Monday, April 13, 2009

Beatle People: May Pang

May Fung Yee Pang (龐鳳儀 / 庞凤仪) (born October 24, 1950) is best known as the former lover of ex-Beatle John Lennon. She had previously worked as a personal assistant and production coordinator for Lennon and his wife, Yoko Ono.

In 1973, Lennon and Ono separated and Lennon and Pang had a relationship that lasted over 18 months, which Lennon later referred to as his "Lost Weekend." Pang produced two books about their relationship: a memoir called Loving John (Warner, 1983) and a book of photographs, Instamatic Karma (St. Martin's, 2008).

Pang was married to producer Tony Visconti from 1989 to 2000, and had two children, Sebastian and Lara.

Early years

Pang is the daughter of Chinese immigrants and grew up in New York's Spanish Harlem area with an older sister and an adopted brother (both of whom were born in China). Pang's mother had a laundry business in the area, but the Pang family left when the tenements where they lived were scheduled to be torn down, and moved to an apartment near 97th Street and 3rd Avenue, in Manhattan.

After graduating from Saint Michael Academy, Pang attended the New York City Community College. She wanted to be a model, but was told she was too "ethnic" by the modeling agencies. Pang's early jobs included being a song-plugger, which meant encouraging artists to record them. In 1970, she began work in New York as a receptionist at ABKCO Records, Allen Klein's management office, which at that time represented Apple Records and three former Beatles: Lennon, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr.

Pang was asked to help Lennon and Ono with their avant-garde film projects, Up Your Legs Forever and Fly, in December 1970. Pang was then asked to be Lennon and Ono's secretary and factotum/gofer in New York and England, which led to a permanent position as their personal assistant when the Lennons moved from London to New York in 1971. Pang coordinated an art exhibition in Syracuse, New York, on 9 October 1971, for Ono's This Is Not Here art show at the Everson Museum. Ono's show coincided with Lennon's 31st birthday, and a party was held at the Hotel Syracuse, which was attended by Ringo Starr, Phil Spector, and Elliot Mintz, amongst others.

The Lost Weekend

Lennon called his 18-month relationship with Pang his "Lost Weekend," a reference to the The Lost Weekend film, which starred Ray Milland, Jane Wyman and Phillip Terry. The film was based on a novel of the same title by Charles R. Jackson, about a writer who drinks heavily because of the accusation that he had had an affair with one of his male friends while in college. The reference to the gay affair was removed in the film, and the main character's descent into an alcoholic binge is blamed on writer's block.

In summer 1973, Pang was working on the recording of Lennon's Mind Games album. Lennon and Ono were having marital problems and decided to separate, and Ono suggested to Pang that she become Lennon's companion. Ono explained that she and Lennon were not getting along, had been arguing and were growing apart, and said that Lennon would start seeing other women. She pointed out that Lennon had said he found Pang sexually attractive. Pang replied that she could never start a relationship with Lennon as he was her employer and married. Ono ignored Pang's protests and said that she would arrange everything. Ono later confirmed this conversation in an interview. In October 1973, Lennon and Pang left New York for Los Angeles, living at the homes of friends.

When Lennon began producing Nilsson's Pussy Cats album, he thought it would be a good idea for the musicians to live under one roof to ensure they would get to the studio on time, so Pang rented a beach house in Santa Monica in March 1974, for Ringo Starr, Harry Nilsson, and Keith Moon to live in. During the recording, Lennon and Nilsson were involved in two drinking incidents at The Troubadour after starting work: The first was when Lennon placed a Kotex on his forehead and scuffled with a waitress, and two weeks later when Lennon and Nilsson were ejected from the same club after heckling the Smothers Brothers. Lennon then collaborated with Spector in December 1973, to record an album of Lennon's favorite oldies, but the alcohol-fueled recording sessions were not successful. It was reported that Spector fired a loaded gun in the studio control room, and Lennon had to finish the album in New York's Record Plant, in the autumn of 1974. Pang was credited on the finished album as "Production Coordinator and Mother Superior", in recognition of the difficult time she had organizing the production schedule and musicians.

In May 1974, Lennon and Pang returned to live in New York City. Lennon stopped drinking and concentrated on recording. As Lennon had previously had cats in Liverpool—while living at his aunt Mimi's house—he and Pang had two cats in New York called Major and Minor. In the early summer of 1974, while Lennon was working on his Walls and Bridges album, the couple moved into a penthouse apartment at 434 East 52nd Street, where Lennon and Pang claim to have seen a UFO on 23 August 1974, from their terrace, which had a panoramic view of east New York. To gain access to the deck Lennon and Pang had to climb out of a window. On the night in question a naked Lennon excitedly called Pang to join him on the roof, and they both watched a circular object silently floating less than 100 feet away. Lennon called Bob Gruen—Lennon's official photographer—and told him what had happened. Gruen suggested Lennon should call the police, but Lennon laughed it off, saying, "I’m not going to call up the newspaper and say, 'This is John Lennon and I saw a flying saucer last night'." Gruen called the local police precinct which confirmed that three other people had reported a sighting, and the Daily News said that five people had reported a sighting in the same area of New York where Lennon and Pang lived.

Pang is the voice whispering Lennon's name on "#9 Dream." Pang claims that Lennon's song, "Surprise, Surprise (Sweet Bird of Paradox)," was written about her. Lennon achieved the only number one single in his lifetime with "Whatever Gets You Thru the Night." Pang received an RIAA gold record award for her work on Walls and Bridges and continued her work as production coordinator of Lennon's Rock 'n' Roll album. Pang also worked on albums by Nilsson, Starr, Elton John and David Bowie.

While visiting Mick Jagger, Lennon and Pang saw a Scottish-style cottage that was for sale in Montauk, New York—part of The Hamptons area — and was close to the Montauk Point Lighthouse. Lennon asked a real estate broker to put in an offer for it in February 1975. Lennon and Pang were also planning on visiting McCartney and Linda in New Orleans in February 1975, where McCartney was recording the Venus and Mars album, but Lennon went back to Ono the day before the planned visit, after Ono said she had a new cure for Lennon's smoking habit.

Although Lennon would publicly lament this period, he did not do so in private. Journalist Larry Kane, who befriended Lennon in 1964, wrote a comprehensive biography of Lennon which detailed the "Lost Weekend" period. In the interview with Kane, Lennon explained his feelings about his time with Pang: "You know Larry, I may have been the happiest I've ever been... I loved this woman (Pang), I made some beautiful music and I got so fucked up with booze and shit and whatever."

Pang's books about Lennon

After Lennon went back to Ono, Pang started working for United Artists Records and Island Records as a PR manager, working on albums by Bob Marley and Robert Palmer.

Pang published her memoir, Loving John, in 1983. It was later updated and re-named, John Lennon: The Lost Weekend. The original 500-page Loving John book focused more on Pang's role on Lennon's albums and sessions. It was edited down to 300 pages, concentrating mostly on the sensational aspects of their relationship. It also included postcards that Lennon had written to Pang during his travels throughout the world in the late 70s. Pang claims that she and Lennon remained lovers until 1977, and stayed in contact until his death.

Pang's book of photographs, Instamatic Karma, was published in 2008. Besides the candid personal portraits, the book contains some historically important photographs, such as Lennon signing the official dissolution of the Beatles partnership, and the last known photograph of Lennon and Paul McCartney together. Cynthia Lennon also provided a back cover endorsement, acknowledging Pang's role in reuniting Lennon with his estranged first son, Julian.

Personal life

Pang married record producer Tony Visconti in 1989; the couple divorced in 2000. They had two children, Sebastian and Lara. She remains in touch with some of the people from her time with Lennon, and was invited by Paul McCartney to the memorial service for Linda McCartney. She was an invited guest at The Concert for George in 2002, and remains close to Cynthia Lennon, her husband Noel Charles, and Lennon's first son, Julian Lennon.

Although having had no contact for 20 years, on 9 October 2006 Pang accidentally met Ono in Iceland, on what would have been Lennon's 66th birthday. Ono was in Iceland to unveil a sculpture in Reykjavík, and was staying in the same hotel.

Pang is currently living with her children in upstate New York, and produces a line of stainless steel Feng Shui jewelry. Pang is a volunteer for an animal shelter called Animal Haven in New York, and the owner of a dog rescued after Hurricane Katrina.


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