I'd like you to meet Jules. He's a songwriter. A damned good songwriter.
When he popped onto the music scene fifteen long years ago, several
music critics noticed that he was, in fact, a damned good songwriter,
but all they wanted to talk about was his dad. You see, 1984 wasn't
the year the world became aware of Julian Lennon. That happened in 1964,
when millions of screaming teenaged girls were informed that Beatle
John Lennon had a wife and a baby boy named Julian. And as the boy grew,
he would appear on the periphery of Beatlemania from time to time, the
best known event being that fateful car ride with uncle Paul, who made
up a song to help ease the pain of his parents divorce. "Hey Jules,
don't make it bad. Take a sad song and make it better." As a matter
of fact, that's one of the few things that just about everybody really
knows about Julian Lennon.
Everybody knows what happened to Julian's dad in 1980. It seemed
as if the world stood still for the longest time. The maniac who shot
him had hit him up for an autograph just hours before. Despite this
introduction to fan adulation, Julian Lennon stepped into the spotlight
four years later and became a star, albeit one hounded by critics
and interviewers who only seemed to want to make comparisons to his
famous late father. At times, Julian seemed a little less than pleased
by all of that, and gradually we, the public, began to think we knew
him, that we knew how he felt and what he was really all about. We
didn't know squat.
After six years of questionable handling by managers and label execs,
Julian Lennon walked away from it all. We'd never heard of Roberto
Bassanini, his step father and actual father figure, primarily because
that was of no interest to the press or the publicists, but what we
know now is that Bassanini and Cynthia (formerly Lennon) gave Julian
a fine upbringing and a life away from the Beatles' monsoon. Julian's
life is quite different than yours or mine, and not in the ways that
you might expect. He lives in Northern Italy in a small town of barely
1,000 people. Life there happens at a different kind of pace. Most
of the day is spent strolling outside, breaking bread with neighbors
who are all like family, enjoying the beauty of the countryside, and
sailing in the local waters. A very, very difficult place to leave.
And yet, after an absence of over eight years, Lennon has returned
to the world at large with an album, Photograph Smile, that is hands
down his best to date. His songwriting skills have obviously been
honed to a fine point in the interim, as these songs are each complete
and unique and extremely satisfying to both audience and artist. After
nearly a year and a half of preparation, which included founding his
own record label, and countless miles of pavement pounding, the word
is finally getting out that Julian Lennon is no longer standing in
Cosmik: You were off the scene for a long, long time.
What was it, eight or nine years? What were you doing in that time?
Lennon: Getting out of contracts, first and foremost.
(Laughs.) I felt a serious lack of support after the last album. I
felt used and abused and disrespected, and never taken seriously,
not even by the people I was working with. And it was time for me
to get out and re-evaluate. It was very much a blessing in disguise,
because it allowed me the time to truly reflect and figure out what
had gone on in the past, absorb it all, and try and turn things around
in life. So, not only on a personal level but professional, too, I
gained control of my life again. A lot of my time off was spent working
through a lot of those problems I felt that I had, and just enjoying
the other side of life. It had been over ten years of music and/or
Cosmik: And no time for living your life?
Lennon: You know, so many other creative aspirations,
and friends, and family had been thrown to the wayside for that, and
I hated myself for that. It was a question of rebalancing and rejuggling
things and working out the priorities in my life.
Cosmik: It seems music still has its place, then.
Lennon: Yeah, music's very, very important to me.
Still is. Absolutely. I will never stop writing. But at the same time,
there are other things in my life that are equally, if not more, important
to me. Part of all this has been finding that sense of balance, that
peace and contentment in life, and making it work. It was a very difficult
decision to come back into this industry, but the thing that really
clicked me into gear about it was... I just felt that if I was going
to leave the industry, the last four albums were certainly not a good
enough legacy to leave behind. I didn't know if this was going to
be the last one, though it's probably not going to be, now, because
the reception and reviews, so far, have been some of the best I've
had in my life.
Cosmik: It's the best record you've made, no question.
Lennon: Well, this is the one that I finally afforded
myself the time to be able to do it properly. The whole writing and
recording process was, on and off, about a year, and we recorded enough
material for two or three albums. I just wanted to put something down
that was MY baby, where there was no intrusion by anyone else, no
friggin' record companies knocking on the door saying "it's not
uptempo enough" or "it's not commercial enough" or
the management saying the same kind of thing.
Cosmik: Did your time away from the industry give
you some clarity to see all the ways you'd been messed with before?
Lennon: Oh, yeah. My demise came with the second
album, and everybody says "you have twenty years to write your
first album, and twenty seconds to write your second," and they
were absolutely right. But it was not by my doing or my choice. I'd
just come off my first world tour, and I wanted a bit of time to myself
to actually absorb what had happened to me, and to understand what
I'd just been through. And then to slowly start writing again and,
once I had enough material I felt good about, I'd go into the studio
and get the next album out. Unfortunately, that was not the case.
I was... I wouldn't say "ordered," but I was certainly back
in the studio within a month or two after that trying to write the
next album. I said "you've got to be kidding! This is insanity!"
And, to me, the second album sounded like a bunch of bad demos. I
felt there could have been some potential with some of the songs,
but on the whole, I was not a happy camper about it. From then on,
it was just a question of playing catch-up, and realizing I couldn't
get out of the contracts, so I might as well have a bit of fun with
experimentation and trying different ideas out. But it was never a
question of having full control until this point in time. So this
album was a very important one to do. It seems it was the right choice
to make. I feel I'm finally getting respected as an artist in my own
right with this product. This album... I hate to say product, but...
I'm in the business these days, too (laughs). The reviews and the
fans inspire me to keep going now. I'm not saying I'll be running
around the world like a headless chicken anymore. This promo tour
has been over a year and a half now.
Cosmik: Already?! Isn't that a pretty crazy schedule
to keep? Like a headless chicken, maybe?
Lennon: Yeah, but I felt it was necessary because
this was my baby, and if I was going to re-establish myself and build
a new foundation on my own terms, then I would have to take the time
to be able to do that, you know. Yeah, it's been a long, hard drive
over the past year and a half, but what I wanted to do in the process
was to finally make people understand who I am, and it's not what
their interpretation of me was. Over the last year and a half, I've
been airing a lot of views on pretty much every subject in my life.
Which I don't mind doing, but I just want to make sure that if you're
going to talk about me, you'll at least get the facts right. After
this year, there'll be little talk and few interviews of any sort.
Next year, when I do come out with an album, hopefully towards the
end of the year, yeah, I'll jump on a plane and whiz around the world
for maybe a month and say hello to everybody, but that'll be about
it. I truly feel my job is songsmith: I'm a songwriter. That's what
I love to do, what I challenge myself with and what drives me. Sitting
around talking about my life or what the songs mean seems a little
contradictory and pointless, to a certain degree, but I felt it was
necessary this time. From this point on, I just want to let the music
speak for itself. If you like it you like it, if you don't you don't,
but I'm not gonna damn well explain it to you anymore.
Cosmik: And of course it has to get redundant..
Lennon: I just don't want to take a year out of my
life talking about me or the album. I think I've said enough in life.
These days, what's helped me in this respect is the fact that if you
do want to know anything, you can double-click onto the website and
you'll find out more there than you need to know. Probably more than
I want you to know. At least the information's there now, and it's
factual and real.
Cosmik: So this promotional tour is as tough as it's
going to be allowed to get. How about the actual performances?
Lennon: This time round it's very much [about] getting
my feet wet. It's a very raw approach; no production, no lights, just
bringing our equipment along and plugging it in. And hoping for the
best, basically (laughs). We're just trying to play the material as
best as possible and have a relationship with the audience again.
NEXT year, I very much want to do the tour I've always WANTED to do,
especially after this album. I want to do this album justice, as well
as some of the past material that's never had a chance to be heard
live. That means coming back and playing good sized theaters with
a full orchestra, as well as the band. It will probably be a limited
charity tour, but we'll try and touch on most of the cities around
the world. There's quite a few. But it's something that I truly want
to do. I had the opportunity to play with a live orchestra in Hong
Kong at a big festival. Singing "Photograph Smile" with
just myself, Greg at the Piano and a full orchestra behind me, my
God, the goosebumps were all over the place. I just went "wow,
this is where my heart's at, and this is what I'm going to follow."
So that's what I'm trying to put together for next year. There's quite
a lot of things keeping me busy.
Cosmik: Do you plan to do this with another new album
Lennon: Well, I have a feeling... In the early part
of the year we're planning to go to South America for a month or two,
because we've never been down that way. Why? Well, ask the old record
company and management, because apparently I have a very good fan-base
down there. I decided it's about time we said hello. That could take
a month or two, and then we could be looking at the orchestral shows
between that time and May, possibly. I'm kind of penciling in around
May to do the next album, and hopefully it'll be released before the
end of the year. That's the idea at the moment, but nothing's actually
in stone yet, so it could be the other way around. It could be the
album first and then the tour. Certainly it will involve most of this
album, and a lot of my personal favorite songs from earlier albums
that I felt got sort of thrown to the wayside because of lack of support
from the label.
Cosmik: For example...
Lennon: Songs like "Mother Mary" and "Other
Side Of Town" that I absolutely love, and that I think a lot
of people didn't get a chance to hear.
Cosmik: Those particular songs were treated like
Lennon: In a sense, yeah. The ALBUM was treated like
filler, never mind the track (laughs).
Cosmik: You started your new label to avoid all those
pitfalls and take control of what happens to your music. Did you end
up with all the control you wanted and expected?
Lennon: Pretty much so, yeah. Trying to work the
bugs out when you start a new label, well, it's pretty tough to do.
There were some early mistakes that we're still paying for in some
respects, but we're in the throes of correcting all the mistakes we
made during our... I guess you can say it's a grace period, the first
six months to a year of running a new company. We feel we've pretty
much got it under control now, we know what we want, and we know how
to achieve that. It's just a question of getting on with it.
Cosmik: How does it look?
Lennon: So far, so good. We've got our fingers crossed
and things seem to be moving in the right direction.
Cosmik: I know you get bombarded with questions about
John Lennon, and about your musical heritage, or however the press
decides to characterize it. You surprised a lot of people with the
video to "I Don't Wanna Know." It's more than just a nod
to The Beatles. It also looks like you had a good time doing it.
Lennon: It was fun. I had the idea in my head when
I was writing the song, and I actually finally story-boarded it the
night before we did the video. The idea was that just in case they
didn't get it with the song -- if they didn't realize it was very
mid-sixties Beatle-esque and that it sounded pretty close to dad singing
it -- then we could hit the nail on the head with the video.
Cosmik: What was the motivation behind it?
Lennon: To try to express the way humanity sets people
up as icons and gods in this world. It's a scary thing. If you ask
any of the lads -- Paul or George, especially -- they're amazed themselves
by what happened to them. For the most part, especially in the early
days, it was about having a lot of fun and not taking yourself too
seriously. But a lot of fans take it to the extreme, and then it becomes
obsessive and then it becomes dangerous. So the idea was just to put
it out there again that it's meant to be about having a bit of fun.
Yes, there are songs that are serious that you can relate to about
your lives, but above and beyond that, it gets very scary. It was
just trying to put that forward, basically. Just relax a little bit
and have fun.
Cosmik: I noticed that the Beatles were kind of like
out of control pinballs in the middle of the chaos, and you were seen
in the audience as an observer to all this madness.
Lennon: Well, not necessarily so... I mean obviously
it was an observation, to a certain degree, but for the most part
it was me saying to people "you know, everybody in the world's
been trying to get the Beatles back together. All I wanted to do was
get the RUTLES back together."
Cosmik: Oh, that's exactly it! My notepad says "Rutlemania
reborn" next to this section!
Lennon: Exactly! Unfortunately, I couldn't. Half
of them were available, and half of them were working on some film
in Hollywood, so I decided to come up with my own, called The Butlers,
and just take it from there and make it a [mix] of films and ideas
that they'd done. We just took the edge off it and tried again to
show that it wasn't as serious as everyone makes it out to be. Unfortunately,
some people have commented that they thought it was sacrilege. I just
say "get a friggin' life! What is wrong with you people!?"
Cosmik: I found it interesting that Yoko Ono was
characterized, in your video, as some sort of malignant spy in the
house of Beatles. For years you had no comment on her, but now you've
flat out said you don't like her. Do you mind talking about that today?
Lennon: You know, I've had some conversations with
her that have been fine... I just don't like what she's done to the
rest of my family. There are a lot of dad's and my relatives that
still live back in England, and if they had things of dad's, she took
them back after he died. We're talking about property and things like
this. A place where his half-sister, Julie, lived, which was given
to her by dad and mom when they lived together. Names were never changed
[on the ownership papers] because you never think something's going
to happen to you. Mimi's house, where all the Lennon kids grew up,
and their children grew up, they used to go there every summer on
holiday. As soon as she died, Yoko was there. She went to the reception
and waited with the estate agent until everybody had left, and then
locked the house up and sold it within the next week. This was their
family home. She's done this with several properties that were in
dad's name, but he'd bought for [family members]. She's done things
like that that infuriate me, you know? Not only taking things that
were rightly given to others, but also what she's doing with the merchandising
of some of the things from his estate, you know? I mean his drawings
on silk ties and mugs and this kind of crap. There was a comment made
by her PR guy saying "well, what was she supposed to do? Either
lock it up in the closet, or let the fans have it?" Well, yeah,
let the fans have it, but don't charge them eighty pounds for one
picture of dad eating breakfast, for Chrissakes. There's this new
thing in a magazine now, three pictures of dad from  sitting
there having something to eat. You know, [imitates an advertisement
announcer] "Three museum quality pictures, limited edition prints
from the Lennon estate," with one print being eighty... fucking...
pounds! Which is a hundred and forty bucks for a photograph. You know,
just stuff like this. If you wanna give it back to the fans, don't
fucking rape them like you've done with the rest of his family and
Cosmik: Have you had an opportunity to say that to
Lennon: Not directly, no. I don't care if I never
see her again in my life. I feel my views have to be aired at some
point, and if somebody's going to ask me, I'm certainly going to tell
you about it. But this will be the last year that I'll talk about
it at all. You know, I've had enough of this. You either have an opinion
of her or you don't, and I don't at this stage, and that's how it
will probably stay.
Cosmik: I can respect that. Let's leave Yoko and
get back to your new record label. You've talked about the need for
control over your own destiny and path. Does your control include
having the ability to decide to do something because it's right and
not to make a buck? I'm thinking of all your charity work. Like giving
up half your gate for the whole tour in order to help out each cities
most important charity. Would you have run into resistance if you
had a label and managers over you?
Lennon: More than likely. Obviously, anything to
do with doing charity shows, yes, record companies LOVE that... if
it's very high profile. Sure. It's definitely got to be high profile,
as far as a major label's concerned, otherwise "what's the point?"
Cosmik: Then it's just loss of profit.
Lennon: Exactly, whereas this tour, because of the
[way we're doing it], we may make a penny here or there, but in the
shows that we are doing that are associated with charities, we're
really not making anything at all. We're just about breaking even,
Cosmik: And that's where a corporate type would say
"let's not bother with this at all."
Lennon: And it's all about just getting out there
and playing again, for me, and not just trying to cash in on the fans.
I'm just out there saying "hello," and if I can do some
good along the way, that's the important thing.
Cosmik: A lot of artists lend lip service to this
or that charity, but not to many of them really roll up their sleeves
and dive in. Which brings us to your film company. Tell us how you
got involved with trying to help save indigenous people and cultures.
Lennon: One of my friends had been making small sort
of... I want to say "mood documentaries" about dolphins
and whales and indigenous tribes. We'd been friends for many years...
he's an independent film maker... I said "you know, this is all
very nice, but it's not really doing anything." So I said "what
if I were to set up a little production company," which is called
Pictures From Another Room, "and we start to try to make bigger
films that will effect people and make a difference?" So over
the past couple years we've been in the throes of putting several
documentary pieces together, some of which are just finishing up now.
But it's been very, very time consuming, to say the least. The research
alone on these things takes a year or two. Obviously, I feel if we're
going to do something like this, all the facts have to be in place.
Cosmik: Has it turned out to be work that you enjoy?
Lennon: Oh, if I didn't have an album out, I'd probably
be on the road in another sense, with my friend Kim Kinderslee, who's
my partner in this, documenting a lot of the information that he's
finding out. Fortunately, he's there and he's got a good team of people
together. They've been filming and traveling the globe now for several
years recording, filming and putting a package together that hopefully
will hit the marketplace sometime soon, whether it's a cable thing,
like Discovery Channel, or whatever it is. We're actually looking
at a potential IMAX film. It's going to be called Eyes Of The Soul.
We've been making some mini documentaries with some of the footage
from the film, making small half hour pieces that we're talking to
Discovery and other such cable channels about.
Cosmik: The big concern is that cultures, traditions,
and people are being pushed out and away and they're vanishing. Is
some of that the inevitable melting pot?
Lennon: Basically, yeah, and also human greed. It's
all about convenience these days. If making a corporation a couple
of billion means wiping out an indigenous tribe because they live
on a certain area of land, do they give a fuck? No, of course not.
Which is very sad. And a lot of corporations try to show they care,
but the majority just don't. They'd rather see these poor people burn
and die out than to lose any kind of profit.
[At this point, the ever-busy Julian Lennon has to head to the venue
of this night's concert in New Haven, Connecticut. Sensing that there
was more to be said, he did something not one interviewee has ever
done in my four years of conducting interviews for Cosmik Debris:
he called from his mobile phone to continue the interview en route
to sound check, instantly becoming my personal hero.]
Cosmik: Could you explain the basic idea behind the
charity shows on this tour?
Lennon: The idea was to find out what the worst problems
were in the locations we were playing, and to try to help that cause.
You see, we're trying to help locally instead of globally. For instance,
if it was about homeless children, abused children, or children with
aids, all we'd ask at the door is a blanket, or cuddly toys, or however
much your conscience will allow you to take out of your pocket and
Cosmik: This is the first show of each pair, meaning
there are two shows in each city and one is a charity show, and this
is INSTEAD of a ticket purchase.
Lennon: Yes, and to have whatever association we're
working with take the bucket then and there and put it to good use.
Cosmik: As opposed to having to turn it over through
government channels and have it get lost in the red tape?
Lennon: Exactly! Exactly! Half the time a lot of
these people don't see anything from charity events. It's very sad.
Or it goes mostly to the expense of the charity show itself.
Cosmik: So instead of having a pet foundation, you're
giving direct help to whatever charity needs you most in each area.
Lennon: Exactly. That's the idea. Obviously I'd like
to take it to the next level with the WORLD charity tour next year,
when we take it on a global level, but still each case scenario will
Cosmik: Speaking as a parent in a time when negative
role models are given all the media attention, I'm just so happy to
find a role model like you to hold up to them, and I know a lot of
people feel the same way.
Lennon: No, no... I just figure I live a happy, comfortable,
financially secure life. How much money do I want? How much money
do I want to rape and pillage the fans for? The only reason I want
to get up and play is to get up and play. Of course, it's nice to
help promote your album, but I've been on those tours where you've
just done 150 shows and you look at your itinerary and say "I
just want to go HOME now!" The motivation is lost, and there's
no drive there except for you, the management and the label to make
some money off these fans of yours. I don't think that's fair. There
are a lot of people out there who are a lot more financially secure
than I'll ever be that could be doing a lot more, but I feel that
at least this is my attempt to help people along the way.
Cosmik: Have you tried to contact other artists and
get them on board with this kind of work?
Lennon: No, I don't want to do that, you know? If
people choose to do this, they choose to do this. If they don't, then
you know what kind of people they are. I choose to do this because
the world is a fucked up place due to what humans have done. I feel
ashamed to be human sometimes. I feel really saddened by it. And it's
only getting back out into nature and doing the stuff I do in Italy,
whether it's sailing or just being close to nature, that makes me
realize again what a beautiful place this can be. And IS, in some
parts of the world. But unfortunately, humanity and its greed has
done its best to annihilate it, and still continues to, and it really
ticks me off. I'd rather just do something in my own way, and in this
way I know that whatever we make will directly go to the people that
need it. There's no need for me to make a big foundation or go through
any other organizations to be able to achieve this. I'd rather do
it on my own, know in my heart that I've done a good job, and it's
gone directly to help those in need.
Cosmik: You're coming back to all this from a pretty
idyllic place, too, aren't you... I've heard a little bit about life
in Northern Italy, which is your home, isn't it?
Lennon: Yes, it's very idyllic. I live in a very
small apartment, because most of the time I spend outside. It's a
little town with about a thousand people, it's very social, everybody
knows everybody, you know?
Cosmik: I hear life there's like getting up in the
morning, doing some work, and then joining the entire town for breakfast
and friendship. Sounds nice and simple and sweet.
Lennon: I think you finally realize the simple things
are the best things in life. It's not about money and what you have,
it's nature around you, the friends and the family that you have that
can put a smile on your face in this world. Those are the important
issues. It's so sad to see that greed has taken over from that. Society,
now, is just convenience. And people are wandering around wondering
why their lives are so empty and why there are people who are so disturbed
running around with guns killing everybody. There's an episode here
in America God knows how many times a day. Just turn on the friggin'
news here. Obviously, there are problems in other countries, too,
but on a daily basis America certainly seems to take the cake at the
Cosmik: Does that make it uncomfortable for you to
leave a place like Northern Italy and come here?
Lennon: No, because there are a lot of good people
and nice places here, too. You know, I don't want to... It's like
my song, "Orphans," it's not taking it from a preachers
angle, because the last thing I want is to be told what to do. Even
I get complacent at times and forget that there are troubles in the
world. So it's a reminder for me, as well as a reminder for the public,
when I get out and sing about this stuff. I'd like you to know that
there still is a hope and a dream and safety and love in the world,
that it still does exist. It may not be broadcast, but it is out there,
and it is possible to achieve a balance and contentment in life.
Cosmik Debris would like to thank Amanda Cagan of the Mitch Snider
Organization for doing so much to set this interview up. And a special
thanks to Julian Lennon for giving up the little bit of quiet time
he gets each day -- the ride to the gig -- to finish this interview.
Copyright © 1999 - DJ
Johnson of http://www.cosmik.com