Wednesday, September 12, 2012

An Encounter with Julian in Chicago (of the Almost close kind)

So today I have a fan story about Julian Lennon during the height of his popularity, during the Valotte tour of 1985.  It was written by Kathy Burns and appeared in the June/July 1985 issue of the the Write Thing.

Julian in front of the Ambassador East Hotel, Chicago, April 24, 1985.  Photo by Jean Steinert

No we don't know what the shirt says either.  Photo by Jean Steinert

An Encounter with Julian in Chicago (of the almost close kind).
By Kathy Burns

This is the Reader’s Digest condensed version of what it was like in Chicago on April 24th (1985) when Barb Fenick, Jean Steinert, Debbie Stifter and I spent 24 hours in a return to childhood so-to-speak.

We arrived at our hotel around noon.  Barb was hoping to hear from a friend (also going to the concert), but since there was no message waiting and the friend wasn’t home, Barb left a message on her answering machine and we took off to find lunch.  We returned once again a couple hours later, the message light on the telephone was blinking away.  The message received?  “Try the Ambassador East.  Guess Who.”  Well, we may have been out of touch for the past few years, but we hadn’t forgotten that much that we worried about who “Guess Who” was, instead zeroing right in on the cryptic message.  Past experience told us not to call the Ambassador asking for Julian.  That would be too obvious and, besides, those people are paid to lie.  So in a 3 to 1 decision, Barb was elected to call the hotel and ask if Justin Clayton had checked in yet.  A simple yes or no would have sufficed, but instead she was put on hold.  A moment later those of us in the room heard her say, “Yes, I’m checking to see if Justin Clayton has checked in yet…Oh this is he? Well, we were just checking.”  End of conversation (sorry about that Justin!) and on to the decision making process of what to do with this new-found information.

It didn’t take long to decide that nothing was being achieved in our hotel and that we might as well head toward the ambassador.  Ignoring the old adage about Greeks bearing gifts, it was decided that we’d send up a copy of the last issue of The Write Thing to Julian’s room with a note explain who we were and that we’d wait  in the bar downstairs just in case, you know, he wanted to come down and say “hi” or whatever.  You know.

Once at the hotel, Barb took command and told them at the desk that she wanted the newsletter sent up to Julian Lennon’s room.  “I don’t know that he’s registered here” came back the curt reply from an overpaid employee from behind the desk (see what I mean about them being paid to lie?)  “It’s all right, we just talked to him,” Barb replied and turned away.  (We’ve got too many years behind us to be intimidated.)  And then it was to the bar to wait for that once chance in a million.  One good note about having aged a bit is now you look less conspicuous and can get away with waiting in a hotel bar.  Unheard on in the 60’s when we were only 15.

From the infamous Pump Room we could easily keep an eye on the lobby area though the departure of a band of Walt Disney people and the taping of a PM magazine type program only helped to add to the confusion.  In between trips to the bathroom and the telephone, Debbie and Barb were able to keep us abreast of just how many Valotte tour jackets were congregating in the lobby.

By 4:30 it became obvious that the action was moving out to eh front of the hotel where Julian’s entourage seemed to be waiting for their ride.   So much for the Pump Room, and it’s out to the street where, surprisingly, only two young fans were waiting.   It seemed only a matter of seconds before I looked up to see Julian standing there.  (I swear these people do not walk out door.  They simply appear.  It was the same with McCartney in London but that’s another story.)  The young fans who’d been waiting immediately approached him for an autograph while Debbie had the sense to hurry in for photos.  In a few seconds it took him to step and sign, I realized several things quite vividly 1).  Though there’s a resemblance to John and his mannerisms are similar, he really looked more like Cyn in person.  2). He’s smaller than I imagined.  3). He looked younger than 22 and 4).  The people with him keep a very hard eye on everyone in the vicinity.  That was probably the biggest jolt, though perhaps it shouldn’t have been that surprising all things considered.

We all eventually managed to click a few photographs before he disappeared into his van (the results of which ended up being embarrassingly poor).  There still was no driver, so Barb made an attempt to approach the van and get a few record sleeves autographed only to be told not to bother him just then but to come back after the concert.  OK.  Sounds good to us.  Exit to the Auditorium Theater.
The concert started on time with Simon Drake and Kirin.  The opinion of this magician-mime as an opening act seems to have been pretty unanimous.  He might very well be extremely good, but I, for one, couldn’t make heads or tails out of what he was doing.  And it wasn’t long before the crowd began to turn.  By the time Kirin came out dressed as E.T., the shouts had turned form “We want Julian!” to “E.T. Go home!”  Eventually they took the hint.   As seems apparent with most of the concerts he did, Julian’s audience was divided between the old Beatles fans and the young Julian Lennon addicts.  It was never more apparent than when the lights went down and the screams began.
For some reason I envisioned a Julian Lennon concert being very similar to his videos.  We were a little disappointed that the piano was set back so far as we figured that was where he’s spend most of the time.  Once the lights came up, my eyes immediately went to that area in search of.  But where was he?  And then, suddenly, there he was, flying out from the side stage and for a moment we wondered if it was John Lennon’s son we were seeing or Rod Stewart’s!  He is constant movement.  Through at times the words were lost in the screams, it was still fun to watch him move and marvel at his energy.

His is simply a “fun” concert.  If there were lulls as some critics suggested, they were unnoticed by us.  He is quite simply very, very good.  Given a little more time and experience and he will be great.  And if there was anyone disappointed by his performance, they were no where in our vicinity.
For the young fans, their obvious highlights came when he sang “Valotte.”  For the older fans, it had to have been “Stand by Me.”  I challenged any first generation fan there who didn’t feel a chill hearing him sing that song.  It was, for a moment, like being able to hear John in concert one last time.  On no other song have I heard him sound more like his father.  The encore of “Day Tripper” and “slippin’ and Slidin’” brought the concert to a too sudden end and then it was back to the hotel for us.
The entrance to the Ambassador East was a little different after the concert.  Before the van had returned, there were a good 25 to 30 people waiting around and this time there was a total sense of de ja-vu right down to the fans  breaking up to stand apart in their own little groups.  Shades of Abbey Road in the 60’s!

We all had our little jobs to do.  Jean and Debbie were in charge of taking pictures.  Barb and I would try for the autographed picture sleeves.  As the van rounded the corner, the crowd became more animated and since Barb was better able to move than I was, I suggested she take my picture sleeve and get it autographed with her three.  “Why don’t you take two, and I’ll take two” she suggested instead.  “Never mind” I replied looking up and seeing a flash go by.  “He’s already gone in.”  “WHAT?!”  And that was that.  Before we’d had a chance to even move, he was inside and up the elevator.  Even Paul McCartney has been known to drive around the block a couple times just so you know he’s coming.  Not this kid.  He can move.  Well, disappointed or not, we were just convulsed in laughter.  There’s no longer any way to deny it.  We’re getting old.  The young fans are screaming, “here he comes!” and we just have enough time to look up and say, “there he goes.”  So it was back to the bar to drown our sorrows, laugh in our beer as it was, and to watch.  The rest of the band came down but it was soon obvious there’d be no Julian.  Debbie got up enough nerve to ask Justin Clayton if Julian had received the newsletter (he had) and then it was back to our hotel to rest our weary bones and rehash the entire day’s events.

Thomas Wolfe was right.  You can never go home again.  But every so often it’s worth the try.  We’d do it all over again.  No hesitation.  And if McCartney ever tours again, at least we know we haven’t forgotten the tricks of the trade.  It might even be easier with him.  After all, he’s older now too.


  1. How fun to compare Julian with his dad and the other Beatles, as far as fan interactions go!

    Also, I think his shirt says "You're ugly and your mother dresses you funny."

  2. I met him backstage after the concert. Was very kind, & sign a tour poster to me.

  3. in person he looks like a combination of his dad and mum -his singing voice does sound rather like john