Hi there, Paul has said that Hey Jude was a hopeful message to Julian Lennon. I've often wondered if he ever told John the song was about/to his son? and if so, what was his reaction? Thanks, Niall
If Paul ever did tell John explicitly that it was for/about/to Julian, he’s never related it as such to the press, as far as I can recall. It’s certainly possible, although I would contend that a straight discussion about Julian between John and Paul would have been more likely to go wrong than right, what with John being John - i.e. laden with protracted issues of insecurity, possession, and entitlement, which compounded when it came to Paul especially - and harbouring his (not entirely unfounded) suspicions of Julian preferring Paul over him well into the mid-70s, as this early-spring 1975 interview w/ Francis Schoenberger indicates:
SCHOENBERGER: How is it for an 11-year-old boy to have John Lennon as a father?
JOHN: It must be hell.
SCHOENBERGER: Does he talk about that to you?
JOHN: No, because he is a Beatle fan. I mean, what do
you expect? I think he likes Paul better than me… I have the funny
feeling he wishes Paul was his Dad. But unfortunately he got me…
(In a similar vein, insert Paul’s off-the-record emotional outpouring to Hunter Davies after John’s death about John not allowing him to hold baby Sean as applicable here.)
As far as John’s side of things goes, mere months after the release of ‘Hey Jude’ he relates an exchange he had with Paul about the song’s intended subject, with John thinking it was about him, and Paul insisting it was about himself. From John’s Rolling Stone interview w/ Jonathan Cott (November 23rd, 1968):
COTT: In “Hey Jude”, as in one of your first songs, “She Loves You”, you’re singing to someone else and yet, you might as well be singing to yourself. Do you find that as well?
yeah. Well when Paul first sang “Hey Jude” to me – or played me the
little tape he’d made of it – I took it very personally. “Ah, it’s me!” I
said. “It’s me.” He says, “No, it’s me.” I said, “Check,
we’re going through the same bit.” So we all are. Whoever is going
through that bit with us is going through it, that’s the groove.
COTT: Was “Hey Jude” influenced – perhaps unconsciously – by mantras?
it’s nothing conscious – you mean the repeat at the end? I never
thought of that, but it’s all valid, you see. I mean we’d just come back
from India. But I always related it to some early Drifters song or “You’d Better Move On” or Sam Cooke’s “Bring It On Home To Me” or “Send
Me Some Loving” – it has that feeling.
A few years later, John reveals (or at least acknowledges) in his song-by-song commentary for Hit Parader in April 1972 that it was (at least originally) intended for Julian, which could mean either that he’d gleaned it from an interview Paul had done in the interim or had heard it personally from Paul himself, assuming he hadn’t always known to begin with:
Paul. That’s his best song. It started off as a song about my son Julian
because Paul was going to see him. Then he turned it into “Hey Jude”. I
always thought it was about me and Yoko, but he said it was about him
JOHN: ‘Hey Jude’ is Paul’s. It’s one of his masterpieces.
SHEFF: Do you have anything – was that one where he came and said, “Listen to this song”?
JOHN: I don’t think I had anything to do with it. Ask him! [laughs] I don’t feel
as though I had anything to do with it. He said it was written about
Julian, my child. He knew I was splitting with Cyn and leaving Julian,
then, and so he was driving towards [Kenwood] to visit me, or Julian. I
think it was just to see Julian, to just sort of say hi to him, ’cause
he’d been like an uncle, you know – he was always good with kids. And
he’d come up with ‘Hey Jude’.
But I always heard it as a song to me. If you think about it, Yoko’s
just come into the picture – he’s saying, “Hey Jude.” “Hey John.” I
mean, so now I’m sounding like one of those fans who’s writing things
into it, but you can work – you can hear it as a song to me. Although
it’s also a song about him and [Francie] Schwartz at the time, too. Uh,
but you hear “lies a chip on your shoulder” [sic] and all those things,
[which] I always took personally, because I was the one with a chip on
me shoulder. And “go out and get her,” you know, and forget everything
else. So subconsciously I take it that he was saying, “Go ahead.” On a
conscious level, he didn’t want me to go ahead. So subconsciously, he…
The angel in him was saying, “Bless you.” The devil in him didn’t like
it at all. Because he didn’t want to lose his partner.
My candid take on things: At that point in his life and their partnership, John wanted and needed to believe ‘Hey Jude’ was permission writ by Paul to proceed wholeheartedly into his new partnership with Yoko and to make a conclusive break with his old life in order to begin a new one; it would have done his conscience no good at all to consider Paul bereft in the aftermath, and in the more poisonous interpretation of their symbiotic relationship he needed Paul to be the weaker one for himself to be stronger. (Although on a certain level I believe the thought of Paul being in a weaker position in comparison to and directly because of John and what John did was also something alien and so profoundly uncomfortable for John that he could only cope with it by 1) lashing out even more and exacerbating the circumstances, 2) projecting his own guilt upon Paul and other people around him, and/or 3) avoiding it entirely and retreating into denial.)
My decidedly candid take on things: John rather fancied and indeed preferred the idea that Paul’s “masterpiece” and “best song” was about him and not his son, because hey, who was his first/best/only/foremost creative partner and influence? Not Julian, that’s who.
(In any case, I’ll have to go through my Beatles cache again to see if there are any Paul interviews pre-1972 which mention Julian in conjunction with ‘Hey Jude’; I’ll edit this post accordingly if something crops up.)
You know you’re musical theatre trash when Corey Cott says the first show he saw live was Joseph and you shout ‘Me too!’ and then he says he broke the VHS because he watched it so many times and you start crying because ME TOO!