In March of 1974, John Lennon stumbled into Los Angeles’s iconic club the Troubadour. He was belligerent after drinking Brandy Alexanders all night. He kicked a valet and got in a fistfight, before getting tossed out. A month later, he appeared at a concert with a sanitary napkin affixed to his head. He would later affectionately call this period his “lost weekend” — the eighteen months during which he and Yoko Ono lived apart. He shacked up with another woman, May Pang, and was largely unmoored, boozy-breathed, violent, and lonely.
I knew about the lost weekend through romantic celebrity man lore, but only once I experienced a lost weekend of my own did it occur to me to wonder what Yoko had done in John’s absence. During the last half-hour of a thirteen-hour road trip, my husband nervously announced he “wasn’t sure about family life,” which was his way of saying that he wasn’t sure about me. He didn’t want to end things, he said, but he didn’t know what he wanted. I told him that I had sympathy for him, but that he should get the hell out of our apartment.
We had been married for five years, together for ten, and were in our early 30s. I had felt his restlessness slithering through our relationship since we had moved to California a year earlier. I had just written a book that questioned the very idea of marriage, so at some level I had it coming. I worried that my book had set a chain of events in motion that I could no longer control, that I, like John, had destroyed my spouse with my art. My husband started drinking a lot and staying out late with friends. He had recently left his job for a month to travel with asylum seekers through Mexico, riding on the tops of trains. I couldn’t tell if he was falling apart or more fully becoming himself — or both, simultaneously.
When I thought about the lost weekend, I had always imagined that John had left Yoko, but it turns out it was Yoko who had told John to leave and she who had suggested the relationship with Pang. “It was like being sent to the desert,” John said of that time. “I was on a raft alone in the middle of the universe.”
Before the lost weekend, John and Yoko had been together for five years and had hardly spent a minute apart. John was even known to follow her to the bathroom. But they were one of the most hated couples in America. The year before they split in 1973, the LP Some Time in New York City had bombed. Critics said his career was over.
To make matters worse, he was the midst of a deportation battle with the INS. Yoko was blamed for the Beatles’ demise and endured a series of sexist and racist media assaults, including an Esquire article titled “John Rennon’s Excrusive Gloupie.” She was locked in a legal battle for custody of her daughter. The night that George McGovern lost to Richard Nixon, John got drunk and fucked another woman while Yoko sat in the other room and could hear the whole thing. His drinking had gotten out of control. Well, if he can do this, forget it! Yoko thought. “I needed a rest. I needed space,” she later said. Sometimes a girl needs to piss alone.
But it was also a preventative measure. “I started to notice that he became a little restless,” she said. Telling someone to leave feels better than being left, a sharp break preferable to creeping decay. “She wanted him to revisit life without her and see how he liked it,” Yoko Ono’s biographers Nell Beram and Carolyn Boriss-Krimsky wrote.