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Keith Moon, patent British exploding drummer

Keith Moon is remembered as the world’s most outrageous rock drummer – a star as famous for his drink and drug-fuelled pranks as for his innovative playing.



Keith Moon on Drums

Moon underachieved at school, hampered by what might have been diagnosed as hyperactivity. He failed the then-crucial 11-Plus exam and so missed the grammar school education that the other members of The Who had in common. A report from his secondary modern school is not encouraging – his art teacher, for example, comments: ‘Retarded artistically. Idiotic in other respects.’ His music teacher was more positive, though his advice wouldn’t, as it turned out, have served Moon well: ‘He has great ability, but must guard against a tendency to show off.’ He left school at 15 with no ‘O’ levels.

The first musical instruments Moon learnt to play were the bugle and trumpet, which he took up aged 12 while a member of the Sea Cadets Corps. He soon gave these up for the drums, but he lacked the discipline and restraint required by large ensembles.

Crashing in
His first involvement with a pop group came in 1961, when he joined The Escorts, who played covers of instrumental hits by The Shadows along with various fifties standards. By the end of 1962 he had joined another covers band called The Beachcombers (billed as ‘the Shadows of The Shadows’), with whom he would happily play for the next 18 months. But when the chance of working full-time with up-and-coming group The Who arose, Moon jumped at it.

At that time The Who, who had strong and ambitious management, were looking for a drummer. According to Pete Townshend, talking in a BBC interview in 1994, Moon ‘turned up at a gig and said: “I can play better than him.” So he got up on the drummer’s drum kit and practically smashed it to pieces. And we thought: this is the man for us.’

Moon’s uniquely intuitive, gunshot style revolutionised the group’s sound, and after a brief and only semi-successful phase as a ‘mod’ group called The High Numbers, they found their feet as The Who in 1965 with Pete Townshend’s hit I Can’t Explain. This was soon followed by My Generation, the last word in teenage rebellion, which ended with a cataclysmic drum workout.

‘Moon the Loon’ took to the rock lifestyle like a duck to water – in the early days of the band he developed an amphetamine habit, and throughout his career booze was his most constant companion. His behaviour was as excessive as his intake, and his non-stop destructive publicity stunts ensured him a public profile higher than any previous rock drummer.

However, it was Pete Townshend who first took to trashing his equipment on stage. The destruction rapidly became the band’s trademark, attracting much media attention (but keeping them in debt for much of their early career). It started a trend. Jimi Hendrix first set his guitar alight on stage when sharing a bill with The Who at The Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. His set followed theirs and it’s said they egged him on.

Moon himself didn’t need any encouragement. Pete Townshend may have started the instrument abuse, but Moon took it to another level, hitting on the idea of using fireworks to blow up his drums. When The Who made their debut American network TV appearance on 15 September 1967, Moon decided to take no chances with the quantities, and the resulting explosion put the network off air briefly and partially deafened Pete Townshend. Moon was injured by a flying cymbal.

Offstage, the destruction was often even more extreme. Hotel television sets were hurled into swimming pools from upper storeys and entire suites were trashed. Led Zeppelin’s drummer John Bonham (also now deceased) was perhaps the only rocker who could hold a candle to Keith Moon’s debauchery and destruction.

Keith Moon and Oliver Reed

Keith Moon and Oliver Reed were regular drinking compadres during the 1970’s.

The dark side of the Moon
In the early days of The Who, for all his wild behaviour, Moon is said to have felt very insecure, and this insecurity persisted despite the band’s success and his crucial role in it. As a result he is said to have asked both The Beatles and The Animals if he could join them.

But there was a still darker side to Moon’s personality. He had married model Kim Kerrigan in March 1966, when she was pregnant with his daughter Mandy. He turned out to be an uninterested father and a jealous and possessive husband, ordering Kim to abandon her promising career as a model. Though he was often unfaithful to her, he expected her to stay at home and thwarted any attempt she made to lead her own life. But there was much worse than this: he could be violent during drunken binges. During the course of their marriage he broke Kim’s nose three times and once chased her round the estate with a shotgun.

Leaving Kim at home while he went on tour with The Who, Moon continued to dedicate himself to partying and causing mayhem. But disaster struck in January 1970, when Moon was invited to open a disco in Hatfield. Afterwards, as he was being driven away, a crowd of skinheads attacked the Bentley. According to Larry Smith of the Bonzo Dog Doodah Band, who was there, Moon’s personal chauffeur Neil Boland got out to try to protect the car, but left it in gear, and it started moving towards the main road. Moon (a non-driver) climbed into the driving seat, while Larry Smith desperately tried to grab the wheel from behind. In the confusion, Neil was run over and killed. Though the inquest absolved Moon of blame, Neil’s family didn’t, and neither did Moon himself. The accident was to stay with him for the rest of his life. According to Pamela Des Barres, a Los Angeles musician and self-confessed ‘groupie’ with whom Moon had an on/off affair, after this he ‘didn’t feel worthy to live’.

But rather than turn over a new leaf, Moon flung himself into ever crazier scenes. The following year he bought a space age home in Surrey, which he called ‘Tara’ and turned into a ’24-hour party zone’. Against a backdrop of sustained excess and his first few drug overdoses, his marriage came apart, and Kim finally left him. No one was surprised except Moon himself.

Keith Moon Car Collection

Despite not being able to drive Moon amassed an extensive car collection which included Rolls Royce and a Dino Ferrari (here seen somewhat damaged).

Acting up in Tinseltown
During the 1970s there were increasingly long periods of inactivity between Who albums, and the rest of the group were often involved in other projects. In 1974, at the age of 28, Moon decided to move to Los Angeles with his new girlfriend, Annette Walter-Lax. He spent much of his time partying with other famous British ex-pats and any Americans who could keep up with his drinking and drug intake.

But he was also still working. He couldn’t cope with inactivity and he became involved in several projects, including a disastrous solo album Two Sides of the Moon, on which he unwisely decided to showcase his singing.

Moon also pursued his acting career, which had begun in 1971 with a part in Frank Zappa’s cult classic 200 Motels. But he didn’t require a film set to play a part. He took to camping it up, in full costume, as such characters as Marilyn Monroe and Adolf Hitler. And by this point he almost always spoke in a caricature of an upper class accent.

Meanwhile his health was going rapidly downhill. A typical breakfast included eggs and bangers, but also half a bottle of Corvoisier, a bottle of champagne and two Black Beauties (powerful downers). When he came back to London for good late in 1977, he was very much the worse for wear mentally and physically. Recording his last Who album (Who Are You?) proved difficult. He made various attempts to dry out, but repeatedly fell off the wagon. His overdoses continued and the alcoholic seizures from which he had suffered for several years got steadily worse.

Keith Moon died on 7 September 1978, as a result of an overdose of the drug Herminevrin, prescribed to help relieve the symptoms of alcoholism. He had just turned 32.

‘You never knew where he began and where the characters began,’ Alice Cooper, who knew Moon in LA, said. ‘Honestly I don’t know if I ever met Keith Moon. I don’t know if there was a real Keith Moon.’

The title refers to the inscription found on Keith Moon’s drumkit.


Where Have You Gone, Joe DiMaggio

On December 11, 1951, Joe DiMaggio turned his back on the highest salary in sports and left the game that he dominated with such grace and integrity. The son of Italian immigrants who made their living fishing the California coast, DiMaggio and two of his brothers became major league baseball players by way of the San Francisco sandlots.



Joe DiMaggio

Of the three brothers, Joe was the natural, batting .323 during his rookie season with the New York Yankees and helping lead the team to a World Series title. He soon emerged as the superstar of baseball’s most-winning team, claiming the Most Valuable Player Award three times and setting several distinguished records.

“The Yankee Clipper,” as DiMaggio was known, was a famously consistent hitter, and his 1941 hitting streak of 56 consecutive games was closely followed by the public. He was close to flawless at center field, seeming to glide across the field to make effortless catches. In 1947, he tied the American League record with just one error in 141 games. In his 13 seasons with the Yankees, the club won 10 American League championships and nine World Series titles. After injuries eroded his skills, he chose to leave baseball at the end of the 1951 season, though he probably could have continued to play successfully for several more seasons.

In his retirement, DiMaggio’s status as a living legend was elevated when he married the movie star Marilyn Monroe in 1954. Although the marriage lasted only nine months, they remained close until Monroe’s death in 1962, and for 20 years afterward DiMaggio sent flowers to her Los Angeles grave three times a week. He died in 1999.

Classic Quote: “When baseball is no longer fun, it’s no longer a game, and so I’ve played my last game of ball.” (New York City, December 11, 1951)

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The Great Performers: Elvis Presley

Mixing hillbilly and blues, Elvis Presley’s musical contribution was immense. But his truly liberating contribution was in busting the shackles that restrained movement. He launched into middle-class living rooms through the TV and so captivated audiences that his popularity remains undiminished more than two decades after his death.



Elvis Presley Blue Hawaii

Why He Matters: “If you’re looking for trouble/You’ve come to the right place.” With those words, the King opened his 1968 comeback concert, proving the man who defined early rock ‘n’ roll had not died and gone to Hollywood. Seven years had passed since his last live performance, and not only was there doubt about his abilities, there was plenty of competition from British and American performers. The camera pulled back to reveal the artist wearing rebellious black with a blood-red scarf and guitar hanging from his neck. For about an hour, he jammed casually with old friends and sang with unbridled passion. Elvis proved he was beyond imitation.

Postscript: For Elvis, it was all about passion. But for his audience, it was all about Elvis. And whatever Elvis did or didn’t do didn’t seem to affect his popularity. Eventually, Elvis simply didn’t do. His stage show became bloated like his body–both of which he degraded in his act–but the fans ate it up anyway. Addiction to pills proved the death of Elvis, his belief in science replacing his belief in himself. Dead at 42, he lives on as the most popular artist of all time.

The Last Word: Guitarist Scotty Moore, interpreting the shrieking that began at a Presley performance on July 19, 1954: “With those old, loose britches that we wore…You shook your leg, and it made it look like all hell was going on under there.”

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When glamour girl Diana Dors was arrested for house breaking

In 1953 Diana Dors was on the verge of becoming the most well known film star in Britain. Married to Denis Hamilton Gittins she was no stranger to publicity but on Wednesday 22 July she found herself getting rather more publicity than she would have liked.



Diana Dors 1953

Diana was in Manchester for the week appearing at the Hulme Hippodrome and the evening before her arrest Diana, husband Denis and a friend Freddie Markall, were in Blackpool and broke into the home of another of their friends, Frank Rogers.

When Mr Rogers returned home he found an open window and six bottles of liquor missing. He also discovered a note from Dors saying “we are getting drinks at your expense. Waited in for you. See you later.” Annoyed at the situation he called the police and Dors, Hamilton and Rogers were all arrested, released on bail of £10 and with a court appearance scheduled for the following Friday.

Diana was quick to talk to the press “My husband and I went over to Blackpool for a quiet weekend,” she said. “We arranged to meet Mr Rogers. We went to his flat but he was not in. We were with Mr Freddie Markall, a friend of Mr Rogers. Mr Markall had a key to Mr Roger’s flat but could not find it. We noticed a window about an inch open. Mr Markall and my husband opened it wider, and my husband climbed in and opened the door. Mr Markall and myself then joined my husband in the flat. We played a few records and had a few drinks.”

Diana also made the point that “I am always playing practical jokes on people, but in this case I was an innocent bystander.” When she appeared on stage Diana laughed the whole thing off, telling the audience “I had a terrible job to get the handcuffs off, but here I am.”

By this stage Rogers was trying to get the police to drop the charges, he had quickly got over his initial annoyance at the prank but the police would not budge.

When the trio appeared in court on Monday 27 Jul 1953 they were found guilty of stealing wine and spirits. Denis and Markall were each fined £10 but Dors was given an absolute discharge – meaning that a conviction was recorded but no penalty imposed. Dors was unimpressed “I am very surprised by the whole thing. Although I have been discharged I shall appeal, Larceny is a stain on one’s character.” A large crowd gathered outside the court mobbed Diana as she left the court with her husband and Markall.

This would not be Diana Dor’s only brush with the law, in January 1957 she was sued by band leader Eric Winstone over Diana failing to appear as booked for a midnight matinee in Clacton in July 1954. Diana was due to start work on a new film the following but claimed she couldn’t appear for Winstone because she had a sore throat. Diana counter claimed saying she had been slandered by Winstone. The case was something of a draw, Winstone won £5 damages for breach of contract, Diana though was award £100 for slander. The case itself cost £2000. Diana pledged to give her money to the R.A.F. Association.

Later that same year she was back in court again, her “manager” Thomas Yeardye had been charged with assaulting and obstructing a police officer having been stopped by police whilst driving. Diana brought her own summons against the police constable Roy Anderson on her own assault charges – her claim was that he yanked her arm when he tried to get both herself and Yeardye out of the car. She also claimed that he swore at her saying “just because you are a f—ing film star you need not think you can do what you f—ing like.” Anderson denied he had made the statement.

In 1958 she was summoned to appear at Bow Street in London for failing to to submit annual returns to the registrar of companies for her company Diana Dors Ltd. As the returns had then been filed she was given an absolute discharge but had to pay the 3 guineas costs.

In 1968 she was in the bankruptcy courts with debts (mostly to the tax man) of almost £50,000.

In May 1972 she appeared in court as a character witness in the case of 19 year old Richard Hughes who was charged with burglary. At the time Hughes was chauffeur to Dor’s husband Alan Lake.

Daily Herald 22 July 1953,
Belfast Telegraph 22 Jul y1953
Birmingham Daily Gazette 22 July 1953
Coventry Evening Telegraph 14 Jan 1957
Evening Post 11 May 1972

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