Last summer, we revisited a memorable moment from the annals of rock ’ n’ roll — the time when Keith Moon, flying high on PCP, passed out at a 1973 Who concert in California, giving an unsuspecting fan, Scot Halpin, the chance to take over on the drums. (Watch it all happen here.) It was a glorious moment for Scott. For Keith, it was the middle of the end — another example of the outrageous substance abuse that would kill him five years later.
Fast forward to 1978, and we arrive at Keith Moon’s final live performance with The Who. It took place when the band shot live footage for the rockumentary, The Kids Are Alright. In his recently-published biography, Who Am I?, Pete Townshend writes that, by 1978, Moon’s addictions had caught up to him. His “drumming was getting so uneven that recording was almost impossible, so much so that work on the Who Are You album had ground to a halt.… [The Who] had just about enough tracks for a record, with very little additional material to spare. ‘Music Must Change’ was completed with footsteps replacing drums.” When it came time to shoot live footage for The Kids Are Alright, Townshend “was terrified that Keith wouldn’t be able to hide his deteriorating condition,” but agreed to give it a try.
The initial shoot was appalling. The band was out of practice, and Keith couldn’t keep up. So they tried a second shoot, filmed at Shepperton Studios on May 25, 1978, where they played a limited number of hit songs before a small audience. (Watch above and below.) “Keith was in a good mood but bloated and unfit,” writes Townshend, “and he found the repeated takes wearying.” Because Moon’s earphones kept falling off, they taped them to his head with thick black gaffers’ tape. In the months that followed, Moon headed to Malibu, California where he tried to kick his alcohol habit and then started abusing medications to relieve the withdrawal symptoms. On September 6, Moon took 32 tablets of clomethiazole, a sedative meant to help him cope with the withdrawal. The next morning Roger Daltrey, The Who’s lead singer, called Pete Townshend and simply said “He’s done it.”
For more on this story, check out the audio version of Pete Townshend’s autobiography Who Am I?. It’s read by Townshend himself, which gives it a nice personal touch. And you can download it for free if you sign up for a 30-day free trial with Audible.com. Find the details here. Finally you can also watch Townshend discussing his book and music career in a 90-minute conversation with Paul Holdengraber here.