Enjoy this great chat with Keith Moon from the last number of Sounds in 1973. Difficult to believe all those myths about him when you read this one. He probably did have a “bad” way to behave on occasion , but as is common in so many of us, we have a little bit of light and shade in our personalities. Hell of a drummer, he sure was.
Life in the old Tom yet
Steve Peacock talking to Keith Moon
We`d been told that Keith Moon was ill, thus he wasn`t appearing in “Tommy”, but as often happens that wasn`t quite the case. In fact, he said, he`d never agreed to do “Tommy” at the Rainbow this year in the first place, but they`d said he would, and excused his withdrawal on the grounds that he was ill. Such is showbiz.
In fact, Mr. Moon was looking in peak condition, dressed as he was in impeccable early sixties gear – from the black, exquisitely tailored three-button jacket, the broad pink-stripped shirt with white button-down collar and black knitted tie, the slightly flared black cord trousers, to the original “She Loves You” stomping Beatle boots with cuban heels and pointed toes – all genuine and from the wardrobe of Mr. R. Starr.
He`d been for a screen test for a part Ringo was to play in the film “Stardust” – he already has a part in it, but they asked him, so why not? And, in fact, he was planning to visit the Rainbow for “Tommy” – but in a purely backstage role. He had promised, he said, to keep Viv Stanshall sober. No comment.
And he had been ill – though that was during the Who`s American tour. Or rather: “I`d been made ill. Someone put elephant tranquiliser in my drink. We found out later from the San Francisco hospital that four people who`d drunk from the same brandy bottle as me had been laid out, but fortunately I have a strong constitution and I didn`t notice it until it started to hit me towards the end of the show – then I was a total blank for ten hours. It seems the West Coast is very good at that kind of thing, they seem to think it`s funny, but if I ever found out who did it I`d rip his arm off and beat him to death with it.” Merry prankster, you have been warned.
As for “Tommy”, well – he feels he`s done that show as many times as he wants to, and he didn`t particularly want to get up on stage and flash through Uncle Ernie one more time: “It`s like playing the same song over and over again – eventually you get bored with it so you leave it out of the act. I`ve got fed up with playing the same part over and over again, so I`ve left it out of my act – no reason other than that.”
Or sometimes you re-arrange the number, and in a new form. Uncle Ernie Moon will go through the hoop just one more time. Keith has a number of projects on the go at the moment, including the “Stardust” film in March – which is loosely a follow-up to “That`ll Be The Day” with David Essex – Who tours of Europe and America later in 1974, and the film version of “Tommy” with Ken Russell directing, which they`ll be shooting in April. Earlier in the New Year, the Who will be recording some new Townshend songs for the film`s soundtrack. As musicians the “Tommy” film involves the whole group, but as actors it involves Roger and Keith “more than Pete and John. They really don`t have any interest in acting – John, for instance, would much rather be in the studio making music than making films, whereas with me it`s vice versa.”
So there`s life in the old deaf and dumb friend yet: you`d have thought that “Tommy” had had such a run with and without the Who that it would be very difficult to breathe new life into it. “Which is why it had to be Ken Russell – he`s the only person who could do that, the only person I know anyway. He came down to the studio while we were recording `Quadrophenia`, and he impressed each of us… he seemed one of the most perceptive men I`ve met. He really is an amazing man – if you start a sentence he`ll not only finish it for you, but go into the next one while you`re still thinking about it. I`m really looking forward to working with him.
“I spent a couple of hours with him over a bottle of wine at his house, and the way he saw the characters, the way he`d developed the characters, and the ideas he was coming up with… they`ve never ever been done like Ken`s going to do `em. His whole conception of `Tommy` is totally different from the way anyone else has seen it, but it`s still `Tommy`.”
Could he be more specific? “Well no, not really – you`d have to spend a couple of hours with Ken Russell. But then we`ve got to see whether the ideas work, so the only way you can really know is to see the film.”
And so to “Stardust”. It`s a follow up to “That`ll Be The Day”, he says, in so much as that film covered a period up to the Beatles and the British invasion of America, and this one will take in the period from then up to the present day. “That`ll Be The Day” was: “a kind of English version of `American Graffitti` – America couldn`t really identify with it, but this one goes from the Liverpool thing, the Beatles thing – which is one of the reasons Ringo didn`t want to do it, because he`s been through all that – brings the English and American things together, and then follows them as they began to find their own identities again.”
So while “That`ll Be The Day” was really more concerned with what was happening around the music of Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, and all those people – life as related to the jukebox and transistor radio speaker – “Stardust” will concern itself more with the life and times of musicians and others in the business of music. “It`s more involved with the pressures the musicians were under – the agency problems, management problems, what it takes to get a group to America, advertising bullshit and the hype that goes on to get a record in the charts – all that kind of `for God`s sake don`t say balls to a reporter, and don`t forget your 17` stuff. I think a lot of people will be more interested in that than in hearing a lot of oldies but goldies.”
Once again, Ray Conally has written the script, and Keith is more than happy: “He`s great, because he says `if you don`t like the way I`ve written this bit then I`ll change it, or you can write it, or we`ll write it together` – the important thing to him is to get it right for the person who`s playing it. He doesn`t feel he`s written a successful part unless the person who`s playing it feels comfortable saying the words.”
It seems that in the way Keith is able to work in films, he`s in an ideal situation. He`s able to be involved with all the aspects of creating a movie, rather than merely being one of the director`s pawns as we`re led to believe is generally the case. Hitchcock`s cattle – actors dictum seems as far away as the man with the cigar doing his `sign here and I`ll make you a star` routine in the pop world.
“Well, we`re all involved in trying to get the best film we can – that`s the most important thing. If I`m best at doing one thing, then I`ll do that, and the same with the others. We all get on well together, and we`ve all shared the same experiences, but on different levels. For instance, Ray`s never been on the road so when he says `what`s it like to be stuck in the back of a transit for eight hours?` I can tell him. I can`t write it, but I can explain to him what it feels like to be stuck in the back of a bloody transit for eight hours, and he can put it into words.
“There`s this great rapport, and it`s so much fun working on a film right from when it`s conceived, through the casting stage – thinking `who`ll be best for that bit, who`s really gone through that?` – right to making it. We don`t take it lightly, I don`t want to make it sound flippant, but the idea of one person directing on his own, one person casting, one person doing something else just doesn`t apply any more. That kind of enthusiasm comes out in the film, and it shows – on the screen it shows.”
He seems to have made the switch from drummer with the Who to film actor with remarkable ease. “I don`t think I`ve ever not been an actor – I`ve always been an actor that plays the drums. I haven`t been a film actor, but there are many aspects of acting – it`s just different ways of projecting. You project through the theatre on stage with the Who, and you project in a different way to a camera for a film – it`s the same thing, just a different approach. On a screen that`s maybe 70 foot wide, you may only have to lift your little finger, whereas to get the same effect on stage you`d have to swing your whole arm.”
He`s always been an actor – I wonder. Has he just been playing the part of the crazy drummer from the Who all these years? Are you an actor offstage Keith? “I seldom stop acting, except… well, when I`m asleep.”
Is it a conscious thing? “Not all the time. I`m a natural extrovert, and if I want to get a point across then I`ll use expressions – vocal or physical – that`ll do it. That`s what acting is, I suppose, and it comes very naturally to me.”
So instead of sitting in a hotel room saying “I`m bored”, you`ll throw the bed out of the window? “Something like that.”
There was that disturbance in Montreal for instance. “Ah, yes… well, it just escalates. `Oh dea, vats zis, it`s fallen off ze table… appears to have smashed on zose glasses zere… ooooh, dear, oh dear, now you`ve knocked a chair over and the cushions and the desk`s fallen over… bam, bam, bam, bam… oh dear, now the television seems to have gone out the window…`
“It`s not planned, it just escalates, the adrenalin builds up and then bingo – `what would you like? Cold coffee, a bit of toast and six hours in Montreal nick. I shall have to write to the Queen about that really – Canadian breakfasts are terrible. I`ve had much better in Holloway. She`s neglecting the colonies – `bout time she went over there, showed the old boat race again.”
One of the best descriptions I heard of that kind of human whirlwind was by the novelist Edna O`Brien. On TV, Russell Harty asked her if she ever `freaked out`. Yes, she said, in the sense that she got into something to such an extent that she just didn`t think about ever coming back.
“You do”, affirms Mr. Moon. “You just become one with all of it, and then when you`re brought down and all of a sudden you`re sitting in the back of a Black Maria, that`s when it hits you. (In his best downtrodden Dudley Moore voice): `Dear Mum, once again Life has stood up and punched me right between the eyes.`
“That`s when you`re back to reality. It`s impossible to explain, it`s complete escapism. You`ve got all this energy which has got to go somewhere – and it takes you.”
I have personally transcribed this from the original paper. Any errors in the text from the original magazine may not have been corrected for the sake of accuracy. If you have a music-related web-page where this fits – please make a link to the article. With credits to the original writer of the article from all of us music fans!
This number of Sounds also contains articles/interviews with these people: Leo Sayer, Tim Bogert, Gallagher&Lyle, Keith Emerson, Deep Purple, Magma.
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