Julian Lennon – Everything Changes For the Better
by Jay S. Jacobs
It’s not easy to have to live up to a musical icon long before you have played your first note. Julian Lennon’s father was the late Beatle John Lennon. Two of his band’s best known songs were written about the boy. Paul McCartney wrote “Hey Jude” about young Julian (the song was originally called “Hey Jules”) and John Lennon based the song “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” on a picture Julian drew as a child.
Still, Lennon was only five years old when his father left his mother, so he really did not get to know his father well before he was murdered in 1980. Then when Lennon became a radio star in 1984 with the gorgeous ballad “Valotte” and the reggae-vibed “Too Late For Goodbyes,” the singer was constantly compared to the father he didn’t totally know.
His Valotte album was a terrific work of songcraft. In the years that followed Julian Lennon has shown himself to be a natural songwriter, putting together some wonderful albums like The Secret Value of Daydreaming, Help Yourself and Mr. Jordan. Sadly, none of those albums caught the public’s attention like his debut and eventually Lennon strayed from being a fulltime musician. His last album was Photograph Smile in 1998.
In recent years, Lennon has been working mostly as a photographer as well as a philanthropist, intimately involved in several charitable organizations, including the environmental White Feather Foundation and the Lupus Foundation.
In the years since Photograph Smile, Lennon has also been working on a follow-up album, Everything Changes, which was finally released on June 4, 2013, though Lennon had previewed many of the tracks online. The album shows that Lennon still has an amazing ear for a gorgeous melody and a heavenly voice and Lennon has only matured as a songwriter. The first single “Someday” is a duet with Aerosmith leader Steven Tyler.
A few weeks before his new album was released, Lennon gave us a call from his home in England to discuss his career, his new album, his newfound love of photography and the difficulty of following in the footsteps of an iconic musical father.
Obviously your father was a musician, but I know he wasn’t around all that much when you were growing up. At what point in your childhood did you realize that music was something you wanted to pursue?
I’ll tell you, it was probably more to do with boredom in school to a certain degree. (laughs) I’ve told this story before, but I think it really comes down to the PE [Physical Education] teacher in our school when I was, I think 12 or 13. The same school I went with Justin Clayton, my oldest friend and songwriting partner. Our gym teacher was a rock and roller. He had a DA, you know? A duck’s ass greased back hairstyle. In between classes, when there were breaks or you weren’t having a class, he would be in a back room behind the gym or the swimming pool, where he used to teach guitar lessons. As you do when you’re growing up, you have a few mates and you think, why not? Let’s have a play around with it. So we went back and were taught really the most simple, basic rock and roll tracks. “Roll Over Beethoven.” “Slippin’ and a Slidin’.” Stuff like that. After school they had the end of the year concert. We decided to try and form a band. God knows what it was called. But we performed and for the most part I think we did okay, in retrospect. (laughs again)
I remember that feeling. I also used to do acting at the school, which I loved too. It was not a dissimilar feeling. I just remember standing onstage with a guitar in your hand, with a microphone, having sang a bit of rock & roll. Getting that warmth and that electric response from the audience. There was nothing like it. The thing with acting and theater was that for the most part you’d be there for an hour and a half or whatever it is and then you’d get the applause. When you were doing these three and a half minute songs, you were getting applause and screamed at every three and a half minutes. (laughs) So that was obviously the initial logic to why I even considered going down that route.
In 1984 with the Valotte album and single and “Too Late For Goodbyes” your musical career just exploded. How surreal was it to suddenly have your music played all over the radio and on MTV and everything?
Jay, it was truly bizarre. It was truly, truly bizarre. Because for the most part, I’d led a relatively quiet, unknown life. Apart from some of the obvious. I still think about those times, when I look at new, up-and-coming stars. Like when [Justin] Bieber first hit. You just go: My God, I hope they’ve learned from our experience. (laughs) I remember panic stations when we would leave a hotel, or a gig you just finished. The fans would literally rip your clothes off or try and pull your hair out. I mean it was violent! (chuckles nervously) And really quite scary, too. When you’ve got a couple of thousand people around you trying to get at you, there’s a sense of panic that you have. There really is. A little bit of anxiety. But it was an amazing, amazing time. I’m very thankful that it happened. I was unsure what was going to happen after that, but certainly at that point in time, it was quite an amazing, amazing situation.