Recently, fans of Keith Moon marked what would have been his 64th birthday were he still alive. Moon, of course, was the influential original drummer of one of the most enduring rock bands in the world, The Who. The original line-up included: lead singer Roger Daltrey, main songwriter and lead guitarist Pete Townshend, serious bass player John Entwistle and madman drummer Keith Moon.
In 1964, after losing two of the pre-Who members and hiring Moon as their new drummer, the band once known as The Detours changed their name to the ever-confusing The Who. The band became a cult hit the following year (1965) after gaining a reputation for their energetic live performances which usually included the destruction of their instruments (–a practice that ate up their profits). The royalties they would earn from early hit songs such as “I Can’t Explain” and “Magic Bus” certainly helped keep them in instruments; their big breakout, however, didn’t come until 1969.
It was in 1969 that the band would truly score with Townshend’s rock opera Tommy. This was an unusual tale of a disabled boy who discovers salvation in front of a pinball machine. It was critically-acclaimed and sold over 20 million copies worldwide. The LP—which included the hit singles, “I’m Free”, “See Me, Feel Me” and of course “Pinball Wizard”– camped out on the charts for more than two years climbing as high as number 4 in the US and number 2 in the UK.
The band was off, recording and rockin’ out through a memorable run of rampantly riotous rock shows that emphasized their aural art through ear-splittingly loud performances which would eventually affect even Townshend’s own ears. The next decade marked even more success for the band with album’s such as the five-star Who’s Next, the noteworthy fan favorite Quadrophenia (“Love, Reign O’er Me”, “5.15”, “The Real Me”) and the biggest, fastest seller Who Are You which went platinum and hit number 2 in the US in 1978.
The band’s hotel-room destroying “Wholiganism” and onstage antics were highlighted by Moon’s destructive tendencies. His frenetic, ferocious drumming always ended in the destruction of more drum kits than most professional musicians play in a lifetime. Critically speaking, he was not the best timekeeper but was, from an audience perspective, one of the most exciting drummers of his time. His explosive drum rolls and maniacal style certainly helped to make The Who even more outrageous.
While discipline was not one of Moon’s attributes and he always claimed he never had lessons, the truth is he actually did have some training. He was perhaps one of the greatest rock drummers and yet the least practiced as he generally only played when he was with the band, claimed to never otherwise practice and even after he became rich and famous never had a drum kit anywhere he actually lived. Moon’s downtime from The Who was little more than an endless, living tribute to human debauchery.
His fans admired his hardcore hedonistic lifestyle. Sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll as they say. They practically worshipped him for driving a car into a huge swimming pool—something that was little more than an urban myth that never really happened.
In 1978, in the wash of success from their latest album Who Are You and the accompanying hit title track “Who Are You”, Moon and his girlfriend, Swedish model Annette Walter-Lax , were living at Harry Nilsson’s place at 9 Curzon Place. (This was, oddly enough, the number 12 flat on the top floor where “Mama” Cass Elliot died four years prior.) Although his fans were unaware, Moon had earlier consulted a doctor about his alcohol abuse and was taking prescription pills to ease his alcohol withdrawal.
On the morning of September 7th, 1978 after returning from a party at Paul McCartney’s place, at approximately 3:00 am, Moon took a handful of the pills. A few hours later, he woke up in a daze, ate a big meal, took more of the pills and went back to bed. When Lax attempted to rouse Moon later that afternoon, he would not wake.
Keith “Moon the Loon” Moon, the prototype party animal, the perpetual poster-child for over-indulgence and recreational drug use, had died in his sleep from an overdose of Heminverin. At age 32, Moon was cremated at Golden’s Green Crematorium in the UK. His ashes were scattered at Section 3P. Visitors will find no memorial or plaque just a simple field of flowers. Who knew this was how Keith Moon would fall in the end?
My name is Phoenix and . . . that’s the bottom line.