The found weekend
I love May Pang. She gave John Lennon everything he needed, and the happiest months of his life. But was she anything more than a mouth?
For all that it stifled him, Lennon’s marriage to Cynthia Powell was a secure one. His second, to artist Yoko Ono, was disastrously insecure. Love, or however Lennon saw love in those fragile, pared-open days of his LSD phase, was probably how he categorized the tumult of feelings to himself, and he may have been right.
But Yoko wasn’t star struck by him. She didn’t worship him. And she had no intention of spending most of her time on her knees.
This one small thing, that Yoko did not sexually satisfy her husband, ruined everything else.
Lennon’s sexual need was all-consuming. He needed sexual release every day — and several times over. He was slaved so thoroughly to his sex drive that he grew depressed when he learned the urge was not likely to abate in his 40s.
What he craved more than anything else was blow jobs. He doesn’t seem to have cared who gave them to him. Girls, boys, transvestites. Any mouth would do. He even once fantasized he got one from George Harrison.
Lennon’s desperate need for two or three blow jobs a day drove his whole life, and his ability to get them dictated his mood.
Without blow jobs, Lennon could not function. And here’s the terrible thing for him: the so-called love of his life, the woman who was mother and equal and superior and muse, didn’t want to give them to him.
His marriage to Yoko collapsed almost immediately, but it only became terminal on the night Nixon won his second term. At a commiseration party at Jerry Rubin’s apartment in New York, Lennon took a girl into the room where everybody had thrown their coats to have sex while Yoko and the rest of the party stood outside and tried not to listen.
Yoko was humiliated, but she did something practical. She told him to seduce her 22-year-old assistant May Pang. That would satisfy his sexual needs and keep the problem in the family, so to speak.
This was all a one-sided affair. Yoko told John he could have May, whether May wanted it or not (and May did not). John kept insisting, and eventually, after two weeks of Lennon forcing kisses on her, she let him into her bed. Still, there was never any question that it was anything more than sex.
It took a long time, but finally Lennon and Yoko separated in the fall of 1973. You have a choice of who to believe on this matter. Did Yoko kick him out, or was it John who left? In all likelihood, John left her. He was heading to Los Angeles with May to promote Mind Games. He simply never came back.
What Lennon later derisorily called his “lost weekend” was anything but. It lasted 18 months and at least the last nine of those were the happiest time of Lennon’s entire life.
Commentators fixate on his time in Los Angeles as proof that he was missing Yoko. This is likely true. But Lennon had always been a poor party animal. Just ask Keith Richards. Way back to the Beatles days, he’d take whatever drug was going around and invariably end up with his head in the toilet.
Los Angeles was just the Lennon he’d always been, but now there were fewer minders to wipe him down and drive him home, and his disgraces were far more public. May had an impossible task, but she somehow steered him back into taxis and kept him under a modicum of control.
Lennon pleaded with Yoko to let him come back to the Dakota, at least according to her version of events. But her mind game was a fierce one. She could see he was floundering in L.A. So let him flounder. The further he fell, the more he’d need her, and the more in control she’d be when she did finally let him back.
Yoko was sure there would never be anything between John and May. There was no spark. But something truly remarkable happened in those first six months, something Yoko had not expected. The more Yoko rejected him, the more John turned to May. And eventually John and May fell in love.
In June 1974 the pair returned to New York and moved into an apartment together on the East Side. He reconnected with his son Julian, with Cynthia, and with Paul McCartney and the other Beatles.
He found peace and contentment as a family man. He was certainly healthier than he had been before, or would ever be again. Since there are no rumors of affairs during this idyll, it seems that May was happy to keep his needs satisfied.
He reached out to music again, collaborating with David Bowie, Harry Nilsson, Mick Jagger, and Elton John. He even went back on stage. He wrote two fine melodies that would form the basis for songs much later: ‘Watching The Wheels’ and ‘Beautiful Boy.’ And he recorded the best of his latter day albums, Walls And Bridges.
It’s easy to find significance in that strange title. If Yoko was one of the walls that locked Lennon in, then May was certainly one of the bridges that freed him.
He wrote two songs about May on the album, one of which Yoko shamefully misrepresented later. ‘#9 Dream,’ his loveliest song, is steeped in May. She’s the voice who calls his name (defiantly not Yoko). ‘Surprise, Surprise’ celebrated the first time John and May made love. But Yoko somehow managed to add the line “Yoko, I love her” to the 2005 reissue of the album.
Yoko also wrote May out in other ways. Albums that originally credited May mysteriously credit Yoko instead on their reissue.
But at the time, the pair finally thought Yoko was passing into that background mountain range Lennon had placed on Mind Games (before the reissue that – again mysteriously — obfuscated the cover image in 1980). Yoko had called Lennon daily during the entire separation, making sure he was kept on her leash, but Lennon had begun refusing her calls, and now she finally stopped calling. They would divorce, and that would be the end of her.
The nine months that Lennon and May were together in New York were a time of rebuilding, of optimism, and of renewed creativity. His problems with a U.S. visa looked like they would soon be resolved. Once the divorce was through, the pair planned to buy a permanent home on Long Island.
It is extremely likely that the Lennon/McCartney partnership would have been rekindled had the relationship continued. “Paul was always at our house,” May said later. “The fans out there thought that John and Paul didn’t talk for years, but he was always over.”
But fly over Central Park to the Dakota, and see the nine months from Yoko’s perspective. She had not sat mourning her husband all this time. She had an affair of her own. But by January 1975 it was clear this relationship was going nowhere.
As Lennon’s wife she had fame, relevance, and access to a vast continuing income. Divorce from him would leave her stranded.
May had become an unexpected threat to Yoko. The Beatles reforming was an even greater one. So she hooked him back into the Dakota by inviting him over on the pretense that she’d found a cure for his addiction to cigarettes, something he’d spent much of his adult life trying to kick.
Lennon trotted over, presumably kissing May and telling her he’d be back in a couple of hours.
He spent the entire weekend at the Dakota. When May finally caught up with him, he looked terrible. He was disoriented, groggy and ill. He said he’d been passing out and vomiting. According to reports, whose likelihood you have to decide for yourself, all Lennon remembered was that Yoko had repeatedly fed him a potion, presumably the one that was supposed to cure his addiction.
Naturally, if you think any of this has anything to do with black magic, you must also believe that black magic works. And you also have to decide if it was Yoko’s plot to disable him, or brainwash him, or whatever. But for sure Lennon took something that weekend, and spent much of his time in his usual position: clutching the porcelain. And at the end of it, he was back in the Dakota for good.
The thing is, with a man of Lennon’s weaknesses, it would be very easy to give him some kind of bad trip, and assure him that everything was okay now. Now he was home.
Meanwhile, there’s a heartbreak the John-And-Yoko-True-Love-Forever myth conveniently skips over. Someone did a lot of crying over the next five years.
Lennon and Yoko continued their sham marriage, and for Lennon it was even worse than before. Sex between them dried up almost completely. He was lonely and miserable. So even during the Dakota years he ran off back to May to satisfy his sexual needs.
At first Yoko seems to have allowed him to see May twice a week, just to keep him out of her face. But those who have seen Lennon’s diaries claim he continued to see May regularly for the rest of his life, and surely not just for sex.
As I suggested in my last post, it’s possible John and May would have reunited for good once the Lennons divorced in 1981. He often wrote about how much he wanted to be with her again. But I guess we won’t be seeing those diaries published anytime soon.
Robert Maas’s list of essential psychedelic music Trippersonics by Scott Meze is available to buy in paperback on Amazon. The links are here.