Keeps From Going Mad With A Little Help From a Friend: Music
In This Vintage PCC Interview, Lennon Discusses Living A Meaningful Life
And the Healing Power of Art
By Paul Freeman [2007 Interview]
We interviewed Sean Lennon upon the 2007 release of his “Friendly Fire” album. Since then, Lennon has been involved in the creation of many diverse, adventurous and imaginative projects. In addition to solo works, he has been involved in collaborations with Cibo Matto, Albert Hammond Jr., his mother - Yoko Ono, Mystical Weapons, The Ghose of A Saber Tooth Tiger (GOASTT, his duo with Charlotte Kemp Muhl) and The Claypool Lennon Delirium’s “Monolith of Phobos” album (a teaming with Les Claypool). Lennon’s film scores include the indie “Alter Egos.” For more about Sean Lennon, visit www.seanonolennon.com.
For Sean Lennon, music is a necessity.
“It’s like dreaming at night helps your brain not go crazy,” the contemplative artist told Pop Culture Classics. “For me, music is like a beautiful dream world that is like a savior on some level. Psychologically, it’s healing. It’s like kids need to draw and paint and daydream. I need to do the same thing in order to feel sane.”
His new CD, “Friendly Fire,” demonstrates that’s Lennon’s healing process has resulted in brilliantly conceived and realized music. He waited eight years between his first album and this one.
“Anytime I do anything, it will hopefully express an evolution that has taken place,” Lennon said. “I don’t want to be moving backwards.”
Lennon has established his sense of musicality. “What I’m trying to do is find the song. I’m focused on the note, the word the sound. I’m not thinking of the context of my life or the existential representation of me - this abstraction of who I am as an artist. I don’t think in those sorts of vague terms. I’m just thinking about how I can make the architecture of this song right.”
Lennon also produced the album, exploring a myriad of nuances and layers. “To me, half the joy of recording is paying attention to texture and balance and the overall palette of colors.”
“Friendly Fire” comes with a companion DVD, a collection of inventive videos produced by his mother, Yoko Ono, featuring many of Lennon’s friends, such as Lindsay Lohan, Bijou Phillips and Carrie Fisher.
When he’s composing music, Lennon often feels as if he’s scoring imaginary movies. “I’m a very visual person and I draw all the time,” he said. “I’m obsessed with films, as well as music. I always have a lot of ideas for films in my head.”
From his mother, Lennon learned that art is conceptual. “I always felt that if I wanted to be an artist, that didn’t mean I had to choose one medium. As long as I had something to say, I could make a painting about it or sing about it or draw about it or dance about it, and it would be the same thing, as long as the concept was there.
“The reason I want to write a song is the same reason I want to draw something. I’m compelled to take the subconscious world and manifest it somehow, materialize it. It’s all just interacting with the subconscious mind and trying to be creative. That’s just what I enjoy doing, regardless of the media I’m working in.”
The concept of art as fantasy fascinates Lennon. “Some of the best art theory I’ve ever read talks about how art is a lie or an illusion. It’s like a very beautiful magic trick. I love music’s intrigue and interaction with the listener. It gives you the feeling that it’s going to take you somewhere, then it surprises you, deceives you and takes you somewhere else. The trickery, the illusion of painting, film, music, is what attracts me to it,” he said.
“I try to create fantasies out of life. In film, the narratives need illusion and deception in order to make a good story. But the feelings they evoke and the experience they give you are real.”
He finds “Star Wars” to be a perfect example. “You watch Luke’s story and he goes through this hero’s journey and you’re deceived and tricked and surprised. But at the end of it, you have a very real experience of something meaningful through that illusion.”
In “Friendly Fire,” Lennon creates illusion while drawing on real-life themes of betrayal and shattered love. “It came out of experiences with an ex-girlfriend and best friend. We had a love triangle that went badly,” he said, “which was the basis for the narrative of the record’s lyrics.”
The creative process helped Lennon deal with the anguish of the breakup. “I didn’t solve anything or find closure through the making of the record. I’m still very much feeling the sadness of it all. But making art allows you to cope, to stay afloat on the sea of life,” he said. “Music is the best thing I’ve come up with for living a meaningful life.”
Creation involves pain, as well as joy, according to Lennon. “Art is always torturous,” he said, “But I think the most beautiful things are torturous… like being in love or being healthy or having a friendship. It’s like climbing a mountain. If you want to get to the peak, you have to suffer. Everything that’s worthwhile is difficult and takes a certain amount of suffering.”
But as much as Lennon lives the life of an artist, he is not entirely certain it’s what he was born to be. “I don’t believe in fate, necessarily. It doesn’t make sense to me that things are predestined, because that would imply that we don’t have choice. I believe that we live in a deterministic universe where we make choices.
“But there wasn’t any point in time, when I can remember choosing to play music. I just always remember playing music.”
He absorbed wondrous ideas from his avant-garde artist mother and his father John, one of the most revered and influential figures in rock history. “I’m making art as a sort of continuation of what they taught me, what I witnessed as a child,” Lennon said. “My whole relationship to the world is defined by my parents. But I think that’s true of everybody.”
Because of the accomplishments of his parents and half-brother Julian, Lennon found himself under the public’s microscope. “To some degree, people’s expectations of me inspired me to work very hard. I definitely didn’t think I could get away with a half-assed job,” he said.
“On the other hand, I try not to live in terms of other people. It’s difficult not to care what other people think. But theoretically, it would be nice not to be reactionary, to just do things for yourself, what you think is true to you.”
Lennon doesn’t feel a compulsion to achieve Beatle-like popularity. “My goal isn’t to have the whole world sing along to my songs. If they did, it would be nice, but that’s not my ambition. If a handful of people experience what I do - enough to sustain a career - that would make me really satisfied.”