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A Fish Tale

Instead of capitalizing on the electronica craze, Moby is going his own way.

The problems at the concert, which Moby refers to as "the worst show of my entire life," began many hours before he was scheduled to appear. "We were on a bus from Tulsa to Boulder, and our bus broke down," he recalls. "So we sat in a cornfield for six hours and then got on another bus and chartered a private plane that flew us to Boulder. So we got there, and the Prodigy played their set and it was fine. But then I started playing my set, and the monitors weren't working. And when we stopped and tried to fix the monitors, everything at the front of the stage stopped working. Then the microphones stopped working, too, and everything that could break down did break down. And I felt that the members of the local crew were about as unhelpful as they could possibly be. So I lost my temper backstage and ended up breaking a mirror and insulting the local crew, who then just turned everything off in the middle of one of my songs.

"The promoter and whoever else was involved responded to all of this kind of histrionically. The only thing I did was break a mirror, and they were threatening to throw me in jail--and one guy broke a beer bottle and tried to attack me with it. There was this guy and five or six huge bouncers threatening me and attacking me. And I'm five-foot-eight and 130 pounds. The balance of power was a little skewed in their favor." As he remembers it, he was allowed to leave only after one of his representatives paid an inflated price to replace sound gear that he did not harm.

Predictably, the folks at the Fox have a considerably different memory of the situation. In the February 3, 1993, Feedback, which covered the altercation, Mike Johnson, who co-promoted the date via his Poor Boy Productions firm, pinned the blame for the troubles firmly on Moby. "He was saying really rotten things to the sound guys," Johnson asserted at the time. "Instead of dealing with the situation, which was that there was no time to do a sound check, he kicked over his music stand, threw a bunch of microphones around and broke about $2,600 worth of equipment. And he was on the mike saying, 'If I were you people, I'd ask for my money back.'" He added, "At around 2:30, I saw [Fox co-owner Dickie Sidman] run past me saying, 'He just kicked in one of my monitors. That's it.' And he cut the power." Cheryl Ligouri, speaking for the Fox, confirmed that Moby's tour manager was forced to write a check to compensate the venue for damages. "They didn't have any choice, because we weren't going to let them leave."

Today, the Fox's Don Strasburg admits that Sidman, who died in 1995, waved a broken beer bottle at Moby, but he feels that the performer was never in any real danger. Moreover, he insists that Moby broke thousands of dollars' worth of sound-system accoutrements in the midst of his tantrum--a charge that Moby strongly denies.

"I'm not saying I'm innocent of everything," he says. "I got emotional because things weren't working. But these people were bullies, and what they did reeks of what bullies do, which is blaming somebody else for their problems. So it was a situation where everyone was sort of guilty. But I try very hard not to bear ill will toward people. I don't really see the point in holding grudges or being upset about things that have happened in the past. It doesn't serve any purpose. I want to look forward, not back."

In conversation, Moby seems utterly incapable of provoking such chaos. His speaking voice is small, even timid-sounding at times. And although he grows intense when discussing topics about which he feels strongly, such as the destruction of the environment and the irresponsibility of many right-wing religious organizations, this "lover of Christ" (his words) is unfailingly polite and reluctant to judge others who believe in the live-and-let-live doctrine. "My ethical understanding of the world is pretty much whatever an individual wants to do to him- or herself, that's really their choice. So if they want to take drugs, if they want to kill themselves, if they want to get tattoos and piercings, that's their choice. And if it involves other people, as long as it's consenting, the state should not be allowed to intervene. As long as no one is hurt, it's fine."

A similarly freewheeling aesthetic infuses Moby's approach to music. "Five years ago I felt much more of an allegiance to the world of electronic dance music than I do now," he concedes. "I like it, but I've never really seen any reason to like one thing to the exclusion of anything else. Just because I like techno or electronic dance music doesn't mean that I don't also love classical music and punk rock and folk music and jazz--and I do. And to be honest, I don't really like one more than the other."

For proof, look no further than Moby's Elektra catalogue. Everything Is Wrong, his impressive 1995 debut for the company, included plenty of wonderfully invigorating dance beats, but they shared space with alternately somber or uplifting mood pieces and nasty guitar riffing that was pure rock and roll. The following year he took an even greater risk by issuing Animal Rights, which put electronica on the back burner in favor of punk and metal that proved far clunkier and radically less imaginative than his dance-music output. Listeners and critics alike were united in their revulsion for the disc--reactions that disappointed the man who created it. "I kind of hoped that people would evaluate the record on its own merits and put it in a broader context. But because it wasn't what people expected at all and it was in a style that most music journalists despise, they just couldn't deal with it. Afterward I realized that when people get confused, they don't become reflective; they become reactionary."

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