In April 1970, The Beatles finally split up, leaving the music world to mourn the divorce of rock’s most influential luminaries. For some fans, this news came as a shock. In retrospect, we know tensions were reaching a boiling point in the late 1960s, but at the time, public word of such friction was limited and subject to conjecture. Over the years since, some fans blamed the all-consuming nature of the relationship between John Lennon and Yoko Ono, while others blamed overcrowding of talent and a battle of the ego.
As Paul McCartney claimed in a recent interview with Conan O’Brien at the Tribeca Festival, Lennon “had a really tragic life” and cited a number of extremely personal events that shaped the budding musician’s own personality traits.
McCartney continued: “As a kid, his mother was decreed to not be good enough to bring him up…His father had left the home when John was three. So that’s not too wonderful. John grew up with these sort of little minor tragedies through his life… It made me realize why he had that vulnerability. I always admired the way he dealt with it because I’m not sure I would deal with the stuff he went through that well.”
Following the disbandment of The Beatles, Lennon continued his soul-searching journey with Ono, seven years his senior, as a mother figure of sorts. Amid the pair’s peace protests and spiralling addiction issues, Lennon began to ask questions about his childhood he had ignored during the Beatles years.
After studying Arthur Janov’s “primal scream” therapy, Lennon famously lamented his maternal detachment in the 1970 track ‘Mother’. Alongside Ono, Lennon continued to follow Janov’s therapy to find the answers to a broken youth. Unfortunately, through the early to mid-1970s, Lennon’s mental state was tested by his struggle with addiction, fame and self-reflection.
In 1973, Lennon entered what would become known as his ‘Lost Weekend’, 18 months marked by a romantic affair with May Pang, a production coordinator who worked on his and Ono’s music. After a significant spell of marital issues, Ono and Lennon separated, and Lennon embarked on a short-lived relationship with Pang. Lennon would later return to Ono and lament this period of his life.
During this period, Lennon wrote ‘Surprise Surprise (Sweet Bird of Paradox)’ for his fifth studio album, Walls and Bridges. According to Pang, the former Beatle wrote the song for her. The romantic lyrics read: “Sweet as the smell of success/ Her body’s warm and wet/ She gets me through this god awful loneliness/ A natural high butterfly/ Oh I, I need, need, need her”.
Contrary to expectation, Ono was fully aware of Lennon’s affair and understood it as a transient fling. She welcomed Lennon back to her with open arms as he expressed public regret for his infidelity.
However, in an interview with Larry Kane in the late ’70s, Lennon explained that he had been in love. “You know Larry, I may have been the happiest I’ve ever been… I loved this woman [Pang], I made some beautiful music, and I got so fucked up with booze and shit and whatever.”
Listen to John Lennon’s ‘Surprise Surprise (Sweet Bird of Paradox)’ below.