May Pang, the ex-girlfriend of John Lennon, has called Forest Hills home since June 2016. “I love the neighborhood feel and the fact that it has a rich history,” she said during a recent interview. “I couldn’t wait to move here, and didn’t realize how many friends I had around here.”
Pang is also proud to keep Lennon’s memory alive. The Beatles performed at Forest Hills Tennis Stadium on August 28 and 29, 1964. Fifty-three years later, Pang would dine at the Clubhouse of the West Side Tennis Club and pay her first visit to the stadium, calling it a historic treasure.
“I was told that there were about 14,500 screaming fans at each Beatles concert, and standing in the same spot where they performed is such a thrill,” she said.
As a record production coordinator, photographer, author of “Instamatic Karma: Photographs of John Lennon,” and jewelry designer, Pang embraces diverse pursuits.
“Aim for the universe, but if you reach the moon, you’ve gone pretty far and you still have more room to go,” she said. “A lot of people don’t even get off the Earth.”
Pang was raised in Spanish Harlem after her parents and sister immigrated from a village outside Guangdong in China.
“I was the first in my family to be born in America,” she said. “I suppose I contributed quite a bit to their culture shock.”
Pang later worked at the New York City office of Abkco/Apple Records, where she met Lennon and Yoko Ono.
“In 1970, they came in to direct two movie shorts, ‘Up Your Legs Forever’ and ‘Fly,’ and they needed an assistant,” she recalled. “The office manager said ‘you fit the part, so you’re going to work with them.’”
After working as their personal assistant for three years, Ono asked Pang to become Lennon’s “companion” as they were experiencing marital troubles. Pang initially rebuffed until Lennon pursued her.
Pang later lived with Lennon in Los Angeles and eventually on the Upper East Side near Sutton Place for 18 months, a period which became known as the infamous “Lost Weekend.”
After their relationship ended, she alternated between living in New York and London. Pang later married record producer Tony Visconti, and they have two children, Sebastian, 28, and Lara, 26. The couple divorced after 13 years of marriage.
“When you really examine my relationship with John, it wasn’t a lost weekend, but a very active period of time in which he made a ton of great music,” she said. “It was not about drinking or drugs. I got him back with George, Ringo, and Paul, his son Julian, and gave [first wife] Cynthia and John time to have closure to their relationship.”
Pang reminisced about numerous interesting encounters.
“Elizabeth Taylor introduced us to David Bowie,” she said. “Friends would pop by our apartment, from Bowie to Elton John to Mick Jagger to Paul and Linda McCartney. We’d sit around and order Chinese food. John and I lived a couple doors away from Greta Garbo, and he’d always ask, ‘I wonder if we are going to see her today?’”
She also fondly recalls her debut as a recording artist.
“That’s me whispering John’s name in ‘#9 Dream,'” she said. “John also asked me to be part of the chorus and sing along with two others. Another one of my many favorites is ‘Surprise, Surprise (Sweet Bird of Paradox),’ which he wrote for me.
“I loved The Beatles’ early songs, such as ‘In My Life,’ which conveyed everything you could ever feel in three minutes,” she continued. “They could put out a song and tell a story in five words or less.”
Pang said The Beatles were not just a regular rock-and-roll band, but literally changed a generation. “When they grew their hair long, everyone grew their hair,” she said. “Then everyone was wearing Nehru jackets and doing transcendental meditation.”
Pang developed an interest in photography at an early age, and Lennon would later become a fan. “John didn’t like many pictures of himself, but he liked my eye and how I captured him,” she said.
Pang still has the drawings that Lennon gave to her, such as self-portraits and one in which he compared her driving to The Flintstones, as well as a few other personal items.
“John always had a Flair marking pen close by,” said Pang, which came in handy on August 23, 1974, when the couple saw a UFO from their balcony overlooking the East River. “It was on a Friday night, but dead in the city since everyone heads to the Hamptons in the summer. Taking a puff on his Gauloises cigarette, he sees a bright white light over his shoulder. He calls me out to the balcony.
“I said ‘Oh my God!’ and he says, ‘I’m seeing what you’re seeing,’” she continued. “I could hear the sounds from the streets below, but not from the thing that’s hovering directly above our heads.”
Lennon grabbed an envelope and his Flair pen, and drew it before he could forget any details.
Today, Pang spends her time designing feng shui-inspired jewelry, including signed pieces representing the basic principles of “Happiness, Enlightenment, Infinity, and Harmony.” She also hopes to share her experiences in the music business.
“A lot of people have never seen what it’s like to work in a real studio or realize how music was made back then,” she said. “To think that 'Sgt. Pepper' was done on a four-track.”
Pang said Lennon always embraced new technology. “Had he lived, he would be fascinated with email and being able to record an album without ever having to leave his bedroom,” she said.
Pang reflects on her time with Lennon with fondness, happiness, and a little awe. “How many people can actually say that they lived with one of the most famous men of the 20th century?” she asked.