‘Breaking through any fear and anxiety I used to have’

As the son of a Beatle, Julian Lennon was perhaps destined to go into music, launching his impressive recording career in 1984 with Valotte. That hit album yielded two top 10 singles and went platinum in the U.S., but Julian’s musical journey hasn’t always been easy, so he has often taken off a decade or more between albums to focus on his other passions, including photography, documentary filmmaking, authoring children’s books, and his environmental organization, the White Feather Foundation.

However, with Jude — his first album since 2011 — the 59-year-old singer-songwriter’s career is coming full-circle, as indicated by the comeback LP’s loaded title. “For me, Jude was all about the coming-of-age in many respects, because it was hearkening back to some of the comments and lyrics in ‘Hey Jude,’” he tells Yahoo Entertainment. “It just felt like the right title and the right thing, and owning it. That was a different thing — being ‘Julian,’ being ‘Jules,’ being ‘Jude.’ Who I am. It’s about also breaking through any fear and anxiety I used to have about the Beatles, about Dad, about everything.”

The album’s title is obviously a reference to the Beatles’ epic 1968 ballad “Hey Jude,” which Paul McCartney wrote to comfort Julian when John Lennon was separating from Julian’s mother, Cynthia. Julian was only 5 years old at the time and didn’t grasp the message of the song — which was originally titled “Hey Jules” — until “much later in life, when I was listening to what [McCartney] had written and what he was hoping for me, which is to take the weight off my shoulders of the world and to find love and to be happy in life.” And that’s why the title Jude is “so relevant” now.

“Recently, in 2020, I decided that I was going to change my name, because originally my name was John Lennon — John Charles Julian Lennon,” Julian explains. “And I’d had issues with that, especially at airports and security — not-so-great moments and comments that had gone by because of my name being John, whether people recognized me or not. I decided that in 2020, after going through another learning process in life, that I wanted to become Julian. I was sick and tired of being someone else’s John. And so, I changed my name to Julian Charles John Lennon. … And that was all related to ‘Jude’ and ‘Jules,’ which is my nickname on a daily basis. So, it just made sense to me, and also with what was going on with the Beatles and Get Back and my feelings about that too. It was all intermingled.”

Julian admits that watching Get Back, Peter Jackson’s deep-dive docuseries comprising more than six hours of unseen, often unexpectedly joyful footage originally captured for Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s documentary about the Beatles’ Let It Be album, was “a lot to process.” But, he stresses, “It really reminded me of the way Dad used to be. You know, when we were together, when I was a kid, he was funny, goofy, sarcastic, talented, moody, broody — but fun. And that was all the things that he was to me when we lived together. And it made me fall in love with him again, which was really lovely. It made me appreciate him again, and reminded me of how he was before everything went a bit pear-shaped.”

Julian says he’d already forgiven his once-estranged father — who was murdered in 1980, when Julian was age 17 and just beginning to re-establish a bond with John — “many years ago for the stress that happened in not only in my life, but Mom’s life too. … Certainly we tried to embrace each other’s company and tried to learn about each other again before he passed. And it was enjoyable experience. It was great. And I was longing to hang out with him even more, but you know, sadly what happened, happened. … So, [Get Back] was just a way of remembering who he was and seeing the human side of him again. And that inspired me, and I loved that. So, the idea of that also tied into being ‘Jude’ as well.”

The other full-circle development coinciding with Jude’s released is Julian’s surprising recent performance of “Imagine” this past April at Global Citizen’s Stand Up for Ukraine Social Media Rally, which raised more than 10 billion euros for Ukrainian ais. He confesses he never thought he’d cover his dad’s signature song. “It’s the weirdest thing. It’s been the biggest weight off my shoulder, because I guess I’d always felt that it might come along one day, the idea of me having to do that,” he muses. However, after “watching the horrors of the situation with Russia and Ukraine,” he thought, “’OK, I know what I’ve got to do.’ … It felt like the right time. With everything else that’s been going on around the world, it felt like it was getting close to the end of the world. And I thought this is a time and the place to do this.”

Julian then teamed with Extreme guitarist Nuno Bettencourt, emphasizing that his version had to “be honest. It has to be real. It has to be from the heart. It can’t be a polished version. It has to be raw.” The two simply “ran through it about four times, recorded, and picked out the best bits. … And I heard it back and I was tearful. And it felt like my own, you know? So, I believed in it and I just said, ‘OK, let’s put it out.’”

Julian admits he was worried about how his “Imagine” cover would be received: “I had no idea what kind of reaction I was going to get. I really didn’t. I didn’t know if I was people were going to come down on me or not.” But to his amazement, he says, “I’ve had more respect from doing that than I’ve ever done anything else in my life. People, the way they talk to me, the way they look at me, and the way they treat me now is completely different than before I did ‘Imagine,’ which I was surprised about.”

And that has created a new wave of appreciation that perfectly sets up Jude’s release after Julian’s latest long recording hiatus. “I think what has happened because of ‘Imagine’ is people have been directed to not only the work that’s coming up Jude, but to earlier works as well,” says Julian, who prides himself in being a “serious songsmith” and not “the usual kind of pop artist,” adding with a chuckle: “They just didn’t know about earlier work before, because I still get comments, especially from people in America, that haven’t known that I’ve had five albums in between Valotte and now! It’s like, really?”

Julian is very civic-minded (along with the White Feather Foundation, he has launched the Cynthia Lennon Scholarship for Girls and has been honored with the CC Forum Philanthropy Award and UNESCO Center for Peace 2020 Cross-Cultural and Peace Crafter Award Laureate), but he says he steered clear of overly political topics on the pandemic-inspired Jude, because, “I’m not a politician, nor would I ever want to be.” But it’s not lost on him that the activism and peace-and-love sloganeering of his father’s generation seems to have been erased in a current era even more tumultuous than the 1960s.

“It shocks me every day. I ask this question every day — you know, we’ve been around for thousands of years and we’re still doing the same BS. I just can’t get over this,” Julian laments. “I certainly can do my best, as a creative, to do what I can in all the mediums that I work in, which is what I’ve done. I’ve been building a foundation, a body of work — whether it’s the children’s books, whether it’s the documentaries, whether it’s the photography, or whether it’s the White Feather Foundation. I’ve been doing my bit, that’s for sure. And I will keep doing it, with fingers crossed that someday something’s going to change. … It’s not about shoving things down people’s throats. It’s about starting those conversations in the hopes that there will be change to come.”

As for what Julian’s father would think of the state of the world today, Julian quips, “I think he’d be as pissed-off as I am, really. I think we’d be in the same boat on this one.”

While John Lennon’s legacy of course figures into Jude because of the album’s title, the record is actually more of a tribute to Julian’s beloved other parent, Cynthia Lennon, who died in 2015. Always one to choose sentimental release dates (the above-mentioned “Imagine” benefit single came out on Julian’s 59thbirthday), Jude’s vinyl edition will hit stores on Sept. 10, which is Cynthia’s birthday. “I’m kind of happy about that. It’s kind of special, and it’s significant for me in that respect, emotionally. I mean, calling it Judefor a starter — we were both there then,” Julian notes wistfully, looking back at 1968.

And as for what Cynthia would think of Jude, Julian pauses and smiles faintly before he answers. “I would think she loved it. That’s what I would think she would think. In fact, I would now say that she loves it. I don’t see any other signs that would suggest anything otherwise.”

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— Video produced by Jen Kucsak, edited by Jason Fitzpatrick

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