Behind the Curtain – Tracking Down Keith Moon

Behind the Curtain – Tracking Down Keith Moon

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It was hard to tell whether he always left the front door unlocked or just forgot to lock it on this particular day. Either way, the fact that the door to his home was open didn’t even phase him. An unlocked door was something he just didn’t bother about. Had he returned to a house on fire, that may have registered. But there’s no telling. Or had he returned to an empty house, maybe that would have made him understand that you have to remember to lock your door.

As it turned out we did walk into a house devoid of furniture. There was none. For one second I thought he had been robbed but Keith never even blinked. That was because he had no furniture. There was a sofa and a bar. A very big bar. Fully stocked.

A drink was offered. I didn’t really drink—it gave me a headache—but in the spirit of camaraderie and not wanting to appear too stiff, I accepted a gin and tonic. The drummer mixed it perfectly, elegantly pouring the contents of the bottles into cut crystal glasses. These were movements he had made before. Many times before.  Moon then escorted me into what appeared to be the living room area where the lone couch resided in front of a rather imposing stereo system dominating one entire wall.

Keith knew we were there to talk but before we began, he wanted to play his new album. It was his just-released solo album, Two Sides Of the Moon.  I had already heard it and wanted to love it but in truth, it wasn’t very good. Moon sang like a drummer who has really never sung before. Most of the vocals were a little flat or a little sharp but he was visibly proud of the record and wanted to play it for me.

He took the record from its cover and set it on the turntable. The arm lowered and with a few final twisting, turning and tweaking of knobs, the first track came through the speakers. Or rather the music came blaring out of the stadium-sized monitors at a volume so hellishly loud I physically winced in pain. My skull felt like it was being crushed and I was certain my eardrums were going to rupture.

The music was unendurably loud but who was going to tell Keith Moon to turn down the volume on his stereo in his own house? I sat on the sofa and managed to endure the torture for two or three songs when I finally found the inner strength and turned to Keith and pleaded, “Maybe just possibly, Keith, could you turn it down just a touch? It’s a trifle loud for my ears and I am getting just a little bit dizzy.”

Surprisingly, Keith was not offended in the least and bounced over to the stereo and lowered the volume. He turned it down from excruciating to merely ear-bleeding levels but at least it was a bit softer.

Finally, the stereo was turned off completely—though he did leave the FM tuner on low—and he was ready to talk.

For the next hour, Moon spoke about his band, his beloved Who, with a reverence and love and unbreakable and undeniable devotion that truly moved me. In fact it was those expressions of what he felt for the band that moved me as much as anything else he said during our conversation. He broke my heart with a sense of honesty the usually crazy percussionist rarely revealed.

These are some of the deep-seated feelings he revealed:

About what the Who meant to him, he explained, “There’s nothing corny about love and I love the Who,” Moon confessed. “I couldn’t be blasé about the Who. With the Who we only ever do what’s right for the Who. We’re not concerned with individuals; we’re not concerned with individual ego. We’re not concerned with selling Keith Moon’s records. The Who are concerned with the Who and that’s as far as it goes. And it doesn’t matter to me if we don’t do one song off my solo album with the Who when the band are onstage.

The Who having some fun
The Who having some fun

Because what matters is the Who are onstage and not Keith.”

About the group’s success, he said, “We were destined to be a big group because we told ourselves that. I wouldn’t have joined the band unless I’d had thought they were magnificent and the best band that I could work with. I wouldn’t have been in the band otherwise. It was no surprise to me that we’d come up with something incredible because I knew what the band was capable of. Nothing that comes out of this band surprises me.”

But Keith was a surprise that day. Though many drinks were consumed during the conversation, he never went over the edge into that dark place where he became Moon the Loon. That was the character who accidentally ran over his friend and the crazy person who blew up toilets and destroyed hotel rooms. In fact he had crossed that line so many times that probably even he was confused about who he was and how he should act and who people thought he was and expected him to act. It was a balancing act and had become part of his life but at any moment he was in danger of falling off the high wire and tumbling headfirst into that void. It didn’t happen that day though. He kept his wits about him and was gracious, funny, charming, open and honest.

I could tell that Keith had other things on his mind  and our time together was over. Collecting my cassette player and notes and putting them away in my leather King Crimson promo bag, I hold out a copy of his solo album for him to sign. He did so graciously in an illegible scrawl. He walked me to the door and as I was leaving he said something like, “Drive safely.” It was perfect. This madman who had come screaming up his own driveway with a drink in one hand and steering wheel in the other was giving me driving instructions. I shook his hand and walked to my car.

This was one of the most memorable interviews I ever did. Keith Moon was one of the most unique, bizarre, and extraordinary drummers who ever lived. He didn’t use a hi-hat. It was unheard of but when you listened to the Who’s music, you came to understand why they sounded the way they sounded.

Rosen’s signed LP, complete with Moon’s scrawl

When I think back to that sublime and insane afternoon, there are now so many questions I wished I’d asked. There was so much more I wanted to know. What everybody wanted to know. When Keith talked about the Who and what they meant to him, that was when the true man was revealed. That person was beautiful and sensitive and one of the true originals in this world.

But maybe the world wanted too much from him and maybe he was just a bit too fragile to deal with the mind-blowing success he had achieved as the drummer in the greatest rock and roll band of all time. Perhaps he was tired of the craziness and all the demands and expectations that came with being Keith Moon.

As I pulled away from his house, I could hear him crank the stereo back to 10. Maybe the sound helped to fill up the empty spaces in his home. Maybe the sound helped to fill up the emptiness in his life. Nobody would ever know.

Just about three years after this interview on September 7, 1978, the world lost Keith Moon. And I can’t help but think that maybe I should never have asked him to turn the music down.


More Behind the Curtain:

Live Music Clubs – As Seen By the Bar Owner
Interviewing Led Zeppelin in 1977

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