Home Music John Lennon PBS Film: Here’s the Real Story

Monday night, finally, the screening of “LennonNYC” on PBS. This is the John Lennon film by Michael Epstein film you’ve heard so much about. Only one thing: as a document about Lennon’s life in New York and the US from 1970-1980, the film does much to erase May Pang’s role in his life. She was Lennon’s lover and confidante. These days, she’s a popular and beloved figure on the New York music scene.

Beatle fans will always debate certain arguments: Paul vs. John, Yoko vs. the Beatles. Let’s face it, despite being a talented avant garde artist and an interesting musical artist, Ono is hated by Beatles fans. She’s blamed for breaking up the Beatles and looking all the while like a dark figure from hell. In the film “Let it Be” she looks like death hovering over the group.

As a widow, Ono has done all she can to rewrite her history with Lennon. Even if Epstein (and isn’t it weird that his name is Epstein–the Beatles’ manager was Brian Epstein) didn’t give Ono official editorial control, she’s as in charge of “LennonNYC” as she was of the awful John musical that died on Broadway a few seasons ago.

The worst omission in “LennonNYC” is that of May Pang. Yes, she’s interviewed, but there’s no mention that she was Lennon’s lover. Cynthia Lennon wrote in her own memoir a couple of years ago that John continued to see May even after he went back to Yoko in late 1974 and through the time baby Sean was born (October 1975) for two more years. “The last time we saw each other was in ”78-79,” May told me. And they saw each other again in 1980 before Lennon died. They were always in touch with each other.

It’s really wild, actually, that Epstein is comfortable letting all this slide by–as if it never happened. He’s allowed Ono to minimize Pang and make it seem like she was a fun companion or something. This is completely idiotic.


Lennon’s biggest solo hit during the early 1970s was his “Walls and Bridges” album. It’s May Pang‘s voice singing backup on “#9 Dream.” It was Pang who encouraged Lennon’s friendships with Elton John and his possible reunion with Paul McCartney. All of that’s omitted from this film. What a shame. But Pang has chronicled her time with Lennon in a 1983 memoir that she’ll update soon, and a book of photographs that really tells the story of that period. They’re each available on amazon.com.

As for the rest of “LennonNYC”: there’s some great home video and pictures, courtesy of Ono. The material with Sean in the last year of Lennon’s life is terribly moving. The film’s lump in the throat is John telling Sean “See you in the morning.” All of the inner circle provides elucidation, including Bob Gruen, Roy Cicala, Earl Slick, and Jack Douglas.

But a lot of “LennonNYC” is suspect biography. Too bad. After 40 years, you’d think we could have gotten the real story at last.

(See more below about Lennon’s 1974 Thanksgiving show with Elton John.)

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34 replies to this post
  1. It was a great film and showed that John was just an ordinary guy at heart he didn’t like all the fuss of being an ex-Beatle. So much rubbish is printed about John by people that never even met him – as is the case with a large part of the Beatles history. I’m proud that John referred to me as the `Pulse of Merseybeat’ Ignore most of the Lennon who was sarcastic- he was just having fun though no Saint haha. Some of you may recall the Tribute I organised for him in Liverpool the Sunday after his assassination.
    100,000 fans gave him a wonderful send-off When the 9 hour Tribute ended I was chatting with BBC Radio Merseyside afterwards. A mini- tornado of rubbish came up right next to us – with a white feather at the top.
    That is the truth !! At that time it meant nothing to me – now I realiose it was John thanking us. Sam Leach.

  2. I’ll tell you what truth is missing. The truth about a love child daughter that John had in 1964. That is why all this Beatle stuff is happening. They have to give this daughter her inheritance. You see Yoko hid it with good old Michael jackson. She got him to do her dirty work. When Michael Jackson became publisher the daughter had just turned 21 years of age. The daughter was of legal age. Jacko hid papers. If Ono took the catalogue then wth Paul she would have to reveal the daughter’s name. Yes it is a long story but a truthful good one. Now people sit back and enjoy it when it happens. I’m sure you won’t be that interested in Linday Lohan any more when this scandal drops. That is why so many Beatle and John Lennon events now. Don’t buy the he just turned 70 crap. When he turned 50 and 60 where were these big celebrations. Oh yes, the daughter was getting her money then.

  3. I missed most of the show but did get to see the confrontation between John and his father. How strange that John walked away from Julian and it was May who brought them together. I travelled over on the France from England to New York with the Elton John Band and Cynthia and Julian were on the same ship. I was present at the reunion between John and his son thanks to May.

  4. Yoko is like every other chick who alienated herself and her boyfriend musician away from the rest of the band. Lesson? Women are evil and men are sheep when the punanny is awesome.

  5. I’ve know May for over 20 years. I feel this film was obviously written only from Yoko’s viewpoint.

    Whether or not the “true” story is ever told, May knows what their relationship was and no one can take that from her.

  6. In all fairness to May Pang…she was portrayed as merely a footnote in this documentary. In reality…her relationship with John is a documentary in itself. Either the producers did not dig deep enough or were mislead.

  7. People it’s time to face the fact.

    May Pang had nothing of value to add.

    Her stories have been told over and over. She was a footnote in John’s life and frankly is just not interesting.

  8. Within one short week PBS has bleeped Tina Fey and aired a doc – a documentary they reputedly financed – packed with historical inaccuracies. So much for “the most trusted network”. May Pang’s place in John Lennon’s life is fact. This bogus film will soon end its one-way trip to the trash bin.

  9. Yoko might not have told Roy Cicala what to say… but she did pay for his plane ticket from Brazil to NYC for the interview…….

    Michael Epstein should have had the decency to allow May to see the edited version..before a public viewing….. He stated that Yoko didn’t have control over the editing… but didn’t mention the fact that she was present at the editing…..I would say that anyone being interviewed regarding John Lennon, to be very cautious of Yoko or those who are influenced by her. ..May was not allowed to have any people interviewed that were witnesses to her and John’s relationship. She was presented
    as “Alice in Wonderland” with Yoko’s wolves in sheep clothing…For someone that supposedly didn’t matter in John’s life, Yoko certainly spent the last 30 years in denial of a relationship between John and May that did take place and it lasted for 18 months and then some….. This is “no lost weekend”.

  10. Paul McCartney himself said, “if you want to know anything about the Beatles, ask Tony Bramwell, he remembers more than I do.” Bramwell was the Beatles Road Manager, and CEO of Apple Records and Apple Films. In Tony’s book Magical Mystery Tour, he says that Yoko deliberately infiltrated the Beatle camp looking for money. She wanted a patron for her “art” and she first went after McCartney, who wanted nothing to do with her. Lennon’s bad childhood made him a more vulnerable target, and she persued him relentlessly for months until she ruined his marriage. Anyone who wants to know about Yoko’s true character should check out this article exposing her efforts to foist forged Lennon artwork on unsuspecting fans here: http://garyarseneau.blogspot.com/2006/09/artwork-of-john-lennon-fraud.html

  11. may pang is one of the sweetest human beings on the planet!
    john should have stayed with her.
    woth may’s influence, there would have been a great chance of a BEATLES re-union.

    being her good friend for so many years has enriched my life!

  12. I’m happy for May Pang. It’s about time people know the important role May played in John’s life. I’ve witnissed that importance first hand as I spent many hours with them during and after the sessions at Record Plant while making John’s Walls and Bridges album.I’m proud to say that I played saxophone in John’s “Little Big Horns” section,and honored to have made a life-long friendship with May Pang. Perhaps it’s time the truth be told.

  13. I live in the UK so have not seen the PBS film. I have had the good fortune to interview May Pang on several occasions in connection with my work as a broadcaster over here. Her honesty is refreshing in this industry and her omission from a work of this nature is a serious exclusion of the real John. Her latest book of previously unseen photos is a revelation of the man he was.

  14. Response to Beth – Are you kidding? ALL May thinks about is her own PR. Why else would someone who had an arranged fling with a married man carry on so about how “important” SHE thinks she is? John did not even CHOOSE her, he allowed himself to do what Yoko told him to do and Yoko told him to go with her. The whole thing is embarrasing at best and harrasment at worst for anyone who would have been in May’s position, however she thinks this rediculous arrangment actually meant something. *rolls eyes.

  15. Being the real owner of the unfinished documentary film shot in Feb.1970 by Tony Cox.I can attest to the disgusting and dishonest activites by her and her lawyer Mr Shukat in hiding the truth of John’s life, she’s a fraud. If John had dumped Yoko and stayed with May he’d still be alive.You can only try to rewrite history, but the real truth and facts always come out.

  16. This is not the first time that Yoko has re-writen history; I know that the film makers of “Lennon NYC” had access to many people who were in the inner sanctum during those NYC years but obviously the film makers were persuaded to only interview those who could gain from uttering only kind words about Yoko (current or future business) and either omitted or edited out any reference to May Pang. How do you make a documentary, yet give creative input and control to a third party? Because without that third party’s (Yoko) consent no footage, no music licenses, no film.. by omitting May Pang, who was a major figure in John’s life for those 10 years, makes this not a documentary but more of a Jokomentary! Shame on the Documentary film maker who compromises their work!

  17. It’s really sad (and very weird) that even after all these years, Yoko is still so insecure that she has to edit history to erase any reality that dosen’t jibe with the version she wants the world to see of her relationship with John and artistic contribution to his music.

  18. Spin…Spin….Spin….
    This is about how Yoko could
    maintain control and sanitize it for her benefit.
    Its her fantasy around some FACTS that clearly can not be disputed.

  19. The best rebuke to this senseless ommission, is to do a documentary about the May Pang-John Lennon connection. Any taker’s? Focus more on the body of work produced instead of the personal relationship which tintilates the gossip columns. May Pang’s contribution to the music scene of the 1970’s speaks for itself as does her influence on current artists and projects that span film, theater and night life.

  20. I am the bass player in the tribute band BeatleTracks here in Boston. I also write the popular Beatles History/Trivia blog found on our WEB site. Safe to say I know a thing or two about the Fabs. I actually met May Pang this past summer and let me tell you; it was uplifting,fullfilling and enlightening to say the least. May is charming and dignified. Her only request is that Lennon’s history from 1970-1980 be written accurately. Lennon’s solo years have been repeatedly tainted by falsehoods and incomplete reporting. While I don’t blame Yoko for the breakup of the Fabs since John was fed up with the band anyway at the time; there is little doubt that she is an extreme control freak not adverse to re-writing history. Sadly, John shared the same “history re-write” trait but to a lesser degree. May Pang’s story begs to be told and I applaud her for getting her books out. I anxiously await her revised edition of “Loving John” that will include data purposely deleted by her publishers originally. We All Shine On.

  21. Also from same article:

    Epstein acknowledges that “LENNONYC” takes a different slant on May Pang’s relationship with Lennon. “May has her version of that relationship. I will only say that it was not supported by anybody else who was there,” he says. “And certainly the portrait we paint is certainly not influenced by Yoko. Yoko did not comment on that at all.”

  22. May Pang’s place in John’s history is slowly being erased by people like Yoko and biopics like this one that choose ignore her influence and contribution. While John was with May, not a lost weekend but an 18 month period, he put out more great music and was more involved musically than other time in his Non-Beatles music career. He had his only #1 hit and only #1 album while with May and worked with David Bowie, Elton, John, Harry Nilsson, Ringo and George during this period.
    May is a class act, does not bitch or moan about YOKO’s deliberate attempts to make her dissappear.
    I know May personally and she is warm, kind and a walking Rock and Roll Encyclopedia.

  23. history is written by the victors and i guess in this case yoko ono reigns victorious. not recognizing or even acknowledging the importance of may pang being in john’s life reads like an attempt to “sanitize” his image. john & yoko were not ozzie and harriet. there are no longer any surprising revelations about john’s life so re-writing what is already known is useless. to know May is to love her as john surely did.

  24. Yoko Ono was a control freak and she brought stress to the relationship and existence of The Beatles. May Pang’s voice should be heard more! It’s a shame it hasn’t been. She’s a fantastic, charming lady with interesting honest stories about Lennon. It’s a shame that May was so downplayed in “Lennon NYC” on PBS.

  25. That’s a shame, as I think May is one of the only people around who tells the truth about him without worrying about her own PR. I believe she has much to add to the ongoing Beatles legacy.

  26. i have been a friend of may pang for years, her relationship with john was very important to him and she was a breath of fresh air and inspired him…..to say that yoko inspired john doesn’t hold true…she dominated him….the volumes of music would have been there anyway….

  27. Having had the fortune to meet May Pang has been one of the greatest perks for this Beatles fan, especially John. Her humility and honesty have given her her own legacy; and her insight has clarified so much about this man’s enigmatic character. I only wish the rest of his fans would look beyond the hype, and appreciate the security and opening of the heart May was able to provide. Some day, the truth shall set us all free.

  28. I am a Beatles fan and I do not hate Yoko; her strong presence was a symptom of the end of a relationship between friends and co-workers. If Yoko had not been there, it would have been someone or something else, as all good things come to an end.
    Yoko’s presence would not have affected the group dynamics had the bonds not already been weak. And had it not been for her to inspire John, we probably would not have the volumes of music he created after the Beatles’ demise.

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