Remember When: The Who’s Drummer Keith Moon Collapses

Like so many classic rock icons, Keith Moon was known for his wild, often inebriant-fueled antics. Tales of driving sports cars into swimming pools, or flooding hotel lobbies with emptied-out waterbeds, were all too common. But one of The Who drummer’s most infamously messy nights occurred in 1973.

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At the time, The Who were kicking off a tour in support of the album Quadrophenia. They were performing at the famously bohemian venue Cow Palace, located on the outskirts of the counterculture mecca San Francisco. Most of The Who’s members brought their signature energy that night—jumping around and passionately belting lyrics about youth and dystopia. But one band mate wasn’t quite on his game.

Moon—ever the outlandish partier—had mixed elephant tranquilizers (some say they were horse tranquilizers) with brandy before taking the stage. During the drum-heavy classic “Won’t Get Fooled Again” (and truth be told, all of the drum parts in Who songs were nearly drum solos from front to back), Moon slouched over his kit and briefly passed out. He was taken off stage by a number of venue hands, and returned conscious after an awkward half hour in which he was dunked in cold water and pumped full of cortisone. It all briefly seemed like smooth sailing from there, until Moon collapsed again during the song “Magic Bus.”

[RELATED: Behind the Death of Keith Moon]

It became apparent that Moon was too intoxicated to remain conscious, much less perform his arduous percussion arrangements. The remaining three members of The Who tried playing “See Me, Feel Me” without Moon. But their music was palpably weaker without a rhythmic backbone.

Guitarist Pete Townshend was forced to ask the crowd if anyone in attendance could play the drums. Teenage percussionist Scot Halpin was tapped by the concert’s promoter; he was handed a shot of brandy and tasked with playing three more songs to close The Who’s set: “Smoke Stacked Lighting,” “Spoonful,” and, ambitiously, a nearly 10-minute-long version of “Naked Eye.” It was an exciting and uplifting end to an unconventional show—one that lives on in classic rock infamy.

Halpin went on to win Rolling Stone’s Pick-Up Player of the Year Award for his impromptu performance that night. He continued to drum in bands around the Bay Area, and eventually helped manage a new wave club with his wife.

Moon’s reckless lifestyle eventually caught up with him for keeps. Five years after this incident, he died at the age of 32 (although, sadly, by that point he looked more like he was 52) after he accidentally overdosed on the prescription drug Heminevrin. His heavy-handed, virtuosic playing is immortalized on The Who’s recorded work, of course, but it’s a shame we weren’t able to see what shenanigans, musical and otherwise, Moony might have cooked up for us if he’d lived a bit longer.

Photo by Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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