Family is a funny thing. I’ve never been big into obligatory relationships based on DNA. My definition of “family” is a bit offbeat. “Family” for me is about “sticky people.”
Sticky People are the those who stay connected to you, and connect others around them, because they really care — not just because they have to.
“Traditional,” “Blended,” “Two Moms,” “Two Dads” — the modern family is a mixed bag. The dynamics we inherit from our own families, we can use — like most things — for good or for bad. Sometimes the roughest family situations restructure the way we think about family, and allow us to see with different eyes; expanding our horizons, and the horizons of those we love.
May Pang is known best as John Lennon’s girlfriend during the infamous “Lost Weekend” — a weekend that actually lasted nearly two years.
John and Yoko had separated, were contemplating divorce, and as the story goes, Yoko planned May and John’s relationship. She is famously said to have “given” May Pang to John.
While stories — however false and sensational — of that lost weekend have circulated widely, May’s story before, during, and after her relationship with John is so much more interesting.
A Very New York Childhood
May Pang was the first US-born child to her Chinese immigrant parents. Believing Chinatown “too dirty,” May’s parents settled in Harlem, where her mother ran the local laundry. She was a powerhouse who travelled from the rice paddy fields in rural China to the US (speaking no English), opened her own business, educated her family, and maintained a sensational sense of style all the while.
May Pang’s family was traditional in a very un-traditional world.
MP: “My father would not even come to the hospital when I was born because I was a girl. I was not accepted as Chinese because I was born here, and yet, I was not accepted by the race I was living with here. I was a minority in every sense. We lived in a tenement in Harlem and then moved to Spanish Harlem. I grew up in the projects and felt like a stranger there. So my mother put me in Catholic School. My mother was absolutely my strength growing up.”
But May wasn’t the only child. A sister, born in China, was left behind with her paternal grandmother. There was also an “adopted” son who came to the US with May’s mother and was eventually estranged from the immediate family.
May finished high school and went to college in the City. She hated it and dropped out after one year. Anticipating a blow up with her mother, she went home and spilled the beans. Her mother simply said, “Ok. You have a mouth. You speak English. Go for it!” And she did.
Cruising around looking for a job, May and a friend found themselves at the Apple Records building. It was 1969.
MP: “I said, ‘OH MY GOD, I’m going to go ask them for a job. What can they say — ‘No’ — and then I’ll be in exactly the same place as I am now.'”
May went upstairs and asked the receptionist if there were any job openings, and she said, “No.” Starry-eyed, May asked, “Do the Beatles ever come here?” and just as she did, the doors on both sides of the receptionist’s desk opened and people poured out. One was the office manager. The woman at the desk turned to him and asked, “Hey, she’s looking for a job, are there any openings?” and May’s journey began.
MP: “I was just very lucky. I worked with some of the best music ever. Besides the Apple artists, there were the music catalogs of Cameo Parkway, The Stones, and Sam Cooke. The Beatles thing started to happen and…right place, right time; or was a guardian angel looking after me?”
The Lost Weekend that Wasn’t
Through her many roles at Apple, May wound up working for John Lennon and Yoko Ono as a personal assistant. She did whatever was needed and learned everything she could in the process.
When the waters got rough between John and Yoko, May was there, and according to her, Yoko did try to throw John and May together. And although “she [Yoko] wanted to claim power over us, John really pursued me.” As the couple went back and forth about divorce, Yoko was always trying to call his bluff, until finally he said, “’let’s get the fucking divorce,’ and she [Yoko] realized that he meant it.” She laid low, and after weeks had gone by she announced, “the stars weren’t right” at that moment to get divorced.” But there were no secrets, there was no hidden affair — everything was out in the open for everyone to see.
“Almost everything that you want to talk about with John happened when I was with him.” He reunited with the other Beatles, made his own music and produced other artists, re-connected with his estranged son, Julian, and was able to find closure with his first wife Cynthia. Because of her own crazy family dynamics, May knew a ten-year-old child must know his father and that a broken marriage must come to a final close. Lennon also achieved his only #1 hit single in his lifetime during that period — all on May’s watch.
MP: “I really understood broken families. [So I] always want things to be for the good — and it’s always about the kids.”
May took what was a very complex childhood and used it for “the good,” and because of that energy, she maintained a deeply important relationship with John until the day he died.
May’s story has such sensational potential, yet has often been revised or ignored all together — and she’s been blacklisted by “the powers that be.” But when it comes down to it, May explains, “First off, I am a working mother, and no one has had the hindrances that I’ve had with [all of] this.” But the fact is that no one had done so much good in such a dysfunctional situation, and that’s truly sensational.
You can visit May Pang’s website to check out her beautiful handmade jewelry which she makes in her mother’s honor.