What if John Lennon’s infamous “lost weekend” really wasn’t?
Pang, 72, reclaims the narrative in the new documentary “The Lost Weekend: A Love Story” (available Friday for home viewing on demand and Blu-ray). The film depicts a productive period when the former Beatle enthusiastically collaborated with Elton John and David Bowie and happily patched up his relationship with Paul McCartney and son Julian Lennon. It’s a provocative retelling of the year and a half when Lennon regularly made tabloid headlines for his rowdy nights out, culminating in an incident when he was ejected from The Troubadour for heckling The Smothers Brothers.
Her relationship with Lennon − who would have turned 83 today − began inexplicably, even by ‘70s standards. Pang, then 22 and working as Lennon and Ono’s personal assistant, says Yoko walked into her office in 1973 and told her: “John and I are not getting along, and I know he’s going to start seeing other people. And I want you to go out with him.”
“John Lennon charmed the pants off me,” says Pang, now divorced with two grown children, in the documentary.
Calling from St. Louis, where she was battling a cold as she was promoting her new photography exhibit, Pang spoke at length with USA TODAY about her relationship with Lennon and bearing witness to rock ‘n’ roll history. (Edited and condensed for clarity.)
Question: Yoko comes to you with this surprising proposition. We see your reaction in this documentary: shock, protest, not knowing what to make of it. What was John’s reaction?
Answer: She goes in when he’s waking up, and she says, “I fixed it so you can go out with May.” And he’s like, “What are you doing? How do you even know I like her?” I didn’t want to come out of my office, he didn’t want to come out of his bedroom. It was like “Oh, no, no, no.” I’m thinking, “Please let this be the nightmare that just goes away.”
Why did you agree to this? What were your expectations when you went into this relationship?
He’s John Lennon − he doesn’t need me; he could go with anyone under the sun. I’m sure if he went out on the street and said, “Oh, I want to date that person,” they would say, “Yeah, let’s go.” But I was surprised that he decided he would pursue me. He said: “OK, she doesn’t care? I’m going for it.”
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I really felt for you as a young woman in an unusual situation when you said you cried after the first time the two of you had sex. Why was that such an emotional experience?
It was hard enough trying to get a date. I was still a minority in certain ways. Did he really like me? Where were we going, where does it lead to? It was just a whole lot of confusion. So, yeah, I cried. I said, “I don’t know where this is going.” And John goes, “And neither do I, but we’ll do it together.”
You must have been very angry, or at the very least confused, when he later referred to this as his “lost weekend.” Did you ever discuss that with him?
I knew what it was about. When he went back to the Dakota, it was … (Pang pauses) an easy way out, an easy way to say it.
He says, “I know it’ll probably hurt, because they’ll think it’s you, but it’s not about you.” He was trying to ease that, but that’s how it would look: “Oh, she was nothing.” He didn’t like that, but there was no way around it.
These were a pretty good 18 months for him, from all appearances, though there was obviously some substance abuse going on. Was it less than it has been portrayed?
It was much less than it was portrayed. There was only a couple of times when somebody would bring drugs in, and they’d say, “Do you want to share?” Drinking? You go out with Harry Nilsson (Lennon was producing Nilsson’s album at the time). Who makes for better copy? Is it Harry or is it going to be John Lennon? So guess who gets the worst of it?
You reference an incident where he pushed you against a wall when he was drunk and didn’t remember it the next day. As a young woman in a new relationship, that must have been surprising to you. How do you feel about it now?
He didn’t hurt me; it just sounds like more than it actually was. It was a hard push. When he realized it, he was so hurt by what he had done, he was actually in tears. He was working through his own demons, absolutely.
You were in the middle of so much rock ‘n’ roll history here, and you took the last known photo of John and Paul together. You learned afterward that part of the reason for Paul’s visit was to tell John, “Hey, if you want, you know, you can go home (to Yoko).” Did it change your perception of that reunion when you found out?
I saw what was happening. John had no idea; he thought Paul was saying it on his own, so he goes, “I told Paul I’ve moved on.” It wasn’t an honest thing: It wasn’t coming from Paul, it (was coming from Yoko). But it was fine, because he stayed.
You talk about The Beatles officially dissolving and John signing the legal papers when you’re at Disney World. And his mind goes to “Maybe I should start writing with Paul again.” Was that surprising to you?
The pressure was off. All of them were now free to do whatever they wanted to do. So in January 1975, Paul and Linda (McCartney) were saying, “We’re going to go down to New Orleans and do a new album (“Venus and Mars”).“ So John says, “Oh, great, New Orleans, always loved it.”
A couple of days later, he’s tinkling on the guitar, and he goes, “What do you think if I wrote with Paul again?” You talk about shock: The reference is like “The Exorcist,” the head flips back. And I said, “I think it would be great.”
Then he goes, “Maybe we should go down.” He really wanted to do that. I knew if I’d gotten him down to New Orleans, it would have happened.
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You spoke about being involved with John for years after he went back to the Dakota. Were you hoping for a reconciliation or looking for closure?
He said, “Yoko’s allowed me to come home.” So I said, “Where does that leave us?” And he said, “Yoko said we can still see each other.” I had to stop, because I knew where this was leading.
It was difficult, and I think she knew it was not as easy as “We’ll just cut this off.” It was almost weaning him away from me. The first couple of years was tough.
Were you in contact with Yoko after John died? (Lennon was assassinated in 1980.)
I tried to call. No. (She shakes her head.) There was nothing.
It sounds as if you remember this time in your life with great affection, despite how your relationship with John ultimately played out.
We were like kids on a first date. We wanted to go to Hawaii, we wanted to go to Paris. We would go down to Chinatown late at night to eat with friends.
(She tears up.) I had some good memories, I really did. And I’m sorry he’s not here. We had a great bond.