Moon the Loon: Six wildest moments from The Who’s Keith Moon
“I’m the world’s greatest Keith Moon-type drummer” — Keith Moon
Not only was The Who’s Keith Moon a burning ball of fervent energy when he and the band arrived on the new and emerging pop music scene in Britain around the mid-sixties, but he also famously loved to laugh.
The drummer was notorious for playing pranks and letting loose, it’s what earned him the nickname of Moon the Loon. In a tragic case of duality, it would be this penchant for the perenially crazy that would not only add vibrant rock ‘n’ roll colour to his life but also end it far too quickly.
Moon sadly died at the tender age of 32 after an overdose of clomethiazole, a drug meant to help with alcohol withdrawal, leaving a gaping hole in The Who and the British music scene. That’s because, for a while, Keith Moon was everybody’s silly younger brother.
Moon was the bolshy one, the loudmouth, the rubber ball of bouncing ability and an undeniable party starter. He toured the world with The Who and while some musicians became extremely sensible and serious during the turn of the decade, Moon stayed as aloof from the seriousness of rock as he possibly could.
He continued pranking people and finding himself in trouble until the very end and while we must mourn and pay respects to how Moon died, it would be remiss to also not celebrate the vitality with which he approached living.
Below we’ve got six of Keith Moon’s wildest moments.
Surf’s up! in the hotel
One night, on the swankier side of Copenhagen, Moon became a little fascinated by the waterbed in his room (who wouldn’t be?). He hatched a plan to enlist the help of The Who’s guitarist Pete Townshend to get the water-filled mattress down into the lobby. He attempted to move the gelatinous blob into the elevator with Pete and send it down. However, before they could they hit a snag and the mattress burst, emptying an unfathomable amount of water into the hotel room and halls.
The band were likely to be a hit with another bill of thousands to put everything right—but Moon had another idea. Instead of doing his usual unapologetic apology and signing his name at the bottom of the bill, he decided to go on the attack. He rang the manager of the hotel and claimed that the bed had burst without any warning. The subsequent wave had destroyed all his expensive stage clothes and Keith demanded to know what the manager was going to do about it.
It worked. The manager, in fact, was so struck by the possibility of replacing the illustrious wardrobe of The Who drummer that he not only apologised but quickly moved the star into the Presidential suite, filled floor to ceiling with antiques.
Moon, naturally, destroyed it later that night.
Lincoln Continental in the swimming pool
The night in question was Keith Moon’s 21st birthday, a special birthday for most people usually spent with some friends over a few toasts of champagne and maybe a little bit of cake, a few shimmies on the dancefloor and a hangover in the morning. Moon, however, was intent on making it an unforgettable event.
The location of choice was The Holiday Inn in Flint in Michigan — a location which would see one of the wildest nights of its life as a hotel and yet just another chapter in Moon’s long history of rambunctious behaviour.
The road to Flint had already been subjected to Moon’s wild side. The percussionist spent much of the night diving into swimming pools from rooftops, blowing up toilets with cherry bombs (something he was very partial to), and generally causing mischief wherever he went across the state. But he had something special planned for his arrival at The Holiday Inn.
In his hotel room were stacks and stacks of birthday cakes, naturally, a huge food fight broke out. Keith had another plan to climax the evening, though. Moon would take the keys of an unsuspecting Lincoln Continental and drive it into the swimming pool. Well, at least, this was the claim made by the young tearaway Keith Moon. Moon said: “Half-a-dozen cars were parked around this swimming pool. I ran out, jumped into the first car I came to, which was a brand new Lincoln Continental.”
“It was parked on a slight hill, and when I took the handbrake off it started to roll, and it smashed straight through this pool-surround fence, and the whole Lincoln Continental went into the swimming pool – with me in it.”
Hounding the Herd
One particular set of pranks which has always tickled us here at the Far Out office was the way Keith Moon treated the Herd on The Who’s 1967 tour of Britain. Moon and Entwistle spent most of the tour dreaming up new and embarrassing ways to make fun of the band.
The group’s guitarist, Peter Frampton, managed to avoid too many jokes at his expense but the same can’t be said of keyboardist Andy Bown. Bown once found his keyboard wired up with explosives which Moon detonated from backstage. He and Entwistle also found a way to play a classic joke on drummer Andrew Steele.
The drummer had been using a gong in the Herd set during the tour and every time that he went to give the instrument a heavy-hit, Entwistle and Moon moved the gong just out of his reach. It’s the kind of joke we imagine everyone had a good laugh at.
Smothers Brothers goes boom!
The Who were overseas trying to do that classic British band thing of “breaking America” and what better way to do it than a TV performance of their new song ‘My Generation’. But when they made their US TV debut on September 17th, 1967 on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, they very nearly broke everything in their path.
They arrived on set in stunning clothes from Carnaby Street, a cheeky-chappy persona, and a brand new track to play. The British invasion was most certainly underway and though The Beatles had led the way, The Who were attempting to carve out their own path, using dynamite instead of pickaxes.
The serial prankster as well as being marvellously adept at nihilism, and he wasn’t about to change anything for an American audience. Moon had taken to filling his bass drums, which he often up-turned at the end of proceedings anyway, with flash powder. The explosive is designed to cause a loud noise and a bright flash—a perfect cannon-esque ending for the band’s performances. But for this show, Keith had got a bit carried away with the powder and over-filled the drums.
The flash from the device knocked out the cameras for a moment while actress Bette Davis, who was also on the show, allegedly fainted off-stage from the velocity of the blast. It became one of the most seminal moments in rock and roll history and saw The Who become household names overnight.
Pie in the Face International
If there was one man who could match Keith moon drink for drink then it was the acclaimed British actor Oliver Reed. He and Moon became fast friends during the filming of Tommy with Reed telling Moon biographer Tony Fletcher that “Keith showed me the way to insanity.”
In 1975, Reed was attending a Hollywood premiere when he was suddenly and comically hit with a lemon curd pie while standing on the red carpet. Removing the crust and curd from his eyes he saw a well-dressed stranger standing next to him and offering him a card and an envelope.
The card read “Pie in the Face International” on the back it said, “You have been selected by Mr. Keith Moon to become a member.” In the envelope was a certificate that read, “You are a member, sponsored by Keith Moon.”
Vintage Moon the Loon.
When he passed out on stage and was replaced by a fan
Moon’s infamous unpredictability once led to one instance in which his bandmates were forced to replace him with an audience member after he passed out on stage.
The night in question was November 20th 1973, when one teenage fan managed to live out his dream as the drummer in The Who for one night only at San Francisco’s Cow Palace in front of 14,000 fans. Scott Halpin didn’t even have a ticket beforehand and his friend made the trek from Monterey — but even after snagging a ticket from outside off a tout, however, what happened next was a fairytale for the 19-year-old.
Moon had been drinking Brandy with a side of animal tranquilisers when he became unconscious while playing for a huge crowd with The Who. The band were getting ready to leave the audience unfulfilled until a member of the crowd got up on stage and gave all he had to the show. It was a moment we imagine he’ll never forget.