The Who were a fractured band. But that fracturing liberated them, taking them right to the edge, unleashing a creative anarchy that made them one of - if not the - most explosive performing bands in the world. Life on the edge is never easy, though, and ultimately in the end if one does not pull back the end most certainly will come - as it did for Keith Moon.
I'm experiencing a serendipity of Who mania lately. First I read Tony Fletcher's outstanding Keith Moon bio followed by the just released documentary "Lambert and Stamp" about The Who's management team. When it comes to rock and roll antics, there's Kieth Moon and then there's everyone else. The story of his life was everything I expected it to be. What I hadn't realized was the deeper story of The Who.
The Who were not a rock band, but rather a rock compendium. Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend, John Entwistle had their own raucous band going in the mid-sixties mod movement. The fact they were going nowhere was just part of the loose, anarchic deal of the road they had chosen. They were driven to write (or explain) but could not complete the sentence within. "Fuck it! Hope I die before I get old."
Keith Moon joked many years into his time with The Who that he really was not part of the band as they'd never asked him to join - which was true! In the chaotic spirit of the group Moon filled in at one point and since he wasn't asked to leave stayed on until they decided to kick him out. That never happened, of course, though Moon's hair raising devilment certainly strained and wearied the band. Like the Beatles, a last minute drummer change sealed the deal - almost.
Even with their outrageously creative new drummer, The Who were frustratingly stuck on the brink of success. Not that I believe they had any interest in doing the structured things success requires. Something was missing to complete the compendium. That's where Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp (brother of actor Terrence Stamp) come into the picture. Talk about souls meant to find one another. Homosexual Kit and creatively repressed Chris were outsiders also in search of a direction. Their connection was on planning to make a film together to give their lives an outlet. The movie would be a documentary on the making of a rock band. Guess who they found?
Lambert and Stamp searched for months before discovering The Who, knowing instantly they had struck gold. They offered to manage the band but they were much more than that. The two searching souls were collaborators with the band as well, nurturing Pete's songwriting and shifting the leadership of the group away from Roger (which was one of many shifts needed over the years to keep them progressing). In the end, everyone was looking for a creative outlet. None more so than Moonie.
Keith had a lifelong love for California sun and surf music
I smile and cry every time I see Keith Moon. No one represented the fractured state - or had greater liberation - than he. Just as part of him sought to live out every second of his life to the maximum another part was equally hellbent on a death trip. Never able to resolve this dilemma, (creating a Jekyll and Hyde personality), he died in 1978 of an overdose. Moonie was the classic funny man hiding a frown. That's not to say he didn't have his moments!
In the "Lambert and Stamp" film Pete describes Keith Moon as someone who was never a drummer! Had I not read his bio that would have seemed a nonsensical statement. How could my favorite drummer of all time not be called a drummer? What Pete meant was that Moonie was not a drummer in the classical sense and probably would not have made the cut in a college marching band. Of course, no college marching band drummer could make the cut in The Who. Moon's creativity and drumming around the beat and explosiveness were forces that lived on the edge of harnessing - and sometimes not. In fact, after a long layoff, Moon had to relearn how to play!
Their manager/collaborators were as equally seat-of-the-pants as their charges. In a brilliant move to win over the boys' parents, they promised a salary in the contract - a salary of which they had no way of paying! They made many promises in the beginning just to get the ball rolling in the unwavering belief that providence would provide as they traveled on down the road. It took many years for that ultimately to happen and at one point the group had reached a standstill. Then came Tommy.
Kit was Pete's sounding board and creative rock that kept Pete from weaving off the road. Kit came from a classical background and the idea of an opera had always intrigued him. Pete too found himself wanting to write songs that had a connection. Thus, the rock opera was born. Tommy took the group to a new level, giving them money (at last!) and fame as more than just writers of hit songs. The Who had something to say. But the burdens of success would be many.
Chris Stamp turned to cocaine. Pete started his heavy boozing. Keith was wreaking havoc on the English countryside appearing in Nazi uniforms or in drag or driving around with his car rigged with a loudspeaker frightening whomever he came across - and never met a pill he didn't like. And Kit sank into a pit of self-excess that effectively ended his collaborating with Pete. By the time the mid 70's rolled around the die was cast: straighten up or pay the ultimate price.
It's hard to recommend the "Lambert and Stamp" film as it's a bit murky as to what's what and who's who, expecting you to walk in with that knowledge already. Had I not read the Moon bio I might have been severely lost trying to make heads or tails of the story. As it was, I got a kick out of it and I'm always fascinated by the creative process and how the stars align to make it work (or fail). The Moon bio, however, I absolutely recommend. It gives a sense of Moon's infectious insanity and dark side as well as the many moments of pure comic genius Kieth displayed.
To leave a creative mark on this planet is to become immortal. The Who will never die before they get old. All those involved, no matter how tragic their end, should be proud of their acts of faith, their personal growth and drive, and most of all, of the love they created. After the apocalypse we will sing once again but how can it ever be as special as when done in our darkest hour?