Interview with May Pang (8-1-05)
Intro: Those well versed in Beatles-lore are familiar with the name May Pang, who had an 18-month relationship with John Lennon in the mid-'70s. However, she was a far cry from a "mistress" and the true story is far different from the official (and Yoko sanctioned) story of "lost weekend", which tries to portray John as a drunken lout who went on a mid-life crisis binge before returning to Yoko in 1975. While there have been many books about John Lennon's "househusband" years between 1975-1980, there was only one book that seemed to capture John's notoriously-misnamed "lost weekend", and that was May Pang's "Loving John: The Untold Story". Although the book originally came out in 1983, it has been unfortunately out of print (seeing a brief reissue in 1992). The book's M.I.A. status leaves a whole segment of Lennon's life "conveniently" out of the picture, to be unchallenged and open for manipulation by those wish to "rewrite" the Lennon legacy. "Convenient" for the creators behind "Lennon the Musical", which leaves out key moments in the life of John Lennon in a project which is supposed to be a "musical biography". I talked to May Pang recently about these attempts to "rewrite" John's life. While our January, 2002 interview had been via e-mail, this time I talked to May by telephone. On the phone May was friendly, completely frank and totally open to any questions I posed to her. In fact, our phone conversation felt like I was talking to an old friend about The Beatles and before I knew it - I realized we had been on the phone an hour. While we also talked about Mal Evans, Phil Spector, Julian Lennon and Pete Ham - I'm mainly going to concentrate on the John Lennon. Also, thanks to May's publicist David Salidor for arranging the interview! E.C.: Thanks for agreeing to do another interview. May Pang: (laughs) Thanks for having me. E.C.: It's great to talk to you this time because our last interview was via e-mail… May Pang: God, that was a long time ago… E.C.: About 3 years ago… May Pang: Has it been that long? E.C.: I'll try to cover some questions that I didn't ask during our last interview so we don't repeat ourselves…and questions I'm sure you've heard a million times like, "What was John Like?" And if anybody has read your book (LOVING JOHN), they already know that! May Pang: Yes! There's not too much more to say about it on that level: "What was he like". He is, you know, a very funny witty man. He also was a very intelligent man - his thirst for knowledge was always there. E.C.: It seems that you always have to defend yourself in what has been called "the lost weekend"… May Pang: I know. E.C.: Even though he had one of his most creative periods, with his first number one album and single, collaborations with Elton John and Bowie, etc. Does it weigh on you, always having to defend this time in John's life against the "lost weekend" mentality? May Pang: It's true, it does. But after a while, too, you almost half expect it. You know, people say, "John said it was this or that" but there were a lot of reasons for him saying certain things. He couldn't very well say, "I had the time of my life." People fail to understand the "behind the scenes" situation - they just know what was said - and had to be said - publicly. People have sent me comments from different chat rooms, and they want to believe what they want to believe. Only John and I know what was going on - and a few friends that were around knew what was happening. But if people really did their homework, really knew anything about John - they would know that it wasn't a "weekend". I've actually had people say, "Why are you talking about it if it was only a weekend with him?" That's when you know they really don't know. You're talking about his most creative and prolific period of his solo career. When people see the picture of John in his New York City t-shirt - it was taken on our terrace, our rooftop. People don't have a clue about that time frame. They think he was just down-and-out drunk all the time. The press is at fault as are other people who like to perpetuate that myth - and even John himself for saying certain things he had to say. E.C.: But he wouldn't have been able to make such a great album (WALLS AND BRIDGES) if he had been soused all the time? May Pang: Oh absolutely! Yes, we went out a couple of times - and when you're hanging out with Harry Nilsson or Jesse Ed Davis it could become a difficult situation. They were very strong figures and they loved drinking and doing other things. The newspaper is not going to sell as well with Harry Nilsson, especially when you've got John Lennon sitting next to you! You know, we've gone out, John and myself, and had a couple of glasses of wine - but you don't hear about that because nothing happened. It's when he hung out with the guys on only two occasions when it got a bit rowdy. But they take those two incidents and make it appear that this was John for the whole time. E.C.: When reading your book, I noticed a fact that a lot of people seem to ignore - that Yoko was in constant contact calling on the phone all the time! May Pang: Right. There wasn't a day that didn't go by that she didn't stay in contact. She called us all the time. It wasn't like she never talked to him - she was always calling. E.C.: Aren't you glad that this was before the advent of cell phones?! Then it really would have been all the time. May Pang: Oh my… (laughs) You know, you're right. Or e-mails. I know that John would have loved e-mail and the internet. The phone never stopped ringing. And that was even before the answering machine. It was constant - once she got us, she knew we were there usually in the morning. E.C.: That must have been maddening, because in your book there are some days when she would call multiple times? May Pang: If it happened to be something that she [Yoko] wanted to know - it would be like we would hang up, and seconds later it was again. Or she forgot something and would call again. And after awhile John felt guilty if he didn't answer it. E.C.: Your book LOVING JOHN has been out of print for a while. Is there any chance of a new, "updated" edition, with some of the stories that were left out? May Pang: Very possible…very possible. I'm actually working on another one, which will be a coffee table book… E.C.: Yes, the last time we talked you mentioned compiling a Lennon photo book using your own personal photos. May Pang: Since that time a lot of different things have sidetracked me, and now its time to finally bring it out. I always believed that God works in mysterious ways - and certain things don't happen at the time you want them to. But they happen when they're meant to happen. E.C.: I had also read another interview you did in which you mention that you hadn't talked to Yoko since the '70s? May Pang: That's true. E.C.: I was just curious about the IMAGINE film from 1988 that you were in. Who contacted you? May Pang: That would be the producer himself, Andrew Solt. He called me up. E.C.: Because I always thought that that film (IMAGINE) was a Yoko-led project, to counteract the spin of the Goldman book? [Albert Goldman-THE LIVES OF JOHN LENNON] May Pang: Right, but I think Andrew Solt also knew that when you have everybody from Cynthia [Lennon-John's first wife] - you had to put in everyone. He probably said, 'You can't do one without the other'. E.C.: Unlike the Lennon Musical? May Pang: (laughs) I find it…very interesting. E.C.: I mean it [Lennon the Musical] has almost been universally panned by the critics and they keep saying that they're making more changes, making more changes. Maybe someone needs to realize that they have a bad product! May Pang: I went to see it with Roger Friedman from Fox news, who invited me. I said 'You know what? I've heard so much about it, I want to see it.' I wanted to see how John was portrayed; to see what John was about. And…it's supposed to be his biography. I found it -- from my own personal view - kind of confusing. Everyone on stage was saying their lines in split seconds. I didn't see Julian, I didn't see George, we were going through those early years very quickly. The only thing I saw about Ringo was that he couldn't handle the food in India [1968 Beatles visit to see the Maharishi in India]. When Paul finally arrives on the scene, he's a black man. I was confused at the beginning when all these people were saying lines about John - before realizing they were actual quotes from John. I hear some of those things and even though John might have said it, it's out of context. The song MIND GAMES was not sung in the right time period - it was not where it's supposed to be in the timeline. The two songs that represented The Beatles were "Money" and "Twist and Shout" - both non Lennon/McCartney tunes. They need a good, strong representation of the Beatles, which led to John to becoming a soloist; you have to show the place he started from. And his starting point was The Beatles, it was his band. Whether or not he left them later on, those were his formative years. Anyone who doesn't really know who The Beatles were, a young person, wouldn't understand the significance and impact of that band. [In Lennon the Musical] you know they were a popular band. I never got the feeling that The Beatles were important; that they changed the face of music. E.C.: And that's what bugs me about the play - I don't like any kind of revisionalism, where they tried to change how things actually happened. And the importance of certain events. May Pang: Right…again, I'm not in the play and that's fine, but at the same time you have just revised history. If it's supposed to be accurate, even with artistic license, I should be in it! Or at least George should be, even for a casual mention. (laughs) E.C.: Another writer from EAR CANDY is doing an article on Darin Murphy, who is an understudy in The Lennon Musical. When asked why certain things were left out of the play…well, here's a quote from that article: "References to John's first wife Cynthia, and their son Julian are downplayed. Also, John's short-term mistress May Pang is omitted from the play…He [Darin] obviously didn't want to give away any of the specific details of the show. He did, however, say that any revisions to be made would help to clarify the show without "dumbing it down." So that's how they are trying to justify omissions from the history of John Lennon. May Pang: Well…that's interesting. Talk about spin doctoring. It makes me laugh because I had a 10-year relationship with John, which a lot of people don't realize. I worked at ABKCO in 1969 and it was December of 1970 when John walked in and hired me. And of course he died in December of 1980, so that's ten years. So, in that time we were together as employer and employee for a bit - and then obviously something else. We remained close until the time he died. But the two years that I was with him also represented a very creative time and an extensive body of work. MIND GAMES, ROCK AND ROLL, WALLS AND BRIDGES, and PUSSYCATS…and, as you said, collaborations with David Bowie, Elton John, Ringo Starr, jamming with Jagger, jamming with Paul. So I think he did a lot during our time together. People can discount certain things if they want to, but he didn't sit around and do nothing and the evidence of his work speaks for itself. Oh, I forgot George Harrison. (laughs) We were with each one of those guys [The Beatles] and we hung out with them. E.C.: Have you read Tony Bramwell's Beatles book [MAGICAL MYSTERY TOURS]? May Pang: No I haven't. E.C.: Because I found an interesting parallel between his book and your book. May Pang: Oh really? E.C.: In his book, Tony mentions that when Yoko Ono first came on the scene, between 1968-70, there were many who thought that John had somehow been "hypnotized" by Yoko. In your book [LOVING JOHN], when he went back for the so called "smoking cure" that Yoko offered - you also mention that John seemed "hypnotized" afterwards. Some might call this far fetched, but here you have two different books, which mention "hypnotism" at different times. May Pang: I know that he drank some "tea", and whatever might have been in that tea I don't know. I only know what he's telling me and how I saw him after. I haven't spoken to Tony Bramwell in I guess many years now! I knew he had a book out, but I haven't read it yet. E.C.: I also recently interviewed Micky Dolenz, and in his book he relates a story of hanging out with John, Harry Nilsson, and Brian Wilson at a Malibu Beach house. Was Brian Wilson a regular with this group? May Pang: I don't remember Brian hanging out with us that much. Brian, we saw a couple of times. We saw him once at this birthday party…in fact, that was the first time that we had seen him. I think it was for Ricky Martin - I'm talking about Dean Martin's son - it was like his 18th birthday or something. I remember seeing this guy - and this was at a time when he was really heavy - and I saw him coming towards us and went, "Oh my god". And I whispered under my breath, as I did quite often with John, "The man that's about to come over to us is Brian Wilson. Remember, we saw Dennis Wilson, his brother, the other day? This is Brian…Beach Boy". And John turned around and he was like, "Ohhh". Just as Brian was about to speak, John spun around and said, "Hi Brian". And you could see this look in Brian's eyes as he said, "Hey man, you have any reds?" John looked at him and said, "Don't do that stuff, sorry man". And he walked away. That's where Brian was at that moment in time. It was an interesting evening. And Elton came with us to that party. Our main purpose was to meet Elizabeth Taylor. And at that same party was when we met David Bowie. We were actually introduced to Bowie by Elizabeth Taylor. E.C.: When it comes to people's knowledge about the "lost weekend", what facts would you most want to set straight about this period? May Pang: Ooh, there's a lot. E.C.: I mean, we've talked about some of them: John wasn't drunk all the time; he was very productive in the recording studio… May: There were only two incidences that the press keeps bringing up and she [Yo May Pang: ko] put those two of those instances in the show to represent the whole time period. E.C.: Wait? So they do portray the "lost weekend" in the play, but you're still not in it? May Pang: I'm not in it. The only thing that they portray is the part where John gets drunk at the Troubadour. And what it is - it was two incidences that actually happened at the Troubadour, but she combined them into one. But that's the only portrayal from our time, which I think is very unfair. Like I said before - what about all the other stuff that he had done? And the other thing is that Yoko and John reunited at Elton John gig on Thanksgiving, 1974. E.C.: And the "official" story is that John didn't know that Yoko was there? May Pang: Not only did we know she was coming, we arranged tickets for her and her date. John and I were together another three months. And one other thing, I hate when people say "mistress". When you use the word "mistress" it sounds like I'm hiding. E.C.: It was very public… May Pang: Yeah, it was very public. And they were separated. John and I lived together in our own apartment. I would normally be referred to as a "girlfriend" or "companion". "Mistress" and all its connotations doesn't really apply here. Let see, what other "facts" about the "lost weekend" can I clarify? John and Paul talked all the time. John and Ringo, obviously, he lived with us in Los Angeles. And George and John were close as well. He was really with all of them. Mick [Jagger] was a frequent visitor to our house. I'm trying to remember all the myths because there are so many. Can you remember any of them? E.C.: I think we've touched on several. Just by calling that period the "lost weekend", a lot of people just think that is was just a short period of time. May Pang: Oh, when she [Yoko] says, "I sent them both to LA". It really didn't happen that way. John's lawyer was at the apartment [The Dakota] and John asked him, "When are you going back to LA?" And he goes, "I'm going back this evening." John said, "You know what? I think we're going to go with you. May and I are just going to go to LA with you." It was on the spur of the moment and we called Yoko once we were out there. E.C.: That's why I feel that there is a need to have your book [LOVING JOHN] reprinted, if for no other reason than to counter some of these myths. May Pang: Perhaps someday. I'd like to clarify all the timelines. John did not return to the Dakota until February 1975. After the show with Elton in 1974, we took Julian to Disneyland. So, if somebody was a real fan they would realize that the timing is off. We hung out with Bowie, and they collaborated on "Fame" in January 1975. When we parted it wasn't something that we had planned on. When he came back to tell me, he said it would help his immigration problems - Yoko had convinced him that that was the best way to do it. She also told him that he could still see me. E.C.: She had more control over him that way… May Pang: Yes. And slowly, I wasn't supposed to be around anymore. E.C.: Another little known fact was that he did hang out with Paul again… May Pang: He wanted to write with Paul again. He asked me if I thought it was a good idea. I told him I thought it was a great idea, "because you two want to do it. There are no contracts, no pressure. Just the most amazing songwriting team ever getting together to create some musical magic." Solo they were great, but together they were unbeatable. He thought about it and he said, "You know what? Let's go down and visit Paul and Linda. E.C.: In New Orleans? [During the making of VENUS AND MARS] May Pang: Yes, in New Orleans. Later that week on a Friday afternoon, Yoko called John to say, "today was the day, the stars are right. Gotta come today, we've gotta do this 'cure' to get you to quit smoking." My gut feeling was telling me he shouldn't go. It didn't sit well with me. John saw that I was really upset. He goes, "Let's not fight about it - I'll be home for dinner. Whatever place you wanna go for dinner. And then let's make the plans to go down to New Orleans." And I knew…when he walked out. You know you have a gut feeling? I knew something was going to change. I told Paul - about 15 years later when I had a chance to see him in England. I said to him, "Listen, for what it's worth, I just want you to know that John really loved you." He said, "Oh, I know that." Then I said, "You know, we were going to come down to New Orleans because he wanted to write with you again." He looked at me and said, "Oh yeah…that would have been great." Now I know he didn't even want to entertain that thought. Coming down to New Orleans? I could tell that he thought I was just being nice. A year had gone by and I get a call from Paul's office to invite me to his annual Buddy Holly party in New York. So I went and I waved as they came in - and Paul rushed over and said, "Linda, tell her, tell her!" I said, "Tell me what?" "You know how Derek Taylor always sells memorabilia? Well, we got one of his postcards from John." And I said, "What was it?" On the postcard, John wrote "thinking of visiting the Macs in New Orleans". It was then that Paul believed it. E.C.: So the postcard proved it to Paul? May Pang: Right! And I didn't even know the postcard existed. And Paul got it. John had written to Derek, he always used to write notes and letters to his friends. Wouldn't that have been great? Poscript: One can only wonder "what if" John had made it to New Orleans to record with Paul in 1975! I've always wondered about a line of lyrics from the song "Venus and Mars" [the title track of Paul's album started at the New Orleans sessions, recorded in 1975]. Is the "good friend of mine" who "follows the stars" about John? "Venus and Mars" - Paul McCartney 1975 Sitting in the stand of the sports arena Waiting for the show to begin Red lights, green lights, strawberry wine, A good friend of mine, follows the stars, Venus and mars Are alright tonight.