Why Keith Moon Landed A Bad Reputation In The Music World

The mythos of rock 'n' roll is about more than just electric guitar and devil-may-care lyrics. In the 1960s and 1970s — arguably the prime time for the genre — rock stars were the center of a culture of groupies, trashed hotel rooms, and reckless abandon. Raucous law-breaking and boundary-busting were met with the simple phrase, "That's just rock 'n' roll, baby." But, of course, rock-star behavior often crossed the line into the destructive, disrespectful, and juvenile.

Keith Moon, drummer of the iconic British rock band The Who, was a central figure in constructing the rock 'n' roll reputation. On the road, on stage, and behind the curtain, Moon often got wrapped up in crazy antics under the guise of "just having fun." He raised hell, played not-so-practical jokes, and left extensive property damage in his wake. Because he was among the world's most celebrated rock stars, his actions — no matter how outrageous, destructive, or offensive — often had little or no consequences (for him, at least). Here's why Moon earned a reputation for causing mayhem in the music world.

Keith Moon played with fire(crackers)

When The Who performed on U.S. television for the first time, they made their debut with a literal bang. On September 17, 1967, the band appeared on "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour" with a performance of their hit "My Generation." According to History, Keith Moon was already in the habit of loading his bass drum with explosives, but for this particular performance, he packed the drum with more explosives than ever before.

The resulting explosion set off a cloud of white smoke and nearly knocked the band off the stage. It singed guitarist Pete Townshend's hair, left Moon with shrapnel embedded in his arm, and even knocked the show off the air by obscuring the cameras. According to Rolling Stone, the explosive finale even caused fellow guest, the actor Bette Davis, to faint in the wings. It was also rumored to be a contributing factor to Townshend's loss of hearing later in life, but his years of performing with amplified rock 'n' roll sound were likely more to blame.

The destructive impacts of that particular explosion did not deter Moon from continuing to play with fire. Later that year, while on tour with opening band Herd, Moon wired keyboardist Andy Bown's keyboard with firecrackers and detonated them during Herd's set.

Keith Moon's hotel-room-trashing gave rock a reputation for destruction

The Who's 1972 tour solidified Keith Moon's reputation as a whirling dervish of destruction when it came to ritzy hotel rooms. While staying in Copenhagen, Denmark in August 1972, Moon asked Pete Townshend to help him move the waterbed from his room to the elevator, with the intention of sending it down to the lobby for whatever reason, per Rolling Stone. While they tried to lift the water-filled mattress from its frame, the mattress burst, sending a flood of water into the hotel's hallway.

Foreseeing the money the band would have to pay in damages, Moon called the hotel manager and told him the mattress had burst and destroyed his stage wardrobe. The manager apologized and moved Moon to the Presidential Suite, which was full of antiques. Of course, the band later took to the suite like bulls in a china shop and trashed the place.

During the same tour, Moon invaded bassist John Entwistle's room at Paris George V hotel while Entwistle was sitting down for a French feast. The drummer ate some of Entwistle's steak, poured vintage Bordeaux on the carpet, peed on the wall, and then passed out. Entwistle exacted his revenge by demolishing Moon's room and dropping the unconscious Moon among the ruins. Moon woke up from his blackout and believed he had caused the damage himself.

Keith Moon's jokes often went too far

Keith Moon's jokes and pranks often pushed boundaries by scaring and offending onlookers. According to Rolling Stone, he would use police bullhorns or hidden speakers to scare locals with fake public service announcements while visiting quiet villages in England. The PSAs warned locals about fake threats like tidal waves and poisonous snakes.

Another recurring schtick that was similarly disruptive — and sometimes offensive — was his penchant for roleplaying in costume. One of his go-to characters was a bald vicar who would scream obscenities at passing elderly ladies. During one of these public "performances," the vicar character was dragged into Moon's Rolls Royce by two "gangsters," prompting a local police officer to intervene.

Last, but certainly not least in terms of bad taste, was the time in 1970 when Moon dressed as a Nazi for a photoshoot and then went out for a drink in the uniform. Moon was only motivated further once he was thrown out of a German bar, and he proceeded to commit to the Nazi character for several days, even renting a convertible and riding it through a particularly Jewish neighborhood in London.