Dear Boy by Tony Fletcher

Dear Boy

Dear Boy: The Life Of Keith Moon
It’s been 32-years since I read “Full Moon” by Dougal Butler, plenty of time to revisit Keith Moon, drummer for my favorite rock band The Who. Fletcher’s book is more detailed and deeply researched, but Butler’s book is more of a memoir as he was Keith’s friend, companion and chauffeur through out much of the drummer’s career with The Who. I’ve been reading Chris Charlesworth’s blog: just backdated. Charlesworth was an editor of “Dear Boy” and mentions it repeatedly in his highly readable music blog, so I thought I would give it a read.

It’s a pretty good read, but it does come across as the work of a fan and not a researcher. There is too much editorializing, and Fletcher gives the benefit of the doubt to Moon at every turn. Now that I’m older the stories are no longer funny, only sad. Moon was the perfect drummer for the Who (at least in the early years) but he is far from a great drummer. I doubt few bands could deal with his energy or intensity. Off stage his friendly personality traits were swamped by the monster he became as he abused alcohol, drugs, sex, money, and relationships. His death was almost a forgone conclusion. I like to think if he were around today, at the same age, mental health professionals could have treated his underlying ‘Borderline Personality Disorder’ and found treatment for his substances abuse.

632 pages

Excerpts From My Kindle

it becomes clear that Moon’s drumming style, contrary to critic Greil Marcus’ well-intentioned and oft-repeated comment that Keith’s “triumphs … can’t be traced”, was at least partially rooted in those pioneering, riveting surf instrumentals. Listen, also, to Dick Dale’s ‘Misirlou’ and ‘Let’s Go Trippin’ ‘, the Chantays’ ‘Pipeline’ and, in particular, the drum solo with which ‘Surf City’ fades away for further examples of surf music drumming at its unruly best, combine it with what we already know about where the teenage Keith got his power (courtesy of Carlo Little) and showmanship (the great jazz drummers), and we have just about all the musical influences and precursors necessary to create what would become the greatest, most innovative drummer of them all. – location 1403-9

His parents, of course, were mortified. Why wouldn’t they be? They had reached their own adulthood when the storm clouds of impending war were gathering overhead, they had married at a time when no one knew if there would still be a Great Britain to bring up children in, they had sacrificed “all thought of personal gain and personal ambition” to raise a family, had suffered the shame of their perfectly intelligent child (uncontrollable energy discounted) failing his 11 -plus and then failing to succeed even at a secondary modern, had seen him go through a series of day jobs even though they could never understand what was wrong with the first of them, had indulged his love of music and even financially supported it, all with the hope that one day he would learn the meaning of respect, understand the importance of a steady job, slow down a little and settle into some sort of decent lifestyle they could identify with. And here he was, at only 17 (when if he’d passed that damned 11-plus he might still be at school doing ‘A’ levels) telling them he was going to be a professional drummer playing alongside three evident louts at the behest of a doorknob manufacturer! – location 2091-99

The stakes were even higher at the NME concert. It was a definitive moment for British music, a temporary coming together of every notable act in the country before they diverged, some progressing into rock bands that would give the music the depth required to take it into another decade, others to tread water as pop groups, garnering sporadic hits over the next couple of years until they eventually faded into the oldies circuit or broke up completely. The line-up at Wembley that day was staggering in its depth and quality and as a celebration of the swinging Sixties at the very axis of the decade, it was never to be rivalled. Performing brief 15 minute sets were the Yardbirds, the Small Faces, Herman’s Hermits, the Walker Brothers, Cliff Richard, the Shadows and Roy Orbison to name just some of those actually remembered by future generations. And they were only the warm-up bands. “The last three acts were the Who, the Rolling Stones and the Beatles,” recalls Chris Stamp. (Though no one knew it on the day, this was to be the Beatles’ last ever UK concert.) – location 3584-91

Then again, it was the time for it. The new generation, the ones who had been raised as children on the first wave of rock’n’roll and then come through as teenagers in the early Sixties to do nothing less than lead a social revolution, were young adults now, and they learned that if the generation gap had distanced them from their parents, then they had created new families in the process – ones with which they lived, worked and traveled. In the Who’s case, it was a quarrelsome, manic, frequently dysfunctional family, like a bunch of orphaned brothers let loose without guardians. But it was a family all the same. And with the rock community growing in importance all the time – by now it was clear that the music was never going to go away – there was a whole nation of these families out there traversing the globe like bands of modern-day minstrels. In some places they were welcomed with all the aplomb conferred on visiting royalty. In others they were greeted about as enthusiastically as a new disease. – location 4935-41

The second director and script co-writer was Tony Palmer, who had filmed the Who in 1968 as part of his acclaimed rock documentary All My Loving. – location 6485-86

Eventually the movie was half-financed by a record deal for the soundtrack (“That’ll Be The Day”), and again Moon was pivotal, recruiting Billy Fury to sing the Who’s unreleased ‘Long Live Rock‘, which did indeed prove retro enough to fit in alongside many original rock’n’roll hits. – location 7468-70

For which I apologize that this book is some kind of an autopsy, and wish that it wasn’t. – location 7860  [At least Fletcher sees this problem too.]

He had just made another, admittedly brief, cameo appearance as a musician (alongside John Bonham and Peter Frampton) in a comedy horror movie that Ringo Starr produced and acted in called Son of Dracula, which featured Harry Nilsson in the starring role. – location 8034-36

The album, Atkins suggests, “would be the cream of Sixties instrumental pop recast in the sleazy, distorted volume-mania of the Seventies … all the tinny, twangy mono guitars would be replaced by the raw power of the Hi-Watt stack and the biscuit-tin drums would be re-cast by Moon’s huge deeply resonant kit.” The tracks he recommends include many we already know that Keith was weaned on: ‘Pipeline’, ‘Wipeout’, ‘Misirlou’, ‘Let’s Go Trippin’ ‘, ‘Surfin’ Bird’, ‘Walk Don’t Run’, ‘Rumble’, ‘Teen Beat’, ‘Bird Bath’ and “a song absolutely made for Moon to trample all over it, ‘Let There Be Drums’.” – location 9241-45 [I agree this is what Moon should have done, but he did the exact opposite.]

Not surprisingly then, the few acting proposals that did get cited were with fellow alcoholics. Graham Chapman of Keith’s beloved Monty Python, just discovering Hollywood success with the movie The Holy Grail, became a regular visitor to the Beverly Glen home. There they would re-enact Python sketches (or even better, relive the Goons in the esteemed company of Peter Sellers) and bandy around movie ideas. Keith’s Robert Newton obsession having only increased over the years, he and Chapman discussed the notion of a pirate film. The movie, entitled Yellowbeard, was eventually made, but partly because of Chapman’s own drinking problem, not until it was too late for Keith. – location 9697-9702

The fact is, he settled into his private Hotel California only to find the pot of gold at the end of his personal rainbow devoid of emotionally bankable currency. – location 10963-64


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