The Family Tree Grows Into the Sun.
In the 60’s, while my dad was teaching typing at a small school in rural Iowa, Sean Lennon’s dad was selling a gazillion records a year, completely changing the world. That puts the whole “my dad could beat up your dad” adage we used to throw around on the playground in to realms I’d rather not contemplate. It’s just too weird! I mean, obviously John Lennon would have a kid, and obviously, that kid would grow up to be his own person, but is it really that person on the other end of the line plunking away at his keyboard?
Apparently so. This was him; Sean, who I felt such sadness for after his father’s death. Sean, the inspiration for “Beautiful Boy.” Sean, for whom John took five years off from his recording career to raise. Oh yeah, and Sean in the ultra-cool band Cibo Matto. It’s that Sean on the other end of the line, tickling at his keyboards waiting for me to compose myself.
I’m not in hysterics. I’m not in awe or anything like that. The situation just has me a bit perplexed. I had been looking forward to the interview for weeks and carefully preparing questions, but on the day we were supposed to talk, the times kept getting bumped around until finally I assumed we weren’t going to do it. I was on my way out the door to another appointment when Sean’s publicist called to tell me they could do the interview that afternoon, right there, right then.
My interview questions were in my briefcase out in the car, but I figured it would be all right. Most people… you get `em talking and interviews are easy. Well, this wasn’t the case with Sean. He was very quiet, very shy. A bit presumptuous and stand-offish. Answers came in short bursts followed by long silent spaces. Obviously, he was very bored spending the day sitting in his room plunking around on his keyboard listening to the same stupid questions over and over again.
You can’t blame him for being shy and quiet. Imagine growing up with everyone looking at you. Everyone knowing intimate details about you and your family. Everyone interested in you because of something your father did. Then imagine the lack of trust you would have in the general population after you lost your father the way Sean lost his.
You can understand this.
Still, the public still wants to know. Beatles songs are up there with Dr. Seuss books and Gilligan’s Island episodes in the breadth of impact they have had in each of our lives, and they’re with William Shakespeare and Mozart in the depth of the impact they’ve had. We all have our memories about the Beatles, about John Lennon. We’ve all been inspired and we all have questions – questions that etiquette, decency, and respect for privacy prevent us from asking: What was it like to have John Lennon read you bedtime stories? Did he ever make things up or pretend he was a monster and chase you around the house? What was it like that cold night in December when you (and the rest of us) lost him forever?
Those are the questions you want to ask, those are the things people want to know about. John Lennon has had an impact on a lot of people’s lives, he means a lot to people. You can understand this, too.
But you don’t talk about it. Sean’s got his own life to talk about. He’s got a new album out, and you focus on that. You talk about Cibo Matto, his friendship with the Beastie Boys, his relationship with Yuka Honda, playing in his mom’s band IMA, the reputation he has as a musician, and what’s it like to hang out with X, Beck, Lenny Kravitz, Sonic Youth, or any of the other guys he’s crossed paths with. You talk about those things and you ask how are the T-shirt sales going.
So Sean answers those questions. Sort of. He doesn’t really elaborate much.
Sean’s new solo album, Into the Sun, takes some getting used to. The music is all there, it’s solid, it’s interesting, but the singing leaves a lot to be desired. Kind of an airy, wispy, nasal. “People don’t really get my record,” Sean says, which is ok. They didn’t really get Yoko’s records either.
O.K., so it’s easy to poke a little fun at Sean. People are going to do it, and it’s going to sound mean spirited when they do if he doesn’t realize that music journalists, just like anyone else, need to find inspiration. We also need to find tacky puns, stupid jokes, and references to body parts, other bands, or famous family members. I think Sean can handle it. He said both Julian and Bob Dylan’s son Jakob have told him to ignore the press. Probably a good idea. A better idea would be just to laugh things off and realize he wouldn’t be getting the press he’s getting if it wasn’t for his father. It’s harsh, but it’s true.
Sean should also realize that people are pulling for him. They want to see him do well.
“There’s a small group of people out there right now like Beck, or the Beasties, or Cibo Matto that are making music that is pure, new, and honest, and I want to be part of that group,” Lennon says. When you listen to his long list of influences, hear the flashes of brilliance on his record, and see how much music matters to him, you can’t help but think he’ll be around in some way shape or form.