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John Lennon's 'Lost Weekend' That Lasted 18 Months


John Lennon, Pamela Des Barres, Harry Nilsson, Alice Cooper and Mickey Dolenz drinking at The Troubadour Club on November 21st 1973.

In the summer of 1973, John Lennon and Yoko Ono's marriage faced turmoil. Ono proposed an unconventional solution: Lennon should engage in an affair with their assistant, May Pang. This decision led to Lennon's "Lost Weekend," an 18-month period during which the ex-Beatle lived with Pang in New York and Los Angeles.


Despite personal upheaval, Lennon's creative output thrived. He completed three albums – 'Mind Games,' 'Walls and Bridges,' and 'Rock 'n' Roll' – and produced records for Ringo Starr and Harry Nilsson. Additionally, he participated in a spontaneous jam session, marking his final recording with Paul McCartney. However, Lennon's behavior was often erratic due to alcohol and drug use. Two weeks before the historic jam session, a drunken Lennon was ejected from the Troubadour nightclub.


Starting in the summer of 1973, I've attempted to add some sort of chronological order to the events in Lennon's life between 1973 and 1975.


Summer 1973: A Change Of Living Arrangements

Lennon's 1972 album, 'Some Time in New York City,' produced with Ono, failed to meet expectations after the success of 'Imagine' in 1971.

Acknowledging the strain on their careers, Ono sought a solution. Feeling the weight of public scrutiny and hate, she suggested Lennon explore a relationship with their assistant, May Pang. Ono believed Pang could provide the care and support Lennon needed.

“I was very aware that we were ruining each other's careers and I was hated and John was hated because of me,” - Yoko Ono

Ono told the Telegraph. “I needed a rest. I needed space. Can you imagine every day of getting this vibration from people of hate? You want to get out of that.”


Pang, having worked with Lennon since 1970, shared insights into their relationship. She emphasized that Ono had given her permission, recognizing the need for Lennon to find solace outside their troubled marriage.

“It was with her permission,” Pang told About.com.

“She wanted him to go out. They were having problems. He was ready to go out with somebody whether it was me or anybody else.” - May Pang

In October, Lennon and Pang travelled to Los Angeles to promote 'Mind Games' but opted to extend their stay. With Ono absent, Lennon's behaviour spiralled as he turned to heavy drinking.



December 1973: Phil Spector Is Let Loose

In Los Angeles, Lennon aspired to record an album featuring the rock classics that influenced him deeply. Wanting to focus solely on his vocals, Lennon entrusted full production control to Phil Spector. However, according to accounts from Pang and drummer Jim Keltner, Lennon's heavy drinking combined with Spector's unpredictable behaviour created a tumultuous atmosphere at A&M Studios.

“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 when someone threw a bottle of liquor down the console.”


"John was exercising all his bad habits, as were we all, including Phil,” remembered Keltner. “The only problem with that was that Phil was the producer, and somebody had to be, you know, sane.”

Spector enjoyed playing 'dress-up' he had costumes including a surgeon, a karate instructor and a cowboy, armed with a loaded revolver. One day Spector fired the gun into the studio's ceiling.


“Nothing was getting done,” said Pang. “Then Phil’s gun went off.”

Following the recording sessions, Spector vanished with the tapes for several months. Upon their recovery, Lennon merged these recordings with new tracks laid down in New York. The culmination of this effort resulted in the release of 'Rock 'n' Roll' in February 1975.


March 13, 1974: Trouble at the Troubadour

All the Beatles were great fans and friends of singer-songwriter Harry Nilsson. They’d collaborated on songs and films since 1968. When Lennon arrived in LA in 1973, he looked up Nilsson, a prodigious drinker who also did cocaine.


“John loved Harry,” Pang related 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 what happened on March 13 at the Troubadour during a show by the Smothers Brothers. Lennon, drunk on Brandy Alexanders, disrupted the comedians’ act with relentless heckling. In the biography ‘Nilsson’ the Smothers’ manager Ken Fritz said, “I went over and asked Harry to try to shut up Lennon. Harry said, ‘I’m trying – don’t blame me!’ When Lennon continued, I told him to keep quiet. He swung and hit me in the jaw.”


Lennon and Nilsson were hustled out of the Troubador, knocking over a few tables in the process. “It was horrendous,” Tom Smothers recalled in ‘Dangerously Funny.’ “They came in pretty ripped to see our show, and, as Harry later explained to me, he told John, ‘He needs some heckling to make this thing work.’ He didn't think I had an act. Well, they start heckling, and it was some of the worst language I've ever heard – and they had a real buzz on. Cognac and toot, I guess. And it was a mess.”


March 28, 1974: Lennon's Last Jam Session With Paul McCartney

The trouble caused in The Troubadour served as a wake-up call for Lennon and Nilsson. Shortly afterward, Lennon made the decision to produce Nilsson's upcoming album, 'Pussy Cats.' They opted for an unconventional approach, arranging for the album's musicians to reside together during the recording sessions. Lennon, Nilsson, along with Starr and Keith Moon, relocated to a beach house in Santa Monica for this purpose.

John and Paul in LA

However, sobriety remained elusive. Following the conclusion of the initial session at the Record Plant on March 28, an impromptu midnight jam ensued with unexpected guests Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney joining Lennon, Nilsson, and others. This spontaneous gathering resulted in the bootleg album 'A Toot and a Snore,' capturing Lennon's invitation to Wonder for a "toot" of cocaine.


With Starr's departure, McCartney assumed the drumming duties while harmonising with Lennon's vocals. Lennon also accompanied Wonder on guitar as he played the electric piano. Despite the illustrious lineup, renditions of classics like 'Lucille' and 'Stand By Me' were marred by technical glitches, leading to a disappointing outcome.

As the evening drew to a close, Lennon and McCartney agreed to meet again, unaware that this would mark their final studio collaboration as ex-Beatles.



Early 1975: Reconciliation

In a 1980 interview with Playboy, Lennon and Ono revealed how the "Lost Weekend" came to an end.

“It slowly started to dawn on me that John was not the trouble at all,” said Ono. “John was a fine person. It was society that had become too much. We laugh about it now, but we started dating again. I wanted to be sure. I'm thankful to John's intelligence, that he was intelligent enough to know this was the only way that we could save our marriage, not because we didn't love each other but because it was getting too much for me."


“And we learned that it's better for the family if we are both working for the family, she doing the business and me playing mother and wife,” added Lennon. “We reordered our priorities. The number one priority is her and the family. Everything else revolves around that.”


In the same interview he described his lost weekend as follows;

“It was god-awful, I drank too much. … I was out of control, and nobody was looking after me and I needed somebody to love me and there was nobody there to support me, and I just fell apart.”

There are also positives from that period; Pang facilitated a reunion between Julian Lennon and his father, marking their first meeting in nearly four years.

Following this, Julian began to spend more time with his father. Lennon gifted Julian a Gibson Les Paul copy guitar and a drum machine for Christmas in 1973, nurturing Julian's musical aspirations by teaching him chords and encouraging his interest in music.

"Dad and I got on a great deal better then, we had a lot of fun, laughed a lot and had a great time in general when he was with May Pang. My memories of that time with Dad and May are very clear—they were the happiest time I can remember with them." - Julian Lennon

John Lennon's 'Lost Weekend' remains a fascinating chapter in the life of the legendary musician. Marked by scandals, controversies, and a colourful cast of characters, this period of upheaval ultimately shaped Lennon's personal and artistic evolution. While fraught with challenges, the 'Lost Weekend' also underscored Lennon's resilience and creativity in the face of adversity, leaving an indelible mark on his legacy as a cultural icon.


Lennon lamented this period publicly but not in private. Journalist Larry Kane, who befriended Lennon in 1964, wrote a comprehensive biography of Lennon which detailed the "Lost Weekend" period. In the interview with Kane, Lennon explained his feelings about his time with Pang;

"You know Larry, I may have been the happiest I've ever been... I loved this woman, I made some beautiful music and I got so fucked up with booze and shit and whatever."
 




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