The furious letter John Lennon wrote about Keith Moon and Harry Nilsson’s wild antics
The Beatles’ own John Lennon wasn’t exactly a humble church mouse during his hedonistic rock star days, especially during ‘The Lost Weekend’. Yet even he couldn’t put up with the wilder than wild antics of singer Harry Nilsson and The Who’s notorious drummer and resident lunatic, Keith Moon.
Nicknamed Moon the Loon by his contemporaries, if The Who’s drummer wasn’t blowing up drums or toilets with cherry bombs, then he was driving cars into swimming pools. It made for a tabloid newspaper’s dream and meant the burnt a lot of bridges along the way. The offending moment regarding John Lennon came in 1973 and was of a particularly golden shade, leaving a stain and a stench that Lennon would never be able to shake.
The former Beatle, three years out of the band and in the throes of his solo stardom and personal tough circumstances, was in a state of flux in his career and his personal life. It was a period of time he later titled ‘The Lost Weekend’—an 18 month period in which he and Yoko Ono separated and, under direction from his wife, began having an affair with their assistant, May Pang.
Lennon did as he was told and begun to see May Pang more regularly but soon fell into some bad habits as he began heavily drinking and using heavy drugs once again. The months that the singer lost to pursue partying and drinking on an unprecedented level were some of his most frustrated as an artist. Holed up between Pang’s New York apartment and the L.A. studios, desperately trying to work through his recording contract so he could be free. Lennon was also falling in with a notoriously raucous crowd, as Keith Moon and Harry Nilsson became regular drinking buddies. Lennon lived and worked with the pair of party-lovers to make matters worse.
“John loved Harry,” Pang 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.” Lennon was swept up with Nilsson and didn’t see how destructive the singer’s life was beginning to turn into or how detrimental it was to his own career. “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.”
While the stories Nilsson shared with Lennon have become the stuff of legend, Lennon was less enthused about the party boy shenanigans of Keith Moon, who may have seemed like a young upstart to the established rockers, even though he’d been in the game for nearly as long. The drummer who, in fact, once asked to audition for The Beatles, was a source of constant disruption in the recording studio. It was a situation which would come to a head while Lennon recorded songs for his infamous LP Rock ‘n’ Roll with the equally infamous producer Phil Spector.
The heavy drinking and drug use around the ever-erratic and increasingly introspective Spector was beginning to wear on everybody involved, “John was exercising all his bad habits, as were we all, including Phil,” remembered drummer Jim Keltner. “The only problem with that was that Phil was the producer, and somebody had to be, you know, sane.”
“The guys were all drinking—and John was being one of the guys,” said Pang. “Everyone was as blitzed as he. One of the bass players got into a car wreck. We got kicked out of A&M [studios] when someone threw a bottle of liquor down the console.” But, it wasn’t liquor, though it may have been at one point during the day. No, the mystery liquid was actually Moon’s urine.
Lennon, sober at this time and infuriated by the constant hindrance he faced in the studios, decided enough was enough and wrote a scathing letter to Spector addressing the continuous mishaps that were befouling his work. Any Lennon fan will tell you, a letter from Lennon is often a piercing one. He wrote: “Phil – Should you not yet know it was Harry and Keith who pissed on the console. Jerry now wants to evict us, or that’s what Capitol tells us. Anyway, tell him to bill Capitol for the damage if any.”
The ‘Imagine’ singer continued, “I can’t be expected to mind adult rock stars nor can May [Pang, Lennon’s personal assistant] besides she works for me not A+M. I’m about to piss off to Record Plant [another recording facility] because of this crap.” It wouldn’t be the final time that Moon was in the same studio as Lennon as the Who drummer was also in attendance at the final recording session Lennon ever shared with fellow Beatle, Paul McCartney.
Both Lennon and Moon lived lavish but all too short lives, both dying before their time. But as with any friendship or working relationship when it’s a matter of pee, sometimes enough is enough. Seemingly, for John Lennon, the last straw was the dropping of Moon’s trousers—it’s good to have boundaries.
Take a look at the letter below, written in red felt pen, and imagine the ludicrous image that spawned it. It recently sold at auction for £53,000 a huge jump on it’s £6000 estimate.