A Few Words About Keith Moon

A few nights ago I decided to pick up my battered old copy of a Keith Moon biography, Tony Fletcher’s book Moon, which I bought and quickly devoured when I was 14 or 15 years old, not long after I discovered the Who’s music and immediately decided that Keith Moon was the greatest drummer of all time, no question. There were many details of Moon’s life that I had forgotten. What a fascinating life to chronicle – so short and yet so wild. I suppose that’s why I find this particular photograph so striking; it’s hard to imagine Moon ever sitting still long enough to be calm and composed. Maybe that accounts for the look on his face.

It’s sort of hard to explain (maybe I “can’t explain,” ha ha) exactly why the Who meant so much to me in high school, other than the fact that I was hooked by the drumming. The exact moment when I became a fan was also the first time I ever listened to the Who, when local cable channel WLIW 21 showed the Rolling Stones’ Rock & Roll Circus in January 2007. The Who’s performance of “A Quick One, While He’s Away” was unlike anything I’d ever seen before. It was a performance that showed me how all of the members functioned within the band in their unique and individual ways. Best of all seemed to be Keith Moon, arms flailing theatrically and guileless in his expressions of pure enthusiasm.

I love this version of “So Sad About Us” from 1967. All of the energy – if not the timekeeping, necessarily – comes from the drumming. It feels like a great early power pop track, the forebear of Big Star and Cheap Trick.

This performance in France on March 31, 1966 further showcases how dynamic the band could be, live and in action. They were all so young here: Moon was 19, Pete Townshend was 20, John Entwistle was 21, Roger Daltrey had just turned 22.

It’s hard to imagine a better example of an immensely talented artist with an equally immense capacity for destructive behavior, both to himself and to others. Understandably, such a larger-than-life figure has been an appealing challenge for filmmakers. For years there has been talk of making a biopic about Moon. Mike Myers was long slated to play the role, but so far the project hasn’t materialized. At this point, Myers is far too old. If he were asked to play Moon only in the later years of his life, after years of excess and addiction aged him considerably and added a lot of weight, that wouldn’t make for much of a movie. His greatest accomplishments were in his first decade with the band.

I think it would be far better to leave the telling of Moon’s life to documentary filmmakers. No other drummer, certainly in rock & roll, has ever had the personality, the raw talent or the sheer passion that he had (especially in his prime), to say nothing of his complexities as a person offstage. I don’t think any actor or script could do justice to the roller coaster that was Keith Moon’s life. Now I’ve said enough… go and listen to some Who songs.

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