Rock fans will usually agree that when it comes to the typical "rock star" stereotypes, the Who invented most of them. Smashing your instruments into woodchips and metal scraps? Check
. Causing mayhem on family-friendly variety television? You bet
. Doing enough drugs to put down a horse? We actually kicked off our Reminiscent Monday series with that very story
, but today, we're visiting another Who story that gave birth to a quintessential "rock star" staple: The art of the hotel party.
Groupies, drugs, TVs flying out the window, complete balls-to-the-wall insanity. All of these things and more are typically what we think of when we hear about bands causing chaos at every hotel they come across. These types of mayhem-fueled ragers obviously make for some pretty memorable stories, but few are as legendary in rock n' roll history as the one that ensued when the Who stayed at a Holiday Inn in Flint, Michigan. In one single night, the band caused so much destruction and damage that it forever changed what hotels expected when a rock band rolled into town. While all four band members were known for their destructive tendencies, as with our previous Who story, the man at the center of all of this was none other than drummer and original party animal, Keith Moon.
There are many different versions and conflicting accounts as to what exactly happened the night of August 23, 1967, but we at least know the night began as a 21st Birthday party for Moon, and the night ended with Moon missing a chunk of his front teeth and naked from the waist down. It's the in-between point A and point B where details get hazy, but it's undisputed that things got insanely out-of-hand remarkably quickly. You might be wondering why the folks at the Flint Holiday Inn didn't see this coming, literally inviting the bringers of chaos to their doorstep with a giant "HAPPY BIRTHDAY KEITH" sign. In reality, you can't blame the poor souls because they had nothing to go off of when it came the Who. The band was only beginning to establish themselves in the US in 1967, and before them the "rock star" persona was relatively tame. The Beatles were likable, upstanding lads who couldn't hurt a fly in their touring years, and the Rolling Stones were still working on becoming their own band and stepping outside of the Beatles-shaped shadow. It was the Who's Holiday Inn party that nearly single-handedly created the modern image of the rocker being a property-damaging public menace that would last to this day.
Here's how the night likely went down: The Who had just finished a concert at Flint's Atwood Stadium as part of their US tour. They were touring as the openers to, oddly enough, Herman's Hermits, a one-hit wonder in a long line of British Invasion acts that built their entire career on the success of the bafflingly corny "Henry VIII." It was an odd concert bill in hindsight, but the two bands got along very well throughout the tour, regularly taking drugs and getting into trouble between shows. The bands and their crews returned to the Holiday Inn around 10:00pm, and a party for Keith's birthday quickly went underway. The attendance varies, but most accounts hover around 40 people present, and this being a birthday bash for Moon the Loon, free cake and alcohol was more than abundant for everyone there. While there might have been some noise complaints, the party wasn't anything harmful until Moon found some cherry bombs and stuck them in his hotel room toilet. The toilet inevitably blew up, which prompted a drunken Moon and party guests to find and empty every fire extinguisher in the hotel. Meanwhile, while it's disputed if it was the result of the Who's record label sending a giant birthday cake or Who fans sending too much cake for everyone to eat, a massive food fight ensued, smearing the majority of the hotel rooms and hallways with sugar and icing.
By this point, the Holiday Inn management was ready to pull the plug on the event before things became even more out of control, so they called the sheriff to put the party out. At some point during the food fight, Moon had lost his pants and underwear, but he wasn't going let the lack of clothes get him arrested. As he was making his escape, however, he slipped on a piece of cake and knocked out a massive section of his front teeth. After that, in probably the most well known and often disputed part of the story, a pantless, tooth-missing Moon got into either a Lincoln Continental or Cadillac to try and escape the cops, but the moment he released the hand brake, the car rolled backwards through a fence and into the hotel swimming pool. The police greeted Moon with handcuffs once he emerged from the water, but before taking off to jail, they made a stop at the dentist to try and get his teeth fixed. Allegedly, Moon was so intoxicated that any amount of anesthesia mixed with the alcohol in his system could've killed him, so he sat through the repair surgery completely conscious and screaming his lungs out in pain. Moon and the majority of the party guests spent the night in the county jail, and Moon was released the next day to continue the tour to Philadelphia.
While the luxury car being driven into the Holiday Inn pool is the lasting image of Keith Moon's antics-filled party, there are people who were there that claim it either did or didn't happen. Herman's Hermits' Barry Whitwam swears that no cars were driven underwater, while the Who's Roger Daltrey vividly remembers having to pick up the bill on the totaled vehicle. Either way, the band's management had to pay the hotel $24,000 in damages ($174, 495 when adjusted for inflation), the band is not allowed to play a show in Flint, Michigan to this day, and the Holiday Inn banned all four members from all of their hotels for life. Even to this day, 73-year-old Daltrey and 71-year-old Pete Townsend can't check into a single Holiday Inn anywhere in the world to enjoy complimentary wifi and continental breakfasts. Even as a small-time opening act at the time, the misadventure would go on to be a highlight in the band's career, and helped establish them as the masters of destruction both on and off the stage. A few weeks later, Keith Moon would fill his kick drum with fireworks and ignite them on live TV, so needless to say, the chaos didn't stop for the Who just because of one car in a swimming pool.