|Julian Lennon spoke so frankly about his life, music, and family in
a New York City recording studio this past June that the interview bordered
on therapy. Then, two hours into the session, the 36-year-old pioneer
of rock's next generation -- who had been smiling and smoking throughout
the conversation -- suddenly stopped smiling.
After pondering the prospect of ever subjecting himself again to
the media scrutiny that has been part of promoting his first album
in seven years -- explaining as if on a tape loop how at the age of
3 he gave a painting of his schoolmate girlfriend Lucy to his father
John Lennon and inspired the Beatles' "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds";
relating for the nth time how Paul McCartney wrote "Hey Jude"
to comfort him after his parents' separation; remembering how he made
his recording debut with a drum bit on his John's Walls And Bridges
album; revealing what he really thinks of his former stepmother Yoko
Ono and his half-brother Sean Lennon -- Julian Lennon threw down the
"Anything you ever wanted to know, ask now, because after this,
if you want to understand who I am, just listen to the work. And if
you like the work, you like it. If you don't, you don't. But no more
questions. It's over with."
If the endless questions about Julian Lennon's past and legacy ever
do subside, it would be nice if the focus shifted to his new release.
Photograph Smile is exquisite, replete with subtly inventive string
arrangements and romantic lyrics that often rise above the obvious.
With co-producer Bob Rose, the scion of one of rock & roll's greatest
figures has fashioned a unique aural identity on Photograph Smile,
and in concert earlier this month at Manhattan's Irving Plaza, Julian
Lennon proved that his stage presence has evolved as well, moving
eons beyond the floppy microphone-holder who roamed the boards in
the mid-Eighties pointing and bouncing aimlessly.
After his last album, 1991's Help Yourself, Lennon returned home
to Europe, frustrated by the music business and bored with his "numb
life in Los Angeles." He ultimately made his main residence in
Italy, where his late stepfather Roberto Bassanini (to whom Photograph
Smile is dedicated) had lived. Julian spent his time exploring non-musical
interests -- cooking, photography, painting, sculpting, and raising
awareness for environmental causes -- and collecting Beatles/John
Lennon memorabilia. He also met his stunning girlfriend named, yes,
Lucy ("Well, we've just come full circle, haven't we?").
Lennon eventually returned to writing and recording music and bankrolled
his own label, Music From Another Room. Now that he has finalized
his financial settlement with the Lennon estate, Julian Lennon also
feels free to get some things off his chest once and for all.
Austin Chronicle: You've said that you consider Photograph Smile
the first real Julian Lennon album. Doesn't that leave your fans of
your earlier work feeling a bit awkward?
Julian Lennon: Maybe so, to a certain degree. But
there were times on some of the albums that I felt the material
was not what I was about. There were several songs that I felt coaxed
into having on the albums. Due to [my] lack of courage and strength
in those days, I was always aware that maybe things weren't quite
the way they should be, but never could speak up against them.
AC: You set the stage for the parade of rock & roll progeny that
followed your first success, from Jakob Dylan to Ziggy Marley.
JL: I certainly was someone to watch in regards
to how things worked out. How I was treated. What not to do. Make
sure that you read the contracts. Make sure you've got a good lawyer.
I did jump in the deep end myself, you know. Anything that went
wrong in the past, I have myself to blame on many levels. But without
these experiences, I wouldn't be who I am today and as content and
happy as I am today.
AC: Your father, John Lennon, was known for public statements of
peace and love. Your private father-son relationship was troubled.
Do you think John Lennon was a hypocrite?
JL: Well, I do, yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. I
mean to a certain degree, it's almost like barefaced lying. Obviously,
a lot of people have so much love for this man. And it's a very
difficult thing to tell them that this man was not who he said he
was, in the sense that [he] was publicly preaching about peace and
love, but couldn't keep that going at home. That he couldn't even
take care of his own family.
What surprises me more is that later on in his life,
several years before his death, it was only then that it started
clicking: "Maybe I should try and make it up to my son who
I've not paid attention to for 20 -- almost 20 years." And
for me, that's very disturbing. It saddens me. It saddens me a great
deal. But the public doesn't want to hear that. They don't want
to hear that the icon and god of peace and love was actually not
... Didn't believe himself in what he was saying, to a certain degree.
AC: When you hear a Beatles song or fans come up to you and say how
much they love your father, how do you react?
JL: Well, that's a tough one. It's very difficult,
because people are only looking at him from his musical talent and
persona. Whereas, I was the person that had to deal with the actual
real-life person, the real-life John Lennon, who was not around,
who was always away, and who for many years didn't remain in touch
with me and didn't seem to care, didn't look after me. It has been
very difficult dealing with that issue of, "Well, your dad's
so great." I try and be as polite as possible. These days it's
a lot easier just to go, "Oh yes, thank you. He was a great
musical talent," rather than clench my fist and sort of say,
"Well, you don't know the half of it."
AC: Recently VH1 aired a segment of Behind the Music devoted to you.
You said Yoko Ono has "raped and pillaged the Lennon family."
What did you mean by that?
JL: Well, there are many things that my mother and
I feel have been done to the Lennon family on Yoko's behalf that
were not right. For instance, we're very close with Dad's half-sisters,
who are his family. They are blood, back in England. Many years
ago when Mum and Dad were together, they bought a house for his
sister Julia. The problem was, it was a carefree lifestyle at that
stage. So there was no thought in organizing the paperwork and doing
all that kind of stuff. It was a gift from Dad. This is a house
for the family. This is where you can live.
After Dad died, Yoko came over to England and said
that the house was still in Dad's name, whereupon she decided to
take the house from Dad's half-sister and sell the house and basically
put them out on the street. And Julia was calling up trying to make
some sense of it all saying, "Why have you done this?"
[Yoko] said, "Well, it's not in your name and the house was
worth 30,000 pounds or something like this when it was first bought.
So you can have the money if you want." And [Julia] said, "It's
not about the money, Yoko. John bought this house for us, to live
in, to grow up with our families. This was part of our lives. Saying
you'll give us 30,000 pounds is not going to bring back what that
meant to us." That was just one occasion.
AC: Yoko Ono has merchandised John Lennon's artwork on ties, cards,
mugs and lithographs. His music has been used on TV commercials. Do
you object to all these posthumous uses of your dad's images?
JL: There's a way of doing it where you don't cheapen
his effect or his personality or creativity. It just seems that
she's throwing it out there willy-nilly, so to speak. There's no
medium ground here. It's either locked in the basement, which it's
not because it's out there on everything -- "Instant Karma"
on an English commercial for Walker's Potato Chips. There's a way
and approach of doing this which is a lot more classic, a lot more
stylish, and a lot more fair to the fans that want to have sentimental
things of his to collect.
AC: Do you think your frank criticism of Yoko Ono has hindered your
ability to have a closer relationship with her son, your half-brother,
JL: No, I don't think so. It hasn't in the past.
Whether it does in the future ... You know, he will become his own
man at some stage. He will be able to figure his life out for himself
and what his relations are with me or any of his other English Lennon
family. You know, he's early 20s. He's got a lot of growing up to
do. I know what the experience was like myself going from 20 to
30 to 35. Thirty-five was when I felt that I had actually clicked.
When I was finally beginning to understand what life was all about
and what it meant and how to become happy and contented and having
some level of peace and balance in life.
On the occasions that we do see each other, whether
it's in England, whether it's in Japan or because he's out on the
road from time to time now with his own band, it's always like long-lost
brothers. I have a great amount of love for him. We'll have lunch
and dinner and go out and have some fun and chat about anything
and everything. The one thing we don't chat about probably is home.
The estate and his mom and that kind of stuff. We avoid that like
the plague. I think our love is very clear and very open for one
another, aside from all the bull and all the stuff in between, which
I don't think we need to talk about. I mean, one day, but not now.