In 2011 music enthusiast Liz Hajek and I traveled to New York to spend a day with May Pang, Lennon’s girlfriend for almost two years in the early 1970s.
After enjoying 12 hours with May in her home–and at a nearby Gilligan’s Seafood Restaurant near Pomona, NY,– us two Texans understood why John Lennon was attracted to such a beautiful and insightful lady.
During his time with Pang, in 1973-1975, Lennon was the most musically prolific since his Beatle days. Friends say it was also the happiest times in his life.
With May, John renewed his relationships with son Julian, and the other Beatles.
Paul McCartney thought John seemed “more relaxed, loveable and it was obvious he felt love.”
What would John be like if he was alive?
“That’s easy. He would love today’s TV with all the channels that are available,” Pang laughed in her living room, adorned with art and photos of Lennon. “Of course, he always loved, and enjoyed talking with his fans.”
“I can imagine he would be signing autographs, reading every day—sometimes, I can imagine him being near the sea, listening to music, and just relaxing,” Pang smiled. “Who knows, he even talked about writing again with Paul. Perhaps by now that would have happened.”
“There is no doubt he would still be friends with his brothers for life, Paul and Ringo (Starr),” Pang became serious. “They were bonded for life, despite what people think.”
In 1973, John’s wife, Yoko Ono, became interested in another musician. She decided her and John would separate. Yoko told her husband she had already chosen the ideal “companion” for John– 23 year-old May Pang, their personal assistant.
How did John Lennon become May Pang’s boyfriend?
“Hmmmm, I don’t know if I have ever been asked that question that way before,” Pang ponders. “It’s always how did I become his girlfriend. But I can tell you it was the biggest surprise of my life.”
“It was the summer of 1973 and I was organizing sessions for his Mind Games album and media coverage for an album she was releasing,” Pang recalled.
“All of us, the housekeeper and anyone who was around the office at the Dakota building (their apartment in New York) knew and could feel the tension between the two. Yoko came into my office one morning and told me they were not getting along.”
“I thought ‘well that’s no big surprise,’” Pang giggled. “I thought she was about to tell me they were splitting up and I would have to look for another job.”
“You don’t have a boyfriend,” Yoko said, looking Pang straight in the eyes.
“I thought maybe I didn’t hear her right and told her I wasn’t interested in John and that he was my boss,” Pang remembers. “I was sort of numb and in shock and kept telling her no, but Yoko had already made up her mind.”
“’If John asks you out, you should go!’ Pang said Yoko announced. “It was like this is not a recommendation, or a mere suggestion, it was a lot stronger than that.”
“For two weeks, we bumbled around and I didn’t know how to react,” Pang said. “His recording sessions were put on hold and everything was just quiet. I assumed John and Yoko had worked out their differences.”
Finally, when it was time for John to resume studio recording, Pang was summoned to accompany him.
In the elevator at the Dakota John reached over and kissed her.
“I’ve been waiting to do that all xxxxx day,” John told her.
“Everything changed,” Pang grinned. “My entire life would never be the same.”
John and May soon moved to Los Angeles. May encouraged him to call his son Julian, who he had not seen for a very long time, to come out for a visit.
What is the biggest difference between John Lennon the star and John Lennon the man?
“I’m asked that question often and I still think about it because it is not that easy to answer,” Pang replied. “I know a lot of famous people and there always seems to be a contradiction in the real person and the celebrity. John was no exception.”
“Although he has been portrayed in the press as brooding and troubled, John loved to laugh, and was very creative.”
“His creative mind was always ready. He kept a black marker pen with him and he was always writing things down that could someday be a song.”
“Yes, he had a traumatic childhood and had some issues from that, he was always striving for knowledge, and absorbing new information, things, and people and places that would inspire him—and they did.”
“As he aged, he was pragmatic enough to realize he couldn’t change everything,” Pang said. “But he was enthused enough to remain inspired.”
A beautiful book, Instamatic Karma: Photographs Of John Lennon by May Pang is available at Amazon.