Yeah, yeah, we know: there was a dark side to the Moon. (Just ask the Faces’ Ian McLagan about how Moon reacted to Mac shacking up with Keith’s first wife, Kim.)
And, yeah, we know: it’s not big or clever to do most of this stuff. (Actually, a lot of it could only come from a man with a big personality and a fiendishly clever mind, but let’s not argue).
And, yeah, we know: it ended badly, with Keith dead at the age of 32. But while that may be no laughing matter, the wealth of room-destroying, toilet- exploding, groupie-defiling, trouser-splitting stories he left behind will be a matter for laughter as long as people care about rock’n’roll. So raise a glass, dear boy, as we celebrate Moon The Loon.
His first gig with The Who
For his first gig with The Who, Keith Moon arrived with yards of rope and tied his drum kit to pillars in the venue, much to the bemusement of his new bandmates. Mid-gig, the PA blew, so the band turned to Keith to do a drum solo. He proceeded to knock seven shades out of the kit (which, according to bassist John Entwistle, was “Bulging out, but actually held in place by the rope”).
After the gig, Moon walked over tyo Entiwstle’s girlfriend, took his T-shirt off and wrung the sweat out of it over her empty wine glass, filling it to the brim.
The first hotel room
It was Steve Marriott’s 21st birthday in Wellington, New Zealand. EMI, The Small Faces’ record company, bought Marriott a portable record player and a party was held in Steve’s room. When a record jumped, a drunken Marriott gave it a punch, smashing it in the process. Getting carried away, he gave it a few more smacks then tossed it out of the window.
That was his second mistake. His first mistake had been inviting Mooney, who promptly followed Marriott’s lead and chucked “the telly, armchairs, the lot” out of the window. It may well have been the first time that a hotel room was trashed by a band in this now legendary fashion.
Marriott made up some story that his room had been broken into and destroyed. The hotel and EMI believed him. EMI bought him a new record deck. It would be the last time the ‘someone broke in and trashed my room’ line would work.
The next day, after the last gig, the bands went back to Marriott’s newly furnished room for a party. Moon walked straight through the door, said: “Happy birthday, dear boy,” to Steve, then picked up the new record player and threw it out the window. Then he started on the rest of the room.
Marriott recalled: “We screamed: ‘No! No! No!’. And Keith was going: ‘Yes! Yes! Yes!’, bunging things out and smashing things. The whole room gets duffed up again. Fucking wrecked.” Guards were posted outside Marriott’s room and a whopping bill was delivered.
Predator Vs. Alien: Keith Moon and Oliver Reed Part 1
In his autobiography, Reed All About Me, Oliver Reed remembered one night when filming Tommy, when he came back to his hotel suite to find 14 girls swigging champagne and eating lobster sandwiches: “I said: ‘Good evening, girls, what can I do for you?’. And they told me, but I was much too weary after my journey.”
Guessing who was responsible, Reed eventually tracked down Mooney to his hotel room. “He was lying on the floor of his bedroom, without a stitch on, with two Swedish models sitting on his face.
I said: ‘Excuse me, Mooney‘. He said: ‘Umm?’ or something equally unintelligible – Swedish girls’ bottoms are not conducive to articulate conversation.” Once Reed had told Mooney about the occupants of his room, Mooney “marched down the corridor, bollock-naked,” and threw a tray of champagne glasses across the room to scare away the groupies.
The next morning the two men, said Reed, wrote a song together with the touching lines: ‘I want you to sit on my face /I want you all over the place/I want you when you’re on the loo/I think that’s fantastic, don’t you?/Oh yes’.
“I knew the path to the bar,” Reed said later, “but not to the bizarre. Keith showed me the way to insanity."
"That, my dear, is noise..."
The scene: a hotel in the American Midwest. Moon is n the hotel reception with a portable cassette player blasting out The Who’s latest album, clearing the lobby as he does so. The hotel manager has had enough and asks him to turn the noise down. Moon ignores him. The manger tries again: “Please turn the noise down”. And so it goes. Until finally the manager snaps and says that if the noise isn’t turned off he’ll call the police.
On hearing this, Mooney switches it off – but says he’ll only keep it off if the manager comes with him to his room on the ninth floor. When they get there, Moon asks that the manager waits outside the door.
A couple of minutes later, Keith emerges, a finger pressed to his lips: “Shush.” Suddenly there’s an almighty explosion in the room behind him. Smoke begins to fill the corridor. Moon turns to the manager and says: “That, my dear boy, is noise. This, on the other hand, is The Who.” At which point he turned the ghetto blaster on full-belt again.
The Nazi Hovercraft Railway Disaster
Who publicist Keith Altham recalls one of Moon’s stunts that nearly went badly awry: “I remember one time in 73, the Daily Express were running a photo news feature every week. There was a go-slow thing going on with British Rail at the time, which coincided with the fact that Moon had just bought a one-man hovercraft.
"I thought it’d be a great idea to get a picture of this hovercraft hovering above some railway lines. The Express went for it, as did Moon. And I knew there was a perfect location in Chertsey, where he lived.
“So he got his toy out and started zooming around the garden on it, just to show it off. Then he got into his Rommel gear – including field binoculars – and we got the hovercraft up onto a trailer, his Rolls-Royce hitched to the front of it. Then we proceeded to drive through the village towards the level crossing, Moon making the extended-arm salute in the customary manner, in full Rommel regalia.
"When we got to the level crossing, we pulled the hovercraft off the trailer and onto the railway lines, where Moon clambers into it. He put the key in the ignition, and the engine’s dead – he’s flooded it. So we have two-and-a-half tons of hovercraft stranded on a railway line, with trains still using the track.
“By this time I was freaking out. I could see the headlines: ‘PR kills people on train’. But Moon was such a quick thinker. He knew there’d be a phone somewhere. He found it, connected to the signal box around the corner. Then he opened up with a narrative using Cliff Richard’s real name. “Ello, it’s ’Arry Webb here. You got all the documentation about the heavy plant coming through, didn’t ya?’.
"The guy on the other end was flummoxed, but Moon carried on. ‘Well, we’ve got 16 transformers on the back ’ere, so it’s going to need at least half-an-hour’s clearance. So you’d better stop the trains going’. So he engineered a stay of execution.
“We then sent back to the village for something resembling a Land Rover or a breakdown truck, because when we’d tried to pull the hovercraft back onto the trailer the rope had snapped.
“Another half-hour elapsed, so he got on the phone again. ‘It’s ’Arry again. You’re not gonna believe this. We’ve got two hundred feet of copper wire all over the track. One of the transformers has fallen off!’. The guy on the other end was going absolutely ape-shit. But Moon had thrown himself into this role. ‘Well, it’s no good you goin’ on like that. We’re doing the best we can’.
"He was priceless. He’d really frozen himself into this role of a bloke driving heavy plant across a railway line. We spent about an hour on the crossing trying to sort it all out, before a breakdown truck came. And we never did get that shot."
The Bonzo Dog Moon-Dah Band
Always a man keen to recount a good tale, Keith Altham recalls a classic chapter of trouser-tearing japery.
“Mates like [Bonzo Dog Band’s] Viv Stanshall would come up with ideas for things, which Moon would take to the absolute limit. By the time he’d be finished with it, it would have become completely outrageous. They had this prank where Stanshall would reverse his collar while walking down the road, to resemble a vicar.
"Then Moon would leap out from his blacked-out Rolls and attack him in the middle of Oxford Street. He’d be kicking him to the ground, with Stanshall screaming: ‘Will somebody please help a poor old clergy! Help! Help!’ And everyone would just step over them.
“Then there was the one where Moon would go into a shop, demanding a pair of very tough trousers: ‘They’ve gotta be really, really strong’. So the assistant would bring out some working men’s cords. Moon would say: ‘Can I test them?’, and proceed to rip them in half. At that point, Stanshall would hop in on a crutch, one leg strapped behind him, and say: ‘Ah, just what I’m looking for! I’ll take two pairs!’”
The time Mooney got run over by a bus
In 1972, Moon told Jerry Hopkins of Rolling Stone magazine about a trick he played on The Who’s PRs Keith Altham and Chris Williams. Running more than an hour late for an interview because he’d been down the pub, Moon phoned and told the press officers he’d been hit by a bus. Then he turned up at their office, covered in bandages and plaster, complete with a walking stick.
Moon: “They say: ‘’Ow did it ’appen?’. I said: ‘I was just crossing Oxford Street and a number eight from Shepherd’s Bush ’it me right up the arse and sent me spinning across Oxford Circus’.
"So Keith and Chris say they’ll cancel the interview. I say no, but maybe they’d be so kind as to carry me down the four flights of steps to the street. So they carried me down the stairs. And we’re walking along, and this bloody lorry comes along as I’m crossing the street, and it screams to an ’alt in front of me.
"I say: ‘’Ang on, mate, I can’t go fast on these legs.’ And Keith ’as a go at the lorry driver: ‘You ’eartless bastard. Can’t you see this man’s injured! ’Ave you no ’eart, ’ave you no soul, you bastard! Trying to run over a cripple!’
“We went on to the interview. And in the middle of it, after about four brandies, I just ripped off all the plaster and jumped up on the seat and started dancing. Ah-ha-ha-ha!”
The 21st birthday party
There have been many tales of rock’n’roll excess, drunken shenanigans and pure creative insanity attached to The Who’s bonkers drummer, but perhaps the most notorious Moon story of all – and the source of much rock’n’roll mythology and iconography that still persists today – concerns The Loon’s 21st birthday party in Flint, Michigan, on August 23, 1967, during a tour The Who were doing with Herman’s Hermits and The Blues Magoos.
That day, Moon started drinking at 10 in the morning. After the show, a party was arranged at the hotel, with a banqueting table filled with food made by fans, and a giant, drum-kit-shaped cake. A food fight started, cake flying everywhere.
“Everybody was covered in marzipan and icing sugar and fruitcake,” Moon told Jerry Hopkins. “The manager ’eard the fracas and came in. There it was, his great carpet, stained irrevocably with marzipan and fruitcake trodden in, and everybody dancing about with their trousers off.”
Upon the arrival of the police, Moon made a break for it – with the kind of disastrous result that we would come to expect. “I ran out, jumped into the first car I came to, which was a brand new Lincoln Continental. It was parked on a slight hill, and when I took the handbrake off it started to roll. It smashed straight through this pool-surround [fence] and the whole Lincoln Continental went into the Holiday Inn swimming pool, with me in it.”
Avoiding drowning and the wrath of the pool cleaner, Moon headed back to the party, “streaming water, still in me underpants” – and straight into the Sheriff. Turning to run, he slipped on a piece of marzipan. “Fell flat on me face and knocked out me tooth.” He was taken in custody to the dentist where, as Moon explains: “he couldn’t give me any anaesthetic because I was pissed out of me mind. So ’e ’ad to rip out what was left of the tooth and put a false one in. The next day I spent a couple of hours in the nick.”
Which is where Moon learned of the full extent of his destruction: “During the merriment someone had upset all the fire extinguishers and turned them on all the cars in the car park. Six of them ’ad to ’ave new paint jobs – the paint all peeled off. We’d also destroyed a piano… reduced to kindling. And don’t forget the carpet. And the Lincoln Continental at the bottom of the pool. So I got a bill for $24,000…”
A great story, says Moon’s biographer Tony Fletcher in his brilliant book Dear Boy: The Life Of Keith Moon. But it’s not quite true: “In his entire life, Keith Moon never drove a car into a swimming pool,” writes Fletcher.
Was the Lincoln – that powerful rock’n’roll image of the car in the swimming pool – just another Loon-atic embellishment? Roger Daltrey later claimed otherwise: “I saw it. We paid the bill for the damages. It was $50,000. It’s vague now, but I just remember the car in the pool. And the chaos. And Keith being rushed off to the dentist after being arrested because he knocked his front tooth out… But then I read in the biography that never happened, so maybe I’ve been living someone else’s life."
Predator Vs. Alien: Keith Moon And Oliver Reed Part 1
According to Robert sellers’ book Hellraisers, Moon and Oliver Reed were placed together in a hotel far away from the rest of the crew during the filming of Tommy, quite probably for the safety and the mental health of the rest of the cast and crew.
One night, the pair sat up late, drinking. Finishing one bottle of brandy, they called down for another, but the porter didn’t answer the phone. Indignant, Moon picked up the television and threw it out of the window – it smashed loudly outside the hotel entrance.
The porter came running out. “Ah, there you are!” Mooney shouted out of the window. “Answer the fucking phone, or my bed’s coming next!”
Al Capone and the Xmas Fairy
Keith Altham again: “Sometime in 1974, we were driving to a party, Stanshall dressed up as a Christmas-tree fairy – complete with tutu and tiara – and Moon as Al Capone, with fake sub-machine gun, zoot suit, dark glasses and hair greased back. We were driving to this party in late afternoon in Kensington, when Stanshall suddenly had a heart flutter.
"‘I feel dreadful,’ he said to Moon. ‘I need water. I might be having a heart attack’. Moon ordered his driver, Dougal, to pull into the next road, where he got out, dashed to the nearest house and began hammering on the door. So a woman opened it, to find Al Capone demanding a glass of water, while his friend is having a heart attack. When she saw Stanshall getting out of the Rolls, she fainted clean away."
This feature was originally published in Classic Rock issue 151