Saturday, October 09, 2010

MSC: John, Sean, Julian & Yoko

Back in March i had the opportunity to work on a project with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, his brother Dan, and with Sean Lennon and Charlotte Kemp Muhl of Ghost of the Saber Toothed Tiger . . . and it seems everyone's been in the news this week . . . it would have been John's 70th birthday today, Sean and Julian partnered for some concerts to honor Yoko, and then there was the tragic death of Dan Gordon-Levitt . . . it's been a whirlwind week for me, with trips to College Station and Smithson Valley, and so there's a bit of overwhelmingness going on . . . anyway, here's a coll article from last week . . .

NEW YORK, Oct. 3, 2010

Julian and Sean Lennon Come Together

Having Grown Up Separately in the Shadow of a Beatle, the Half-Brothers Discuss Their Careers and Their Close Bond

  • Sean Lennon, Yoko Ono and Julian Lennon at the opening of an  exhibition of Julian's photographs in New York City.
  • Sean Lennon, Yoko Ono and Julian Lennon at the opening of an exhibition of Julian's photographs in New York City. (CBS)

(CBS) Fans of John Lennon plan to COME TOGETHER at events around the world next Saturday to mark the anniversary of his birth. Hard to believe, but that's the day Lennon would have turned 70. And who would have thought Lennon's two long estranged families would ever come together in peace and harmony. But as Anthony Mason now shows us . . . they have:

In the often-bitter history of the Beatles family . . . it was a surprising moment of unity.

John Lennon's first wife Cynthia and the woman he left her for, Yoko Ono, embracing.

On the eve of what would have been Lennon's 70th birthday, his two wives and their two sons . . . all together now.

Web Exclusive: Watch Extended Interview With Julian Lennon

"That was most curious how that came together," said Julian Lennon. "I did tell everybody that everybody was going to be there - and wasn't quite sure if everybody was going to turn up!" he laughed.

The occasion was the opening of Julian Lennon's first exhibition of photographs.

At 47, John Lennon's first-born son is already 7 years older than his father was when he was killed in 1980.

"If millions of people weren't coming up and asking you about your father's 70th birthday, is it something you would be marking in any way?" Mason asked.

"I'm actually looking at my age and his age, going, Jesus, what happened?" Julian laughed. "You know, time has flown. And now more than ever look back with a great deal of respect for him as a man, and his work, but not necessarily as a father. There's a lot of forgiveness now."

It's been the paradox of Julian Lennon's life that he spent his childhood chasing after his father's love, and the years since running from his father's shadow.

He scored a series of his own hits in the Eighties, but was always being measured against his father's almost mythological image:

But earlier this year Julian suddenly set out in a new direction . . . considering a career as a photographer.

"It's kind of unexpected, isn't it?"

"Listen," Lennon replied, "six months ago, I had no idea."

Urged on by celebrity photographer Timothy White, who admired his work, Julian began to put together a show based around a series of landsacpes and skyscapes:

"It sort of became a bizarre hobby. But I can't help myself for taking pictures of clouds," Lennon said.

"I guess also, the other side of the coin is, Dad wasn't necessarily known for his photography. Not that that's the reason I'm doing this by any means."

"But you don't have to suffer the comparison," Mason said.

"Yes, in that respect. So there's a joy in this and a freedom to this."

But Julian has also tried to hold onto him. For years he has been buying up Beatles memorabilia at auctions around the world.

He's collected the Afghan coat John wore on the set of "Magical Mystery Tour."

"How did you feel about having to do that?" Mason asked.

"Well, I mean, it does suck, doesn't it? But if that's the only way I can get them back, then that's what I'm going to have to do."

"What means the most to you?"

"I guess the postcards," Julian said. "It means that he was thinking about me at a time he wasn't around."

After the divorce, Julian often went years without seeing his father, who later doted on his half-brother Sean:

"When I saw the fact that, you know, he'd basically given up music for a couple of years to look after Sean, you know, that was - it was hurtful. I thought, 'Well, why didn't he do that for me?'

"But then in retrospect, and [seeing] what duress he was under at the time when the Beatles hit, I mean, they hit as big as it got. I started to grasp, Well, he couldn't have stopped. You have to let go and sort of say, Well, I get it. I understand. I really do."

The day before the opening of his photography show, his mother Cynthia arrived from Spain where she now lives:

"We've never seen my son so happy as he is now," she said.

When asked if he was nervous, Julian Lennon said, "Yeah. I do get incredibly anxious. Almost borderline panic attacks."

On opening night at New York's Morrison Hotel Gallery, Julian's show packed the house:

"I think it was more insane than backstage after a gig," he said.

The crowd included George Harrison's first wife, Pattie Boyd.

And then Yoko arrived with Sean.

Julian and his younger brother, who is now 34, grew up in different homes, in different countries, but they're very close:

"Julian is the reason I started playing music, actually," said Sean. "Because when I was a kid I remember when his record came out. And he was, you know, the biggest thing that existed in the world."

"Biggest thing in our family," said Yoko.

For the first time together, they talked about their relationship:

"Actually he taught me how to play guitar," Sean said. "I remember him teaching me the song, 'Faith' by George Michael."

"Oh, jeez," Julian exclaimed.

"But the truth is Julian was like my hero. He still is," said Sean.

The show included photographs Julian had taken of Sean, when he surprised him on tour in Eastern Europe a few years ago.

For two weeks, Julian rode the tour bus with his brother:

"So he was your roadie?" Mason asked.

"I actually became the sort of assistant tour manager for restaurants."

Sean said, "He's much better at organizing than I am."

"Just experience, my dear boy," Julian said. "Just experience."

"You're the organized one! Anyway, it was the most touching thing."

Julian's relationship with Sean's mother has been far more difficult.

For years he fought bitterly with Yoko for a share of his father's estate, before they finally reached a settlement.

"You've had your differences in the past," Mason said. "Forgive me, but you've decided to 'give peace a chance.'"

"Jeez!" Julian said. "It's just not worth the stress. It really isn't. The stresses and the strains. I think the key point to all this, for me at least, has been Sean. If I hurt Sean's mother, then I hurt Sean. It's a roundabout way of thinking about things. But because I love Sean so much, I just don't want to hurt him. I can get over it. Have gotten over it."

"And thank you for doing that," Sean said.

"Thank you for being here tonight," Julian said.

In the end, Julian Lennon's show of photographs produced its own remarkable picture, that of John Lennon's family together.

Imagine that.

Musicians pay tribute to John Lennon and Yoko Ono

The singer’s widow and their son, Sean Lennon, take the Plastic Ono Band on the road with visiting guest artists. The Grammy Museum and others have scheduled events.
By Katherine Tulich, Special to the Los Angeles Times

After a well-received return to the stage in New York this year, Yoko Ono is bringing her “We Are Plastic Ono Band” to L.A. for the first time. “I have never done a show in L.A., so I am very happy to be finally doing it,” Ono says, speaking from her apartment at the Dakota in New York.

Part concert and part tribute show to both Ono and the late John Lennon, who would have turned 70 on Oct. 9, the revived Plastic Ono Band includes Sean Lennon, who also acts as music director, and innovative Japanese artists Yuka Honda and Cornelius, as well as a floating roster of guest artists.

“This new version definitely gives an Eastern twist to the Ono band,” says Lennon amid rehearsals earlier in the week. “Many people are rediscovering my mother’s music, and I think this is an ideal time to do a tribute show bringing different artists together.”

While the New York shows featured original Plastic Ono Band members such as Eric Clapton and performers such as Bette Midler and Paul Simon, the L.A. shows feature an edgier lineup, including Perry Farrell, RZA, Carrie Fisher, Vincent Gallo, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Harper Simon (son of Paul Simon), Haruomi Hosono (founder of Japanese band Yellow Magic Orchestra) and indie hipster Tune-Yards. Iggy Pop, bassist Mike Watt and Nels Cline will guest on Friday night, while Lady Gaga is joined by Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore on Saturday.

“Despite how varied the artists are, they all connect to my mother in some way,” says Lennon. “A hip-hop artist like RZA may seem like an odd choice, but one of the first songs he sampled was a very early recording of my mother’s, while Lady Gaga is also a great fan of my mother’s music.”

Ono plans to perform a mix of songs from her 2009 album, “Between My Head and the Sky,” and more familiar songs from her repertoire such as “Walking on Thin Ice,” while guest artists deliver their versions of her songs. “I tend to pick the songs because I am so familiar with my mother’s catalog, but I’m usually able to find a song to suit anyone’s style,” says Lennon. The finale is a rollicking communal singalong of “Give Peace a Chance.”

The idea to revive the band came from Sean Lennon. “He is the son of the two people in the band, and for him there’s a personal sentiment,” Ono says softly. But was she happy to revisit the past? “I get reminded all the time about John. Every day I get 20 to 30 requests, so when Plastic Ono Band comes up, it’s not really an earthquake for me.”

Ono is relishing the chance to work closely with her son. Comparing his style to his father’s, she notes, “[Sean] is much more finicky. He wants to get everything exactly right.”

“I can be meticulous,” Lennon says with a laugh. “My father came from a different generation. He would say,” breaking into the note-perfect Liverpudlian accent of his father, “‘It’s good enough for rock and roll.’”

While Ono’s discordant howls and wails bewildered fans when the Beatles’ John Lennon assembled the original Plastic Ono Band in 1969, Ono’s contribution to the avant garde and to pop music is now revered. “I sometimes think: Why did it take so long?” says Ono. “But I wasn’t really trying to make people understand it then. I suppose I was being an elitist about it, but now that people are appreciating it, it makes me very happy.”

The downtown concerts will kick off a bumper week of related activities commemorating John Lennon’s birthday. On Sunday evening, Ono will sit down for an intimate interview about her husband and his legacy in the Grammy Museum’s ongoing series, “An Evening With.” The museum will also unveil its new exhibit, “John Lennon, Songwriter,” which will open to the public on Monday. The exhibit was co-curated by Ono and includes many personal artifacts including hand-written song lyrics, original drawings, guitars, a Sgt. Pepper outfit and rare historic footage.

“We wanted to present John in a more focused way than what a normal retrospective would be,” says Robert Santelli, executive director of the Grammy Museum. “This celebrates his genius as one of the greatest songwriters of the 20th century.”

On Monday night, the museum is hosting the West Coast premiere of the documentary film “American Masters: LennonNYC,” with Ono in attendance. The event is for members and invited guests only. The film focuses on their life together in New York and will be broadcast on PBS Nov. 22. Sam Taylor-Wood’s critically acclaimed feature film on Lennon’s troubled childhood, “Nowhere Boy,” also premieres at the Egyptian on Thursday, followed by a concert by the three surviving members of John Lennon’s first band, the Quarrymen.

“It’s a beautiful film and gives you a great understanding of John and how he grew up,” says Ono.

The Egyptian will be hosting a series of rare Lennon and Beatles films all weekend.
On Tuesday, Capitol/EMI will re-release eight of Lennon’s albums, including a newly stripped-down version of 1980′s “Double Fantasy” overseen by Ono (see Sunday’s Times for a rundown on the new discs).

“I have been getting hundreds of requests from all over the world from people planning celebrations of John,” says Ono. “It really feels like a landmark year in so many ways.”

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