THE WHO - Drums & Drugs: The last years of the Keith Moon

16. March 2019

Keith Moon The Who

THE WHO - Drums & Drugs: Die letzten Jahre des Keith Moon

The stories about his freaks and escapades aren't all right. It starts with the date of birth. For decades, August 23, 1947 was considered a fact by biographers, journalists and fellow musicians alike - because it was spread by Moon himself. Only in 1998 the British journalist Tony Fletcher discovered for his 750-page work "Dear Boy - The Explosive Life of Keith Moon" that Moon was exactly one year older: one of many stories that the musician had invented or decorated in such a way that the truth content could often only be guessed at.

One thing is certain: As a child, Keith Moon was a lovable, but above all a very upbeat, rock'n'roll-infected journeyman. He was an inattentive pupil, incessant to strike out, hyperactive and early committed to a career aspiration: He wanted to be a psycho drummer. His role models were the Elvis drummer D. J. Fontana and the extroverted Gene Krupa, who moved drums in jazz from the back row to the front row - the same thing Moon (and Led Zeppelins John Bonham) later did in rock. He took lessons only a few times, with Carlo Little, who had founded the group The Savages in 1960 and who maltreated the bass drum like no other in London. Many years later he was to make headlines when it became known that in 1962 he had refused a firm commitment to the Rolling Stones with the words: "Thank you, guys, but I have to make money." From the small 16-year-old, who stood in awe of him, the giant demanded ten shillings for 30 minutes of instruction. The few lessons at Little were the first steps on Moon's path to fame and fortune, but also to his self-destructive lifestyle and ultimately to his demise. And they were jointly responsible for the fact that from 1964 The Who appeared musically much more aggressive than the competition from the Beatles and the Stones.

This was also true for the stage show, which at the beginning of their career often ended with the musicians disassembling their equipment. The first decade followed, rich in highlights: "My Generation", "Tommy", Woodstock and Isle Of Wight, "Live At Leeds" and "Quadrophenia" were some of the stations that saw the Who at the zenith. Destroyed hotel rooms were, however, also part of Moon's activities, as was the steadily increasing consumption of alcohol and amphetamines, which eventually led to dependence.

Bacchantian studio sessions

Artistically, the archetypal rock drummer went rapidly downhill in the seventies, which was evident in Los Angeles during the recording of his solo album "Two Sides Of The Moon". They were just as chaotic as Moon's whole life. Most of the 60 or so musicians, some of whom worked on the album "Pussy Cats" (1974) by singer-songwriter Harry Nilsson like him, created a wild party atmosphere rather than a reasonable working environment at Record Plant Studios. Accordingly, it took three quarters of a year from the embarrassing recording of the Beach Boys track "Don't Worry Baby" in March 1974 until the LP was finally in the box. The producer was former Beatles roadie Mal Evans, who also had a massive alcohol problem. After the crucial people at MCA Records had listened to the recordings, Evans was fired, but "Don't Worry Baby" was released as a single. Evans' successor Skip Taylor: "There wasn't a single line that wasn't echoed."

Under Taylor's wing, Moon reduced his alcohol consumption - because the new boss in the studio was also a drug supplier. This was not uncommon in Los Angeles of those days: the producers took care of the pills and the powder because they wanted to make sure that their clients were not served uncontrolled. Taylor about his working method in the Record Plant: "I came in and then decided if this was an evening where we should have a little brandy, smoke a little or rather draw some lines."

The musicians in the Record Plant included Ringo Starr, Joe Walsh, Harry Nilsson, Klaus Voormann, Spencer Davis and Bobby Keys. But instead of focusing on his outstanding drumming skills, Moon took lead vocals on all ten tracks, including "The Kids Are Alright" (well), Ricky Nelson's "Teen Age Idol" (cruel) and the Beatles number "In My Life" (even worse!). The fact that his singing often displeased him drove him to white hotness: Every time a recording had to be stopped because he hadn't hit a note again, he smashed one of the light bulbs with an ashtray in the studio. He only used the drumsticks for three songs. Session colleagues like Jim Keltner had to ensure that the beat was kept, while Moon himself only played over it afterwards.

The reactions to "Two Sides Of The Moon" were devastating. Joe Walsh, who had contributed guitar and keyboards for "The Kids Are Alright" at a late stage, was horrified and spoke of a "half train accident". Roy Carr wrote in the "New Musical Express": "Moonie, if you had no talent, I wouldn't care, but you did. So I can't accept 'Two Sides Of The Moon' - even if it means the end of a friendship after ten years." The "Melody Maker" called the album version of "Don't Worry Baby", released as a single in Great Britain, an "ugly mourning song", while the "Rolling Stone" frostily judged the album: "There is not a single legitimate reason for its existence".

A performance on November 8, 1974 at the ABC television show "Wide World In Concert" shows how Moon tickled, what humour he also displayed in his physical and mental decline. Stanley Dorfman, who worked for the US radio station and hired the Who drummer, said that those responsible wanted "a big name" for the format's one-year anniversary. Moon, who found Drumsolos "absolutely boring", agreed to swing - his face painted like a cat - behind his instrument, for which he had bought two giant, transparent bass drums, in which goldfish were playing. When he had finished his five-minute performance, a young visitor asked him in front of running cameras what was going to happen to the fish. Moon pulled his face slightly and said with a mischievous grin: "Even the best drummer gets hungry".

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