More than 30 years after his death, the Who's drummer, Keith Moon, is still remembered as one of the best in rock history. And as more than one hotel chain learned to their regret, that wasn't all he was known for.
In the summer of 1967, the British rock group the Who embarked on their first concert tour of the United States. They were the opening act for Herman's Hermits, best known for their hit single, "Mrs. Brown You've Got a Lovely Daughter." The Who had played dates in the U.S. before, including their breakthrough appearance at the Monterrey International Pop Festival just a few weeks earlier in June. But this was the band's first cross-country tour, and there was still much about America that was new and unfamiliar to them. (Image credit: Wikipedia user MachoCarioca)
Take American fireworks, for example: In many Southern states, giant firecrackers much more powerful than the "penny bangers" sold in England were perfectly legal. They could be bought cheaply and in large quantities all over the South. The Hermits had discovered them on their first American tour in 1965, and now, on a swing through Alabama, they introduced Keith Moon, the Who's 20-year-old drummer, to his first bag of American fireworks -cherry bombs.
Cherry bombs are still sold today, but in the 1960s they contained as much as 20 times the explosive power they do now -more than enough to maim or blind anyone who was holding them when they went off, or who happened to be standing too close. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission banned original-strength cherry bombs in 1966m but judging from the reign of terror on which Keith Moon was about to embark, they must have still been available.
The Hermits' favorite prank was throwing cherry bombs out of their tour bus, taking care to hold the lit bombs for a few seconds before tossing them so that they would explode in front of the car traveling behind their. Moon, with a little help from Who bassist John Entwistle, came up with his own destructive trademark when the tour pulled into Birmingham, Alabama, ad the band decided that the hotel's room service wasn't up to snuff: He blew up his hotel-room toilet. cherry bombs (Image credit: Wikipedia user J A Chunko)
Why did Moon single out his toilet for destruction? The original plan was to blow up the plumbing beneath the toilet, not the toilet itself. The idea was to do damage without the hotel finding out who was responsible, or whether anyone was actually responsible at all. For all the management would know, the pipe under the floor might have burst as the result of normal wear and tear.
Apparently toilets in the United Sates flush differently than they do in the U.K., because when Moon and Entwistle tossed their first lit cherry bomb into that hotel toilet in Birmingham, they expected it to flush right down the bowl and into the plumbing pipes. But it didn't- instead, it just swirled round and round the bowl as the fuse burned lower and lower. At the last second, Moon and Entwistle fled the bathroom, slamming the door behind them just as the bomb went off, blowing the toilet to pieces. When Moon and Entwistle opened the door, all they saw was smoke, shards of porcelain, and a hole in the floor.
The destruction must have made quite an impression on Moon, because he quickly abandoned the idea of blowing up pipes he couldn't see in favor of toilets he could, even if it meant getting caught and having to pay for the damage. "From that moment on," biographer Tony Fletcher writes in Moon: The Life and Death of a Rock Legend, "no toilet in a hotel or changing room was safe until the tour moved away or Keith's bomb supply ran out."
I CAN'T EXPLAIN
Some toilet bombings stood out more than others: On a trip to New York in 1968, a very drunk Moon blew up the toilet on the ninth floor of the Gorsham Hotel, a popular spot with rock bands. Then he climbed out onto the window ledge, where he tossed more cherry bombs onto the police, who responded to the call of an explosion at the hotel. Thrown out of the Gorsham, the Who moved to the Waldorf-Astoria, one of New York's swankiest hotels. Then, when the management locked the Who out of their rooms until they paid their bill in advance and in cash (probably after receiving a call from the Gorsham), Moon retrieved his luggage from his locked room by blowing the door off its hinges. (Image credit: Flicker member Marc Kjerland)
Thrown out of 2 hotels in 24 hours, the Who tried to book rooms in a third. By then, word had gotten around to every hotel in town, though, and suddenly there were no rooms available anywhere. Pete Townshend, the Who's guitarist and songwriter, stayed with friends that night; everyone else had to sleep on the tour bus.
WON'T GET FOOLED AGAIN
The Who was one of the highest-earning bands of the era, but the band was soon reduced to staying at mid-priced hotel chains like the Holiday Inn because none of the elite hotels would have them. During a trip to New York in 1971, they did manage to book rooms at the Navarro, a luxurious hotel overlooking Central Park. But that was only because the hotel was under renovation- the manager put them in rooms that hadn't been redone yet, and let Moon demolish them to his heart's content. (One night Moon bashed his way through a brick wall to retrieve a cassette tape from the locked room next door.)
Moon's reign of toilet terror ended only after his untimely death in 1978 at the age of 32, when he overdosed on the prescription medication he was taking to treat his alcoholism. It's not clear exactly how many toilets he destroyed during his 11-year love affair with cherry bombs; one estimate places the value of all that destroyed porcelain at half a million dollars.
LONG LIVE ROCK
If you watched the halftime show on Super Bowl Sunday in 2010, you know the Who are still going strong, albeit minus Moon and Entwistle, who died from a heart attack in 2002. But the band may not be around much longer: In 2010, the Who cancelled their spring tour schedule when Pete Townshend, who is partially deaf, suffered a recurrence of tinnitus -buzzing or ringing in the ears- brought on, no doubt, by more than 40 years of exposure to loud music ...and all those exploding toilets.
The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, 1967
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It would be like sticking Sir Paul and Ringo on a stage and calling it The Beatles.
They should change the name of their musical enterprise to "Who's Left".
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