'friends' Cash in on John Lennon's Memory, and Yoko May Pay a Price
In an interview shortly before his death, John Lennon was asked what he thought about outsiders psychoanalyzing his life. “It’s only games for people to play,” he answered. “Some people like Ping-Pong, other people like digging over graves…. It’s irrelevant. If some people want to do it, let them do it.”
Two and a half years after his murder, they are. No less than six Lennon books and two TV films are in the works or out already, many by people with an ax to grind. The Love You Make, the Beatles biography by show business biographer Steven Gaines and former Apple executive Peter Brown, is already a best-seller. An upcoming Lennon bio, John Lennon: In My Life, by boyhood pal Pete Shot-ton—John once bought him a supermarket—will look closely at the early years, as will a TV film for which Len-non’s first wife, Cynthia, will act as a consultant. Myth-breaking Elvis biographer Albert Goldman is rooting up dirt for a tome that’s still a long way off, and a University of California, Irvine, history professor, Jon Wiener, is writing on Lennon’s political life based on reams of FBI and Department of Immigration files he obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. But the most revealing—and controversial—projects are likely to be those dealing with Lennon’s largely undocumented post-Beatles life with Yoko Ono.
The folks out to have their say about the period include Yoko and three former Lennon employees: May Pang, secretary to John and Yoko and later John’s mistress; John Green, 35, who read tarot cards for Yoko between 1974 and 1980; and Frederic Seaman, 30, a gofer in the Lennon household.
Pang, now 32 and employed as the creative director of a music publishing affiliate of Paramount, went to work for John and Yoko as a secretary in 1970. In Loving John: The Untold Story (Warner Books, $8.95), to be published in August, she claims that she was encouraged by Yoko to be John’s mistress. “I felt trapped and sick,” says Pang, who was 22 at the time. Yet she accompanied Lennon to Los Angeles on a 10-month “lost weekend” of drink and drugs, and grew attached to him. May theorizes that she was chosen to be John’s mistress because she was a $150-a-week employee who could be controlled.
Though Pang says Lennon was sometimes abusive—once, she claims, he tried to strangle her in a Palm Springs Jacuzzi bath—she also recalls happy moments, including making love in her cramped Manhattan studio apartment while rock music played in the background. Pang, who paints a very unflattering picture of Yoko, alleges that back at the Dakota, the brooding building the Lennons called home in New York, rock was banned. Pang also says that Yoko sometimes spent thousands of dollars a day on clothes, then threw away, rather than return, anything her assistants bought that she didn’t like. At the same time, says Pang, John never seemed to have any cash.
Not surprisingly, Pang couldn’t accept that Lennon suddenly scampered back to his wife when she agreed to have him in 1975. Instead, in an imaginative if woefully unsubstantiated passage, Pang speculates that Yoko, on the pretext of curing Lennon of chainsmoking, hypnotized him into returning home. Former New York Times music critic Henry Edwards, who spent eight months writing the book with Pang, claims that “she didn’t do this for the money [the publisher paid a $150,000 advance for the manuscript]. She did it because, with all the other books coming out, her story would have been told anyway—so why not tell it right?”
Yoko has refused to comment on any of the works in print or progress, but free-lance writer Elliot Mintz, 38, a friend who often acts as her spokesman, is blunt about Pang’s allegations. “I spoke to John every day when he was in Los Angeles,” says Mintz. “Almost everything she describes did not happen that way.”
Tarot card reader Green, one of a flock of psychics, numerologists and the like who have advised Yoko over the years, frankly admits he wrote his just-published memoir, Dakota Days (St. Martin’s Press, $12.95), for the bucks: “There is a market there,” he says. Green says he read cards for Yoko as often as half a dozen times a day for six years on subjects ranging from hiring employees to her relationship with John to predicting which of her songs would be hits. “It was a process that made for long afternoons,” he says.
Green’s thesis is that during Lennon’s final five years with Yoko—when he claimed to be a happy “househusband”—John was actually often depressed because he had lost his muse. Green quotes Lennon extensively in the book’s 260 pages, yet, miraculously—cynics might say suspiciously—recalled his words without benefit of tapes or notes. “I have a fine memory, and second, working with John was a decidedly memorable experience,” he writes in the book’s introduction. If Green’s remarkable recall serves him well, Yoko—who again comes off selfish and manipulative—told him, “My feelings and my work have never been respected and people think that all I’ve ever done is marry John Lennon and spend his money.”
Her alleged artistic competitiveness with her husband oozes from the pages. Green recalls her speculating five months before Lennon was slain that when the Double Fantasy album was released, the public would realize “John’s stuff isn’t all that good, and when people buy the record to hear him and they hear how much better I am, I will have an instant market for my next release.” Green also quotes Lennon as telling him that when drinking and depressed he’d head for “a whorehouse, usually, like last night, nothing special. Just go around, anywhere but home.” Though few people other than Yoko and John could refute Green’s quotes, Mintz claims that Lennon rarely saw or spoke to Green. “All of these authors are out for the money,” says Mintz. “Does John Green make as much from tarot reading as he will from the book?” Perhaps; Green says he was paid more than $25,000 in 1980 by Yoko, who was only one of his many clients.
The third Lennon-Ono employee turned author, Fred Seaman—Simon & Schuster will publish his Living With Lennon ($14.95) in January 1984—also has credibility problems. On May 27 he pleaded guilty in New York State Supreme Court to one count of grand larceny in the second degree for stealing John Lennon’s journals (covering the period 1975-79) from the Dakota. All but one of the stolen diaries have been returned to Yoko. Lennon’s 1980 diary, which Mintz calls “the last and the most important,” is still missing. Seaman has denied taking that journal. On July 14 he will probably be sentenced to probation with the stipulation that he cannot reveal any of the contents of the Lennon diaries. Otherwise he could draw a jail sentence of up to seven years.
Still, Seaman, a journalism graduate of the City College of New York, was one of the few people close to Lennon during the two years before his death. The nephew of Yoko’s former manager, Norman Seaman, Fred signed on as a household assistant to the couple in 1979. He started out, he says, organizing files and scouting property for Yoko to buy (Seaman says that Cannon Hill, John and Yoko’s lush estate on Long Island, was his suggestion). He eventually became John’s traveling companion and friend. Among other things, Seaman, who is virulently anti-Yoko, says that “Yoko told John he was welcome back only if he was willing to give up his career.” Initially, says Seaman, “The way John looked at it, it was the first time in his life he didn’t have all the hassles. He’d had his fill of the rock star thing for a while.” When John started recording again in 1980, says Seaman, Yoko insisted that half the album be reserved for her songs (hence, says Seaman, Double Fantasy). Seaman paints Lennon as henpecked and reduced to watching hours of TV. “John needed a mother figure, wife, business manager, and he appointed Yoko all of those things,” says Seaman. “It was probably more convenient for him to stick with her than to take another chance and split. Because when he split, the id would sort of take over and he would get into trouble. He would be prey to all the sharks around him. This way he had the semblance of being safe.”
Mintz doubts Yoko will ever read any of the books. “I’ve tried to discuss them with Yoko, but it’s too painful,” he allows. “She’s not angry; she’s just sad.” She isn’t, however, immobilized by depression. Yoko has authorized Johnny Carson’s production company to make a three-hour TV movie about life with John, tentatively entitled Imagine: The Story of John and Yoko. She is also publishing, this fall, a collection of more than 100 photographs of her and John taken shortly before he died (John Lennon, The Summer of 1980, A Perigee Original, $8.95). In addition, another employee, interior decorator Sam Havadtoy, 30, who now lives in the Dakota and has been linked to Yoko romantically, has completed a documentary about her that will be offered to network and cable TV.
In the end, the truth of the matter may be like a greased eel: hard to grasp, and not very pretty, anyway. Lennon probably would have appreciated the sorry state of things. As he once said of biographers, “They put all their fantasies on other people, whether it’s the Beatles or Elvis or Glenn Miller.” Or now, John Lennon.