Thirty-one years ago this morning, I did what I always did. Got up as I heard the Daily Mirror being delivered, usually whilst Dad was shaving, and read it before he took off for work at about 7.45. I’d glance at the front page and, unless it was something exciting like a plane crash, earthquake or death of Elvis or Sid James, I’d quickly turn to the back pages for the latest football news and cricket scores, but I’d get through the whole paper before he left; The Old Codgers, Andy Capp, Keith Waterhouse (RIP), TV schedule, ‘Did You Know?’, and occasionally the news. It was a proper newspaper back then.
On this particular morning (7th September 1978), I was shocked by the front page story. Even though Fleet Street had been primed for this story for a full decade it came as stunning news to this thirteen-year-old; Keith Moon aka Moon the Loon, drummer with rock band The Who has died of a suspected overdose etc…
My soundtrack to the summer of ’78 had been The Kinks and Stones (as always), The Stranglers, Elvis Costello and Blondie, but Keith Moon was my hero. Everyone knew Keith Moon. Even my Nan knew who he was ~ the maniac drummer and hotel room destroyer. The tabloids loved him. Every time he flew back into the country they’d publish a picture of him arriving at Heathrow with blonde on one arm and a huge carton of duty-free fags in the other, wide-eyed grin topped off with his mop of jet black barnet.
I knew little of The Who’s oeuvre in those days; Pinball Wizard, Substitute, Squeeze Box, I Can see For Miles, but little else. I didn’t know of Hendrix’s Mitch Mitchell and was too young to appreciate the simple genius of Charlie Watts. All I knew that to be the best drummer you had to play like Keith Moon. Wild, explosive, dynamic, energetic, sweat cascading from every pore with the largest cavalcade of drums the stage will allow. In a word, showmanship was all.
As I grew older and less mature, Moon became for me and my pals Johnny, Gaz Maz and Bruce something of a god. The hard drinking, the mischief (for want of a better word), the contrived upper-crust accent, the constant need for comedy with pals Viv Stanshall, Ringo and Harry Nilsson. But above all there was the drumming; the explosive little bits of genius in Dogs, Happy Jack, Circles, I Can’t Explain, Amazing Journey, Rael, not to mention the insanity of Cobwebs and Strange and the iconic dynamite detonations of My Generation and Won’t Get Fooled Again.
I’ve matured since then and can no longer drink a fraction of the Guinness I sank on a daily basis back then. I wouldn’t want to. And I imagine that to share a night out with Moon would be an absolute pain arse, he hurt those he loved and who loved him, but this is now. No-one quite grasped the zest of youth and lived it larger than Moony. Whatever it was he did, he did it because someone had to and he made us laugh (from a very safe distance).
Like all the other greats who’ve gone the music lives on. The music always lives on.
I hope he’s having fun wherever he is.