Ray Connolly remembers Keith
brianinatlanta2001 at yahoo.com
Wed Sep 5 05:46:12 CDT 2007
>From the Daily Mail:
Why rock stars will always die young and never learn
By RAY CONNOLLY
One evening nearly 30 years ago, I ran into The Who's drummer Keith Moon in a rather smart club in London's King's Road.
To be honest, Keith and I hadn't always got on, but on this occasion he was immediately over-friendly and insisted we had a drink together. He was also already manic and clearly out of it.
Always keen to be the centre of attention, when our drinks came he tried to throw his down his throat without the glass touching his lips.
But, when he just spilt it, he decided to toss an assortment of pills and capsules one after the other into the air and tried to catch and swallow them in the manner of a performing seal.
He caught a few and he missed a few. Only he knew what they were - if indeed he did know. Needless to say, a bouncer pretty quickly showed him the door. And off he went protesting loudly.
I never saw him again because, a few weeks later, he died of a drugs overdose after attending a screening of a film about dead rock icon Buddy Holly with Paul and Linda McCartney. At his inquest it was reported that there were 32 capsules of drugs in his body, some undigested.
Some images stay in your mind for ever, and Keith Moon's performing seal trick has always seemed to me to symbolise with frightening brutality the lottery of life in the fast lane of rock music.
He was, like several artists I came across, and others I've observed since, carelessly living on the edge of disaster. And, by pushing the rock'n'roll lifestyle to the limit, he paid the penalty.
So you can see why I thought the results of a survey published yesterday that rock musicians are twice as likely to die young as the rest of the population was blindingly obvious.
Actually, for me, there was a particularly unhappy irony in Keith's death as we'd got to know each other through a couple of films I'd written, and in which he'd appeared.
They were That'll Be The Day and Stardust: stories about a boy (played by David Essex) who becomes a rock star, and who finally dies - yes, you've guessed it - from a drugs overdose. Somehow, Keith hadn't got the message.
When producer David Puttnam and I set out to make those films we didn't decide upon the tragic ending of our main character accidentally. On the contrary, the early deaths of famous rock stars were all around us.
In the course of a few weeks in 1971, I'd written obituaries on Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison of The Doors, all of whom had been just 27 when they'd died - apparently the most likely age for rock stars to die young.
You couldn't have met a nicer, quieter guy than Jimi Hendrix, and although on the three occasions I met Janis Joplin she was probably the worse for drink, I couldn't help but like her.
A plain girl, whom none of the boys in her band fancied, she came across as sad, lonely and as vulnerable as she was talented.
When we made Stardust, David Puttnam and I, then both young fathers, and both equally anti- drugs, perhaps thought we might make a difference if we portrayed dramatically the tragic waste of a young, talented life.
If we did, we were naive, because the list of rock star fatalities, either under the influence or because of drugs, has grown horribly through the decades since then.
Mama Cass and Nick Drake in 1974; Tim Buckley in 1975. A year later it was the turn of Paul Kossoff of Free, and Elvis in 1977. Then there was Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols, Bon Scott of AC/DC, John Bonham of Led Zeppelin and Kurt Cobain of Nirvana.
Although Keith Moon's colleague in The Who, bass player John Entwistle, survived until the age of 57, it was a drugs overdose that got him in 2002.
The list is long, and while not all the casualties have been famous names, we all know and love the songs they wrote. People like guitarist Danny Whitten who wrote Rod's Stewart's hit I Don't Want To Talk About It, and Tim Hardin who gave us If I Were A Carpenter - both victims of heroin overdoses.
While there are exceptions, drugs have undoubtedly played a large part in the vast majority of early rock'n'roll deaths. In fact, our image of rock stars and their drug deaths have become so entwined that the satirical film Spinal Tap even joked about it.
When asked in the movie what happened to their drummer the members of the fictitious band reply that he "choked on vomit - someone else's vomit." It was an unpleasant joke for sure, but one that had been generated by the legions of inquests on the deaths of drug-addled rock stars.
But what is it about rock 'n' roll that attracts so many young musicians to flirt with tragedy? Is the ethos of "live fast, die young, leave a good-looking corpse" really such an attractive career prospectus?
In the beginning, when boys pick up their guitars and dream about girls, sex and stardom, the risk of accidental death must seem a million miles away.
But drugs and drink have long been a part of the mix in popular music. Billie Holiday died, aged 44, in 1959 of cirrhosis of the liver; while Hank Williams was a victim, aged 29, in 1953 of an overdose of morphine.
No one sets out to die young, but the temptations and pressures faced by young performers - kids often scarcely beyond their A-levels - should never be underestimated.
Many are living beyond the frontiers of everyday society, in a heightened, rarefied, often gruelling atmosphere of touring, where success can be instant and overwhelming, and disappointment lonely and devastating.
The great majority of rock stars survive, grow rich and middle-aged, and look back on their youthful follies with both amusement and amazement, and some, perhaps, with a nod of gratitude to their guardian angels. But for a significant enough number this is not the case.
We know that some musicians take drugs to give themselves confidence before they step on stage; then there are the drugs to come down again when they get off stage, or other drugs to help them stay awake enjoying themselves for days on end. Soon it's a habit and, for some, a problem.
In an industry awash with quickly earned money and powered by instant gratification, the drug-pushers circle like the blood-lusting sharks they are, anxious to get a cut of tax-free cash and soft living.
It's easy to see how musical ambition can be diverted and talent can be thwarted.
I don't suppose Amy Winehouse and Pete Doherty, and all the others who bring drugs into their lives to the detriment of their talent, are spending their time attempting Keith Moon's performing seal tricks with the drugs they take. Not in a literal sense, anyway.
But, involved in that same lottery as they surely are, they might just as well be.
-Brian in Atlanta
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