The “classic rock” period was characterised by the constant shoulder-rubbing of stars of the time. There exist numerous vignettes and anecdotes that display our favourite musicians, such as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones et al. all hanging out, getting up to no end of hijinx and crazy capers.
Whether that be the infamous ‘Golden God’ party with Led Zeppelin and George Harrison, Jimi Hendrix and The Rolling Stones hanging out backstage in New York, or the Beatles getting high for the first time with Bob Dylan, the classic rock era is brimming with delicious tales that boast a cast of the era’s premier musicians.
One of the most notorious chapters from the era is undoubtedly ex-Beatles frontman John Lennon’s ‘Lost Weekend’ period. Beginning in the summer of 1973 and lasting all the way through to early 1975, this wasn’t any ordinary weekend. It was 18 months.
During this notorious chapter of his life, Lennon had split from Yoko Ono and eloped with her friend and ex-assistant May Pang. Engulfed by raging alcohol and drug addictions and hanging out with music’s two other kings of excess, Harry Nilsson and The Who drummer Keith Moon, this period would become a point of shame for Lennon. Afterwards, of course, he would not look back on it with great fondness.
In a 1980 interview with Playboy, one of the last Lennon would give before he was assassinated by the crazed Mark David Chapman in December that year, he talked of how the unholy triumvirate of himself, Nilsson and Moon, were heading down a slippery slope.
He told the interviewer why he became just so lost over those 18 months: “I was just trying to hide what I felt in the bottle. I was just insane. It was the lost weekend that lasted 18 months. I’ve never drunk so much in my life. I tried to drown myself in the bottle and I was with the heaviest drinkers in the business.”
He explained that the group had totally lost their way: “Harry Nilsson, Bobby Keyes, Keith Moon. We couldn’t pull ourselves out. We were trying to kill ourselves.”
Speaking of both Nilsson and Moon, Lennon said: “I think Harry might still be trying, poor bugger… God bless you, Harry, wherever you are… but, Jesus, you know, I had to get away from that, because somebody was going to die. Well, Keith did. It was like, who’s going to die first? Unfortunately, Keith was the one.”
Lennon’s words were extremely pertinent as only two years prior, in 1978, Moon had passed away. His tragic death occurred at an apartment he rented from none other than Harry Nilsson, the same one where Cass Elliott of the Mamas and the Papas had died in her sleep four years earlier.
In a tale that takes a morbid turn, with a wickedly ironic tinge, in the first place, Nilsson was concerned about letting the flat to Moon, owing to his increasingly erratic behaviour and, due to Elliott’s death, he thought the place was cursed. Always the optimist, Moon disagreed, and The Who’s guitarist, Pete Townshend, also told him that surely “lightning wouldn’t strike the same place twice”.
How wrong he was. During this period, Moon had been prescribed a course of clomethiazole, a sedative to help alleviate his severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Seemingly wanting to move away from the excess like Lennon, Moon wanted to go sober once and for all. However, due to his fear of psychiatric hospitals, he wanted to beat the disease at home and this was to be the crux. One night after visiting the cinema with Paul and Linda McCartney, Moon had an argument with his then-girlfriend, Annette Walter-Lax, and ended up going to bed in a huff and ingesting 32 of the tablets in one go.
The death of Keith Moon was taken as just another sign of the futility of rock ‘n’ roll excess. In addition to the deaths of Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix and others, it showed to younger audiences that the excessive lifestyles of the rock “gods” were nothing to aspire to, as they only ended one way.
Furthermore, it showed to the one’s who had survived the 1960s and ’70s that now was the time to clean up for good, or they would also suffer the same consequences as Moon et al. They were not young kids anymore, and their music had fallen from grace in the collective consciousness. There was no need for their continued excess as no one was watching.
This late ’70s period, in tandem with the death of John Lennon in 1980, really marked the end of the “classic rock” era. Punk has arisen, and the new-wave was in vogue. The modern era had arrived.
Listen to John Lennon’s final interview below.