Thursday, November 19, 2009

GMVW # 98: "Rat-a-tat-tat"

Gem Music Video of the Week # 98:  Rat-a-tat-tat
Song:  Relay by The Who
(Songwriter: Pete Townshend)
November 19, 2009

At its core, a standard rock band is made up of four critical components.  Three of these have been covered for previous Gems.  First there was the bass guitar Gem (# 15, featuring Graham Maby).  Next was the Gem for lead vocals (# 39, featuring Linda Thompson **and Amy**).  Third was lead guitar (# 67, featuring Neil Young).  This leaves one final key component, which I’m covering this week: Drums.  All four (and only these core four) are prominently displayed in this week’s Gem, but the main focus here is on the instrument that likely predates all others and the assorted characters who just might bang on them all day if given the choice.

Somehow, I was able to avoid my admitted Who bias in the first three (although in each discussion, numerous Entwistle, Daltrey, and Townshend examples were given), but there is no denying it here. There are 2 reasons for this.  The first is that I’m not much of a drummer guy: Most of the time I cannot distinguish average from very good (sorry, Stuart Copeland, Neil Peart, Jim Keltner, Pete and Jeff).  The second is that Keith Moon was so unusually unique; he broke through that personal barrier of mine.  I suppose his drumming equates to reading Shakespeare, or watching Bobby Orr or Charlie Chaplin:  Some individuals just stand out, no matter how ambivalent you may be in regards to their profession. Moon was one of them.

Keith Moon was so uniquely good, that the camera would inevitably be drawn to him, despite the fact that each of his band mates matched his amazing showmanship.  Cameras rarely get drawn to the drummer and for it to happen in a band like The Who made his drawing power even more implausible. As I have mentioned before, The Who were like a 4-ring circus, often competing with one another for center stage.  I’ve never seen this in any other band:  Nobody comes close, as with most bands it’s one, maybe two individuals that demand all the attention.  What Moon did more than anything though, was he took a very good band and made it a very great band. 

Keith Moon had another reputation, however: That of lunatic.  Moon epitomized and likely created the image of the out-of-control Rock Star.  Most rock lore regarding hotel destruction can be traced back to ‘Moon the Loon’ (which prompted the famous Holiday Inn cartoon: “In case of Keith Moon, break glass”, behind which was a fire extinguisher), as can stories of cars in swimming pools, public disrobing, and general all-night carousing and mischief.  In a late 80’s interview Pete Townshend told the story of a tour experience when Moon frantically insisted that the band’s bus turn back to the hotel they had just checked out of, despite their having already driven a fair distance.  Believing he had forgotten his passport or something else of importance, they turned around.  Back at the hotel, Moon ran inside, and after a few moments came out, stating “thank goodness!”  The entourage asked what it was he forgot.  Moon answered, a bit out of breath: “I forgot to toss the tellie (t.v.) out the window”. 

Some may come to their conclusions on the man at this stage, and yet there was an endearing side to Keith Moon. Another Townshend reflection (paraphrased here) bares this out: “During a tour, Keith told us of a gentleman whose company he had enjoyed on the plane: ‘traveling salesman, bit of a good old boy’ from the South.  Upon disembarking the man stated ‘Keith, if you are ever in Little Rock give me a call.  Here’s my card. ‘Chuck Jones’.’  Several years later a few of us hardened souls were in a hotel room fighting Keith’s relentless energy.  It was about 7:30 in the morning. Our flight to the next town left at 12:30 pm that day.  If we got to bed we might get five hours fitful sleep with the chambermaids banging at the door to clean up; showers running in the adjacent rooms, and daylight cutting through the curtains to remind us we were misfits”.
Townshend continued, “We announced we were going to bed. Keith objected, ‘It’s only half-past seven!’, but realizing we were serious, he suddenly stated ‘where are we?’.  Little Rock’ someone replied.  Keith went to his suitcase, pulled out a business card, and started to dial. ‘Chuck will be awake.  He’s reliable’.  After a brief conversation reconnecting with Chuck Jones for the first time since the plane ride several years earlier, Keith hung up the phone, while suddenly looking tired. ‘Nice bloke, that Chuck. I’m going over to have breakfast with him.  Meet his wife.  Kids.  Look at his golf trophies.’ ”

“When we all trooped on to the plane, Keith looked more tired than usual.  He had been dropped at the airport by Chuck and Chuck’s entire family.  Keith slumped next to me on the plane and before he sank into sleep I asked him what it had been like – proving to us that he could go on and on, that he would always be able to find someone somewhere who would give him his time and attention. ‘They were fabulous, Pete,’ was all he would say.  ‘Simply fabulous.  Kind, loving, generous people’.”

I tell this story, not only because it makes obvious the fact that Keith Moon had a lasting effect on Pete Townshend which continues well beyond his lifetime, but also because the surface reputation of a person can often too easily be summed up in one-dimensional sound bites.  Despite his “diabolical certain death style of rock’n’roll nihilism” (Townshend terminology), Keith Moon was kind and he was real, which is more than can be said for many who appear to tow the line day in and day out.  I’m not sure about everyone on this list, but I can speak for a few, including myself, who have friends with Moon-like personality traits: The type that are willing to push things a bit farther than you; the type that get your adrenaline going; the type who stimulate fireside stories of their escapades whether they are there with you or not.  These stories often fill the air with joy and laughter.  The fact is, once someone ‘gets under your skin’, there’s no turning back.  Like Keith Moon, that person can be nihilistic to the end, or perhaps have collected themselves somewhat over the years, but they stay in your heart because at some time in your life they breached it with a real, genuine moment.

Was it his personality that made Keith Moon such an amazingly gifted drummer?  Certainly!  : Just as much as Orr’s personality contributed to his grace on ice skates and Chaplin’s personality helped make him one of a kind on the silent screen.  Moon’s traits appear to have been ideally suited for his lot in life: That of drummer for The ‘orrible ‘oo. 

I grappled hard with the choice for a Moon Gem: Most of his best moments are only in audio format, whether in the studio or live.  I came down to a threesome of songs that together showcases his varied talents.  The first is this week’s Gem, ‘Relay’:  Not really a Moon-centric Who song (its actually a bass-driven song, fantastically performed by the Ox), but this video gives some insight into Keith Moon’s manic energy.  The video is also a rare treat: Townshend smiling and happy on stage. Finally, taking into account the sum of its parts, ‘Relay’ is the only song of the three that qualifies as a true Gem for me.  The second video is a live version of ‘Happy Jack’ (oh so close to being chosen as Gem).  Half way through, Moon’s unique drum style is on full display: Great footage. The third video is one of the few Moon-penned Who songs, ‘Cobwebs and Strange’, which includes hilarious footage of Moon on the loose, particularly the fictional account of how the rest of The Who came to meet their drummer (he was the last permanent member to join the band): Rolling into their lives inside a great big ‘bleeding box’.

I do have a few other songs that come to mind as being great in the drumming department.  Below is that list.  Below the list is the Gem video, and the other two complimentary videos. Sorry, none end in spontaneous combustion, though they do come awfully close.

- Pete

> Keith Moon on ‘Bargain’ (particularly the post vocals, closing segment)
> Keith Moon on all of Quadrophenia (particularly ‘Love Reign O’er Me’)
> Charlie Watts on ‘Hang Fire’ (particularly the opening salvo)
> Ringo Starr on ‘Helter Skelter’ (with blisters on his fingers)
> John Bonham on ‘Kashmir’ (I had the opportunity to be the proverbial fly onthe wall on a recent summer evening, as I listened to Jeff and Dave discuss their passion for Bonzo and the rest of Led Zeppelin).
> Micky Hart and Bill Kreutzmann live on many-a Dead tune (One thing I do pick up on is when a band has two good drummers who compliment one another)
> Jaimoe Johanson and Butch Trucks on ‘Ramblin Man’ (see previous comment)
> Keith Moon on many of the early Who singles (‘My Generation’, ‘The Kid’s are Alright, ‘Happy Jack’, ‘Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere’)

Gem Video: Relay

Happy Jack

Cobwebs and Strange

About the Video: Classic footage of the Who circa 1973.  From “Thirty Years of Maximum R & B”

Video Rating: 1

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