The Lost Weekend
In the summer of 1973, John Lennon fell into an abyss of self-destructive behavior, drinking and womanizing. It wasn’t about the Beatles’ breakup three years earlier; his troubles were with the United States government, trying to deport him on the grounds of an otherwise obscure hashish arrest years earlier in the UK. But it was more personal than that. History has it that President Richard Nixon and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, enraged by Lennon’s anti-Vietnam War activism, deliberately set out to terrorize him, his acquaintances, and his friends by having them tailed wherever they went and tapping their phones — obviously so; the G-men let themselves be seen, and the telltale clicks of wiretaps were audible. Lennon started to sink under the weight of these psychological assaults. When he hit rock bottom, so did his marriage to Yoko Ono.
It’s said that she, a loving but artful agent provocateur, cannily saved their relationship by counterintuitively pushing John away — a matter of prudent self-sacrifice. She insisted he leave New York for LA and take their agreeable and already romantically implicated amanuensis, May Pang, with him. The result was the “Lost Weekend,” a year and a half of debauchery, bizarre recording sessions, and ultimately an exorcism of the demons inhabiting Lennon’s head.
Only vaguely aware of Lennon’s legal troubles from news accounts, and nothing more than that, my twenty-one-year-old mind was fixed on furthering my fledgling career. Crawdaddy, the pioneering rock-n-roll magazine and precursor to Rolling Stone, had just opened a bureau in Los Angeles and installed a writer-editor named Patrick Snyder to run it. I’d been shooting pictures — a self-professed pro — for two years. I had just returned with pictures from a Japan tour with the Jackson-5. I cold-called to ask if I could show Snyder my work.
Starting out, one spends more time pitching portfolios than shooting pictures. In the early 1970s, I showed what I’d done with bands at live performances, rock-n-roll after roll of black-and-white and color film. My presentation wasn’t sophisticated: 35mm color slides arrayed in loose-leaf polypropylene pages in a three-ring binder; some black-and-white prints sleeved in acetate pages collated in a leather carrying case. I sported long, dark, curly hair and a droopy…