Last night I saw The Kids Are Alright, Jeff Stein’s documentary about The Who, for the first time since I was fourteen or fifteen years old. It’s a movie that had made a huge impact on me, probably as important to my growth as the first time I listened to the album Tommy, sitting on the floor next to the hi-fi as the four sides of vinyl spun. The film chronicles the band as a whole, but on celluloid as onstage, it’s Keith Moon’s show all the way.
I guess the question that every Who fan must ask him/herself is how to view Keith. Do you see only the wild man on the drums, smashing them to bits and establishing himself as the greatest stickman in rock history? How far do you peer behind the facade, looking at the fatal addictions, the inescapable insecurity, the death of Neil Boland, the tumultuous marriage with a record of domestic violence? How do you reconcile the early glory days – the endearingly irrepressible, highly extroverted moppet of a young man with the biggest brown eyes you’ve ever seen – with the reality of his life?
You could look to documents, like Keith’s grade school report card (“tries to get by by putting on an act; retarded artistically, idiotic in other respects”), this Sony ad or a postcard sent to his soon-to-be wife, for answers and insight. But I don’t know if there is an answer. One of the absolute truths of rock & roll is that you have to take the bad with the good, hanging on for the ride no matter what happens. Sometimes there’s no happy ending and all you can do is cherish the better memories. I don’t suppose I’ve reached a new conclusion, but it’s just something I’ve been thinking about.