John Lennon can be a divisive character, to say the least. Far from being without his faults, the bespectacled Beatle’s indiscretions and moments of shame largely stem from two areas of the singer’s life. First of all, his known, feared and unstoppable temper, secondly his penchant for partying. When coupled together, it was always a recipe for disaster. One such night and one such cocktail saw John Lennon and Harry Nilsson thrown out of a well-respected Hollywood haunt, only to fight with the staff and be shamed like schoolchildren. Largely because of one drink.
Note to self: Brandy Alexander’s are a contentious cocktail and should be avoided at all costs. The brandy and milk mixture has caught many a drinker off guard, one more famous than most. Back in 1974, Lennon fell victim to the drink after being introduced to the cocktail by Nilsson, arguably the biggest drinker in the whole of rock ‘n’ roll. Such was the ferocity with which Lennon fell into a belligerent stupor that he and Nilsson on that night in ’74 were escorted from the iconic Troubadour nightclub after they spent much of their evening heckling comedy act the Smothers Brothers. It was a night that all in attendance wouldn’t forget.
The moment came during Lennon’s infamous ‘Lost Weekend’. It’s a period of time, around 18 months, in which Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono separated, and the former Beatle spent most of his time loaded with some narcotic or another. It’s some of the darkest moments in Lennon’s career and personal life which see him pursuing only the matters of debauchery and decadence, cut adrift from the artistic drive that had kept him on a comparatively straight and narrow path to glory.
During this time, he spent a lot of his time with rebels such as The Who drummer Keith Moon and the aforementioned Harry Nilsson. The latter had become a growing bad influence on Lennon throughout this period. “John loved Harry,” May Pang, Lennon and Ono’s assistant with whom John was having an authorised affair, confessed in Lennon Revealed.
“He loved his energy; he loved his writing. What he loved in Harry was the beauty of his friendship and relaxed personality. That’s what he saw. Harry drank, a lot. But Harry was the type of guy that if you go out drinking with him, he’d be sure at the end of the night that there would be a big brawl and that you are the one who’s in trouble, even though he started it. Harry would keep feeding John drinks until it was too late.”
That’s exactly what happened when the duo visited the Troubadour on that fateful night in 1974. Filled to the eyeballs with Brandy Alexanders, ready and raring to go, things got ugly really quickly and soon saw the two men red-faced. After some serious heckling and a bit of back and forth with the Smothers Brothers, the pair were soon asked to leave the show as they were disrupting the good time the audience were having. When they refused to leave the premise, things turned a little violent.
Security arrived and became physical with the singers, unwilling to bow to their fame. Lennon was becoming more and more surly as the drinks began to set in, and soon enough, a full-blown scuffle ensued, with Lennon losing his trademark specs in the furore. “My wife ended up with Lennon’s glasses because of the punches that were thrown,” Smothers later said.
Famed actress Pam Grier also somehow ended up in the kerfuffle and was ejected alongside the troublesome twosome. During the scrap, one waitress alleged Lennon had assaulted her, while a valet attendant suggested the same thing, but both cases were quickly dismissed and swept away under the carpet.
The Smothers Brothers were quick to leap to Lennon’s defence, who suffered heavily in the media for his role in the fracas. “It was a big Hollywood opening. During our first set, I heard someone yelling about pigs…it was fairly disgusting. I couldn’t figure out who it was. But I knew Harry and John were there. The heckling got so bad that our show was going downhill rapidly,” Smothers added. “No one cared because it was just a happening anyway, but there was a scuffle going on, and we stopped the show. Flowers came the next day apologising.”
Late on the Old Grey Whistle Test in 1975 Lennon said, “I got drunk and shouted…it was my first night on Brandy Alexanders, that’s brandy and milk, folks. I was with Harry Nilsson, who didn’t get as much coverage as me…the bum. He encouraged me. I usually have someone there who says ‘okay Lennon, shut up.’
“There was some girl who claimed that I hit her, but I didn’t hit her at all, you know. She just wanted some money and I had to pay her off, because I thought it would harm my immigration,” claimed the former Beatle.
Eventually, Lennon, exasperated by his own fame, said, “So I was drunk…when it’s Errol Flynn, the showbiz writers say ‘those were the days, when men were men.’ When I do it, I’m a bum. So it was a mistake, but hell, I’m human. I was drunk in Liverpool and I smashed up phone boxes, but it didn’t get into the papers then.”
While the contradiction of fame continues to plague the musicians and rock stars of today, Lennon can be glad of one thing; that iPhones didn’t exist in 1974 as we think he may have found himself in hot water more often than not. It’s not the best side of Lennon, but it’s one we must all accept along with the good sides too.