Not long ago, I was going through a box containing two of my youthful obsessions. The box was filled with books, magazines, posters, and other paraphernalia related to Farrah Fawcett and The Who. My obsession with Farrah may have waned over the years, I did feel some of those warm stirrings for that stunning blonde from Texas rising again, but it’s not about her I’m going to write. Nor am I going to write about The Who (still a strong obsession). This blog is about the greatest drummer in rock history. More specifically, this blog is about a book detailing the drug and drink fueled antics of Keith “The Loon” Moon.
As I paged through the book, I was trying to recall why I had started but didn’t finish reading it when I bought it in the mid 80s. All I could recall was that I had some problem with the writing. My son encouraged me to give it another shot. Well, far be it from me to not do everything my son encourages me to do. I cracked on in to Full Moon: The Amazing Rock & Roll Life of Keith Moon by Dougal Butler with Chris Trengove and Peter Lawrence.
That was was all it took for me to remember why I put the book down, leaving it to be packed away in that box all those years ago. The book is a collection of stories demonstrating the madcap, maniacal mayhem for which Moon was so famous (or infamous) as told by Dougal Butler, the drummer’s Man Friday from 1967 to 1977. The problem was that, with three people working on this book, no one thought that telling the old stories virtually entirely in present tense might be confusing and frustrating to the reader.
Here is that first paragraph: “At the time I first meet up with The Who they are not quite the most famous rock and roll band in the world. It is roughly 1966/67 … a time when I am working as a Customs & Excise clerk at Heathrow Airport, London, England. This is by no means the most exciting job in the world and it is especially unappealing to an immaculately suited, short-haired Mod, which is what I am at this time.”
See what I mean? What time period is he talking about? Is he saying he was an “immaculately suited, short-haired Mod” working at Heathrow back in 1966/67, or at the time he wrote this book?
The entire book is written in this fashion. So, in order to read it (and I was determined to read it) I took a red pen to it and made every verb tense correction that should have been made before the book was published in 1981. 260 pages! You should see all the markings!
I know, I’m weird.
I made it through and I have a few things to say.
Butler has a very poor attitude toward everyday people. He also seems to think that; unless the place he is in at any given time is London (but not the East End), New York, or Malibu; most places of the world are backward, nothing worth noting cities and towns. Why would anyone live there? Oh, yeah, they’re rubes. However, judging by his use of lower class British and Cockney rhyming slang he doesn’t quite come off as the sharpest knife on the tree.
He attempts to draw back from his negative statements now and then by admitting that he might be wrong in his assessment of some of the people he and Moon encountered. For instance, the time he and Moon and two of their friends, a gay couple, all stopped in for drinks (oh, so much drinking) at a pub in Wales patronized by coal miners, all men and presumably straight. Butler was shocked that those low fore-headed rubes had no problem with the couple, even with one wearing a dress.
Butler certainly doesn’t come off as what anyone would consider a feminist. His attitude is that women are good for one thing. And only the good looking “bints” at that. Unless, that is, he imbibed in enough drugs and alcohol (which he calls “medicine” throughout the book) to make those “slags” look good enough to shag. In a moment of self-blindness, Butler essentially accuses Moon of the same poor attitude toward women. Pot. Kettle. Black.
Then there’s all the medicine-induced mayhem. Destroying hotel rooms, crashing cars, crazy stunts were what cemented Moon’s reputation as a loon. It was done in his all-consuming pursuit of thrills, laughs, and Hedonistic pleasure. This was the main point of the book. Butler wasn’t going to dive deeply into Moon’s psyche to discover why the Loon acted as he did. No, this was supposed to be a riotous collection of all that craziness. And that, aside from not understanding verb tenses, is the main problem with this book. Story after story of predictable, and not always believable, mayhem becomes incredibly tedious. Tee-deee-us!
Moon gets drunk. Moon causes mayhem. Moon gets away with mayhem. Moon gets drunk. Moon causes mayhem. Moon gets away with mayhem. On and on and on…
It is amusing at first, but after the 40th tale of drunkenness it’s just… Well, you know.
The book isn’t all bad. It does have a few moments when Butler comes close to humanizing Moon. There were times when the drummer would show some generosity to a down-and-outer when he thought no one was watching. There was the moment when Moon deeply regretted alienating and driving his wife, Kim, away. He treated her so very poorly, it’s a wonder she stayed with him as long as she did. And finally, at the end, Butler realized he couldn’t keep that kind of life going. It was time for him to escape the madness. Moon was terrified of losing his constant companion to the point of lashing out both verbally and physically at Butler, and ultimately ended up in a heap of tears. But, these moments are not enough to redeem this book.
I’m going to mention something Butler did not. In 1970, Moon was invited to a new pub. He attended with his entourage, which didn’t include Butler, and the brandies flowed. As the night progressed, members of his hangers-on noticed a group of skinheads who seemed displeased with the rich rock star. Repeated urges to leave early were ignored by Moon while the skinheads got drunker and angrier. Time was called and the group of angry skinheads decided to harass the rock star and his entourage as they tried to drive away in Moon’s fancy car. Moon’s driver and close friend Neil Boland got out of the vehicle to attempt to clear away the mob and a scuffle ensued. In the confusion, Moon ended up behind the wheel and drove the car away. He didn’t realize Boland was trapped underneath and dragged him to his death.
It was declared an accident.
Hey! We can’t include that story in the book. That would spoil the fun. It’s bad enough Moon dies in the end. Let’s not pile on, eh?
I know those who knew Keith Moon and worked with him loved him very much. They undoubtedly knew him to be more than he is depicted in this book. No one is that one dimensional. In the end, all that mindless attention-seeking and drunken madness was not hilarious to me. It was just sad.
Update 7/14/17: It has been brought to my attention that although Dougal Butler was associated with The Who, specifically John Entwistle, he was not working for Keith Moon at the time of the accidental death of Neil Boland. This would explain why Butler did not include the tragic event.
Also, I’ve been told Butler is a nice man. That may well be, but he exactly doesn’t come across that way in the book.
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