The Rev. Ike spoke the words on late-night cable television in the 1970s: “Whatever gets you through the night,” he told his audience. But this is not how Americans would come to know the phrase. For Americans, it was John Lennon who spoke these words.
After hearing the words, Lennon wrote a song around them, crafting the only number one hit single of his solo career. He was not a superhuman, ex-girlfriend May Pang says. But he was, and continues to be, a rock legend.
Lennon drew his inspiration from ordinary situations, allowing him to put together music and lyrics that almost everyone could relate to, Pang told the Collegian in a phone interview.
“When he heard that line he said ‘Huh, I like that line,’ and he wrote it down and wrote a song around it,” she said. “And that’s why we relate to him. He’s not writing something out of the ordinary. He wrote things that each of us have either said or thought.”
“LenOno” and the road to California?
In the mid-1970s, Pang worked for Lennon and Yoko Ono, Lennon’s wife from 1969 until his death, at their music publishing company, LenOno, which melds the last names of the two.
Pang did anything the two needed, from fetching the groceries to booking recording studios and musicians.
“It was very exciting, of course,” she said. “But after a while, it was like any job. I had a couple of energetic, sometimes demanding bosses who wanted things done as soon as they thought of them. And I just had to do the job … working for them was never boring. I mean, one day you’d come in and Bob Dylan would be at the door.”
In 1973, Lennon and Ono split temporarily, planning to eventually get a divorce, Pang said. And it was at this time that Pang and Lennon left New York to spend some time in California, under Ono’s suggestion.
After making the cross-country trek from New York to California, the two stayed at the homes of various friends and rented a beach house at one point.
“It was a time for us to do things,” she said. “He was just getting himself back acquainted with old friends. He was very happy; you could see it in his face. We would do things. We would be off and running to places like Las Vegas. We had a lot of good times and we accomplished a lot.”
After the split with Ono, it was said in many texts about Lennon that he experienced the lowest point in his life.
But Pang begs to differ.
“That is a myth that’s perpetuated. It’s reiterated in many of the ‘authorized’ biographies and movies,” she said.
She said Elliot Mintz, a close companion of Lennon’s and the man she calls “Yoko’s spokesman,” often refers to Lennon’s “lost weekend,” the 18-month period during when he was separated from Ono.
During this time, a now-popular photograph of Lennon being led out of the Troubadour hotel after a conflict was taken, something that Pang said “does not represent 18 months.”
“If you look at all my photos and listen to his work, it doesn’t add up,” she said.
Pang said these rumors were spread so quickly because it was easier for Lennon to say he was miserable in his time away from Ono, than to admit that he had been productive and content.
“When John went back to Yoko, it was easier for him to say that he was not having a good time,” she said. “He couldn’t very well say he had a great time, right?”
A productive moment in history
During his time with Pang, Lennon recorded multiple albums, including his number one solo album featuring “Whatever Gets You Through the Night.”
He also played with artists Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Elton John, Harry Nilsson, David Bowie and Mick Jagger, and spent time with his first son Julian.
Spending time with Julian was something Pang reinforced, as she reminded him to call the young boy every weekend. Pang said Lennon admitted that Cynthia, his first wife, had done a good job raising Julian, which was obvious when Pang met the boy.
“He was lovely. What can I say? He was ten years old,” she said with a laugh. “. And what she (Cynthia) cared about mainly was making sure nothing was deprived from her son with his father, and I wanted that too.”
Reflecting on The Beatles
As the so-called “British Invasion” hit America hard in the 1960s, the Beatles came along with it. From their first appearance in America on the Ed Sullivan show in 1964 to present day, The Beatles have influenced Americans and American popular culture.
“The Beatles were not an ordinary rock ‘n’ roll band,” Pang said. “The chemistry between the four guys gave us something magical that influenced everyone everywhere in the world. They defined pop culture. When they grew their hair long, we did the same. We were influenced by what they ate, how they looked and what they believed.”
And it wasn’t just their audiences that were influenced, Pang said. She said they influenced other artists as well.
The legend lives on
On Dec. 8, 1980, Lennon’s death struck America when he was assassinated while returning home from the recording studio. But his legend lives on.
Today would have been Lennon’s 68th birthday, a day that will be celebrated with the John Lennon Birthday Paint-In event at Civic Center Park in Denver. The event will serve as a celebration of Lennon’s life, music and art.
“As sad as I am about him not being here, we are here to celebrate what his legacy is about,” Pang said.
“His music he left us, his art and knowing that he started a big peace movement. And we are still here. We should carry on with that message.”
Entertainment Editor Cece Wildeman can be reached at email@example.com.