During my radio days, I interviewed a lot of Beatle-related people like Beatles Press Officer Derek Taylor, Beatles author Mark Lewisohn, and two members of the rock group Badfinger who recorded for The Beatles record company, but I never met any of the (former) Beatles. I tried to get a press badge once to meet Ringo Starr backstage at one of his all star band concerts, but was unsuccessful in my efforts (though I was given a free pair of tickets). The closest I ever came to meeting a Beatle was when I met Mike McCartney, Paul McCartney’s brother, who up to that time had been known professionally as Mike McGear. I was a young intern at Boston rock radio station WBCN-FM when McGear came in to be interviewed by popular morning drive DJ Charles Laquidara. Since I was an unpaid intern not in the union, I was not allowed in the broadcast booth, but I quickly snuck in anyway during a commercial break and got his autograph. I knew that would be the closest I would ever get to meeting a Beatle…until recently.
I had the great pleasure and honor of meeting not one, but both of John Lennon’s only sons. On the evening of Record Store Day last month, Sean Lennon held a concert at the College Street Music Hall in New Haven, CT, along with Les Claypool (of Primus), as the Claypool-Lennon Delirium. The following night they performed at The House of Blues in Boston, which would have saved me the 2 ½ hour drive to CT, except the Boston performance had sold out. It was off to CT for me and a budget hotel since I was not about to make the complete round trip in one day.
Having never been to New Haven before, I found it clean, safe, and the venue was literally right around the corner from Yale University. I walked into the Yale entrance and then back out again, just so I could tell everyone I went to Yale. I was able to find metered parking within a 10 minute walk to College Street Music where I had to check in and claim my special wrist band and VIP badge. As I waited in line, I could hear the band performing for the sound check. After picking up my credentials, it was back in line again to wait until the doors officially opened. Hurry up and wait.
As part of the “VIP Experience”, I participated in a live Q & A session with Lennon and Claypool, got their autographs, and got pictures of and with them. To be perfectly honest, I was not very familiar with Sean’s work and knew nothing at all about Les. I found them both to be very easy-going, down-to-earth guys. More than one “F bomb” was dropped during the session, but having read several interviews with them, I was prepared for that. Sean was on the quiet side, so Les did most of the talking. They both have a very healthy sense of humor. I asked Les why he called Sean a “musical mutant” in a recent interview and he responded, “just look at him”, which evoked laughter from the small gathering. Sean became obviously annoyed at the final question having to do with an interview in which he supposedly said he avoided Beatles music. Sean denied ever saying that and admitted he would forever be tied to The Beatles because of his father and there would be no escaping that. He sometimes covers a Beatles song toward the end his shows, so he definitely is not steering clear of the Beatles.
Both men have had their own respected music careers prior to forming a band together a couple of years ago, and Les even has his own California winery. His wife gave free taste samples during the meet and greet. I am no wine expert, but I thought it was delicious. I bought a bottle of his 2018 Pinot Noir “Purple Pachyderm” from his website. As for their music together, it has been described as psychedelic progressive rock. It definitely has elements of Pink Floyd (they performed a cover of Floyd’s Astronomy Domine), The Beatles, King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard, and a pinch of Frank Zappa for good measure. If that sounds like fun, it was. And it was very cool to be right up in the front row of the stage, about 35 feet away from the action. Normally, I am located in the nose-bleed section with binoculars. The floor in front of the stage was jam-packed with people and there was little room for me to move about to try to break up the rigor mortis brought on by my sciatica.
Opening for The Claypool Lennon Delirium was the glam-rock group Uni, whose founder and bass player, Charlotte Kemp Muhl, also happened to be Sean Lennon’s girlfriend of 14 years. I must confess I had never heard of the group before. They put on a good show but it really was not my usual cup of tea. They came on stage wearing the highest platform shoes I had ever seen, dressed in curious outfits.
Less than two weeks later I flew to Ridgewood, NJ to meet John’s eldest son from his first marriage, Julian Lennon. Julian just released a children’s book, Save the Earth, his third in a trilogy of New York Times best sellers. He also founded the White Feather Foundation to support humanitarian and environmental causes. Lennon appeared at Bookends book store to sign books and take pictures with fans. I was not aware of Bookends prior to this event, but evidently, they are the place to go in the Northeast for in-person celebrity autographed books. You would not know it to look at it. It is a very small, nondescript book shop. Yet over the years, Bookends has played host to a virtual who’s who of sports, entertainment, music, and politics. Roger Daltrey of The Who had recently made an appearance there, and Paul Stanley of KISS was appearing the following week to sign his new book. They estimated a turnout of 1,500 people. The event sold out.
I remember buying Julian’s hit debut solo album Valotte in late 1984 and thinking how much he sounded like his father. One baby-boomer in line wore a plastic button on his sweatshirt with a black and white image of a younger Julian with a caption that read “Thanks Valotte”. A gal in front of him spotted it and exclaimed in a New Jersey accent, “that’s sooo cool”. She promptly whipped out her smart phone and proceeded to buy one on eBay for $7.50. The man joked that he would have gladly sold her his for $1. Many folks in line were clutching memorabilia for Julian to autograph…posters, records, photos, artwork, etc. One lady even had a new sheet of John Lennon USPS postage stamps. Unfortunately for them, he was not signing anything other than his book. I was secretly thankful for that because if he had, it would have extended the wait time considerably and my lower back and legs would have none of it.
At one point, the bookstore employee charged with “managing” the line of fans announced to the crowd that Julian had sold 600 books through their store so far, but the store had 300 more in stock, so not to worry if anyone wanted to buy more. The event was supposed to get underway at 6pm, but the line didn’t start to move until after 7, just as the rain slowly began to fall and the temperature began to drop. I had arrived via Uber at 4:45p, but about a dozen people at the front of the long and winding line had arrived as early as 3pm, a few armed with folding chairs and umbrellas. As annoying as it was to have to wait outside in line for so long, I really enjoyed overhearing random pieces of stories by fans about great concerts they had attended and memorabilia they had collected. After more than 2 ½ hours of standing in line, my leg, foot, and sciatica pain was so bad I thought I would have to crawl into the store on my hands and knees. Finally, at 7:22pm, I found myself with Julian Lennon’s arm on my back and mine on his. Wow. I shook his hand and thanked him for devoting time to his fans. It was all over in a flash, but well worth the pain. Later on, it struck me how brave both Sean and Julian were to allow their fans to get up close and personal with them considering what happened to their father.
In the span of less than two weeks I got to hear some great live music and meet both Lennon’s in person. It is something I will always remember. It also reminded me how much of a gift mastering an instrument is, and how blessed we are to be able to enjoy the music.
Peter Skiera lives in southern MA, worked in radio broadcasting throughout New England, and also worked for Cambridge SoundWorks, B&W Loudspeakers, and Tivoli Audio for 15 years before joining Como Audio as V.P. of Product Development in 2016. Peter can be reached directly at firstname.lastname@example.org