September 21, 2020

1999-01-31 – Democrat and Chronicle

1999 01 31 Democrat_and_Chronicle_Sun__Jan_31__1999_

111eman inthe...

A new biography peeks behind the drugs, lies and
outrageous behavior of the Who’s legendary drummer

M sl.l'l' .ll’lt‘ t'itmt'
JEFF SPEVAK

Was Keith Moon just another bright light in the
galaxy of doomed rock stars?
You know the cosmology: Iimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin.
Jim Morrison and Led Zeppelin drum-
BOOK mer Iohn Bonham. just to name a few.
R E V I E W That doesn't even include shattered
wrecks who survived. such as Pink
Floyd's Syd Barrett.

All seemed to follow the Who's anthem of a frus-
trated 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 war-
rior to this roster of waste. Until his death in l973,
drummer Moon pranced through life as a party imp of
the perverse, merrily flinging sticks of dynamite about
without 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. It‘s a diffi-
cult target to pin down, as Fletcher confesses. The sub-
ject has not conducted interviews since his death. and
anything Moon did say while alive was often a lie, if
not obscured by a haze of alcohol and drug
, , Moon

“Once he realized how easy it was to
rewrite the truth.” Fletcher writes of Moon,
“he never stopped. Falsities and fibs fell from P8903: 586‘
his mouth with ever-increasing regularity.
Keith was not so much a compulsive liar,
however, as a compelling liar. one whom peo-
ple wanted to believe. with the press especially
gullible."

OK, 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." Fletcher,
we are assured, “still treasures the great drummer's
autograph on a 1978 issue of the magazine Iamming!.
which he started as a schoolboy in London."

More telling is a comment early in the book, in
which Fletcher notes. that Ealing Road. in the London
suburb of Wembly, where young Moon grew up, “stops
a good mile or 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 clipp s.
The details are num ing. What he ends up with is

almost 600 pages of Moon getting drunk, sampling

Price: $30.

Author: Tony Fletcher.
Publlsher: Spike.

groupies as though he were at a happy-hour buffet,
lying naked on a bar when he wanted another drink
(walking around naked was normal for Moon). rou-
tinely trashing hotel rooms. getting placed in a psychi-
atric hospital. using cherry bombs to blow up toilets,
getting bitten by a dog, biting the dog back, wrecking
cars. attempting to drive his lilac Rolls-Royce into a
oond and allowing his Great Danes to gobble unat-
tended amphetamines.

An astounding number of celebrities make cameo
appearances: Frank Zappa, Ringo Starr. Harry Nilsson.
hard-partying actor Oliver Reed. Jeff Beck, Cass Elliott.
Rod Stewart, Eric Clapton. Larry Hagman. Bette Davis.
the Smothers Brothers. Mick Jagger and Keith
Richard. Moon is like wandering from one room to
the next in a mansion hosting the most exclusive
party of the year.

Fletcher manages to weave these anecdotes into
a surprisingly breezy read. Conclusions are some
times drawn. and words tumble from the mouths
of witnesses. without documentation. Comments
by the surviving members of the Who generally
seem culled from three decades of magazine
interviews rather than as a part of firsthand re-
search for the book. But overall. it seems that
this difficult, often undocumented
story can be trusted in Fletcher's
hands. He seems to care about
getting it right.

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 background by the drummer's
antics. The Who performed at some of the biggest rock
events of the 19605 and 705 and created some of the
most significant music of its generation.

Fletcher's thesis begins to emerge against this
chaotic backdrop. Despite Moon‘s influential drum-
ming and Roger Daltrey’s stage-front energy. it was
Pete Townshend and his rock operas Tbmmy and
Quadrophenia that elevated the Who to rock’s elite.
Perhaps it didn’t suit life-of-the-party Moon 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 “falsities and fibs." Although Moon was just 18
when the Who first achieved acclaim, he found it nec-

essary to make himself a year yo . Fletcher sug-
gests that as the band's most iuve e-Ictlng member.

he feared being compared to the more mature Town-

shend. 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
age 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," Annette Walter-Lax says of Moon. “that
he couldn’t carry on living the way he was and sur-
v1ve.”

But “Moon could not have grown old gracefully.“
says longtime friend and business associate Bill Cur-
bishly. “And he could not have led a normal life." .1