Keith Moon, one of the great drummers in the annals of rock and roll history with his explosive and innovative backbeat for the original incarnation of The Who, died 35 years ago today on September 7, 1978 of a prescription drug overdose.
For Moon, it ended a life that was filled with what was basically a boilerplate for the excess that was surrounded by a glorious sense of attitudinal debauchery. Moon’s sex and wanton times, alcohol imbibing and drug ingesting manifested to the point of no return, was also filled with destructive behavior that included decimating hotel rooms and basically walking around and presenting himself and the world with an outgoing personality that definitely overshadowed the classic rock The Who was brewing up during his tenure with the band, but never surpassed it. Ultimately, it metaphorically caramelized and solidified an existence, albeit brief, of a man rightfully and ever so perceptively known affectionately as “Moon the Loon.”
As a drummer, Moon took the versatility and range of people like Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich, used his toms in a manner ala Ringo Starr, and mainly applied a hyper-kinetic frenzy that was all his own. Hearing Who tracks with Moon playing drums on them is like hearing sheet metal being constantly hammered in various places, hearing lightning crash upon garbage pails and destroying mountain ranges, not acting as the side car to the tunes but more like side-by-side. What Moon did to elevate guitarist and chief songwriter Pete Townshend’s highly memorable and quake rocking, Geiger counter registering songs is monumental on so many levels, most of which, it elevated the perception of the drummer to the forefront. Moon was exploding on his drum set right before the floodgates were opened in which most drummers started attacking their kits with like minded Moon-style fervor, like Ginger Baker, Mitch Mitchell, John Bonham, Carl Palmer, and Ian Paice. Make no mistake, each of those aforementioned men also stand high atop the ladder of some of the all time greats, but Moon was one of the first (if not THE first) to really put the drummers position in a rock and roll band to the apex of prominence. It is, in a way, even if not always recognized, still a main factor and reason for Moon’s success and eternal longevity in the log jammed rock and roll game. Even if Moon never played, parlayed, surfed, and glided along that decadent monorail that basically rode off the tracks, he still would have been one of the titans in the genre.
Moon also played with a loose abandon as well. When one watched him on the myriad of videos and video clips available of him and The Who in action, sometimes it seems like what you are hearing doesn’t match with what Moon is playing. It’s because the high tempo of what he’s doing, and that’s meant in a metaphorical sense as well as a literal “speed” sense, makes the eye and ear combination sometimes impossible to go in concert, in tandem with each other. Like Neil Peart of Rush did later on, heavily influenced by Moon and who continues to be, and like so many others of Moon’s generation and post generation and post-post-post generation, there was a way suddenly to attack the drums that hadn’t been seen before, and after Moon, in a way that hasn’t been seen since. Moon would play with what he did within time signatures, again, almost in a free-form jazz sense.
Just listening to the work he did (especially on records like Tommy and Who’s Next) one can hear Moon throwing in cymbal crashes within the bar, throwing quick snare rolls within the measures, not always accentuating on the “4” as is the most common approach in using an “exclamation” at the end of a lyric, but for Moon, he’d throw in fills, crashes, and rolls within vocals even, and he remains one of the few drummers to do that where the song was enhanced, not detracted from because of it. Once one pulls away the reputation of Moon off the kit, one realizes how incredible and intricate and always reaching, moving, and searching he was ON it. And it lasted until the very end of his life, even if the record itself he played on (which was his unknown at the time swan song, Who Are You) wasn’t up to the standards usually set forth by The Who. The playing of Moon was, and it was one of the few reasons the band was able to still garner success in a musical arena that at that point had been overrun by punk music and punks, loudly denouncing the bloated dinosaur rock as they called it that had been created only less than ten years ago by bands like The Who and Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin, still indestructible. In a way, Moon was an original punk, and he gave that approach to all he did, in life, in his zests for existence, regardless whether the music ultimately wound up manifesting that attitudinal position.
So remember the great Keith Moon today and every day – he’s too loud to be ignored and the music of The Who remains on the top shelves and top lists of many listeners around the globe and for good reason. Who lead singer then and now Roger Daltrey sums Moon up in sonic hindsight when he sings the line on their song “Bargain,” – “The best I ever had.” Keith Moon truly was that kind of mandarin in his field and art where someone could rightfully, lovingly, and always make that kind of sentiment about. Rock and Roll remains larger than life and so does one of the keepers of its vanguard, Keith Moon. The Best It Ever Had.