Julian Lennon: back with a 'Smile'
|Did you intend to come back with another album?
An emphatic ''No'' is the quick answer by Julian Lennon, the once-shy son of Beatles icon John and his first wife, Cynthia. The new album, ''Photograph Smile,'' will appear Tuesday, a triumph of grit and perseverance for a Lennon who was considered finished in the eyes of the industry.
Although Julian Lennon popped up in 1984 as a teen favorite with the album ''Valotte,'' he ended up ''beyond disillusionment'' with the music business for most of the past decade. He felt shafted by his managers and his record label, before walking away after 1991's ironically entitled ''Help Yourself.''
Finally, today, Julian (about whom Paul McCartney wrote the classic ''Hey Jude'') is not afraid to lash out at the biz, nor afraid to criticize his dad's widow, Yoko Ono, for what he perceives as diminishing his role in the Lennon legacy. More on that later.
''I just got so frustrated after the last album,'' says Lennon. ''I'd had too many broken promises, lack of support, things not going the way I had hoped, and people just not coming up with the goods. After living 100 percent in this wonderful industry, it was time to cut my losses and get the hell out of there.
''I wasn't happy anymore. I wasn't doing what I wanted to do and I didn't have any control,'' adds Lennon, now a worldly-wise 35. ''It took me five years to be released from the contract I was tied into, with the record company and management. In that time, if I had worked, they would have owned it. So I chose not to work. But it was a blessing in disguise, because I actually lived life for a change.''
Julian started painting and sculpting. He drove across Europe visiting friends. He did a lot of sailing, bicycling, and cooking. He tried photography. Eventually, he started composing music again.
''I started writing naturally again,'' he says. ''No time clocks, nobody knocking at the door. Nobody telling me that it's not commercial enough or it's not up-tempo enough, or this or that. And once I started writing naturally again, it flowed. I was just writing for the sake of writing.''
The result is ''Photograph Smile,'' which starts out slowly in a style very derivative of his dad, but shows a maturing talent as the 14 songs unfold. There's the chiming, 12-string pop of ''I Don't Wanna Know,'' the Middle East touches of ''Crucified'' (''we're all freaks in this sideshow,'' he sings), the Paul Simon-like bounce of ''Kiss Beyond the Catcher,'' the environmental anthem ''How Many Times'' (about deforestation), the tautly interesting ''Walls'' (''you feel you have to scream and shout to let the demons out''), and the idealistic ''Believe,'' which reaffirms Julian's innate optimism.
The overall sound is Beatleesque (much more so than half-brother Sean Lennon's album last year), but with better melodies and more insightful lyrics than Julian has previously shown. It's not a hard-rock album by any means (he hasn't inherited that side of his dad's genes), but it's a very decent pop record that he hopes to back with a tour later this year.
Lyrically, the album appears to be chiefly concerned with the pros and cons of romance, but the hidden agenda is a discussion of the music industry, Lennon admits.
''The album is written with the theme of love in mind, but a lot of songs are actually written about the business, about the relationships I was in with record companies and with managers. But at the end of the day, the last things I want to write about are record companies and business managers. And I certainly think the public would agree with that. So, rather than droning on about the business side of life, it's turned around into the theme of love to make it more relatable.''
Happily, he comes out the other side with a still-positive outlook. As the last song, ''Way to Your Heart'' (a ballad with a pretty string arrangement) states: ''I want to love you but not to mold you.''
''I've always been an optimist in that respect,'' he says. ''I've felt that there's always an answer. That's why I've felt that I would find a level of peace in life. ... I think what keeps you going is that love inside you and the hope and the faith that things are going to bloody work out in the end.''
While Lennon is thrilled to release another record, he's not as thrilled with his relationship with Yoko Ono. He has always gotten along with Sean, but feels Ono has never given him his due as John's other son. In fact, he says, he had to fight hard just to negotiate a settlement to get some of the money from his father's copyrights.
''At least I've gotten a piece of something that I can pass down to my kids and to the rest of the Lennon family, which does exist in Europe, which has been shut out from the rest of the world by Yoko,'' he says.
He's also been buying back some of his dad's stuff from auctions - ''some of the Beatles stuff, because none of that was handed to me at all. The most ironic thing is, how do you think I'm paying for these things of dad's from the auctions? I'm buying back his stuff for myself and my kids and the Lennon family in Europe with his money, which is slightly insane, to say the least.''
Julian, who has no children, says that Ono ''wants the history books to show that she and Sean are the Lennon family and that we do not exist. If you look at the [recent boxed set] `John Lennon Anthology,' if you look at anything that she has part and parcel to do with, that she's had any control over, if it had anything to do with dad or the Beatles or before the Beatles or after, it's a rarity that you'll see my mom and myself as part of that. It's always Yoko and Sean.''
Lennon can go on about this subject, but he'd clearly rather talk about the happier life he leads today. He has lived in England and in New York and Los Angeles, and now lives in the lake country of northern Italy, which he loves.
''I live on a lake and it's very quiet, very peaceful,'' he says. ''The people are sweet, the food is phenomenal, the scenery is phenomenal. Within an hour, you're skiing. Within a couple of hours, you're on the beach. It's absolutely beautiful.''
This story ran on page D14 of the Boston Globe
Background/Flowers from the 'Photograph Smile'
CD inlet by Angelika Letsch.
'Hey Jules' © 1998 - 2002 CJ Burianek