Frequent commenter @Hologram Sam provided this comment in one of our earlier threads. I commented, but as is usual these days had enough to say that I’m making a post out of it.
Pop over and read it. I’ll wait.
I feel obliged to point out that May Pang’s alleged statement tracks neatly with The Lives of John Lennon: John and Yoko as more a business entity than a couple, fulfilling their sexual/emotional needs elsewhere; May and Julian written out of the history; and Sam Havadtoy basically stepping into John’s spousal place immediately following his death, if not before.
(By the way, if you’re interested in Goldman, we’ve talked a lot about him here; this magisterial post by Devin is a good place to start.)
Some of why I called a halt to the earlier shenanigans on HD was simply that late-period Lennon is a drain not worth circling. We know all the basic outline, or should; it’s been freely available since 1987, and largely confirmed during the decades since. Yes, John was violent; yes, he was at least bi-curious; yes, his house-husband years were far from idyllic; yes, he looks like utter crap after about 1977. Let us either move on to what ELSE we think it all might mean, or talk about other, more pleasant topics. The last years of Lennon were not as they’ve been portrayed; but also they were Lennon’s own co-creation—both the circumstances and the myth promulgated in 1980. What does that say about Lennon? What new can we learn? To rage at Estate propaganda is an activity with diminishing returns. This is what Estates do, or this one, at least. We can only note that Goldman’s main points seem to be holding up; his meanness we can take issue with, but not his spadework.
So we know it. Now what?
Getting back to May Pang, I think she lives here in LA; I know that she’s been visible at Beatle-things. She is not silent, and God bless her for that—it’s all part of the soup, as George famously said about The Rutles. Factually it’s clear that the so-called “Lost Weekend” showed a Lennon returning to form as a functioning musician; the discography alone demonstrates this. And compared to the antics of serious boozers like Keith Moon, John’s escapades seem positively quaint; we only notice the Kotex on the head because four years prior, John was auditioning for Rock Gandhi. If Mickey Dolenz got kicked out of the Troub for heckling someone in 1974, it wouldn’t even make the LA Times. Rock stars gonna rock star.
Perhaps as the years pass, we’ll gain a more balanced view of the Ballad of John and Yoko. But if we do, I think we’ll have to acknowledge that the tools of the historian have not, in this case, served us well. The problem with the historical method—as with journalism, and (as we are seeing with Trump) the law—is that it doesn’t really have a way to deal with an intentionally distorted record. Certainly since the late 1800’s, history is an art masquerading as a science. The science part is real, and it can aid the art part, but the art part—what are facts, which ones to weigh most heavily, and how they are ordered—remains and shall ever remain the meat of the matter.
Certain people in certain jobs are legally required to maintain a clean datastream; the President, at least up until Trump, was required to preserve everything that crossed his desk. And social media helps with this; can you imagine what John Lennon’s Twitter feed from 1960-80 would reveal? Do you think it would match with the guy we know? (I don’t.)
The writing of history, sooner or later, devolves to an assertion of personal authority, and historians work to conserve this authority. That’s why, if you don’t have proof in forms that historians are comfortable with—a public statement, a memo, a photo, an affidavit, a story corroborated by a number of worthy people—that event is discarded. This does reality a disservice, and creates a bias in favor of power, and the status quo. One of Yoko’s major life goals has been to hoover up all the photos and documents regarding herself and her late husband. “And,” he said scarcastically, “certainly what she leaves behind will be an unedited, unaltered pile of data, not a carefully cultivated narrative for hand-picked historians to ‘discover,’ then claim as truth.”
This methodological flaw, which I have no answer for, is particularly clear when dealing with the things that people hide: Sex, money, wrongdoing. (Goldman is obsessed with these; ironically it’s the breathtaking grubbiness of his mind that has made Lives last.) Given that the pursuit of sex and money occupy much of our time here, and the pressure to pursue these frequently put us in ethically questionable territory—if not with the law, then perhaps with Mom—History’s polite elisions yield a grave distortion which does us no favors. Can you truly understand a person without knowing their sexual and financial lives? Can you honestly weigh their motivations? Look at your own life, and answer again.
History is simply facts arranged into a story, filtered through the storyteller’s experience and opinions. From these stories we are meant to glean lessons and other useful information, but because historians do not acknowledge the presence of the hidden or unprovable, their stories are at best entertaining adaptations, and at worst one of the main reasons humanity seems to learn so little as the centuries pass. History is not what happened—and I speak here as a recovering history addict. I love history, but the more I live, the less truth I think it catches; and the more it is simply a method by which we comfort ourselves, and reinforce the prejudices of our era. The price of that comfort can be very, very high.
As I said, I have no answers. Because there is so little at stake, comparing the Ballad to the reality is relatively painless instruction on something quite important. Beatlefans who take the lesson will be the better for it. Not happier, perhaps, but wiser.