“There was a time, child, when we bought vinyl albums expecting every song in them to be great. Radio could play songs longer than three minutes. These collections were often written and performed by the same person. I don’t exactly remember the first album of this kind I heard, but I know my instant reaction was to do drugs, grow my hair long, and dress in outfits that resulted in the grateful early onset of my parent’s Alzheimer’s.”
Bill Curbishley, on the right, is the manager of The Who. If he had chosen to, he could have managed The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, and Lynyrd Skynyrd as well. He quietly changed the live music touring business, but what he enjoyed most was robbing deli’s with me on off days.
Taylor Swift savages boyfriends who cross her. There is a hazard to getting close to such a girl. In vague comparison, if you fucked over Pete Townshend, it was time to renew your passport and run. I listened to his music long before I knew him. When I was in college, I wouldn’t have been able to name the band individually. It just wasn’t something I was concerned with, and I don’t think this was at all uncommon. They were simply The Who and maybe my favorite band. The hardest band to remember their names were Lynryd Skynyrd. I had to practice so much I got blocks. It is why I only got to know Ronnie well.
“Can I have a word?” Townshend says to me by the hotel phone around midday. Like some rare birds, he was an uncommon sight until late afternoon at sound checks. It was not a settling experience to talk to him one on one before then. For me, at first, it was a reasonable cause for dread. He made me uneasy. It took years to work that shit out. Bill, Jackie, and I were having a laugh in a hotel room working out a logo/poster for the upcoming Canadian leg of a Who tour when his call came. Canada is big and mostly settled by moose. So far, because the shows started in Montreal, we had a drawing of a giant green frog, with a chunk of Canadian bacon in its mouth, hopping on each city they would play. The amphibian was wearing a Royal Canadian Mounted Police uniform, and he had a beaver under each arm. The bacon was my touch because I grew up eating it. I thought of it as an example of my favorite form of art, topical and bursting with ridicule. But that phone call dampened me, so I headed down to his room. He did not look well. He had his tea. He could remind me of a bloodhound waiting for a proctology examination. I expected the worse because I had passed his security guy in the hallway, and he barely recognized me.
” Did you give me money last night?” he said without really looking up. I got the feeling that if I lied, he would be pleased.” Yes,” I said. “How much?” He actually groaned when I told him. “Fuck,” was all he said “Who was here?” I asked. “It doesn’t matter. I must have passed out.” He seemed to sigh, but he might have been still gasping in shock. “Want me to put Jim on it?” I said. “No, it’s gone, thanks.” And I left.
My career incorporated moving each day from one bunch of people to another. The populations of these audiences ranged from 250 to 150,000 individuals. In each instance, almost all of them wished they were me. That never helped.
“Could I have a word?” Townshend said to me on the hotel phone around midday. Like certain rare birds, Pete was seldom sighted before late afternoon for sound checks.
It was not a settling experience to talk to him one on one before then. In my case, it was fair cause for dread. He made me uneasy and I him at first. It took years to work that out.
A couple of us were having fun working out a logo/poster for the upcoming Canadian leg of a Who tour .Canada is big and mostly settled by moose. So far we had a sketch of a frog with a greasy slab of Canadian bacon in its mouth hopping from city to city outlining where they would play. He was dressed in a Royal Canadian Mounted Police uniform and in chase of a tubby beaver. It was in a time that people could laugh at themselves.
The bacon was my touch because I grew up eating it. But that phone call dampened me, so I headed down to his room with my bag .
He did not look well. He had his tea. There were no headless bodies and only his security guy who was desperately trying to focus his eyes on the sofa.
”Did you give me money last night?” he said without really looking up. I got the feeling that if I lied to him he would be pleased. ”
Yes”, I said.“
How much?” He gutturally groaned when I told him.
“Fuck,” was all he said
“Who was here?” I asked.
“It doesn’t matter I didn’t know them. I must have passed out.”
Keith always insisted they had a connection. The trajectory of my mother’s last years was not unlike what was finally to be his own. They both headed south like programmed seasonal geese into jet engines taking off from God’s airport. Neither jet nor psychosis was willing to alter course. Their broken feathers scattered all around me while Moon’s drifted across the globe. I showed him a picture of my mother once; she was beautiful by any standard. Someone had snapped it in the decade of the flowered smock. He was instantly smitten. Over tours, he would bring her up to me out of nowhere. The smock dress, a product of the 1950s, was the church’s last effort to stifle any hint of a woman’s sensuality. But unfortunately for repression, the more one tries, the hotter girls get. I owe all my sexual fantasies to those inhibited Puritans who raised me. When my mother died, conveniently between Who tours, he took it in pace and reluctantly gave back my picture. He did, on occasion, sidle up to me to ask if I had any luck yet in finding a flowered smock in his size.
Roger Daltrey would not stay in hotels whose windows would not open. John Entwistle wanted long stay overs in cities where the deep sea fishing was good. Pete Townshend insisted his room be as far away from Moon’s as possible. And Keith asked only to be informed they were touring in time to get his outfits together. Louis XIV, France’s Sun King, had the longest reign in European history (1643-1715). During this time, he brought absolute monarchy to its height, established a glittering court at Versailles, and fought most of the other European countries in four wars. Had he been offered the choice, he would have opted to go on tour with The Who. It was far more fun. Entwistle was stone-faced impervious to the un-uniqueness of his fishes. He stuffed them all, and we shipped them to his home. He would rent a boat and take whoever wanted to come for the day. There was no career advantage in landing the biggest one. It would have been not polite. One such early morning in Miami, Moon arrived at the dock unexpectedly and dressed in a white Admiral’s outfit, with a sixteenth-century captain’s hat, shoulder tassels, and a monocle. It was a rare accuracy for him to even roughly guess where the fuck he was going, let alone to be in sync with any dress regulations. In fairness, it could have been a coincidence. Keith was drinking heavily before the boat began dawdling out toward deeper seas. Drinking after a night of drug-taking was nearly medicinal in his mind—a sensible pharmaceutical rebuttal in Rock terms. Anyway, the fishing went poorly. After only a couple of hours of seafaring, the drummer began crying and baring his soul to anybody who would listen. Listening to Keith was always a dangerous mental bear trap because he was very talented and deeply deceptive. It was routine to find yourself neck high in especially embarrassing shit. He had crashed into an epiphany. He ordered John to turn the boat around and put it into a port near the ablest hospital in Miami. He intended to apply the three days remaining in our stopover, to “purge himself” under the guardianship of “master doctors.” Forfeiting a show because he passed out on stage was yet to be routine, but it was a deadly threat. This plan grew support from everyone but Entwisle, who was fishing and not buying a word. So we continue to troll while Bill Curbishley and I tried to bribe hospitals to take him in. After admitting a weepy Moon and depositing him in a hospital bed, we set off back to the hotel for lunch, feeling pretty damn smart about everything. Later that day, we got a desperate call from the hospital saying that the police were on the way, and we had to get Moon out. The administrator said the drummer was on a payphone in the hallway in his dressing gown doing interviews with the local radio stations. He was inviting the kids to come to the hospital for a party. When we got there, the crowd was a couple of hundred deep.
It was the seventies, our hotel, seven or ten hours after the show had ended in Dallas.
“Do you have him?” I asked, knowing full well they did or calling me would have been a waste of time because “the hunt would be on” by all the security. I would have been irrelevant.
“Buttoned down, he can’t get away, but he’s been pestering for you,” he whined.
I got dressed and palmed a couple of hundred dollar bills and headed up.
His elevator opened to a sea of teenage girls wandering the drummer’s hallway like confused chickens. They cocked their heads towards me but drooped because I was a grown-up.
One of Jim’s guys was standing at the door to the Moon’s suite, being sturdy and earnest.
“What’s he doing?” I asked, putting the cop money in my pocket.
The likable young tough shrugged at me like muscular people imagine they can, “He’s been ringing up hookers for the last couple of hours with Jim, Tiny, and Dougal.”
Moon’s living room was empty except for Tiny, one of Jim’s security guys, standing lookout at the bedroom door.
He was naked except for the laminated security pass that hung around his neck.
Tiny was a goliath ex-New York cop who got shot and lived on a pension. He irregularly carried The Who’s only gun storing it on his ankle where he could not reach it in a crisis without a chiropractor.
He had shoulder-length greasy black curly hair. His eyebrows, arms, and whiskers were testicular sparse. He resembles the sad outcome of a high school custodian’s wet mop attack on a fat black bear.
Though gulpingly repulsive, Tiny always had the prettiest girls with him. He could outdraw Daltrey. Roger, of course, destroyed him on volume.
After a favor, he did me. I told him to order anything he wanted from room service. Passing by his room later, I caught him on his bed with a girl and two serving spoons. He had a glass bowl of forty or so ice cream scoops balanced on his stomach. They looked like life was at its summit. Tiny was not a man to fret the absence of inner experience.
Tiny bathed, as the tour joke went, only before major surgery.
“You’re a picture,” I said as I passed him to knock on the bedroom door.
Jim Callaghan cracked the door to peek at me. He was naked, “No clothes, governor’s orders.” was what he said.
I undressed except for my briefcase. I kept my shoes out of curious modesty.
I like hookers because they are a little like The Who. They are real.
Seven of them were on his king bed, staring at something in its center.
It was a Scrabble board.
A forest of breasts had blindfolded the drummer. He batted a few to clear his view of me.
“Well, finally, we took our time, didn’t we?” He charged.
“You better be winning,” I challenged him.
I lose his attention as he turns again to the board.
“Well Reg, you’re in time enough, I may need to buy a vowel,” he loudly confused our two most important American letter games, Scrabble and The Wheel of Fortune. They must have had a British equivalent from somewhere in his past.
“Come sit, he patted the bed beside him seductively, shoving a blond to the floor. I sat covering myself with my leather case.
For the first time, I noticed Dougal, his lifetime best friend on the floor, stewing in four girls. Callaghan had returned to one corner and was working on swapping blowjobs for backstage passes. The exercise was stupid because the girls all had been paid for already by Moon. But Jim had been at this for so many years it was an erotic accessory for him. I think he started with the Osmonds.
“I have these ladies on the run, but the play is getting crowded. The board is very condensed.” Moon groaned competitively to me.
I glanced at it. Three words had found their way into the match, but none of the wooden squares forming them were touching each other.
“You guys ever play this game before tonight?” I said to the girls. One or two expressed some confidence. They were beautiful by any standard.
A stunning black girl with bruised blood-colored hair and long bone earrings heaved in a dark voice, (like a lonely cow’s moo), “I got one.” She carefully laid down “dog,” forever impressing four of the other girls who I judged must be on her team.
So Moon kicks the board into the air in a losing hissy fit and banishes the poor black girl off the bed. She promptly goes from pride to tears, her spelling days over and in tatters.
He pushes himself up to lean on the puffed pink silk headboard beside me. I don’t sit next to naked men regularly, and so I worry about sweat.
“Can I hold it?” he draws my eyes to his.
My briefcase is likely the most valuable item on tour except for the guitars. Our security would rescue it before any attention came my way.
I hand him my case. He flattens it to his stomach and balls and says brightly, “Does it have lots of tonight?”
“You bet,” I said.
He tosses the case to the middle of the bed, and the girls lunge on it like it was a deep jungle musk genital pouch.
I was half thinking of getting hold of a spray bottle of Fantastic from housekeeping or a new bag before breakfast.
Moon, his mouth now on my ear, says in his whispering British spy voice, “I have my eye on that little blond down there, think she could be mine?”
I have this job owing to two strengths; I am trustworthy with money, and my reality is not easily overwhelmed by the unreality of anybody else’s.
“Please,” I offer, “she has not taken her eyes off you, even while her mouth is on my case.”
Jim and Doughal know their call girls.
“Girls, the case please,” he commanded, putting his arms out like the prongs on a forklift.
“I will need quite a bit tonight,” now back to me.
“How much?” I said.
He began gravely calculating, employing his taxing” pin the tail on the donkey” arithmetic.
He fixed on a number, immediately giddy with relief that the stress of the mathematics was finally over.
Opening the case, I counted out the packets, handed it to him, and made him sign for it, which he did, dramatically sweeping my pen in semi-circles like a crashing propeller plane before landing close enough to the dotted line.
He threw all the money to Doughal, who couldn’t disengage his hands fast enough from women’s body parts, so most of it hit him on the head.
Jim and Doughal sprang for it before the girls did.
On my way out, I told Jim to pay the girls himself, if he could, and to drop the balance back to me at the next show.
Keith Moon was out on the street, working as a doorman/bellboy at the Navarro Hotel in New York City in between shows at Madison Square Garden because he was running out of money. I got him that job thinking it might be a character-building experience. It also relieved, for a little while, everybody’s constant anxiety over where he was. The hotel manager, Mr. Russell, a personal friend of mine, arranged it because he felt obliged. After all, the band had rebuilt three of his hotel rooms over the last two tours. I always turned to the word ” shredded” in reporting what Moon had done to them. It was August 6, 1978. I think. We were in one of the suites playing scrabble and waiting for something to happen when Mr. Russell called to warn that Moon and his entourage were heading upstairs and that he was carrying two bags from a new guest that he had forgotten to leave in the lobby. The initial confusion of having their taxi door opened by a rock star wearing a six-foot-long Indian headdress was working out in the manager’s estimation. The regular bellmen seemed please at the increase in tips coming in. He was also sharing his gratuities with everybody conscientiously though he got ill-tempered with the math. It has, in fairness to Moony, been my experience that no rock star can count. In minutes the drummer blasted into the room like a one-person Apache raiding party. Behind him trailed our security guys, five groupies, two bellmen, and I guessed from their suits the people chasing their stolen bags. ” Have you heard the news?” he was nearly moaning with excitement. “Some Pope is dead! “ Feathers whipping in his breeze, he whirled on Anne Wheldon, our publicist who lives in a barely suppressed nervous hysteria, ordering her to ” get me someone on the line right now from The New York Times and Billboard Magazine!” He started to wring his hands like an early Adolf Hitler slavering over a defenseless prewar France. “Go right to the top, Anne, tell them I am throwing my hat into this Papal ring.” His eyes had an almost religious luminescence. She had the entertainment editor from the Times on the phone within minutes. He straightened his feathers and hunched over the desk phone. The room grew silent. We hung on his side of the conversation.” “That’s right; I have wanted to leave the band for years,” he confirmed to the guy. ” “Given this emergency, I believe that moment is ripe.” He listened, and his face seemed to droop. “No, I am not Catholic,” he paused, perhaps sensing his tactical error.” “But I am a quick study, ask Pete Townshend,” he attached smoothly. “And don’t let that motherfucker Mick Jagger hear about this. He is the devil, you know,” cunningly racing to blot any competition quickly. By this time, we were rolling on the floor, and Anne was standing next to him, trying to get his attention waving her arms and mouthing that she had Rolling Stone on the other line. He put both hands over the phone and, in confusion, shouted at us,” Fuck, he wants to know what I think qualifies me to be the next Pope.” Ever quick, Bill Curbishley, his manager, shouted back to him”, Tell him twenty-five platinum albums.”