John Lennon's sons give peace a chance
by Alison Boshoff, Daily Mail
March 9, 2007
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/f ... ge_id=1879
John Lennon's sons Julian Lennon and Sean Lennon are now friends but have shunned Yoko Ono.
On a chilly February night in Milan, at the pricey Nobu restaurant, a group of diners are ordering tots of the Japanese spirit Shyochu and having a thoroughly convivial evening.
Perhaps the other patrons are particularly unobservant or maybe the lighting is a trifle dim. Whatever the reason, no one seems to notice that sitting around the table are two men in whose faces the distinctive features of the late John Lennon are clearly reflected.
Sean Lennon, now 31, overweight and sporting a generous black beard, is the coarser-featured of the two. He is a long way from being the "Beautiful Boy" of John's rhapsodic song, but nevertheless an unmistakable blend of his parents John and Yoko Ono.
His older brother, Julian, is pure John, uncannily similar, with that same aquiline nose, plus John's height and colouring. Now 43, he is the boy John never wanted to see, the first-born son Yoko tried to disinherit.
Yet here they are sitting around a table with ten friends and quietly reclaiming their bond of brotherhood.
It is a sight that would astonish anyone acquainted with the history of The Beatles. The half-brothers were raised on opposite sides of the Atlantic in completely different circumstances.
They barely knew each other even before the shocking tragedy of their father's assassination in 1980.
They have hardly ever been seen together, and in the past Julian has complained that Sean has not been interested in their kinship.
And yet, the Mail has learned that a genuine and warm friendship has blossomed between them over the past few months. "I love my brother," Sean told the Mail, simply, yesterday.
It is a touching postscript to the story of Lennon's legacy. For what John left behind was a bitter inheritance of conflict, abandonment, pain and a great deal of money - £250 million, give or take a few million.
Both his boys have entered the music industry, but both have struggled to find success.
Julian has fought drugs and depression and has twice retired from the business, only to return, driven to fulfil what he believes to be his destiny as a songwriter. He now lives in Italy, attempting to remain as much in the shadows as he can.
Sean, meanwhile, who performed in London with his band last week, has had his brushes with the wilder reaches of celebrity, too - dating actresses Lindsay Lohan and Bijou Phillips.
He has fallen for the obligatory supermodel or two (Milla Jovovich and Lizzie Jagger) and, much to Yoko's disgust, has been taken up by the Los Angeles crowd of idle super-rich, where drug use is almost obligatory and hard partying the norm.
The heir to that colossal fortune, Sean is now performing in obscure venues across Europe as he searches for recognition as a musician in his own right.
Polite and almost shy, he complains that European cities are "as grey as a pigeon's pyjamas" and remarks that he is growing fat on a diet of pasta and red wine. The weather makes him feel "frumpy" and he worries about the future for his group, given that his current record label, EMI, is in a state of turmoil.
The band stay in scruffy hotels, and some nights he even sleeps on the bus. Sean, it seems, is not joking when he says that he's glad they sold a lot of T-shirts in Zurich because it will help to offset the cost of touring.
Elliott Mintz, Sean's spokesman, insists that his charge is "very happy" during this tour for his second album. But how intriguing that Sean should turn to Julian during this period when he is trying to prove himself.
Naturally, no one can serve as a better guide to the uniquely painful experience of living in John's shadow. And by turning to Julian, Sean is finally and in some small way rebelling against his mother.
In the past, Yoko Ono seemed to do what she could to prevent Julian from being part of the Lennon dynasty. She refused to let him have any mementos of his father, and did not make any financial settlement on Julian until 16 years after John's death.
Julian privately blames her for turning Sean against him and has said that any success he has enjoyed has been a dagger to the heart of Ono, who simply desires that Sean should be the only bearer of the Lennon name to have success in the music business.
Periods of three or four years have gone by without so much as a card or a phone call between the boys.
As Julian admitted nine years ago: "If I move, I always give Sean my new number. I call him from time to time, but I never get a return call." But, after some prodding from Julian's mother, Cynthia, last year, Julian and Sean spent a few hours getting to know each other in Los Angeles.
They shared a night out at Boujis nightclub in Kensington in October. And when Sean arrived in Prague, his tour manager had a surprise for him - an unannounced visit from his big brother, who joined him on the tour bus and showed him the sights of the city, Vienna, Milan and Munich over the next fortnight.
"How sweet is that?" says Sean. "I am totally thrilled and deeply touched by this. It's really fun having him on the bus. It's nice to have some quality time with him. None of my friends are willing to rough it on the tour bus, so I am very impressed."
As Julian's business partner, Patrick Cousins, says: "They have a lot in common, obviously. Julian was keen that they should meet when Sean was in Europe.
"He has reconnected with Sean, which is really nice. They have been friendly in the past. There has never been a problem between them, but people imagine that they grew up together, which they didn't. So, yes, it is significant in that way."
Julian, who lives near the lakes of northern Italy with girlfriend Lucy Bayliss, has palpably had a harder time, emotionally and financially, than Sean.
The son of John and art student Cynthia Powell, he was born in 1963 just as Beatlemania began, and his existence was hidden for three years at the behest of Beatles manager Brian Epstein - coming to light only when Cynthia was photographed pushing a pram.
Cynthia recalls building sandcastles on the beach with Julian and John, who was disguised in a vast floppy sun hat. These family times were few and far between, though; Cynthia and the baby lived in obscurity as John toured the world with The Beatles.
When the truth about Julian and Cynthia emerged, they were installed in John's huge home in Surrey, but by then fame had changed John, and the marriage was doomed.
John was indulging heavily in drugs, and soon he met Yoko Ono. The marriage was over by the time the boy was five years old and John moved to New York.
He made a cruelly distant parent. Birthday and Christmas presents were dispatched from The Beatles office in London unseen by him.
Julian was taunted at school because of his famous father. People imagined they had 'walls papered with £5 notes', said Julian, but instead they had no material wealth, and he had no contact with John.
When he was 11, Cynthia appealed to John to be a father to the boy. Julian was sent to New York for a few, awkward meetings - Julian estimates that he saw his father ten times in all - but they remained virtual strangers.
Once, he scolded Julian, telling him that he hated the way he laughed; another time he offered him a joint. John was by then bringing up Sean with Yoko, and was besotted with him.
Julian noticed that his brother had every toy in the world, and his father's love and attention every moment of the day. It served only to underline the point that he was discarded. Julian observed: "From my point of view, I felt he was a hypocrite. Dad could talk about peace and love to the world, but that peace and love never came home to me."
He was afraid of his father and was just 17 when Lennon was shot. Almost inevitably, Julian went off the rails. His 19th birthday party was celebrated at the nightclub Stringfellows, where he announced that he was working on an album.
When that emerged, Julian was promoted as John's successor - even though he could hardly hope to measure up to his father's colossal influence, originality or charisma.
The album, on which even his voice sounded hauntingly like his father's, was a success, selling a million copies in America, and the single, Too Late For Goodbyes, was an international hit. The pressure on Julian, though, was immense.
Suddenly he had money. He started to spend a lot of time in Los Angeles and dated a number of eligible women including Brooke Shields and Kylie Minogue.
His next three albums were not so successful and by the end of the 1980s - when Sean was attending a select boarding school in Switzerland - Julian was heading for the buffers.
He felt manipulated by the music industry, became depressed and struggled to control his fondness for alcohol and cocaine.
Drug dealer Rayce Newman counted him as a favoured client. Rayce says that he and Julian would rent a suite at the Mondrian Hotel in LA then stay up for three or four days snorting cocaine. After one such session, says Rayce, Julian went on holiday to Mexico for a month to recover.
He retreated from public view for seven years. A deal in 1996 gave him a percentage of John's royalties and a lump sum which, Julian says, is far less than the £20 million reported, but which nevertheless meant he was financially set for life.
He had homes in Monaco, France, LA and London and would drift from place to place, having holidays with other wealthy and well-connected friends.
Eventually, Julian resurfaced in 1998 with an album called Photograph Smile. It was a modest success - but it was outshone by Sean's first album which came out on the same day.
Julian was sure it wasn't a coincidence and that Yoko was behind the clash - muttering darkly about her spending fortunes to make sure that Sean came out on top.
Sean, like Julian, had never been in much doubt that he wanted to be a musician.
By the time he was in his teens, he had supported his mother's "noise rock" band and started a romance with keyboard player Yuka Honda, a Japanese beauty 15 years his senior - an uncanny echo of his father's romance with Yoko. They composed music together in the bath, said Sean.
His first album reached only No133 in the American charts, but Sean was not put off. He began a degree course at Columbia University then started a three-year romance with Bijou Phillips, daughter of Mamas And Papas star John.
She betrayed him by sleeping with his best friend, Max LeRoy, who later died in a motorbike accident. This was the spur which led Sean to write the album Friendly Fire, with which he is now touring.
"I'm really sad about losing my best friend and I think I'm just one of those people who need to process their emotional lives through art. I think if I hadn't had that outlet, I might have gone insane or killed myself."
He cuts a rather whimsical figure, in his tweedy jackets and neckties. His major influences are cited in the following order: "Mom, Dad, The Beach Boys."
Sean, perhaps through a happy accident of temperament, seems to struggle less than Julian with the shadow cast by Lennon and The Beatles.
He once said: "I've never tried to avoid The Beatles. I can't. It's me. It would be like trying to avoid my left leg. It's an honour and a privilege to be part of his legacy."
Julian must wish he felt that way. He honours his father's memory as a musician, but not as a dad. "As a father, I have no respect for him," says this softly spoken man.
Julian and Lucy are still together, but have no children. Now two years older than his father was when he died, he is once again recording an album, though it may be released just as a download.
Julian's business partner, Patrick Cousins, said: "He keeps a low profile these days and that is deliberate.
"He has been offered the chance to go on reality TV shows such as I'm A Celebrity, but it's not his thing. He is quite happy getting on with life out there. He would rather disappear, frankly."
With his famous name and familiar face, there is little chance of that.