October 30, 2020

1999-01-31 – Florida Today

1999 01 31 Florida_Today_Sun__Jan_31__1999_

Who was Keith Moon?

Bio wades
through drugs
to find drummer

By J eff Spevak
Rochester Democrat
and Chronicle

ho was Keith Moon?
J ust another bright
light in the galaxy of
doomed rock stars?

You already know
the cosmology: Jimi Hendrix,
J anis Joplin, Jim Morrison and
Led Zeppelin drummer John Bon-
ham, just to name a few. The map
doesn’t even include shattered
wrecks who survived, such as
Pink Floyd’s Syd Barrett and 13th
Floor Elevators’ Roky Erickson.

All seemed to follow the Who's
anthem of a frustrated
generation: "Hope I die before I
get old.“

It’s not surprising that the
Who, one of the most influential
rock bands ever, contributed a
mighty warrior to this roster of
waste, drummer Keith Moon.
Until his death in 1978, Moon
pranced through life as a party
imp of the perverse, merrily fling-
ing sticks of dynamite about with-
out any regard for his targets. His
behavior was equally amusing
and disturbing.

In Moon ( The Life and Death
of a Rock Legend), Tony Fletcher
pursues his target with gusto. And
it’s a difficult target to pin down,
as Fletcher confesses. The sub-
ject has not conducted interviews
since his death, and anything
Moon said while alive often was a
lie, if not obscured by a haze of al-
cohol and drug use.

“Once he realized how easy it
was to rewrite the truth,“
Fletcher writes of Moon, "he
never stopped. Falsities and fibs
fell from his mouth with ever-in-
creasing regularity. Keith was
not so much a compulsive liar,
however, as a compelling liar,
one whom people wanted to be-
lieve, with the press especially
gullible."

0K, we have to watch Moon.
But how do we know we can trust
Fletcher?

The author, the book jacket
tells us. “was born in Yorkshire,
England, almost the exact week
Keith Moon joined the band that
would become the Who." And
Fletcher, we are assured, "still
treasures the great drummer’s

autograph on a 1978 issue of the
magazine Jammingl, which he
started as a schoolboy in Lon-
don.“

Well, if he’s one of those minu-
tiae-obsessed fans, then perhaps
Fletcher (who’s written books on
REM. and Echo and the Bunny-
men) also owns the barbecued
pig head that Moon once hid in
the bed of Herman Hermits drum-
mer Barry Whitwam.

But more telling is a comment
early in the book in which
Fletcher notes that Ealing Road,
in the west-London suburb of
Wembly, where young Moon
grew up, “stops a good mile or

NONFICTION
Rock legend

Moon ( The Life and Death of
a Rock Legend)

Spike Hardcover, $30

600 pages

two short of Ealing itself.“ That
detail, passed along in a footnote,
suggests Moon isn’t simply the
work of a writer pawing through
endless magazine and newspaper
clippings. To know a man, you
have to walk a good more or two
in his primary-school shoes, and
Fletcher appears to have taken
his Moonwalk.

What he ends up with is
600 pages of Moon getting drunk,
sampling groupies as though he
were at a happy-hour buffet, lying
naked on a bar when he wanted
another drink (walking around
naked was quite normal for
Moon), routinely trashing hotel
rooms, getting placed in a psychi-
atric hospital, using cherry
bombs to blow up toilets, getting
bit by a dog, biting the dog back,
wrecking cars, attempting to
drive his lilac Rolls—Royce into a
pond and allowing his Great
Danes to gobble unattended am-
phetamines, leading to uncon-
trolled fits of bowel movements
throughout the Moon household.

An astounding number of ce-
lebrities make cameo appear-
ances: Frank Zappa, Ringo Starr,
Harry N ilsson, hard-partying
actor Oliver Reed, J eff Beck, Cass
Elliott, Rod Stewart, Eric Clapton,
Larry Hagman, Bette Davis, the
Smothers Brothers, Mick J agger
and Keith Richard. Moon is like
wandering from one room to the
next in a mansion hosting the
most exclusive party of the year.

Of course, none of this —
Moon's antics and the many ce-
lestial friends — would have hap-
pened if the Who didn’t measure
up as a band. The proof of that
can be seen throughout Moon,
even if it’s pushed to the back-
ground by the drummer’s antics.
The Who performed at some of
the biggest rock events of the
19603 and ’705, and created some
of the most significant music of
its generation. And despite
Moon’s influential drumming and
Roger Daltrey’s stage-front en-
ergy, it was Pete Townshend and
his rock operas “Tommy" and
“Quadrophenia” that elevated the
Who to among rock’s elite.

Perhaps that didn’t sit well
with Moon, this life of the party
having to take a back seat to
Townshend. Fletcher speculates
that’s the reason Moon always
fudged on the year he was born,
the first of Moon’s string of “falsi-
ties and fibs.“ Although Moon was
just 18 when the Who first
achieved acclaim, he found it
necessary to make himself a year
younger. Fletcher suggests that
as the band’s most juvenile-acting
member, he feared being com-
pared to the more mature Town-
shend, who was only 15 months
older than Moon.

Fletcher doesn’t miss the irony
of Moon dying from an overdose
of a prescription drug designed to
cure him of his taste for alcohol.
The only question left open is, did
Moon commit suicide? Or, at 32
and as worn as the tile on a bus-
station floor, did he simply no
longer care?

Moon’s girlfriend at the time of
his death reports that word of
Elvis Presley’s death hit Moon
hard. Moon recognized himself in
Presley: drugged and bored, an
old man at 42. “He knew,“ An-
nette Walter-Lax said of Moon,
“that he couldn’t carry on living
the way he was and survive."

So why not pull back? "Moon
could not have grown old grace-
fully," said longtime friend and
business associate Bill Curbishly.
"And he could not have led a nor-
mal life.“ That almost goes with-
out saying. But then Curbishly
draws a rock-cliche conclusion:
“So rather than fade away into
normality, Moon had to die.“

Alice Cooper, as much a car-
toon as many man in rock, comes
closer. “You always expected him
to be him,“ Cooper said. "I had
the same problem where I always
thought I had to be Alice Cooper,
onstage and offstage, to be this
character that was dark and

menacing and in trouble. Then I
finally realized. ‘That character
belongs onstage and play him to
the hilt, but don’t be him offstage.’
Then I was able to lead a normal
life."

Fletcher, more distant from
the subject than all of them, prob-
ably comes closest when he
writes, "Keith Moon would surely
like to have lived longer, but he
was more determined to live for-
ever."