Today is the birthday of Keith Moon (1946-1978). The loss of Moon so young though perhaps inevitable was unfortunate just the same. In addition to being one of rock’s greatest musical innovators and showmen, he was one of its greatest performers and stars, which is a different idea entirely. Rock has produced dismayingly few clowns. Guys like Moon and Zappa and John Lennon made people laugh, in addition to whatever else they wanted to do with their music.
Moon was probably rock’s greatest ham on several fronts. First, there was his flamboyant style of playing, a confident mixture of the stick-twirling flourishes of Gene Krupa, surf beats adapted from Dennis Wilson infused with R & B, and an amphetemine-fueled drive to play so frenetically, to fill every moment, to actually attempt to play faster than he physically could, and then to destroy his drum kits. There was his offstage theatrics, always good show business, notably the destruction of hotel rooms, the throwing of furniture and television sets from windows, and the exploding of toilets with cherry bombs. There was his eagerness to sing (usually back-up in a surf style falsetto); he especially can be heard on lots of early Who records like “I Can’t Explain”, “Bucket T”, and “Barbara Ann” (he also wrote and sang a few songs on later records). And he acted in films like 200 Motels (1971), That’ll Be The Day (1973) and Tommy (1975), usually with a crazy voice and costume.
To see what we really and truly are missing, look at this clip. It makes me so happy I could watch it on a loop for an hour, but it also makes me sad. Because nobody but nobody filled his shoes. This is from the 1975 Grammys. Bizarrely, The Beatles, five years after having broken up, won an award for some reason. Equally bizarrely, they sent Keith Moon to receive it for them. He took the limelight, never intended for him in the first place, and ran with it.
To find out more about the history of show business, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.
And check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc