September 6th 1978. Paul McCartney held a midnight screening of The Buddy Holly story preceded by a celebrity studded meal at the Peppermint Park restaurant. McCartney now owned the rights to all Buddy Holly songs and was celebrating Holly’s birthday (Sept 7th)
Keith Moon was in attendance, although he had returned to Britain the previous year he had spent a lot of time in the studio and on holiday. Prior to that he had been holed up in Los Angeles and this was a chance to catch up with the London scene. By all accounts Moon was on good form, monopolising the top table with McCartney (both Linda and Paul) and strangely enough TV host David Frost. Moon didn’t appear particularly intoxicated, certainly not by 70’s muso standards. He appeared quite charming and told everyone who would listen how he planned to marry his new girlfriend Annette Walter Lax. Naturally Moon hadn’t discussed this with Walter Lax herself. We can assume he saw the film although its hard imagining the hyperactive Moon sitting through the whole showing.
Returning home (to Harry Nillson’s old flat) around 4.30 he took a handful (yes a handful!) of a sedative called Heminevrin and nodded off in front of a film. Waking at 7 he tried to wake a sleeping Annette to cook him some food. Finding her unresponsive he went and cooked himself a steak then washed some more Heminevrin down with some champagne.
And that was the end of Keith, Annette discovered his body at 4.30 pm
Just as a single event it’s a fascinating insight into what was actually a stable period in Moon’s life. The nocturnal lifestyle, the expectation your woman might spring out of bed to knock you up a meal at whatever time; and the cavalier attitude to drink and drugs.
I don’t really recall that much of a fuss at the time. The band had released their ‘Who are You’ album in the middle of punk. There was so much music going on at the time I needed a new Who album like I needed a Jethro Tull record. I never bothered to listen, in fact it was only during WHO MONTH! that I fired up Spotify for a listen..and what a stinker it is it is one of those rare records that probably sounded bad at the time and sounds just as bad now. The record had been fraught with problems from the keyboard player breaking his shoulder on the way to the studio to Townsend cutting his hands badly after a row with his parents (what a great night in that must have been). The most consistent problem however was Moon himself who seemed to be having difficulty playing drums. He could still go bamdiblamdiblam round the kit like the good old days but things like changing for the bridge and the chorus were alluding him, he needed a lot of supervision For one song (Bloody awful) ‘Guitar and Pen’ Moon had to sit out because he couldn’t get to grips with the 6/8 rhythm.
In short, he had become a liability Daltrey and Entwistle wanted him out of the band, Townsend got around the problem by announcing the Who would not be touring in the near future.
And so, the news that Moon was no more probably came as a shock but not a surprise to the surviving members, I cant help but feel sorry for Entwistle who took the fatal call in the middle of a press conference, returning to the fray he held it together until he asked what the band’s plans for the future were, The bass player broke down in tears, there were no plans, Keith Moon was dead.
It’s easy to dismiss Moon as something of a mercurial savant, a nutter, ‘moon the loon’ the crazy man hotel wrecker of rock. There’s also the darker equally relevant picture of a man who may well have been mentally ill, the man who broke his wife Kim’s nose on at least three occasions. When Kim eventually left and found solace with Ian McLagan Moon hired a heavy to break the Keyboard player’s fingers (Townsend found out and paid the heavy not to). Moon had probably killed his chauffer by driving over him, by the mid 70’s Moon’s carefree life was turning to shit and, most significantly he was heavily dependent on alcohol.
That’s another little snapshot of the 70’s. Mental illness and Addiction were recognised but treatment was in it’s infancy. Moon would occasionally disappear to a ‘health farm’ and come back looking healthier but that was about all the therapy he received. In London there were a plethora of private doctors who would be a lot more generous with their prescribing than your family GP. Moon had been to see a Dr Geoffrey Dymond who had prescribed the Heminevrin. It’s sometime reported that these pills were to ‘cure’ Moon’s ‘alcoholism’ which is nonsense Hemineverin are not used today as they are too dangerous but essentially, they are sedatives which act in a similar way to alcohol. This sort of treatment is usually only carried out in hospitals where everything can be closely supervised reducing the dose over a number of days. If you take a sedative drug with alcohol the risks or overdose are greatly increased. There’s an argument that Dr Dymond was a product of the time, we know better now. There is also a case that he was grossly irresponsible, certainly the Writer Nick Kent alleges that he went to the same Dr when trying to get off heroin, it was only when Kent felt ill did he check the pills and found they were antidepressants (rather than the anticipated opiates) of the same type which had recently led to Nick Drake’s fatal overdose.
There’s a very good case that Moon didn’t have to die that night, the coroner recorded an open verdict which meant they couldn’t make a decision on whether the death was accidental or suicidal. To be honest though the future didn’t look bright. His faithful chauffeur/butler/nurse had quit when things got too tough in LA. No one was really looking out for him now, when drinking heavily Moon would experience seizures on stopping, he was heavily dependent on alcohol, it’s possible he might have got his career back if had stopped drinking altogether but he was only 32 and he would have had the 80’s to get through, it would have been a hard slog.
But, imagine a world where Keith Moon had not existed.
Just play any 60’s Who song through in your head with a normal drum beat, it’s ok but at best it sounds like the Hollies at the worst it sounds like Freddie and the Dreamers. Not to underestimate Enwistle’s bass but it’s the drums that bring these songs alive. Although it’s easy to regard Moon as some sort of drumming freak of nature, he had only had a couple of lessons and he barely practiced, there’s a fully developed style from the first recordings. In the latter days Moon had a huge drumkit, rather than rolling around the kit he would move forwards and backwards almost like a skier. That requires a lot of energy but not loads of skill but if you go back to the My Generation LP there’s a proper drummer on display doing rolls and flams and paradiddles,(and he plays two tracks in 6/8) fast forward to Live At Leeds and Moon is up there with the drumming greats like Mitch Mitchell (don’t get me started on John Bonham !). Post ‘Who’s Next’ Moon had to play along with backing tapes and click tracks, in the 70’s this was a real challenge for the most accomplished drummers but Moon did it, no fuss no bother.
Let no one be in doubt that Moon was a great drummer without that ability he would just be Dave Clarke. Apart from Ringo, no one did more to popularise the drums..ever.
In an ideal world his death would have been the end of the Who (in fact in an ideal world they would have ended before ‘Who are You?’). In fact, Moon’s death solved an embarrassing problem for the band. Kenney Jones had also been present at the final party and was tempted into the group with Townsend’s assurances that this was a new beginning. It wasn’t of course Townsend’s creativity had run thin and he had underestimated just what Moon had brought to the band. I feel for Jones as much as I feel for Daltrey being stuck in the 80’s Who, a band that pleased absolutely no one.
And so, Who Month is over, it’s been a hot one. In the course of my watertight research I came across an accusation that that a fantastic clip of the band playing ‘Wont get Fooled Again’ had the drums overdubbed as they were not up to scratch on the night. As further evidence of Moon’s decline is the fact that he staggers clambering over his kit for the final call. Let’s look again, all I can say is
a) Have you ever tried climbing over a drum it’s difficult !
b) If moon did have to overdub the drums he’s a double genius that’s really difficult!
( unless Kenney Jones did it)
The last time the real Who, the genuine Who, played live was at Shepperton film studios. Their previous gig at Kilburn had been considered a disaster. In fact, what was considered a disaster for the Who would have been a gig of a lifetime for a lot of bands, the clip of them playing ‘Wont get Fooled Again’ started Who month. The band had started a project which was to become most of the rest of their career namely reminding us how great the band had been. ‘The Kids are Alright’ film needed more footage and so the band convened at a more select location at Shepperton to film a live gig. As the band came off soaked in sweat the director nervously approached the band to do just one more number.
And so the band reappeared to perform ‘ Won’t get Fooled Again’. For me its not as a performance as the Kilburn one, the band get a bit lost halfway through but it doesn’t really phase them. There is also a moment when Moon re enters with his famous drum roll which sound suspiciously well recorded after the muddy sound but it’s still bloody great.
And sure enough Moon stumbles into the arms of Townsend who for a moment forgets he’s genius and give the portly little man a genuine hug.
And that was the end.