Leading the Brit-pack, if inadvertently so, was John Lennon, who headed west from his New York home in late 1973 after hooking up romantically with his and his wife Yoko’s assistant May Pang. An intended short holiday fling turned into eight months in which all the frustrations of being an ex-Beatle under Yoko’s rigid protection were released in one seemingly endless and infamous ‘lost weekend’.75
The pace for Lennon’s stay, and an indication of the madness that seethed beneath the city’s external image of laid-back tranquility, was set when he tried recording some of the rock’n’roll classics of his youth with Phil Spector as producer, only for the sessions to degenerate into drunken parties littered with famous hangers-on and interrupted by an emotionally unstable Spector firing his loaded gun into the studio ceiling.
Abandoning the project (which eventually formed part of the 1975 album Rock’n’Roll), Lennon offered his own production services to Harry Nilsson. One of the most gifted songwriters of his generation, Nilsson’s delighted response was to record an album of his rock’n’roll favourites.76 Ringo Starr, who had himself been recording in Los Angeles and had just handed his Beverly Wilshire hotel suite over to Lennon upon his departure, flew straight back to LA when he heard about the sessions. They sounded too much fun to miss.
Keith Moon felt the same way. He and Dougal flew into Los Angeles in the second half of March and also moved into the Beverly Wilshire, just days after Nilsson had led John Lennon sufficiently astray as to have them both thrown out of the Troubador nightclub during a Smothers Brothers performance – an exit caught on camera and plastered over the next day’s tabloid front pages. The shame of it provoked the conclusion of the ‘lost’ part of Lennon’s ‘lost weekend’; the next night he showed, sober, at an Awards Dinner with May Pang on his arm – confirming the rumours that he had split with Yoko – and though he continued to go out and have fun, he was never caught in public so glassy-eyed again.
This left Keith, Ringo and Harry to form a troublesome trio, frequently augmented by Dougal and any number of potential party animals, like guitarist Jesse Ed Davis, that thought they might be able to last the course. Even at the best of times, these were men who got wildly drunk and willingly made public fools of themselves. And in many ways, these were the best of times: Starr had just had two number one American singles from his chart-topping album Ringo, Keith Moon’s membership of one of rock’s very biggest groups ensured he was similarly fawned over (if occasionally feared) everywhere he went, and Nilsson’s reputation as one of America’s premier singer-songwriters had already been sealed.
Keith, of course, teased that lifestyle too. When he found out Mick Jagger was also at the Wilshire, for example, he decided to pay his old friend a nocturnal visit. Rather than using the lift and front door, Keith negotiated his way round the outside balconies – putting his life in danger, as usual without thinking of it – and entered Jagger’s room through the window. Hearing a disturbance, the Rolling Stone picked up the bedside light in preparation to attack the intruder. But it was only Moon, thrilled at his endeavour – and especially delighted to see Mick’s wife Bianca in bed. He reportedly invited her to come out dancing with him.
Afternoons would be spent sipping cocktails round the pool, with recording sessions at the Record Plant beginning in the early evening. A fleet of cars was on permanent call there, and by midnight, Keith, Ringo and Harry would be using them to hit the town. “You’d see those limos pulling out of those driveways and people would just scatter,” recalls Howard Kaylan. “It was like the Dirty Dozen, or the Four Horsemen. ‘Where are they going tonight? Let’s not be there.’ It was a travelling road show thing they had going, and wherever they went they caused havoc.”
After a night of heavy drink and drugs, the limos would drop the trio home, although they would rarely be unaccompanied. With Pamela Miller now engaged, Keith was free to pull a different girl almost every night. Naturally, there were some heavy comedowns. “We’re sitting at the breakfast table one day,” recalls May Pang, “and Keith comes down with one of the girls he was hanging with that week, and he’s holding this glass to his mouth and his whole body was shaking. I looked over at John and he looked back at me, and we didn’t know what to do. And then I looked at this girl and anyone who hung out with Keith was also on drugs … It was the morning-after shakes, I found out later, but when he told me how many quaaludes he had taken, anyone else would have been dead. I was so worried for him, and this girl finally woke up to the point that she said, ‘I’ll take him back to bed.’ He could hardly stand, his legs were rubber. John said, ‘Ah, he’ll be okay,’ I was like ‘I’m not sure.’ Maybe it was because I was known as Miss Goody Two Shoes, because I didn’t take drugs. But if I wanted a reason, there it was!”