Moby is a spider.
He’s climbing down the staircase in a midtown Manhattan rehearsal studio, but his feet are not on the steps and his hands are not on the railing. Hyper on green tea and immune to the usual laws of physics or human conduct, America’s unlikeliest pop superhero is literally climbing the walls, scuttling down the stairwell with his sneakers and fingers above the railing, on the plaster, like a certain arachnidified crime fighter crawling down an empty elevator shaft. ”He does this all the time,” says a member of Moby’s posse. Moby has been known to vanish from a room, only to materialize on a ledge outside the window.
Today the spider is facing off with the lizard, or at least that’s how David Bowie comes across. Slim, sharp-tongued, heterochromian, perched languidly on a couch in blue canvas Sperry boat shoes and a leaf-green taffeta Agnes B. suit, Bowie can’t help but give off waves of reptilian rock-star cool.
Bowie is 55; Moby, 36.
Visually and lyrically they’ve both got a fondness for stardust and astronauts, but their interstellar trajectories are running at different warps. Moby (real name: Richard Melville Hall) has released a new album, 18, and opened a downtown vegetarian restaurant, Teany. He’s still basking in the afterglow of 1999’s Play, a collection of digital doxologies and electrified sharecropper laments that slipped through the matrix and sold 10 million copies worldwide. A vegan, a Christian, and paradoxically a fixture on the Gotham swizzle-stick circuit, Moby embodies the prophecy in Bowie’s 1979 hit ”D.J.”: ”I am a D.J./I am what I play/I’ve got believers/Believing me.”
Meanwhile, Bowie is gearing up for the June 11 release of Heathen, a grand and haunted album that reunites him with Tony Visconti, the producer associated with 1970s classics like Young Americans, Low, ”Heroes”, and Lodger. Heathen marks Bowie’s return to a major label, Columbia, the home of similar shadow-casting giants like Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. Once an openly bisexual provocateur with a jones for decolletage and cocaine, Bowie is now a fierce art collector, a devoted husband and father (he and his Somalian supermodel wife, Iman, have a 22-month-old daughter, Alexandria), and a musical supernova whose influence rays can be spotted in every quadrant of the pop cosmos, from techno to garage rock. ”As my album comes out,” quips Bowie, an omnivore, ”I’m opening a brothel. It’s a vegan brothel. No meat in my brothel. No sex, either.”
Jokes aside, they are selling themselves, and it doesn’t take a diamond dog to sniff out their divergent coordinates in the marketplace. One’s a once-towering superstar whose albums have met with a commercial shrug since the late ’80s; the other’s an ascendant 21st-century geek — part egghead, part ecclesiastic, part entrepreneur — who’s about to see his new product debut in the top five. (Put it this way: Moby gave Bowie a summer job. Bowie’s coheadlining Area 2, the upcoming tour that amounts to a live-action version of one of Moby’s mix tapes. See page 38.)