Half-brothers fight for Lennon's true legacy

by John Harlow, Arts Correspondent
The Sunday Times - 24 May 1998

Photograph Smile

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JULIAN LENNON has the voice and his father's looks; Sean, his younger half-brother, has been lauded for being the sibling with the creative originality.

In the battle to resolve which one has inherited the true legacy of John Lennon, the half-brothers released albums simultaneously last week. Sales suggest Julian, the 35-year-old son of John and Cynthia Lennon, is winning against Sean, 22, son of John and Yoko Ono, his second wife.

Julian is already an established star. His Photograph Smile is outstripping his half-brother's Into the Sun by two to one in sales. By mid-week Julian had reached about 75 in the top 100, while Sean remained
"untracked".

By this afternoon, when weekend sales have been computed and announced by CIN, the chart company, Julian should have cracked the top 50. Sean may materialise somewhere towards the bottom of the charts.

Sean has been more widely regarded as the talent and his album has won critical acclaim. Andrew Smith, The Sunday Times pop writer, said: "Sean's album is fresher, sunnier, more original."

Julian has his supporters, too. Matt Snow, editor of Mojo magazine, said: "Julian's album is the best, though he still plays the piano like his dad. Sean, unfortunately, sounds like his mum."

All agree, however, that the simultaneous releases were calculated to recreate the publicity bonanza of the "Oasis versus Blur" chart battles of two years ago.

The tension was sharpened when the launch of Julian's album was overshadowed by Sean's contoversial claim that the American government had murdered his father because he was a dangerous revolutionary. It provoked a stinging riposte from Julian. "You should have facts if you are going to say something like
that," he said.

What is clear, however, is that neither can escape from the enormous shadow of their late father, gunned down outside his New York home in December 1980: the latest compilation, Lennon Legend, was certified double platinum by CIN last week, qualifying with 600,000 sales.

Of the songs Lennon wrote for his boys, the album includes Beautiful Boy, written for Sean, but not Goodnight, from the Beatles' White Album and composed for Julian.

Julian, who has spent a lot on buying up mementos of his father, has said he has tried to stay in touch with Sean, who rejected his overtures. In an echo of his father's story, the 22-year-old appears more interested in his 37-year-old lover, a Japanese avant-garde musician called Yuka Honda.

Both sons are veteran musicians. Julian was taught guitar by Sir Paul McCartney who wrote Hey Jude for him when his parents were splitting up. But after that he was brought up in north Wales with his mother, surviving on the remains of a £100,000 trust fund.

Although he was criticised for sounding like his father, his 1984 debut, Valotte, was a big hit. This funded a descent into drug abuse, which he has now put behind him. His three subsequent albums sold fewer and fewer copies.

Julian, who lives in northern Italy, released Photograph Smile on his own label, investing £100,000 of his own money. It was underwritten by a £20m settlement agreed with Yoko Ono 18 months ago. Now it appears that he may get some of that money back.

Sean, by comparison, has enjoyed a gilded youth. Fiercely protected by his mother, who is guardian of the £300m Lennon estate, he was brought up surrounded by musicians such as Michael Jackson and David Bowie. Lenny Kravitz, the American rocker, produced Sean's first rap single when he was nine, and he got away with rewriting his father's anthem Give Peace a Chance as a protest against the Gulf war.

So what is the chance of a joint concert? The magnanimous winner of the first musical round between the next generation of Lennons is said to be "relaxed" about the prospect. A spokesman for the Ono family was distinctly frosty: "What, exactly, would be the point? To satisfy a morbid public curiosity? Forget it."