Julian Underexposure

By DAN AQUILANTE of the New York Post

Photograph Smile

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JULIAN Lennon, elder son of the late John Lennon, is mounting a career comeback with "Photograph Smile," his first release in seven years. This 14-song collection of love songs and tunes that project a youthful optimism is the best this 35-year-old man has ever recorded. Lennon checked in with The Post during a day trip to France from his home in Italy. Here's what's on his mind.

Q: It's been a number of years since your last album. What's the new disc about - is there a running theme?

A: There was no intentional theme. What might be the most pronounced theme is love. Love is something we all understand, something we all relate to. I also tried to touch on truth, honesty, hope and everything that is involved in love relationships. Although this is about my life, it isn't about any particular period in my life. In a way, making this album was like therapy to me.

Q: On the cover of the disc, there's a picture of a boy. Is that you?

A: It certainly is. That picture was taken about the time Dad walked out and there was a new father figure in my life. This photo captures my first glimmer of happiness. I felt like I was being cared for and loved. My stepdad [Roberto Bassanini] was around every day. He took me to school, to the park, to the movies - it was a happy time.

Q: Is John Lennon's influence in your music solidly there, or do people hear it because they want to hear it?

A: It's 50-50 on that one. What is nostalgic to me will not be nostalgic to others. People will always project what they want in what I do because there is a warm place in their hearts for Dad and The Beatles. If there's any stylistic resemblance at all between our music, I imagine the public would hear it whether it was intentional or not.

Q: That said, there is a very Beatles-like song on your new album called "I Don't Want to Know." Can you talk about that number?

A: This song taps into The Beatles' sound from the very early days. "I Don't Want to Know" was a last-minute decision to put on the album. A song like this could only go on an album after I'd proved my own self-worth as a writer.

Q: Instead of, "Why include it on the album?" the question is, "Why write it at all?"

A: After so many years of hearing, "You sound just like your Dad," or, "You sound just like The Beatles," this song was very much tongue in cheek for me. I felt for the first time I should do something that was overtly Beatle-esque rather than some of the things I'd done in the past that were much more subtle. Then, when all the reviews come out and people tell me how much I sound like Dad, I can say back, "Yes, I do." After 10, 15 years of hearing this crap, we all will recognize this point, and I will be able to move on to the next level.

Q: Have you come to grips with your past and your heritage?

A: I won't live in the past. My goals are only forward.

Q: If you were to take a day just for yourself, without obligations, what would you do?

A: There would be no alarm clock. I'd wake up whenever, naturally; have a bit of breakfast; and go out to lunch - maybe get some fresh food for dinner. I try to cook at least a meal every day. Generally, I like to drive and travel and discover new places. When I get in the car [a 1968 black Mustang convertible], the top comes down and very often I disappear, driving through one or two countries in a day. I also love touring on my motorbike.

Q: Julian, you sound like an ordinary guy. Are you?

A: I am very ordinary. I am constantly humbled by the wonders and beauties of the world. I like to live life as simply as possible, as close to peace and contentment and friendship as possible. I like to enjoy - none of us knows how long we're going to be here. That's why I took that seven-year break between albums. I said, "That's enough. Where's life?" I needed to find my balance.

Q: You've enjoyed the blessing - or maybe curse - of two fathers. What did John teach you? What did Roberto teach you?

A: The only lesson I learned from Dad was how not to be a father, and that hypocrisy doesn't work. Roberto was one for enjoying every single moment and being able to express that enjoyment of life. I've always wanted to live this way but, in the past, I didn't have the strength. In order to find the balance of peace and happiness, I had to find myself and then take charge of myself.

Q: The next generation of rock star is out there. Do you have any advice for the children of rock stars?

A: Dad was out the door when I was 5, so I was never living in that celebrity mode of life, or even being around that. I never had the music-business advice that other kids may have had. Friends joke I was the "pioneer of the 'sons of.'" No matter what the situation, the best, most honest thing I could say to an upcoming musician is, "Get a good lawyer and read the small print."

Q: I'd like to ask some personal questions. Is that OK?

A: Let me tell you, Dan, we only have a couple of minutes left. We're running overtime and I have six more interviews to do. I apologize. This is going to be one of the last rounds of interviews I'll do. The thing is, my job is as a writer. I never wanted the image thing - it was always about being a writer. My job is not to explain my life to people or even what the songs mean. People are supposed to glean what they want from the music. It is important that I do interviews this time because it's been so many years since the last album. I have to lay a new foundation and to re-establish myself.

Q: Without going into the old stories, what should the fans know about you?

A: First, that I didn't grow up with a silver spoon in my mouth. There is no false facade to me. I am a down-to-earth man. From day one, it was always about the music. I never wanted to or intended to take anybody's place. I am not John Lennon II. I don't fancy that - no thank you. I never wanted to be promoted as "the son of ..." That was done by the record companies on my behalf. I feel my relationship with those record company executives has done me a great injustice as far as the public's perception of me is concerned. I feel used and abused. It's been a ride to hell and back. On this album, I did everything. I started an indie label and found there is control in life, there is balance. If anybody wanted to know the real Jules as opposed to the hyped Jules, now is the time and this is the album.