Moby’s Porno Ahab

Paul Yates, director of the upcoming indie film Porno: The Movie, was born on Dec. 28, 1967, close enough to Christmas that his friends call his birthday “Yatesmas.” As with nearly every Yatesmas for the past decade, this year saw a frosty kickball match followed by a dip in the hot tub at rocker Tarquin Katis’ parents’ house in Greenwich, Conn.

“Merry Yatesmas!” Mr. Yates wailed from the Jacuzzi, cranberry juice in hand. He was clad only in star-spangled drawers, a foggy pair of thick, square glasses and a cheery grin. He had plenty of reason to smile. He was surrounded by cool friends like Mr. Katis, the man behind Tarquin Records and bassist for the Zambonis (theme: all songs about hockey), and Leon Dewan, guitarist for the Happiest Guys in the World (theme: all songs about happiness). The guys had given him a clutch of ironic presents like a Star Trek sweater and a copy of Over 50 , a porn mag.

But the Ghost of Yatesmas Past soon came calling. This, Mr. Yates said, was the first Yatesmas party that techno superstar Moby had missed in a long time.

Moby and Mr. Yates were once the best of friends. They grew up together, the sons of single moms in suburban Connecticut–”The only poor kids in Darien,” Mr. Yates recalled. When Mr. Yates found himself homeless in his teens, Moby gave him a place to stay. When Moby got lonely on tour in 1992, he made Mr. Yates his keyboardist just to have company. They played Woodstock ’99 together. And every Yatesmas, they met to record in a band with Mr. Katis called the Pork Guys (theme: everyone plays his worst instrument). Mr. Yates, who went to N.Y.U. film school, even shot a bunch of Moby’s videos. And at Sundance two years ago, Moby agreed to put up $20,000, then $40,000, to executive-produce Porno (think Clerks set in a porn shop). Moby, the Zambonis and the Happiest Guys did the music; porn veteran Dyanna Lauren starred.

Slowly, though, a rift developed between Mr. Yates and Moby. Lately, it has gotten ugly. Mr. Yates has been telling people that Moby and a group of friends played music together a few times under the name White Castle. White Castle, which included Lee Milazzo and another friend of Moby, satirized white supremacists, according to Mr. Yates. Mr. Yates said the joke wasn’t funny.

“Moby took it too far,” he said. Moby, however, denied his involvement. “I’ve never heard of that band,” he told The Transom. “I don’t know where he got that.” (Mr. Milazzo declined to comment.)

He also mentioned an antique sign hanging in Moby’s Little Italy loft that says, “No dogs. No Negroes. No Mexicans.” “He bought it in a Soho store; I mean, I know he just got it to be irreverent,” said Mr. Yates. But he took umbrage with what he described as Moby’s practice of keeping it from the press. “I mean, I have a swastika pin, but I don’t hide it when reporters come over,” Mr. Yates said. Moby, however, denied putting the sign away for anyone. What’s more, he said, “It is in no way an expression of any racist beliefs. A friend of mine who was black bought it for me because he thought it was the funniest thing in the world.”

Moby continued: “I have no idea where this stuff is coming from. I don’t know why he’s slandering me. Over the years, the level of antagonism from Paul just grew and grew.”

Then, last year, Moby got into a fight with Mr. Katis and Mr. Yates over an abortive Pork Guys recording session. “We had written two new songs over the phone,” Mr. Yates said. “That’s how we did things: We had ideas, we’d show up and just make the song as we recorded.” But Peter Katis, who normally did the recording, was sick and didn’t want to get out of bed. Moby, for his part, was in a rush and wanted to get it over with. “Moby had to go meet with John Waters or something,” Mr. Katis said in a rare interjection. “To Pete, Moby was like, ‘I would come over if I were you,’” Mr. Yates went on. “Pete said, ‘Sorry, we’re not you.’” Then, according to Mr. Katis, Moby got nasty: “Moby said, ‘At least I have a career.’” That pushed Mr. Katis, who was clearly rankled by Moby’s newfound superstatus, over the edge. “I was like, ‘I don’t give a goddamn about your career!’” he said.

Moby tells it a little differently: “Peter and Tarquin decided they didn’t want to record. So yes, I was annoyed–for about two seconds. After I realized they didn’t want to record, though, I just decided to get on a train and go back to New York. I mean, Paul was on my side!” He characterized his rapport with the Katis brothers as pugilistic. “These kids, as long as I knew them, always fight with each other. They argue about who’s winning in Monopoly. They argue about which Backstreet Boy is ugliest.”

Finally, a few months ago, Mr. Yates said, “I got a call from [Moby's] manager that I was not allowed to show clips of him in the movie during this VH1 show on porn in rock.” The scene involved Moby dancing behind Ms. Lauren with two dildos on his head. “Then I get a call from my producer. He said, ‘VH1 called me because someone called them saying he was Paul Yates, and that he wanted to pull the clips of Moby off the air because we don’t have clearance from Moby.” The impostor, Mr. Yates believes, was Moby’s manager. But Moby moaned, “This is where we start to enter the world of paranoid delusion. Someone who used to work for my management company called VH1 and said he wasn’t sure if they had the rights to use me. He no longer works for me. I had nothing to do with it. There was no impostor.” Mr. Yates tried to set things straight with VH1, but they’d already decided a few shots of Moby dancing with dildos on his head weren’t worth the legal risk. They cut the clips.

Mr. Yates says all this stewing over Moby has given him gray hair and bad dreams. “I was really, really hurt,” he told The Transom. “The feeling of betrayal and loss of my friend was devastating.” He continued, “When we were having the argument, I was like, ‘You know, Mobe, I’m your best friend. You don’t have anyone else.’ He was like, ‘Yes, I do. I have other friends: my manager, Elton John, Gwyneth Paltrow….’” Moby’s other Darien friends apparently feel loss, too, but–unlike Mr. Yates–they won’t go on the record for fear of crossing their now-powerful pal.

Mr. Yates tried reconciling with a seven-page letter. The reply, he said, was business-like: “‘Dear Sir: Thank you for your letter. It’s clear we don’t see eye-to-eye.’” Moby, however, explained that “we broke up as friends, but we also broke up as business partners. So we had to deal with business issues. And I rather … methodically addressed these issues. I wasn’t trying to be stiff.”

So Mr. Yates–now famously–put a certificate for Moby’s “eternal soul” up for auction on eBay for five cents. The bidding reached $42. Mr. Yates plans to use the certificate as the cover for a new single he’s recording, titled “Hey, Moby.” “It’s going to be big in Germany,” he said.

Over Yatesmas cake Mr. Yates said he and Moby are still involved in legal wrangling over Porno . He wouldn’t discuss anything further, however, on the advice of his lawyer.

Mr. Yates’ charges left Moby bewildered. “It just doesn’t make sense. I took him to Europe. I took him to L.A. I loaned him money to buy stock. I invited him to all my family’s Christmases. I don’t understand why he’s so intent on hurting me. There are a lot of things I could tell you, but I don’t want to be involved in slandering an ex-friend.”

“These guys fight all the time,” Mr. Katis said of the star-crossed friends. “Basically, we have this saying: Paul’s a good guy who can act like an asshole; Moby’s an asshole who can act like a good guy.”

Malachy McCourt On the Line

“Malachy McCourt here. I’m in for Brian Lehrer, and the first thing I want to do is sneeze.” Thus Mr. McCourt, the moon-faced, starry-eyed brother of memoirist Frank McCourt, signed on as substitute host of Dec. 28′s On the Line , WNYC radio’s morning call-in show. Mr. McCourt turned off his mike for a moment, then asked, “Did you hear that? I must be allergic to large crowds of people listening to me. So stop it!”

On the air, Mr. McCourt is a leprechaun–mischievous and foul-mouthed, his shillelagh poised over plutocrats and treasure seekers (privatizers of schools, among others, caught a rowdydow that morning). Nevertheless, nothing stopped Mr. McCourt from seeking a little treasure of his own. He plugged his new memoir moments into the broadcast. “What a great opportunity for my commercial!” he exclaimed. “People should run out and buy my new book, Singing My Him Song. “

All this makes for lively radio, but it’s no surprise to find in Mr. McCourt’s book an account of his termination as a WMCA talk-show host in 1976. Mr. McCourt came to work one evening to find a friend of his, a 30-year veteran of the station, fired without explanation. “When I got on the air,” he writes, “I could not … contain the torrents of raging verbiage about decency and compassion and loyalty …. I yapped on about how I was terrified of opening closet doors on these premises, lest I find a phalanx of fascists … I couldn’t wait to hear what I had to say next.” Mr. McCourt was suspended for three weeks without pay and instructed to say he’d taken a vacation if anyone asked where he’d been. And of course, when he returned, his first caller did just that. Mr. McCourt replied, “You might say I was on vacation–you might, and if I say any more, I may be on permanent vacation.” Two days later, he was.

Mr. McCourt has evidently impressed enough people at WNYC to be asked to fill in for the mild-mannered Mr. Lehrer. “They all think I add a bit of life and spice to the mix,” he told The Transom. “Because I’m not in awe of people.” He thought for a moment and added, “Plus, the thing is, you can’t get people to fill in this time of year, and I happened to be about.”

In the first hour of the show, Mr. McCourt interviewed New York Times education correspondent Edward Wyatt. (“I left school at the age of 13,” Mr. McCourt told him. “I was bloody stupid, to put it mildly.”) He also spoke with Josh Max, who writes about cars for the Daily News. (“Is there any other function for a middle finger outside of typing and driving?” Mr. McCourt asked.) Mr. McCourt is never at a loss for questions. “If you get stuck,” he told The Transom, “you can always ask, ‘Have you ever thought about the aphrodisiacal qualities of the parsnip?’”

His last guest was Joseph Pickett, executive editor of The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language . Mr. Pickett seemed a tad chagrined to learn that Mr. McCourt makes a hobby of combing dictionaries for dirty words. “If you call someone a ‘cockchafer,’” Mr. McCourt asked with a giggle, “what would you be calling them?” “Nothing very nice?” Mr. Pickett stammered. “Oh, it’s just a word for a large European beetle!” Mr. McCourt said with glee.

After the show, Mr. McCourt crowed, “If I were any better, God would be jealous.” Nevertheless, he admitted, “It would be highly unlikely I would ever get a permanent job at WNYC. They like dialogue, not diatribe.” But that’s okay with him. Radio, he said, “is a relatively inoffensive fart during the day. Most people don’t remember what you’ve said.”