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How The Who drummer Keith Moon almost blew his own head off

@TomTaylorFO

A nickname can tell you a lot about a person. The fact that Keith Moon was spiritually christened ‘Moon the Loon’ is a pertinent portent about the man who proudly sported it. It also proves the schoolyard theory that often when a nickname is bestowed a certain responsibility to live up to it goes along with it. Keith Moon identified with his spirit name to such an extent that it almost caused him to blow his own head off.

In 1967, The Who were trying to make headway in the States having pretty much conquered Britain with their iconic sound. Their performance on Smothers Brothers proved to be an explosive moment for them in a very literal sense. They had always closed the track ‘My Generation’ with a fiery destruction of instruments, but a chronic miscalculation made the Smothers Brothers special somewhat grander than ever before.

Throughout the show, Moon had been his usual bubbly self, but a few wild remarks hardly constitutes the sort of behaviour that warrants the infamous ‘Loon’ label. After all, this was a talk show in the 1960s, antics were the name of the game as banality was being torn to shreds in the ensuing wave of pop culture. Alas, ‘Moon the Loon’ had a trick up his sleeve that was sure to announce him to the States as the maddest man in rock. 

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His maelstrom of manic drumming was fierce enough in of itself, but when you literally throw gunpowder into the mix it really ups the ante, especially when you’ve got Moon behind the pyrotechnics division. With such little health and safety in the offing back in the day, what could now be referred to as a terrorist incident unspooled without so much an inquest in the aftermath. 

Placing a cherry bomb in his kit was somewhat of a trademark for Moon. However, on this occasion, unbeknownst to anyone, perhaps even himself, he chucked in over ten times more than usual. Naturally, this amplified usage of gunpowder produced an explosion that was over ten times the usual magnitude and with absolutely nobody expecting it, you can imagine the carnage that unfurled. 

They finished ‘My Generation’ and at its climax began smashing their instruments in some sort of sonic mutiny. Moon threw his cymbals to the ground toppled over a few floor-Toms and then saving the best till last, vented his adrenaline against the explosive-laden kick drum. The second he smashed it, he let off an explosion that sent America into shock.

The blast sent a cymbal hurtling towards Moon’s arm, almost slicing it clean off. Whilst Pete Townshend was standing a few metres in front of the blast and apparently, it permanently deafened him in one ear, although decades in one of the loudest rock bands without any hearing protection no doubt also had an impact there. 

Fortunately, nobody was seriously hurt by the explosion although Moon can be heard yelling in pain the aftermath as Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour briefly earned an apt nickname of its own: Smothers Brothers Carnage Hour. ‘My Generation’ has never been more explosive than it was on the fateful evening of September 16 1967 where Moon almost simultaneously solidified his status as the most daring daredevil in music and ensured his career was cut short.