Julian talks about his Dad, Yoko, Sean and his new contentment, peace and love of his life
By Elizabeth Grice
Julian Lennon has many reasons to be angry. He tells Elizabeth
Grice about money, manipulation, John
BY an unhelpful co-incidence, the two sons of John Lennon released solo albums on the same day last week. In headline terms, this could mean only one thing: the half brothers were engaged in "open warfare" to determine which of them has inherited the creative talent of their late father. It made a great piece of what they call "promo" in the music business.
"It's news to me," says Julian Lennon mildly. "I love Sean to death. He's a very smart kid. But I do think there are things done without his knowledge. Someone in the camp could be manipulating events." By this, he means the New York-based Lennon "camp", under the control of Yoko Ono, Lennon's widow and the mother of Sean. "She wants to make sure Sean's OK, whatever it takes."
Julian Lennon doesn't strike you as a conspiracy theorist. His quietness isn't throbbing with menace or malice. He appears to be a puzzled chap asking two puzzling questions: is it really a coincidence that Sean's album Into The Sun came out on the same day as his own Photograph Smile?
And how come that the day before he broke a seven-year silence by
introducing his new songs at a press conference in Germany, his half-brother
Sean created a media diversion by talking about his father's
"Very weird," says Julian.
Julian, 35, is the Sixties child of John Lennon and his first wife, Cynthia; he was abandoned by his father when he was five and only recently received a share of the vast Lennon estate.
Sean, 22, is the favoured son, for whom John Lennon became a househusband. He lives with Yoko in he sumptuous Dakota building in New York, where Lennon was shot in 1980, and will inherit the bulk of the Beatle's reputed £220 million fortune.
"If I'm in New York, I try to see Sean," says Julian. "If I move, I always give him my new number. I call him from time to time, but I never get a return call. I think it's to do with the difference in our ages. The last thing he's thinking about is his older brother."
Julian Lennon is not always so ready to make allowances. When people come up to him in the street, blabbing about their love for his father, "because he spoke the truth", they meet with a polite reserve. "I have to say that, from my point of view, I felt he was a hypocrite. Dad could talk about peace and love out loud to the world but he could never show it to the people who supposedly meant the most to him: his wife and son. How can you talk about peace and love and have a family in bits and pieces - no communication, adultery, divorce? You can't do it, not if you're being true and honest with yourself."
Lennon has a way of delivering vehement thoughts as if they were the shipping forecast. He sits casually smoking and smiling, distilling the essence of what it has meant all these years to be the outsider, burdened with expectations on the one hand, stripped of status on the other. He picks occasionally at the quicks of his fingernails, but his voice doesn't change much. It's the same unemphatic Northern threnody, attractive in its way, whatever his subject.
A careful civility veneers all his utterances about Yoko Ono. He calls her "a hardball, a very strong woman. I admire her - she's a tough cookie - but I don't necessarily agree with her". He even suggests that she may have done him a favour by waiting 16 years before allowing him any money from the estate. In the original divorce settlement, Julian was to receive £2,400 a year in maintenance and to inherit a £50,000 trust fund when he was 25. After a long legal wrangle, he secured a further settlement from the estate in 1996, the details of which he is forbidden to discuss. "No," he says, "I don't think it was necessarily fair, but I'm OK. The last thing I wanted was a court battle because there's much more money on the estate side than my side. "A court case could have gone on for five years. The slanderous remarks would have been horrific. There would not have been a private life for either Sean or me. I just wanted to resolve it, to get the hell out of there; a chapter in my life finished, over with."
Is it as simple as that? "Well, I have been dealt a set of cards
I can't change too much. But maybe I can
He didn't much care about the money, he says wearily; it was the principle of the thing. He's not after a sympathy vote, but what he found really sad was the lack of any personal mementoes, "seeing nothing offered to me at all, having to go out and buy back Dad's stuff with his money".
He recently paid £30,373 for the Afghan coat John Lennon wore on the cover of the Magical Mystery Tour album in 1967; £17,246 for a black velvet cape (worn in the Beatles' film, Help!), and £25,000 for the scribbled notes of the song Hey Jude, written by Paul McCartney for Julian when his parents were splitting up.
Paul once observed that John didn't really know how to be a dad. Does Lennon think it is fair to blame someone for being a poor father? "Yeah, I do." We are all, he argues, capable of doing what we set out to do. "If you bring a child into this world, whether it's planned or an accident, you'd better make sure you can care for it. You have to be around. You make time. It's as simple as that."
After many years of caring for Julian alone on a small allowance, Cynthia Lennon reminded her famous ex- husband that he also had a son in England. A few awkward meetings ensued, Julian always having to do the Atlantic hop. According to sentimental legend, just as father and son were getting to know each other, Lennon was shot. But Julian doesn't make it sound all that promising a relationship.
"It was still very distant. I probably knew him as much as I know you. That's about how warm it was. There were cuddles now and then but there was always an uneasy tension."
He believes the unease sprang from his father's guilt at being an absentee parent. "That is why, with Sean, he made sure he spent every moment with him." But this is too simplistic for Julian, who continues his calm indictment: "You cannot just discard people because you can't face up to them. You cannot say: 'Here's my new life. I'm older, I understand more, I'll make it better now.' It doesn't work that way."
Julian Lennon remembers once sharing the upbringing of a girlfriend's baby and how, despite the broken nights, he loved being a surrogate father. "It was phenomenal, magical. I know bringing up a kid is tough, but I cannot understand how anyone - not just dad - can walk away from that. After the relationship broke up, I think I missed the child more than I missed his mother."
Early pictures of Julian show a long-faced pasty youth, whose features are a bland, unformed copy of his father's. Though still wan, he looks more interesting now, and the likeness to his father is disappearing. After the success of his first album, Valotte, he hated the way the record industry tried to dish him up as the reincarnation of Lennon.
"They tried to create this image. It was like being a puppet, a pawn being shifted around. To me, it was about the songwriting, the songs. But nobody wanted to hear that. They just wanted to see me and touch me and play with me and ask me questions about Dad. For many years, I went along with it. I was too nice. "I could have been the nastiest son of a bitch you ever met, but I chose not to take that route. I did have that anger inside me. I did have that [his father's] laconic wit - but it's in its place." Having suffered himself from his father's clever tongue, he says he'd rather not use his own to "tear someone up".
As in all moral dilemmas, he took his cue from Cynthia Lennon. "My mum taught me how to turn everything around: you just kill people with kindness. There is no need to be mean, nasty or cruel to anybody."
Cynthia now lives in Normandy with her companion of the past 16 years. "She's loving life and I'm very happy for her. Of course, there are things that hurt inside - there's still a place in her that loves Dad - but she's over any anger. There's no great trust between her and Yoko, but we rarely talk about that these days.
Mum's very grounded; I think there's more insecurity on the other side."
As Cynthia moved home, her son went to many different schools. It was always the same agony: being introduced in assemblies as the son of John Lennon, blah, blah, blah, and then being ambushed by local gangs on the way home.
"Trying to make friends in those days, particularly when we were in North Wales, was tough. Every school was a nightmare. Often, when a friend and I went to the fish shop at night, there would be 10 or 20 guys outside just waiting for us. They wanted to be violent and I felt aggression inside. But I would talk just long enough to distract them, just long enough for me to throw the chips in the air and run.
"Rumours would go round town that I pinned £5 and £10 notes on the ceiling for fun. They thought we had millions in the bank, but we never had any money when I was a kid. Mum had enough from Dad for schooling, food and clothes. That was it. Later, the only money I had, I earned."
Julian claims that he doesn't care if he never makes another album.
"There's life outside the music usiness.
His independently-made Photograph Smile (on the Music From Another Room label) is dedicated to his Italian step-father, Roberto Bassanini ("more of a father to me than anyone"). To Julian, it symbolises cutting loose from the messed-up, manipulated, lost-boy Lennon and emerging in his own adult colours. "For me, it's my first album. It feels like the perfect representation of the work I do. Without being snotty or modest, I think it contains some very good songs. My goal in life has been to be a songsmith, not a pop person."
He blames the frenetic music business for locking him into the alternating hyperactivity and lassitude that characterised his life in the late Eighties. "It got to the point where you didn't get up in the day, you didn't work, you didn't do anything because you were so screwed up. But I've never been addictive in anything, and I looked in the mirror and saw it was time to stop. There's a piece of me that stays aware at all times."
The turning point came in 1994 when he travelled to London to accompany his mother to the premiere of Backbeat, a film about the Beatles. It made him see how stagnant his life had become. So he put his house in Los Angeles on the market and "booked out" of America, renting a flat in Monte Carlo as a base for exploring the countryside and himself.
He eventually bought a house by the lakes in northern Italy, "where I'm pleased no one seems to know me at all". Then, with the settlement money, he bought a second-hand Range Rover and did up his 1969 rust bucket, a Mustang convertible. "I was never the kind to buy the Ferrari or the yacht. There's no big house anywhere."
All in all, the cards seem to be falling right. After years of short-lived love affairs, he says he has found the woman of his dreams. "I've always been trying to find that one person. Now I have, I want to keep the secret as long as possible."
The conversation drifts amiably on to his love of sailing, cooking,
riding his motorbike into the hills, discovering little towns and
poking into village kitchens. "I love to sit on a mountain top
and gaze," he says. "I don't think of anything but the people
I care about and the view. At the age of 35, I've found the first
step to contentment and peace."
Copyright © 1998 London Telegraph
Background/Flowers from the 'Photograph Smile'
CD inlet by Angelika Letsch.
'Hey Jules' © 1998 - 2002 CJ Burianek