The reputation of Keith Moon, once much-loved as the most genial of rock stars, has come in for a bit of a hammering since his not entirely unexpected death 41 years ago, and this latest addition to my ever-expanding library of books about him is unlikely to reverse the trend. While it could be argued that every Who book is a Pete Townshend book, his old drummer has had several more books written about him than Townshend, Roger Daltrey or John Entwistle, seven on my shelf and I don’t think I’m missing any. Moon was just what the doctor ordered in The Who’s percussion department but was also dangerously unhinged, unpredictable, funny, alcoholic, debauched, exciting and/or tiresome to be around and prone to fits of inexplicable rage, all of which explains why he’s an ideal subject for the biographer. Now, here comes the eighth book, The Last Four Years, Annette-Walter Lax’s topsy-turvy account of the period she spent as Moon’s romantic partner, which lasted from the spring of 1974, when they met in London, to September 1978, the month that Moon died.
The Last Four Years: A Rock Noir Romance, to give it its full title, has actually been written by Spencer Brown, Annette’s friend and collaborator, and is constructed from a series of lengthy interviews with her that he has transcribed, all of which are punctuated with his own text or prompts which act as links. It is a privately produced publication, printed by Amazon, presumably on demand, and the production quality is below the standard you might expect from a book that is heavily illustrated and costs £15. It is sloppily laid out, poorly edited and the many illustrations, 83 b&w pictures in all, suffer from being reproduced on the same stock as the text pages and, as a result, are washed out and lack contrast. Sourced from Annette’s private collection, as far as I can establish they have not been seen before in previous Who or Moon books, which is a plus. They are like holiday snaps which, indeed, some of them are; amateurish but homely, and all are captioned in the same unpretentious way as those old family albums we all have tucked away: ‘Mum and Dad on the beach at Southend, summer 1964’. There are no Who pictures and, curiously, no mention of Keith Moon on the front cover.
Much the same could be said for the text. It is unpretentious, garrulous and strangely naïve, with Annette as both an insider to the curious world of Moon at his looniest, yet an outsider insofar as she’s well out of her depth and knows of no way to control his unrestrained impulses. Time and again she is faced with impossible situations in which the love of her life becomes his own worst enemy, with calamitous results that are funny the first time, less funny the next and, eventually, exasperating.
Annette met Moon just as she was starting a modelling career in London, a career that never really materialised. It’s evident she doesn’t know much about The Who or their affairs or what being their drummer entails, and having arrived on the scene relatively late in their career – at least as far as their career with Moon is concerned – she’s a girl-come-lately compared to the partners of the others, who don’t get a mention anyway. It is telling that the first rock show she ever attended was The Who at Charlton in ‘the summer of ’74’, presumably May 18, when she sat on stage ‘not far behind Keith’. It’s probably true to say that of all the Who-related books on my shelf, 57 in all, this one contains the least about The Who. Her co-author is clearly a fan but their book inevitably contains a few minor errors concerning the group’s history.
Most of the text dwells on Moon’s crazy, unpredictable, drunken behaviour, firstly in London, then in California and finally back in London again. Annette recounts as best she can various incidents she witnessed wherein Moon went berserk, wrecked hotel rooms or houses in which they lived and embarrassed her in front of others, and how she was powerless to prevent this from happening. Chronically unfaithful, Moon brings groupies back to their homes for sex, leaving Annette to shut herself away until morning when her dishevelled man emerges from somewhere or other saying he’s sorry and won’t do it again. He invariably does. Contradictions abound but this surely reflects the contradictions in Moon’s character, caring one moment and uncaring the next. Annette knows that for the sake of her sanity she should leave him, but she’s drawn back by Moon’s pleading and her own misplaced loyalty, and perhaps also because she knows that without her Moon won’t survive, not that he did anyway. She deserves a medal for perseverance.
I think too many years have passed for her to recall the chronology of all these episodes accurately, with the result that reminiscences overlap or merge and all hope of a linear narrative is lost amongst the wreckage. Perversely, the book is divided into three parts, all dealing with the same time period from slightly different standpoints, so repetition and inconsistency are rife. The first part is a resume of their four years together, the second a meandering interview with Annette and the third a selection of random reminiscences, many of them deeply unpleasant. Most of what’s here can be found in the vastly superior Dear Boy: The Life of Keith Moon by Tony Fletcher or Dougal Butler’s two books Moon The Loon (aka Full Moon) and Keith Moon: A Personal Portrait.*
I have no wish to be uncharitable towards Annette who clearly loved Keith Moon and tried her best to protect him, and she clearly still carries a torch for him, nor to Spencer Brown who’s probably done the best he could with a paucity of material that, in truth, is more suitable for a decent length magazine article than a 200-page book, 60 of which feature pictures only, leaving a lot of blank space. Nevertheless, the fact remains that for one pound less you can buy Fletcher’s definitive and widely-admired biography, all 632 pages of it, and for even less you can buy Butler’s popular and amusing memoir of their time together, both of which represent immeasurably better value than The Last Four Years.
* I must declare an interest here. I commissioned and edited Dear Boy and ghost-wrote A Personal Portrait for Dougal, which was designed by my wife.