In 1970, May Pang was employed at Allen Klein’s ABKCO Records, which at the time represented John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr. She worked on Lennon and Yoko Ono’s film projects Fly and Up Your Legs Forever, after which she was asked to be their personal assistant in New York.
Pang worked for the couple on a number of projects including Ono’s 1971 art retrospective This Is Not Here. In 1973, however, Lennon and Ono separated and Ono suggested that Pang become his companion. Despite Pang’s initial reluctance, the pair left New York for Los Angeles for the first part of what Lennon later named his Lost Weekend.
Notorious for the public perception as an orgy of drink and drugs, the Lost Weekend also found Lennon regaining his musical creativity after an early 1970s lull, reconciling with Paul McCartney and rebuilding his relationship with his son Julian, both of which were encouraged by Pang. In March 1974 she took the last known photograph of Lennon and McCartney together.
The couple later moved back to New York City. Lennon and Ono reunited in 1975, although he and Pang remained close up until his death.
In January 2011 May Pang agreed to be interviewed for The Beatles Bible. Our thanks to Viv Goldberg for her help in arranging the interview.
In 1970 you joined Allen Klein’s ABKCO Records as a receptionist. What was he like to work for?
I liked Allen and made a lot of friends there – friends I still have to this day. It was great working there; you’d never know who would walk in or what project was next.
Were you always a Beatles fan, and were you star struck at first to be working for the company that represented John, George and Ringo?
Of course I was a Beatles fan, like everyone, and Ringo was my favorite. I loved rock n’ roll in general, so I really appreciated working with the acts and the songs that were under Allen’s management. He had a great catalogue. It was a dream job, to say the least.
‘Steel And Glass’ is widely held to be about Klein, and yet I’m not aware of John Lennon ever confirming that. Can you give us any insights into the song’s meaning?
No, I don’t think he ever confirmed it publicly. In fact, he suggested it was about himself. But it was written with Allen in mind, though it’s cleverly oblique. It was a guessing game for fans; he says so as much in the intro. Allen was around for the creation of How Do You Sleep, so the musical similarity between the two was not coincidental. That said John and Allen remained friends; we even stayed at Allen’s house out on Long Island.
You worked with Lennon and Yoko Ono on some of their experimental films (Up Your Legs Forever and Fly). What did/do you think of those films? Is there anything of artistic value in there, or are they just self-indulgent nonsense?
I thought Yoko’s artwork was very original and her performance pieces and their films were enjoyable. They are period pieces, certainly. Yoko was a serious artist, but her art was not taking herself seriously.
On your website you say “I haven’t spoken to Yoko since the mid-70s. I don’t expect to anytime soon.” I’m sure many were surprised to hear that you, Yoko and Cynthia were together, along with Sean and Julian, at Julian’s recent photographic exhibition launch. Was that event as harmonious as it appeared?
Well, if you count perfunctory hellos, we have spoken a couple of times. I did see her and Sean at Julian’s exhibition. Everyone was cordial. 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.
You’ve spoken about your close friendship with Cynthia Lennon. How did you meet?
We met in 1973 when we arranged for Julian to visit his dad. Cynthia came with him and we got along right away.
Prior to John and Yoko’s separation in 1973, was it clear to those around them that their relationship was on the rocks or a surprise when they separated?
It was obvious to those of us who worked with them, yes.
With Yoko telephoning daily it must have felt like a third party in the relationship. What was it like for you and John?
The problem was 99% of her calls weren’t “Hello, how are you?” First they were directives to keep our relationship quiet, which was fine with me. Then John ‘announced it to the world’ by kissing me for Time Magazine and crisis mode kicked in. She would call with instructions of what to say, that she had thrown John out. She’d call everyday to remind us of what to say. One drama after another.
Did you and John ever discuss marriage or having children together?
Only when Yoko threatened to divorce him, John told me, “Soon I’ll be a free man…” One thing I learned being with John was to live spur-of-the-moment. There was always some new, unplanned adventure, almost on a daily basis. A psychic once told John that he would have another child, and he assumed it would be with me, because of the difficulties he and Yoko had had with pregnancies.
Did yours feel like a permanent relationship, or was there always a feeling that John would eventually go back to Yoko?
Sometimes it would feel permanent, but he could be jerked back into Yoko’s mind games very easily. Also, as our relationship began so strangely I suppose it would have had to end just as strange, this was at the point when he was making moves to make a complete break from her. We were about to buy a home in Montauk, John had cemented a closer relationship with Julian as well as with Paul and plans for us to visit him and Linda in New Orleans too.
You took the last known photograph of John and Paul together. What were relations between the two like at the time?
They were brothers. I was a bit surprised, having heard all the stories of their rocky relationship, how quickly they resumed their warm friendship as if they saw each other the day before. It was actually Yoko who sent Paul out to LA to try and talk John into getting back together with her back in March 1974. Well that back-fired a bit.
Do you think John would have ever allowed The Beatles to reform? Did he ever seriously consider it?
He did consider it. There was a loose plan, a couple in fact. One was to hold a reunion in upstate New York in autumn 1974. Then, the very week we were supposed to go to New Orleans to visit Paul and Linda who were recording there – and John would write with Paul again – John went back to the Dakota.
Do you have a favourite of your pictures of John from your time together?
I don’t have one favorite. They all evoke different memories. But he had a couple of favorites, one of which was used on the single sleeve for “‘Imagine’” in Britain in 1975.
The Lost Weekend is perhaps unjustly known for being drink- and drug-fuelled. Do you think John played up this image at all, eg the coded word ‘Drugs’ on the cover of Pussy Cats?
That was just word play, which John always loved. It was called “Pussy Cats” to contrast the image of them being bad boys actually.