I heard kind of an amazing story about Moby last night from an Uber passenger who’d just seen him at the Improv (I don’t remember the part of the story explaining why Moby was at the Improv, so just don’t worry about that). I’m going to relay the version of that story from my dubious memory without any Google fact-checking, because that’s just how we did it in the old days, bro.
Apparently, Moby was a notorious addict: sex, drugs, alcohol, all the really fun stuff in life. I say “notorious” because that’s the term my passenger used. I had no idea. My vision of Moby was that he was always the bald vegan and champion of indie artists whose music was nonetheless in every car commercial and the end credits of every movie for over a decade.
But no, apparently, Moby also had really good taste in vice. As with many people who suffer with addiction, he sought help and got clean for long periods of time but then also suffered relapses. He drank and did drugs throughout his youth before going sober for the first time in 1993 when he was around 28 (again, dubious memory, the story is correct but I’m probably making up these numbers). He cranked out a lot of work then and started establishing himself as an artist.
Then in 1998 (this date is correct, and it’s important), Moby went through an awful breakup and decided he needed to drink something a little harder than a Diet Coke. He went to a bar, had his first taste of alcohol in five years, enjoyed it, and decided to have another. After his 12th drink (that might be made up), his memory dropped out. The next morning, he woke up hungover in an obese dominatrix’s house surrounded by snakes.
And this is the part of the story that I love, because his first thought when he woke up wasn’t that he fucked up or that he really let people down or that he was so ashamed of himself. His first thought was simply two words:
The other fascinating part of this story is when you start comparing Moby’s personal life to his discography during that time (yes, I researched this part, but don’t get too cocky because all I used was Wikipedia). When 1998 began, his most successful album was 1995’s Everything Is Wrong, which had sold 250,000 copies. His last release, Animal Rights in 1996, was a critical and commercial flop, and he’d consider quitting music altogether to study architecture (before you start comparing his struggles to yours, Moby did get calls from Axl Rose and Bono saying they loved Animal Rights) (He also did release a compilation album in 1997 that did better, but we’re not going to let facts get in the way of a good story here) (This is way too many parentheses).
Basically, by 1998, Moby had a lot of reasons to get back on the sauce even without a traumatic breakup. That same year, drunk Moby started working on a new album called Play. Even his own label didn’t want it, so he had to release it through the much smaller V2 Records in 1999. It looked like another flop at first, but eventually coffee shops and retail stores got ahold of it, played it nonstop for its customers, and it ended up selling 12 million copies. 12 fucking million copies. From a previous best of 250k.
Around 2008, he got clean again. I don’t know why. I never know the stories behind why people get sober, because they’re usually much longer and more complex than the stories about why people get trashed. The moment someone falls off the wagon always sounds the same: this happened, so I decided to have a drink/do a line/sit down at a poker table/browse backpage.com/etc. Going clean might be triggered by some tragically irresponsible incident, but it’s generally a culimination of years of pain, regret, and shame. Also, unless there’s another relapse, that’s usually the end of the story. The third-to-last scene of the movie before the getting-back-to-work montage and the poignant final conversation with the one you hurt the most to bring closure.
And that’s always the destination, isn’t it? That’s where you want to end up: back to work with closure and without the demons. The alternative seems to be a gun in your mouth or a belt around your neck.
Yet I can’t help but think about the implausibly tremendous success that Moby experienced after he woke up drunk out of his skull in some S&M reptile petting zoo. It reminded me of something I read about Stephen King from his seminal book, On Writing. For those who haven’t read that book, read it. The first part is a brief autobiography, and the second part is a rather spiritual guide to writing where Kings praises authors he loves and trashes authors he hates while providing actual examples of their writing to explain why.
From the autobiography part, King mentions that he got a massive, oak slab desk in 1981, put it in the middle of a spacious, skylighted study, and spent the next six years “behind that desk either drunk or wrecked out of my mind, like a ship’s captain in charge of a voyage to nowhere.” What I don’t think he intended to do with that anecdote was to give 1987 as a demarcation to assess his career both pre- and post-sobriety. Yet he did, since he was drinking and writing before then and has been sober and writing since.
Here are all Stephen King’s original novels in those two eras, according to his Wikipedia bibliography.
|Drunk Stephen King||Sober Stephen King|
|Carrie||1974||The Eyes of the Dragon||1987|
|Salem’s Lot||1975||The Dark Tower II||1987|
|The Stand||1978||The Dark Half||1989|
|The Long Walk||1979||The Dark Tower III||1991|
|The Dead Zone||1979||Needful Things||1991|
|The Running Man||1982||Rose Madder||1995|
|The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger||1982||Desperation||1996|
|Pet Sematary||1983||The Dark Tower IV||1997|
|Cycle of the Werewolf||1983||Bag of Bones||1998|
|The Talisman||1984||The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon||1999|
|Dude is prolific as fuck.||From a Buick 8||2002|
|The Dark Tower V||2003|
|The Dark Tower VI||2004|
|The Dark Tower VII||2004|
|The Colorado Kid||2005|
|Under the Dome||2009|
|The Dark Tower VIII||2012|
First of all, I’ve been out in LA pretending to be a writer for five years now, and I haven’t written anything worth wiping my ass with. Stephen King has published more than a novel a year for 40 fucking years, and that’s not including the 13 story collections, six non-fiction books, eight e-books, nine screenplays and innumerable short stories he’s also cranked out during that time. That should make me feel like shit, but actually it just makes me feel like I should be writing. Also makes me feel like I should check out The Dark Tower.
But to my point, let’s compare King’s 18 original drunk novels to his 33 original sober novels. On the drunk side, we’ve got some of the most recognized titles in the history of horror writing: Carrie, Salem’s Lot, The Shining, The Stand, Pet Sematary, etc.
On the sober side, Misery is an absolute classic and perhaps King’s finest work, though most likely it was published when he was sober but written when he was still drunk. Then there are a few other memorable titles, seven Dark Tower sequels, and a ton of books I’d never even heard of until I looked at his Wikipedia page.
I’m not saying that Stephen King has become a worse writer now that he’s sober. Honestly, I haven’t read the vast majority of these books, so I’m really just judging based on popularity instead of actual quality. That’s not to mention that the publishing industry today is almost unrecognizable to the one 40 years ago when he dropped Carrie on us.
Still, just like with Moby, I can’t help but notice that King created some of his most timeless classics and ascended to prominence while he was “wrecked out of his mind.” That’s no secret, of course. Artists of every type are notorious for abusing drugs and alcohol, yet they do it for a reason, whether that’s to be creative, productive or just maintain the balance in their lives outside of work.
Some of you may be concerned that I’m careening towards a dangerous conclusion: that drugs and alcohol are not only beneficial but vital to the creative process. That’s not at all what I believe, and I’ve written about my own dilemmas with drinking. However, I do believe they are catalysts to the type of life needed for creative inspiration. A graphic designer friend of mine, who specializes in dramatic generalizations, once told me in college that all the design students who spent their entire lives working in the studio produced the most mundane work. He didn’t believe you could produce inspired work unless you were out living an inspired life.
I agree with him, but there is a thin line between inspired and reckless. Both often result in great stories, but one is not a sustainable lifestyle. One will inevitably get you in trouble if given enough time and opportunities. I know which side of that coin I’m facing right now, the side that makes my parents write me long, concerned emails. Yet, I do know that one day in the future, if I am to have a future, I must embrace the final words in King’s autobiography: “Life isn’t a support-system for art. It’s the other way around.”
Thank you, Mr. King. I’ll keep that in mind. In the meantime, here’s a video of you schooling Edgar Allen Poe in a rap battle: