Friday, May 06, 2005

John Lennon's May Days

I'm leaving you with a long post because I'm going out of town in a few minutes. It is from an interview with May Pang, John Lennon's secretary and girlfriend (during the "lost weekend"). It's from the Belfast Telegraph:

Pang is visiting the UK to prepare for a launch of her feng shui jewellery - small pieces of stainless steel, worn as pendants, displaying Chinese symbols and her signature. "I grew up with feng shui," says Pang, "but I never saw any jewellery that would give me the energy I needed and also looked good. The one I'm wearing says 'happiness' and the others are for harmony, infinity and enlightenment. Isaac Hayes wears one, and so do Nile Rodgers from Chic and Phoebe Snow."

"I was born to Chinese immigrant parents, who came from Taiyuan," she says. "My father arrived in America first and sent for my mother. My parents worked in a laundry in Harlem. I have a brother and sister, but I was the only one born in America."

...In 1973, John and Yoko acquired the lease of an apartment in the Dakota building, where they could also house their staff, including Pang. But Lennon was in artistic crisis. In 1972, he and Ono had released an agitprop double album, Some Time in New York City. Reviews and sales were abysmal. "Weird and tuneless," was Robert Christgau's verdict in Village Voice. "John was hurt by the reviews and went into hiding," Pang says. "I didn't see him much for some time. He was in the back somewhere and he never went out."

When Ono hired some top New York musicians for her own album, Feeling the Space, John told Pang that he had the urge to work again. "John said he wanted to go into the studio, but he was unsure about it. He said, 'You've got to book it or I'll never do it.' I booked it for two weeks' time and in that fortnight, he wrote the whole of Mind Games."

Mind Games was successful and Lennon was back on track, but his relationship with the manipulative Ono was crumbling. Pang gives her version of events: "Yoko came to me at 9.30 in the morning - I hadn't even had my first cup of coffee - and said, 'May, I've got to talk to you. John and I are not getting along,' which I knew because the tension was thick. She said, 'He's going to start going out with other people.'

"She said, 'I know you don't have a boyfriend and I know you are not after John, but you need a boyfriend and you would be good for him.' I said I didn't think so, but she said, 'You don't want him to go out with somebody who is going to be nasty to him, do you?' I said, 'Of course not,' and she said, 'You will be perfect,' and walked out."

Lennon and Pang moved to Los Angeles. Pang says it wasn't the drink-and-drugs-fest many believe. "John wasn't into many drugs, although he would have coke if he was offered it. There was a lot of drink, but that was down to Harry Nilsson. There were nights where we ran into problems. We got thrown out of the Troubadour, and something else happened, and the press kept bringing it up. It was Harry who started the trouble, but it made better copy when you read it was John. In fact, he was telling Harry to stop."

Lennon decided to record an album of rock'n'roll favourites, but made the mistake of telling the producer Phil Spector he could have full control. "I will never forget that first night," says Pang. "I remember counting a lot of musicians. There were 27 there - some brilliant ones, like Barry Mann, Leon Russell, Hal Blaine and Jim Keltner."

...The album, to be called Rock'n'Roll and crediting Pang as "Mother Superior", ground to a halt. "Then Nilsson said, 'I wish you'd produce me,' and John said, 'What a great idea.'"

Nilsson had a remarkable voice, although the drinking had left its mark and he rasped his way through the sessions. Lennon decided to take the tracks to New York and re-record Nilsson's voice there, where at least Nilsson would be separated from his buddies.

Pang recalls: "That album includes 'Many Rivers to Cross', with a great orchestral arrangement in the middle by John. He thought it was too good for the record and said, 'I'm going to write another song and use that.' He had a dream and that led to the lyric, 'No 9 Dream'. I'm whispering 'John' on that record and singing in the background."

"No 9 Dream" was a key track on Lennon's 1974 album Walls and Bridges. Pang recalls: "The first song written for that album was 'Surprise Surprise'. It was written on the first night John and I had been intimate with each other. The next morning he said, 'I want you to hear something, I wrote this for you,' and he sat there with an acoustic guitar and just played it for me. It was lovely."

Lennon and Paul McCartney had been sounding-boards for each other's ideas, and Lennon missed that. Pang says: "He was always saying, 'I wonder what Paul is doing.' When John and I were together, and this is about a week or two before our relationship ended, I remember him saying, 'Do you think I should write with Paul again?' I said, 'Absolutely. You should because you want to. The two of you as solo performers are good, but together you can't be beaten. We thought of going to New Orleans to see Paul and Linda, who were making Venus and Mars there."

But Lennon did collaborate with David Bowie, and in an unexpected way. "John had heard a disco hit he liked - 'Shame Shame Shame' by Shirley and Company - and he couldn't get the riff out of his head. We were visiting Bowie when he was recording [Lennon's song] 'Across the Universe' and John was talking to the guitarist Carlos Alomar about the riff. They went into the lounge area of the studio and were fooling around with it. Bowie walked in and said, 'What are you guys doing?'

"He felt left out. He said, 'Do you have any words for it yet?' John said, 'No.' He went off and 20 minutes later, he came back with 'Fame' and it turned out to be a wonderful record."
I'll be back on Monday.


psyvhicjack said...

I like the Lennon stuff. I just watched a HBO show about John. I was feeling very sad, and wanted to see what people on the BLOGS were saying.
Hay. I like you advanced theory concept.

I had a band once, and they is the way we felt about things.
We just started blogging our 20 year old cutting edge music. It never really was understood by people. BUT IS WAS WILD. Even by todays standards.

If your into weird stuff written by, now old chicks who are into memories,check out my blog

I did a Joh Lennon Post on my sister BLOG

I will book mark you.

thanks for letting me rant


Anonymous said...

May Pang is a worthless cunt. A whore for hire nothing more.