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How Moby Taught Me to Stop Worrying and Love the Apocalypse

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MOBY
Alberto E. Rodriguez via Getty Images

In the midst of working on a top-secret photo album for my girlfriend's birthday, I noticed the time and sped off to a 7 p.m. screening of the new Jake Gyllenhaal art-house film, Enemy. It was a jarring transition to leave my half-built microcosm of love, memories and pink polka dots for an aggressively puzzling universe of dualities, enigmatic motivations and the demise of everything as embodied by a big, creeping tarantula. A familiar ball of angst began to grow in my chest after the credits rolled, as I headed back to the office for a frenzy of late-night, heartfelt scrapbooking. When my girlfriend texted me to come home I couldn't tell her what I was working on, nor did I know quite how to explain the visions of spiders now haunting my thoughts.

I got back before midnight and we snuggled up to watch the Olympics on DVR. My arachnid ruminations began to wane. The following day I drove into the hills to retrieve my medical records from my retired doctor and ended up spending an hour trying to help him fix the Wi-Fi connection on a computer nestled below a display of fossilized horseshoe crabs. I failed as tech support and was now officially late, navigating rush-hour traffic to get home and prep myself for opening night of Moby's art show, a photo exhibit called Innocents, a companion piece to his 2013 album of the same name. There was the possibility of interviewing him. Thirty minutes later I was on the couch with my laptop, reconnecting with the sounds and images of the symphonic maestro, breathing deep to mantric repetitions, the words and notes layered and revisited. The spell broke as an email popped up from a scientist friend, a link to an article about the impending collapse of the California almond industry, and the doom that awaits the unsustainable agricultural system we've built in a desert. With frightening ease, my mind circled back to looming disasters colossal and small. What if I'd broken my doctor's computer? The spiders were back.

I tamped it down the best I could as my girlfriend and I donned our finest rocker duds and drove to Project Gallery in Hollywood, where the exhibition surprisingly mirrored my state of mind. Moby's photographs were a compelling homage to the apocalypse: dark clouds over Los Angeles, people in unsettling masks posed serenely against a backdrop of society's end. Moby gets it, I thought. We're barreling toward catastrophe.

After posing for cameras, Moby mingled with the growing crowd. I saw an opening and reluctantly approached. I've never liked guerrilla interviewing and I was sure this would blow up in my face. I pulled out my recorder and inquired if I could ask him a question or two. Moby looked at me like he'd just had a great idea.

"Sure," he said. "Why don't we go in the back and talk?"

And just like that, I was in a small, darkened storage space with the global superstar of electronic music. He told me we were there both because he likes talking to people and he really wanted to get out of that loud room. I was his excuse for solace, which I was more than happy to use as an opportunity to talk with him about the end of the world.

My first question was about finding beauty in the apocalypse and I learned that his outlook was far brighter than the gloom I'd projected onto his work.

"There's a conventional Judeo-Christian pejorative judgment of the apocalypse," he said, and explained that the "connotations of destruction and death" were constructs added after the fact, and that "etymologically in ancient Greek, 'apocalypse' just means a revelation."

He offered the theory that over the past 200 years or so, the greatest threats to humanity have shifted from "big scary things that were out of our control, like bears or dental problems" to "problems that humans have created for themselves. So my hope for the apocalypse is that we start being less stupid and stop creating so many problems for ourselves. It seems like it's so easily within our grasp."

Offering specifics, he said, "Should we get our energy from the sun, which is free and ubiquitous? Or go a few miles underground, dredge up black sludge, refine it and make toxic byproducts and then burn it? I'm not a crazy hippie, but one seems sane and the other seems insane."

He told me that after tearing his rotator cuff, he began to compare the apocalypse to "going to the chiropractor's. Day after day, year after year, you get your posture out of whack and stuff isn't working that well, and it takes movement to readjust everything, like a tectonic shift, and that's what I hope is happening with our apocalypse."

"Think of our culture now," he suggested. "We have an African-American, progressive president who listened to punk rock in college. We can get healthy, organic food almost everywhere, and most countries are not at war with each other, which they were 50 to 100 years ago. Gay marriage is being legalized. The atrocities in the Ukraine are being documented immediately, with immediate repercussions -- stuff that would have been done in obscurity 50 years ago and now people are shining the light of day on it with social media. I feel like we're generally moving in a more rational, benign direction. So that's my theory, that there is this change. It's almost like humanity, at this point, can be broken down into the people who are accepting this change and then the people who are very attached to the atavistic status quo of the way things have been ..."

He had me at "my hope for the apocalypse." The tempering of my worries led me to ask about the calming nature of his music, and why he tends toward repeating lyrics and patterns that seem like a meditation.

"Part of it is, subjectively, I find repetition to be quite comforting," he replied. "Maybe it's why I gravitated toward a lot of electronic music -- electronic music does tend to be repetitive. Also, when I was really young I studied classical music and I had a music teacher who only liked very complicated music, and he hated repetition. So when I was like 13 or 14, part of my rebellion against him was loving simplicity like Neil Young and John Lee Hooker and the Ramones, and also loving repetition. Other people are driven crazy by repetition, but a repetitive piece of music or repetitive motif within an art show. I don't know why, it's very soothing to me."

I told him that I find it mantric, to which he said that his understanding of a mantra, "at least according to the TM people, is to liberate the tight grip of consciousness, and so maybe intuitively, unintentionally, that's what I'm doing."

I had more to ask, like whether he experiences the same emotional trip when he's creating his music as his listeners do when they hear it, but someone was knocking at the door. I fell back on my standard final question: "What do you love about what you do?" I inquired.

He answered that his "favorite thing about music or art or literature is it's a way to express things in a nonlinear -- or at times, nonlinear -- way that helps me to better understand the world in which we live, and my experience of it, if that makes any sense. I honestly don't know how I could exist in our world with some degree of perspective and sanity if I wasn't able to express myself."

And, he added, he enjoys figuring out "how to turn weird, exhaustion-addled perception into something that someone else might like."

I thanked him and departed, feeling an awful lot better. Maybe everything isn't a catastrophe waiting to happen. The birthday scrapbook was a rousing success; I still haven't received a phone call telling me I owe someone a new Dell; and Moby was perfectly happy to answer my questions. And though the California drought might be the catalyst for a downward spiral and all manner of disasters may lie ahead, it's also simultaneously possible that I could run alongside one of those spiders I think is chasing me, grab hold, and ride it Slim Pickens-style straight into the business end of the apocalypse and be the better for it.

The exhibit runs at Project Gallery through March 30th. For Innocents photographs, music and videos, visit www.innocents.co.