Julian Lennon: Here Comes the Son - Rolling Stone
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Julian Lennon: Here Comes the Son

As the inspiration behind Beatles hits and the son of John Lennon, he isn’t really afraid of anything

Julian LennonJulian Lennon

Julian Lennon, United States, 1984.

Richard E. Aaron/Redferns/Getty

 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, he 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, then,” he says. He picks Julian up. He holds him in his trembling hands. “Who’s going to be a famous little rocker,” he 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, “Nervous 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, which 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 “ciggies” in a large black bag that also contains a portable keyboard; a pair of slippers from his 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 band’s 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 his 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 live 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 hay, 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 it 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.

He was silent. His excuses had evaporated, and he knew it.

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 6,000 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 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 in the 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, has 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 16-year-old girls I can eat.”

There is 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.”

he is too shy to be a skirt chaser and too famous to have to be.

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 30, even 40 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 22. 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. Julians face gleams. When the song is done, there is total silence. “Goddamn,” Julian says, into the mike, “that’s hot shit.”

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 $24,600; 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?”

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.”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 up-ward in meditation position. He rocks back and forth, chanting, “Om, get me out of here. Om, help. Om, I want me mummy.”

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 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 dissatisfied 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 15 to 17, 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.”

Yoko burst into tears and left the room.

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 just 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 17, 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 21. 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 onstage, 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 thing, you motherfuckers.” “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 2,486 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 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.

The opening act, a magician, is onstage. 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 14-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 are 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 offstage. 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 lick 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.

In This Article: Coverwall, Julian Lennon


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