Last November I interviewed Julian Lennon for Grammy.com and Cinephiled for an illuminating 40 minutes. While other people keep obsessing over his father and the Beatles, some seem to forget that he has released some very good music — his latest, Everything Changes, made my Top 10 for 2013 — and he is also a talented photographer. In this Q&A for A.D.D., Lennon and I speak about his photography work, his charity endeavors, and establishing himself as an individual. At age 50, Lennon seems quite content and has a strong sense of self and sense of purpose in his life.
We met very briefly last summer at the Sunset Marquis opening of your photo exhibit that also served as the release party for your new album. You had to meet with many different people very briefly. I imagine that those meet and greets are hard to do because of the time constraints. How hard is it to stay in touch with all the people you’ve known after all these years?
As you progress and move on and move forward in life, you tend to work with different people, and it’s not that you forget friends that you’ve worked with, it’s just that they get on with their own lives too. There are certain circumstances like that event where people are in the same town at the same time, and you manage to get a hello but one thinks that you generally have a lot more time than you do. You really don’t think you’re going to get pulled limb from limb quite so much. The other sad thing was that my old guitarist and my old bass player drove in from Vegas just to say hi, and they literally drove back to Vegas after saying hi. It was absolutely sweet and gorgeous of them to do that, but short and sweet again. It’s sometimes difficult to make time for that, but it’s important to stay in touch with people that you really work well with and relate well with. They’re few and far between these days.
I like the reference to the “beautiful people” in “Someday”. You could take it both ways. It could refer to the beautiful people of Hollywood who aren’t taking in all these things that you’re singing about, or the beautiful people who are the regular people.
Yeah, it could be taken many ways of course, but the lead intention behind that is the fact that the song is all about believing and having hope that there are going to be some positive changes in this world, and it’s all about those particular good people that are trying to do all of that, that are trying to make an effort. But certainly it can be looked at from a slightly tongue-in-cheek perspective as well at those other kind of beautiful people.
I’m intrigued by “Guess It Was Me” since you’ve been on a personal quest to find yourself, and I love that line “I used to blame everyone else for my misfortunes and lack of self”. While it relates to your unique life experience on a variety of levels, the average person can relate to that also. I’m at that age now where a lot of people are going through the midlife crisis and questioning where they are and what everything means.
Exactly. Throughout life, one has constant revelations, one would like to believe or at least one I feel that’s the case, and just when you think you’ve maybe plateaued or you’re not going to discover anything more about the world or yourself, one surprises oneself every once in a while. It’s nice because it does allow you to think that there’s much more than what you thought. It’s the idea of feeling that you’ve pretty much been through every experience you have. But by no means — it’s constantly evolving, constantly changing. I’m glad that constant growth does exist.
I think you were one of the first Behind The Music episodes on VH1.It was very personal, and obviously there were certain things you had to get off your chest…
Oh yeah. [laughs]
“Literally three days before I was having panic attacks and anxiety because I thought I was going to get ripped a new backside again trying to be something that maybe people think I’m not…to get the response that I did for the [photography] work that I’ve done has just been magnificent.”
I see the reasons for them. I presume the new documentary release Through The Picture Window goes beyond the standard questions people have?
I think what was more important was not to have necessarily specific answers given, but just a greater general understanding, and I think that indicates where one’s head is at these days as opposed to where it might have been 20 years ago. I believe there are things that should remain private, that shouldn’t be discussed, that are my thoughts and my thoughts alone. Again, with the lyrics on the album and the documentary, this is a way of putting it out there and putting on the table and going, “That’s me, take or leave it. There we go.” And on.
Absolutely. Yes, that’s something we absolutely have bonded on, and I think that’s why Sean has powered ahead just doing his own thing. It’s a rarity that you’ll see him doing interviews, and generally if he has anything to say, he’ll say it on his website or through Facebook or something of that nature. I tend to stick to those principles too these days, for the most part, because unless you’re interested in the work, as far as I’m concerned most all and every other question has been answered in regards to dad or the Beatles or anything else. It really is treading over old ground, and if somebody can’t research that and understand that those questions have been answered 50 million times, I think it’s insensitive when people continue to [do it] because they think they’re going to get something new or different out of asking the same questions. There is no hidden agenda from our sides. There is the answer: Leave us alone. We just want to get on with it.
I was supposed to go to your photography exhibit opening three years ago at the Morrison Hotel Gallery in New York City, but a tornado tore through Brooklyn and I couldn’t get into the city.
Listen, when I was staying at a hotel around the corner in the Bowery, it was about two hours before, and I just remember seeing this hellish looking storm towards the Bowery because the Morrison Hotel Gallery was the next block. Gray, thunderous clouds came in, sideways rain on crack, and I thought, “Nobody’s going to come today.” It was insanely packed. Obviously you were caught up in that.
I missed an interesting night. Your mother Cynthia was there as well as Sean and Yoko and May Pang. What was that experience like for you?
It was great. It really was great to have everybody come together for a change. It was unexpected because I didn’t know for sure if Sean was coming and didn’t know for sure if Yoko was coming. Mum was with me, so we were covered on that front, and it was a pleasant surprise that everyone was able to put the past behind us and support me as an upcoming new photographer and artist. It was great to have that, and I was very thankful for that because it was insanity. There were more people there than backstage at a rock concert. It was really ridiculous. Literally three days before I was having panic attacks and anxiety because I thought I was going to get ripped a new backside again trying to be something that maybe people think I’m not, but I was just trying to be genuine to myself in following this work of photography. And to get the response that I did for the work that I’ve done has just been magnificent. It’s become the front running passion of mine — I still love music and will never let that go, of course — but I’ve been on so many little [photography] projects since I started that it’s just become an amazing journey for me and continues to be so.
You do a lot of charity work. Many people might not know that you launched the White Feather Foundation and have been involved with the Lupus Foundation of America. Why are those both important to you?
I obviously started White Feather, so it’s hugely important to me. That originated from doing the documentary I made which took 10 years called Whale Dreamers about the indigenous tribe in Australia, and I just wanted to find a way to give money back to the indigenous tribes that were trying to survive to keep their culture and education alive. That was initially what White Feather was about, and it continues to grow as we work on God knows how many projects now. This year in particular, because it’s the year of water, with our first event earlier this year in Monaco we raised enough to supply pumps and wells all over Kenya and several other countries. We’re in the middle of working with different NGOs on the ground that are already established and need financial support. Rather than wasting money setting up in places, we’re working with people that are already on the ground. That’s been very helpful and important to us.
On the Lupus front, that came about because of dear Lucy from “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds,” who passed away many years ago from Lupus. I decided to write a little song. I had a friend called James Scott Cook whose grandmother is named Lucy, who is still alive I believe, and she had Lupus too. We wrote a song together called “Lucy” and donated a good portion of the earnings to the Lupus Foundation of America and Saint Thomas’ Lupus [Trust] in the UK. They asked me to become an ambassador, and I said absolutely. I’ve been gung ho now supporting them and promoting their cause as much as possible, and I’m generally at most of their events and galas. I took Whoopi Goldberg with me last year. She was honored too, and she’s been an advocate too. The older I get, the more involved I tend to become. We’re talking to MusicCares and a whole host of other foundations with which we could work together and mutually benefit each foundation. There are a few projects we have lined up.