On today’s Rock ‘N’ Roll Storytime I was going to tell you about John Lennon’s Lost Weekend.
Actually, I am still going to tell you about John Lennon’s Lost Weekend but…it just…well it kinda evolved into something completely different.
Like a raccoon searching for food, I found a loaded trashcan in the carport of music and right when I thought I found a nice plump, half-eaten meatloaf of rock history, BAM– headlights started turning into the driveway.
Those headlights were attached to a 1970s Mercury Marquis convertible and behind the wheel wasn’t John Lennon…it was a drunken Harry Nilsson coming off a 4-day bender. John Lennon was just along for the ride.
Let’s once again start in the mid-1970s – the summer of ’73 to be precise.
(If you’re seeing a pattern in the last couple of RnRSTs then it’s only half intentional. For rock, the mid 1970s was what comedian Adam Corolla once called “the greatest era in history because it was mid-coke and pre-AIDS.” Let’s just say a lot of shit got done both artistically and sexually with few repercussions.)
This should have been a good time for the likes of John Lennon however he was personally going through a bit of a rough patch: The Beatles had broken up two years earlier and were still in the midst of internal lawsuits regarding their dissolution. His solo album with Yoko Ono, Some Time in New York City was universally panned and featured the track ‘Woman Is The [N*****] Of The World.’ (Editor’s note: Nope. I’m….not even touching that. Noooooope. Nopity Nope. Moving on.) To top it off, his marriage to Yoko Ono was on the rocks. At Yoko’s suggestion, the way to get out of this rut was for John to go to L.A. and have an affair with May Pang, the couple’s personal assistant. And thus began Lennon’s 18-month Hollywood bender known as, “The Lost Weekend.”
Without the restraint of Ono, Lennon took on some bad habits, like a nose for cocaine and a taste for Brandy Alexanders.* He also became an honorary member of the Hollywood Vampires, an exclusive club of famous rock stars living in L.A. that, well…they just friggen partied. That’s all they did. Members included Ringo Starr, Alice Cooper, Keith Moon, Mickey Dolenz, and Harry Nilsson. Wanna know who wasn’t in the Hollywood Vampires? Anyone from the Eagles, because the Eagles fucking sucked.
*The Brandy Alexander was apparently the Red Bull/Vodka of the 70’s. Do we need to bring this drink back or something?
This is where we need to take a quick left turn. See, Harry Nilsson is easily the greatest singer/songwriter you’ve never heard of. Known for his experimental melodies and off beat lyrics, you’ll just have to check out this week’s playlist for a plethora of, “Oh yeah, I love this song” songs. He also wrote my favorite love song ever, ‘You’re Breakin’ My Heart’ which featured these opening lyrics:
You’re breakin’ my heart
You’re tearing it apart
So fuck you
Here’s the thing about Harry Nilsson though- he never started a party but daaaaaaaamn if he didn’t finish them. Known for going a little overboard, he was your friend in college where all bets were off when he gave you a call. If you were lucky then maaaaaybe you wouldn’t wake on a riverboat casino in Biloxi. So yeah, that was Harry Nilsson. And he was a bit of a bad influence on John Lennon.
Case in point,
In early March of 1974 the duo gets loaded on cocaine and Brandy Alexanders and finds a way to get thrown out of the Troubadour. This happens after Lennon sticks a maxi-pad to his forehead and in the ensuing scuffle with management over bar etiquette he accidentally punches a waitress.
Ok, not that bad. I mean, we’ve all done worse. So Lennon and Nilsson do worse.
On March 13, 1974, they were back at the Troubadour loaded on….(goes back though notes, furrows brow, throws notes to side)…I had it here somewhere…(furiously types into search engines, slams head on keyboard)…goddammit, where is it…(flips pages of multiple biographies, finds right page)…ahh, there it is: COCAINE AND BRANDY ALEXANDERS. This time they found a way to start a fight during a Smothers Brothers show. A Smothers Brothers show! (For those not in the know, getting into a fight during The Smothers Brothers was roughly the equivalent of trying to start shit during a Flight of the Concords show.) To quote Tom Smothers on the night:
“Well, they started heckling, and it was some of the worst language I’ve ever heard – and they had a real buzz on. Cognac and toot I guess. And it was a mess.”
OK, I’ll give you this one. Doing a victory lap at the scene of the crime just two weeks later is impressive. But my question is, “Was anything pissed on?” No? Well then time to up the game.
While working on his solo album Rock ‘n’ Roll with super producer convicted murderer Phil Spector, Lennon and his merry pranksters started to draw the ire of…just about everyone. Stories of erratic behavior, broken equipment, and in one instance, gun shots in the studio, became the norm. So much so that Lennon had to write Spector and the record execs blaming Keith Moon and Harry Nilsson when it was learned that someone urinated on a rather expensive recording console.
In mid-1974, Lennon was helping produce Nilsson’s album Pussy Cats however the recording sessions were just another place to party for Nilsson and the Hollywood Vampires. On one of the first nights an impromptu jam session started in the early morning hours that featured Lennon, Nilsson, Stevie Wonder, Bobby Keys as well as Paul and Linda McCartney. The resulting bootleg would become Toot and a Snore. This would also be the first and last time since the breakup of the Beatles that Lennon and McCartney would record together. One problem though- just because someone turned on a mic with Paul and John in the room it didn’t mean magic happened. Actually, everyone was so lit that the session became a disjointed and erratic mess. It even prompted me to have this exchange with CU:
Eventually Lennon realized he was getting nowhere fast and very little music was getting made. He loved Nilsson and the good times that came with him and the Vampires but all good things must end. Lennon and Pang moved back to New York with Lennon ultimately getting back together with Yoko Ono and effectively ending his “Lost Weekend.”
Now, some of you guys out there in a relationship might read this and think, “Holy crap, that’s what I need- a Lost Weekend of my own to save my relationship!” Well I’m here to tell you don’t bother. In the long run, Yoko Ono and John Lennon’s marriage did not work out as planned. On Dec 8, 1980 the pair broke up when John decided he had had enough and ended the marriage very publicly outside their NYC apartment by getting shot four times in the back.
What, too soon?
This has been Rock ‘N’ Roll Storytime. – JH
Playlists and extras: You gotta hit up the custom Spotify playlist for this episode and if you happen to be looking for an excellent documentary on Netflix, then make sure to add Who is Harry Nilsson? to your queue. Now. Do it now. You’ll thank me.