“I love to see people laugh and I love it more if I can make them laugh.” — Keith Moon
If you’re a lover of rock and roll like we are, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more explosive drummer and enigmatic hero than The Who’s Keith Moon. His tendency to ignite any situation didn’t just stay behind the drum kit either. The percussionist was the archetypal rock and rollers and lived up to his hell-raising ways whenever he could. Given the opportunity of his 21st birthday party, there was no doubt that Moon was going to up the ante.
Moon was affectionately known to his friends as ‘Moon the Loon’ for his wild antics. As good a drummer as he was, nothing could quite match his rowdy behaviour. Whether it was blowing up toilets with explosives, or in fact, nearly blowing his own band up, Moon was a bonafide trouble-maker.
The long list of pranks attached to The Who’s drummer Keith Moon is charmingly long, mixed with his innate drumming ability, made him a character of the scene. But one of those extraordinary pranks is easily his most famous. The night he drove a car into a swimming pool.
We look back at the facts and the myths that surround this perfect rock and roll moment. It’s a legendary tale that will live on for decades to come but what is fact and what is fiction?
Let us set the scene. 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, 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.
It started with a full-scale food fight involving dozens of people, as Moon was delivered some cakes to help celebrate his big bash. Barry Whitwam, the drummer for Herman’s Hermits said: “The whole tour gathered in the dining room to view all the cakes. Everybody was ready for a party. Keith Moon put his plate down on the table and stuck his finger into the cream on top of one of the cakes and casually flicked it at [Hermits bassist] Karl Green who was standing next to him. ”
“The cream hit Karl in the face and everybody laughed – apart from Karl, who stuck his finger into the nearest cake and flicked some back into Keith’s face,” perhaps not the greatest idea, “Within seconds everybody in the room was throwing cake at each other. It only took five minutes to change the room into what looked like the inside of a cake.”
Keith Moon 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,” continued Who drummer, “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.”
Peter Cavanaugh who was at the hotel at the time later said this of the incident: “I was in a room. I heard the ruckus and I went outside, and the first thing I saw was the vehicle in the pool. We’d all had several beers, and some other stuff too, so things can get a little cloudy, but I clearly remember seeing the vehicle in the pool.” One imagines you would.
Moon would again tell his story at a later date with a little more detail for good measure. “So there I was, sitting in the driver’s seat of a Lincoln Continental, underwater. And the water was pouring in – coming in through the bloody pedal holes in the floorboard, squirting in through the windows. In a startling moment of logic, I said: ‘Well, I can’t open the doors until the pressure is the same’.”
“It’s amazing how I remembered those things from my physics class,” recalled the percussionist. “So I’m sitting there, thinking about me situation, as the water creeps up to me nose. When there’s just enough air in the top of the car to take a gulp, I fill up me lungs, throw open the door and go rising to the top of the pool. So I went back to the party, streaming water.”
The clarity on this event is in the ether of rock and roll mystery, up in the magic of smoke like so many cigarettes that littered the hotel room. But while the validity of these eyewitness reports is sketchy at best, how the night ended is as clear as if it hit you square in the face and knocked out your teeth.
With Moon in full party mode, he decided to rip the trousers of a fellow party-goer from pocket to floor and laughed in their face. Naturally, they responded and pulled down the trousers of Moon and left him standing naked from the belt down. This is where it all turned ugly and the drummer got into a scuffle.
The police officer who up until this point had been protecting The Who from crazed fans suddenly turned his revolver on the drummer for breaking the law in Michigan by baring his bits. Moon did what any 21-year-old would do and did a quick turn and sprinted away like a scalded cat. But, being as drunk as he was — and he was very, very drunk — he slipped on a piece of cake and knocked out his front teeth.
It wouldn’t end the evening for the rest of the party who would spend the night chasing each other around the car park with fire extinguishers. But it would end the night for the birthday boy who would have dentistry work performed without anaesthetic because he was so drunk.
The debauchery would cost The Who $50,000 and while we debate whether Moon actually did drive a car into a swimming pool we will leave you with two comments from his bandmates.
Roger Daltrey: “I saw it. We paid the bill [for the damages]. It was $50,000. It’s vague now, but I just remember the car in the pool. But then I read in the biography that never happened, so maybe I’ve been living someone else’s life, I don’t know.”
John Entwistle: “He never drove a car into the swimming pool. He couldn’t even drive.” — If that doesn’t sum up the legendary Keith Moon, we don’t know what will.