Is Keith Moon Missing His Birthday Party, Or Are We?

Sad to hear of the passing of Jerry Leiber and also of Nick Ashford, particularly in a time when it’s hard to name any great contemporary songwriters. And in the midst of reading a little more about their respective careers, this overlooked fact popped up: Had Keith Moon somehow lived past September of ’78, he would have been 65 today.

Now, that statement is very unlikely itself, because had he not died from misuse of an anti-alcoholism medication (that’s right – this guy managed to overdose on the cure), it seems logical that he would have found some other way to check out before now. That’s harsh, I know, especially since, by all accounts, Moon was working hard at staying alive that summer of ’78. Well, working hard at not getting booted out of The Who, really, but that would have been the same as dying to him.

But face it: Moon without a drink would be like Groucho without glasses, and I have to believe that the minute he realized that being sober meant not having an excuse for the most outrageous behavior in the postal code, he would have gone back in the bottle. Were he here now, I think he would have been in and out of The Who a time or two, and Townshend’s continuous battle with himself, Roger Daltrey, and anybody else who still cares over whether or not The Who should exist would be far more pitiful, because Moon would be in the mix, and Pete, no matter his faults and contradictions, always wanted Keith to be happy. He does indeed show up for work if the team is really counting on him, as he did to save John Entwistle from bankruptcy. Entwistle would be just as dead today, by the way, whether Moonie were here or not.

I’ve heard people – toads, mostly – say that “some folks just are better off dying young.” Doubt it. I don’t know what Keith’s absolute expiration date had to be, but I certainly like to think that the available opportunities for mass-level clowning brought to us by the 1980s (MTV, Late Night With David Letterman, concert venues with giant crystal-clear video screens) would not have been wasted on him. To say nothing of the Internet. Imagine Keith Moon with Twitter. Dear God. We’d need a whole new set of those Homeland Security codes.

I can also imagine him getting his short-attention-span acting talents together and making lightning-strike appearances in Brit flicks like Baron Munchausen or Brazil. Or something a little more contemporary that could take advantage of a complete lunatic willing to play a lunatic. 12 Monkeys, maybe. The Coens might have been able to put him to work somehow.

I would have liked to have seen him make a truly worthwhile solo record to wash away the bad taste of his one attempt, Two Sides Of The Moon. A drums record next time, obviously, with a great cast of singers and a comedy track or two on each side. And I would have liked to have seen him recognized in his lifetime not just for being a great drummer, but for being a great musician. See, Keith had a gift for drumming with Pete’s guitar and between Roger’s vocals that was unbelievable. He listened very, very carefully and played his drums as a role in the show, somehow overdoing it but still not crushing anybody else. It would have been great to have seen him explain the importance of that to other drummers… To see him teach a bit, not just dazzle.

But I have to guess that those things would not have happened. Or if they had, they wouldn’t have been as fun as we might hope. They would have been accompanied by more painful experiences trying to play with The Who as an aging, tired, out of shape, sober man, and may have led to Moon becoming a bitter, nasty, tasteless piece of talk-show filler like his old pal, the completely unpleasant Oliver Reed. Nobody wanted to see that. And nobody wanted to see him become quiet and gentle either. Moon built a public personality that trapped him like a rat at the end of a hallway. If the rat could dance to keep beaten stomped, it would, but it would still be trapped.. And dancing itself to death.

As audiences do, we wanted to see the most ridiculous drummer ever go on astounding us forever, stopping his bashing only long enough to make another hysterical headline. And you see, that just ain’t possible. A revolutionary drummer, sure, but it would take a whole new slice of human to be able to give up his dependencies in favor of aging, and still deliver the goods that those dependancies helped insure – whether we like to admit that they helped or not.

So, was he better off dying at 32? No, I can’t say that. Everybody, especially those that stupefy the average slobs like me, deserves the chance to hammer out a happy middle age.

But that would have been hard for Keith Moon, though, and it could be that we’re better off not having had to watch him struggle… But I guess I would have risked that, if I had the chance.

Watch this instead: Keith Moon at Breaknock School, 1977

Stick says goodnight.


Current album: The 21st Century Guide To King Crimson, Volume One


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