By Noah Hubbell
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The "bullshit" to which he refers -- namely, notions about his father -- is something that gets the otherwise gentle-voiced Julian a bit worked up.
"There are a lot of preconceived ideas out there, which I still don't understand, because there's been plenty of information released which paints a clearer picture of what our lives were actually like," he says. "People still think that everything was jumbly and lovely and we were rich and famous and everything was fine. 'Oh, you're so lucky to have been born into music,' 'A family life with singing and playing. How wonderful' -- that's kind of the attitude. But the truth is, he walked out on us, straight, when I was five freaking years old. I saw him maybe ten, twelve times after that. Period."
According to Julian, he and his mother, Cynthia, both faced a palpable resentment when they first dared speak ill of the dead Lennon. "People do not like to hear the truth. They say they do, but they are incapable of confronting reality as it is," he says. Julian, however, become increasingly vocal in his criticisms of John and his approach to fatherhood. ("One of the few things Dad did teach me is how not to be a father," he says.) He's also taken aim at Yoko Ono, whom he often refers to as "No Talent" and whose handling of the Lennon estate he openly criticized on a recent broadcast of Howard Stern's show. Yet he is quick to mention that it was John who sent him his first guitar, though Julian learned to play it from a gymnastics teacher at an English day camp. And, after all, it was John who penned countless songs that have influenced practically every pop songwriter to follow, progeny or no.
Despite his personal confusion over his unrealized relationship with John, Julian holds the Beatles in the same kind of artistic awe as does most of the musical world. Pressed to name a favorite Beatles record, he exclaims, "That's an absolute impossibility!" Then he offers Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, citing the "uniqueness of its approach. The way it was structured, it was unlike anything that had come before. A true original. Though I think that had a great deal to do with [Beatles producer] George Martin. They wouldn't have been nearly what they were if it wasn't for George.
"I've actually been quite pleased with some of the comparisons of a different kind," Julian admits. "Someone said that my new record reminded him of what the Beatles might be up to if they were making music today. So that was quite nice."
Though Photograph Smile as a whole is, well, quite nice -- moody, melodious, quiet, confessional, largely sincere and often good -- to say it represents a direction the Beatles might have followed is a stretch by any system of measurement. The record does clearly align the young Lennon with the songwriting approach of one bandmember, though. It's a popular bar-room theory that, in the musical realm at least, the world is made up of two kinds of people: You're either a John person or a Paul person. The former tends to prefer the elder Lennon's raw, roving, intellectual and weirder musical dares to McCartney's perfectly crafted, melodious, safe and sincere pop precision. Julian, it turns out, is a Paul person. That McCartney would exert an influence on him isn't so surprising, in light of history: Paul wrote "Hey Jude" to comfort him in the wake of his parents' divorce and is the only Beatle to remain in contact with Julian and, to a lesser degree, Cynthia. And like McCartney's, Julian's songwriting is at its strongest when he remains a strict and exacting alchemist of the four elements of song: melody, music, lyrics and performance.
"I feel that sometime during my break, I just got it -- it sunk in. It's like I found a key or something," he says. "I've always revered songwriting as a craft, and my approach to it has always been very serious, very studied. It's a tremendous task to try to convey an experience through song, with honesty, to relate emotions to other human beings. I feel with this record I've really proved myself as a songwriter."
Julian doesn't foster any desires to reach the same level of influence and fame as his father, which is a good thing; it would be impossible. Rather, he seems content to exist as a pleasant if predictable songwriter, for whom suffering and privilege have co-existed as a paradoxical birthright.
"As far as my relationship to music and the business goes, it's simple: I'm going to continue making music, and I really don't care who likes it or not. Those who like it will buy it. I'm going to play my music in cities and clubs, and those who want to hear it will show up. I believe in what I do, and I no longer have the patience or the desire to try to prove something to people who don't."
Sounds like young Jude is finally heeding some of that famous advice.