Gary James' Interview With John Lennon's Girlfriend
She's an entrepreneur. She's a song plugger. She's an author. She's the one-time girlfriend of John Lennon. Her name is May Pang.
May talked with us about her time with John Lennon and the book she wrote about it, Loving John (1983 - Warner Books)
Q - I bought and read your book, Loving John when it first came out. Now, I read it's out of print. Why would that be? I mean Danny Sugerman's No One Here Gets Out Alive is still in print.
A - It's hard to say why. I really don't know. When I first put out my book, nobody realized the real story that went behind it. I guess people couldn't go beyond the John and Yoko image. People were not ready to accept that. Let me ask you this: what did you feel when you read the book? How did you feel? What did you think?
Q - I thought if this guy wasn't John Lennon, no woman would've put up with him.
A - OK. What I'm saying to you; and that's all fair. That's true. For certain things, you're right. Nobody would've put up with it. But again, then you also know about some of the women that have been abused in their life too. So, it's a little bit of wherever you want to go. You've seen those on Oprah. Why'd you stay with that guy? It's a bit of both. For me, it was like, could you have believed what I told you?
Q - Yes. The John Lennon you saw on stage or in A Hard Days Night was not the John Lennon you'd see off stage.
A - Correct.
Q - Of course, you could probably make that statement about any public figure.
A - That's absolutely true. It could be about anyone. My thing is, a lot of people were not ready to accept that side of John. So when my book comes out, there's so many different versions and even to this day I have people writing to me, "I've never heard of you before. All of a sudden you're there." And I've always been there, it's just that I'm the one that was never married to him, but I was there. But, it's the time period you talk about that most people are interested in John when I was there with him. It's quite interesting because the party line is he had a long, lost weekend. And that's really a reference to that movie, the Ray Milland movie where the guy was drunk and it was all weekend. But it wasn't a weekend. I've had people actually say to me "why are you talking about John like you know him? You were only with him for a weekend."
Q - That was John's flip way of describing it.
A - He went back home and you know in my book, you read it, in the last five years I actually saw him, but nobody knew. So, how is he gonna say "I'm with Yoko and I'm happy" and turn around a say, "well I had the best time of my life, I'm still with May." Do you know what I mean? It didn't work, But John and I had something very special. But the time period everybody talks about, oh, he was so drunk when he was with May. But what people don't realize is, that's just the party line that went out. How many times did he really get drunk that you read about?
Q - I only read about the incident at The Troubadour when The Smothers Brothers were performing and John was in the audience, yelling up comments to The Smothers Brothers.
A - Exactly right. That's the one that keeps cropping up. But, that the only one. We talk about Elton John. Well, I was with him then. We talk about him hanging out with David Bowie. I was with him. But we don't see that part because that is not the way the press is made out. You know from when an Elliot Mintz represents Yoko puts it out. I'm the one that they want to put to the side.
Q - Wait a minute, didn't Elliot Mintz represent John?
A - He really represented Yoko more than he represented John, although he would say things. You didn't hear much of Elliot. It really wasn't Elliot representing John at all half the time. He would say "Oh, we were together." But it was really for Yoko more than John. He was really the spokesperson, 'cause you really didn't hear anything in the last five years. The only time you hear about Elliot more is after John died. I'm just giving you a perspective. I remember Elliot form Day One. I was there when he came in to interview them. To me, he's always been friendly with Yoko. Even the things when he says, "Oh, John and I were out in L.A." He did not represent John. People think he did. He didn't at that time, when we were together, he did not represent us.
Q - You were in Syracuse, N.Y. in October of 1971 for the John and Yoko Art Show, This Is Not Here at the Everson Museum.
A - Correct.
Q - What do you remember about that exhibit?
A - All the water stuff that was put out there. For me, it was different because I was preparing all of this for weeks and then I played hostess to the stars that had to come.
Q - The birthday party for John (John Lennon's 31st birthday) held at the Hotel Syracuse.
A - But John never knew, like for instance that Ringo was going to come. He was a surprise. Then there was Phil Spector. He didn't know who was going to be there. So, I came up on a plane with them and gathered everybody. And getting Phil Spector up there was not easy.
Q - He didn't like coming to Syracuse?
A - No, no, no. The plane ride was enough. It's not Syracuse itself. It was the plane ride. We had a mechanical problem and the plane we were supposed to get on, they were sending another one and he flipped out. He made Ringo and I think Klaus (Voorman) go on another plane with him. It was just too wild. Then we got there and with the birthday party...I think Elliot came to that. I think that was actually the first time Elliot did interview them.
Q - According to our local paper, that birthday party was a star-studded affair. People like Jack Nicholson were there.
A - No.
Q - He wasn't there?
A - No. I don't remember Jack being there.
Q - How about Dick Cavett?
A - He might've.
Q - George Harrison?
A - No. George was not there. Ringo was the only one that came up. Nicky Hopkins was there. Jim Keltner was there. Phil Spector was there. And then later on, Peter Brown. Then, we had some of the artists and people like that.
Q - This was quite a lavish event, wasn't it?
A - No. It was a surprise for John. In 1971, he just turned 31 and it was on his birthday when this whole thing happened. So, it was Yoko's one woman art exhibit. It wasn't John's. But, it was on his birthday, so it was a combination.
Q - What did you think of Yoko's artwork?
A - To me, it was strange. It was not conventional, but after working on it for so long, it was something I had to learn (about), the Fluxus Movement. That was like the elite avant-garde group. If you belonged to it, you were in the group. Believe me, I'm a learner on that one. I still don't know a lot about it. I met Jonus Meekus and George McKunus. They were the artists that showed up. They started the Fluxus Movement.
Q - What sticks out in my memory is Yoko had a gum machine there, a dispenser. Do you remember that?
A - Go ahead.
Q - And inside the dispenser was cat shit, with a sign on the outside of the dispenser saying 5 ¢ (5 cents). That didn't seem like art to me.
A - I know.
Q - It seemed like it was a put-on. I could just imagine John Lennon going along with it because of his strange sense of humor.
A - That's what it was...his strange sense of humor.
Q - The Everson Museum was this beautiful museum.
A - Right. Jim Harithas was the curator. I remember the whole thing. But again, for John, knowing him it was more a laugh. For Yoko, this was a serious thing. It was two different things. Invites that went out to have people come, were all in water. It was a "wet" invitation that everybody got. It was very elaborate.
Q - The invitation was actually encased in water?
A - Yeah. (laughs) When we sent it out, it was called "We are all water". So everybody had to do something to do with water. Every exhibit they donated partly with water, this whole thing. For me, it was a long, long day and night, building up to it, getting it ready. There was so many people involved in it.
Q - Or in the words of The Beatles, it was "A Hard Days Night".
A - Exactly. So, I remember that very well. (laughs) That part of it. And the next day, whenever it was, I went home with the car and some other stuff.
Q - You drove, or you took a limo?
A - They had a limo, but I had to take home a lot of clothing.
Q - And John and Yoko naturally flew back.
A - I'm not sure they flew back. They may have come home also in another limo later on. I think they came home later.
Q - Let me quote from your book. Page 152, you write about Yoko, "She felt that she had become sufficiently famous in her own right and did not want to share her fame with John anymore. John stood in the way of her career and she was determined to continued on her own." What career are you talking about here...art or music?
A - Music.
Q - She thought she was a singer / songwriter?
A - Well, it was a little bit of both. At that point in time, it would probably have been music more than art, 'cause she was making albums. She felt she was on par. I even had musicians coming up and asking me, saying that she was telling them she was the songwriter in the family.
Q - (laughs)
A - When I worked there, I had to walk the fine line. They were asking me, "What about John? Doesn't he write?" Of course he does. How do you explain this? I said, whatever. Yoko writes and I'm sure she has her side. I'm sure you have all of her albums. (laughs)
Q - I don't know about that. But, when I wanted to drive my father crazy, I'd put on one of her albums and he'd run out the door!
A - OK, well...(laughs)
Q - Page 84, "John believed that people had an expectation of him because he was John Lennon. The thought that he might not fulfill that expectation made him nervous and he preferred to meet as few people as possible." To your knowledge, was anyone ever disappointed after meeting John Lennon?
A - There was a part of John that was always insecure. What people don't realize is, John is the John you see. It's like what you said earlier. What you see on stage is different from the man he is at home. He could be as dull as the next person in the same breath. You'd say 'What do you want to do?' "Nothing today." 'OK, OK' you'd say, 'but there's so much to do.' But again, that was John at home. People see stars where they have this life and they go out and party. You think about it, they must have this great life, they're out every night. That wasn't John. He preferred to sit in front of a TV set. So, that's really what it meant.
Q - As time goes on, that becomes more understandable.
A - More than before?
Q - Sure. When you're younger, you buy into this whole Hollywood p.r. image.
A - Right.
Q - By the way, after John and Yoko's art show in Syracuse at the Everson Museum, membership increased. Had it just been advertised as Yoko's art show, well, you'd have to wonder.
A - Well, you know what? John was not stupid. He understood that.
Q - I'm sure he did. He just went along with it, for whatever reason.
A - Right, because that was his wife. You try to be supportive for whatever it may be.
Q - Page 179, John talking: "I've got so many crazy fans. You know all I need is one of them who really is my fan and who really loves me but has a screw loose and do you know what he'll do? He'll probably get me. That's what he'll do." First, he thought it would be a man not a woman who would get him. And secondly he really believed that, didn't he?
A - He believed it to a certain degree. I understand what he was going through. I didn't understand it before. You don't understand it unless you're in that realm, when you see a million fans coming at you. You go "Oh my God! Where do you go?" When you see a guy like Manson...there's a guy who has a screw loose. OK. You just need one. That's all it takes. And there were so many out there. We just don't know who they are. He said it in more of a general statement. That's only because you get people like Manson who said "They told me in the song." Helter Skelter. But the thing is, John didn't write that one. But, they come to John. Then you go back and you think about that time when he said "We're more popular than Jesus Christ." He wasn't talking about they were better. I understood it the minute I heard it.
Q - It wasn't 'til years later that I read the entire interview and that statement was taken out of context. Had John substituted the word records or jukeboxes, he probably would not have gotten himself in all that controversy. Most likely, nobody would have raised an eyebrow. You'll notice that Elvis never commented on controversial issues of the day when he was asked about them at press conferences.
A - Right. John was always outspoken. That was the thing. Again, his line was taken out of context. That was not done in the correct way. If you think about it, who wanted to go into religion at that time? Music was the key and he noticed it. That's what he was doing...making a statement, isn't it kind of telling that we, The Beatles are bigger than Christ? But, not saying they were better or it was right. It was a statement saying look at where the world was at. That's all he was saying. But then, it takes only one to misconstrue a statement.
Q - Let's say John had never made that statement. He might have suffered the same fate in the end.
A - Right. When you have someone who's not completely there, it doesn't matter what you do. It doesn't matter.
Q - It's interesting that John almost saw that coming. He had predicted what his future could be and ultimately that prediction was right.
A - Can I tell you something? I think Elvis or anybody who has fans after them, it's there. You get it. It doesn't have to be just John. What I'm saying is if you are idolized, there is one someone in the crowd. You're reading much more into John. Knowing it, it's not that. It's there. You can feel it when somebody comes up to talk to you. You're trying to get away and they're still in your face.
Q - John never did employ a bodyguard did he?
A - We never had that problem.
Q - I also never understood why Yoko would give interviews and tell what their (John and Yoko's) routine was, what their schedule was.
A - Right. John never gave that out. John didn't give out routines. John wouldn't talk about his lifestyle. That was not his thing.
Q - These interviews were seemingly a blueprint of where the Lennons would be at such and such a time. It was a disaster in the making.
A - I know. And I think Chapman also said when he read Esquire Magazine and no possessions and you're talking about money. John never talked about that. That was Yoko. John didn't like to talk about wealth. In that time, believe it or not, they were more paper rich and cash poor. They were wealthier than the average person. I'm saying they were the guinea pigs of the music business. In the early days, even though they had everything, they were really more paper rich.
Q - I'd read that in 1980, John was making $50,000 a day in royalties. When he wanted a pack of cigarettes, he'd give somebody in the Dakota building a $100 bill to get him a pack of cigarettes. When that person returned, he'd say keep the change. Everybody wanted to go out and buy a pack of cigarettes for John.
A - He wasn't supposed to be smoking. If you remember in my book, that's when he was supposed to be quitting. (laughs) You see what I'm saying? Prior to that, there were cartons of cigarettes in the house. So obviously if he did that it was because he was not supposed to be smoking and then he was desperate for something, so he obviously sent someone out.
Q - You're saying the $50,000 a day report is an exaggeration?
A - Absolutely. Are you kidding? I'm not saying he didn't make money. Think about it: $50,000 a day? I doubt it. Not a day. They definitely made better deals as time went on, when things were re-negotiated.
Q - I recall in 1970 reading that John and Paul were each worth about $900,000 a piece. George and Ringo considerably less. Now Paul is worth 1.5 billion dollars. He must've made some good deals along the way.
A - His father-in-law helped him buy his publishing. That's where the big stuff comes from. When John and I got together, Beatles and company were in litigation, in '73. We had no money. We were given a stipend. The Beatles, the four guys were given a stipend. Each week they were given like an allowance of like $3,000 a month. But again, you have to do that in respect of what it would be now-a-days. $3,000 in those days was a lot of money, compared to what $3,000 would be now, which is nothing. $3,000 in 1973 would be worth anywhere up to five times its worth. I know it sounds little. We didn't have any money. When John and I went to L.A. and there's another myth. We went to L.A. She (Yoko) didn't send us to L.A. If you remember it, it's in the book. We actually left for L.A. His lawyer had to figure out how we were gonna live, because the money that came in was actually to take care of the household that was in New York and we didn't have any money. So, John borrowed money against his royalties for the next album.
Q - Page 161, "Even though John was a vodka drinker, he loved drinks made with cream and sweet liquors. John used alcohol as a medicine to calm his nerves." What was he nervous about?
A - That part of it was more my co-writer than me. We had no liquor in the house. That was more of they wanted to make something and it wasn't. John didn't like to drink. He didn't like the taste of liquor. He was more of a social drinker. Harry (Nilsson) said (to John) "you gotta try this drink." It was a brandy Alexander. John said "wow, it's like a milkshake." I didn't take drugs or drink. My problem was I drank Coca-cola all the time. There were bottles of it, no cans. It was not something that would calm his nerves. If we were out, he'd say "OK, let me have a drink." He always got nervous before he had to do interviews.
Q - Are you glad that you worked for the Lennons during that period of time?
A - There's no regrets. I've had an amazing experience in my life and it's still happening. So, why would I regret that? I don't.
Q - What's your life like these days?
A - I've been doing some jewelry. I make the jewelry. It's on my website (MayPang.com). Right now I'm in the process of finally thinking about my photos. Photos that I've had for years and maybe putting them together. So, that should be in the future. You read the book. People have no idea that I was with John for this length of time. And it's not a short amount of time either. When people talk, they say he was so down and out when he was in L.A. He was always drunk. We didn't only live in L.A. You know when people look at that picture with John and the New York City t-shirt, that was on my balcony! That's where we lived together. But, you don't know that, because it's never referred to.
Q - That's the Bob Gruen photo.
A - Right. Bob still works for Yoko, so that tells you where the allegiance goes to. I have to sort of tell people, I was there. I was standing right by his side when all these pictures were taken. You know "Number 9 Dream"?
Q - Yeah.
A - You know whose voice that is?
Q - I should know that, but the answer escapes me.
A - It's me. I sing background with John and I whispered his name. But people have a tendency to automatically think it's Yoko. Now, John, in his lifetime had his only number one hit album with a number one single, when I was with him. "Walls And Bridges" was that album. So, a lot of people don't realize that. It was the most prolific period of his career, as a soloist. I'm not talking being a Beatle. And I was the one who was with him. So, when we used to have McCartney coming around or George or Jagger or Bowie, I was the one that was there with him. So, it goes back to your question, do I have any regrets working for him? Why? I don't have any regrets 'cause it led to other things. I would never have thought in a million years that I would've been John Lennon's girlfriend.
Q - The only thing harder than that would be being the boyfriend of May Pang.
A - That's tough. Or husband, let's put it that way. The terrible thing about it is, I didn't talk about it at home when I was married. But, I'm not married now. So, it's something I can talk about freely. But, that was a big part of my life. I had spent ten years knowing John and working for him. So, it's quite interesting.
Q - I envy you, May. You got to spend time with somebody who the world will always be interested in.
A - It's true, isn't it? And yet I see that and at home it was just John. We just had a good time. We'd go out. I took him on a bus ride. Funny, taking him on a bus ride in Manhattan. It was fun. We'd say, let's go out, get in a car. We would go out to the Hamptons. The first time he ever went out to the Hamptons was the two of us together. We'd never done that, so we just drove out there. Had a great time.