Son of a Beatle

by Brian on April 12, 2007

in In the News

I never got a chance to see the Beatles perform live. I was only five when the Fab Four first hit America where I grew up and my parents had raised me on a strict diet of classical music. I didn’t even get my first transistor radio until 1970, by which time the Beatles had broken up already. All through the ensuing decade I prayed for a Beatles reunion, but with the assassination of John Lennon in 1980, and the later death of George Harrison in 2001, those dreams have been forever dashed.

So when Sean Lennon performed in Tel Aviv recently, I figured this might be closest I’d ever get to the ultimate rock and roll royalty.

Sean Lennon is the second (and less prolific) of John Lennon’s two sons. Big brother Julian, whose mother was John’s first wife Cynthia, has been recording music since the mid-1980s. John and Yoko Ono’s only son, the now 31-year-old Sean, on the other hand, has been bouncing around playing in little known indie bands in New York for most of the last 10 years and has only recorded two CDs under his own name – Into the Sun in 1998 and last year’s Friendly Fire.

That didn’t seem to faze the multi-generational crowd at Hangar 11 in Tel Aviv who came out in the thousands, as much to see what a Beatle son looked like as to hear his unique sound which undulates between Revolver-era sunny Beatles pop and the modern indie influence of Elliot Smith and Rufus Wainwright. To get an idea of the younger Lennon’s sound, think of the Beatles’ 1966 classic “I’m Only Sleeping.”

My own reasons for attending were probably somewhere in the middle. I’d heard some of Sean’s music and I thought he had a cool psychedelic jangly sound. But I can’t hide the fact I was also there to be in the presence of a Beatle family member and maybe to hear some Beatles songs too.

Sean Lennon didn’t play any Beatles in his Tel Aviv concert (though he did joke that his father hated Paul McCartney’s classic “Yesterday.”) But he made up for it with a goofy almost new-age personality. “It’s wonderful to have so many new friends,” he sputtered joyfully to a hall full of complete strangers before launching into his indie “hits” “Dead Meat” and “Parachute,” both of which have received a fair amount of airplay on local Israeli radio stations.

My love affair with the Beatles started out like a teenage girl’s…without the wanting to rip off my clothes for John and Paul bit. I listened non-stop to the frequent “Beatles A-Z” specials early 1970s rock radio would play every few months, taping as many songs as I could and meticulously writing down the results. There isn’t a Beatles song I can’t sing; I’ve often thought that if only I could have learned Hebrew as well as I know the Beatles’ songs by heart, I’d be a better Jew today.

Lennon seemed truly delighted to be in Israel, despite some initial hesitation about coming to the Holy Land (“Have you seen what they’re saying on CNN these days?” he prodded the audience). He seemed surprised to have a following here (“I didn’t know anyone even knew me in Tel Aviv”). And he was at a loss for words to describe an early morning visit to Jerusalem and the Western Wall, a tidbit that got even the typically cynical Tel Aviv crowd roaring its approval.

Perhaps that’s what made Lennon’s appearance in Israel so special. While on a personal note, it was a trip to be in the presence of a performer who looks and sounds so much like his famous father, to hear a Beatle gush about my home…well, that’s a validation 40 years in the making…literally.

In 1964, an Israeli rock promoter approached the Beatles Jewish manager, Brian Epstein, and persuaded him to bring the Beatles to Israel. But the young country was short of foreign currency at the time and required a ministerial committee’s approval to release those rare dollars. The committee nixed the plans before the Beatles could say yeah, yeah, yeah, claiming the band “didn’t stand on a high cultural and artistic level and had a bad influence on Israeli youth.”

The Beatles never made it, but now we’ve had Sean. And his visit was more than just a skip down memory lane. It’s one more sign that, despite how the media portrays Israel, this country can still stake its claim as a “normal” place – in this case one that loves psychedelic jangly indie pop as much as anywhere else in the world – and where, after 40 years, I finally got to see a Beatle.

A shorter version of this article appeared in the April 16, 2007 issue of The Jerusalem Report.

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