Singer, songwriter, guitarist
When Julian Lennon released Valotte, his first album, he took “an important step toward establishing … musical credibility,” according to Barbara Graustark in People. The oldest son of ex-Beatle and late rock legend John Lennon, Julian has satisfied most critics that he has a legitimate talent and is not merely exploiting his father’s fame. Valotte sent two hit singles onto the charts, the title track and ’Too Late for Goodbyes,” and the album’s sales put it into the platinum category. Lennon has followed up his successful debut with two other albums, The Secret Value of Daydreaming and Mr. Jordan.
Born John Charles Julian Lennon on April 8, 1963, in Liverpool, England, Julian was named first for his famous father, second for his maternal grandfather, and third for his paternal grandmother, Julia. Of course, it was the third name, or its shortened version, Jules, that his family and friends used. Because Julian was born when his father’s group was beginning its successful rise to superstar status, he rarely saw the elder Lennon, who was often away on concert tours. Yet his father had a huge influence on him: “I learned a lot from him, looking at what he’s done and what I’ve got to go through,” the young singer told Brant Mewborn in Rolling Stone. In turn, Julian had some influence on John Lennon’s career as well, from an early age. Though critics and fans alike have often interpreted the Beatles’ “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” as a paean to LSD, Julian, like his father before him, maintains that the song came from a childhood picture he had drawn of one of his schoolmates, Lucy. “You better believe it!” he told Mewborn. And the group’s “Hey, Jude” began as “Hey, Jules” —a song that Paul McCartney wrote to comfort Julian when his parents divorced in 1968.
Though Julian Lennon saw his father even more infrequently after the latter’s marriage to Yoko Ono and subsequent move to New York City, by the time he was ten he had begun to develop musical interests. He played the drums and the guitar, and when he was eleven served as the drummer on “Ya Ya,” a track on his father’s album Walls and Bridges. When the younger Lennon was in his early teens, he began to teach himself how to play the piano.
As Julian grew older, he visited his father in New York more frequently, and the two began to repair their somewhat neglected relationship. But before they reached the degree of closeness that both desired, John Lennon was killed by an assassin in December, 1980. Julian was affected deeply by his father’s death. He had been living with his mother, Cynthia, in Wales; afterwards he moved to London and aimlessly haunted the city’s nightclubs. Julian wanted to work on his own
Full name John Charles Julian Lennon; born April 8, 1963, in Liverpool, England; son of John (a singer, songwriter, and musician) and Cynthia (a textile designer and television host; maiden name, Powell) Lennon.
Recording artist and concert performer, 1984—.
Addresses: Other— 200 W. 57th St. #1403, New York, N.Y., 10019.
musical projects and write songs, but was daunted by grief and the shadow of his father’s immense talent. As Elizabeth Kaye summed it up in Rolling Stone, “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.”
Julian stumbled into a record deal designed to exploit John’s memory by having the son sing an unreleased song stolen from his father’s estate. He was rescued from the situation by his stepmother, Yoko Ono, who bought him out of the contract, and Julian finally signed with Atlantic Records. He and his associates traveled to a quiet French château called Valotte to work on his debut album in peaceful privacy—hence the title of the 1984 album, Valotte. As Julian recorded Valotte, he gained confidence, and his feelings about his musical resemblance to John Lennon began to resolve themselves. Valotte’s producer, Phil Ramone, helped him; Lennon confided to Graustark: “He just said, ’Sing naturally, wherever the feeling takes you.’” As for the notes on which his voice sounds like his father’s, Julian said, “I’m proud of them,” and answers criticisms thus: “If my dad had been a world-famous carpenter and I did what he did, I would have been praised. People would have said, ’You’re doing a good job.’”
Valotte, of course, met with favorable reception from reviewers and fans alike, and so did Julian Lennon’s first string of concert performances. Carolyn Kitch in McCall’s analyzed one of his U.S. shows: “His voice is polished and pure, and as he does songs from his debut album … he is self-confident, definitely his own performer. But when Julian launches into his encore—one of the Beatles’ classics, ’Day Tripper’—the memories come back. When he sings the same lyrics and notes, Julian can’t hide his inheritance. He is, after all, John Lennon’s son.” Lennon’s second album, The Secret Value of Daydreaming, was not as successful as Valotte. Secret Value “doesn’t carry [Julian] any nearer to self-discovery or self-revelation,” lamented reviewer Anthony DeCurtis of Rolling Stone. DeCurtis did, however, praise some of the album’s songs, such as “Let Me Tell You” and “Coward till the End?” and cited Lennon’s “potential to do important work.” Mr. Jordan, Lennon’s 1989 release, has fared better with the critics.
Valotte (includes “Valotte,” “Too Late for Goodbyes,” “Well I Don’t Know,” “Jesse,” and “O.K. for You”), Atlantic, 1984.
The Secret Value of Daydreaming (includes “Let Me Tell You,” “Coward till the End?” “Stick Around,” “This Is My Day,” “You Don’t Have to Tell Me,” and “Want Your Body”), Atlantic, 1986.
Mr. Jordan (includes “Now That You’re in Heaven”), Atlantic, 1989.
McCall’s, February, 1986.
People, January 7, 1985.
Rolling Stone, December 6, 1984; June 6, 1985; May 8, 1986.
Being the son of a legend is hard. Living up to that legend is even harder. Continuing that legend’s legacy is nearly impossible—especially when the legend/father is infamous ex-Beatle John Lennon. According to VH-1’s Behind the Music, the elder Lennon “preordained what Julian was gonna be [when he asked baby Julian] who’s gonna be a little rocker like his daddy?” John Lennon would never see his son fulfill his destiny, when in 1984, Julian Lennon became a big rocker with the release of his hit debut album, Valotte. Three albums and seven years later, Julian had had enough of life in the public and of critic’s who had seen him both as a replacement for his father and, as stated by Behind the Music, “a pretenderto the throne.” In 1991 Lennon, tired of the ceaseless scrutiny and comparisons to his father, disappeared. As he stated in the 1985 concert film Stand By Me, “It’s great to get recognition [for the music], but fame doesn’t do anything for me whatsoever.”
John Charles Julian Lennon was born on April 8, 1963 in Liverpool, England. Being the first Beatle baby, “Jules” received instant media attention. Attention from his father, however, was limited. While John Lennon was busy changing the face of pop music, Julian’s mother Cynthia was left to care for him. And although he resented his father’s lack of participation in his life, Julian was able to identify with his father’s music, stating at www.julianlennon.com “My dad’s music was a great inspiration to me.”
It was Julian, however, who inspired the Beatles song “Hey Jude.” Behind the Musicdescribed the song as, “an anthem of hope and longing—a song of comfort and concern, written by Paul McCartney to console a five year old boy devastated by his parents divorce.” In 1999, Julian, as stated on his web site, still finds it, “hard to imagine this man [McCartney] was thinking about me and my life so much that he wrote a song about me. If I’m sitting in a bar and the song comes on the radio, I still get goose pimples.” In 1968 John left Julian and Cynthia, moving from London to New York City with his new wife Yoko Ono, a Japanese performance artist. Julian would not see his father for the next four years.
Throughout the mid-Seventies, Julian and his father slowly began to repair their relationship. Julian even played drums on “Ya Ya,” a song on his father’s Walls and Bridges album. However, Julian recalled on Behind the Music that, “I didn’t know how to react with him. He didn’t know how to react with me.” In 1975, with the birth of Sean Ono Lennon, John’s second son, Julian continued
For the Record…
Born John Charles Julian Lennon on April 8, 1963 in Liverpool, England; son of ex-Beatles singer/songwriter John Lennon and Cynthia Powell, a television host.
At eleven years old played drums on “Ya Ya” on father’s Walls and Bridges album; taught himself to play piano; continued to rebuild his relationship with his father until 1980 when John Lennon was assassinated; signed with Atlantic Records, 1983; released debut album Valotte, (include hits “Too Late For Goodbyes” and “Valotte”), 1984; released The Secret Value of Daydreaming, 1986; released Mr. Jordon, 1989; released Help Yourself (included “Saltwater”), 1996; formed Music From Another Room label; released Photograph Smile, 1999.
Addresses: Record company —Music From Another Room; Website —www.julianlennon.com.
to find it hard to connect with his father, especially when John took five years off from the music business to stay at home with Sean. Julian further recalled that he felt “frustrated a bit… why couldn’t he have recognized this and tried to make things better, try to change things in regards to his love or respect for me.”
Yet, even with this frustration, Julian and John continued to try and rebuild their relationship. But Julian’s deep seeded resentment for his father, to some degree, remained, as he told Elizabeth Grice of the Daily Telegraph, “He was a hypocrite. Dad could talk about peace and love out loud to the world, but he could never show it to the people who supposedly meant the most to him: his wife and son. How can you talk about peace and love and have a family in bits and pieces—no communication, adultery, divorce? You can’t do it, not if you’re being true and honest with yourself.” Perhaps Julian and John would have had eventually come to some sort of understanding, but on December 8, 1980, John Lennon was assassinated. Julian was only seventeen years old.
For the next four years, Julian partied through London. All the while, he thought about becoming a musician and even began sending out demo tapes anonymously. However, as Elizabeth Thomas wrote in Contemporary Musicians, Vol. 2, “Julian was daunted by grief and the shadow of his father’s immense talent.” Rolling Stone’s Elizabeth Kaye noted an ironic twist: “when he [Julian] 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.”
Some record companies did not care if Julian sounded too much like John, but rather wanted to cash in on the eerie resemblance. In the mid-Eighties, Thomas wrote, Julian “stumbled into a record deal designed to exploit John’s memory by having the son sing an unreleased song stolen from his father’s estate.” Ironically, it was Lennon’s stepmother Yoko Ono—the woman who Julian would later sue—who paid off the record company so Julian could get out of his contract.
In 1984, Atlantic Records signed Julian and released his debut album, Valotte. The album produced two hit singles, “Too Late For Goodbyes” and “Valotte.” Lennon was embraced by fans and critics alike who may or may not have believed, as Julian told Rolling Stone in 1985, that he was not “trying to carry on a tradition—except maybe in the simplicity of Dad’s writing.” Moreover, Producer Phil Ramone commented in Rolling Stonethat Julian, “can hit your heart with a lyric and be clever with a melody. Music is the joy of his life, no doubt about it.” Valotte earned Lennon a 1985 Grammy Award nomination for Best New Artist.
Atlantic Records also realized that Lennon could not only continue his father’s legacy, but also stuff their pockets with large amounts of money—and he was powerless to stop them. As Lennon told San Francisco Chronicle reporter Aidin Vaziri in 1999, “I was young and naive, so I signed my life away. Unfortunately, the first album will quite possibly never be mine, which sickens me to death. But when you’re vying for your first album deal, you’d just about give up your mother.” Following a massive 18 month tour, Lennon wanted time off to write; however, Atlantic reminded him that he was “contractually obligated” to release another album. Thus, in the spring of 1986 Atlantic released Lennon’s second album, The Secret Value of Daydreaming. It was a disappointment, both critically and financially.
Three years later, though, he seemed to somewhat redeem himself with his third album, Mr. Jordan, which People called, “an unexpectedly striking and vigorous piece of work.” With his fourth album, 1991s Help Yourself, Lennon continued on his path of public and critical redemption. That album produced the minor hit, “Saltwater,” yet, Lennon felt that he was no longer receiving the support of his record company. He told Behind the Music, “they realized … I couldn’t be pressured to trying to write what they wanted to hear.” Thus, after seven years and five and a half million albums sold, he decided that he had had enough of the music industry.
For the next seven years Lennon traveled throughout Europe, did some acting, shopped for antiques—anything that did not involve the music business. He resurfaced in 1996 co-writing the score for the hit movie, Mr. Holland’s Opus and purchasing $80,000 worth of Beatles memorabilia including a handwritten first draft of “Hey Jude.” Julian had always felt that that the Beatles were more than just his father, as he explained to Jae-Ha Kim of the Chicago Sun-Times, “There are some people who say that Dad was the Beatles, but I disagree with that. Without Paul, there wouldn’t have been the Beatles.”
Julian had always wanted something to pass down to his children, as well—to continue the Lennon legacy. But as he told Kim, “I was never given anything from Dad or the estate… The thing is she’s [Yoko Ono] got everything. She owns his name, his likeness, all his money. You name it. She’s got it.” Eventually Ono and Lennon agreed on a financial settlement in 1996 that guaranteed Julian and half brother Sean an even split in copyrights of John’s songs.
In the midst of these financial settlements, Lennon was also fighting to get out of his record contract with Atlantic. He told Kim, “I didn’t write (any songs) for years because I didn’t want (the record company) to own them.” It took five years for Lennon to dissolve his contract. Afterforming his own record label, Music From AnotherRoom, he began writing again. This time, however, Lennon was writing “not for an album. It was for writing’s sake. And for the sake of challenging myself. To prove my own self worth as a writer,” as he told Behind the Music.
Lennon recorded those songs at his own expense, released them on his label, and established his own web site. The end result, Photograph Smile won rave critical reviews. Rolling Stone’s David Wild wrote, “the homespun, intimate feeling Photograph Smile sounds like the work of a man who has come to peace with ghosts of the past and gotten on with the business of writing some good new tunes.”
Lennon was clearly pleased with such press, telling Daniel Durchholz of Rolling Stone, “the gratifying thing about this record is the reviews—which have been the best I’ve ever had in my life.” Lennon, it seemed, had finally found a sort of inner peace. As he told Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter Steve Morse, “I’ve felt that I would [always] find a level of peace in life… I think what keeps you going is that love inside you and the hope, the faith that things are going to bloody work out in the end.”
Valotte, Atlantic, 1984.
The Secret Value of Daydreaming, Atlantic, 1986.
Mr. Jordan, Atlantic, 1989.
Help Yourself, Atlantic, 1991.
(contributor) Mr. Holland’s Opus, (soundtrack) 1996.
Photograph Smile, Music From Another Room, 1999.
Contemporary Musicians Vol. 2, Gale Research, Inc., 1989.
Chicago Sun-Times, March 9, 1999.
Denver Post, February 24, 1999.
The Guardian, May 23, 1998.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, February 27, 1999.
People, January 7, 1985; April 17, 1989.
Rolling Stone, June 6, 1985; February 25, 1999.
San Francisco Chronicle, February 21, 1999.
“Julian Lennon,” www.julianlennon.com (May 9, 1999).
“The Other Son.” Rolling Stone Network: Random Notes, www.rollingstone.com (May 4, 1999).
Additional information provided by: World Press Review, the 1985 concert film/documentary, Stand By Me: A Portrait of Julian Lennon, produced and directed by Martin Lewis, and VH-1’s Behind the Music, produced by Gay Rosenthal, originally broadcast, April 25, 1999.
—Ann M. Schwalboski