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It’s famously referred to as “the lost weekend,” but May Pang’s new book “Instamatic Karma—Photographs of John Lennon” (St. Martin’s Press) provides picture documentation that the two-years she spent with Lennon were hardly misspent.

“Instamatic Karma—Photographs of John Lennon”

The Manhattan-born daughter of Chinese immigrants, Pang found unasked for fame as John Lennon’s girlfriend during an 18-month affair that began in 1973, when she was a personal assistant and production coordinator for Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono. As she recounts in “Instamatic Karma,” she was in fact coordinating press for Ono’s album “Feeling the Space” and starting the sessions for Lennon’s “Mind Games” album when Ono walked into her office in their apartment at the Dakota, acknowledged that she and her husband weren’t getting along, and fatefully declared, “I think you should go out with him.”

“They call it ‘the lost weekend,’ the time we were together, [and say] he was always drunk,” says Pang. “But you see these photos and it doesn’t show a down-and-out man as is always projected by the press.”

To the contrary, the 150 color and black-and-white photos taken by Pang “at home, at play, at work and away”- as the chapter titles distinguish - reveal both an artistically engaged Lennon as he works on solo albums like “Rock ‘n’ Roll” and a more relaxed artist enjoying private time with Pang, his eldest son Julian, and musical pals including Mick Jagger, David Bowie, and even his soon-to-be former partners Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr. She decided to publish them now, she says, after finally having her fill of friends asking her why she hadn’t already done so.

John Lennon and Pang, 1974“They were literally in a shoebox in the closet and I’d drag them out and people would say, ‘You’ve got to show them to everyone!’” says Pang, who extensively chronicled her 1973-1975 love affair with Lennon in her 1983 memoir “Loving John.” She returns to the general public’s common misperception of “the lost weekend.”

“I would say it’s 80 percent wrong!” she says--without dismissing two infamous incidents at the Troubador in Los Angeles. “I’m not saying he didn’t go out and have a good time and get drunk, but they take the same couple of incidents at the Toubadour and that’s all you ever read in the press, like it was an everyday thing like Britney Spears or Lindsay Lohan getting drunk at a club. We’re talking about the same two incidents the whole time John and I were together: the Smothers Brothers [a drunk Lennon was kicked out of the Troubadour for heckling the Smothers Brothers] and [two months earlier at the club] the Kotex, which he wore on his forehead as a joke—and they combine the two. By today’s standards it’s very tame but they’re talking about the same two things, or [the gun incident in] the studio with Phil [Spector]. But they always discount everybody else—he wasn’t the only one drinking, but it’s not as good copy if Joe Shmoe’s drunk, and if [John’s] in the room and he’s not even drunk, it’s still good copy!”


Pang points out that if Lennon in fact was so drunk and down-and-out during the time she was with him, he would have been unable to create.


“He was constantly working in that time period,” she asserts. “Think about it: [the albums] ‘Mind Games,’ ‘Walls and Bridges,’ ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll,’ [the singles] ‘Whatever Gets You Thru the Night’ and ‘#9 Dream’—which I sang on!—and jam sessions. We went to see Anne Murray and Jerry Lee Lewis and then we hung out with people like Elton—John played Elton’s concert at Madison Square Garden, that was his last big public appearance—and he worked on albums for Elton, Harry Nilsson, Ringo, Mick Jagger. So they keep bringing up the same thing—but you see in my pictures that [the notorious incidents] weren’t the entire time!”

So Pang chose to “dispel those myths,” she continues. “There are lovely photos of him and Julian, who he hadn’t seen in four years and spent a lot of time with us and is like a forgotten person, so it’s important to show that he did have a relationship with Julian.”

Another “myth” is that Lennon and McCartney were constantly at war during this period. “There’s a photo of when Paul came by to visit when John started doing Nilsson’s ‘Pussycats’ album--one that nobody could ever have [taken] but me,” she says. “And there’s the shot of John signing the dissolution of the Beatles’ contract.”

Taking pictures was Pang’s hobby—until Lennon put her work to professional use.“He used to look at them and say ‘I like the way you take these,’ and especially liked the way he looked in them,” says Pang, whose photos of Lennon were used in trade shots and on the cover of the “Imagine” single in the U.K.

 

“So the book brings back memories of a good time—not a bad time,” she concludes. “Just the look on his face [in the pictures] is something everybody talks about—that they’ve never seen. It warms my heart to hear it.”Pang, whose book is titled after Lennon's hit  "INSTANT KARMA," is also touched by Lennon's ex-wife Cynthia Lennon's warm inscription on its jacket. “We’ve remained close friends all this time,” she says, adding “She’s in a good space now, and Julian is finding himself: When I look at him I still see a 10 year-old--not this guy in his forties!”

As for her former employer Yoko Ono, Pang says little about the woman who directed her to become her husband’s lover, then took him back after enticing him away from Pang by offering a cure for his smoking habit—thereby bringing the “lost weekend” to a close.

“This isn’t about her, but about John and myself and our relationship and the people around us - so there was no need for her to be part of it,” says Pang, who nevertheless thanks Ono briefly in her book’s acknowledgments.

Meanwhile Pang, who was later married to David Bowie producer Tony Visconti, is expanding her Feng Shui jewelry collection.

“I grew up with Feng Shui all my life,” Pang says, Feng Shui being the Chinese practice of arranging objects—like household furniture---to achieve harmony with one's environment. “My mother would say, ‘You can’t do this—it’s not good Feng Shui.’ It was drilled in my head! When I lived with John our place was very open, and I wanted to wear something to reflect that sense of unclutteredness.”

The result is hand-finished, stainless steel signature pendants relating to the themes of enlightenment, harmony, happiness, and infinity. Pang is now expanding the concept in designing custom-made tables, and will also apply it to a new line of Pang apparel.

 

For more about the fascinating May Pang, go to www.maypang.com

www.Dishmag.com / Issue 79 - June 2018
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