While we were down on the waterfront today, Sarah and I went to see White Feather: The Spirit of Lennon, an exhibition at the new branch of the Beatles Story museum located in the new ferry terminal building at Pier Head.
The exhibition was launched in June by John Lennon’s first wife, Cynthia, and their son, Julian and features possessions and images of the Lennons’ family life. It’s an honest and intimate account of their life together, revealing their experience of John as less than perfect husband and father.
“Growing up as John Lennon’s son has been a rocky path. He was a great talent, a remarkable man who stood for love and peace in the world, but to me he was the father I loved and longed for in his many absences. Mum was his first love, she was the one who held us together through it all”.
From the outset it feels as if Julian and Cynthia are talking directly to you and the sense of being invited to explore their personal possessions and experiences is heightened by the short video clips at the beginning (in which Julian expalins the significance of the white feather)and at the end of the exhibition, when Julian and Cynthia thank you for visiting the exhibition and sharing their story, Cynthia warns us to ‘behave’ and Julian reminds us to ‘love your mum’.
“For ten years I shared my life with a man who became a legend in his lifetime. When the Beatles formed and went on to delight and astound the world, I was at John’s side, sharing the highs and lows of his public and private lives. It was a time when he was at his creative best, a time when he loved his family and The Beatles.
John was an extraordinary man – infuriating, lovable, sometimes cruel, witty, talented and needy. I have always loved him and never stopped grieving for him. That’s why I want to tell the story of the John I knew. He believed in the truth and would want nothing less.”
The memorabilia on display includes childhood drawings by Julian (though not the one that inspired Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds), postcards sent by John to Cynthia or Julian and the guitars that John gave to Julian.
Paul McCartney with a young Julian Lennon
The central section of the exhibition tells the story of how Paul McCartney came to write Hey Jude for Julian. Originally titled ‘Hey Jules’, McCartney wrote the song in 1968 in an attempt to comfort Julian, during John and Cynthia’s divorce, following John’s affair with Yoko Ono. Cynthia recalled, “I was truly surprised when, one afternoon, Paul arrived on his own. I was touched by his obvious concern for our welfare…. On the journey down he composed ‘Hey Jude’ in the car. I will never forget Paul’s gesture of care and concern in coming to see us.”
About the original title of the song, Paul McCartney said, “I started with the idea ‘Hey Jules’, which was Julian, don’t make it bad, take a sad song and make it better. Hey, try and deal with this terrible thing. I knew it was not going to be easy for him. I always feel sorry for kids in divorces … I had the idea [for the song] by the time I got there. I changed it to ‘Jude’ because I thought that sounded a bit better.”
It would be almost twenty years after McCartney wrote the song that Julian would discover that it had been written for him. He remembered being closer to McCartney than to his own father: “Paul and I used to hang about quite a bit—more than Dad and I did. We had a great friendship going and there seems to be far more pictures of me and Paul playing together at that age than there are pictures of me and my dad.”
Julian and Cynthia Lennon open White Feather: The Spirit of Lennon
Julian explains the meaning of the white feather:
“One thing Dad said to me should he pass away, if there was any way of letting me know he was going to be ok the message would come to me in the form of a white feather. Then something happened to me about ten years ago when I was on tour in Australia. I was presented with a white feather by an Aboriginal tribal elder, which definitely took my breath away. One thing for sure is that the white feather always represented peace to me.”
The White Feather Foundation is the name of a charity currently being set up by the pair, focusing on environmental and humanitarian issues. The closing video provides details of projects funded by the Foundation, including support for indigenous groups whose traditional culture and way of life is threatened with extinction.