Music Express June 1989

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Julian Lennon

With hindsight (always 20-20), Lennon views the first album, Valotte, as "very much guided. I felt I was the new kid on the block, learning the ropes. I'd have liked more input, but at the time I wasn't very strong-minded or confident about the situation."

Then came the banal second LP, The Secret Value Of Daydreaming, followed by a career, and personal, slump.

"I felt I was pushed into being this 'personality' sort of person. I wasn't there to do the music; I was ending up on TV shows and weird things. I just wanted to get on with the music, but I felt it was part of the job to do this extra stuff, getting your face on TV and in the papers. I wanted to get back to the basics after that - to find some people I could work with, have trust and faith in.

"It literally took two years to find those people and get out of the situations I was contractually obliged to be in.

"All I wanted to do in the first place was to, hopefully, write good, or great, music and to get out there and play it. I'm not a TV host or celebrity, just a humble musician who wants to sing and play and let other people hear it."

An understandable enough desire, but, of course, an impossible one. The Lennon name ensures that. Even if Julian had chosen to be a bank teller in Croydon, he'd still have been a celebrity. For him to voluntarily venture onto the main field left by his father's musical footsteps guarantees high public visibility.

To his credit, the young (26) man on the phone possesses a pleasant, generally open manner. A trace of a Liverpool lilt remains in his voice, and the impression given is of someone you'd happily share a pint and a pool-table with "doon the pub", a fave Lennon pastime.

The legacy of John Lennon will always weigh heavily on Julian's shoulders, and he becomes audibly hesitant when that subject is broached.

"The only way - although this sounds terrible as I say it - being a Lennon or having the name Lennon has helped me was with the first LP. Apart from that there's been nothing but comparisons to this, that, you name it.

"So it has been kind of awkward and difficult. When it initially started, I thought maybe I should change my name, but I realized that at some stage people would find out. I just wanted to be myself and get all the bullshit out of the way. Just get on with what I do.

"It has been a difficult five years, and I'm finally at the stage where I feel comfortable and over the about the new album."

An amusing facet of Mr. Jordan is that song composition credits occasionally go to Lennon/McCurry (Julian's guitarist John), eerily close, phonetically, to the immortal team of (John) Lennon/McCartney.

"Yes, I'm very humored by that. It does piss some people off, who think I did it on purpose, which is untrue. I get a chuckle out of that!"

In recent years, we've witnessed a rash of sons of (often dead) rock stars entering the business - Dweezill Zappa, Jason Bonham, Ric Ocasek's kid, Ziggy Marley and, of course, Julian Lennon. Julian has only ever met Dweezil ('We didn't seem to have that much in common'), so they've yet to form a rock rat pack.

This phenomenon reminds us of the aging of rock 'n' roll. "Definitely", agrees Julian. "I think that is worrying a few people, and I think that's why I get slammed a lot."

When a clearly nervous Lennon was invited to play alongside rock giant Chuck Berry in the movie Hail! Hail! Rock 'N' Roll, the time-span of rock was poignantly visible.

"That was a wonderful experience, but also nerve-wracking", reminisces Julian. "The thing that scared me, and I've known Chuck from the past, is that he likes to tease people he works with. What happened with the film was that as we were playing live, here's always something he likes to change.

"I was supposed to follow him parallel doing harmony, and he decided to change the harmony he was singing to god knows where. You can see in the film where I get lost for a second and wonder where the hell Chuck has gone!"

The junior Lennon still seems similarly out of sync with modem pop music. He's not into hard rock or dance or white soul, but rather produces a carefully crafted blend of a myriad of pop styles that makes for a varied, but scarcely virile, fare.

It's ironic that after suffering criticism for all too often sounding just like his Dad earlier, he now finds everybody describing Mr. Jordan's first single, Now You're In Heaven, as a pure David Bowie sound-a-like.

Will the real Mr. Lennon please stand up?

Julian seems to acknowledge that he is still trying to find his own voice. "Musically, I'm still jumping around like an idiot - discovering things, trying different things out. To a degree, I think this album is like a sample of what will, hopefully, come out in the future. I see it as putting my cards on the table and saying -'Look, I can do a bit of this, a bit of that'. As a solo artist, why shouldn't you show the public you're capable of different directions? Why not mess around?"

The vocal style of Mr. Jordan is certainly chameleonic.

"Why should people expect me to sound one way, when I can use my voice other ways as an instrument? To jump from a lower register to a screaming  high keeps up my interest as well. Before, I'd just sing in my speaking voice, with the occasional falsetto."

Lyrically, Julian sees Mr. Jordan as "bringing it  home a little more, so to speak. All the songs mean a hang of a lot to me, and they were all more direct than what I'd written in the past."

His liner notes thank "the opposite sex for giving me something to say," which rather pointedly refers to his seemingly turbulent love life.   Julian doesn't explicitly discuss other rumors of past problems with alcohol or drugs, but does confide that life in the fast lane has come close to running him over.

"Back during the second half of the second tour, I started getting really depressed about what was going on and I'd go out every night. I felt like I was dragging myself into the ground. I'd wake up the next afternoon and feel like death and I'd say, 'Well, what happened to the days?'

"Now I just enjoy living. I enjoy seeing the sunrise - I mean waking up with it, not going to sleep with it! I like having a full day, seeing the light and feeling good. I know what to do in moderation these days."

Not that he's become one of those boringly self-righteous clean livers.

"At one point, I said 'I won't drink anymore', then I said 'sod that', I enjoy going out and having a drink with the lads, and if I get drunk once in a while, I don't care. Everybody does that, and it's enjoyable. You can take that too far, so it was time for me to straighten up, clean my act up to some degree."

In Los Angeles, Julian Lennon considers himself part of "the English clan". "I do like to go out, but here it's like, 'When do I meet you down at the pub lads?'. Pretty much the same as in England.

"I tend to avoid big Hollywood bashes," claims Julian (despite his appearance at one such bash as reported in this month's L.A. column). "I get enough flashes in my face from the press with my career without going out to the Hollywood hotspots and finding it too."

So that is the life of a Lennon, circa 1989.

"I still feel very young and fresh", enthuses Julian.

The key question is whether a pop audience still haunted by the legacy of the lad's father will be patient enough to allow him to carve his own musical niche.

Or are they now waiting for Sean?