|An Interview with May Pang
Exclusively for Absolute Elsewhere
May Pang, one of the three women with whom John Lennon shared his private life, discusses her role in the making of the Mind Games album in the early 70s...and a whole lot more...in this exclusive interview conducted by ladyjean (Jean Teeters) for Absolute Elsewhere.
READ LADYJEAN'S NEW YORK POST STORY
ABOUT JOHN AND MAY PANG
May Pang was drawn into a romantic relationship with John Lennon in 1973, at the insistance of his wife, Yoko Ono. It is perhaps one of the most unusual love affairs of all-time, still perplexing Lennon fans around the world after almost 30 years. On October 28, 2002, I had a candid conversation with May, in which she discussed her involvement in the making of the Mind Games album, offered some anecdotes about the time she spent with John, and shared with me her recent realization that perhaps John cared for her far more than she ever knew. ~ladyjean
ladyjean: By the time John was recording Mind Games, you had worked for John and Yoko for several years. Were you aware of how radically their relationship was changing over the course of time?
May Pang: I tried not to pay so much attention to what was going on in their personal life, even though I was involved in it. It was part of my life. For example, you know things are happening, you can feel it, but its not necessarily something you want to be involved in. I did what I had to do on a daily basis, whatever projects were coming along, but I knew there were things going on...that there was discontent. I tried to block it out. At one point during that period, when I was working on one of Yokos albums, she had a bottle and she took a drink out of it, I looked at one of my co-workers and asked, What is going on? And they said, Its been a little crazy. I said, I can see. I didnt want to go any further. I enjoyed working, and sometimes being involved in their personal life was just too much. I had a lot on my plate.
lj: What do you think caused the disintegration in John and Yokos relationship from the Bed-In days to the point of their split in 1973?
MP: In my personal opinion, Yoko wanted to be recognized. She wanted to be out front. It was a struggle, because people wanted to know John. She felt she was his equal. Most people didnt see it that way. I dont think it was necessarily Johns fault.
lj: It seems like this was a time of transition for John.
MP: He went into his own little recluse period after the Some Time in New York City album, which got terrible reviews. He just couldnt handle it. It was almost a year. And then when he was ready to do Mind Games, he just came up to me one day and said, May, book me the studio. Either I do it now, or else Im never gonna do it. He didnt even have the songs. But he knew he just had to jump in. In two weeks he wrote the album.
lj: Did the volatile state of his personal life have a big effect on the content, recording and production of the album?
MP: Absolutely. He couldnt work if he was complacent...he couldnt write the songs. He had the big highs and lows. He needed the drama in his life, good or bad, to write the songs.
lj: At what point did the song Mind Games come about? Did that come early on in the songwriting?
MP: Yeah, it did.
lj: Did he know that it was going to be the title song?
MP: He knew none of that. He just wrote.
lj: Was he intensely trying to send a message out with that song?
MP: He was...he wrote what he was feeling at the time. Its all about him, going through a transition at the time. He talked about the Mind Games cover, when he created it. Yoko is the mountain and hes walking...and in one of the pictures, he walks further away. He said to me, "I guess unconsciously I knew I was walking away. And I had no idea."
lj: On that cover, he was so little in comparison to Yoko being the mountain.
MP: Thats how he felt. There was so much struggle between the two of them and it showed up in his art. He didnt even see it until after it was done.
lj: How did he feel in general about recording Mind Games?
MP: It was great fun doing the album, because for the first time he was working with real top session musicians. This was the first time he worked with a whole New York crew, and he loved it. He loved the professionalism of it. He loved hearing all the stories from the musicians, and he loved hanging out.
lj: In regard to the many spiritual/metaphysical references in the lyrics of the song Mind Games, were these things that he had studied, things that meant a lot to him?
MP: Yes. It think they definitely were in one form or another. He was always into metaphysical things. He taught me about the I Ching and how accurate it was and what you get out of it. He was always looking for answers.
lj: It seemed that he was getting to the core of these individual truths in a very powerful way. He also had the ability to convey those kind of ideas in a very cool, hip way.
MP: He was ahead of his time. The Beatles were ahead of their time, and individually they were ahead of their time. John was always into the spiritual side of things, including his music. People write and ask me if I ever watched John write lyrics, and I did many times. I would watch him and think, "These are very simple words, but the way he phrases it is amazing."
lj: About Johns guitar playing: it seems hes always been underrated.
MP: He never had the confidence in it. He didnt have the confidence in his voice. He normally played rhythm and gave the lead guitar to other people. He always thought he was good rhythm, not a good lead. His confidence was shaken by what was going on internally for him. He lost a lot of his confidence when everyone was saying that Some Time In New York City was a terrible album. It took its toll on him. Hed say, "Just mess my voice up. Fuck it up." He didnt have confidence in his own singing voice. I would ask him, "Whats wrong? I dont understand this." It took a while for me to rebuild that with him. I would say, "You have a great voice." And he would say, "Its not that strong, I dont sing that well." I would say, "What?" That had been going on a long time before I was his girlfriend.
lj: Lets talk a little about some of the songs on Mind Games. On Aisumasen (Im Sorry), was John dealing with his infidelity that took place at that infamous party in New York City?
MP: Yeah. He was apologizing to Yoko. She wouldnt let him forget it. Nobody really knew what that was all about. Even now a lot of people dont know about it.
lj: A couple of other good songs on the album are Out The Blue and Tight As, with his play on words.
MP: He was a genius on that.
lj: So when John was coming up with these songs and they were being recorded, were you able to recognize how good they were?
MP: I took it each day. Some songs were just fantastic. I was caught up in the moment, because I was with him all the time. And I would tell him if it worked or if it didnt work. And I loved certain things more than I loved others. We would talk about it. I got to watch the writing process on that album and work a lot closer in the studio than any of the earlier ones.
lj: Were you in the studio the whole time the album was being recorded?
MP: Every day. I carried Johns lyrics and made sure everybody had their copy once we got in the studio. I always loved the beginning, getting the musicians into the room and theyre looking at it and they would do what John would teach them, and then theyd come up with their own spin on it. I loved the actual sessions. Knowing the history behind the musicians, who theyd played with and what they had done. The interaction between the musicians and John; it was nice to see the mutual admiration. I was fascinated. These musicians had worked with Yoko first. John wouldnt even come to the studio for Yokos Feeling The Space album. She only wanted John to do one thing, and he came in like all the other session guys, did his part, and left. And Yoko wasnt around for Mind Games. She had no involvement at all. She was busy promoting her own album. But when she was doing her album, he was staying at home. He didnt go out. They were already having their split with the music.
lj: John is credited as producer and arranger on Mind Games. He seemed to know pretty much the sound he wanted at any given time, didnt he?
MP: He always did. He did the arranging, but hed let someone else handle the orchestral arrangements. On the whole, he knew the sound he wanted. Hed play it out. Johns music was never perfect. It was all done by feel. If a particular take felt great, he took it.
lj: Did he make demos for all the songs?
MP: Yes. In 1973, Sony made a personal cassette player, one of the first of its kind. He loved it. He gave these to all the musicians for Christmas. He was so excited about it, he was like a little boy. Hed sing a song into the cassette player. Hed play it slow, hed play it fast, hed change the lyrics, hed move things around. And he could hear it.
lj: Did he bring the demos into the studio?
MP: Yeah. Hed say This is what I hear. And then the musicians would play it.
lj: Do you have any particular anecdotes about the Mind Games sessions?
MP: During the recording of Mind Games, where he holds that long note at the end; its actually been edited, two that he put together, so one long note comes out. In Meat City, at the end you can hear him asking, Whats that? Hes talking about a noise he heard in his headphones. That wasnt supposed to be on the record, but it was left in because it fit the song. It was during the making of this album that Yoko got the idea to get me and John together, so it will always have a special meaning to me, no matter what way I look at it. The move was made to the Dakota just before this album. It was a big change all around, and nobody realized how much pain John was in about the failure of his last album. He just couldnt take it.
lj: How long did the studio sessions last on Mind Games?
MP: Probably about three months. John didnt dilly dally on an album. He just wanted to go in and get it done. He did the Walls and Bridges album in eight weeks. He was proud of that. He didnt like to spend excess money on an album. He was not frivolous. He could do an album for $60,000. He was thrilled that he could be that thrifty. And he didnt drink during sessions.
lj: He was straight when he was making his music, wasnt he? Dont you suppose that came from the kind of discipline The Beatles had in the studio from the beginning? They realized right from the start that they couldnt drink or do drugs and make good music.
MP: Yes, but I think nobody would expect it. Johns attitude was, Whatever you do afterwards is fine, but not in my sessions. If a musician was late, hed be annoyed. Hed say, May, find him. He could understand five or ten minutes, but half an hour later, he was ready to scream. When he hired you for a job, you had to be there. He didnt like being late for his own sessions.
lj: Didnt your personal relationship with John start near the end of the Mind Games sessions?
MP: Yes, it was at the end.
lj: What affect did that have on the ultimate outcome of the album?
MP: The outcome was that he had made good music and I was there to be part of it. To help him along. The goal was that he would make a good album. I was always in his corner to make sure that everything went right.
lj: So by the time your relationship started, the songs had already been written, the album had already been recorded, and what was happening between the two of you wasnt reflected in those particular songs.
MP: What you hear in the songs is what he had been feeling. He was unsettled. He was thinking about what he was doing with his life, where he was going. He was sorry about what happened with the incident with Yoko. He was looking somewhere else.
lj: What do you think it was that made your relationship work?
MP: Even though there was ten years difference in our ages, what bridged us was the music. We loved the same music. He never once had to ask me, Do you know who this is? He couldnt believe that we liked the same music. With Yoko, he had to explain who Elvis and Chuck Berry were. Music had always been my passion as a child, and John and I shared that.
lj: In your book, Loving John, you said that he had told you that he had had his eye on you for some time.
MP: Yeah, and I never knew that. I had no idea. He had his eye on me in that he liked me. We could sit down and talk. I always liked him and we had a great time. As I said, we had the music in common, and that was his passion.
lj: You gave the impression in your book that you werent really attracted to John until Yoko decided to get the two of you together.
MP: When you work with someone, two or three years down the road, you dont look at him that way. He was somebody I worked with and respected. The first time I met him, he was in that scruffy Rolling Stone interview period. He was handsome; but he was with Yoko and he was scruffy and in these overalls.
lj: But surely he had to exude some kind of intense sexuality.
MP: What he exuded was this personality; he was funny...he was so funny. Sometimes he didnt mean to be funny, but he was funny. He had wit, he was clever. It was the way he did things. Hed make fun of himself. He had charisma, but I walked into the situation knowing he was a married man, he was going through a lot of changes in his life, and I was just happy to be a part of it in the working environment. I never thought past that.
lj: But even if you go back to the early days of The Beatles, he was called the sexy Beatle.
MP: He asked me who my favorite Beatle was. I said Ringo. He said, What? I said, Come on, I was thirteen. So one night when we were in Los Angeles he looked over at Ringo and said, You were her favorite. I just wanted to die, and Ringo was trying to be cool. But I think John did take offense that he was not my favorite Beatle.
lj: So when Yoko opened the door, did you find then that you did indeed have feelings for John?
MP: It took a little while. I would ask myself, What does John Lennon see in me? I didnt expect it. I was being cautious. Yoko could open the door, but he didnt have to jump. After he was with me, he could have left and gone somewhere else. We were together for a reasonably long time, and this weekend business was the only way he could put it when he went back. It was his concept. There was pressure when he had to go back and make the announcement. But he and I stayed friendly up until the time he died.
lj: He looked really good during the time you were together.
MP: He looked healthy, he looked happy. We had a great time. We did a lot of stuff. We did Rock n Roll, we did Walls and Bridges. He reacquainted himself with his son [Julian] and the other three guys in his former band, and other old friends like Mick Jagger and Keith Moon. And he met new friends like Elton John and David Bowie. Noboby realizes how long I knew this man. I knew John for ten years. And people think I came in and left after a weekend.
lj: I understand that you got to know Johns first wife, Cynthia, while you were living with him.
MP: Cynthia is a lovely woman. When I see her, we hug and we talk; we have a good time. The same with Julian. And Im still very friendly with them.
lj: In your book, you said that John really knew how to be on with the press with a different kind of persona or personality.
MP: He was clever in an understanding way. There isnt an actor or actress or musician who doesnt understand the power of the press, if theyre seasoned. And if they dont know, theyre gonna learn fast. His wit was his wit. And it's a trait of the guys from Liverpool.
lj: You also talked about Johns gentle, sensitive side. And over the years, others who knew John, including his male friends, have described him in this way. In your opinion, did the public ever really catch a true glimpse of that John Lennon?
MP: No. I dont think the public saw the vulnerability in him. I think they saw a strength in him through his music. You wouldnt even use the word gentle in describing John Lennon. He always protected himself. He always felt that somebody wanted something from him. He constantly had his guard up because of that. But when you got past that, to the real person, you realized how insecure he was.
lj: On the other hand, almost everyone who knew John at some time in his life experienced his anger and his tendency toward violence. How much did that reflect the real John Lennon?
MP: That came out in his drinking period. It was the extreme. He did have the gift of being able to use his tongue and lash out at people, but only if the situation called for it.
lj: When I spoke to Robert Rosen about his book, Nowhere Man: The Final Days of John Lennon, he said the saddest thing he discovered from reading Johns diaries was that John so longed to be with you and that he wrote about it a lot. Can you comment on this?
MP: Thats very sweet. I saw that the other day when you sent me that link, and I looked at that line and I wanted to cry. I always knew it in my heart, but his actions proved differently. He went back and nobody knew what the underlying situation was. But I knew. How can you prove something that you only know spiritually? When he went back, it wasnt a planned situation.
lj: Was John letting you know that he felt that way about you?
MP: I talked to him last on Memorial weekend of 1980. And we talked about it. He called me from South Africa. At one point he said, You know, Ive been thinking about you a lot. Ive been trying to think of how to get you out to the Hamptons. I dont know how to do it.
lj: So maybe even you didnt know how much he was thinking about you?
MP: Youre right. I didnt think he did after a while.
lj: Have you ever had a chance to see any of Johns diaries?
MP: I had seen something that floated around once. People send me things. I forget who gave me what. I only saw like a page. It wasnt anything very big. Ive never seen the whole thing, so I dont know. Im only reading now what happened. When I read that in your interview with Robert Rosen, I sort of sat back and took a deep breath.
lj: Do you know Robert Rosen?
MP: No. Not at all. I may have met him at some time, but I dont have a recollection of anything. I know he wrote the book, which I never read. Or any of that stuff.
lj: Do you not read things like that?
MP: Sometimes I dont. Because Ive been through it. People tell me, and I say, Just give me the gist. Unless youve been there with me, its kind of hard to read somebody elses take on something, when they werent there. Im getting a lot of fan mail now from people saying that the only book out there that goes into detail about the lost weekend is by me.
lj: Your book is great. I read it years ago. And everyone I know whos read it just loves it. I think everybody cries at the end.
MP: I have a hard time, because I want to pick it up and read it again. I read it so many times during. And theres a lot of stories that have been left out.
lj: Are there plans for your book to be reprinted?
MP: Im not sure what I want to do. Ive thought about doing it, but Im not sure. In my book, I gave the good with the bad. I wanted people to walk away feeling that they were in my shoes. I have pictures of John that no one has seen. And I want to put them in a book. I also want to exhibit the photos, along with the release of the book.
lj: Since his passing, do you feel that John has communicated to you from spirit?
MP: Oh, absolutely.
lj: Does it happen regularly?
MP: No. But it used to in the beginning. Now, every so often I fall into something and I wish John could help me out. Hes around. I feel it. I went to see John Edward [the psychic medium] with my ex-husband. This was even before he had a show. I didnt use my real name. We just said Tony and May. We were the last people there. John Edward knew nothing of me. The third person [spirit] he saw for me, he said, I see this coffin with a flag draped over it with the initial J. Is this John F. Kennedy? I said, No. I understood the symbolism. It was like a man who is so big, hes like the president. John Edward was puzzled. Then he said, Bullets? And I said, Yes. He said, This person says, its okay, you should go on. At the end of the night, I told John Edward who it was. And later, I was told that John had communicated that he was my soul mate.
lj: What would you most like the world to know about you and your involvement with John?
MP: That I was a very young person that was there to help somebody. And that we did fall in love.
lj: What would you most like the world to know about John Lennon?
MP: The fact that he was a kind, sensitive man, who was insecure in his personal life. But he was very headstrong about his music. People forget that John was a human being. But its great, because his music will live on. And we will always hear his voice. And we will hear his music, and its played over and over and over. And it never gets old.
Copyright © 2002-2008 ladyjean / AbsoluteElsewhere.net / Jean Teeters
Read ladyjean's New York Post story about John and May Pang
Buy the remixed and remastered Mind Games