May Pang interview (January 2011)

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.

John Lennon and May Pang

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.

John Lennon and Paul McCartney, 1974

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?

Imagine single artwork (UK) - John LennonI 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.

27 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.”


    (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.

  4. Waterface

    I concur with others who said what a nice interview to read. And Joe you really do have a wonderful site here.

    Maybe I read too much Beatles related content, but I am getting tired of this period being referred to as the ‘Lost Weekend’. I would prefer to describe the period as Lost Yoko.

  5. Knight

    Seeing this featured, I had to read it. Probably the best part was hearing about John Lennon trolling people on the internet. I can sort of imagine it, really. He’d probably troll some church websites saying he’s still more popular than Jesus. 😛

  6. Carlos

    Great Joe, carry on !!!! Let me say just a thing or two. John had such a strong personality, I don´t believe in those Yoko´s mind games. I guess he actually wanted to go back to Yoko just because she was the love of his life. I would have liked to ask May if she had the chance to meet all those guys (Ringo, Elton, Keith, Harry, Klaus) over all these years. Thanks, brilliant interview.

    1. Teri Cooper Brown

      Carlos; Remember John’s painful childhood with domineering Mother figures. Yoko has LONG had a reputation as being a control freak. Everyone at recording sessions spoke of her attempts to control not just John, but his music. Even the Cirque DE Soleil guys said she was a real fly in the otherwise peaceful ointment because of her controlling nature. So sadly true how she pushed for reconciliation ONLY because of how it looked publicly.

  7. Graham Paterson

    Great interview, very insightful.It is especially so regarding John’s relationship with Paul.John Lennon was a complex man, but he and Paul McCartney,George Harrison and Ringo Starr were like brothers. Family members generally have complex relationships and The Beatles were no different. John’s comments regarding Paul McCartney to British broadcaster Andy Peebles, just hours before he was shot confirm this. John off the record, referred to he and Paul as being like brothers. For this refer to Time Life DVD ” The Day John Lennon Died. ” John Lennon’s time with May Pang is an interesting period in which he recorded some great music i.e. the” Walls and Bridges” album.May Pang like Yoko Ono and Cynthia, ( who sadly recently died ), all have shown a lot of dignity in preserving the memory of this brilliant mans life.

  8. Michael K

    While May Pang has rightly pointed out some dodgy revisionism by Yoko, it must be said that there’s a little from herself.
    Paul had just regained his US Visa when he visited Yoko in New York and he was busy around the USA making the most of being back, notably collecting a stack of grammies for the previous year’s ‘Band on the Run’ and catching up with friends and family so the idea he was ‘sent by Yoko’ is a memory of her reaction to learning that he had come with, in his words, a ‘message from Yoko’ (who denied that for years while she and Paul were bickering but eventually conceded it was not only true but DID result ultimately in their reunion).

  9. Topazthecat (@topazthecat1000)

    I’m so tired of Beatles and John Lennon fans saying unjust bad things about Yoko,when she definitely changed John a zillion % for the better!

    John Lennon is a great example of people can change and are not fixed to be a certain way as a man or a woman.Yoko changed John into a much better person as a pro-feminist man and the feminist changes *are* for the better, and many pro-feminist men have recognized this too! They say it has freed them and allowed them to develop and express more of all of the shared common *human* traits,emotions,behaviors,abilities and reduce and prevent male violence against women and children etc. Definitions of “masculine” and “feminine” differ across time periods, and in different societies.

    John Lennon is a great example of how feminism changing limited artificial gender definitions and roles,changed him for the much better. John as a child and teenager had a lot of traumas that permanently psychologically damaged him,but because of his and Yoko’s beautiful loving relationship,and as he said she was a feminist before he met her,(and he said that because she was a feminist before he met her,they were going to have to have a 50/50 equal relationship which he never had before) he went in to primal scream therapy and Yoko went with him and he dealt with all of his pain and anger for the very first time at age 29.

    When John was a young guy,he was often drunk getting into fist fights with men,hitting women,and womanizing including cheating on his girlfriends and then his first wife Cynthia.Of course Paul,George and Ringo did the same with all of the groupies all 4 of them had while touring from 1963-1966. I hadn’t watched these Mike Douglas shows in years until December 2010 when it was the 30th anniversary of John’s tragic crazy murder.

    Out of the 5 Mike Douglas shows that John and Yoko co-hosted for a week that was taped in January 1972 and aired in February,a young criminal lawyer Rena Uviller(she went on to become a Supreme Court Judge) who worked with juveniles was on, and she,Mike Douglas,John and Yoko were discussing the then very recent women’s liberation movement. George Carlin was on too.

    Rena said,she agrees with Yoko,that the idea of Women’s lib is to liberate all of us,and she said ,I mean we could talk hours on the way men really suffer under the sex role definitions.Yoko agreed with what she said too. Rena said that men don’t really realize they have only to gain from Women’s Lib,and that she thinks that maybe with a little more propaganda we can convince them.

    John then said,yeah there is a lot to gain from it,just the fact that you can relax and not have to play that male role,he said we can do that,and he said that I can be weak,( but notice how then in a male dominated gender divided,gender stereotyped,sexist society,and even unfortunately still now in a lot of ways,the “female” role was defined as the weak one,and the male role as the strong one) I don’t have to protect her all the time and play you know that super hero,I don’t have to play that,she allows me to be weak sometimes and for me to cry,and for her to be the strong one,and for me to be the weak one. John then said,and it really is a great relief,after 28 years of trying to be tough,you know trying to show them,I don’t give a da*n and I’m this and I’m that,to be able to relax.and just be able to say,OK I’m no tough guy forget it.

    Rena then said,I think in some funny way,I think girls even as children,have a greater lattitude because a little girl can be sort of frilly and feminine or she can be a tomboy and it’s acceptable,but a little boy if he’s not tossing that football,there’s a lot of pressure on him.John said,there’s a lot of pressure,not to show emotion,and he said that there was a lot of pressure on me not to be an artist,to be a chemist and he said he discussed this on another Mike Douglas episode.

    Rena said that unfortunately some of the leaders in the Women’s Liberation movement fall victim to being spokesmen,for Women’s Lib, and yet at least in public personality they seem to really have a certain amount of contempt for the hair curled housewife and there is a kind of sneering contempt,and she said I think it’s a measure of their own lack of liberation.And Yoko said it’s snobbery,and Rena said yeah,they really don’t like other women,but I’m sympathetic,and Mike Douglas then said a sexist woman-hating statement,saying,well women don’t like other women period.Rena said,no see that’s very unliberated and Yoko said, in response to what Mike Douglas said,that’s not true,that’s not true.And John said,you see they are brought up to compete with men.

    Yoko said that even though in Japan they say they don’t have much of a woman problem and women already had some liberation,there is still a long way to go that she really agrees with Rena that so many female liberation movement people basically hate women,and we have to first start to understand women and love them whether they are housewives or not,and she said that snobbery is very bad and we have to somehow find out a way to co-existing with men,and she asked Rena don’t you think so and she said most definitely. George Carlin said,that actually many successful women are acting out male roles just like a lot of blacks think they escaped are acting out white roles.John also said that he thinks that women have to try twice as hard as to make it as men,and he said you know they have to be on their toes much more than a man.

    On another Mike Douglas episode from the same week,former actress and acclaimed film maker Barbara Loden was on and Yoko had requested her as a guest.John asked her ,Did you have any problems working with the men,you know like giving them instructions and things like that and Barbara said,I did, but I think it was because I was afraid that they would not accept what I said,and I wasn’t quite that authoritative in my own self.John said it’s certainly a brave thing to do,and Yoko said it is.

    Mike Douglas asked Yoko if John’s attitude had changed much towards her since The Female Liberation Movement,and at first Yoko says John’s attitude from the beginning was the same,and that they met on that level.John then says,twice, I was a male chauvinist and Yoko says,yes he was a male chauvinist but,and then John says,Can I say how you taught me,and Yoko says yes.John says,How I did it in my head was,would I ask Paul or George,or would I treat them the way I would treat a woman? John then said,it’s a very simple thing maybe it’s fetch that or do that ,and I started thinking if I said that to them,they’d say come on get it yourself,and if you put your wife or your girl friend in the position of your best friend,and say now would I say that to him,then you know when you’re treading on some delicate feelings.

    Mike Douglas said years later that after this week of John and Yoko co-hosting his show,many young people who had never watched his show before,(and his main audience was middle America and people older than their 20’s and even mostly their 30’s) told him they loved the show,and that it was great and his ratings went up high for those shows.Even if John didn’t always live up to his feminist ideals and beliefs in his personal life,(although he did with Yoko because of her and this why and how he emotionally evolved into a caring,nurturing,house husband and father to Yoko and Sean),just the fact that he spoke out as a man in support of the feminist movement on a popular TV show back in early 1972 when most of the sexist male dominated woman-hating society looked down at it and considered it crazy which in some ways it’s still unfortunately wrongly misunderstood(and it’s really the male dominated,sexist,woman-hating society that has always been so wrong and crazy!),and the fact that John was (and still is) greatly admired and influential to many young people male and female,he did *a lot* to legitimize it and show it was rational,reasonable,needed and right!

    A few months later he was performing Woman Is The Ni**er Of The World on The Dick Cavett Show and then months after that live in Madison Square Garden.In his very last radio interview done by Dave Sholin etc from RKO Radio just hours before he was tragically shot and killed, John said I’m more feminist now than I was when I sang Woman Is The N**ger,I was intellectually feminist then but now I feel as though at least I’ve put not my own money,but my body where my mouth is and I’m living up to my own preachings as it were.

    He also said what is this BS men are this way, women are that way,we’re all human.He had also said that he comes from the macho school of pretense of course *all* men really are they are just too conditioned all of their lives to realize and admit it.And he said that men are trained to be like they are in the army,and that it’s more like that in England but he knows it’s this way over here too,he said that they are taught as boys and men don’t react,don’t feel,don’t cry,and he said he thinks that’s what screwed us all up and that he thinks it’s time for a change.

    Barbara Graystark of Newsweek interviewed John September 1980 and part of what she said to John is,You’ve come a long way from the man who wrote at 23,”Women should be obscene rather than heard.” And she asks John how did this happen? And John said that he was a working-class macho guy who was used to being served and Yoko didn’t buy that. John then said that from the day he met Yoko,she demanded equal time,equal space,equal rights. He said that he said to Yoko then,don’t expect him to change in any way and don’t impinge on his space. John said that Yoko said to him then she can’t be here because there’s no space where you are everything revolves around him and that she can’t breath in that atmosphere. John then says in this interview that he’s thankful to her for the( meaning feminist) education.

  10. Topazthecat (@topazthecat1000)

    Mike Douglas also said to John and Yoko, You’re both so different, you had such different childhoods. John said, it’s incredible isn’t it? Yoko said, Yes! Mike asked, What do you think has attracted you to each other? Yoko said, We’re very similar. John then said, She came from a Japanese upper-middle class family. Her parents were bankers and all that jazz,very straight. He said they were trying to get her off with an ambassador when she was 18.You know, now is the time you marry the ambassador and we get all settled. I come from a an upper-working class family in Liverpool, the other end of the world. John then said, we met but our minds are so similar,our ideas are so similar. It was incredible that we could be so alike from different environments, and I don’t know what it is, but we’re very similar in our heads. And we look alike too!

    Mike also asked John about his painful childhood,and how his father left him when he was 5,and John said how he only came back into his life when he was successful and famous(20 years later!),and John said he knew that I was living all those years in the same house with my auntie,but he never visited him.He said when he came back into his life all those years later,he looked after his father for the same amount of time he looked after him,about 4 years.

    He also talked about how his beloved mother Julia,who encouraged his music by teaching him to play the banjo,got hit and killed by a car driven by an off duty drunk cop when John was only 17 and just getting to have a relationship with her after she had given him away to be raised by her older sister Mimi when he was 5.

    And John also said,And in spite of all that,I still don’t have a hate-the-pigs attitude or hate-cops attitude.He then said, I think everybody’s human you know,but it was very hard for me at that time,and I really had a chip on my shoulder,and it still comes out now and then,because it’s a strange life to lead .He then said,But in general ah,I’ve got my own family now …I got Yoko and she made up for all that pain.

    John’s psychologist Dr. Arthur Janov told Mojo Magazine in 2000( parts of this interview is on a great UK John Lennon fan site,You Are The Plastic Ono Band) that John had as much pain as he had ever seen in his life,and he was a psychologist for at least 18 years when John and Yoko saw him in 1970! He said John was a very dedicated patient. He also said that John left therapy too early though and that they opened him up,but didn’t get a chance to put him back together again and Dr. Janov told John he need to finish the therapy,he said because of the immigration services and he thought Nixon was after him,he said we have to get out of the country.John asked if he could send a therapist to Mexico with him,and Dr. Janov told him we can’t do that because they had too many patients to take care of,and he said they cut the therapy off just as it started really,and we were just getting going.

    Also this great article by long time anti-sexist,anti-men’s violence,anti-pornography former all star high school football player and author of the great,important 2006 book,The Macho Paradox:How Some Men Hurt Women and How All Men Can Help, Jackson Katz.John Lennon on Fatherhood,Feminism,and Phony Tough Guy Posturing

    Also Cynthia Lennon is quoted in the great John Lennon biography Lennon,by award winning music journalist and former editor of The Melody Maker Magazine and good friend of John’s for 18 years,Ray Coleman as saying somethings like she knew as soon as she saw John and Yoko together she knew that she lost him,and that it was a meeting of the minds and that she knew that they were right for each other.She also said that she told John before he started his relationship with Yoko that she sees and incredible similarity between him and Yoko and said to him that there is something about her that is just like you.She told him that he may say that she’s this crazy avant garde artist and that he’s not interested in her,but that she can see more into John’s future with Yoko then he can.

  11. Topazthecat (@topazthecat1000)

    In this January 1971 interview with Red Mole John says that Yoko was well into liberation before he met her and that she had to fight her way through a man’s world and he said the art world is completely dominated by men and said so Yoko was full of revolutionary zeal when they met. Then John said there was never any question about it that they had to have a 50-50 relationship or there was no relationship and he said he was quick to learn and he said that Yoko did an article in Nova more than two years back in which she said Woman is the Ni**er of the world. A year later he co-wrote with Yoko the song Woman Is The N*gger of The World,and bravely performed it live on The Dick Cavett show and at Madison Square Garden in 1972 and the song was banned off a lot of radio stations.

    John also says in this same interview that it’s very subtle how you’re taught male superiority.

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