LENNONYC premiere in NY- May Pang says "I'll re-write my book to correct this."
May Pang promises to re-write her book about the time she spent with John Lennon after seeing the premiere of “LENNONYC” at the New York Film Festival Saturday night.
LENNONYC, the PBS film for American Masters that has been widely promoted (showing on PBS November 22) is a documentary about John Lennon’s New York years, where he lived from 1971until his murder in 1980.
Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono, has strongly promoted the documentary; and the film’s director, Michael Epstein, conceded that while she did not technically have “editorial control”, she was “there” while he made the film---which might explain what we’ve heard.
LENNONYC premiered at the New York Film Festival Saturday night, and it was a gala affair attended by the full gamut of rock and roll as well as “Lennon” royalty: Yoko Ono was guest of honor of course, and also present were May Pang, Stevie Van Zandt, Josh Groban, David Peel (“The Pope Smokes Dope”), immigration attorney Leon Wildes, members of Elephants Memory, Hugh McCracken, renown Beatle artist Shannon, Double Fantasy producer Jack Douglas, photographer Bob Gruen, and many more.
The film consists of many interviews of people who knew John and Yoko during those incredibly eventful New York years. Consider what occurred..John's radical period erupted here when he met the likes of Jerry Rubin, Abbie Hoffman and David Peel. He took up with Elephant's Memory and began singing the protest songs that landed on "Some Time In New York City", a double album that bombed the charts in 1972.
Deportation proceedings were begun against John, technically because of his England drug bust, but it was pretty clear that Nixon's people wanted him out of the U.S. The "Lost Weekend" of 1973-74 came next, when John ran off with his cute and trustworthy assistant May Pang and went to LA. He went on some benders with notorious partying L.A. rock stars but produced some of the best solo material of his life and reunited with his son Julian, at Pang's behest. When that all came to an end and John went back home to Yoko, they had a son, Sean on John's 35th birthday in 1975, after which he hung up his guitar and became a househusband. In 1980 he and Yoko put out Double Fantasy, his last album. And then he was gone--just as he was making his big comeback, with promises of touring.
Yoko Ono is featured heavily throughout the film, I’m told, with photographer Bob Gruen (who took the famous NYC t-shirt photo) running a close second. Oddly enough, close confidant Elliott Mintz (who did the radio program “The Lost Lennon Tapes” way back when) only gets a couple of minutes. He comes in last place pretty much, with May Pang’s little segment where she talks about grocery shopping with John and eating caviar. Other heavy-hitters in the film include Double Fantasy producer Jack Douglas, and drummer Jim Keltner.
May Pang talks about LENNONYC
May’s reaction (see Roger Friedman’s report also) basically dashes any hopes that this contains much new material or new slant on Lennon’s life…think back to the Lennon Musical, the Imagine film, and The U.S. vs. John Lennon. One person was overheard afterwards saying “Isn’t it supposed to be about LENNON? It's all about Yoko.”
If you’ve read Pang’s prior books, Loving John, Instamatic Karma, and her many interviews (see some of ours here), you won’t be surprised to hear that she was very unhappy when she came out of the film. The whole ordeal was upsetting enough to cause her to say, “I’m going to do a complete re-write of my book again. Completely. I need to set history straight.”
Pang was invited to the premier (after all, she’s in the film), but was not invited onto the “red carpet” for photos, as that would not have been cool. As John Lennon’s girlfriend during 1973-74 during John’s separation from Yoko, she and Yoko are not exactly best friends.
The first words out of her mouth after the show were bristling: “Lies”, she said, “so much of it is the same old lie. No matter that I have published my book (Instamatic Karma) with photos, proving that things happened differently. It’s the same old spin.”
Ironically, May was seated next to photographer Bob Gruen, who took the famous photos of John with the New York City T-shirt on her roof. (see more below) “So many times during the film,” she said, “I turned to look at Bob and said out loud, ‘that’s a lie…that’s a lie.’ And Bob looked straight ahead and ignored me. In fact, so many people are buying into the same old stories. The people featured in the interviews all have jumped on the Yoko Ono bandwagon.”
What’s the fuss about?
Pang contests the way that the “Lost Weekend”, the time period she was with John, is being portrayed (1973-74) in LENNONYC. Since the publication of her books, which contain enough photographic evidence to prove what she’s saying, she perhaps hoped that the documentary might reflect her story a little better. But, she says, "nothing's changed." Here's a short list:
"Lost Weekend" is overblown: The documentary continues the legend about how drunk John was “all the time” in L.A. and that he was always begging Yoko to come home, but Yoko would reply “You’re not ready.” May says, “Paul (McCartney) revealed in Many Years From Now that Yoko went to London to ask him to come out to L.A. and talk John into coming back to her. And no—he was not always hollering her name. They spoke on the phone all the time. And he wasn’t always kind either.”
The Phil Spector sessions were also brought up, and Lennon is portrayed as the one who came to the studio with a huge bottle of vodka every night. “It was Phil carrying guns and liquor, not John! Bob Gruen was never in L.A. and we only saw Jack Douglas there once or twice, and that was it. They are not experts about that time period."
May points out how productive he was musically, producing Walls & Bridges, which included the #1 hit, “Whatever Gets You Through the Night”.
Date of John & Yoko’s reunion:
“Elton John says that John and Yoko got back together after the performance at the Madison Square Garden show (November 28, 1974),” May said. “He said he couldn’t remember how Yoko got the tickets. John and I got her the tickets ourselves. He knew that.” (Elton John is Sean Lennon’s godfather.)
While John and Yoko did chat back stage together and have a nice reunion of sorts, May recalls, “John and Yoko did not 'get back together' that night. John and I continued to live together until February of 1975. We took Julian to Disneyworld over Christmas break. That’s all in my book.”
In the film, Yoko sent John and May out to L.A.
May: “No she didn’t. John made that decision on his own. She didn’t even know we were going.”
The famous NYC photo session and t-shirt
In the film, Bob Gruen says he went to “John’s apartment to take pictures" with no reference to the fact that May was living there too. (He is referring to John and May’s apartment that they got together.) May clarifies, “Those pictures were taken on our roof. This was where we saw the UFO that summer.”
Gruen then says he asked John, “Do you still have that shirt I gave you?” (referring to the iconic NYC shirt) According to Bob, John went straight into the apartment to retrieve it.
May remembers otherwise: “Bob took that shirt out of his bag! When we went to L.A. we took very little with us, and John didn’t have it. When we came back, we went straight to a hotel and then to my apartment. So there’s no way the shirt could have been there. Only after that photo session did John wear the shirt a few times (most notably on Ringo’s Goodnight Vienna album photos)."
John assured her that "the truth would come out."
Wistfully, May recalls a time after their breakup, when John came to see her. He said “Don’t worry, May, the truth will come out about us one day.” “Because at the time,” May acquiesced, “I understood that John had to 'stick to the story' that he and Yoko had agreed upon. I thought after his death" she continued, "none of this pettiness would matter, but it only got worse.”
This is the third time in less than two weeks that May has been in the same company as Yoko Ono. First for Julian’s photography exhibit, “Timeless”, secondly for the “Nowhere Boy” premiere along with the Quarrymen, and now for this premiere as well.
Pang will be in New York on October 9th–Lennon’s 70th birthday–for the big free outdoor screening of “LennonNYC” at Central Park Summerstage for 5000 people. Ono will be in Iceland.