Julian Lennon has revealed how he has been “driven up the wall” by the Beatles song “Hey Jude”, saying of the classic track: “it’s something that’ll always be dark to me.”
The eldest son of John Lennon and first wife Cynthia, Julian was the inspiration for the song, written by Paul McCartney in 1968 after the breakup of John and Cynthia’s marriage and Lennon’s subsequent relationship with Yoko Ono.
Speaking in 1997, McCartney explained: “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.”
Now Julian Lennon has told Esquire magazine: “It’s a beautiful sentiment, no question about that, and I’m very thankful – but I’ve also been driven up the wall by it.
“I love the fact that he wrote a song about me and for Mum, but depending on what side of the bed one woke up on, and where you’re hearing it, it can be a good or a slightly frustrating thing.”
After the split from Cynthia, John Lennon went on to have another son, Sean, with Yoko Ono, and Julian has previously admitted to having a strained relationship with his father, saying in 2015: "Dad could talk about peace and love out loud to the world but he could never show it to the people who supposedly meant the most to him: his wife and son. How can you talk about peace and love and have a family in bits and pieces—no communication, adultery, divorce? You can't do it, not if you're being true and honest with yourself."
After John Lennon’s murder in 1980, Julian says that “Hey Jude” took on an even more poignant significance.
“The weird thing with the audience is they think it’s cute sometimes, quoting ‘Hey Jude’ to me, but I don’t think they realize there’s a lot of pain behind what happened,” he told the magazine. “Every time you quote that, it reminds me of my mother being separated from my father, the love that was lost, the fact that I rarely saw my father again ever.
“I saw him maybe a couple of times before he died. A lot of people don’t quite get how intense, how emotional, and how personal that is. It’s not just a ‘pick yourself up and dust yourself off and be happy’. There’s deep emotional pain. I can celebrate it – but also it’s something that’ll always be dark to me.”
It is not the first time Julian – who enjoyed success as a singer himself before building a career as a photographer – has spoken about his “love-hate” relationship with “Hey Jude”. Speaking in September 2023 on the Club Random With Bill Maher podcast, he revealed:
“I have a love-hate [relationship] with it, I have to say. I’m thankful for the song without question. But… people don’t really understand that [the track is] 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 three, but I recognized that something was up, you know?”
As well as “Hey Jude”, Julian was also the inspiration for the 1967 Beatles song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”, after showing his father a watercolor painting he had made of nursery school friend Lucy O’Donnell.
After Cynthia Lennon’s death in 2015, Julian described his mother as “the be-all and end-all of life for me, and [“Hey Jude”] was about looking after her.”