I watched an episode of Final 24 on some entertainment channel or other (I think it was E!) which covered the last 24 hours in the life of Who drummer Keith Moon.
Moon had been living in an apartment in London by 1978, owned by Harry Nilsson, and the place where Mama Cass Elliot died in 1974 of heart failure. He was on medication to help him curb his craving for alcohol, a problem which had reached a point where his position in the Who, as well as his other relationships, was in jeopardy of going south. The pills were prescription.
The quandary that Moon found himself in the day before was the fact that he’d been invited by Paul McCartney to the before-party and premier of the new film the Buddy Holly Story. It was an ‘everyone is going to be there’ event. Yet Moon was worried about being able to stay off of the booze. He decided not to go.
Unfortunately, Moonie also had a problem with cocaine, a package of which arrived the afternoon before his death. Rock stars can order cocaine as if they’re ordering a pizza, as one interviewee stated. After indulging himself, he changed his mind about the party, and he and his girlfriend, Annette Walter-Lax, went. Somewhere in there, he also ingested a few tablets of his anti-alcohol meds.
At the party, he was surrounded by friends (including Kenney Jones, the drummer who would replace him in the Who), who noticed that he wasn’t the Keith they knew. He was more withdrawn, and less than his “Moon the Loon” persona had once defined him. Eventually, he had a couple of glasses of champagne.
Part way through the film, Moon and Annette decided to go home for an early night, another uncommon thing in Keith’s life. He got home, watched a movie, took more anti-alcohol pills, ate a meal, and went to bed. In the night, he was restless. He took more medication, having lost count of the dosage by now. He went back to sleep. Because he began to snore, Annette left the room to sleep on the couch.
In the morning, Moon asked her to make breakfast, being uncommonly hungry as he had been the night previous. She did. He ate, and went back to sleep. And that was it. He died in his sleep. The coroner found 26 undissolved tablets in his stomach.
The thing that struck me about this chain of events was Moon’s own addictions to drugs was not the direct cause of his death. I think it was his addiction to maintaining his own sense of who he was supposed to be. People expected Moon the Loon, and he needed to live up to that, it seems. It’s possible that he would have fallen to a similar fate eventually. But the real catalyst was his need to live up to his own image, be at that party, be that guy.
It struck me too that he must have been very lonely too, not really allowing himself to give very many people a real picture of who he really was, and not really having the emotional maturity even to approach changing his outlook. The tragic thing was that Annette said that he was a very gentle, loving person at heart.
And that many told her afterwards that he was planning to ask her to marry him, that he had told many people at the party that he was going to do it the next day. Knowledge of that must be terrible. I know that the program may be aimed at those looking for salacious ‘rock star burns out for good’ type stories. But, I was left saddened.
Watch Keith Moon In Action
Moon is one of my favourite drummers – a totally chaotic approach to the drum kit, never settling on an obvious backbeat, yet keeping time and being musically interesting as well. His style is actually more like jazz drumming.
In the program, they showed side by side footage of Moon and Gene Krupa and the visual results are undeniable. Both drummers were reveling in their drumming, a visually dynamic display of prowess and showmanship. In terms of rock music and rock drumming, he was irreplaceable. Take a look at this clip of Keith Moon playing drums to see what I mean.