so sublime. It could be psychedelic. It could, it did, it was just, it was almost like the ultimate adapt-agen. It like, it just did whatever I wanted it to do, which is, of course, why it took so many decades to be rid of it.
Ana Marie Cox: We need to bump in for a quick commercial break.
Ana Marie Cox: So I’m curious about how music sort of feeds into the use. People ask me all the time about my addiction and recovery and my writing, so I’m sure you must have given it some thought. At first, it was different than what it became, and I wonder what that story is for you.
Moby: Well, there are two aspects to that in a weird way. One is the practical aspect of weirdly, as a crazy alcoholic addict, I never performed drunk, and I never worked on music drunk or high. I tried once and I didn’t like it, but so it was the only thing in my life that I carved out. Like, and I don’t know what was going on in my brain that enabled me to do that because every other part of my life was completely affected by being drunk or high. As, nothing, nothing was exempt except for working on music. I don’t know what weird little protective mechanism exists in my brain around that. But having said that, my approach to music was completely corrupted, not necessarily by drinking, but by the thinking around it. Almost you could say that the utility of alcohol and drugs, which was largely controlled, trying to, trying to fix things, trying to control the world around us.
Ana Marie Cox: Manage, we say sometimes.
Moby: Yeah. You know like in the big book with Bill Wilson’s funny old language about the guy who rents the theater and hires the ballet and writes everything, it’s all controlled. And so what? Especially on 2000, 2001, 2002 when I had a degree of success, I decided that in order to be happy, I needed to keep the success train going. And so I started thinking of music as a way of doing that. And I compromised my approach to making music. I started thinking about record sales. I started thinking about radio play. Luckily I wasn’t good at, you know, and so I never really like whenever I had air quote “commercial success” it was accidental, like I could never construct it. And that sort of drove me crazy that I couldn’t intentionally write hit singles. I couldn’t intentionally make hit albums. If something was successful, it almost was in spite of my efforts. But nonetheless, I kept trying. I was like: oh, OK, I’ll hire a new publicist and they’ll keep me famous, and I’ll collaborate with this person, they’ll keep me famous. And so that’s the alcoholic part of the control. That crippling, it’s basically the trying to control the universe because you assume that the universe needs to be controlled. And then the corner stone, if I have to say, like the cornerstone of my sobriety—apart from being an alcoholic—but the cornerstone is recognizing that the universe doesn’t need to be controlled and that I’m really bad at trying to control it. Like looking at the universe from my place of abject lack of omniscience, no objectivity, and me looking at something and saying I know how it should be. And I found that there’s like that almost like spiritual chiropractor-y readjusting when you realize, like: oh, I’m not looking at the universe, I’m looking at my fears, I’m looking at my, [unclear] perceived inadequacies. And it makes the world a lot more gentle when you come to that realization, where like I can go into the world and try and make things better with the full understanding that I’m just like a scared idiot monkey that knows nothing.
Ana Marie Cox: There’s a wonderful freedom and peace and humility, basically.
Moby: And a humility that is the product of decades of hubris-fueled failure. It’s one thing to say, like spiritual people who were like, oh, I’m humble. Like I’m and I’m like, oh, I’m humble because I was so bad at trying to control things. Like, I saw my failures so many times up close, it makes it really hard to trust in my ability to fix things, you know?
Ana Marie Cox: Yeah, I know how things work when I’m in charge . . . so maybe not me. The way that I sometimes term my surrender, I won’t tell you my whole story, but the big moment was in an E.R. when I realized I’d run through options A through Z. And all my big brain had tried everything right? And I had this thought: OK, you drive . . . universe.
Ana Marie Cox: You know, I’m done, you drive. And it didn’t necessarily feel good, like when you have a fight, when you’re driving someplace and you have a fight about directions, giving up that fight isn’t necessarily great.
Moby: I mean, it’s, giving up the familiar, even if the familiar is destroying you, is still terrifying, you know. And so it doesn’t happen right away, like you can hand the wheel over to the universe and then I then spent the next 13 years trying to sort of like grab it back at times, saying, like: OK, you drive, like we’re coming up to a straightaway, everything looks fine, you drive there, but after that, I think I might need to take it back because we’re getting into some complicated terrain. And but there are those moments when, like when I wanted to take the control back, because it’s really easy to say to the universe, to the divine, whatever that might be like: your will be done. But then to carve things out, like your will be done in a general sense, but these things are important, so my will be done around them. But when I’ve been able to say your will be done everywhere with all things and mean it, there’s, again, a sense of like, Oh. And then, when, again, it’s a very dangerous thing to talk about because I don’t want to anthropomorphize the universe and obviously, like I had dinner a few years ago with Sam Harris and his wife and I used the word God during dinner, they were horrified. And afterwards, I was like, oh, they’re right, like, why do I use that word when it’s the word that has caused more trouble in human history than basically anything else? But nonetheless, I still use that word with no idea what it means. But wait, where was I? Sam Harris, uh.
Ana Marie Cox: Universe in control. Actually, I have a question. I can interrupt with a question unless you remember where you are going?
Moby: Just very quickly, is the realization of like there’s the universe. I don’t want to anthropomorphize it, but my experience of it is it’s phenomenal, and inclined towards gentleness. Which is not how I thought things when I was like pre-sobriety, pre therapy, pre-work. That’s not how I saw, I saw it as being like a Nietzchean void that at best you could just run away from.
Ana Marie Cox: I’m curious what your carve outs are.
Moby: Oh, I don’t have any, anymore. [laughs]
Ana Marie Cox: Oh, really? OK.
Moby: I don’t think so. I mean, like even this, like the stuff, like for example, like in a perfect world, I’ll never be buried alive. In a perfect world, I will never be sentenced to time in a supermax prison. In a perfect world, I will keep my feet until the day I die. So like I would really like not to be buried alive. I’d really like to keep my feet, and really like not to go to a supermax prison, but if these things happen, I hope I’d be able to say: OK, fuck, I hate this, but your will be done. I hope. You know, like I really—but then again, if I’m on fire, it’ll be really hard to say: wow, your will be done. I probably would just want someone to put out the fire
Ana Marie Cox: And forgive my kind of sarcasm or incredulousness there. It’s just that the carve outs are really hard, I think, for a lot of people. And it’s something that I have to work on all the time. And let me share where one of mine is, because I’d love to get your insight on it, and perhaps you can counsel me, which is politics.
Moby: [laughs[ Oh, OK. So you—
Ana Marie Cox: I have a really hard time, like allowing things to happen in the political world and believing like, oh, no, yeah, the universe wanted Donald Trump to be elected.
Moby: Well, but what I—
Ana Marie Cox: The universe was OK with that.
Moby: OK, so that’s very interesting because I think it almost makes me think of a New Testament quote that I like—and I’m not a Christian in any real sense of the word. I mean, I used to be a very serious Christian. I taught Bible study, but now I’m a Daoist who’s fascinated by quantum mechanics. Like I, I love Christ and the character of Christ, I really don’t like the institutional—
Ana Marie Cox: He’s a cool dude.
Moby: Yeah. So there’s one quote that I love in the New Testament, which is so wonderfully paradoxical, which is: be as innocent as doves and as wise as foxes. Doesn’t say either-or, it says both. And so what I would say is it reminds me if I had this philosophy teacher wanted to talk about naive realism and he would say that, like ontologically he can deconstruct anything. He can prove to you that nothing exists, that nothing has inherent qualities, that there’s no mass, that there’s no color, that there is no, that nothing exists. He can point to a bus and deconstruct the bus, but he’s still going to get out of the way of the bus. And so what I would say is like when I go into things, I go into things personally as a flawed human being with limited perspective, but. I just constantly ask, like, divine whatever you are, your will be done. And so if I’m doing everything in my power to make sure that Donald Trump is not reelected, I’m still asking: your will be done. And it’s hard to say, like whether Trump being elected, was that divine will or did that just happen? Is that just a shitty thing that happened? And the divine kind of like when an organism gets sick, is the illness divine will or is the immune system fighting against the illness a better expression of divine will? Because I think maybe because we’re on the same team, but like I would say, us fighting against the Trumps and Marjorie Taylor Greens and Matt Gaetz’s and Steve Bannon’s, et cetera, of the world. Like I say, we’re acting like an immune system. We’re horrified. We’re white blood cells thing. Like these are wrong. These are not supposed to be in our body. But with the understanding if they are, I hope that I’m corrected in my process. At least, I don’t know if that’s in any way relevant or helpful, but that’s my perspective.
Ana Marie Cox: I like the metaphor, the illness metaphor. And I think you’ve also helped me understand what was going to be another question sort of along these lines, which is being an animal rights activist in a world where animals are treated so cruelly all the time, every day. That it must, how does one continue to go on.
Ana Marie Cox: But it sounds a little bit like there might be some parallel thinking there.
Moby: I mean, it’s that’s, I would, I mean, you could, going to say that’s my one of my biggest personal challenges—not to make it about me, but I’m a narcissist.
Ana Marie Cox: We’re talking about you. So it’s OK. Go ahead.
Moby: So it’s really hard when they’re like over a trillion animals are killed by and for humans every year. And in the process, not only are a trillion animals killed, but like the rainforest is cut down, climate change is exacerbated, antibiotic resistance goes through the roof, water use is out of control, pandemics are started, cancer, diabetes, heart dis—like all the consequences of humans killing animals doesn’t just affect the animals. It’s destroying us. So to sit back and observe it and want it to, that want that to no longer be the case, sure if I dwell on it, it would make my brain break. But all I can say to myself is like: look, I’m one little guy. I do what I can.
Ana Marie Cox: I think this is a good time for us to take a quick break.
Ana Marie Cox: You seem to have had a few times that were pretty low you talk about in the movie. I’m just going to off top of my head: there’s waking up covered in shit. That sounds bad.
Moby: Well, to qualify that a little bit, as I describe in the movie, I woke up covered in poop. I don’t actually know whose poop it is, so I don’t know if that makes it better or worse.
Ana Marie Cox: Good context, good context. And then more seriously, you missed your mother’s funeral.
Moby: Yeah, but again, to qualify it a little bit, I didn’t just miss my mom’s funeral. I sort of slept through it because I was drunk. I was hungover and drunk. That really there should be a word, like in there’s a word I’m sleeping. You know the word, hypnagogic.
Ana Marie Cox: No.
Moby: It’s a great word hypnagogic is a state between waking and sleeping. Why that word never existed between drunk and hung over. Like it’s not like someone like flips a switch and you’re hung over, like there’s that period, we’ll call it like the 8:00 a.m. period where, you know, like maybe the 1:00 p.m. period where you’re like you’re still very drunk, but you’re also very hung over. So that’s why I missed my mom’s funeral, because I was passed out in bed in that state.
Ana Marie Cox: Yes. And then there is a time when you are in Barcelona for the MTV Music Awards and you are so completely hopeless and despairing. You’re contemplating suicide, but the windows of the hotel room . . .
Moby: Didn’t open wide enough, which I think is really funny. I mean, at the time, I actually felt like even more of a failure. I was like, so to contextualize that a bit, it was 2002, I was sort of at the height of this lunatic level of the commercial success. Like I was winning awards, I had platinum records on my wall, I was staying in this crazy hotel suite with Bon Jovi, Madonna and P. Diddy as my neighbors on my floor. I was on a tour where I had my own tour bus and headlining arenas. It was as good as it gets for a professional musician. And I was so depressed and I felt like such a failure because I didn’t know why I was depressed. I was like, everything’s great, why am I so miserable? And so this one night in Barcelona, I had won an MTV Award and I’d been drinking. I was very drunk. I was back in my hotel suite and I just thought, like: OK, this isn’t working, but I don’t know what else to do. Like, like everything I’ve worked for has gotten me to this place. I’ve never been less happy, which is not, if any one’s listening, or of course people are listening, but to the people who are listening, I’m not complaining. I’m not looking for pity. I’m just saying, like, I was stumped. I was like, this is like, I’m affluent, successful and drunk. Why am I not happy? And, and it just metastasized and I decided, OK, you know what? I’m just going to throw myself out the window, just be done with it. And I went to all the windows in the hotel suite and it was like this fancy modern hotel none of them opened more than about four inches. And I was just like: oh, come on, I can’t even figure out how to kill myself. Like, it’s that much of a failure.
Ana Marie Cox: So I have to take off my fellow “pal of Bill” hat to ask this next question about that stuff.
Ana Marie Cox: Because I think a normal person might say all of those things sound so terrible. But none of them are the reason why you quit drinking, none of those things where your actual bottom.
Moby: Oh, no my bottom was still another six years away.
Ana Marie Cox: You want to explain what the actual bottom was?
Moby: The actual bottom was kind of mundane. And I wish I had a more dramatic bottoming out story. It was because I tried to get sober so many times. The first time I tried to get sober, I was 14 years old. I had a really rough night with my friend Dave and it ended up with him being intubated by EMTs and the next morning I was so upset, that I was like: OK, that’s it, no more drinking, no more drugs. So at 14. My only claim to fame as an alcoholic, because I think my first sobriety date before most people ever started drinking. So but it kept going, I kept having new sobrieties, and then in the four years before I got sober, I had multiple, multiple attempts, like going to AA, going to therapy, trying different things. And then finally—and I wish it was more dramatic because I’m afraid I’m going to bore you and the people who are listening—I had played a fundraiser for Kristen Gillibrand when she was running for Senate, still never met her. I just played this fundraiser. She was there. I think she left because I was saying horrifying things on stage about Republicans, but I played the fundraiser, started drinking, ended up going out in Hudson, New York, and drinking more, buying drugs, being given the drugs that were given to me. And the next morning, I was taking Amtrak back to the city. And it was, as I’m sure you’ve experienced and possibly some of the people listening have experienced, I was so sick. That like the sickness unto death. The sickness, we’re like your cells hurt. You can’t think straight and you can’t distract yourself. You drink coffee, you can’t read a magazine because the words are moving around. You can’t listen to music because you’re in too much chemical, physical, hung-over pain. And I realized I been that way a few thousand times. And all of a sudden, I was like: I’m done. I’m like, this is, like I’ve looked at the evidence has confronted me so aggressively for so many years, it’s time to finally be done. And then I walked into an AA meeting. I went back to New York and went to this AA meeting on First Avenue and First Street in a yoga studio. And that’s when I was done.
Ana Marie Cox: See, I actually think it’s really important to tell the boring bottom stories, because I think it’s good for people to, they need they need to understand that those dramatic ones don’t necessarily do it.
Moby: Yeah. And I had the dramatic ones, and the dramatic ones are very anecdotal and fun, and I love hearing people’s, like going to meetings and hearing great dramatic stories. Like some of them are, just as you know, it’s the best theater in the world and it costs a dollar.
Ana Marie Cox: And we’re all such hams.
Moby: Yeah. And I love when like when people are really good at telling their story and it leads to like the most horrifying comedic places. Like that’s the other thing I think people don’t fully understand about sobriety is like when we tell our stories, usually we’re laughing,
Ana Marie Cox: We are not a glum lot.
Moby: Yeah. We I mean, some of us, myself included, can be. But generally speaking, the more degrading, the more disgusting, the worse the story, like the more we laugh. Even sometimes when it’s true horif—I mean, like I just remember this one and this isn’t a funny one, but this was like, what, it was such a horrifying story. And I remember the people around me in the meeting just being like, like genuinely taken aback. Just I was talking about how he’d gotten out of prison and he bought a bunch of whatever drug use doing, probably an opiate, and went to a hotel room with his girlfriend, they did a bunch of drugs. In the morning, he woke up because he had to go look for work—he got a job like doing something, came back and his girlfriend was asleep in bed. So he did some drugs, got in bed next to her, woke up the next morning, went to this new job, came back and realized his girlfriend had been dead for two days. So he’d spent two nights sleeping in bed next to a dead person. These are the stories that we hear in the middle of the afternoon in a weird church basement. And it makes my own stories about like waking up covered in poop and not knowing whose poop it is seem super benign by comparison.
Ana Marie Cox: And even more hilarious.
Moby: And even, yeah if it’s poop as opposed to dead romantic partners lying dead next to you. Like the poop is comedy. Dead person in bed, less so.
Ana Marie Cox: [laughs] So I want to get back to the documentary and it actually weaves right in here, because from what I can tell, like one of the main themes is this idea that we can never fill our existential portfolio, the term you use, to the degree that it will make us happy. There is no amount of success, relationships, you know, material things that will do it for us.
Moby: What I will say, because I do need to qualify that just a tiny bit, but I will say the majority of us, I’ll use myself as an example, like I assumed that when I had the right stuff in my existential portfolio that happiness would ensue. And so, like most people, I spent my life trying to fill up my existential portfolio. And I thought it was, I even thought I had a slightly rarified idea of what that was going to be. It wasn’t just as, it was the tawdry stuff. It was like commercial success, a degree of affluence, but also like I really wanted to like go to Paris Review parties and have dinners in Ft. Green with book editors. And like, I wanted, you know, a degree of erudition and sophistication around my existential portfolio. So then I had everything, you know, I had the Paris Review parties, I had the rock star status and I wasn’t happy. And then I started looking around and I realized it was super rare to find anyone, in fact I don’t know anyone who has basically ticked all the boxes and found happiness. Like I mean, look at good old comrade Trump, like, you know, like your name is the gold letters on a whole bunch of buildings and you’re the president of the United States and you’re the least happy person on the planet. You know, I’d even say like look at Jeff Bezos like, you know what, super happy people don’t buy five hundred million dollar boats. You know, you buy a little boat and you sail around with your friends and it’s great. Like, you don’t need a 500 hundred million dollar-boat to do that. Elon hosting SNL and being obsessed with bitcoins or whatever, like that’s not what happy people do. Like it’s this idea that always grabbing for the next thing and being able to free yourself from that and be liberated from it—to me, that is like the beginning of happiness and having true, empirically-supported compassion for the people who are still grabbing.
Ana Marie Cox: So you know, you have had a long career with periods of intense stardom, as you’ve discussed. And I think it’s safe to say a lot of people associate you with those particular moments in time, right?
Moby: Mm hmm.
Ana Marie Cox: But you also have, you have a new album that is revisiting your career. I wonder what you want to be known for now.
Moby: Uh. I mean, to put it in a little bit of perspective, so when I was 17 years old, I played in a punk rock band in Connecticut called The Vatican Commandos, and if a good night for us was playing to 15 people, and in 1983, we released a seven inch single called Hit Squad for God, which I really think is a great title. And it’s sold probably around 150 copies. And we were thrilled like this was a success. That meant 150 people were listening to the music that we made. And then in the early 90s, the first single I ever put out sold around a 1,000 copies and I thought that was a huge success, because it was almost 10 times what the Vatican Commandos single had sold. So my standards for recognition and success and even legacy are very, like almost nonexistent. So in terms of being remembered, there are only two things that I can think of. Well, three things. One, I hope that I’ve made music or will continue to make music that might connect with people emotionally. You know, whether I get paid for it, I don’t care. Whether there’s fame involved, I don’t care. I just hope that somehow I am creating or have created something that someone has an emotional connection to. More importantly is trying to use whatever resources I have time, influence, money, what have you to help create a world where animals are allowed to live their own lives. It’s simply, that’s it. Just like, it’s so it’s so easy. It’s like, oh, there’s an animal, it is sentient, it has its own will, let it go live its own life. That’s it. And the third is much more ambitious. Which is help—because I look at humanity, with obviously not a ton of objectivity as, as far as I can tell, I’m human—I do have gills and I’m pretty sure I’m a robot, but apart from that, so I look at humanity and I’m like, we are the worst. Because like in the last hundred years, we’re burning through all our resources. The end result being we’re less happy than we’ve ever been. It’s kind of like having a giant party where you burn down your house, but in the process you’re super unhappy and it’s the worst party you’ve ever been to. And so I just, if there’s a way that I can somehow help our fellow, us and our fellow humans to simply stop destroying the only home that we have, and in the process of destroying each other and stop destroying the other creatures on the planet. It’s just I don’t know how to accomplish that. And I’m not saying I can accomplish it single-handedly, but if I can move the needle a micron, I don’t want to be remembered for it, I would just like to be able to do that.
Ana Marie Cox: Thank you so much for coming on the show.
Moby: Oh, my pleasure.
Ana Marie Cox: On this week’s With Adorable Like These, you will hear from one of our all-time favorite With Friends Like These guests, Mina Kimes and her diminutive blond Chihuahua mix, Lenny. Take a listen to learn more about how this is not actually Lenny’s first brush with podcasting fame.
Ana Marie Cox: How long have you been companions and where did you get Lenny?
Mina Kimes: So Lenny is from Alabama and I hope, I hope, I often wonder if he thinks in a Southern accent. And I also wonder if he was raised a Bama fan or an Auburn fan. I have no idea. But I adopted him in 2014. I was living in New York at the time and it was through like a shelter exchange program because it was kind of a supply-demand thing. Alabama had a lot of dogs, New Yorkers wanted the dogs. So the shelter, it was a shelter in the Bronx, they said, all right: the dog you found, his name was Tazz on the Internet. He is available, but you have to wait at like this street at this time. And I was like, this is really weird. But I waited. I remember was after a Seahawks game, I was wearing Seahawks jersey, and then a van came wheeling around the corner and he jumped out of the van with a handler. They let me walk him around the block once and then I had to make a decision on the spot. So it was all very sus. And the next day I realized he had not been fixed and I couldn’t see in the night. And also he was a lot more ornery, ornery? Cranky than he seemed the night that I adopted him. So that’s Lenny origin story with me.
Ana Marie Cox: Is there a story behind the name?
Mina Kimes: So my husband, he’s a music producer, and it’s not that he’s a Lenny Kravitz fan, it’s that he just always kind of liked his persona. And he also was a Phillies fan. So there was Lenny Dykstra. So there are these two prominent Lenny’s in our life and I just thought, why not? Lenny is a good dog’s name, so.
Ana Marie Cox: We all believe that all animals are emotional support animals. Is there any particular way in which Lenny is your emotional support animal?
Mina Kimes: Well, everyway, but I can tell you a specific story, which is after the Seahawks lost the Super Bowl to New England, Super Bowl 49, so I’d had Lenny for a couple of years then, I guess. But I watched the game at a bar about a mile from my house in Greenpoint. I’d been there all day. Interception happens at the end. I was a group of people. So the interception happens, I wait for the replay, stand up, put down some money, button my jacket and just walked out. It was snowing in New York. I didn’t say a word to anyone and I walked a mile home crying, sobbing as the snow fell on my face. And I swear to God, right when I walked in, Lenny just like, it was like being hugged by, he just knew that something terrible had happened. And usually when he when I come home, he like barks and claws. He just jump right into my lap and licked the tears off of my face because he sensed that I was in probably the deepest pain he had ever seen.
Ana Marie Cox: Does your adorable have a voice and will you please speak in the voice of your adorable?
Mina Kimes: Oh God. There’s a story. So my podcast is called The Mina Kimes Show, Featuring Lenny. And when I did it for the first year, Lenny, he always asks a question at the end and it’s always very rude. But I would do it in his voice. And gradually, as I had more prominent guests, especially guests who weren’t my friends, I came to dread this moment because it’s fucking humiliating. And it came to a head when I had Matt Hasselbeck, former Seattle Seahawks quarterback, ESPN colleague, on the podcast. So we’re talking, we’re talking, I’m trying not to geek out because it’s like Matt Hasselbeck and I’m dreading, like I’m going to have to ask this man a question in my dog’s voice. And after that day, I never did, I stop, I cut the dog’s voice. And my listeners are furious. It took them a long time to get over it. They said I had silenced Lenny.
Ana Marie Cox: Lenny Erasure.
Mina Kimes: Lenny erase—you joke. That was the very, the phrase that got a lot in very negative reviews, but I’ll do it for you.
Mina in Lenny’s high-pitch voice: Finally, I’m speaking again. Mom, I’m hungry. Where’s my dinner?
Ana Marie Cox: You can have anything to say, donate to the L.A. food bank or whatever it is that you would like to—.
Mina in Lenny’s high-pitch voice: Donate to the Los Angeles Food Bank on my behalf.
Ana Marie Cox: I would think that even famous people would be charmed by the Lenny.
Mina Kimes: The problem is, it’s a rude question. So not only are you doing a voice, you’re being like—
Mina in Lenny’s high-pitch voice: Matt Hasselbeck, how about that time that you said you were going to get the ball, you’re going to score.
Ana Marie Cox: And then he’s like: fuck, what did I sign up for?
Mina in Lenny’s high-pitch voice: I don’t know. I swear to God, I’m a professional.
Ana Marie Cox: And that is it for the show. Thanks to Moby for coming on, you can see his film Moby Doc in limited release in theaters and it will be streaming soon. Also, thanks to Mina and Lenny. We are a production of Crooked Media. Alison Herrera is our senior producer. Jordan Waller produces the Adorables segment. And this episode was engineered by Louie Leeno. Izzy Marguiles does our booking. Whitney Pastorek would like you to vote for Wally in the Nashville scene Superlative Pet Contest, where he is up for best smile. You do not need to live in Nashville to vote. Please Google “Nashville Scene” and “Pet Contest” You’ll find it. I hope you have an adorable of your own and that you are taking care of each other. And of course, please take care of yourself.