In his new one man show, Keith Moon: The Real Me, San Francisco actor and drummer Mick Berry takes on the persona, and drum kit, of The Who's legendarily hard-partying drummer. (Moon's antics are supposedly the basis for Animal the Muppet.) In addition to his work with the San Francisco, Marin, and California Shakespeare companies and the San Francisco Mime Troup, Berry plays the drums for Who Too, which bills itself as "the Bay Area's premier Who tribute band." After being workshopped at the Marsh last year, the show, which combines music and monologues, has its world premier beginning on July 6th at the Eureka Theater Company in San Francisco. We spoke to Berry just before he headed in to rehersals.
In your one-man show you take on the role—and drum set—of The Who's Keith Moon. How long did it take to prepare?
It was like 10 years.
It’s either impressive or harrowingly stupid.
What were you doing all that time?
I’ve done three other one-man shows, and I was devouring a biography of Keith Moon, wasting all my time on it. I read it three times in a row. So, I wrote a script, which eventually centered on the idea that Keith Moon wasn’t so much the wildest man in rock and roll, even though that was his reputation. What did him in was trying to live up to that myth.
Did you also read The Who singer Pete Townsend’s autobiography?
No, this was before that. I started with was Keith Moon: The Life and Death of a Rock Legend by Tony Fletcher. But Pete Townsound’s autobiography was terrific. What you have to know about me is that I don’t think The Who is the best rock and roll band in the world. They’re the only rock and roll band in the world.
Well then, here's a big question: What’s your favorite Who album?
If I had to pick one, I’d say Quadrophenia. But it’s a hard choice. Back to back you’ve got Tommy, Who's Next, and Quadrophenia.
What about Live at Leeds? That’s my pick.
Some people swear by Leeds. I like it, but for me the studio albums work better.
How does Keith Moon compare to Led Zeppelin's John Bonham? Same kind of bands. Same personal destruction.
Look, Bonham was a great drummer. I taught the beat to "Fool in the Rain" to a student recently. It’s a great beat, but it’s just a beat. After a minute of listening to it, you’d go well, okay, what’s next? Pete didn’t focus on beats. He focused on whatever was going to take the drumming to make the song come alive. It’s wild, it’s crazy, it’s nuts.
Can you think of any rockers today who could stand up with the classic rock bands?
Green Day. American Idiot, I think, stands next to any of the great rock albums ever. It’s worthy of every praise Abbey Road or Who’s Next ever received.
What should the audience expect at your show?
I want it to stand on its own as a great piece of theater. It’s not just for Who fans. I want something that stands next to Oedipus Rex. Stands next to King Lear. Streetcar Named Desire. I'm showing the person behind the myth.
And speaking of myth, are you going to blow up any toilets on stage?
There is destruction written into the show. It will be glorious.
Are you copying Keith Moon beat for beat, or are you improvising within his style?
Depends. In "Won’t Get Fooled Again," I memorized it note for fucking note. Modern Drummer did a transcription of the entire song 12 years ago. I’ve also got this amazing slow-downer: It slows down the recording to about 25% speed without changing the pitch. I listened to it that way with the chart in front of me. The guy who transcribed it did a great job, but he got only about 80% of it. There were parts he couldn’t catch. I wrote the whole thing out. It took four or five hours. Then I learned it note for note. To memorize it took about a year. Two hours a day five days a week for a year. I didn’t think it would take that long. For most of the other songs, there are about 30 signature licks that I improvise on. You go with your impulse—which is what Keith did. I can tell you, when you see Keith Moon written down on the page, it makes no sense whatsoever. You’ve seen Mozart written down? You see the accidentals, and you go, it’s kind of strange. Why would he do that? And then you play it, and then you go oh it’s perfect.
Keith Moon: The Real Me runs at the Eureka Theater (215 Jackson St., near Battery St.) from July 6th to 28th. For tickets, click here.