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Moby is woman, hear him roar

[Originally published 1995 |
Updated here 1999.06.20

It's time to revisit that multitalented vegan heterosexualist musician dude, Moby. After praising his album Everything is Wrong a few months ago, I would later enjoy a superexclusive interviewette with the thoughtful, matter-of-fact lad, whose teeth look much shinier in person than in those dreadful television interviews.

Everything is Wrong's signal achievement is assembling a startling range of genres in a sequence that, in other hands, might go over as well as matter brushing against antimatter. (In order, those genres are piano solo, jackhammer disco-diva dancehall, thrash metal, industrial, dancepop, techno, something akin to deathmetal, urbane synthpop à la Stereo MCs, funereal dirge, more dancepop, another piano solo, New Age soundtrack, lullaby.) The secret to this winsome assemblage, says Moby, is MiniDisc, an oddball Sony recordable-disc technology that lets Moby audition various permutations until he finds one he likes.

The album features a handful of session singer(ette)s and Moby's own trademark bellowing. "I guess I have a pretty broad view (1) of singing, (2) of pop music," explains Moby in a typical text-aware '90s sentence. (We're the first generation that talks in parentheses.) "You know when you're young, if you had to go to church, there's always some old guy standing behind you sort of mouthing the words? Everyone else is singing tunefully, and behind you [it's] 'On-ward-Chris-tian-sol-diers-mar-ching....' That's me. I can't do the tuneful thing. So I'm forced to scream and shout and vocalize.

"I love female vocals. I have my sort of half-baked semi-adolescent theory that the first sound any human being ever hears is a woman passionately vocalizing, unless of course your mother was anaesthetized when she gave birth to you.... I think it sets a really powerful precedent for female vocals in our brains."

Yeah, but in delivery rooms these days aren't there half a dozen doctors and nurses all saying "Come on! Push! Push! Push"? "Well, maybe that's the rap part of it," avers the deadpan bleach-blond megastar. "If you're in a room with five people, four of whom are talking rationally – like, 'OK, come on! Push!' – and there's one woman screaming at the top of her lungs, which are you going to pay attention to?"

Men loving aliens loving men

Two music videos making the rounds now offer oddly contrary vistas into alien realms. Lovable rotund bassist and flannel-shirt habitué Mike Watt (Queer in Your Ear passim) somehow talked Sony into filming a video for "Piss-Bottle Man," Watt's tribute to his father's habit of toting along a bottle to piss in during long car trips.

As guest singer Evan Dando croons "Driving in his shoes, using the bottle he used/Every time I pop I think of my Pop and pay my dues," Watt cruises through the desert in his Datsun pickup and is ensnared by smooth-skinned, oval-eyed aliens. As he is flooded by white celestial light, all the while being lovingly pawed by a pair of the childlike creatures, the expression on Watt's motile face communicates wonder, inebriation, and disorientation all at once. In a music video about urine disposal, I suppose anything short of a golden arc counts as subtlety.

Meanwhile, quite another conception of alienness can be seen in "Crush with Eyeliner," the long-delayed R.E.M video. (You can also find it on the new home-video collection Parallel.) Directed by Spike Jonze of "Sabotage" and "Buddy Holly" fame, it's the clip in which high-strung Japanese kids in L.A. impersonate R.E.M. onstage. Rendered in film stock so grainy it conjures memories of sand in your shoes at the beach, the kray-zee superstar stand-ins cavort, vogue (yes!), breakdance, and tussle, all the while lip-synching only a tad less competently than most English-speaking bands. "We all invent ourselves," sings Michael Stipe in an ode to a girlfriend he lovingly dubs "my kiss breath turpentine" (piss-bottle breath?). "She's a sad tomato. She's three miles of bad road" (piss-bottle road?).

Predictably enough, three of the R.E.M. lads show up in "Crush with Eyeliner." At one point Michael Stipe is seen sashaying down a hall surrounded by his little Japanese friends. Where's the hovering spacecraft? Where are the little people taking you, Michael?

Let's face it: In Los Angeles you'll find a heck of a lot more Japanese kids out for a good time than gaunt enigmatic bald bisexualist Georgian pop stars. So who's really the alien in this little tableau?

It all leaves me with a funny taste in my mouth.