Julian Lennon
That Photograph Smile

Rock n' Roll Reporter March 1999 By E.K 

Photograph Smile

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Rock and Roll Reporter It was 1984 when all the true Beatle fans realized: They were getting old.

This was the year the son of John Lennon would make his journey into a roller coaster musical career. Only 21, Julian Lennon released Valotte, which held the international hit "Too Late for Goodbyes." Over the next seven years, he would release three more albums for a combined total of six million in sales. Unfortunately, this would be the last we would hear from Julian Lennon-- until now. 

You see, being a Beatle son and having songs like "Hey Jude" written about you is more like carrying a cross instead of a lifestyle. With constant comparisons to his father's voice, look and music, Julian had enough. He went into hiding, bitter and disappointed by an industry that he saw cradle and nurture his father's work. Julian's work was never fairly judged by critics...that is, until today.

Many years have gone by, and Julian is a "new man." His latest release, Photograph Smile, is receiving rave reviews, not because he sounds like John Lennon, but because it is good. I had the privilege of talking to Julian from his home in England about his work, life, and being a Beatle's son.

Way to Your Heart

Photograph Smile has a feel of growth and contemplation. Do you feel like you were finally able to truly express yourself as a musician?

"It's definitely the beginning. This is the first opportunity I've had to do things my way without the pressures of record labels and management telling me it's not commercial enough or it doesn't sound like your father. I'm in a position now to write for the sake of writing-- for the love of writing-- not for an album. That's how this album got started."

Why such a long wait for this record?

"Mainly, I was sick and tired of the business. Broken promises, lack of support which was coming from the fore mentioned group of people. (Laughs with his English drawl) I felt after years of the same old thing and not much control of decisions and [things] not going the way I thought they should, it was time for a serious change. It took about five years to just get released from those contracts. There was no way, during that time, I was going to sit down and write something for them again. I felt, to a degree, the previous work wasn't completely true. With this record, it is nice to be able to put my heart on the line, the way it should have been...give people something from the heart. For me, this record was a challenge to see what I could be. I consider the writing very much an art form. I see myself as a songsmith more than a singer or a player."

You have a niche for writing ballads.

"When I first started playing piano, it was very much improvisational work. They would be 30 minute instrumental pieces that were very classical-oriented. The hard part was learning how to cut it down and make it into a song with hooks, I hated it at first. I like the longer, more drawn out pieces. They are much more emotional."


Why did you wait so long to give the Beatle fans the song "I Don't Wanna Know"?

"I wrote it with a Beatle flavor for the critics who ticked me off for so many years comparing me to my father. They would compare an album of mine to the Beatles catalog...it wasn't very fair. It also comes with me feeling more confident as a writer. Always being compared to my father's or Beatles's work wasn't fair. I always thought, 'Can we get over this? I'm his son. There will be similarities. I did grow up listening to and liking Beatles music...it wasn't bad music (laughs). So this song is for the critics. Have fun comparing."

Were you surprised by all the rave reviews for Photograph Smile? 

"I've been blown away by the reviews. By far the best reviews I've ever received. It's nice getting that kind of reaction from something you did yourself. The record is: #1 album in Australia, #1 single in Japan, Top 10 in Germany. Hopefully the States will follow this trend."

Got to Get You into My Life

What do you remember most about your father?

"It's probably not the answer you are looking for, but when he walked out the door and never came back. The image I have of my father is not being around at all. He left when I was four and I only saw him maybe ten times before he was killed. He preached and sang about love, but he couldn't do it on a personal level. I don't understand the mentality behind all the hero- worshipping that goes on with my father. To me, he was just absent."

What's the most important thing you learned from your father?

"How not to follow in his footsteps as a father (laughs). On a positive note, between him and Paul (McCartney), they had to be the best song writers ever as far as I'm concerned. Although, I feel a lot of credit is owed to George Martin (producer) as well. He was an incredible part of the team. Without him, they would not have been the same. He had a way of bringing out the best in them. As individuals, they are two separate people...the way they write and perform. Paul has a much more melody-minded and gentle approach, while my dad had an aggressive approach. To be able to put them together and make something. incredible out of it was great work and should be noted for that." 

I understand you have an extensive collection of Beatle memorabilia?

"I've had to bid on most of these things. Yoko never did play fair. It has always been clear that I wasn't the favorite son. At least this way I get things with no strings attached. I had a long legal battle with Yoke after my dad's death, and at least I ended up with some of the rights to his work. I can't imagine my dad being happy to see his art and other work ending up on coffee mugs, t- shirts, etc. For some people, I guess money is more important. I've gone to a lot of auctions and bought things I remember as a kid: the Afghan coat my dad wore from "I'm A Walrus", a black velvet cape wore in the movie Help, the scribbled notes of "Hey Jude", written by Paul for me when my parents were splitting up. But what I'm most proud of is the complete collection of original Gold Beatle Albums. Hopefully my kids won't have to bid on my stuff...nobody will probably want any of it (laughs)."

Like a fine wine, aging is the key, poured to early it's just a tease. Julian is finally ready to open the bottle. Hopefully when he tours the States this summer, he'll make Pittsburgh one of his stops. Until then we will have to settle for his Photograph Smile.