Among musicians, drummers are widely considered a base species distinct from non-percussionists. A vast corpus of drummer jokes makes them out to be only marginally civilized, barely capable of complying with the extremely loose standards of decency within the musical world, borderline mentally handicapped, and rhythmically deficient to boot. (What’s the difference between a drummer and a savings bond? The savings bond will eventually mature and make money. How do you know it’s a drummer at your door? The knocking speeds up.)
There’s no evidence that Keith Moon of The Who provided the inspiration for the Muppet drummer Animal’s notable incivility, but it makes enough sense that the rumor’s been going around for decades and doesn’t show any sign of going away. His drumming talents were immense, and his capabilities for wreaking havoc were even greater. He one-upped Pete Townshend’s guitar-smashing by periodically rigging his kit with explosives and detonating them at unexpected moments. He was the first person in recorded history to throw a television out of a hotel-room window. He once accidentally drove over and killed his chauffeur, which is sad and terrible, and yet also about the most perfect embodiment of the collision of vast wealth and an unchecked id that Moon embodied, and which generations of rock stars have tried to achieve.
Any conversation about lunatic rock-‘n’-roll drummers would be hugely incomplete without mentioning John Bonham. Led Zeppelin was by most metrics the most massive band in rock history, and Bonham the most massive drummer. How good was he? In concerts he regularly played thirty-minute drum solos and people didn’t seem to mind. His playing — astounding, ambitious, and still capable of stunning a listener who’s heard every Zep song a million times — was matched only by his ability to hold his liquor. On the last day of his life, Bonham drank an estimated forty servings of vodka before, during, and after rehearsal for a planned American tour. The lack of a suitable replacement kept Led Zeppelin from playing again for three decades, when they reformed for a one-off batch of shows with Bonzo’s son, Jason Bonham, behind the kit.
During punk’s early years, back when it was actually kind of threatening, the idea of getting kicked out of a punk band for bad behavior probably seemed like a conceptual contradiction. But Clash drummer Topper Headon managed to achieve the seeming impossibility when the rest of the group gave him the boot in 1982. Despite the fact that he had written and recorded “Rock the Casbah,” the Clash’s most successful single ever, which was still on the charts at the time, Headon’s drug use had ballooned to the point where he had a roadie ready with a mirror full of cocaine to snort between songs when the stage lights went down. And when he wasn’t doing blow, he was doing heroin. After Headon was fired, the “Casbah” royalty checks started rolling in, and Headon spent it all on drugs — within a couple of years he was making his living as a busker in London Underground stations.
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