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Soup of This Day #389: Moby Dick

August 5, 2014

Keith Moon
The Who’s original drummer, Keith Moon, enthusiastically adding his voice to the fray on ‘Bell Boy’. Moon was an inexpert singer but a great percussionist – He got to utilise both skills on a recording by Merseyside giants, The Beatles. For ‘All You Need Is Love’ he played the brush drums and lay down some backing vocals – Photo: Jean-Luc Ourlin, 1976. Jean-Luc Ourlin is not affiliated with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.

I love watching Keith Moon play the drums. He crashes over them like a wave, all surges and eddies, his sticks bits of flotsam floating erratically across his kit. Here gliding and there darting, the whole with an underpinning timing that is of nature and not necessarily understood by people.

In truth, I’ve seen Moon playing only on film, for the drummer for The Who died in 1978, just 32 years into his life. By most accounts, particularly those of his band-mates, that life was as tumultuous as his timing. He kicked over his drum kit to end shows. Every show, sometimes five of them in a day. He threw hotel TVs around back when they were still big units and showed programming in wall-to-wall black and white. His signature though was to habitually blow up toilets with explosives.

Yep, Keith Moon wasn’t so much as living the rock fairytale as he was casting the script into a toilet-bowl with a lit stick of dynamite for too-brief company.

Which means that Keith Moon can’t have been easy to live with. He certainly didn’t seem easy to play with – Wracked with alcohol addiction he sometimes passed out mid-set, leaving his percussion-less band to forge on. Famously, The Who’s guitarist, Pete Townsend, had to put out a call for a replacement one time during a show at California’s Cow Palace:

‘Can anyone play the drums? – I mean somebody good?’

The Who already had somebody good, but Keith Moon had twice passed out mid-song during that gig and the second time he didn’t recover enough to make his band-mates convinced he’d be a reliable option for the remainder of the night. Ironically, the first song he’d passed out during had been ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again.’

The Who and Keith Moon did get fooled again though… And again and again and… Alcoholism is like that I guess, and it’s easy to believe, watching footage of Moon, that he could blind even himself with his talent.

Man I love watching him play.

This post is not inspired by Keith Moon though, not directly at least. Instead this piece is being written around the transfer options for Liverpool FC ahead of the looming English Premier League (EPL) season. The Merseyside giants have developed a hole in their lineup with the recent departure of star striker Luis Suárez, and now the club’s management are asking around for someone who can play that key role and yes, they mean somebody good.

Because Luis Suárez is good. Keith Moon good.

I have loved watching him play, crashing against opposition defences, all surges and eddies. That’s not necessarily unique but in washing over and around those defences the talented Uruguayan does something that few other strikers can manage – He sets the rhythm of his team, seemingly driving on their play with his own staccato timing.

The problem is that Suárez has a dark side of the Moon too. It’s not alcoholism, at least as far as I know, but it is as destructive as a stick of dynamite down the s-bend when it comes to Luis’ playing reliability.

Luis doesn’t have a great discipline record. He likes to dive. He’s also sometimes racist and he bites other players. He doesn’t always get caught out, but when he does he can face some lengthy time away from his playing kit. He’s got that now, having very publicly bitten an opposition player during the recent 2014 FIFA World Cup. The resultant ban means he can’t be around football in any capacity until November.

Which would be a big part of why Liverpool FC were happy to turf him out right after the World Cup was done. Based on the amount of indiscretions that the club’s management had tolerated, that was a difficult technical decision. For all the missed beats, you can’t just replace Keith Moon easy – After the loony drummer had passed on, The Who lost a part of their musical soul and for mine, have never recaptured that edge, despite fielding some pretty handy replacement drummers. So getting like-for-Suárez playing skill will be difficult – You can get away with it in the short-term but for a season of shows you can’t just throw out to the crowd that you need a new striker.

Scott Halpin was the name of the stand-up guy who answered Pete Townsend’s plea at the Cow Palace that night. With Townsend’s coaching and a shot of brandy, Halpin just about managed to drum along for the remaining three numbers.

Liverpool don’t need a Scott Halpin of a striker, however nerveless he might be in the clutch – They have more than three numbers to get through this upcoming season. They have whole gigs, maybe as many as 60 or more.

They don’t need another loon either, which is why I’m writing this post. Because there is a vague rumour that Liverpool are looking at AC Milan’s Italian striker Mario Balotelli.

Balotelli is certainly talented. He is more technically conventional than Suárez, and thus less of a driver for his team’s playing tempo. He is still effective though. That is, if you can look past the bit best summed up by super manager Jose Mourinho describing him as ‘unmanageable’.

Yeah, Balotelli is Keith Moon. Right down to the explosive tendencies – The Italian reportedly set fire to his house in 2011 when he and friends set off fireworks inside it. The following day he revealed a t-shirt which read:


Liverpool don’t need some of that. Instead they need some John Bonham.

Bonham was the drummer for Led Zeppelin from 1968 until 1980. Like Keith Moon he died young and from alcohol abuse. That though is the end of the comparison for while Moon was warping the timing around himself, Bonham was warping that of almost all of the rock world. There are few drummers around now that don’t take cues from John Bonham. This is in part because, while Keith Moon ebbed and flowed around the kit, John Bonham picked up a couple of sticks the size of oars and forged out a stroke or many that just drove through the surf.

He wasn’t afraid of being isolated either – Keith Moon looked upon drum solos with disdain, once decrying them as ‘boring’. Moon relied on his band, was seemingly off-key when not playing with them. Suárez too is not of a type to like being isolated – He can run at and through a defence but isn’t physically built to bring the ball to ground and to hold up play.

John Bonham by contrast was comfortable with a drum solo. He could back his band but switch to that lone role, holding up the play while his mates regrouped and set for another attack.

Liverpool need a John Bonham for that ability to carry a role but mostly they need a John Bonham because he was the best and he didn’t blow up the toilets.

I wonder if Lionel Messi can play the drums?

Moby Dick

  1. So challenging for teams trying to find the right notes to produce beautiful music with. There is always a temptation to think you’ll be the club, you’ll be the coach, your fans will be the inspiration to having bad guys pivoting 180 degrees and being good guys all at once. I find that’s not likely. A leopard can’t change its spots. A leopard can’t play drums either. Anyway, for all their talent Suarez and Balotelli oft produce off-key results and always require constant tuning.

    • Yep, think you’re right there. There is always that temptation to think you’re going to be the one to turn a player around. Happens in business as well as sport – Either way, it’s tough to admit you got it wrong and to know when to cut the losses. Liverpool were wrong to stick with Suárez – He needs help more than the Reds need a quality striker. Hope that now they’re no longer interlocked that both goals come to fruition.

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