Here Comes the Son

By Elizabeth Kaye
Rolling Stone June 6, 1985
Page 1 of 2

Julian on the cover of Rolling Stone

Early April 1963, not far from Penny Lane. Outside, in the cool night air, the young girls wait for a glimpse of John Lennon. Inside Sefton General Hospital, Lennon dashes through the corridors to see his son, Julian, for the first time.

Gingerly, be enters the room where Cynthia Powell Lennon sits in bed, Julian on a pillow beside her. He stops, stares at his child, then at his wife. "Who's a clever little Miss Powell, tben," be says. He picks Julian up. He holds him in his trembling bands. "Who's going to be a famous little rocker," be says, "like his dad?"

Julian Lennon drums his fingers on the green velvet couch in his hotel suite. When he is nervous, he jokes around, but when he is very nervous, he says nothing at all, and now, one month before his first tour opens in San Antonio, he stares straight ahead, his brown eyes fixed on the middle distance.

Julian's drumming fingers are being studied by Perry Cooper, a vice-president at Atlantic who has become close to Julian and often travels with him. Perry asks, "Ner vous about the tour?"

"Possibly," says Julian.

For most of his life, Julian has been caught between two distinct worlds. As if to illustrate that, he wears on his right hand a wide silver ring, a gift from Yoko Ono, and on his left wrist a vintage Rolex watch, a gift from his mother.

He is dressed in cowboy boots, faded jeans, a gray T-shirt with cutoff sleeves. His features are soft and sensual in repose, though his face is usually in constant motion: his eyebrows dart up and down, he widens his eyes, tilts his head, and these gestures are, as he is, simultaneously expressive and evasive. His face is pale, dominated by a close-mouthed smile that turns the corners of his mouth straight upward, and by his eyes, winch sparkle with the mischief of someone who knows a secret he isn't telling.

Now Julian's manager enters the room Dean Gordon is twenty-two, has blond, Beatle-cut hair, a smooth face and sharp features. "We just sold out San Antonio" he announces, "in less than two hours."

Julian's expression does not change, but he drums his fingers even faster. Perry and Dean stare curiously at his hand. "I wouldn't be doing this," says Julian, also staring at his drumming fingers, "except that I'm so bloody nervous."

TWO WEEKS LATER, THIRTEEN DAYS BEFORE THE opening in San Antonio, Julian and the six members of his newly formed band are on a plane, headed from New York to Dallas for two weeks of rehearsal. In the crowded coach, they are all conspicuous by their earrings: hoops and double hoops, diamond studs, an earring shaped like a guitar, another like a G clef, and Julian's own earring, Sanskrit letters that spell the word om, which he selected because he likes its shape.

Julian remains in his seat throughout the flight, and also remains absolutely kinetic. He chews gum and eats pistachio nuts, which he keeps in an airsickness bag; he searches for a pack of "ciggi's" in a large black bag that also contains a portable keyboard; a pair of slippers from a recent flight to Japan, where he went to publicize his album; matchbooks from clubs in New York, San Remo and London; a picture of his girlfriend; a hairbrush; two sets of headphones; a pair of red socks; and postcards from Disneyland, where he appeared on the thirtieth-anniversary television show.

All the way to Dallas, people approach him as if he were a shrine. Flight attendants literally kneel at his feet, telling him how much they like his music. Dean watches from across the aisle, relieved that interest in Julian has ascended, at last, from "I'm a fan of your father's" to "I'm a fan of yours."

Dean is one of Julian's closest friends; his inclination, as well as his job, is to be protective of him. It is Dean who makes sure Julian has money in his pocket when he goes out, since Julian loses credit cards and rarely carries cash; it is Dean who frets when he and Julian are in a club and a disc jockey plays "Hey Jude," the song Paul McCartney wrote for Julian when his parents were being divorced, and the one Beatle song with disturbing associations for Julian, who now, on the plane, puts on headphones and listens to Steely Dan, signs autographs, eats more pistachios and pelts the sleeping road manager with the empty shells.

Just before the plane lands, the captain comes out to thank Julian for flying American. Seeing this, Julian's friend Carlos Morales, one of the bands two guitarists, thinks something he has thought before: that people feel guilty for what happened to Julian's father.

Then the plane comes to rest. The passengers rise as one, except for the band and Julian who are seated seven rows from the back. Then the passengers turn, not forward to the doorway, but toward the back, and there they stand: the women with dyed, teased hair, the overweight men in cowboy hats, the young girls in too-tight jeans, the serious men in neat ties, the grandparents on a holiday, the mother with a nursing child. All of them are still and silent, and staring at Julian.

THE NEXT DAY JULIAN AND THE BAND ARRIVE AT THE Dallas Communications Complex. The equipment has been set up at one end of the barnlike rehearsal hall. Julian's eyebrows move up and down as he surveys the Tama drums, the Kawai keyboards, the two Harrison sound consoles, the blue folding trunk, with its bottles of green smoke fluid and copies of Playboy, the guitars resting on chrome-plated stands, and the equipment boxes, marked with white tape, on which a single name has been written in black: LENNON.

Now Julian bites his fingers and pretends to cry. "I want me mummy," he says. "I want to go home." The saxophone player, Frank Elmo, grins. "Too late," he says. Julian smiles. He says, "I know."

Julian jumps on this skateboard; he sweeps around the room until rehearsal starts. Then the band assembles, and Julian finds himself standing in front of them, a cordless mike in his right hand. He is twelve days away from his first performance in front of a line audience. The only musicians he knows well are Carlos and the band's other guitarist, Justin Clayton.

"Testing, hey," Julian says into the mike. "Hey, testing, testing hey, testing straw." He walks back and forth, belching into the mike, then, moving casually around the stage, he imitates the sounds of a ferocious dogfight. "Oh no" he says into the mike, "oh no." He repeats like a mantra, until he is saying, "Oh no, oh no, it's Yoko Ono."

Yoko Ono married John Lennon when Julian was five years old and living with his mother and grandmother in a small house in Kensington. Then, as always, he adored his father, loved his attitudes, his style, his music, his thinking; Lennon was so vast and vital a presence to Julian that even now he sometimes speaks of him in the present tense. But when Julian was eight, his father moved to New York, effectively abandoning him. This could not have been easy for John Lennon, who learned about suffering when he himself was abandoned by his father, then by his mother. And though Julian continued to visit him, Lennon must have felt the special shame that comes from perpetrating on your offspring the wrong that has been done to you.

Left with his mother, Julian became as protective of her as she was of him. And eventually, he came to accept that his father shared an exclusionary and consuming love with Yoko Ono, whose name Julian continues to call into the mike, as he tests it, in Dallas.

Now Dean hurries over to Julian to give him a walkie-talkie; Dean himself will carry the other unit. Julian shows it to some of the technicians. "It's hooked up so I can hear for twenty miles," he says. "So if I lose Dean..." His face breaks into his close-mouthed smile. "Well," he says, "I can't lose him."

Dean and Julian met at Stringfellows, a London club, soon after Julian arrived in London, a few months after his father's murder. Dean saw that Julian was a favorite not only of the club-going set but of the club owners, who saw in him an opportunity for glamour by association and who showered him with invitations to their fashion shows and film premières. Julian's penchant for night life was no more extreme than that of most young men with time on their hands, but it troubled the British press, which had reviled his father and now needed Julian to be a saint so they could redeem themselves by extolling him. They came down on him with a vengeance. He was seventeen.

Julian told people he wanted to be a recording engineer, but he said this to protect his pride; quietly he had begun to make cassettes of his own songs. His night life was a useful excuse; he could always say he had failed at music because he had never worked at it enough. Occasionally, at the end of long nights, which started in clubs and ended at breakfast, everyone went to Julian's house, and if Julian had had enough to drink, he would play his tapes for them. Dean thought it was a shame that nothing would come of Julian's music, that he would never be serious about it.

When Julian was twenty, he was talked into recording a demo. The production cost was 6000 pounds, which Julian was to pay back or get a contract to cover. He was being supported by the money Yoko had begun sending him for six months after his father died, an allowance that paid his expenses but would not cover such an extravagance. "So I was in a position of 'If I don't get a contract, where do I get that kind of money?' Dean saw everything that was going on. He said, 'Do you need some help?' I said, 'Yes, please.'"

Dean was an accountant at his father's contracting firm. Later he would go on the road with Genesis for a crash course in management, but now he made Julian a deal: he would borrow money to get him out of trouble if Julian would commit himself to his music.

Dean queried more than a dozen record companies on Julian's behalf. They all turned them down, because they were wary of dealing with a rock legend's son and because they were fixated on finding a group to follow the success of Human League. Then Julian signed a contract with Charisma. "But they want you in a more productive situation," Dean told him.

For a moment, Julian was silent. His excuses had evaporated, and he knew it. "All right, then," he said. Within two weeks, Julian, Carlos and Justin left London for a remote French château called Valotte.

Julian went there not quite knowing what he was. He left knowing he was a musician.

IT IS LATE AFTERNOON IN DALLAS. JULIAN IS singing, mike in one hand, the other hand in his pocket. Finishing the song, he jumps on his skateboard, traversing the room in swift arcs. "Isn't he afraid he'll fall off that thing?" someone says to Dean.

Dean looks at Julian. He says, "I don't think he's really afraid of anything."

THAT NIGHT JULIAN STUDIES A VIDEOTAPE OF THE rehearsal and is dissatisfied with the way he moved: while singing, he walked around in circles, and now he thinks he looked like an Indian doing a war dance. Later, he takes a bottle of champagne to Carlos' room, drinks for a while in silence, then says, "Listen, while we're rehearsing, I want you to wear different-color socks. Let's all wear different-color socks, as a good-luck thing, you know?" He stays drinking champagne until five in the morning, and the next day, a little hung over, he sits erect at the keyboards, practicing "Valotte," wearing one black sock and one white one.

Julian first played piano when he was thirteen, visiting his father and Yoko in Montauk, Long Island, after Sean, his half brother, was born. Their next-door neighbor had a piano, and Julian and his father went there one day. Lennon played a couple of tunes, then Julian asked, "Can I have a go?"

During that visit, his father's protectiveness of Sean troubled him. "I used to get shouted at a lot, and Dad would yell at me for laughing too much. Like, 'Be quiet, Sean's sleeping.' All sorts of strange things." And Julian saw that his father was determined to be to Sean what he had not been to him. "I was a bit jealous," he says, "but I never said anything."

Now, in the studio, Julian tests the mike. The sound, which was thin the previous day, had been perfected. "Hey, that's wild!" he says, his voice reverberating through the room. He jumps on his skateboard, spins around, then sails over to one of the soundmen. "You're hired," he says.

"It'll just cost you sixty dollars," says the soundman, "and all the sixteen-year-old girls I can eat."

There is a dead silence as the other technicians and Julian avoid the eyes of a woman in the room. Julian clears his throat. "We interrupt this vulgarity," he says, "to bring you a message. Actually, what he meant to say was sixty dollars and all the sixty-year-old women he can beat."

Later, electricians set up the lights, while Julian sits beside the road manager, Paco, the person Julian signals when he wants to leave a party or a bar, by touching his right hand to his left earring. Paco is also one of the people to whom Julian will speak, late at night, the jokes and one-liners gone, as he talks about his past, about his father, conversations that take the boyishness from his face, suddenly, bizarrely aging it, until he looks thirty, even forty years old; until he looks almost exactly like John Lennon.

BY THE THIRD DAY OF REHEARSALS, WORD LEAKS OUT that Julian is in Dallas, and when the band arrives at the studio, a local television crew is waiting. The sight of them irritates Julian. "Stay in the bus," he tells the band, but they persuade him to go, then wordlessly form a protective human wall in front of him, shielding him from the camera until he is safely inside.

There, a giggling young woman who wants to meet Julian is introduced to him. Julian is not especially happy about this, but as he puts it, "I'm too nice not to be nice." His attitude toward women seems devoid of rock & roll macho; for the most part, he is too shy to be a skirt chaser and too famous to have to be.

For two years, he has lived with a dark-haired, dark-eyed woman who is now twenty-two. For a while, she was a model who did what Julian once described as "bare shots on beaches," until he asked her not to. "I was hoping to look out for her interests, as well as mine," he says. Now she is at home in London, in the house she and Julian share with Carlos and another friend who is Julian's personal assistant. Lately, she has been designing clothes, which she makes on the sewing machine given to her by Julian, who now, in Dallas, is called for rehearsal.

He begins to refine the quality that will characterize his show, an impish clowning typical of him and of his father, whom he most resembles, he believes, "when I'm being stupid and putting on a silly face." Now he struts across the stage, waving an imaginary hat like a vaudevillian, and acts out little moments in his songs.

What began as exuberant artlessness is becoming a performance by sheer repetition.

THAT NIGHT, THE BAND VISITS A POSH DALLAS CLUB where women strip to Julian's songs "O.K. for You" and "Too Late for Goodbyes." Later, some of the women come back to the hotel; some of the band members get to sleep, some don't, and the next day, rehearsal is delayed an hour.

In the van, everyone is bleary-eyed, except Dean, who stayed in, got to bed early and spent the morning collecting chart figures. "'Too Late for Goodbyes' is at Number Five," he says. There are pleased grunts; no one says anything. "We were stuck at Six," Dean explains to Alan Childs, the drummer, "but David Lee Roth moved down, so everyone else moved up."

Julian's eyes are half-closed behind his dark glasses; he is slumped in the front seat. Now he looks up quickly. "Where's Madonna?" he asks.

A FEW MINUTES LATER, AT THE STUDIO, JULIAN checks to see if everyone is wearing different-colored socks, then disappears into one of the dressing rooms to sleep while the band works on three songs: "Stand by Me" and "Slippin' and Slidin'", which were done by John Lennon on Rock 'n' Roll, and "Day Tripper," the only song in the show that his father wrote. The song begins, "Got a good reason for taking the easy way out," which is why Julian chose it.

While the band practices and Julian sleeps, Dean answers queries from a British fan magazine that wants to know some of Julian's favorite actors (Dudley Moore and Steve Martin) and Julian's cure for a hangover (two headache tablets and three glasses of water before bed). Paco plans the drive from Houston to Baton Rouge with the help of a Rand McNally Dist-O-Map. And Mick Treadwell, the production manager, lists refreshments they want at each gig, including Julian's favorite candy, Nestlé Crunch, and Stolichnaya and cranberry juice, currently his favorite drink.

In another room, a roadie listens to a cassette of John Lennon's Rock 'n' Roll so he can write out the lyrics for Julian. He tries to ascertain whether Lennon is singing "O now now" or "O wow wow" on "Stand by Me." The roadie worries that the sound of Lennon's voice may upset Julian, who is one dressing room away. This is a frequent concern among those who do not know Julian well; his close friends have learned it is unnecessary. Perry Cooper tells of the time he and Julian were driving from Long Island into New York and Perry turned the radio to a station that was playing a weekend-long Beatle tribute. Embarrassed, he hurriedly turned the dial, but then Julian reached out, lightly slapped his hand, turned the dial back and listened to the music all the way into the city.

When Julian begins rehearsal, he warms up on songs from Valotte, then, mike in one hand, typewritten lyrics in the other, he works on "Slippin' and Slidin'." John Lennon sang this song with a raunchy hoarseness that sometimes characterized his singing. "I've always been annoyed at myself for not being able to sing like that," Julian says. But now, for the first time, he discovers that same sound coming out of him.

And as he moves around the stage, everyone sees what has happened in four days of rehearsal: what began as walking the stage, then pacing it, then strutting it, has become taking the stage absolutely. The band plays hard. Julian's face gleams. When the song is done, there is total silence. "Goddamn," Julian says, into the mike, "that's hot shit."

Next Page

Valotte Bar

Valotte Bar