Lennon resented the fact that his girlfriend Cynthia Powell got pregnant right as Beatlemania was exploding in 1962, but he appreciated how she had always been there for him so he married her (though he took off to Spain with manager Brian Epstein the week Julian was born). He spent a few years with Cyn and Julian when he wasn’t on tour, and wrote Julian the lullaby “Good Night” on The White Album. But soon it became more fun to try to save the world than to be a good parent.
In “Beautiful Boy,” he assures his second son Sean (born 1975) that the monster is gone, replaced by a good father. Reflecting Sean’s half-Asian heritage, Lennon hired a Jamaican steel drummer to play an archetypal Asian melody. The steel drum also spoke of Bermuda, where Lennon had written the song, as do the sound effects of waves that open the track along with a Tibetan wishing bell.
As Lennon tucks Sean in to bed, he reminds him to say a little prayer that every day is getting better. He’d come a long way from 1967, when he sneered in McCartney’s “Getting Better” that it couldn’t get any worse. (Still, even that year his son inspired his art, as Julian’s drawing provided the inspiration for “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds.”)
The journey between the two “getting betters” is the cornerstone of the Lennon myth, in which the anti-hero artist triumphed over his demons to become the healthy father he never had.
In philosopher/historian Joseph Campbell’s theory of myth, the hero journeys into the darkness and brings back a new discovery to benefit society. Elvis reminded repressed white people of the healing power of sexual ecstasy. Brando acted like a realistic slob, thus casting a spotlight on the phony theatricality of the movies and leading the way to greater realism in all the arts.
But while famous artists are given the keys to the culture, many still can’t find the light. Elvis died from drugs on the toilet. Brando seemed lost in his girth and his own family’s psychodramas.
Like his iconic predecessors, Lennon pushed back the boundaries of conformism and free speech, then found himself equally adrift for years.
But like McCartney, Harrison, and Dylan, Lennon ultimately found the Grail to be the basic thing humans have been trying to do since time immemorial: to be a good husband and father, and in so doing remaking their own painful childhood into their child’s carefree youth.
McCartney later counted “Beautiful Boy” as one of his favorite songs by Lennon.