October 3, 2010
John Lennon needed to clear his head when he came to Palm Springs in
His recording sessions with Phil Spector in Los Angeles for the album
"Rock 'n' Roll" a collection of late-1950s and early-'60s cover
tunes had been disastrous.
And a few days before he had been tossed from the Troubadour
nightclub in Hollywood for drunkenly heckling the Smothers Brothers.
Lennon thought it best to have a relaxing weekend before the hard
work began of producing Harry Nilsson's "Pussy Cats" album.
"A lot of people don't realize that John had a very demanding work
ethic," said May Pang, Lennon's girlfriend who was on the 1974 trip.
Pang became Lennon and Yoko Ono's assistant in 1970. In the summer of
1973, the ever-unpredictable Ono strongly suggested that Pang take
her husband on as a lover.
Reluctant at first, Pang eventually warmed to Lennon's advances.
In her 1983 memoir, "Loving John," she wrote: "As strange or
incredible as it may sound, Yoko had arranged a relationship for me,
a relationship that was making me happier than I ever would have believed."
Pang and Lennon were together for 18 months a period that the
former Beatle would refer to as his "Lost Weekend" before returning to Ono.
"I had a different experience than a lot of people," Pang said.
"Cynthia (Lennon) has one. Yoko has hers. I have mine."
Palm Springs: 1974
Like any March in the desert, the weather was at a beautiful peak,
and Lennon and Pang were planning on lots of sunbathing by their hotel pool.
"We were just going around, relaxing, taking rides, looking at the
surroundings," she said. "You don't know that that's out there. We
were like tourists."
The sunset was breathtaking that night. Following it, Nilsson
recommended they all take a tram ride and have dinner at the top of
Mount San Jacinto.
"That ride going up the tram was interesting," Pang recalled. "The
trip coming down was another story."
In her writings, she describes fellow passengers as having had too
much to drink and ignoring Lennon and his party's personal
boundaries. Hands wandered.
After fleeing the tram car, they returned to the hotel. Lennon and
Nilsson continued drinking near the Jacuzzi, and the evening turned
violent. A drunk, out-of-control Lennon gripped Pang's throat at one
point, leaving bruises.
It was the first time she considered leaving Lennon, who was
embarrassed and contrite the next morning.
"He was easily susceptible to things that were going on around him,"
Pang said. "Harry was the stronger of the two figures.
"It's very difficult when you have Harry Nilsson as the person you're
dealing with. He takes it to another level. You can't stop him."
In both "Loving John" and her 2008 pictorial "Instamatic Karma," Pang
shares her sweeter moments with Lennon, quiet outings with friends
like Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney, and intimate father-son
exchanges with Julian Lennon.
"I was so glad that I was part of (John's) life and that he was a
part of mine," she said.
Pang plans to update "Loving John," though she doesn't have a release
For a man about whom the public knows so much, there's still more she
wants to share from his recording sessions and about Ono's attempt to
have McCartney retrieve Lennon from Los Angeles and Pang's arms.
"That contradicts anything that has been said," Pang noted. "The
party line is that John wanted to go home. That's not the case."
As fans worldwide commemorate what would have been the rock icon's
70th birthday this month, she views Lennon's legacy as living on in his music.
"He was part of a group that changed pop culture and made such an
amazing, amazing amount of music we could all relate to," she said.
"The Beatles, as a whole, and John, as a soloist, had the gift of songwriting."
Monica Torline is a features reporter for The Desert Sun. She can be
reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (760) 778-4620.