The Who’s Keith Moon was a maverick who lived every single day like it was his last and, whilst the time spent between shows for most artists are a tiring, dull existence as they patiently wait until stage time, for Moon it was a riot waiting to happen. Nothing can beat the thrill of being in front of a huge crowd, but the drumming powerhouse was never short of ideas of keeping himself entertained when the lights went down and occasionally landed himself in trouble for doing so.
The stories surrounding The Who drummer are notorious. Moon once famously drove his car through the hotel’s glass doors, drove up to the reception desk, got out, and asked for his room key. On another occasion, Moon took it upon himself to pay nine New York cab drivers $100 each to block off the street outside the hotel, then, having ensured the road was well and truly blocked, proceeded to go back up to his room where he threw the entire contents out the window.
His 21st birthday was the most archetypal Keith Moon anecdote in history. While out on tour in Flint, Michigan, a day of wild antics ended up with The Who being banned from every Holiday Inn in the world, following their drummer behaving too wildly, even by his extraordinary standards.
Moon’s birthday celebrations started as soon as he woke up and dived two feet into a booze-filled slumber that led to him driving a Lincoln Continental into the hotel pool of the Holiday Inn. It’s been hotly disputed over the years whether this happened, but Roger Daltrey later insisted: “It flaming well did happen. We got the $50,000 bill for it. He could have gone to jail for three years. This was Right-wing America in the Sixties. They just didn’t like us long-haired hippies. People write books and never talk to the band. They just talk to drunks and people who were half there.”
Daltrey’s comments align with what Alice Cooper once said about Moon’s shenanigans: “Nobody could compete with Keith Moon. Think of it this way: about 40 per cent of what you’ve heard about me or Iggy or Ozzy is probably true. Everything you’ve ever heard about Keith Moon is true and you’ve only heard a tenth of it.”
Moon himself even confirmed the story was true with Rolling Stone in 1972, and the ban from Holiday Inn was the drummer getting off lightly. “That’s how I lost me front tooth. In Flint, Michigan. We had a show that night. We were all around the ‘Oliday Inn pool, ‘Erman’s ‘Ermits and meself. I was 21 and they started giving me presents. Somebody gave me a portable bar and somebody else the portable booze. I’d started drinking about ten o’clock in the morning and I can’t remember the show.
“Then the record companies ‘ad booked a big room in the ‘otel, one of the conference rooms, for a party. As the hours went on, it got louder and louder, and everybody started getting well out their minds, well stoned. The pool was the obvious target. Everybody started jumping in the pool with their clothes on.”
The drummer then recalled how he had been gifted a birthday cake, with five tiers and crafted cake drums on each layer. This gift planted a seed in his mind, which prompted Moon to launch the cake across the room. Naturally, it started a massive food fight, which ruined the space that the record label had booked for his birthday.
Things then descended into utter madness after a sheriff arrived to stop the party, which only elevated the lunacy. “I jumped into the first car I came to, which was a brand new Lincoln Continental,” Moon continued.
“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 ‘Oliday Inn swimming pool, with me in it. Ah-Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha!,” he dementedly chuckled.
“There I was, sitting in the eight-foot-six in the driver’s seat of a Lincoln Continental, underwater. And the water was pouring in – coming in through the bloody pedal ‘oles in the floorboard, you know, squirting in through the windows. In a startling moment of logical I said, ‘Well, I can’t open the doors until the pressure is the same’,” Moon recalled.
The drummer seemingly had no regrets about his decision to jump into that car and later seemed to be proud to live to tell the tale. “Today I can think of less outrageous ways of going than drowning in a Lincoln Continental in a ‘Oliday Inn swimming pool, but at that time I ‘ad no thoughts of death whatsoever. There was none of that all-me-life-passing-before-me-eyes-in-a-flash. I was busy planning. I knew if I panicked, I’d ‘ave ‘ad it.”
Somehow, Moon survived this instance and didn’t even consider for a moment just how close he was from the most rock ‘n’ roll death of all time. Although he kept his life and somehow avoided jail, Moon didn’t keep his freedom, and the whole band found themselves not only banned from Holiday Inns worldwide, they also got a ban from the city of Flint. Decca Records also found themselves out of pocket after purchasing the Lincoln Continental from its rightful owner after Moon had obliterated the vehicle.
This story epitomises Moon and his wild, reckless ways. A true original, rock ‘n’ roll has never seen somebody like him before or ever since. Without this animalistic side to his brain, Moon would never have been this fierce drummer that turned The Who into the most spectacular live band on the planet but they may have been able to find a hotel a little easier.