Here Comes the Son

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

Previous Page

BUT THEN, ONE WEEK BEFORE THE OPENING IN San Antonio, the slight cold Julian has been staving off gets worse. A doctor prescribes antibiotics, one pill every four hours, and a roadie goes for lozenges and cough medicine. Julian's worst fear is that he will open his mouth and nothing will come out. He talks to Carmine Rojas, the band's leader and bass player, about his strained vocal cords. "Don't think about it," Carmine tells him. "It's mostly psychological." Julian nods and says nothing. As much as he dislikes being alone, he also likes to keep his own counsel; in that sense, there is a part of him that is always alone, always private.

Now, on Thursday, the day before dress rehearsal, Julian and the band go to a party for local film and television people. Julian is followed by two bodyguards, who will protect him throughout the tour. When he first thought about touring, being so exposed frightened him. "Originally I had my own plans for security," he says, "and it was going to be heavy, heavy. But if somebody's going to do something to me, it's going to happen. I don't worry about it too much, 'cause I would just get, you know, depressed all the time."

Now his bodyguards are alert, ready, as Julian arrives at the party and is besieged. "I'd love to take your picture," says a woman from a local paper.

"I'd love to say yes," Julian answers, "but no."

He sits at the edge of the room, signing autographs, until a local band begins to play. Then he says, "That's enough, give these guys a chance."

Later, at the studio, Julian rests his head in his hand and sings three words: "I'm so tired."

THE NEXT DAY, THE LAST DAY IN DALLAS, the morning of the dress rehearsal for an invited audience, the hotel bill for the band has reached $424,600; the hotel gift shop has run out of sour-cream potato chips, Julian's favorite kind; and scattered about Dean's room are gifts to Julian from the fans, including a 1965 Life magazine featuring a photograph of two-year-old Julian and his parents.

At four o'clock, three hours before the dress rehearsal, Julian calls Carmine.

"Hey bro," Carmine says, "how's your voice?"

"Same as usual," Julian says.

"What's that mean?" Carmine asks.

"Same as usual," says Julian.

"Ready for tonight?" Carmine asks. "Been thinking about it?"

"Nah," Julian says, "I been on the loo most of the morning."

Carmine laughs. Then, serious, he says, "So what do you think, Jules?"

"I don't know," says Julian.

They hang up; Carmine smiles. "I like this. I like magic. I like fairy tales," he says.

AT THE REHEARSAL HALL, JULIAN NIBBLES ON HIS FINGERS and stares at 300 blue folding chairs that have been set up for the audience. "What do I do if I make a mistake?" he asks Frank Elmo.

Frank says, "Pretend you didn't."

At dinner, Julian picks at his food. "Boom, boom, boom," he says, hitting his chest to indicate his pounding heart. He pushes his plate away. "I'll go out there and throw up," he tells Justin. Pretending to gag, he says to an imaginary audience, "Don't worry, it's only an illusion."

He turns to Dean. He says, "Is it time for my pill yet?"

Half an hour before the show, Julian goes into his dressing room, singing, "Ha, ha ha/Hee, hee, hee/I'm gonna have fun/So they tell me." A moment later, he emerges, saying, "I need someone's breasts to put my head between." He joins the band in the makeup room, sits in a barber's chair, his eyes closed, his palms upward in meditation position. He rocks back and forth, chanting, "Om, get me out of here. Om, help. Om, I want me mummy."

Then he runs up and down the hallway, shouting, "Help, help," until Mick Treadwell comes to take him to the performing area. Julian goes, singing the first words of his opening song, then mimics an angry audience: "Boo, fuck off, get him out of here."

Now he hears Paco saying into the mike, "For the first time anywhere... Mr. Julian Lennon." The audience cheers. Julian freezes. Mick whispers to him, "Whatever you need, I'm right here." Julian nods and runs on. By the end of the first song, his face is glowing. He looks out at the audience. "Well, how you doing, anyway?" he asks. He turns away, looks at Carmine, raises his eyebrows. "Whew!" he says.

AT THREE IN THE MORNING, THE PERFORMANCE LONG finished, Julian and the band board the bus for the overnight trip to San Antonio.

Everyone retreats to the rear of the bus, where there is a tape deck, to hear a cassette of the evening's show. Julian listens to himself, his face solemn; he holds a straw, which he alternately chews on and uses as a baton to keep time to the songs. Hearing himself himself introduce the band, he laughs and says, "Oh shit." Listening to himself play wrong notes on "Let Me Be" and sing the second chorus of "Valotte" instead of the first one, he cracks up. "Turn it back, play it again," he says, giggling.

But when he hears the audience applaud, he smiles his close-mouthed smile. He takes two ciggies from his pack, silently handing one to Justin, who was also performing for the first time and was dissatified with his playing. Now Justin says, "I want me mummy."

Julian smiles again. He says, "I don't."

JULIAN AND JUSTIN HAVE BEEN FRIENDS FOR TEN YEARS, since Julian was enrolled in Justin's school, an event announced in assembly by the headmistress, who said, "We will be joined by the son of a pop star. Be nice to him." Julian and Justin took guitar lessons together, though Julian, who hates being taught anything, didn't last long. Later, when Cynthia Lennon married John Twist, whom Julian hated, it was Justin he often turned to. Those were difficult years, the years from fifteen to seventeen, years when his mother's marriage seemed to prove that you can never fully rely on anyone or anything. His stepfather, he says now, "was trying to give the impression that he was more of a father than my dad was," which would have galled Julian at any time, but especially then, when he was becoming closer to John Lennon. "I lived from birthdays to Christmas," he would say later, "just to be with him." It was his stepfather who told him his father was dead.

His mother was in London on December 9th, 1980, when Julian awoke and saw that the chimney of the house had fallen through the roof into his bedroom. "And I just felt something in the room," he says. Then he came downstairs, where the blinds were drawn. And he saw the reporters, waiting on the lawn.

"Then this guy, this guy I hated, said to me, 'I've got some serious bad news for you,'" Julian recalls. "He said, 'I don't know how you're going to take it, so just be prepared.' And I knew already."

That same day, he flew from Wales to London to take the Concorde to New York. "The worst thing was going to London on the plane. You know how they hand out papers on planes. I mean, the whole plane was reading that story. Everyone had their paper opened to a picture of Dad's face. I remember sitting by the window, looking around. It was just too much."

In New York, he went to the apartment where his father had lived, and where Yoko Ono was alternately composed and out of control. "I couldn't handle it. She was like over the top, you know."

Yoko had not told Sean his father was dead. She wanted to wait until Julian arrived. Now she asked him, "How am I going to tell him?"

Julian answered, "You just have to tell the kid straight."

They rehearsed what Yoko would say. It took a long time, because Yoko kept breaking down. Then Sean was brought in. He was five years old. Julian says, "I remember seeing the glint in Sean's eye, when he actually understood what had happened. And then the tears started rolling."

Julian stayed in New York for a few days. "A lot of people around Yoko were advising me to leave," he says, "because they had already thought of what might happen as far as her wanting me to stay, purely for the resemblance factor. She did ask me to stay. She said, 'You can go to school here with us,' you know. And I thought of the comfort that held for me. I just saw what a difference there was between me and my mother in this squashed little house in Wales and then this gigantic apartment. So I felt it would be lovely to stay, but I went home where I belong."

The last time Julian had spoken with his father was two weeks earlier. Lennon had called and played him two cuts from his new album. One was "I'm Losing You." The other was "(Just Like) Starting Over."

Four and a half years later, Julian still has daydreams about his father. "Not past thoughts, future thoughts," he says, for he still believes that his father is, as he says, "just gone for a little while," and remains with him, near him, part of him.

Once, his father told him that if he could communicate from the dead, he would float a white feather straight across the room. For a while, Julian kept watch for that feather. He no longer does. "I think if you look too hard, you'll miss it," he says.

He has, however, been in touch with people who claim to speak with the dead. "I've spoken to people discreetly," he says. "Without making an appointment sort of thing. I asked, "Is there life after death?' and they said yes, which I do tend to believe. I said, 'Well, is there a chance I'll see Dad again in the same form that he was on earth?' They said, 'Yes, there is a chance, if you want it to be.'"

Since his father's death, Julian has had limited contact with Yoko and Sean. He would like to see Sean more, though he senses that Yoko does not want him to. Sean is said to adore Julian. "I think because he sees a lot of Dad in me."

He last saw Yoko the day he and Dean took the rough tape of Valotte to play for her. She was enthusiastic, then showed them a home movie she was planning to use in a video, of herself and John Lennon running toward each other on the beach. In the middle of the film, Yoko burst into tears and left the room. Julian and Dean looked at each other for a long moment. Then Julian got up and went to her.

If anyone could have understood Julian's own grieving, the grieving he has endured these last four years, it would have been John Lennon himself, who was also, at seventeen, becoming reunited with an estranged parent, his mother, when she was killed by a car. He might have told Julian the same thing he told Astrid Kirchherr, the girlfriend of his best friend, Stu Sutcliffe, when Stu died at twenty-one. Astrid had been desolate, and John Lennon had said, "Make up your mind. You can't be in the middle. You either live or die."

IT IS THE AFTERNOON OF THE OPENING OF JULIAN'S SHOW. He is outside the hotel in San Antonio, waiting for the van that will take him and the band to the theater. Last night, he was unable to sleep on the overheated bus, dozing just for an hour, then sleeping only a few hours at the hotel. Now he is tired, edgy. "I woke up nervous," he says. "I was having a nice dream and I woke up into a nightMare. And I'm still in it."

Tonight will be the first time he has sung on a raised, proscenium stage; one of his bodyguards leads him onto it, shows him around, warns him not to walk past the amps and into the orchestra pit.

"I won't want to get that near the audience anyway," says Julian.

"Wait till it starts," the bodyguard says reassuringly. "You'll want to play right to them."

"I will?" Julian says.

His performance will begin at 8:45, and now, at the sound check, three hours prior to that, Julian sits on-stage, his face impassive, his legs crossed one over the other, his arms hugging his chest, as if to protect himself from what is about to happen. When he sings, the band plays so loudly they drown him out. Julian laughs. He says, "I can't hear a goddamn thin, you mother-fuckers."

"Well, Jules," Carmine says, grinning, "we get paid by the loudness."

And the tension is broken for the moment.

At 6:45, the sound is still not right. Julian is sitting onstage again, his face blank, tapping his foot, looking out at the 2486 empty seats in the hall. He seems very young and very alone. At seven o'clock, he turns to a roadie. "What time do the doors open?" he asks. The roadie says, "Now."

An hour later, Julian is pacing the length of the dressing-room corridors. "I'm grumpy." he says. "I'm more grumpy than nervous." People look at him but don't approach him. Paco says, "Thirty minutes, Jules." Julian mutters under his breath, "First real one."

At 8:15, he finds Carmine. They go to the makeup room, followed by the rest of the band. Everyone laughs and jokes while Julian taps his foot and stares straight ahead, his face blank, his eyes wide.

"Talk to the audience after four songs," says Dean.

"Or after three," Carmine says. "Take a breath, then say hello."

"Does he have a towel?" Frank Elmo asks. Julian looks puzzled.

"You put it around your neck, then throw it to the audience," Alan Childs explains. "It makes the little girls go nuts."

Everyone laughs, except Julian.

The opening act, a magician, is on-stage. Suddenly a roar is heard through the PA system in the makeup room. Julian's face gets even paler. He stands up. "What's that?" he says.

"The audience," says Dean. Julian raises his eyebrows and says nothing.

"Sock check," says Carmine.

"Five minutes," says Paco.

Julian falls to the floor, does ten quick push-ups; the band, taking a cue from him, does jumping jacks, and he joins them.

"Let's go, team," Paco calls, and the band gathers in the hallway, in a circle, hands stacked together. "Let's have fun out there," Paco says. "Let's knock 'em out." He gives a war cry, "E-o-e-o-e-o," the band laughs and Julian doesn't, then the band is led up a staircase to the left while Mick Treadwell hurries Julian up a staircase to the right.

The stage is dark as the band members take their places. The audience is hushed, and packed with fourteen-year-old girls.

"And now," Paco says over the loudspeaker, "welcome Julian Lennon."

The audience jumps and screams. Mick tells Julian, "Give it to them." Julian puts his head on Mick's shoulder. "I want me mummy," he says. Then he runs out into the light.

After one chorus, he makes eye contact with the audience. After the third song, he turns to them. "How you doin'?" he asks. "You all enjoyin' yourselves?" Yes, they scream.

"Well," he says, "this is our first show." His face shines. He pauses. He says, "We're very proud to be here."

As the show goes on, the audience pelts him with roses, teddy bears, a map of Texas with a golden plaque that reads, HEY JULES, MAKING IT BETTER IN SAN ANTONIO. While he sings "Too Late for Goodbyes," a bunch of carnations is thrown onstage. He puts the stem of one in his mouth, then puts one in Carlos' mouth, then Carmine's, then Justin's. Later, he picks up his tambourine, hits it hard, his face intent, his head moving side to side, keeping time to the music. For all his boyishness, he is a sexual, commanding presence.

By the end of the show, the audience is on its feet: the teenage girls with hennaed hair, the housewives in their too-tight pants, the middle-aged couples reliving Beatlemania, all of them are cheering for Julian, shouting his name, calling to him. He sings "Stand by Me"; then he and the band rush off-stage. They wait in the darkened wings while the applause swells louder, then louder. Then Paco gives them the signal; they run back on, and the audience goes wild. "We have a little more for you-only if you're good," Julian says. And he begins to sing "Day Tripper."

When he was small, he worried that he could never write songs or sing them the way his father did. When he was older, he worried that anything he wrote or sang would sound too much like his father. And sometimes his father's first words to him-"Who's going to be a famous little rocker?"-echoed in his mind. Now he traverses the stage, clapping his hands over his head. The audience claps with him, repeating the words "Day tripper, day tripper." And he leads them, moves them, holds them in his hand, as he emerges from his father's shadow by merging with it.

LATE MARCH, 1985, SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS. Outside, in the cool night air, the young girls wait for a glimpse of Julian Lennon. Inside the Majestic Theater, Julian sits in his dressing room, surrounded by people congratulating him. It's time to leave the theater, but someone says, "We'll never make it to the van. It's like A Hard Day's Night out there."

An hour later, the crowd has thinned, and the band is rushed to the van. Julian is pushed through the crowd, his bodyguards flanking him like bookends, as girls reach for him, for his shirt, for his hair. He falls in beside Justin, and for a moment, everyone wonders if the van will be turned over by the fans. But then it is moving fast through the San Antonio streets, and everyone notices they are being followed by a cavalcade of cars, driven by girls. To the left, in a red Camaro, two blondes wave at the van. To the right, in a gray Buick, two girls like their lips lasciviously.

Julian turns to Justin. "Is this what we dreamed about in high school?" he asks. He thinks a moment, then turns to Dean. "This is why we should never play England," he says, "so we can always have a place to go where we can be quiet."

He gazes out the window, as the girls continue to follow him. His fingers are drumming, as the van takes him on, forward, into the night.

Valotte Bar

Valotte Bar