EVERYTHING IS COMBUSTIBLE
Keith Moon and the Sartorial Splendor
It was 1972 and I was living in Los Angeles, mostly falling into swimming pools at rock ‘n’ roll parties given by large record companies. I was staying at the house of the rock ‘n’ roll music writer for the Los Angeles Times, Richard Cromelin. We were constantly on the lookout for free food and backstage passes and whatever else we could finagle out of Cromelin’s status.
One night we were backstage at a Mott the Hoople concert where there was a party going on before the band went on. Quite a few celebrities were there, most of whom I didn’t give a rat's ass about, when suddenly I bumped into someone, turned around and lo and behold, my face was 2 inches away from Keith Moon’s forehead. He was dressed in a full tuxedo and had a martini in his hand. I can’t remember whether it had an olive or an onion in it, but I remember thinking to myself, “Where the hell did he get a martini?”
I also don’t remember exactly how the conversation began, but it was probably something along the lines of, “Oh excuse me, quarters seem to be pretty close around here,” which I would’ve said because I almost knocked off his hat with my nose. In any case he was in a fine and charming mood, with the martini or perhaps the results of the previous martinis working their inevitable magic as it does on us alcoholics, taking us on a roller coaster ride through the full gamut of emotions. Keith was in the bloom of cheerfulness, probably just a brief stop on the way to maudlin or lasciviousness.
We made small talk and chitchat—talking about nothing and laughing at each other’s jokes when somehow the conversation landed on clothes the way a fly will land on shit after floating around the room haphazardly. Keith seemed to feel as if he were making quite an impression, which to tell the truth, he was. Backstage, at a rock ‘n’ roll concert, in a full tuxedo drinking martinis in the top hat when everyone else was dressed on a rock star groovy or California hippie tie-dye bent.
Well, I was really not about to let him get away with giving him props for looking like he was at a wedding, so I told him,
“You are truly one beautiful cat, Keith, but I, I am dressed to the teeth.”
He looked me up and down, lingering over his assessment of my rags. Remember that this was in 1972. I was dressed in triple-colored platform shoes, skintight pants with absolutely no underwear and some gorgeous shirt that was probably really a girl’s blouse and which shimmered like the wings of a butterfly. I had long dirty blonde hair with Brian Jones bangs so good that when Mick Jagger first laid eyes on me he did a double take that I can still remember.
I had a beer in one hand and a hard drink in the other. And if I didn’t have a cigarette hanging out of my mouth like Humphrey Bogart, it was only because I was between ashtrays. I looked at Keith while he sized me up. Anyway, he was going to have to admit that I was no slouch and he retorted,
“Well, you are dressed up pretty good, but I am dressed to the nines. There is no comparison.”
I then retorted with something to the effect that although we were both certainly the two best dressed dudes there, it was clear that I was chic, while he looked out of place at a rock ‘n’ roll gig. I think my actual words were “Keith, I am heavenly, and you look like you’re at a wedding.”
Well he bristled and laughed it off, and came back with another zinger. We were both having fun, and it was turning into a classic food fight of words.
“Richard, I’ll have you know that I am Top of the Pops, and you are bottom of the pickle barrel mate”! I said “Keith, I’ll have you know, that I’ve already been propositioned by both men and women 13 times tonight, and you look like a penguin”! Back and forth it went…
Then, all of a sudden, it turned … Ugly. And in a hurry. Keith’s face fell and I could tell that it wasn’t fun for him anymore. I had been playing with one big cat and the cat's temper had turned. I saw another Keith Moon. I recognize this one too, and frankly I saw the homicidal glaze come over his eyes.
Now it wasn’t so much fun for me either. I made a tactical decision. After all, I was a nobody, and I’d been going toe to toe with Keith fucking Moon, for Christ’s sake. I know my place sometimes and I summed up the angles quickly. Polite is right. That’s the way to get along, as the old blues tune goes. So I took off my nonexistent imaginary hat to him and I bowed, deep, in a kind of Elizabethan solo, and I said, honest to God:
“Oh, highly esteemed and most visibly Lord High Keith Moon, it is as clear as a spring stream in a sunny afternoon that you are the one in sartorial splendor, and peasant I, dressed in poultry rags. I beg your indulgence and kindness so kind sir, for departing from what is most evident, only for your amusement! I meant no harm, because oh my God, just LOOK AT YOU, radiant like the sun in the sky!”
He was taken aback by my effluence, and I could see the gears turning inside his mental assessment Rolodex. After about a half a minute a sly smile came over him and he returned to the loveable Keith I had originally had before me
“You are putting me on, pulling me leg?” he said with a quizzical Gemini look on his childlike face.
“Yes sir, Mr. Moon, as surely as the sun sets in the west I’ve been putting a good one over on you”
“Well then,” he said, “let me buy you a drink!”
Well the drinks were free that night, but with that he put his arm around me and we stumbled over to the open bar where he proceeded to “buy” me a drink with a big flourish, and we partied on into the night.
Television, CBGB's and Five Decades of Rock and Roll