A Fond Look at Lennon’s ‘Lost Weekend’
If there’s one thing that May Pang has been fighting for the last 28 years, it’s the idea that John Lennon was depressed, isolated and out of control during the 18 months she lived with him, from the summer of 1973 to early 1975, when he reconciled with his second wife, Yoko Ono.
Lennon himself fostered that notion by referring to the time as his “Lost Weekend” in interviews he gave in 1980, when he released “Double Fantasy,” a joint album with Ms. Ono that was his return to music-making after five years’ silence. And lurid, oft-repeated tales of a drunken Lennon’s being evicted from the Troubadour, a nightclub in Los Angeles, seemed to support that image.
But to Ms. Pang, now 57, the “Lost Weekend” was a remarkably productive time,
Her new book, “Instamatic Karma” (St. Martin’s Press), is a 140-page collection of casual photos that Ms. Pang took during her time with Lennon. Apart from a handful included in “Loving John” — cropped and in black and white, but mostly printed in full and rich color here — she has kept them in a shoe box in her closet, occasionally pulling them out to show friends.
“I began to think about publishing them just in the last couple of years,” Ms. Pang said on Monday at her publisher’s office in the Flatiron Building. “A friend of mine kept saying, ‘You tell all these stories about John, and when you do, you say, “Wait a minute, I have a photo to go along with that!” How come we never see these photos in a book?’ So, I thought maybe it’s time to put them out. It would let people see John in that world, through my eyes. And it would get rid of that whole ‘Lost Weekend’ thing, where everyone says he was always down and looked terrible. I don’t think these photos appear that way.”
They don’t: in the pages of “Instamatic Karma” — the title is a play on Lennon’s song “Instant Karma” — Lennon looks relaxed and happy, and is seen spending time with his first son, Julian, as well as with some famous friends, among them Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Nilsson and Keith Moon. He is shown working in the recording studio, swimming in Long Island Sound, clowning around in Central Park and visiting Disney World.
“They are personal and unique and very touching,” said Cynthia Lennon, Lennon’s first wife, who flew to New York from her home in Mallorca, Spain, to be the host of Ms. Pang’s publication party at the Cutting Room on Tuesday. Ms. Lennon got to know Ms. Pang when she escorted her son, Julian, on two of his four trips to visit his father while he was living with Ms. Pang.
“It’s lovely for me to look back, especially with Julian in these photographs,” she said. “But I’m here just because May is a good friend of mine and has been since we met.”
Ms. Pang arranged her book by subject instead of chronologically, with four chapters labeled “At Home,” “At Play,” “At Work” and “Away.” To her regret, she did miss a few famous moments. The March 28, 1974, Los Angeles jam session that included Lennon, Nilsson, Mr. McCartney and Stevie Wonder, for example, was not documented.
But Ms. Pang did capture one momentous event: Lennon’s signing the agreement that dissolved the Beatles’ partnership on Dec. 29, 1974.
After four years’ negotiation, the Beatles had agreed — or appeared to have — on the terms governing their formal split, and a meeting had been arranged at the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan on Dec. 19. George Harrison was performing at Madison Square Garden that night; Mr. McCartney had flown in from London; and Mr. Starr, having signed the document earlier, was on the telephone.
At the last minute, Lennon objected to a clause that he felt would create tax problems for him (as the only Beatle living in the United States), and decided not to attend. Harrison, furious, canceled plans for Lennon to join him onstage at Madison Square Garden, but Mr. McCartney turned up at the East 52nd Street apartment that Lennon and Ms. Pang shared to discuss the sticking point.
Ten days later, when Lennon, Julian and Ms. Pang were at Disney World, a lawyer bearing the revised contract turned up, and Lennon asked Ms. Pang to take out her camera. As Ms. Pang describes the scene in “Instamatic Karma,” Lennon had a last-minute telephone conference with his own lawyer
“When John hung up the phone,” she writes, “he looked wistfully out the window. I could almost see him replaying the entire Beatles experience.” Ms. Pang then photographed him signing just beneath the clearly legible signatures of Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Richard Starkey (Mr. Starr’s real name), the shutter clicking between the “h” and “n” of his first name.
Given that Lennon had been particularly militant about leaving the Beatles in 1969, it might seem odd to learn that he did so wistfully. Not to Ms. Pang.
“Everybody changes,” she said. “With John things changed on a daily basis. It’s a question of time. Five years earlier was not the same situation. In 1974 he had just seen everyone. The friendship was still there. They were brothers. There was no animosity. And even though they all felt they had to break up to get to the next level of their musical careers, John had started this band that changed the world. It changed pop culture. It changed how we live and how we dress. And he knew that. So when he sat down to sign, he knew that this was it. His was the last signature. As he had started the group, he was the one to end it.”