Sunday, July 20, 2008

Loving John

by May Pang

She was the woman who shared John's love.

May Pang was just twenty-two, but to John Lennon and Yoko Ono she had become indispensable. She typed their letters and picked up their clothing where they dropped it; she carried irreplaceable tapes and files between ABKCO in New York and the Lennon estate in England. She budgeted and contracted for their albums, recruited 365 pairs of bare legs for a Lennon peace film, and even "passed" trunkfuls of Yoko's clothes through customs. The Lennons' whims were her commands, and no matter how bizarre the orders, May managed to follow them.

Then, one morning at the Dakota, Yoko informed May that she was to begin loving John.


"Listen, May," Yoko began when she called early the next morning, "I heard you were holding hands in the studio last night." She must have had spies everywhere; I felt like I was in a samurai movie. "You know you are not supposed to do that."

I didn't want her to get John upset, so I said, "I'll take care of it." John was still asleep, and Yoko said that she would call back. John and she spoke periodically during the day, but no matter what she said to John, he remained jubilant.

That night Spector came over to the house to work on "Angel Baby," which John and he planned to record the following night. The fact that they refused to plan the entire album in advance and were working track by track seemed inefficient to me, but John pooh-poohed me. He and Spector enjoyed those nights together, nights that gave John yet another opportunity to sit back and be amused by Spector's antics.

Before the second session John once again poured himself a flask of vodka. He looked at me. "We both know you don't need a security blanket," I said jokingly.

"I don't . . . but I'm takin' one anyway."

When John, Arlene, and I got to the studio, the atmosphere was subtly different than it had been on the first night. The mystery and suspense of the first night had evaporated; everybody knew what was in store - a long, grinding evening. The musicians who had been cool and professional with each other on the first evening greeted each other like long-lost army buddies who had suddenly been recalled to fight one more war. Everyone seemed almost too relaxed, too jolly.

After the musicians had gathered, Spector, followed by George, marched into the studio. He was wearing a costume, a white surgical gown with a stethoscope around his neck. Spector was in a wild mood. He took out his bottle of Courvoisier and took a swig. Then he flashed his gun. Everyone cheered. Once again chairs had to be pushed into place to accommodate the orchestra. Chattering wildly, Spector ran from musician to musician, revving each up for the evening's work.

He ran down "Angel Baby," then the orchestra played it together. Then he went into the booth to work with the rhythm section. On the first night the musicians had stayed in their seats, waiting for instructions. On the second night, knowing that the rhythm section was in for a long haul, they got up and went into the hall. John followed after them. John and Jesse Ed Davis had begun to pass the flask of vodka back and forth.

"Come on, have another drink," said Jesse, and John obliged. "Have another one," Jesse said a few minutes later. Once again John did as he was told. Jesse was fascinated by his ability to manipulate John, and John was delighted to have found a playmate eager to encourage the bad boy in him.

Then they circulated the flask. Unexpectedly musicians pulled out their own bottles. Arlene and I looked at each other - we sensed trouble.

As the night wore on, Spector continued to work with the rhythm section. They looked tired and thirsty and cranky and bored. "Again," ordered Spector. "Again."

One of the musicians said to John, "Hey, man, why did he call us for seven? It's already eleven, and we haven't played a thing. We've been here four fucking hours!"

A saxophonist said to me, "You don't know what hell is until you've heard 'Angel Baby' forty times!"

Meanwhile John and Jesse continued to hang out in the hall and swig away at the vodka. John's drinking made me nervous. He marched over, grinned, and kissed me. Then he kissed me harder and slipped his hand into my blouse.

"Please don't drink any more," I said as I pulled away, embarrassed.

"Why not? I'm just hanging out with the boys. Don't you like me to hang out with the boys?"

"I think we should go home."

"I haven't done my vocal yet."

"Please, let's get out of here."

"Don't worry about a thing. You just stay straight so that there will be someone who knows what's going on."

John laughed and kissed me on the chin, then sauntered back to Jesse.

When I saw Joni Mitchell arrive, I got up and went back into the studio. John followed after me. Neither of us was in the mood for her. In the studio, Spector was working with the horn section.

Suddenly a clarinetist stood up and put down his instrument. Spector rushed from the booth. "What the fuck is your problem?" he bellowed at the musician.

"I've spent five hours, man, doing twenty minutes of work," the musician replied.

"What records have you done, man?" barked Spector. "Minor-selling jazz artists like Gil Evans? Do you know the records I've made, man? The Ronettes, The Crystals, Ike and Tina? What have you done, man?"

The horn player yelled back. For twenty minutes Spector and the musician harangued each other.

John grew tense. He hated seeing people abuse each other. "Let's go," I kept urging him, but he insisted on staying. While we waited Joni Mitchell waited, too. She did not take her eyes off John.

Finally John marched into the booth. "When are you goin' to get to me?" he asked Spector.

"I'll get to you, I'll get to you," Spector replied, paying him almost no attention.

"You'll get to me!" John picked up a headset and smashed it angrily against the console. It shattered, and the pieces fell onto the floor. There was a moment of dead silence while everyone stared at John and Spector. Then John laughed, and his laughter dissipated the tension.

"Now, what did you do that for? You're slowing things down," Spector growled.

When the strings and horns were done, Spector gathered the orchestra together, and John and I went into the booth. I held John's hand while he sang "Angel Baby." Again it took only a few takes.

When the session was over, I took John by the arm. He was weaving slightly as we walked out of the studio. Outside he suddenly turned, started wildly at Jesse, rushed over to him, and kissed him. Jesse laughed. He thought it was very funny. He leaned over and kissed John back. John reached out and sent Jesse sprawling across the parking lot. "Faggot!" he screamed.

I had never seen John like that. I approached him and stared at him. His eyes were so glassy, he couldn't see me. Suddenly I realized that liquor was the one thing that enabled him to overcome his desire to be controlled by a strong woman. It was obvious no woman - not even Yoko - could handle him when he was drunk. I was very nervous. Still, I did not want to leave his side.

I looked around. Elliot wasn't waiting for us. Spector and George suddenly pulled up in one car; Roy Cicala pulled up behind him. "In here," said Spector, pushing me into Cicala's car while he hustled John and Arlene into the other.

"I want to ride with John," I said.

"In here," he ordered.

"Do what Phil says," John said drunkenly.

"No, I want to ride with John."

"It's a short drive." Spector grabbed me by the arm and pushed me into the other car.

It was early morning, and the roads were deserted. As we drove I could hear John in the car behind me. He was screaming at the top of his lungs. First he screamed "May." Then he screamed "Yoko." Over and over again I heard him scream "May . . . Yoko . . . May . . . Yoko . . ."

When we got to the house, I dashed out of the car. Arlene got out of the other one and ran to me. She looked very frightened. "John's gone mad," she said. "He tried to kick out the windows of the car. He's been hitting everyone and pulling their hair. Jim Keltner tried to sit on him and hold him down, but it was impossible."

I saw John stagger out of the car and I went to him and put my arms around him. "Let's go inside," I said.

"He's a very skinny man, and it's hard to believe how strong he is," Keltner told me. "I'm much bigger than he is and I couldn't hold him down. I can't believe it. He's stronger than I am. I think he's uncontrollable."

"We should put him to bed," I said.

"He's too drunk to sleep," said Spector. "We should sober him up. Otherwise the alcohol in him is going to make him crazier and crazier. In his condition he's capable of anything. You're in great danger. Don't you understand that? We should sober him up. Do as I say. Make some coffee. Otherwise you'll be sorry. You could be hurt."

"We should put him to bed," I shouted.

"Make some coffee!" Spector bellowed. "Do as I say."

I made the coffee, and Spector tried to get John to drink it.

"What are you bastards doin' here?" John suddenly screaming. "None of you is any fuckin' good."

"Easy does it," said Spector. "Easy does it. Drink some more coffee."

Although Spector had said that he was just trying to calm John down before letting him go to sleep, everything he actually did was having exactly the opposite effect. The more coffee John drank, the more argumentative and violent he became. Suddenly it struck me that Spector had taken total control of that epsiode just as he had at the recording studio. The same climate of hositility, mistrust, and general pandemonium was beginning to reign at the house.

"Get the fuck out of me house." John started to weave toward Spector. He was too drunk and uncoordinated to do any harm, but Spector jumped as if he were under attack.

"We've got to get him upstairs," Spector said. "Now - we have to put him to bed before he hurts someone. Grab him!" Phil shouted.

George grabbed John by one arm, and Spector grabbed him by the other. Together they began to walk John up the stairs. I followed after them. "Don't come with us," Spector said dramatically. "This man is capable of great danger. Keep your distance."

No matter what Spector said I kept following behind them. They got to the head of the stairs, then took John into the bedroom. I followed after them, but Spector slammed the door in my face.

Suddenly I heard John scream. "I can't see. You Jew bastard, give me me glasses. I can't see!"

I banged frantically at the door, then I tried to force it open, but someone was standing against it.

"What are you doin' to me?" screamed John. "Get away!"

I heard the sounds of a fight and I knew I needed help. I ran to the phone.

"Who are you calling?" Arlene shouted from the bottom of the stairs. "You're not calling the police?"

"Are you crazy? I'm calling Tony King. I need a man here - a man John will listen to." While I dialed Tony's number John's scream grew even louder.

I told Tony that Spector and his bodyguard were in the room with John, that John was screaming, and that I needed help quickly.

After I got off the phone, Arlene and I stood there, listening to the screams. We were both terrified. Finally Spector and George walked down the stairs.

"What did you do to him?" I called out.

"He kicked me," said George.

"We tied him up." Spector glared at me. "He was too dangerous. We tied him up tight so he won't be able to harm anyone and he'll be able to sleep it off. Untie him in the morning. Let's go, George." They headed for the door. "Good night," said Spector. "By the way, wasn't it a terrific session?"

After Spector left, it was quiet for a few minutes. Arlene and I said nothing. We were both too afraid to go up the stairs. Then we heard John scream. "Untie me, May, damn it. You had better untie me or else!"

The screaming continued for another five minutes. I didn't know what to do. I wanted to help him, but at that moment I was just too panicked. Then I heard John trashing around, as well as the sound of glass shattering. I knew that John had ripped himself loose and had just thrown something through the plate glass window in the bedroom.

"Fung Yee," he screamed, "where are you?" John staggered out of the bedroom and stood at the top of the stairs. He wasn't wearing his glasses. His feet and wrists had been tied with neckties. He had pulled his wrists apart, snapping the ties in the process. Two ties dangled from his feet.

Squinting, John stood at the top of the stairs. "Yoko! Yoko!" he screamed. "Yoko, you slant-eyed bitch, you wanted to get rid of me. All this has happened because you wanted to get rid of me." He stumbled down the stairs. "Yoko, I'm goin' to get you."

John was lost in a nightmare. His brow was bathed in sweat and he was literally foaming at the mouth. He began to shake as if he were going to have a convulsion. "Yoko, look what you've done to me," he roared. He tried to focus. Humiliated and tortured, he seemed overwhelmed by confusion. He stood there not knowing what he wanted to do. Then he began to moan. It was the sound of a wounded wild animal. He looked at me, but he did not recognize me. He did not know where he was, "Yoko, I'm goin' to get you," he screamed. He looked at me blindly. Then he charged wildly at me. I had never been more terrified in my entire life.

"John," I screamed. I turned and dashed out the door, Arlene following after me. As I ran down Stone Canyon Road, a Jeep drove down the road, and the driver jammed on his brakes when he saw me, almost hitting me, but I kept going.

Finally I reached the Bel-Air Hotel. As I headed for the entrance I heard John's voice cut through the night. "Nobody loves me," he roared. "Nobody gives a shit about me! . . . Everybody just uses me! . . . No one cares about me!" I hoped no one in that exclusive neighborhood would call the police.

I ran into the hotel lobby, told the desk clerk that I had been locked out of my house, and asked to use the desk telephone. Then I called our engineers, Roy and Jimmy. "Come over now," I scaremed. "John's gone crazy, and I'm afraid."

I left the hotel, and then Arlene and I paced back and forth on the road. I could hear John screaming in the distance. He hurled abuse at Yoko and at Spector. He called out for me. He kept screaming, "Why doesn't anyone love me?" I stood in the middle of the road, waiting for Tony. John's voice resounded, and the noise was horrible enough to give me goose bumps. I looked at Arlene and shook my head in amazement. Everything was so peaceful and beautiful on that lovely summer night, and there was John screaming his heart out - and there was nothing I could do.

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