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Julian Lennon ambivalent on ‘Hey Jude’

By Emily St. Martin, Los Angeles Times
Published: September 28, 2023, 6:09am

For Julian Lennon, the sad song written for him by Paul McCartney did not make it better.

The musician, photographer and son of late Beatles icon John Lennon sat down with talk show host and self-proclaimed “Beatlephile” Bill Maher for a recent episode of Club Random Podcast, and he revealed mixed feelings over the Fab Four’s hit “Hey Jude.”

During the podcast appearance, Lennon revealed that he was thinking of writing a memoir about his life. Maher then prompted the subject of “Hey Jude” by suggesting that in the film adaption of his life story they start with the “hook” of McCartney driving to see a young Julian in the wake of his parents’ divorce. Lennon didn’t seem to get such a kick out of the proposed scene, having lived it himself.

“I have a love-hate (relationship) with it, I have to say,” Lennon explained. “I’ve probably heard that song and heard renditions of it more than most people alive. And even my dear friends send me babies in nappies playing guitars [and] singing, ‘Hey Jude’, which I really don’t need.”

Lennon continued that he was thankful for the well-intentioned song, “but the other real thing is that people don’t really understand that it’s a stark and dark reminder of actually what happened.”

“The fact that Dad walked out, walked away — left Mum and I. That was a point of complete change and complete disruption and complete darkness and sadness. I mean, I was only 3, but I recognized that something was up, you know? But for Mum, it was heartbreaking. So it’s a reminder of that time and that place. So I get both sides of it, but a lot of people don’t necessarily understand there’s a dark, yin and yang of that song.”

The Beatles’ biggest U.S. single was released in 1968. McCartney wrote “Hey Jude,” originally “Hey Jules,” in the summer of 1968, singing the words to himself in the car as he drove to visit Julian and his mother, Cynthia Lennon, in the midst of a messy split that involved a certain Yoko Ono.

McCartney recalled that the lyrics were meant to be “a hopeful message for Julian: “Come on, man, your parents got divorced. I know you’re not happy, but you’ll be OK.”

Last September, Lennon released his seventh studio album, “Jude,” as a way of taking ownership of the name. He told iHeartRadio at the time that he really did want to take the sad song and make it better, a nod to one of McCartney’s lyrics in the original ‘68 hit. While speaking with the outlet, he spoke of his mother — who died in 2015 — as “the be-all and end-all of life for me, and everything I do is about making her proud at the end of the day.”