The Who, from their formation in the early-mid 1960s, throughout the decade into their more experimental period in the early ’70s, was marked by a real rock ‘n’ roll sensibility, art-conscious exploration and a tumultuous trouble-making life outside the music. The Who’s first single, ‘I Can’t Explain’, garnered commercial success for the mod group, reaching, at its peak, number eight in the UK singles chart. From there on, The Who, predominately under Pete Townshend’s creative vision and leadership, would release a string of more successful singles in the same style of garage pop and rock as heard in ‘I Can’t Explain’, cementing their presence as the mod leaders of Britain. In 1967, their performance at the Monterey Pop Festival, as it did for a number of other acts, established The Who on more of an international basis.
The Who would return to the States in 1967 after a few of weeks when they performed at the Monterey Pop Festival for their successful American debut, embarking upon their first cross-country US tour as an opening act for Herman’s Hermits. This was the dream for so many British bands at the time and, once a band conquered Britain and parts of Europe, the real dream was to find success and fame in America. Along with this conquest came the discovery of an entire world, full of mysteries hidden in the great vast expanse of just one part of the Northern American continent. Albeit sharing the same language, the United States is an entirely different animal with a different culture. A nation born from the slave trade and the wild west, underpinned by the undying pursuit of liberty and happiness, the United States offered an array of new experiences for British rockers who, more-often-than-not, came from poverty and geographically small and limiting prospects.
After all, this is where rock and roll was born. Among the many things to be found in America, were ‘cherry bombs’ or American firecrackers, which were 20 times more powerful than firecrackers are now and more powerful than the English ‘penny bangers’ back then. While on tour, The Hermits introduced Keith Moon to these little bangers and havoc would soon be wreaked.
When Keith Moon’s name comes up in conversation most times, it will typically start from “yeah he was an incredible drummer,” then quickly graduate to: “He was wild!”. One only needs to watch Moon perform on the drums to see the image unfold reasonably rapidly. Famously, the rest of the band would have to strap his drum toms down so they would not shift because of the sheer ferocity in which he played. His style of drumming was chaotic seeming; Moon the Loon’s sense of rhythm was impeccable, but deceivingly so, it seemed like his timing, just like his sanity, was going to burst at the seams any minute.
When he was introduced to cherry bombs, all hell broke loose. On The Who’s first tour, the band would repeatedly get thrown out of hotel rooms. This started in America’s deep south, and word would travel quickly. Terry Fletcher wrote in his biography of the drummer, Moon: The Life and Death of a Rock Legend: “From that moment on, no hotel room or changing was safe until the tour moved away. Keith Moon developed a taste for blowing up toilets.”
On one extreme occasion in New York in 1968, a drunk Keith blew up a toilet on the ninth floor of the Gorsham Hotel, then proceeded to climb out onto the window ledge and throw more cherry bombs onto the incoming police. From then on, The Who were eventually relegated to staying at cheap Holiday Inns across the States. As Pete Townsend recalls in his book, An Amazing Journey: The Life of Pete Townshend: “One day I was in Keith’s room and I said, ‘could I use your bog?’ and he smiled and said ‘sure.’ I went in there and there was no toilet, just sort of an S bend, and I thought, ‘Christ, what happened?’.”
Townshend continued: “He said, ‘well this cherry bomb was about to go off in me hand and I threw it down the toilet to stop it going off.’ So I said, ‘Are they that powerful?’ and he said, ‘Yeah, it’s incredible!’ So I said, ‘How many of ’em have you got?’ with fear in me eyes. He laughed and said, ‘Five hundred,’ and opened up a case full to the top with cherry bombs. And of course from that moment on we got thrown out of every hotel we ever stayed in.” Hence, Moon the Loon would forever be known as a brilliant drummer, a wild man, and the quintessential bathroom bomber.
Below, watch The Who perform an electrifying live rendition of ‘I Don’t Even Know Myself’ off their Who’s Next album at their famous Isle of Wight show in 1970.