SEAN LENNON with JIM NOIR at the Opera House (735 Queen East), Wednesday (December 13), 8 pm. $20. 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
Three days before my sean lennon interview, his publicist tells me I have to agree to a few rules before I get to talk to him.
"You can't ask Sean about his father, his mother or the Beatles."
That same day I read an article in which Lennon comes off as a real jerk after a reporter asks him some questions about his brother, Julian.
When it's my turn to talk to Lennon, I have no idea what to expect. Will it be the calming voice found on his new disc, Friendly Fire? Or the resentful musician pissed that he has to talk about dear old dad yet again? Turns out, it's a bit of both.
"I always reserve a certain degree of cynicism for the process of self-promotion," says Lennon a few minutes into our interview. "There's something inherently humiliating about promoting yourself as a product."
He's made it difficult not to get personal. His new album is about how his girlfriend, actress and model Bijou Phillips, cheated on him with his best friend, Max LeRoy. Before Lennon and LeRoy could reconcile, LeRoy died in a motorcycle accident.
"I've never been closer to anyone than Max," says Lennon, hesitating slightly. "Besides my dad passing away, his death was the worst thing that's ever happened."
Some good did come out of the situation. Lennon finally recorded a follow-up to Into The Sun.
"I was compelled to write this in order to survive the emotional trauma of it all," he says. "It helped me occupy my hands and feet while I would have been otherwise engaged in something less constructive."
Friendly Fire doesn't sugar-coat anything - lyrically, it's pretty heavy. In the first verse of the first song, Dead Meat, the songwriter comes out swinging. "Don't you know you're dead meat? You just messed with the wrong team. Better not try and fall asleep now." And the harsh words continue from there.
Musically, though, the record is one of the sweetest and softest releases to come out this year. The lush harmonies and infectious melodies are swathed in a dreamy pop sensibility. It's not unlike something his pops might have made.
But Lennon's creative therapy didn't end with the music. Every track on Friendly Fire has an accompanying video, which is tied together by the album's theme. Lindsay Lohan, Jordana Brewster, Carrie Fisher and cheating ex-girlfriend Bijou Phillips star.
"It was emotional," says Lennon about working with his former flame. "I thought it would be interesting to have the art marry life and life marry the art. I thought it was cool, and I think she did, too."
His sophomore disc a vast improvement over his previous release. And it should be - he's had eight years to write it. Naturally, I had to ask what took so long.
"I could have made a record a year if I wanted to, but I just didn't want to," he says. "But at a certain point you have to face the music literally and realize if you've spent your life developing a craft, if you don't make a career of it, you've wasted 20 years."
Despite the don't-ask-about-dad rule laid out before this interview, Lennon can't avoid talking about his old man. Now in his 30s, the New Yorker's come to terms with being a member of the Ono-Lennon clan.
"I'm part of this specific family of songwriters, and that's what my life entails," he says. "At this point it's something I'm embracing instead of resisting.
"Part of getting older is realizing that things aren't as bad as you might have thought they were when you were 19," he adds.
And he can't help but offer some insight into how he's been affected by his dad's death.
"No matter what you do, no matter how hard you try, people are never going to understand you," he says at a particularly sombre moment in our conversation.
"This is going to sound really morose, but inevitably we're all alone and the people closest to us are as distant as stars in the galaxy. We're all alone, you know."