Crawdaddy -

Rollin' & Tumblin' - The Mooning of America by Andy McConnell

Several weeks before they were to work together on the Tommy movie set, Keith Moon and Oliver Reed had still not met. To correct the situation, Moon telephoned one morning to announce his intended arrival at the Reed mansion later that afternoon.

The Who drummer and his party arrived…in a six-seater helicopter, landing on Reed's front lawn, panicking the actor's prize in-foal ponies.

As they opened the copter doors, Reed charged out of the house towards them, brandishing a pair of fearsome double-edged swords. Nearing the bewildered drummer, he hurled one of the weapons into the ground and screamed, "Moon, you bastard! Fight!" Moon plucked the sword from the soil as if it were Excalibur, and the two fought it out. Reed let fly with a mighty sweep, Moon ducked out of range, returned the favor by sticking his blade into Reed's arse, then turned and fled into the house, locking himself in until his host calmed down.

"I ended up staying a week," said Moon sitting in the luxurious surroundings of his plush Bel Air home, hidden away from the noise and confusion of Los Angeles. "Ollie's a brilliant actor. I learned so much technique from him; more than I can ever repay." As he spoke, a bitter gust of wind blew in through the gaping hole in the plate-glass window behind us. "It was somebody's birthday party," said Moon, glancing up at the sash nonchalantly. "It's going to cost $600 to replace, but we've got to get it done because the landlord is coming round next week and I don't think it's exactly what he had in mind when renting us this place."

In an adjoining room, a pool table stood gathering dust; Moon had smashed a hole in it. "I'd just been beaten five games in a row, so I got the cue ball and threw it at the table. It went right through so we can't play on it any more." The 28-year-old Londoner poured his third brandy of the afternoon.

After ten years on the Who drumstool, Moon's activities outside the band are more notorious than his maniacal tendency to reduce his kit to a pile of splinters and torn skins after a night's work: things like hurling television sets from hotel room windows, burning mattresses and wrecking furniture.

Yet, away from the public view, Moon is a different man; illusions that he is genuinely disturbed are shattered. Talking about the Who, himself and his looney outbursts, he is both rational and articulate. "Look," he insists, "I don't give a damn about a bloody Holiday Inn room: there's ten million of them exactly the same. I book it and it's my home for the time I stay there. I'll do precisely what I want with it. If I smash it to smithereens, I'll pay for it, I always pay for the things I do. When people ask me if I act like it at home, the answer is yes.

"It's like having a kind of immunity from the consequences that I like. If somebody else was to do those things, they'd be ignored. Just because I say things, people seem to hang onto every word. I think I'd be putting on more of an act if I didn't make an arse of myself.

I mean, I've always had the liberty to mess around, it's just the more famous you get, the more people write about it. I was saying 'bollocks' when I was six and nobody printed it."

Yet Moon's notoriety has its drawbacks. Whenever he is seen in public, there's a pressure, an expectancy for him to act the ape. People want him to provide them with a laugh, a memorable night, an anecdote. He enjoys referring to himself as "the lunatic drummer with De '00." Does he seriously regard himself as a lunatic?

"Define lunatic and I'll answer," he smiles. "Put it this way: If you're rich, you're eccentric; if you're poor, you're mad."

Moon is without a doubt a strange, complex fellow. Though born the son of motor mechanic/cleaning lady parents in the somewhat insalubrious surroundings of London's Wembley and Hounslow areas, Moon speaks with the finest elocution to be heard this side of Britain's most exclusive public schools, letting drop just the occasional "h." "Yes, I suppose my accent is affected," he admits. "My teachers at school always spoke in the same kind of accent I use now. I suppose it was affected in the beginning, but seeing as though it was the accent spoken to me the most, I picked up on it."

Moon's view of the Who seems twofold; he cannot contemplate life without it – it's almost a crutch, a Mama – yet, he recognizes it as a business at the same time.

In one breath he will emotionally, and sincerely state, "I can't ever leave the Who; it means too much to me, it's done too much. To leave would take away years of my life. I am as much the Who as the Who is me. I live the Who." Conversely, he says matter-of-factly, "The Who is like a sausage factory; you put in a pig and you get out slices of bacon, pig's trotters, chops. ..."

Nevertheless, Moon is totally chauvinistic about the band's output. "The Who is the best band in the world. I wouldn't play for anybody else. I'm quite well-known for my drinking habits," he retorts with his favorite brand of analogy. "When I buy a bottle of Napoleon brandy I know the chances are that it's going to be excellent. I think the same parallel applies to the record buyer; after ten years they have confidence in what we are going to produce. I don't think we've ever let anybody down, we've always justified ourselves."

The band's massive popularity has allowed them to rest more than ever before. Their latest collective project, the Ken Russell-directed Tommy, is Moon's fourth movie (the others being 200 Motels, That'll Be The Day and Stardust). Until this point, Moon's roles have been frivolous ones in fun shows. "The thing about rock 'n roll is that it is frivolous, it's everything you say it is. Frivolity in rock 'n roll is nothing to be ashamed of. I always look for the fun parts, I rarely do anything that isn't fun."

The making of Tommy has allowed Entwistle, Daltrey and Moon time for solo efforts. While Townshend is writing the new Who album, Entwistle compiled the Odds & Sods collection and created his own band, The Ox; Daltrey recorded his second solo album and considered filming Liszt's biography with Reed, and Moon got down to his own $200,000 album, originally entitled Rat Up A Pipe, but since changed to Two Sides Of The Moon.

Moon had spent some time in New York City working with Lennon and Harry Nilsson on Pussycats, then returned to Los Angeles with session musicians Danny Kootch, Bobby Keys and Jesse Ed Davis. "We all sat down and said, 'Why not do a solo album?' " Moon recalls. Originally, former Beatle confidant Mal Evans occupied the producer's saddle, but he was gently replaced by Skip Taylor and John Stronach.

If all goes according to plan, the album will be released with a cover portraying Moon and his beautiful Swedish lady Annette gazing from the backseat of a Rolls from one side, and Moon's naked bottom sticking out of the car window from the other .

Reviewers will no doubt call it another mammoth West Coast celebrity album; contributors include Alice Cooper, Ringo Starr, Harry Nilsson, John Lennon (with a new song, "Miss L"), Rick Nelson and the Stone Canyon Band, Joe Walsh, members of Jo Jo Gunne and Fanny, Klaus Voormann, Jim Keltner, Dick Dale, AI Staehely, Kootch, Davis, Keys and strings from the L.A. Philharmonic.

Most listeners will be surprised by Moon's voice. Although often mixed back into the instrumental section, it's far from the expected hideous howl. "It's improved 100 per cent since the first attempt," Moon declares proudly. "I didn't know I was capable of some of the vocals I've done. It wasn't until people started saying, 'Sure you can do it' that I really tried. My commitment to the album is total, I wouldn't bother with it otherwise.

It's my first solo effort and I want it to be fucking good. I think it's commercial and will sell. I want it to be No.1. I'm pleased with it, and I'm pleased that I'm pleased."

Moon acknowledges he is fortunate to be in a position to obtain, then spend, a $200,000 non-returnable advance. "Five years ago this album would have been a two-year project for me, because the Who weren't such a big band then. We've now got a track record of proven success. People like MCA are on my side now and it's a lot easier to work that way."

He emphasizes that the album is of secondary importance to the Who. There are no hassles with the band, not like when he and Entwistle left in '67. "The circumstances are entirely different now," he says. "This album is purely for me. It doesn't clash with anything else, it fits nicely into the Who schedule. You see, nothing's more important than the Who and I can't see a time when that will change. Sure there could be unforeseen things like car crashes or any amount of accidents, but who knows? I don't see any reason for not doing gigs outside the Who, though."

Moon has now joined the ever-growing legion of British rock 'n rollers who have forsaken their homeland for the sunnier climes of California. "I love L.A.," he says calmly. "I consider it my home now. I feel more comfortable here than I do in London, where I've spent all my life up until now. There's such a great musicians colony here. Take Dallas, for example," motioning to former Crosby, Stills & Nash drummer, Dallas Taylor, sitting across the living room. "He's here from Texas. Musicians are converging on L.A. It's like a commune, but we're spread out and live very comfortably. The thing is, I can get more done here in a third of the time that it would take me in London. If I want pressure, it takes me a phone call to get it. If I don't want pressure, it just takes another call. In London it's 'Oh, hello...sold your house yet...who's the wife living with....?' There's no rapport."

So Moon lives in unashamed luxury, far from the depressions of England. "All my Who business will have to be conducted long-distance now," he smiles.

Of Who plans for the future, Moon suggests there will be one English-European tour, two American tours and the recording of the new album, all in the next year. Meanwhile, he's content to sit back and enjoy the California sunshine. "I love to be able to sit here and know there's enough food and drink in the 'fridge. It's cozy here with the swimming pool and beautiful view. If the work I do can surround me with beautiful things, then I'll do it, obviously. Consider the alternative," he says, emptying the second bottle of wine. "This lifestyle wouldn't suit a lot of people, but I don't ask it to. All I ask is that I be allowed to live the way I want. If people get jealous or envy me, why don't they do something about it?" he pleads defensively. "I wasn't given this place. I didn't inherit a legacy; I worked my balls off for it. If anybody calls me a capitalist pig, I will agree with them. Yes, I am."

 

Transcribed by

Brian Cady