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NY Times takes a look at May Pang’s new photo book.

I haven’t been this excited for a Beatle-related book to come out in a really long time.  I was meeting with a friend last night, and we have a plan for this book.  We are going to get it together (I know it sounds a little dorky), and then have a viewing party.  We are going to play our Walls and Bridges bootlegs, and then follow them up with our Rock’n Roll session outtakes.  It’s going to be a Lost Weekend Party.  We really should run tape as we comment on the book as we look through it for the first time.  The play-by-play will be intense and hillarious. The depths of my Beatle-nerdom have never gone this far.   In my estimation, though this book will be a nothing short of a brilliant treasure trove of new material.  A feast for the eyes. 

We are not getting a glossed-over, sugar coated version of a story.  We are get archived evidence from someone who was there.  Such stories and photos like these are rare in this day and age.  It’s a rare treat to get such new Lennon material to pour over.

The last true glimpse into Lennon we got, that was totally new came from another woman in is life, Cynthia.  But I’d have to argue that May Pang may have written one of the best books on John a few years earlier, in the form of Loving John.  This new book, Instamatic Karma, looks like it will be the pictorial record of her time with John, though, and be nothing short of astounding.

Once my friend and I get a chance to sit down with this work, we’ll post our review, but for now, our friend, and resident NY Times Beatle expert Allan Kozinn will have to do the talking for us.  It’s a great article.

  • Checkout the NY Times’ slideshow that accompanies the article.

Here’s what we’ve read.

If there’s one thing that May Pang has been fighting for the last 28 years, it’s the idea that John Lennon was depressed, isolated and out of control during the 18 months she lived with him, from the summer of 1973 to early 1975, when he reconciled with his second wife, Yoko Ono.

Lennon himself fostered that notion by referring to the time as his “Lost Weekend” in interviews he gave in 1980, when he released “Double Fantasy,” a joint album with Ms. Ono that was his return to music-making after five years’ silence. And lurid, oft-repeated tales of a drunken Lennon’s being evicted from the Troubadour, a nightclub in Los Angeles, seemed to support that image.

But to Ms. Pang, now 57, the “Lost Weekend” was a remarkably productive time, during which Lennon completed three albums – “Mind Games,” “Walls and Bridges” and “Rock ‘n’ Roll” – produced songs for Ringo Starr and Harry Nilsson, and recorded with David Bowie, Elton John and Mick Jagger. And having already detailed these experiences (along with the Troubadour expulsions and other dark moments) in “Loving John,” her 1983 memoir, Ms. Pang has returned with the photographic evidence.

Her new book, “Instamatic Karma” (St. Martin’s Press), is a 140-page collection of casual photos that Ms. Pang took during her time with Lennon. Apart from a handful included in “Loving John” – cropped and in black and white, but mostly printed in full and rich color here – she has kept them in a shoe box in her closet, occasionally pulling them out to show friends.

“I began to think about publishing them just in the last couple of years,” Ms. Pang said on Monday at her publisher’s office in the Flatiron Building. “A friend of mine kept saying, ‘You tell all these stories about John, and when you do, you say, “Wait a minute, I have a photo to go along with that!” How come we never see these photos in a book?’ So, I thought maybe it’s time to put them out. It would let people see John in that world, through my eyes. And it would get rid of that whole ‘Lost Weekend’ thing, where everyone says he was always down and looked terrible. I don’t think these photos appear that way.”

They don’t: in the pages of “Instamatic Karma” – the title is a play on Lennon’s song “Instant Karma” – Lennon looks relaxed and happy, and is seen spending time with his first son, Julian, as well as with some famous friends, among them Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Nilsson and Keith Moon. He is shown working in the recording studio, swimming in Long Island Sound, clowning around in Central Park and visiting Disney World.

“They are personal and unique and very touching,” said Cynthia Lennon, Lennon’s first wife, who flew to New York from her home in Mallorca, Spain, to be the host of Ms. Pang’s publication party at the Cutting Room on Tuesday. Ms. Lennon got to know Ms. Pang when she escorted her son, Julian, on two of his four trips to visit his father while he was living with Ms. Pang.

“It’s lovely for me to look back, especially with Julian in these photographs,” she said. “But I’m here just because May is a good friend of mine and has been since we met.”

Ms. Pang arranged her book by subject instead of chronologically, with four chapters labeled “At Home,” “At Play,” “At Work” and “Away.” To her regret, she did miss a few famous moments. The March 28, 1974, Los Angeles jam session that included Lennon, Nilsson, Mr. McCartney and Stevie Wonder, for example, was not documented.

But Ms. Pang did capture one momentous event: Lennon’s signing the agreement that dissolved the Beatles’ partnership on Dec. 29, 1974.

After four years’ negotiation, the Beatles had agreed – or appeared to have – on the terms governing their formal split, and a meeting had been arranged at the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan on Dec. 19. George Harrison was performing at Madison Square Garden that night; Mr. McCartney had flown in from London; and Mr. Starr, having signed the document earlier, was on the telephone.

At the last minute, Lennon objected to a clause that he felt would create tax problems for him (as the only Beatle living in the United States), and decided not to attend. Harrison, furious, canceled plans for Lennon to join him onstage at Madison Square Garden, but Mr. McCartney turned up at the East 52nd Street apartment that Lennon and Ms. Pang shared to discuss the sticking point.

Ten days later, when Lennon, Julian and Ms. Pang were at Disney World, a lawyer bearing the revised contract turned up, and Lennon asked Ms. Pang to take out her camera. As Ms. Pang describes the scene in “Instamatic Karma,” Lennon had a last-minute telephone conference with his own lawyer

“When John hung up the phone,” she writes, “he looked wistfully out the window. I could almost see him replaying the entire Beatles experience.” Ms. Pang then photographed him signing just beneath the clearly legible signatures of Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Richard Starkey (Mr. Starr’s real name), the shutter clicking between the “h” and “n” of his first name.

Given that Lennon had been particularly militant about leaving the Beatles in 1969, it might seem odd to learn that he did so wistfully. Not to Ms. Pang.

“Everybody changes,” she said. “With John things changed on a daily basis. It’s a question of time. Five years earlier was not the same situation. In 1974 he had just seen everyone. The friendship was still there. They were brothers. There was no animosity. And even though they all felt they had to break up to get to the next level of their musical careers, John had started this band that changed the world. It changed pop culture. It changed how we live and how we dress. And he knew that. So when he sat down to sign, he knew that this was it. His was the last signature. As he had started the group, he was the one to end it.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: March 14, 2008
An article in The Arts on Wednesday about photographs of John Lennon taken by May Pang, who lived with him for 18 months during the mid-1970s, referred incorrectly to production work Mr. Lennon did for Ringo Starr in that period. He is credited with having supervised the recording of the title track of Mr. Starr’s album “Goodnight Vienna,” a song Mr. Lennon wrote; he did not produce an album for Mr. Starr.

Source: NY Times


14 Responses

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

  2. For fans a Must

  3. This book looks great – I can’t wait to see a copy. We should be grateful to May for sharing the John that she knew with us fans.

  4. It’s incredible to see all these new photos of John being happy and productive during that time period, which proves what May has always said. May’s book restores a significant portion of John’s legacy, which has been tainted by all the myths over the years.

    (note: Isnt’ there a moderator for this site that screens comments before they are posted?)

  5. May herself confirms how unhappy John was with her in her first book “Loving John”. She states over and over how John was drunk, in fact she gave John being drunk MORE publicity then the two Troubador incidents. In her book she states six examples of John going on a drunken rampage. May also states several times in detail how John beat her and wanted to end the relationship more then once. How can she carry on now like it was some great love affair when she in her own words described how terrible this relationship was?
    Sorry, once you put something in print you can’t take it back like it never happened.

  6. I can’t say I read the first book or know anything about it, but I want to see this new one for the photos.

  7. John Lennon loved the simple family life with asian women. Now asian women are more complex, complicated as well as educated.

    • May & Yoko are both highly educated & cultured East Asian women. Yoko went to an elite school, reserved for aristocracy – as she’s related to the original Emperor of Japan. don’t mistake decorum for subservience or ignorance.

  8. I’ve seen the book, and it is very nice. Also features an unseen shot of John and Paul together by the pool and Paul and Ringo sitting at a piano together, obviously having a good time. Both must be within days of each other, since Paul has the mustache and soul patch he had at the time for a while. ’74?




  10. Although Lennon would publicly lament this period, he did not do so in private. Journalist Larry Kane, who befriended Lennon in 1964, wrote a comprehensive biography of Lennon which detailed the “Lost Weekend” period. In the interview with Kane, Lennon explained his feelings about his time with Pang: “You know Larry, I may have been the happiest I’ve ever been… I loved this woman, [Pang] I made some beautiful music and I got so fucked up with booze and shit and whatever.”[24][25]

    John said it himself Lucy. Remember once something is written you can’t take it back!!!

    I know you will try to turn it around but don’t bother. Everyone cover your ears and say LALALALALALALALA

  11. I thought that this book was absolutely terrific and very full of important insights. John seemed very happy and relaxed during this time and the photos are amazing. Lucy Lennon seems very bitter and totally off base.

  12. Lennon himself said he was unhappy. Pictures are nice but not arranged in chronological order as her first book is. In her book loving john May details that John left her several times, for a whole month in LA, beat her several times and wanted to break up with her over and over. He may have had a few happy days but that does not mean he was happy regularly. So she changes her story again… for money.

    Who fucking cares?

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