The Insane And Tragic Life Of Keith Moon
The Who (Keith Moon Tribute)
Keith Moon was rock’s wildest character in the Sixties and Seventies, an unapologetic freewheeling hedonist whose lifestyle became synonymous with the mad, carefree image of the rock star at large. He courted the press and became notorious as ‘Moon The Loon’, the incorrigible clown who respected no authority whatsoever and never knew the meaning of the word embarrassment.
As The Who became massively popular worldwide, Keith Moon became a celebrity, not just as a drummer, but as the mad jester to rock’s high court whose exploits included cross-dressing and elaborate practical jokes.
Keith Moon was more than just rock's greatest drummer, he was also its greatest character and wildest party animal. Fuelled by vast quantities of drink, drugs, insecurities and confusion, Moon destroyed everything with gleeful abandon: drum kits, houses, cars, hotels, relationships and, finally, himself.
Keith Moon at work
When Moon was recruited by the fledgling Who in 1964 after passing an audition in a pub, no one would pretend that they knew how the dangerous, essential chemistry would develop between four of the most cohesive forces rock music would ever see. It’s very rare to come across a record by The Who on which Moon is not a crucial part. He was there through eight albums and around 35 singles, unforgettable to the last beat.
One of the reasons the Who surged to prominence in the mid-1960s was because Keith Moon played the drums like a man possessed by a demon. He hit the drums so hard it appeared he was trying to destroy them. After many concerts, he would kick his kit about the stage and sometimes fling it into the audience—the consequences of such recklessness be damned.
A decidedly hyperactive kid, Keith Moon grew up in England during the 1950s, a time when such difficult children were considered dysfunctional at best or worse, brain-damaged. These days, such a youngster would probably be labeled as suffering from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
"Moon The Loon" 1970s
In the spring of 1961 when Moon was 14, Moon’s friend, Gerry Evans, was one of the first people ever to hear Moon play the drums. About Moon’s drumming, Evans said: “He was just hitting everything in sight and making a load of noise. There was no way this guy was going to be a professional drummer. It was impossible because he didn’t have a clue, he was like the worst drummer you’d ever seen in your life.
”At an early age, Moon was a joker. While on a subway full of people, he would pull out a paper bag and play sick, pretending he was about to retch into the bag, all the while making the most horrific moaning and groaning sounds. Many people think Keith Moon was never tutored on the drums, but he actually took lessons from a frightening bloke named Carlo Little of the Savages, a local rock group. Moon paid Little ten shillings per lesson. Moon played the drums in his first rock band, the Escorts, in 1962.
Then a short time later, he joined the Beachcombers, one of the best cover bands in the London area. While working, Moon liked wearing a gold lame suit, the likes of which few had the balls to put on. From a young age, Keith Moon often stole tape recorders, drums, amplifiers, and furniture—whatever he thought he or his friends needed to be musicians.
Keith Moon At The Office
In order to cope with staying up late for gigs and then working at another job early in the morning, Moon, like many other musicians, began popping uppers such as purple hearts or French blues. Ironically, years later, doctors began prescribing amphetamines such as Dexedrine to treat ADHD. No wonder Keith liked them so much!
Keith Moon auditioned for the Who, which accepted him reluctantly, though accounts vary as to how the event happened. At any rate, the Who were going to try Keith out to determine his long-term viability. Many years later, Moon said he had spent the last 15 years trying out for the Who.
As the story goes, during one of Moon’s first gigs with the Who, Pete Townshend, while experimenting with a “Swiss echo” effects box, blew out the PA system and then cried “Drum solo!” So Moon pounded away for the next 15 minutes while the others repaired the damage. After the performance, Moon stripped off his T-shirt and wrung the sweat from it, soon filling two wine glasses.
Keith Moon Central London 1970s
Adopting the new mod fashion, the Who became a so-called mod band and played in mod nightclubs. The Who were also known as an R&B band, similar in playing style to the Rolling Stones and the Animals. And, at one point, they actually changed their name to the High Numbers!
During a performance at the Railway Hotel, Pete Townshend accidentally poked his Rickenbacker guitar through the low ceiling, breaking the neck, and the crowd roared, thinking it was part of the act. Then, at the end of another show at the hotel, Keith Moon kicked over his entire drum kit. From then on, Townshend and Moon would trash their gear at the end of each performance, beginning a long-enduring and often imitated ritual.
Shocking Rockstar Deaths
A young Keith Moon in full flight behind the drum kit
Mick Jagger Recalls Time Keith Moon Broke Into His Hotel Room Dressed As Batman
Mick Jagger, unsurprisingly, had quite the Moon the Loon anecdote. Jagger recalled in a interview, “Keith was a complete lunatic. I was in Los Angeles in a hotel once and I was asleep, and he broke into my room dressed as Batman.
I woke up and there was Batman in front of me, complete with a mask and everything. It’s not quite what you expect in the middle of the night.” Jagger was, understandably, taken aback by the whole ordeal and mentioned he was, in fact, armed with “some sort of defensive weapon.”
Once Moon realized his well-being was in danger, he tried to defuse the situation by telling to Jagger, “It’s Keith! It’s Keith!” However, this created confusion, because Jagger thought Batman meant Keith Richards.“ I said, ‘You’re not Keith; I can tell you’re not Keith by your voice.’ [He said] ‘No, Keith Moon, Keith Moon!’ and he took his mask off,” said Jagger. It’s a good thing Moon removed his mask before Jagger attacked him.
Moon's lifestyle began to undermine his health and reliability. During the 1973 Quadrophenia tour, at the Who's debut US date at the Cow Palace in Daly City, California, Moon ingested a mixture of tranquillisers and brandy. During the concert, Moon passed out on his drum kit during "Won't Get Fooled Again." The band stopped playing, and a group of roadies carried Moon offstage.
They gave him a shower and an injection of cortisone, sending him back onstage after a thirty-minute delay. Moon passed out again during "Magic Bus," and was again removed from the stage. The band continued without him for several songs before Townshend asked, "Can anyone play the drums? – I mean somebody good?" A drummer in the audience, Scot Halpin, came up and played the rest of the show.
During the opening date of the band's March 1976 US tour at the Boston Garden, Moon passed out over his drum kit after two numbers and the show was rescheduled.
The next evening Moon systematically destroyed everything in his hotel room, cut himself doing so and passed out. He was discovered by manager Bill Curbishley, who took him to a hospital, telling him "I'm gonna get the doctor to get you nice and fit, so you're back within two days. Because I want to break your fucking jaw ... You have fucked this band around so many times and I'm not having it any more."
Doctors told Curbishley that if he had not intervened, Moon would have bled to death. Marsh suggested that at this point Daltrey and Entwistle seriously considered firing Moon, but decided that doing so would make his life worse.
Entwistle has said that Moon and the Who reached their live peak in 1975–76. At the end of the 1976 US tour in Miami that August, the drummer, delirious, was treated in Hollywood Memorial Hospital for eight days. The group was concerned that he would be unable to complete the last leg of the tour, which ended at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto on 21 October (Moon's last public show). During the band's recording sabbatical between 1976 and 1978, Moon gained a considerable amount of weight.
By the time of the Who's invitation-only show at the Gaumont State Cinema on 15 December 1977 for The Kids are Alright, Moon was visibly overweight and had difficulty sustaining a solid performance. After recording Who Are You, Townshend refused to follow the album with a tour unless Moon stopped drinking, and said that if Moon's playing did not improve he would be fired. Daltrey later denied threatening to fire him, but said that by this time the drummer was out of control.
Because the Who's early stage act relied on smashing instruments, and owing to Moon's enthusiasm for damaging hotels, the group were in debt for much of the 1960s; Entwistle estimated they lost about £150,000.
Even when the group became relatively financially stable after Tommy, Moon continued to rack up debts. He bought a number of cars and gadgets, and flirted with bankruptcy. Moon's recklessness with money reduced his profit from the group's 1975 UK tour to just £47.35
The real Keith Moon was a son, a brother, a father and an insecure man. The public Keith Moon was The Who’s manic drummer and hell raising, daredevil comedian; a man who only ever lived in the moment.
And it was this version of Keith Moon that led to his untimely death on September 7 1978. A month earlier, The Who released Who Are You, their first new album in three years. But Keith’s drinking and drug taking had impacted on his performance and his appearance.
Moon’s playing was becoming erratic and unreliable Keith’s condition meant The Who were in no state to tour, which left him anxious and depressed. Moon had been taking Heminevrin for some time. It was a powerful sedative prescribed to him by Harley Street physician, Dr Geoffrey Dymond. Heminevrin quelled the craving for alcohol, but sometimes left users in a docile and forgetful state. But it worked. In the days leading up to his death, Moon cut back on the booze.
On September 6 Paul McCartney threw a party at the Covent Garden diner Peppermint Park to celebrate what would have been Buddy Holly’s 42nd birthday. McCartney had acquired the rights to Holly’s song publishing, and a biopic, The Buddy Holly Story, was premiering later that night. Moon initially told his girlfriend Annette Walter-Lax he didn’t want to go to the party.
When she told him she wanted to go anyway, he changed his mind and called his dealer who delivered some cocaine.The couple arrived at Peppermint Park, where Annette has since insisted Moon didn’t drink or, if he did, limited himself to just two drinks. While he was still using cocaine, the fact that he didn’t go wild on the free champagne was considered progress.
1970s Pop Culture Music
Other party guests, including Paul and Linda McCartney, David Frost and ex-Faces drummer Kenney Jones (whom unbeknown to everyone would take Moon’s place in The Who) all remember Keith being in good spirits and surprisingly sober. Others, including Led Zeppelin’s former tour manager Richard Cole, remember Moon telling them he planned to wed Annette. He said ‘I feel great, I’ve given up everything… except women’. And I’m gonna get married again.”The proposal never happened.
After the party, Moon and Annette attended the midnight premiere of The Buddy Holly Story at the Odeon, Leicester Square. Inside the cinema, Keith seemed agitated and insisted they leave an hour into the movie. “He was restless,” said Annette. “He said, ‘I don’t want to sit through this. Let’s go.’”
Back at their flat, in Mayfair, Moon told Annette he was hungry. She cooked his favourite, lamb cutlets, after which they went to bed to watch a video of the camp horror film The Abominable Doctor Phibes. Moon had been exceeding his prescribed dose of Heminevrin the same way he abused every other drug. But Annette hadn’t realised quite how many pills he was taking.
In Annette’s account, Moon woke up at 7:30am and told her he wanted food. He was in a bad mood and they argued, but Annette cooked him some more lamb. After clearing the plate, Moon took more Heminevrin and fell asleep again. But his snoring meant Annette retreated to the sofa, where she slept until 3:40pm.
After waking up, she ventured back into the bedroom, where she found Moon lying on his stomach with his left arm hanging over the side of the bed: “I couldn’t hear him breathing. Right there and then I knew something was wrong. I went into a panic.”Annette rang Dr Dymond, who called an ambulance. But it was too late. Moon had been dead for some time, but was officially pronounced dead at 5:50pm at Middlesex Hospital.
The official cause of death was listed on the certificate as “Clomethiazole (Heminevrin) overdose, self-administered but no evidence of intention. Open verdict.” It was later revealed Moon had 26 undissolved Heminevrin tablets still in his stomach when he died.
For many close to Keith, his death came as more of a shock because they knew he’d cut back on the excessive behaviour. He was, they insist, trying to get better.What nobody knew was the damaging effects of the prescription drugs he was taking and in such quantities. At Moon’s funeral Daltrey told the mourners he still half-expected Keith to leap from the coffin, claiming it was all a joke. Sadly it wasn’t. Rock’s greatest drummer was just 32 years old when he died.
The Who Who Are You
Keith Moon played the drums in a similar way to how he lived his life: frenetic to the point where chaos could erupt around him at any given moment. When it comes to the excess and antics of rock ’n’ roll, Keith Moon didn’t just partake, he wrote the playbook. Sadly, the lifestyle took its toll on Moon, who packed more into his 32 years than most people could manage in a couple of lifetimes, cruelly losing his life to an overdose of prescription pills designed to help alleviate the alcohol withdrawal he was experiencing while attempting to get sober.
Keith Moon with The Doors Keyboardist Ray Manzarek
The Who thank their audience post gig
Celebrity Death Reactions
Keith Moon's Wildest Pranks Footnotes:
Keith Moon Facts
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