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Pains, planes and automobiles: What happened when The Who took on America

In 1967 The Who toured the USA for the first time. Cue thrills, spills, cops, smashed guitars, exploding toilets and the birth of the legend that is Keith Moon...

T he putrid stench spilled out of the bathroom. It was the smell of decaying flesh mixed with the tang of day-old booze and cigarettes. The maid pushed her cleaning cart through the doorway and squinted into the darkness. It was daytime, but the motel suite’s previous occupant, Keith Moon, had left the curtains drawn, as if concealing the evidence of some heinous crime.

The maid opened the bathroom door gingerly. Her eyes were drawn first to the half-empty tub and then to the puddles of water on the floor. Finally, she saw it – wrapped in sodden toilet paper and placed on the lavatory seat, like the world’s worst birthday present: a dead piranha with its teeth bared in an awful rictus grin.

It was July 1967. The Who were touring America as an opening act for British pop band Herman’s Hermits, and Keith Moon had bought the fish from a local pet shop. That much is true. And the motel was in Vancouver. Or was it Oklahoma City? When it comes to The Who and Keith Moon, myth and hearsay still reign supreme.

Harvey Lisberg, Herman’s Hermits’ manager at the time, was on the tour and remembers the incident – sort of. “A piranha?” he says now. “Oh yes, I heard about the piranha. But I thought there was more than one.”

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