It was 2 a.m., and I was wearing a spacesuit in a fast-food restaurant with Gary Coleman and Todd Bridges.
We were shooting the video for “We Are All Made of Stars.” The director, Joseph Kahn, thought that it should be a bright, 1980s-inspired look at how Hollywood and fame had damaged people. It was an odd take on a song that had been inspired by quantum mechanics and astrophysics, but I loved the director’s other videos, and I trusted him to make something special.
Over the past two days we’d shot O.J. Simpson’s pal Kato Kaelin in a dive bar, Verne Troyer in a strip club, Dave Navarro in a crack den, Tommy Lee in a brothel, Sean Bean in a rented DeLorean, Corey Feldman in another crack den, and Angelyne, the patron saint of L.A., in her pink convertible.
The nod toward the astrophysics in the song’s title was to have me wearing a decommissioned NASA spacesuit while celebrities lip-synched the lyrics. I’d grown up obsessed with all things involving outer space, and was thrilled on the first day of shooting to put on an actual spacesuit. But after a few minutes of filming I learned that while a spacesuit was perfect for staying alive in a vacuum, it wasn’t very comfy in 80-degree January sunshine on the corner of Hollywood and Highland.
When the camera rolled my job was to stand still while other people lip-synched the words to my song. Sweat rolled down my back in thick beads, feeling like ants on my skin, but I couldn’t scratch myself because my hands were locked in thick outer-space gloves. Between takes I’d beg to have my helmet removed and to have a production assistant reach into my suit and scratch me.
I’d thought that having Hollywood legend Bob Evans lip-synching my song poolside at his condo was the weirdest moment we’d shot, but being with Gary Coleman and Todd Bridges in a fast-food restaurant was much stranger. And sadder. Everyone else we’d shot for the video had enthusiastically agreed to be in it either because they liked me or because they liked the song. But I’d heard from one of the casting agents that Gary Coleman had agreed to be in the video simply because we were paying him $500.
I tried to make conversation with Gary and Todd while we sat in the fast-food restaurant, but it was hard. Gary was laconic and morose, and I was wearing a spacesuit. A video had recently surfaced of him in his new job as a parking-lot attendant, wearing a small beige uniform and chasing down a car full of kids who’d refused to pay. It was humiliating and heartbreaking.
I wanted to tell him and Todd that I’d grown up watching Diff’rent Strokes and reading interviews with them in borrowed copies of Bananas magazine. But the cameras rolled, they sang their lines, and the video shoot for “We Are All Made of Stars” came to an end. I took off my helmet so I could thank them and say goodbye, but as soon as they were done they quietly slipped out the side door.
Diff’rent Strokes, the show that made Gary and Todd famous, seemed cursed: almost everyone involved with the show had ended up dead or damaged. Dana Plato, who played the bright and charming Kimberly, had become a drug-addicted porn star after the show ended. Eventually she died of an overdose in the desert outside L.A.
While not everyone in the video had been destroyed by fame, everyone had certainly been damaged by it. Except for me. I loved fame and I knew that it would never hurt me. Before fame I had been a short, insecure, bald guy from Connecticut. Now I was a platinum-album-selling rock star who lived in hotels and tour buses and had famous friends. Fame had saved me and made me whole.
My cell phone rang as I was in my dressing room, changing out of my spacesuit and back into my jeans and black T-shirt. I didn’t recognize the number, but I answered anyway. I heard a burst of loud techno and a woman’s voice yelling, “It’s Jaguar!”
Last night I had gone to the Seventh Veil strip club on La Brea with some friends from the video shoot. Before I left at 2 a.m. I had a long conversation with a stripper named Jaguar. She told me she was a business student from Ohio who was stripping in L.A. to make money. I had given her my number.
“Moby?” she yelled into her phone.
“Hello?” I yelled back, hoping to be heard over the din of the dance music playing wherever she was.
“Hey! It’s Jaguar! From last night! Can I come see you?”
It was 3 a.m. and I’d been shooting in my spacesuit for twenty-one hours, but all I had to do in the morning was wake up and fly to London. I gave Jaguar my hotel information and took a limo back to the Four Seasons, where I was staying. As I entered the lobby I realized that my two-bedroom hotel suite cost more per night than the entire budget for my first video, “Go,” which we had filmed for $1,500.
I still wanted to see myself as a punk-rocker at heart, somebody who rejected million-dollar videos, limousines, and $2,000 a night hotel suites. But I had just taken a limo to my $2,000 a night hotel suite after shooting a video that had a budget of $950,000. When I thought of myself as spiritual and temperate I felt good about myself. But thinking of myself as a rock star who stayed in fancy hotel suites and had sex with strippers also made me feel good about myself.
When I considered this paradox I engaged in sophistry, telling myself that I had enlightened neural wiring that enabled me to be in the world, but not of it. The truth was that I clung to anything that made me feel good, and ignored the overwhelming evidence that I was simply a selfish hypocrite.
I took the elevator to my room, shut the door with an expensive thud, turned on the fireplace with a remote control, and sat on the overstuffed couch in the living room of my suite to wait for Jaguar.
Only a few minutes later the doorbell rang. I opened the door and Jaguar walked in, smelling like her job was smoking cigarettes in a perfume factory. Which, since she was a stripper, in some ways it was. She had long bleached-blonde hair and was wearing a thin gray metallic dress. In her stripper shoes she was slightly taller than I was.
“Hi,” I said, by way of a clever intro.
“Do you have anything to drink?” she asked, making a beeline for the minibar. She located a can of Pepsi and a small bottle of Baileys Irish Cream and poured them into a heavy crystal tumbler. She considered the drink, looking worried. Then she rooted around the minibar again and emptied two small bottles of vodka into her Baileys-and-Pepsi.
“Do you have ice?” she asked.
“No, but I can get some.”
I was in one of the fanciest hotels in the world, but when I walked down the hall I discovered that the Four Seasons ice-machine room was identical to the ice-machine rooms in Holiday Inns and Motel 6s. For some reason I’d thought that Four Seasons ice would be fancier.
When I got back to the room with a filled ice bucket Jaguar had already finished her drink and lit a cigarette. “Oh,” I said. “Do you still want ice?”
She held out the crystal tumbler and I filled it with ice. Then she went back to the minibar and made another cocktail: 7 Up, Southern Comfort, and rum. “It’s like a hangover in a glass,” I said.
“Not if I don’t stop drinking,” she said.
I was annoyed that she was smoking in my hotel suite, but I didn’t want to complain— even though she was clearly out of her mind, I still wanted to have sex with her. I leaned in to kiss her, but she pulled away.
“Do you want to do some Special K?” she asked. Special K was a powerful animal tranquilizer, ketamine, that had become a club drug in the early rave years. I’d never tried it and suspected this wasn’t the right time to experiment, since I had to be at the airport in a few hours.
“No, thanks,” I told her.
Jaguar took out a large baggie filled with white powder and started to cut multiple lines on the suite’s glass-topped table. “Oh, I’m not having any,” I reminded her.
“I know,” she said, and kept chopping up the ketamine, dividing it into four lines. She leaned down, snorted the first line, and then asked me, “Are you spiritual?”
“Have you read The Celestine Prophecy?” she asked.
“No,” I said. I knew of the book, but without actually having read it I’d smugly decided that it was facile, self-serving spirituality for dumb people.
“See, I saw you last night at Seventh Veil and I just knew you were spiritual,” she said, leaning down to do the second line of ket-amine. “You should read The Celestine Prophecy. It’s amazing. It tells you everything.”
Her phone buzzed and she picked it up.
“I used to teach Bible study,” I said, “but now I tend to be more of an undefined agnostic.”
She was ignoring me, staring intently at the glowing screen of her phone. She got up from the couch and walked to the window, where she talked quietly and furtively for ten seconds. Then she sat down and did the third line of Special K. “That was N——,” she said, naming one of the best-known male models on the planet. She snorted the fourth line, her eyes visibly shimmying in their sockets. “He’s at the Hermitage. I’m going to meet him.”
Before standing up she looked around my suite, trying to figure out whether staying at the Four Seasons and having sex with a rock star was a better option than driving to the Hermitage to have sex with a famous male model. Aside from the living room where Jaguar had done her Special K, my $2,000 suite had a fireplace, two bedrooms, a dining room, and a patio overlooking palm trees and a pool. She walked to the door, deciding on N—— the model over Moby the musician.
I wanted to be annoyed, but spending 21 hours in a spacesuit and then being subjected to her five-minute whirlwind of sugary drinks and perfume and cigarettes and ketamine left me feeling like I’d watched a particularly stressful episode of Storm Chasers.
As she walked to the door in her stripper shoes, she stumbled and almost fell. “Are you OK to drive?” I asked.
“What? Ha, what? Oh, sure, I always drive high.”
I was going to remonstrate with her, but she walked away.
“Read The Celestine Prophecy!” she called as she walked down the hotel hallway. “It’s spiritual, like you.”
Live Talks Los Angeles hosts An Evening with Moby on Monday, May 6, at 8 p.m.; Aratani Theatre, 244 S. San Pedro St., downtown; $20-$65.
Excerpted from THEN IT FELL APART by Moby. Published with permission from Faber & Faber. Copyright © 2019 by Moby.