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Keith Moon was the bad boy of rock & roll, the most manic member of an aggressive and fabulously successful band, a full-throttle hedonist who lived at the center of an unending party. He was also a musical genius who inspired whole generations of artists, a generous friend to nearly everyone who crossed his path, a guileless man of immense personal charm to whom the sweetest sound on earth was surf music.A generation after his death, Moon is still revered as the greatest drummer in rock history and the single wildest personality in an age of pop excess. Here is the truth behind the legend, the result of more than three years of research in which music journalist Tony Fletcher interviewed dozens of Moon's friends, colleagues, and associates. The result is an instant classic that brilliantly illuminates both the tender and self-destructive sides of this singular personality. This is the story of one of the most outrageous rock stars ever born and Moon is one of the greatest rock biographies ever written.
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About the Author
Tony Fletcher, who was born in Yorkshire, England, almost the exact week Keith Moon joined the band that would become the Who, still treasures the great drummer's autograph on a 1978 issue of the magazine Jamming!, which he started as a schoolboy in London. In the several lifetimes since, Fletcher has written books on R.E.M. and Echo and the bunnymen, contributed to magazines, newspapers, and television shows all over the world, and worked extensively as a DJ and A&R consultant. He now lives in Brooklyn, New York, with his wife and young son.
Read an Excerpt
It was a life built upon the perpetuation of frequently embellished, often entirely fabricated stories, many of them emanating from his own lips. As such, it should come as no great surprise that the myth begins with his birth.
Keith John Moon came into the world at Central Middlesex Hospital on Acton Lane in what was then the Urban District of Willesden, during the peak of the postwar baby boom, on August 23, 1946. Put like that, the details appear almost inane, reassuringly irrefutable. Except for the date. It has been written into history, including all major and official documentation of the Who, that Keith was born a year later, in 1947. He wasn't; that is a fact. But that this "mistake" has persevered into history demonstrates how easily lies are established in the sensationalist world that is rock 'n' roll. A falsehood spoken often enough with conviction, printed frequently enough without research, quickly becomes a truth.
Keith knew this all too well. Somewhere down the line he decided it wasn't enough to be the youngest in a young band; perhaps the mere fifteen months between him and Pete Townshend did not seem sufficient given the songwriter's evident maturity compared to the drummer's retentive juvenile behavior. That Keith was a bona-fide British pop star at eighteen, touring America by chartered jet at the time of his twenty-first birthday, and a fully paid-up member of rock's aristocratic landed gentry at twenty-five clearly did not offer adequate comfort in an industry forever obsessed by the latest crop of ambitious teenagers.
So he simply subtracted a year from his life. And everyone believed him.
Once herealized how easy it was to rewrite the truth, he never stopped. Falsities and fibs fell from his mouth with ever-increasing regularity. Keith was not so much a compulsive liar, however, as a compelling liar, one whom people wanted to believe, with the press especially gullible. But Keith was wrong if he thought his life needed fictionalizing. While the embroidered, elaborated, exaggerated picture he later painted of himself is revealed as such the moment the surface is scratched, the real Keith that lay underneath was equally fascinating: it was just that the insecurities that festered throughout his life provoked him to erect barricades to prevent it being revealed.
Though loquacious and hospitable, the adult Keith Moon never made a particularly referential interviewee. Asked in the early days of fame for his opinions about the latest Who record, he would generally reply with a stock description about how "We've had a lot more fun recording" or "We'd be very disappointed if it didn't sell." His publicists soon grasped their subject's limitations and learned instead to simply let journalists loose into Keith's private world-be it at his inimitable house Tara in Surrey, his pub in the Cotswolds, on a film set perhaps, holding court at a nightclub after a show, even at a country fete and hope for the best. The nigh-impossible task facing anyone sent to cover the man was to convey in mere words the sight and sounds of Keith Moon in constant motion, to capture on paper the maniacal laugh that peppered his rambling monologues, to duly note his facial expressions as he ran through a variety of impersonations, to report his humor in black and white when his jokes rarely involved punch linesall of which the writer usually attempted through the haze of the following day's hangover. Given that rock journalism as any kind of art form didn't take off until the midseventies, by which point Keith was lauded as a clown worthy of wildly inventive photo shoots and ludicrous publicity stunts but certainly not considered a rock spokesman (particularly given the lengthy shadow that Townshend cast in this respect), then it's no surprise that Keith left little legacy about his own version of his childhood. It would seem no one thought-or dared-to peel away the veneer of that heavily-coated self-portrait.
Judging by Keith's own accounts, his life only began when he discovered the drums and left school, in quick succession, at the age of fourteen. To the extent that he had found his vocation in life, that may have been true. Even so, it is surprising just how thoroughly absent Keith Moon's family is from any discussion he subsequently entered into on his youth. We know his parents supported him: Keith would never have become such a precocious young drummer without their financial and emotional help. We know he loved them, too: later in life, he would buy them their council house. (His mother, a stolid, self-sufficient, unfussing working class woman to the core indeed, the exact opposite of her son-refused to be moved anywhere more fancy.) But he chose not to talk about them. Perhaps he was worried that they were boring. Perhaps there was just nothing to say.
To a large extent, this was true. His parents, unlike their famous son, chose anonymous lives, loyal to each other and without distraction to the rest of the world. They were born just a year apart: Kathleen Winifred Hopley ("Kit" to her friends), the youngest of three girls, on November 4, 1920 at 72 St. John's Avenue in Harlesden; Alfred Charles Moon arriving fifth in a hefty brood of four girls and three boys, delivered on Brook Farm in Hernhill, north Kent, on November 30, 1919. Harlesden was then an outpost of northwest London with much employment provided by the railways, both national and underground, that converged on nearby Willesden junction; Kathleen's father Harry, the ancestor from whom Keith most likely picked up any ebulhent characteristics, worked as a railway guard. The Kent countryside in which Alf was raised stood in considerable contrast, the family farm (Moon being a not uncommon name in the area) just one of many intrinsically linked to neighboring Faversham, a market town of just over ten thousand people with a trade primarily in corn, hops, and wool, and a fortnightly cattle market.
Table of Contents
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