Thursday 6 April 2023


Smack in the middle of the 1970s, John Lennon experienced what he famously called a “lost weekend”, which actually lasted 18 months and which coincided with John´s separation from Yoko Ono – as a period of great excess and deep regret. Yet, according to May Pang, who was Lennon’s 22-year-old live-in lover during that time, that was anything but the case. “He was getting to hang out with his friends and have a lot of fun,” she said. “And, because I was 10 years younger, we were getting to do all the things young couples do.”

Pang insists that the ex-Beatle only used the term “lost weekend” to refer to that time because he was tired of the press constantly asking him about two high-profile incidents in 1974 in which he was tossed from an Los Angeles club for being inebriated and verbally abusive. “He would sarcastically say to them: ‘Hey it was a drunken weekend, OK?’” Pang said. “People don’t understand that the phrase wasn’t about our relationship.”

Regardless, the term became so resonant that a new documentary centered on that period – The Lost Weekend: A Love Story – devotes half its title to it. The multiple meanings in the title mirror the sparring narratives that have long clouded this era in the ex-Beatle’s life. At various times, Lennon, Ono and Pang have given their versions of the story to the press. Thirty years ago, Pang wrote a book, Loving John, that detailed hers, asserting her relationship with Lennon wasn’t just a passing fling or fluke, as characterized by some, but a deep and abiding love. Even so, she believes that many people remain unaware of the extent of her involvement. “Whenever I would tell people about it, they would say: ‘You should write a book,” Pang said. “I told them: ‘I did!!’”

Another factor that made her sanction the new documentary is the cultural moment we’re in right now. Parts of Pang’s story dovetail perfectly with today’s sensitivity to the consequences of workplace sexual harassment. Her particular experience with it could be seen as an HR department’s worst nightmare. The Guardian reached out to Ono’s representative for her reaction to Pang’s version of events. Through him, she declined to comment.

Most dedicated music fans have long known this version of the story: back in the early 70s, when Pang worked as the assistant to the iconic rock couple, Ono made it clear that she not only wanted her underling to do her job but to also become Lennon’s lover. “She was asking me that but, at the same time, she said: ‘You will!’” Pang said.

Because of her youth and position, many saw Pang as a particularly weak target for Ono’s agenda. But talking to her by Zoom from her home in Queens and understanding her background complicates that view. Born and raised in Spanish Harlem, Pang has the accent, wit and confidence of a classic New Yorker. “I’ve been told by men that I’ve gone out with that I’m stronger than most women,” she said with a laugh. “I had my own mindset.”
That was clear right from her childhood. Pang’s parents, who had an arranged and unhappy marriage, were Chinese immigrants who, before coming to America, endured the Japanese invasion of their country that killed millions. Her father, a traditional Chinese man of that era, had no interest in a daughter but her mother provided an assertive role model. “She was a real warrior,” Pang said. “My father was more afraid of her than the other way around. I aligned myself with her.”

Pang’s defiant character made her a natural fan of rock’n’roll. “Music was my savior,” she said.

In 1970, she used her chutzpah to bluff her way into a job at the office of Allen Klein, whose management office represented Apple Records and all the Beatles but Paul. The first time she saw Lennon and Ono at the office, she was a bit taken aback. “They looked like they hadn’t taken a bath in months,” she said.

Pang believes Ono chose her to be the couple’s personal assistant because she was efficient. “I was able to do whatever they asked me to do,” she said.

Mainly, Pang said, it was Ono who gave the orders and there were a lot of them. When Ono was creating her avant-garde film Fly – which consists entirely of the title insect crawling over the body of a naked woman – it fell to Pang to find and catch the buzzing creatures in the depths of a freezing New York winter. For another Ono film, Pang had to ask both everyday people and celebrities to show their legs for the camera for peace. Despite her love of the Beatles’ music, Pang says she had no fantasies about Lennon at that time. For the record, she said, her favorite Beatle was Ringo. Initially, that was a plus for Ono. “Anyone who she sensed was making a play for John, they were gone,” she said.

While working at their home office at the Dakota building, however, Pang immediately sensed a chill between her bosses. “They were like two magnets that were repelling against each other,” she said. “You just don’t want to get in the middle of that.”

That became impossible starting one day in 1973 when Ono came to Pang and told her she and Lennon weren’t getting along and that she believed he was going to start seeing other women. “I thought: ‘Oh God, there’s going to be more people involved now?’” Pang recalled.

She never imagined that she would be the other person until, she says, Ono asked her: “‘You don’t have a boyfriend, right?’ I said: ‘Yes, but please go to someone else with this.’ Then she said: ‘You’re nice and you don’t want him to go out with somebody that’s not going to be nice to him, right?’ I said: ‘Of course not.’ So, she said: ‘You’re perfect.’ I said ‘no’ and she kept saying ‘yes’. Then she walked out the door. Later, John told me that she went to him after and said: ‘I fixed it for you.’”

Pang asserts that Lennon wasn’t initially on board. “He wasn’t jumping for joy,” she said. “He didn’t want to, and I didn’t.”

After a bit of time, however, she said Lennon warmed to her and made a pass. “If he didn’t, I wouldn’t have gone out with him,” Pang said.
Soon after, things heated to the point where, when Lennon relocated to LA for an extended period, Pang became his full-time lover. Ono approved the move, Pang alleges, because she wanted to have an affair of her own with another musician. “We didn’t know that at the time,” Pang said. “But the only way for that to happen was John not being there.”

The new couple’s time in LA resurrected Lennon’s lighter side, she said, both personally and creatively. He cut the Rock’n’Roll album, which featured cover versions of rock songs that had influenced him, in the process bringing him a nostalgic joy and relieving the pressure of having to write new material. Free from both the demands of Beatlemania and his tensions with Ono, Pang said that Lennon “got to do normal things. I took him on bus rides. I took him to parks.”

She also helped him re-connect to his life before Ono entered the picture. According to Pang, every time a call would come to the Dakota from Lennon’s young son Julian, from whom he had become estranged, Ono would instruct her to tell him his father wasn’t available. She also told her not to tell Lennon about the calls. Now that Lennon was on his own with her in LA, Pang encouraged the ex-Beatle to reconnect to his son. “He hadn’t seen his father in such a long time,” she said. “There was so much he was missing.”

She believes that Lennon’s guilt over the estrangement made him awkward with Julian at first. “I would have to coax him through it,” Pang said. “And it worked. He really enjoyed Julian’s company.”


Pang said she also helped reconnect Lennon with Julian’s mother, his first wife, Cynthia. In the documentary, Julian arises as Pang’s greatest ally and witness. Not that everything was bliss in this stretch of time. Lennon drank to excess, though Pang said, he didn’t do heavy drugs, as has often been reported. Also, she said Ono grew jealous as time went on and began to “call a million times a day”, Pang said. “It was over nothing. She would say: ‘I just wanted you to know that I took a walk around the block.’”

Moreover, she said Lennon would side with Pang in defiance of Ono. “She wasn’t used to that,” she said.
Eventually, Lennon found out about Ono’s alleged affair and, Pang said, instead of being jealous, he said: “Oh, good!”

In 1975, Lennon and Pang moved back to New York but lived in their own apartment away from the Dakota. Though the ex-Beatle eventually returned to his life with Ono, for complex reasons described in the documentary, Pang contends that it was a total surprise to her. “We were going to buy a house!” she said. She also said that she continued to see him, and be intimate with him, until his death. “For a person who is not supposed to be in his life, I was in his life,” she said.

In that regard, Pang believes that Lennon’s characterization of his last few years with Ono as a time of domestic bliss was a fabrication he used to promote his reunion album with her, Double Fantasy. “He understood what to do to make it work in the media,” she said.

Pang said that the last time she spoke with Ono was a call she made to her after Lennon had returned to her. “I said: ‘Congratulations. You got John back. You should be very happy now.’ Her response was very interesting to me. She said: “Happy? I don’t know if I’ll ever be happy.’ To me, that didn’t sound like somebody warmly inviting that person back into their life.”

When Pang talks about Ono, either in our interview or in the documentary, she paints a consistent picture of her as manipulative and controlling, yet she’s careful never to directly describe her that way. “I don’t see a reason to,” she said. “She does pretty well with that on the merits of how she presents herself.”

Still, the image she suggests of Ono dovetails with the character many Beatle fans believed decades ago.

 Pang readily admits that, in that era and afterwards, Ono endured a great degree of sexism and racism from the public, which fueled that cruel view of her. In the years since, however, Ono’s image has greatly improved, an evolution that could actually wind up making some people less, rather than more, sympathetic to Pang’s story today. Even so, Pang seems eager to give her account at this time in her life, as the proud, 72-year-old mother of two grown children by her ex-husband, the producer Tony Visconti. “People will find out the missing piece of the story,” she said. 

“They’ve read about it by other people. Now they’ll see it as it was.”
The Lost Weekend: A Love Story is out in US cinemas on 13 April with a UK date to be announced.




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