The Musical Landscape of
Julian Lennon

By Russell Hall
Performing Songwriter December 1999
Page 5 of 5

Photograph Smile

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Justin Clayton & Julian LennonCould you talk a bit about Justin Clayton, who's been a musical partner of yours for many years? Is that a case of childhood friends who just decided to start playing music together?

Yes, very much so. We met when we were in school, when we were eleven or twelve years old. He was the first person in my school to start taking guitar lessons. We had a physical education teacher who was a real rock 'n' roller, and every time there was a break in class, he would teach the kids rock 'n' roll songs. And I thought, "Well, that's fun." That's literally how I got involved with music, to begin with - by hanging out with Justin and learning old rock 'n' roll classics. Eventually, we put a small band together and played on-stage at school, for one of those end-of-term, parents' open house events. That was my first experience with performing. I was a nervous wreck, but after singing for about five minutes, I discovered there was no other buzz like it. I thought, "This is what I want to do." So yes, Justin and I have remained the closest of friends. He lives in the states now, and he's venturing off into his own solo career, which I'm very happy about.

You're obviously much happier with your work today, as compared to things you've done in the past. How much of your musical direction, in earlier years, was determined by external forces?

A lot of it. There were songs on the, albums that made me think, "Do I really want this to be on here? This isn't me." That even happened, to a certain extent, with the last album [Help Yourself], which had a lot of songs I did like. There was one called the "New Physics Rant," which [producer] Bob Ezrin and the record company thought was brilliant. It was unique, and it was interesting, but it wasn't me.

That happened several times, especially with the second album. That was the worst experience, being shoved back into the studio after a world tour, and being told to come up with a hit album in two months. I was like, "Thanks very much. You've gotta be crazy." I mean, that was, as far as I was concerned, my demise. So yes, there were a lot of external influences. And I'm not saying I didn't enjoy moments of that. Mr. Jordan, working with Pat Leonard ... we had a ball throwing that together. It was fun, it was experimenting, and it was playing around, and there were some great ideas on that album.

I seem to recall an interview in which you talked about playing Mr. Jordan for David Bowie, in his presence, and being a bit terrified anticipating what Bowie's response might be.

Yes, that's true. From what I recall ... I mean, he liked it. One thing I remember he said to me, which was very contradictory, was that descending lines were out. And then, on his next album, there were nothing but descending lines (laughs). I was very amused by that - it was absolutely classic. Of course, I think he's brilliant.

Do you recall when you began to understand that McCartney wrote "Hey Jude" for you?

Well, yes, in a way. I mean, it's more sentimental for me these days, without a doubt. Obviously, it reflected how someone else felt about a situation with me at that point in time, which was so many years ago. You know, to have a song written about you is pretty phenomenal anyway, but especially such a public song ... it's just a wonderful thing. I understood it in the past, but then again I didn't understand it. These days, the lyrics are much more important to me, not just as a songwriter, but as an adult. It affects me a great deal more now than it used to. The appreciation I have for that song is very clear, and Paul knows that.

If John hadn't been your father, whose writing do you think you would have preferred, his or Paul's?

John and Julian LennonHmmm ... that's a tough call. I'd have to say I think they're equally good. For me, Paul was very much the more gentle and melodic writer, whereas Dad was more aggressive and raw. And I think the blend of the two is sometimes perfect, and sometimes separately they're great in their own right. In some of the reviews of Photograph Smile, there have been comments and inclinations leaning toward Dad. But from my point of view, if there's any such comparison to be made, I feel it's far closer to Paul, purely because of that melodic sense.

If you were releasing your first solo album today, do you think things would be substantially different, given that so many children of famous songwriters are in the music business now?

Hell, yes (laughs). There was a review somewhere - I don't remember where - that maintained I was a pioneer for the next generation. I never thought of it that way, but to a degree it's true, I suppose. There weren't too many kids in my position who were trying to do what I was trying to do. I think it would definitely be different these days. But that's okay. The first ten years were like going to school for me - the school of life, and of the music industry. There were good times and there were bad times, but it was all a learning process. And I think it all brought me to this point, which is a very different place, and a lot happier place. I'm more content, more at peace, and more balanced. So I have no complaints, in that respect.

Can we safely assume that we won't see another seven-year delay between albums?

(Laughs) I'll tell you what. The thing that's most important to me is the writing and recording process, and then going out and playing once in a while. And the main thing that takes me away from that - and it's a necessary evil to a certain degree - is promotional work. So I feel that if I can lay down a good foundation this time around and re-establish myself, then yes, the albums will keep coming. But I don't think you'll be seeing me in too many magazines or doing too many interviews in the future. That side, for me, has to tone down. I just want to write.

Julian's Required Listening:

Keith Jarrett - The Köln Concert
The Eagles - Hotel California
Donald Fagen - The Nightfly
The Beatles - Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
The Police - Regatta de Blanc