John Lennon’s 18-month relationship with May Pang in the mid-1970s is often dismissed as a biographical footnote, but in a new documentary, Pang takes the chance to put the record straight about this important time in her own as well as Lennon’s life. The Lost Weekend: A Love Story, directed by Eve Brandstein, Richard Kaufman and Stuart Samuels, is a sympathetic account of Pang and Lennon’s affair, which began 50 years ago in 1973. During their time together, Lennon recorded three albums, jammed with Paul McCartney, caroused in LA with Harry Nilsson and Keith Moon, and finally established a relationship with his son Julian.
“I got fed up of people thinking they knew my story,” says Pang from a hotel in Iowa, where she is touring an exhibition of her photographs of Lennon. “Lies and mistruths were becoming established facts. In our time together, he got a chance to reconnect with Paul, George and Ringo. I was there when he played with Paul, I was there when he signed the break-up of The Beatles at Disneyworld, and I helped him be with his son again. When people see my photos of John, they like the fact he’s always smiling. That was a side people had never seen before. All this, and we had to deal with Phil Spector as well…”
Pang, a music lover from a working class Chinese-American New York family, got her break when she walked into Apple’s New York office and asked what was available. She eventually became John and Yoko’s personal assistant, which involved jobs such as collecting the insects for Ono’s film Fly, appearing inside a bag on The Dick Cavett Show and helping film Imagine. Her affair with Lennon – suggested by Ono, who felt Pang might be a more malleable companion for Lennon when his eyes began wandering – started when she was just 22.
This was far more than just a fling. The couple set up home in a one-bedroom New York apartment (one of their first guests was Paul McCartney, who spilled red wine on a white rug from “Imagine”) while Pang got involved in Lennon’s personal life, helping reunite him with Julian.
“When John and Julian did connect it was great, but beforehand John was very nervous, chain-smoking, because Cynthia was bringing him over,” says Pang. “They hadn’t seen each other for ages. I told John that he hadn’t been there for his son, so he had to step up. He couldn’t back out. I wanted John and Cynthia to have closure to make it easier for Julian, and then things got better for everybody.”
Pang offered some grounding for Lennon but also provided him with freedom. She says that one bored weekend, they took a bus trip together – something Lennon hadn’t done for a decade, and which only ended when he was finally recognised by a fellow traveller (“It’s my nose!” he whispered to Pang). She was also present when Lennon and McCartney had their only post-Beatles jam. Shortly afterwards, Lennon raised with Pang the possibility of recording with McCartney in New Orleans. Sadly the plan was scuppered when – following what Pang describes as “interference” – Lennon returned to Yoko Ono at the Dakota.
Pang stayed in touch with Lennon after the relationship ended, but his death in 1980 meant that she was never able to get closure of her own. While she won’t be drawn on how she feels about Ono, she does tell an amusing story about an awkward chance meeting at a breakfast buffet in a Reykjavík hotel in the 2000s. “It must have been a joke from John up in the sky because it happened on his birthday, October 9. What are the chances?!”
The Lost Weekend: A Love Story comes to digital platforms and Blu-ray on October 13