The only time I ever met Moby, he saved me from a rattlesnake.
That’s an exaggeration, but let me explain. I had interviewed him at his home in the Hollywood Hills and he mentioned that a rattler was living under front stairs of his house, urging me to show caution when leaving. But Moby wasn’t even satisfied with that, aware that the snake had recently become a mother and was fierce in protecting her babies. Moby accompanied me to the stairs, leading the way to keep me safe, and quickly stopping me when he spotted the mama looking agitated. From there, he did what any host would do: he made sure I didn’t get bitten by a rattlesnake. We turned around and walked through his home so I could exit through a back door — perhaps through more of the house than he’d prefer to show visitors — and safe from all of the poisonous reptiles he was aware of on his property.
I tell this story sometimes for laughs, fully aware that Moby didn’t really save my life, but knowing that if you squint hard enough, this framing of the story is technically the truth. The same kind of logic permeates Moby’s latest journey into the news cycle, with the details of his recently released memoir, Then It Fell Apart, coming to light. Though Moby prefaces the book by claiming all the stories to be true, there is a dubiousness to human recollection that casts doubt onto how some things are presented. And in a book where our hero accidentally saves his mother’s life, rubs his d*ck on Donald Trump, and manages romantic encounters with the likes of Natalie Portman, Lana Del Rey, and Christina Ricci, it’s hard for the casual onlooker to know where truth ends and fantasy begins.
Moby doesn’t leave a lot of room for interpretation in his depictions of his “relationship” with Portman in his book (and, it should be said, the book isn’t the first time Moby has made such claims). In excerpts pointed out by Stereogum, the pair meet backstage after a show, with Portman, “a beautiful movie star,” showing up and flirting with him. Later they meet up at the 1999 MTV Movie Awards and hold hands at a hotel afterparty, where fellow much-older man Steven Tyler comments on Portman’s “hotness.” And finally, Moby recalls hanging with Portman at Harvard, “kissing under the centuries-old oak trees” and falling asleep next to each other in her dorm room. It might seem innocuous, if not for the fact that the events take place in the year 1999, the same year Portman turned 18. Moby, 16 years older than Portman and an already-successful musician, could easily be seen as capitalizing on his standing to romance an impressionable teen. You don’t need to squint to make that connection.
According to Portman herself, Moby’s interpretation of their interaction is exactly as exploitive as that, and not nearly as romantic as he makes it seem. In an interview with Harper’s Bazaar, Portman minces no words describing how the story affects her:
“I was surprised to hear that he characterized the very short time that I knew him as dating because my recollection is a much older man being creepy with me when I just had graduated high school. He said I was 20; I definitely wasn’t. I was a teenager. I had just turned 18. There was no fact checking from him or his publisher — it almost feels deliberate. That he used this story to sell his book was very disturbing to me. It wasn’t the case. There are many factual errors and inventions. I would have liked him or his publisher to reach out to fact check.
“I was a fan and went to one of his shows when I had just graduated. When we met after the show, he said, ‘let’s be friends’. He was on tour and I was working, shooting a film, so we only hung out a handful of times before I realized that this was an older man who was interested in me in a way that felt inappropriate.”
Portman goes on to discuss the Time’s Up and #MeToo movements, and it’s hard to look at these two differing accounts of the same decades-old interaction without that light. It’s like an onion-peeling metaphor in its layers, with Moby not only looking bad for targeting a teenager who is clearly a fan of his, but also for telling these stories without her consent. Tell-all books are nothing new, but in the #MeToo era, recalling past romantic exploits in a public setting without coming to the other party first feels particularly underhanded. And doing so to one of the movement’s most ardent spokespeople borderlines on idiotic.
The other women that Moby also mentions in his book, ranging from a pre-fame Lana Del Rey to Christina Ricci (who starred in his “Natural Blues” video), have yet to weigh in publicly about whether Moby accurately, or fairly, characterized their past encounters. But even the account from the book, where Moby fails to realize that Del Rey is dissing him when she calls him “The Man,” paints a picture of a person whose reliability is in question. Beyond that, the inclusion of these kinds of stories seems more like a desperate plea for attention rather than illuminating anecdotes that shine a light onto anyone involved — at least from the excerpts. But Moby is standing by his Portman story, taking to Instagram to double-down on his claims.
And then, against what should have been the better judgment of any sentient being, he tripled-down.
Whether or not Moby and Natalie Portman actually dated is now far from the point. Moby’s attempt to discredit Portman’s recollection of the events is exactly what men in power do with regularity, without considering that Portman doesn’t want to be associated with Moby as a means to simply get attention for his book. The situation reads like the paradigm of male privilege, where every woman that pays attention to him clearly must want to be with him, and where he has the right to tell everyone who will listen as such. But in 2019, public discourse is finally turning from allowing these kinds of narratives, with women deservingly given their long-neglected power to have a say in their own stories, and in their own histories. Moby’s allegedly inappropriate interest in a younger woman from 20 years ago is one issue, but his need to drag that tale into the spotlight, without getting permission, even after it clearly bothers her, is something entirely different.
It ultimately reminds me of my snake story, something grounded in some truth and ultimately embellished to make it seem more exciting than it actually was. Of course, my snake story doesn’t exactly do anyone harm, which is where the comparison ends. The internet reaction to Moby’s recent claims, which has overwhelmingly taken the side of Portman and fiercely turned on him, is in step with how much the world has changed in the 20 years since Portman and Moby first met. In an attempt to maintain relevance, the electronic musician has instead cast himself as a relic whose place in 2019 pop culture is as debatable as the facts of his book. And fortunately, he’s an easy one to simply ignore.