Monday, September 8, 2008

Dear Boy

Keith Moon died 30 years ago yesterday. Besides being the greatest drummer of all times with The Who, he also earned a reputation for inventing the rock-star cliche of smashing up hotel rooms on an epic scale. I remember when I was about 11 years old visiting my family in Scotland, I stayed in the room of my older cousin. Every inch of this room was completely covered in Who memorabilia, and what particularly impressed me were the clippings from The Sun and other tabloids describing the various exploits of Moon the Loon - how he had crashed his Rolls into the pool of a Holiday Inn hotel, how he habitually destroyed his drum kit on stage, and - most memorably in the mind of this pre-pubescent kid - how a naked stripper had emerged from his birthday cake (I was almost as impressed by the fact that my cousin was allowed to have the article, with photo of the lady in question, up on his wall; my mom would have had my head on a stake had I suggested redecorating my room in similar fashion).

When, several years later, I started getting seriously into the music of The Who myself, it was Moon's drumming that convinced me this was the best band ever. Especially in recordings of live concerts, his power and speed are unreal (just listen to his drumming on
I Can See For Miles - and I still consider Live at Leeds the best live album ever recorded by any band).

On a trip to the UK, my buddy Felix (if at all possible, an even bigger Who fan than myself) bought
Full Moon, a biography of Keith by his driver, bodyguard, and drug purchaser Dougal Butler. In addition to introducing me to the concept of cockney rhyming slang, this account of life as a rock star also made clear that besides Moonie's charming and comical personality, he also had a vicious Mr Hyde side to him that came out when he was drunk, i.e., near-permanently as his career evolved. After hurling a bottle of champagne at his wife, which thankfully missed and became embedded intact in the wall of their living room, he framed the corpus delicti, turning violence simultaneously into a joke and into a work of art, perfectly encapsulating his approach to life and the two sides of his increasingly psychotic personality.

A 1970s cartoon showed a hotel lobby with what looks like a fire alarm and the notice, "In Case of Keith Moon, Break Glass". The Wikipedia entry on Moonie contains the following anecdote:
According to Townshend, Moon's reputation for erratic behaviour was something he cultivated. Once, on the way to an airport, Moon insisted they return to their hotel, saying , "I forgot something. We've got to go back!" When the limo returned, Moon ran to his room, grabbed the TV while it was plugged in, threw it out the window and into the pool. He then jumped back into the limousine, sighing "I nearly forgot."
Another nice story is recounted by Graham Chapman:
"He had a little bit of a problem in a hotel in Los Angeles, in the Hyatt House on Sunset Strip in fact it was, he was returning home one afternoon after rehearsing with the band, and was walking through the lobby at the hotel listening to this old cassette recorder - listening to the rehearsal of the band that morning, in fact, and evidently there was some kind of complaint about this, because the manager approached him and told him to turn that noise off, please. Well, Keith immediately complied, turned it off, and went up to his room, where he happened to have a large supply of detonator caps. He'd been saving these up for the acts later on in the week. And he spent the next 20 minutes meticulously wiring these up to the back of his door. He then rang down to the manager's office and told the man that he wanted to see him immediately. He popped his head out of the door to check that the manager had indeed got out of the elevator, popped back in again, and the manager subsequently arrived just outside of Keith's door to see the whole thing blown off its hinges in front of his eyes, and Keith, stepping out of the rubble and smoke, holding up this little cassette recorder, saying: 'That was noise, mate; this was The Who.' He certainly had a way with authority".
Not the kind of person you would wish to married to, then; but certainly if I had the choice of which resurrected dead rock star I could spend a night of drinking with, I would have to go with Keith, no contest. If you are unfamiliar with his drumming style, the difference between noise and The Who is showcased in Cobwebs and Strange on the album "A Quick One", and this video gives a good impression of both his mastery of the drums and of the charming part of his personality (with a cameo appearance by Steve Martin, from the movie The Kids Are Alright). The other side of the Moon, the bombastic stadium rock power drumming, can be seen in the final scene of the aforementioned movie as The Who give a monster performance of Won't Get Fooled Again. At 7:37 minutes, Moonie breaks into the synthesizer track with a fantastic extended drum roll that still gives me goosebumps every time I hear it.

But there can be no better way to honor his memory than with this clip of Moon the Loon performing his beloved surf music: a lovely smile, terrific drumming, and atrocious singing (though his version of Barbara Ann still better than John McCain's obscenity)... we shall not see his like again.

Recommended reading: Tony Fletcher, Dear Boy - The Life Of Keith Moon, London: Omnibus Press, 1998.

1 comment:

Itchi Tseteno said...

'Moi naim is Keith, bod youu can kall mej John'
With this Guy an 'undestructable' Legend died.