Lennon through the lens

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Nov. 10—May Pang never expected to be an arbiter of history. Pang, John Lennon's confidante and paramour during his infamous 18-month Lost Weekend, wants the world to know that the rumors of his debauchery have been greatly exaggerated.

Yes, Pang says, there were two well documented incidents at The Troubadour in Los Angeles in 1974 during which Lennon had too much to drink and made himself the center of attention in the wrong way.


The Lost Weekend — The Photography of May Pang

5 p.m. Friday, November 10, and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, November 11, and Sunday, November 12

Edition One Gallery

729 Canyon Road


505-982-9668; editiononegallery.com

And yes, he absolutely got ejected from a club for heckling the Smothers Brothers.

But these were exceptions, she says, and not their everyday reality.

"It was taken out of context, a lot of it," she says. "The press keeps repeating the same incidents; he was hanging out with the guys, and everybody is partying, but the person who's going to get noticed is John. It's not going to make good copy if you say, 'Oh, Harry Nilsson did this.' But if you say, 'Ringo [Starr] and John were in the same room,' who's going to get the copy? I'm not saying he didn't get rowdy. But it's been blown way out of proportion."

Pang's reminiscences are part of a national tour promoting her documentary, The Lost Weekend: A Love Story. She'll be at Edition One Gallery November 10-12 with a selection of her photographs from the Lennon chapter of her life. The Lost Weekend Lennon referred to lasted from the middle of 1973 to February 1975.

Pang says that for a long time, her photographs were merely memories that she would pull out occasionally to show an inquisitive visitor. But now that she's touring and interacting with Beatles fans, she's touched by their reactions to seeing her intimate memories.

"I always say, 'Now you can take John home.' Now you can see him as I saw him," she says. "At one gallery, I must've had four people tearing up. They saw a side of John they had never seen. These are at home; they're not posed for a photo shoot. It's just him with his son Julian."

Pang, 73, later married music producer Tony Visconti and raised two children. She started her own business designing feng shui jewelry. She published a memoir, Loving John: The Untold Story (Warner Books), in 1983, and a photo album called Instamatic Karma: Photographs of John Lennon (St. Martin's Press) in 2008. The latter was notable for introducing a photograph of Lennon signing a contract to dissolve the Beatles and also for documenting one of his final meetings with Paul McCartney.

Years later, Pang says she relishes her role in telling part of Lennon's story.

"Somebody asked me, 'How do you move on from that?'" she says. "You don't. You can't. He's around, no matter if you turn on the television or the radio. People are going to ask you. And I'm the only one who really talks about that time period, which was him at his most creative."

How did she find herself in this position? Pang first met Lennon and his wife, Yoko Ono, when Pang was a receptionist at ABKCO Records, the management office of Allen Klein. Over time, she began helping the couple with their avant-garde film projects and became a personal assistant to the couple.

Lennon and Ono were experiencing a rough patch in their marriage, and during the recording of the 1973 album Mind Games, Ono suggested to Pang that she become Lennon's companion. Pang was in her early 20s at the time and didn't want to be put in the middle of their tumultuous relationship.

"It was her original idea. And I said no. I wasn't interested," Pang says. "They were having such problems within their own marriage, and I did not want to be drawn into whatever situation they were in. I'd been with them for three years, so this wasn't something that came up overnight. She said, 'Maybe you should go out with him,' and I said, 'I don't want to.'"

But over time, Lennon and Pang were drawn together. They traveled together to Los Angeles in October of 1973, and Lennon began recording his famously messy Rock 'n' Roll album with Phil Spector in December of that year. Lennon acted as producer on Nilsson's Pussy Cats album in March of 1974, the same time as his well-documented incidents at the Troubadour took place.

But Pang says that Lennon was also spending a lot more time with his son Julian, and he was reconciling with McCartney behind the scenes. After they returned to New York, Pang says they had famous house guests, like David Bowie and Elton John.

Pang was there when Lennon and McCartney played together for the last time during a drug-addled jam session with Stevie Wonder. She was even playing the tambourine. She says she believes that if Lennon had lived longer, he would've gone on to play with McCartney again.

"I was always living in the moment," she says. "I got a chance to play with John and Paul in their last jam, and people ask, 'Did you think it was historic?' No. I just thought it was a fun moment. John said, 'Grab a tambourine and join us.' I'm not thinking it's historic or that it would be the last time they'd play together. It's like me capturing a picture of John's hand as he's signing the contract to break up the Beatles. I'm not thinking of it as historic."

Lennon was working on Walls and Bridges during his relationship with Pang, and that's her voice you hear on "#9 Dream."

Pull Quote

When Lennon was murdered in 1980, Pang hadn't seen him for a few years. But she was physically close; she was just a few blocks from his home in the Dakota apartment building on that fateful day on December 8, 1980.

"When I heard it, I thought, 'It can't be real,'" she says. "I was listening to the radio at the time and started calling friends up. ... I wasn't far from the situation, and I ran home. The minute I got in the door, the phone was ringing, and it was Ringo's executive secretary calling and asking me the number for the hospital. She was calling from England, and they'd already heard."

The years following his death were devastating for Pang and everyone who loved Lennon. Pang maintained a relationship with Lennon's first wife, Cynthia, and Julian, but has only seen Ono once since 1975. That was a chance encounter in 2006, when they were both in Iceland on separate projects and stayed at the same Reykjavik hotel.

They briefly said hi, Pang says, and Ono waved at her. That was the full extent of their interaction, and Pang thought that situation would've made Lennon laugh.

"It's like a trick that gets played on you," she says. "I think John was doing it from wherever he is. Because it was John's birthday."