May Pang interview (January 2011)

Was there a clear divide between Los Angeles and New York, in terms of the indulgences, and was the move back to NYC an attempt to sober up and complete Pussy Cats, Rock ‘N’ Roll and Walls And Bridges?

Yes, and that was because we always considered ourselves “visitors” to LA. We mostly stayed at other people’s houses; the only time we ever had our own place was when Harry rented the beach house, and even that wasn’t our own place really. We had Ringo, Keith Moon, Harry and Klaus Voormann living there, and they fell into the “boys back in England” behavior.

John Lennon and May Pang



John always had a problem with too much drink, going way back to Paul’s 21st birthday. Mal Evans was even in LA basically reassuming the role of procuring anything for “the boys”.

Phil Spector was another complication. John had worked with him before, but on his own turf. Now we were in Phil’s world, which was typical of the Hollywood excess of the 70s. John was tired of getting all the publicity, but he really got afraid when Harry’s voice was destroyed because of the drinking. New York was sane. New York was home.

The albums Some Time In New York City, Mind Games and Walls And Bridges seem to show Lennon unsure of his place in music, testing out styles or themes for something that he felt comfortable doing. I’ve read that he felt he’d fallen out of fashion in the mid-70s. Do you remember him talking about that?

Some Time in NYC was a commercial and critical disaster, something John was not used to. It took him a long time to recover from the bashing. Mind Games was a much friendlier album and Walls and Bridges was filled with a variety of songs and styles, mixed emotions, and also marked a return to his personal songwriting. The White Album was full of different styles; I don’t think he saw variety as a bad thing.

The famous UFO incident, as mentioned in the liner notes of Walls And Bridges: do you believe it was an extra-terrestrial object, or might there be a rational explanation for it?

I know what I saw. And the rational explanation is… it was a UFO. There’s UFOs over New York, as the song goes. And I saw another one in the early 80s, and I know other did people did too.

Did nobody else in NYC see it? It seems astonishing to think an unidentified flying object going down East 52nd Street could remain unseen by anyone else.

Yes, that event had about 400 reported sightings, I believe.

Did John really call out to the UFO in the hope that it might take him away?

He didn’t call out to it; he later said he wished it had taken us with it. However, I doubt we’d have been that enthusiastic to go along had the opportunity actually presented itself.

Is it true your relationship with John continued as late as 1977?

Our relationship lasted 10 years, from 1970-80. I believe you’re referring to the more intimate aspects. The last time we were together, we were listening to the Little River Band’s “Reminiscing” which was released in 1978.

John Lennon and May Pang

I heard you were disappointed with the PBS LennonNYC documentary. We didn’t get to see it here in the UK. What did you disagree with?

I just get tired of the same rehashing of lies and myths. Even after the story is set somewhat straight, as it was when Larry Kane had interviewed Yoko for his book, certain people continue to spout the party line. People, I might add, who weren’t around us or, if they were, were not around as much as they’d lead you to believe.

Your book Loving John has been long out of print. I heard you’re working on a revised edition. Can you say any more about that?

I had a lot of issues with that book. My intention was to write a balanced and accurate account of our time together. The publisher edited the book almost in half, keeping the more controversial stories while disregarding the good, productive side. They didn’t think it would sell. Obviously, I wasn’t going to white- wash the story and I didn’t. But I’d like to restore some of the context. There was plenty of good.

What are the main myths from the Lennon legend you’d like to see dispelled?

Most important, he wasn’t miserable for 18 months. It was a productive time for him. He reached artistic heights and healed a lot of his personal relationships, though they were mysteriously fractured again in later years. Yoko didn’t send us to Los Angeles; they didn’t reunite at Elton John’s concert. If John was so intent on returning home, why was Paul sent out to Los Angeles to talk him into it. And he wasn’t the only one asked to get John to return back to the Dakota.

Surprise Surprise (Sweet Bird Of Paradox) was a love song written for you, but it didn’t appear on the Love Songs disc of the recent Gimme Some Truth compilation. Do you think that might be some Yoko-style revisionism?

You mean like putting her face on the label of Walls and Bridges, or lip syncing to my voice in the video for #9 Dream. I think you can answer this one.

What are your memories of John writing that song for you?

He actually wrote it while recording the Mind Games album. I was floored; it was beautiful.

How do you feel about the various non-musical commercial activities that have taken place in John’s name, such as last year’s Citroen advert, a Mont Blanc pen, $15,000 acoustic guitars or white Steinway pianos bearing his signature? …and do you think John would have approved of them?

I appreciate trying to keep John contemporaneous. I’m not sure he would’ve liked such cost-prohibitive items, being the working class hero. This was a decision made by the Estate of John Lennon.

How did you spend 9 October 2010, what would have been John’s 70th birthday?

I always keep John in my thoughts. Of course, he was all around on that day, but I try not to watch the all the shows, because they all end the same way. I was at gallery showing that had 2 of my photographic prints and paintings done by Shannon. Her paintings of The Beatles look like photographs, you should check that out.

What do you think John might be like, had he lived?

I think about this a lot. The world has changed so much and so quickly since 1980. John missed CDs and digital media. I know he would’ve loved flat screen television and wreaking havoc on the internet. He would have loved that he could record his music right at home. Instant gratification. He loved New York, so 9/11 would have inspired him to say something. We all miss his voice.

Congratulations on celebrating your 60th birthday in October 2010. How did you mark it?

Like I always do, a party with friends. That has been a tradition since the 70s. It was held at The Gibson Guitar Studios in NY and we had many friends come celebrate with me and a lot of them jammed in the studio together including two members of Elephant’s Memory. But starting next year, I’m 59 and working my way downwards.

What are your plans for the future? Is it true you’re planning an exhibition of your photos of John? Will these be from Instamatic Karma, or are there more?

I have been exhibiting some limited editions of my photos from my book Instamatic Karma from time to time at various galleries around the country. And I am also working on that new book. But as I said, I learned from John to live spur-of-the-moment.

15 responses on “May Pang interview (January 2011)

  1. Zig

    Thank you for this Joe. As per usual, you did a great job. My favorite lines of hers were…

    “I also saw Yoko in, of all places, Reykjavik, Iceland on John’s birthday a few years ago. One of John’s cosmic jokes, no doubt.”

    and…

    (Had John lived) “I know he would’ve loved flat screen television and wreaking havoc on the internet.”

    1. MeanMrs.Mustard

      I love that line! I can definitely imagine John as an old man, trolling people on random sites. Heck, maybe he would have stumbled upon this lovely site. I bet he’d get a kick out of the forum…. :)

    1. GniknuS

      I’m curious as to what May meant by that. This certainly isn’t the place to get into a 9/11 debate, but I just don’t understand what she meant by that.

      1. mr. Sun king coming together

        I think, and this is not the place to get into a heavy 9/11 debate, that she meant he would have spoken his mind about the needless killings of thousands of people, possibly by song, or by other communication.

  2. Vanine

    It seems (and the pictures are good evidence and Cynthia and Julia are good witnesses) that she was a sane influence on him. It is a pity that he could not shake off the parasite. What a fortuitous and well timed pregnancy, wasn’t it? Then again, it IS the oldest trick in the book… I guess the Beatles had their moment… Still, one wonders…

    1. Joe Post author

      What a mean-spirited comment. A well-timed pregnancy? What about the miscarriages Yoko had previously had? Or how about the fact that she wanted to abort the 1975 pregnancy, but Lennon insisted they keep it? It’s so easy to cast judgement on “parasites” that you’ve never met, isn’t it?

  3. trcanberra

    Great interview – it certainly shone a different light on Ms. Pang than I had seen before. I was particularly interested to hear how well John and Paul seemed to be getting on in 1974 – shame nothing came of it.

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