For the past few days I’ve been fascinated by the story of May Pang.
I’d never heard of her before.
She was, in brief, John Lennon’s girlfriend in 1973 during his “Lost Weekend” away from Yoko Ono. She went on to subsequently marry Tony Visconti, David Bowie’s producer.
But what fascinated me wasn’t all the stories about the Beatles and the rock music industry that she had to tell. What fascinated me was how it all got started, back in 1970.
May Pang was aged 18 back then, and living with her Chinese mother in Brooklyn or the Bronx, NYC. Her mother, who’d lived through the Japanese invasion of China, and the rise of Mao, ran a Chinese laundry. She was just out a convent school in New York, where she’d been sent, not because she was Catholic, but because it was one of the best schools. And now she was looking for her first job.
She’d gone one morning, with a girl friend of hers, to Manhattan to try to get a job at a bicycle shop. But the interview at the bicycle shop hadn’t gone too well, and she didn’t think she’d got the job. And so around noon she and her friend were wandering around Manhattan, and found themselves in a building where her friend noticed that Apple Records had an office (Apple Records being the company the Beatles had just set up).
So, on an impulse, Beatles fan May Pang decided to visit the Apple offices and see if she could get a job there instead. Her friend told her she was crazy, but she said there was nothing to lose in trying. And so she got in a lift, and rode up to whatever floor Apple’s offices were, walked in, and asked the receptionist there if there were any jobs available.
And the receptionist said there weren’t any job openings available that she knew of. But just then, as she was leaving, doors started opening, and lots of people started walking out of them. And the receptionist called out to one of them, asking if there were any jobs going. And one of them said that there might be one, and she should come back after lunch.
So May Pang hung around Manhattan, and came back later in the afternoon, had an interview (during which she said she could type, when actually she couldn’t), after which they told her to start on the next Monday.
And that was how she got started at Apple Records in Manhattan. All the rest was history. And a very interesting history. But somehow or other what fascinated me was that first day.
It probably helped that she was a very pretty girl. It probably also helped that she was most likely dressed in her very best clothes for the interview at the bicycle shop. And it probably also helped that she was very well-spoken: the nuns in the convent had insisted that she pronounce “aunt” as “aunt” and not as “ant”. So it was a very pretty, very well-dressed, very well-spoken girl who walked into Apple’s Manhattan offices that morning. Maybe she just blew them all away.
But there are lots of very pretty, well-dressed, well-spoken girls all over the world. May Pang must’ve had something extra on top of all that. And my guess was that the extra added ingredient that May Pang had was one hell of a lot of nerve. She was someone who could and would just walk in, uninvited and unexpected. And in every one thousand pretty, well-dressed, well-spoken girls there is probably only one very daring girl like that.
And thinking about it, my guess is that there wasn’t actually any job available at Apple Records that day: she simply created one for herself. For before she even got interviewed, the people at Apple actually knew a lot about her: they knew that she was very pretty, very well-dressed, and very well-spoken, and also, most importantly, that she had one hell of a lot of nerve.
The interview in the afternoon was just a formality. They probably didn’t give a damn whether she could type or not: they could have easily found out if they’d wanted to, simply by putting a typewriter in front of her. They knew that they needed people like her. Probably every company is always looking for people like her. Well, maybe the bicycle shop wasn’t. Maybe they were looking for someone who could ride bicycles.
The more I thought about it, the more I felt that that day in Manhattan could have, should have, been made into a movie. Just that day. There would have been no Beatles, no John Lennon, no Yoko Ono, no Tony Visconti. Just May Pang and her girl friend. It would start that morning with May Pang dressing, and her mother looking her over very closely before she left home, and telling her to stand more upright or not use so much lipstick. And there’d be the bicycle shop interview, where May Pang would claim to be able to ride one, and then demonstrate that actually she couldn’t. And then there’d be the ride up the lift to Apple’s offices, and the receptionist, and the one person (probably a man) to whom the receptionist spoke. And then there’d be the afternoon interview. And finally it would be May Pang arriving back home, and her mother telling her she was very late getting back, and asking if she got the job or not. And May Pang telling her that no she didn’t get the job,… but had got another job instead, working for the Beatles.
It would be an almost all-woman movie. There’d be May Pang’s Chinese mother. And May Pang. And the girl friend who accompanied her to Manhattan. And the receptionist. And the guy who comes out of the door. And maybe a few nuns and office secretaries. That’s four women, and one bit part for a man.
But there could be lots of delicious hints at the world she was about to enter. There’d be pictures of the Beatles and John Lennon and Yoko Ono in the Apple offices, of course. Maybe there’d even have been a big photo of John Lennon in the office foyer, gazing down on May Pang as she walked in. And maybe one or two famous rock stars could be glimpsed in the hallway of the building, or in the lift as she rode up. In fact, the four women and the man could all be played by major movie stars. And maybe all the people who came out of the doors in Apple’s offices would be movie stars too. Because that was the world that she entered, meeting Fred Astaire and James Cagney, and Dean Martin, and Peter Lawford.
There’d be no romance. No fast cars. No special effects. No UFOs. It wouldn’t be an expensive movie to shoot. It would just be a day in the life of a girl. Call it A Day In The Life?
There’s more about it all in the Boston Globe. But I came across the story first in a long YouTube interview of May Pang. She seems to have done lots of long interviews, but that was the first one I heard, and it started with her describing that day.
One thing I learned, listening to several of these interviews, was that John Lennon smoked Gauloises around that time. And May Pang hated the smell of them, and made him smoke them on the balcony outside the one-room flat they shared on East 52nd street, overlooking the East River.
And in one interview (the one linked to above) May Pang said that when he finally went back to Yoko Ono after 18 months, it was originally for him to try a hypnosis cure for smoking. He just never came back.
All of which said that anti-smoking was pretty well advanced in NYC by as early as 1974, in the chicest of chic circles. And John Lennon came over as a man who was passed from one woman to another, almost like a fashion item: it was Yoko Ono’s idea for him to have have an affair with May Pang after she’d been working a few years at Apple – something she didn’t want to do.