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Hey Jude and the Enduring Legacy of John Lennon


This week would have been John Lennon’s 70th birthday. John’s sons, Julian Lennon, who inspired Paul McCartney to write “Hey Jude,” Sean Lennon, widow Yoko Ono, and former wife Cynthia Lennon, recently came together in New York to celebrate one of the famous rock star’s most enduring legacies: the artistic expressions of his son.

by Todd McFliker

The Beatles’ John Lennon would have celebrated his 70th birthday this week. On December 9, 1980, the day after he died after being shot as he and his wife, Yoko Ono, entered their New York apartment building, Ono announced there would be no funeral for John.

“John loved and prayed for the human race. Please pray the same for him,” she asked.

Thirty years later, Lennon’s loving and peaceful spirit continues to touch the world. Recently Yoko Ono, former wife, Cynthia, and Lennon’s sons, Julian and Sean, looked past their personal differences to unite in support of Julian’s photo exhibit in the Big Apple.  Julian’s new work includes pictures of Kate Hudson, U2 and some scenic landscapes.  Some kids are just born with true artistic talent in their blood when Daddy is a Rock Star.


Cynthia and Julian Lennon at Kenwood in 1968
Cynthia and Julian Lennon at Kenwood in 1968


In 1968, shortly after Lennon and Cynthia separated due to Lennon’s rampant infidelity and an affair with Ono, Paul McCartney drove out to visit Cynthia and five-year-old Julian at their home in Kenwood. On the drive, searching for a way to console young Julian, McCartney penned the words to “Hey Jude.”

“I started with the idea ‘Hey Jules’, which was Julian, don’t make it bad, take a sad song and make it better. Hey, try and deal with this terrible thing. I knew it was not going to be easy for him. I always feel sorry for kids in divorces … I had the idea [for the song] by the time I got there. I changed it to ‘Jude’ because I thought that sounded a bit better,” McCartney revealed in an interview many years later.

It was nearly 20 years later before Julian Lennon discovered the song had been written for him.

“Paul and I used to hang about quite a bit—more than Dad and I did. We had a great friendship going and there seems to be far more pictures of me and Paul playing together at that age than there are pictures of me and my dad,” Julian said.

At 47, Julian is today well known as an artist in his own right. Yet his inspiration of what is likely the most popular song in history written to comfort a child of divorce may well be his most significant impact.

Julian is the only child of Lennon’s first marriage to Cynthia. During his childhood, Lennon kept Julian a secret from the public eye and did not take an active part in his son’s upbringing.

Lennon bought Julian his first drum machine and a Gibson Les Paul guitar for Christmas in 1973.  At age 11, he played drums on John’s Walls and Bridges album in the song “Ya-Ya” and went on to have a successful career.  In 1985, the number “Too Late For Goodbyes” from his Valotte album earned Julian a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist.  In the Nineties, Julian hung up the mic to concentrate on artistic endeavors. Besides recording a new album, Everything Changes, scheduled for release early next year, Julian has been trying his hand as a painter.

While Julian has achieved wide recognition as a performer, his focus on other forms of artistic expression is an opportunity to differentiate himself from his father.

“My dad wasn’t a photographer… this is my own thing,” the 47-year old musician and songwriter explained to Rolling Stone.  “The process of doing photos is a lot smoother than the road I’ve had with music.”

While Julian grew up distant from his famous father, he has become extremely close to his half-brother, Sean.  Lennon’s two sons reportedly bonded with each other during a 2007 tour.  They have become close, despite the very different experiences they had with their father. “The truth is Julian was like my hero.  He still is,” Sean told CNN.

Sean Tara Ono Lennon was born in New York City on his Father’s 35th birthday, October 9th, 1975.  Overcompensating for keeping Julian under wraps, John took time off work to focus on fatherhood and flaunt his second son.  Serving as the inspiration for “Beautiful Boy,” Sean was John’s pride and joy.  In the next twenty years, the young man worked continuously with pop stars like his mother, Michael Jackson, Lenny Kravitz and Cibo Matto.  Thanks to Sean’s solo debut, 1998’s Into the Sun, he continued working with industry leaders.

Besides earning MTV airplay for the single, “Home,” Sean went on to enjoy appearances on Howard Stern, David Letterman, Conan O’Brien and The Sharon Osbourne Show.  Sean and Yoko continue to be ambassadors for every aspect of their family’s work.

Ten years after her divorce from John Lennon, Cynthia published her personal memoirs in A Twist of Lennon in 1978, as well as John in 2002.  Four years later, Cynthia made her first public appearance with Ono at Cirque du Soleil’s Beatles Love.

Thirty years after his death, it is encouraging to see John Lennon’s sons and wives coming together on behalf of causes that matter to the family.

Next week’s blog will focus on the children of Bob Marley.  The next generation of reggae stars embarks on global treks to keep the legend’s spirit and peaceful messages alive.

Beatles Hey Jude Lyrics

Songwriters: McCartney, Paul; Lennon, John

Hey Jude don’t make it bad
Take a sad song and make it better
Remember to let her into your heart
Then you can start to make it better

Hey Jude don’t be afraid
You were made to go out and get her
The minute you let her under your skin
Then you begin to make it better

And any time you feel the pain, Hey Jude, refrain
Don’t carry the world upon your shoulders
For well you know that it’s a fool who plays it cool
By making his world a little colder
Da da da da da
da da da da

Hey Jude don’t let me down
You have found her now go and get her
Remember to let her into your heart
Then you can start to make it better

So let it out and let it in
Hey Jude begin
You’re waiting for someone to perform with
And don’t you know that it’s just you
Hey Jude you’ll do
The movement you need is on your shoulder

Da da da da da
da da da da Yeah

Hey Jude don’t make it bad
Take a sad song and make it better
Remember to let her under your skin
Then you’ll begin to make it better
Better, better, better, better, better, Yeah,Yeah,Yeah