Remembering Keith's 21st - Part 1

Brian Cady brianinatlanta2001 at
Thu Aug 23 15:55:17 CDT 2007

>From The Flint (Michigan) Journal: 

Two Sides of the Moon 
What really happened at Keith Moon's infamous birthday party in Flint 40 years ago today? That depends on who you're talking to 
By Doug Pullen 

Keith Moon, the flamboyant drummer for the legendary British rock band the Who, celebrated his 21st birthday at a Holiday Inn in Flint Township 40 years ago today. 

That much just about everyone can agree on. 

What happened at the party, however, is another story. 

We'll probably never know everything that happened that night, but it has become the stuff of rock 'n' roll legend. 

How old Moon actually was (some say 20, some say 21) and whether or not he drove a car (some say a Lincoln Continental, some say a Cadillac) into the swimming pool of the hotel (now a Days Inn) on Bristol Road near I-75 have been in dispute pretty much ever since Moon famously told the story to Rolling Stone magazine in 1972. 

It's an oft-quoted story, reprinted in various Rolling Stone anthologies, that brought a film crew here in 1998 for a segment that aired on VH1's "Rock & Roll Record Breakers" series in 2000. 

Time, foggy memories, drugs, alcohol and death - Moon died of a drug overdose in 1978 - have blurred the details of an event that, by its drunken, cake-throwing, fire extinguisher-spewing nature, was pretty blurry to begin with. 

What is certain is that the celebration - which followed the Who's explosive 45-minute performance between sets by the Blues Magoos and headliners Herman's Hermits earlier that night at Atwood Stadium - is Flint's most famous footnote in rock history, one of the bricks in the foundation of the "sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll" rallying cry. 

"It was my first rock 'n' roll party," recalls Peter C. Cavanaugh, the Flint DJ who took part in the revelry that night. 

It made for a great read when Moon, whose wild reputation earned him the nickname "Moon the Loon," told the story to Rolling Stone magazine in 1972. The Who were in the middle of their first American tour in 1967, flying a chartered plane with the Hermits and Magoos across the country on a 23-city tour that included lots of drinking and drugging. Each Who show, including Flint's, ended with the destruction of their instruments - a Who signature stunt at the time. 

Moon, stripped to his underwear, said he took flight from the party after a food fight broke out and the hotel manager stormed in. 

"I ran out, jumped into the first car I came to, which was a brand-new Lincoln Continental," he told writer Jerry Hopkins. "It was parked on a slight hill, and when I took the handbrake off, it started to roll and it smashed straight through this pool surround (fence), and the whole Lincoln Continental went into the 'Oliday Inn swimming pool, with me in it. AH-HA-HA-HA-HA!" 

While many, including the late Who bassist John Entwistle, have contradicted Moon's watery tale, Cavanaugh insists the car-in-the-pool incident happened and recounted it via second-hand, unattributed conversations, in his book "Local DJ." 

Cavanaugh said this week that he didn't actually see the car in the pool, but it was the topic of much conversation after the party near the pool deteriorated into a birthday cake-throwing food fight. 

"The (bleeping) car went into the God (bleep)(bleeping) pool, and you can quote me," Cavanaugh, popularly known as "Peter C," said by phone from his home in California, though he's pretty sure it was a Cadillac, a General Motors car, not a Lincoln. 

"A Lincoln in Flint at that time, there was so much sensitivity about it," he said, referring to Flint's status as the birthplace of General Motors (not to mention the fact that a sprawling GM plant was across the street from the hotel). 

The car didn't totally submerge, Cavanaugh noted, though Moon said in the Rolling Stone piece that it did, forcing him to recall a physics lesson. He waited for the air pressure to equalize before slipping out. 

"It didn't go all the way in the pool," Cavanaugh recalled. "Just the front part went in, enough to get Keith nice and wet." 

At the time, the DJ was working for WTAC (now gospel station WSNL-AM, 600), which is often credited for being the first station in America to play the Who's "I Can't Explain" two years earlier. He remembers the band dropping by the studio earlier in the day with a birthday cake, "which I thought was cool," then playing the song and thanking the station that night at Atwood. 

Cavanaugh said he, fellow DJ Bob Dell, Who guitarist Pete Townshend and others lit out of the hotel once the party got out of hand, heading to Contos Lounge on Dort Highway, where they drank and talked music until closing time. 

"Townshend thought it was wonderful that we used the (F-word) as an adjective, an adverb and a noun," Cavanaugh laughed, recalling the Who's leader as "a very, very bright guy." 

Music journalist Tony Fletcher, who wasn't there, called the pool story "a fairy tale" in his exhaustive 1999 biography, "Moon: The Life and Death of a Rock Legend." 

"In his entire life, Keith Moon never drove a car into a swimming pool," Fletcher wrote in a detailed reconstruction of that night, which included a birthday cake-throwing food fight, Moon's depantsing by other members of the touring party (he was nude underneath), his breaking a tooth and having emergency dental work done. 

-Brian in Atlanta
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