Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Moon: The Life and Death of a Rock Legend

David Gloier sent me a link to a story about the night The Who asked for a drummer from the audience.

As crazy as it sounds, it's not an urban legend. Twisted Tales has the story, and the reason I know it's true is because I read the same story last week in Moon: The Life and Death of a Rock Legend, written by Tony Fletcher.

A biography of a drummer. Coincidence? I don't think so.

Here's what happened. On November 20, 1973 (the website says October 20, but it's incorrect), The Who was on the first night of a U.S. tour, and they were performing at the Cow Palace in San Francisco. This was the tour in support of Quadrophenia, and Pete Townshend had spent weeks recording a huge (and unprecedented, for the time) number of prerecorded synthesizer sections.

The problem with that, obviously, is that instead of being able to play songs with a large amount of freedom, everyone had to be in sync with what had already been recorded.

Just as obviously, this was going to be a problem, because Keith Moon played the drums as a solo instrument, like a lead guitarist. John Entwhistle was the one who always kept time in a song, and if Moon wandered off, that's how he got back. With prerecorded sections, there was no latitude to wander off, and Moon actually played with a click track during the concerts to stay on time.

Before this show at the Cow Palace, Moon took what he thought were tranquilizers. When he started playing, he was "speeding up and slowing down like a broken tape machine." Halfway through "Won't Get Fooled Again," he collapsed on his drums.

This wasn't the first time he'd collapsed on his drums, and a roadie ran out to lift him back up, but when it became apparent that Moon had actually passed out, he was carried backstage.

Roger Daltrey said to the audience "without him, we're not a group. You'll have to wait."

So they did, for at least twenty minutes. The Who tried to play as a trio for a few songs, then Moon came back onstage. He played through a very small section of "Magic Bus" and collapsed again.

He was taken to the hospital and had his stomach pumped, where it was discovered that instead of taking tranquilizers, he had actually taken PCP.

That, by itself, is a crazy story, but back at the Cow Palace, Pete Townshend asked if anyone in the audience (13,500 people) was a drummer--"somebody good," he said. Immediately, a 19-year-old from Iowa named Scott Halpin walked onstage. He played three songs (the book notes that the exact number of songs is still in dispute), all quite credibly, to close out the concert.

What makes the biography of Moon such an amazing read is that bizarre, ridiculous, incredible things were happening around him (and because of him) all the time. It's the most impropable life imaginable, and Fletcher recounts it in terrific detail. Both Moon's drumming and his personality (and lifestyle) were much, much larger than life, and this book gives you a deep look into all of it.

So if you're playing "Won't Get Fooled Again" on the Drums in Rock Band and absolutely cannot fathom how a human being could play the drums like that, then you might be interested to read about how it all happened. Here's an Amazon link.

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