Keith Moon: Those Who Knew Him, and Those Who Wish They Did

They say (Whoever “They” are?) that you should never meet your idols or heroes because you are certain to be disappointed. While that’s probably true, since who could ever live up to such a billing, these same said experts have never said anything about meeting your heroes’ friends, assistants, and/or significant others. In this particular instance, the hero/slash idol I speak of is the brilliant and manic drummer from The Who, the late Keith Moon, the significant other is the very accommodating and allow me to say, extremely patient, Anette Walter-Lax Hunt.

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A relaxed Keith on vacation with his live-in girlfriend Anette Walter-Lax in Bora Bora. This photograph offers a rare, candid shot of the legendary drummer. It is significant because it’s one of the few pictures of Keith Moon I’ve ever come across where he is not mugging for the camera. (Anette Walter-Lax Collection)

When you are a teenager, particularly a boy, having an identity is vital for your high school survival, especially if you aren’t considered either good-looking, cool, athletic, or smart. For the rest who are kind of hovering in the middle, the group that constitutes the majority of teenagers during their high school years, carving out even a small level of notoriety can provide one with a partial pathway towards having some sort of reputation. This may allow an individual to be more than just a footnote in a medium to large size secondary school. For what it’s worth, whatever sliver of notice that I was able to carve out in high school was by and large due to my unabridged affection for the storied rock ‘n’ roll band, The Who, and in particular, my fanaticism for anything associated with their fabled drummer, Keith Moon.

When Keith Moon passed away on September 7th, 1978, I was only 14 years old, and I was just entering the 9th grade at Plainedge High School. I had never heard of Keith Moon, and my knowledge of The Who basically consisted of the movie Tommy, and the song Pinball Wizard, which I thought was an Elton John song. (At the time, this didn’t really give it a whole lot of stature in my teenage eyes.) When I heard Carol Miller (The iconic DJ on the celebrated New York City rock ‘n’ roll station, WPLJ-FM, 95.5.) announce that the drummer from The Who had passed away, I wasn’t exactly moved to tears.

However, as she went on to explain what a great drummer he was, as well as how funny and wild he had been during his brief time on Earth, I did become a little intrigued. Still, at the time, it meant little more to me than when I had heard Elvis had died the year before. I was simply too young to comprehend the significance of what had just happened. As far as I could ascertain, Moon’s passing was just another example of a how a “crazed” rock performer had died from living too hard. For a 14 year-old, that’s typically the most reflective response that you can expect to extract from their still developing frontal cortex. However, it was also at this time that The Who released,”Who are You? and my view of music, rock ‘n’ roll, and my enthusiasm for all things Keith Moon, were about to go through a complete metamorphosis.

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My first true exposure to The Who, my purchase of their last album with their original line-up. It came in red vinyl, and I had no idea what I had, or if it would even play on the turntable, but play it did, and I fell in love with it. I didn’t even know the difference between Pete Townsend and John Entwistle. I did know who Keith was, and I thought his outfit was hilarious. Little did I know that they had convinced him to sit down because his belly had gotten a little large for a rock star. His untimely death would awaken my love for The Who, as well as Keith. (You Tube)

Unlike today, where a fan of literally anything can get on the internet, and find out as much information about any item that interests an individual as they desire, (For better or worse) my thirst for knowledge regarding the recently deceased Keith Moon would be much more difficult to come by in the dark and dreary pre-internet days of the late 1970s and early ’80s. The best way to proceed at first was to begin to devour Who albums, and discover not only how great the band was, but what an integral part of their sound and success Keith was as well.

If there were two things, in addition to the music, that allowed me to immerse myself in the Keith Moon legend, as well as literally make him my idol, and create for me the identity as the leading Who, as well as itpress  Keith Moon aficionado in all of Plainedge High School, it was the movie, The Kids are Alright, a Who biopic directed by Jeff Stein, and the book Full Moon: The Amazing Rock ‘n’ Roll Life of the Late Keith Moon, written by Peter “Dougal” Butler, a man who basically served as Keith’s “Guy Friday,” as well as best friend, assistant, and for all intents and purposes his lifeguard and savior for several years. The movie showed Keith as well as the band in their younger days. They were wild, exciting, filled with raw power and energy. Keith and the band performed with such explosive force and passion on stage, you literally couldn’t take your eyes off of them. It was Keith’s ability as a performer that I found the most mesmerizing. Despite the fact that he was situated in the back, he seemed to be playing “Lead Drums” if there could be such a thing. His performance and sound overwhelmed all else at times, and it gave The Who the most distinct look and sound in rock ‘n’ roll history.

When you don’t have long blond locks, and a lean, muscular body with six-pack abs, it’s kind of difficult to relate to most lead-singers (Other than “Meatloaf” I suppose, and that wasn’t exactly a look to aspire to.) during the rock ‘n’ roll era, but drummers were different. The look they sported was one you could at least hope to imitate. Armed with my $60 dollar drum-kit that I bought from a friend, I began to cut my hair like Keith’s, wear his red Converse All-Star Chuck Taylor’s, and practice making Keith Moon “faces,” as I learned to play. Still, other than the movie, The Kids are Alright, it was very difficult to learn about Keith. That’s about the time when “Dougal Dear Boy” entered the picture.

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Peter “Dougal” Butler posing in Keith’s car that he bought from Liberace. Keith Moon buying a car from Liberace is the equivalent of John Bonham buying a car from Wayne Newton, it just seems a tad odd. (Peter Butler Collection)

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