This Day in Music, September 7: Moon the Loon

By , Contributor

On this day in 1978, Keith Moon, drummer with The Who, died of an overdose of heminevrin prescribed to combat alcoholism. A post-mortem confirmed there were 32 tablets in his system, 26 of which were undissolved. Moon had attended a party the night before organised by Paul McCartney for the launch of the film The Buddy Holly Story. Moon had played on all The Who albums from their debut, 1965's My Generation, to 1978's Who Are You, which was released two weeks before his death.

On the morning of September 7, 1978, Keith woke up at 7:30am and watched The Abominable Dr. Phibes. His girlfriend Annette cooked him a steak, and he went back to sleep. At 3:40pm, she woke up, and tried waking Keith, but couldn’t. She tried resuscitating him, with no response. The ambulance came but it was too late. Keith was dead at 32.

It's been said that Keith Moon was to the drums what Jimi Hendrix was to the guitar - a complete original, which is so true. Moon not only had one of the largest personalities in rock, his kit was the biggest as well. At one stage the drummer would play with ten tom-toms, twin bass drums, twin timpani, snare, a half dozen cymbals, and a gong.

He played differently from his peers, turning his massive kit into a lead instrument, and his up-front technique was crucial in establishing the Who’s passionate style.

Keith became a surf music fan as a schoolboy, taking early lessons on drums as a teenager and played with local bands in his native Wembley in north west London, The Escorts, Mark Twain & the Strangers, and The Beachcombers, before joining The Who in the spring of 1964.

Moon’s drumming was outstanding throughout the group’s début album My Generation where he made his mark. He didn’t sound like other drummers - listen to “Happy Jack” (1966) and “I Can See for Miles” (1967) - but it was on Tommy, the double album rock opera from 1969, that his talents are best utilised. Moon drove the band along with an intelligence and sureness of touch that defies analysis. On Who’s Next (1971) both “Bargain” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again” rank as some of his finest playing.

The tales and myths about Moon the Loon are legendary. Keith enjoyed a prank; his exploits included cross-dressing, elaborate practical jokes, sending TV sets flying from hotel windows, and a much-publicised episode when he and Vivian Stanshall of the Bonzo Dog Band visited a London beerkeller dressed in Nazi SS uniforms.

When touring with The Who, Keith used to enjoy flushing cherry bombs down toilets (and why not!). His repeated practice of blowing up toilets with explosives led him to be banned from several hotel chains around the world for life, including all Holiday Inn, Sheraton, and Hilton hotels.

His legacy is outstanding. Keith Moon is said to have named Led Zeppelin when an early version of the band was being discussed that would have had himself, along with John Entwistle on bass, Jimmy Page on guitar, as members; he stated the potential supergroup would "go down like a lead zeppelin". Just think for a moment, how different the history of rock would be, if Keith had formed Led Zeppelin with Jimmy Page?

And then we have the cars. During the '70s Keith owned two Rolls Royces (one of these may well have been the world's only lilac Rolls Royce, which he painted himself with house paint), a Ferrari, an AC Cobra, a Mercedes, a Chrysler hot rod, a Hovercraft, and a Milk Float. The drummer couldn’t drive (very well), and never had a driver’s license. But that didn’t stop him having a bit of fun.

Did Keith really drive that car into a hotel swimming pool? Well, Roger Daltrey has stated in an interview that the event did in fact take place, insisting, “It flaming well did happen, we got the $50,000 bill for it - he could have gone to jail for three years.”

According to the story, The Who were on tour and were at a Holiday Inn in Flint, Michigan. It was the drummer's birthday, so they had a party that began in the morning and carried on right through to the evening, with several bands, groupies, roadies, and stage crews in attendance, and all (particularly Moon) were highly inebriated. As the party got more and more out of control, the police were called to put an end to the festivities. Moon, ever keen to avoid the boys in blue, snuck outside and got into a Lincoln Continental limousine and attempted to make a getaway. Unfortunately, in his inebriated state he was unable to properly control the vehicle and as he released the handbrake, the car lurched backwards and began rolling towards the pool. Moon simply sat back and waited, as the car crashed through the fence around the pool and into the water.

As Moon came out of the car and back to the surface, he was greeted by a police sergeant holding a gun. Moon tried to run, eventually getting caught when he slipped, somewhat ironically, on some of his own birthday cake.

Moon, with his manic, lunatic side, and his life of excessive drinking, partying, and other indulgences, probably represented the zany side of rock and roll better than anyone else.

Keith was set to have a part in Monty Python's film Life of Brian and was with the Python members in the Caribbean as they wrote the script, but Moon died before it began filming. The published edition of the screenplay of Life of Brian is dedicated to the drummer. 

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A former musician, Neil was in the 80's group The Cheaters who were once signed to EMI's Parlophone label, and released three albums. He was also a radio presenter and is still a regular music pundit on various BBC stations. Neil is the founder of the award winning web site This Day in Music which is…

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