Julian Lennon: Hey, Jude
“It sounds like whales.”
Julian Lennon stubs out a Camel Light and half rises from the sofa to peer out the window of his mid-Manhattan hotel room. You can hear the squeaking of cables and cranes cutting through the din of construction on the street 28 stories below.
“It sounds just like whales,” he says in a nasal Liverpudlian drawl that complements the sharp profile and almond eyes he inherited from John Lennon. It’s a resemblance made all the more haunting by the carbon-copy singing and songwriting on his first record, Valotte. It’s a resemblance that’s somewhat overwhelming, even to Julian.
“It drives me mad thinking about it,” he says with a crooked smile, settling back into his seat and his first American interview. “I get confused all the time. I’m never sure whether I’ve got the right answer for anything these days. I’m always asking myself questions, like an idiot, but I only solve problems when it’s time to do it — on the spot. It’s very difficult, but I seem to find my way around.”
If Julian Lennon weren’t straightforward enough to tell you that his confidence and sense of direction are a bit shaky, you’d never know it. At 21, four years after his father’s murder in New York City, he’s vibrant with boyish charm, but he speaks with the thoughtfulness of someone twice his age. “I’ve got a brain now,” he says, running a hand through his longish brown hair. “I used to be a bit loose in the head. I didn’t think too much. Now I think too much.”
So far, it’s been only too much of a good thing. He’s been shrewd enough, after a few false starts, to hook up with veteran producer Phil Ramone and the renowned Muscle Shoals rhythm section for an unusually polished recording debut. Valotte — named for the French château where he made the demos that landed him a deal with the small British label Charisma Records in 1983 — has yielded a Top 10 single, “Too Late for Goodbyes,” in England, and the album’s title tune is already in the American Top 40. Of course, the immediate success, like his automatic celebrity, is due in no small way to his status as the heir apparent to a rock legend and to the uncanny similarities between father and son. But Julian claims he and Ramone, who produced Billy Joel’s hommage to the Beatles, The Nylon Curtain, made a conscious effort not to emphasize the obvious. “There were times when I’d work something out that Phil would say was too Beatle-ey. It was like, enough is enough. But I can’t change the sound of my voice. Anyway, I’m proud of it.
“My dad was like the wise old man to me,” he continues. “It was like the grasshopper and the ant. I learned a lot from him, looking at what he’s done and what I’ve got to go through and how I’m going to present my case. That’s why I really worked on this album to make it stand by itself, on my merit, though it’s still carrying on, I hope, in the same sort of vein as his. Not the political side yet — I’m too young for that now.”
Born April 8th, 1963, Julian — named for his father’s mother, Julia — was too young to remember much about growing up in the giddy, golden heyday of the Beatles. The first Beatle offspring, he was kept a secret, along with his father’s marriage to his mother, Cynthia, to preserve the pop idol’s glamorous image; he was on board the Magical Mystery Tour bus; he accompanied John to the set of the Rolling Stones’ Rock ‘n’ Roll Circus and met Brian Jones and Eric Clapton. These are merely pictures in a scrapbook. He does recall, however, one time when he played an inspirational role in Beatles history. “When I was about five, I was trundled home from school, and came walking up with one of my watercolor paintings,” he relates. “It was just a bunch of stars and this blond girl I knew at school. And Dad said, ‘What’s this?’ I said, ‘It’s Lucy in the sky,’ and, well, you know the rest.” Julian, like his father, insists that “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” was not meant as an acrostic for LSD: “You better believe it!”
Julian has no recollection of his parents’ divorce, not even of Paul McCartney writing “Hey Jude” for him on that somber occasion. McCartney, he says, is the only ex-Beatle who has kept in touch over the years. “I remember rolling about on the floor, wrestling with Paul, when I was a kid. He always sends me telegrams on my birthday, which is nice, and he sent me one about the record a couple of days ago: ‘Good luck, old fruit.'”
For Julian, life without father began when John and his new wife, Yoko Ono, moved to New York. He had been seeing his father every other weekend; now the visits were infrequent but memorable. At 11, Julian made his recording debut playing drums on John’s rendition of the old Lee Dorsey hit “Ya Ya” on Walls and Bridges. For Christmas 1974, his father gave him a “prehistoric” drum machine and took him to Disney World, where John’s celebrity allowed them to bypass the long lines for the rides.
VIP treatment, however, was rare. The disadvantages of his father’s fame seemed to outweigh the advantages. Despite being kept on a tight allowance — his trust fund mainly paid for schooling — he was branded a snotty rich kid and picked on by local toughs. “You couldn’t be too much of a chicken,” he says, “but you couldn’t get too abusive, either, or it was no more front teeth, mate.”
Lana Del Rey Thinks Her Dad Rob Grant 'Plays Just Like Billy Joel' on New Collab
- Father-Daughter Dance