- The Washington Times - Monday, June 15, 2009

LONDON | They were childhood chums. Then they drifted apart, lost touch completely, and only renewed their friendship decades later, when illness struck.

Not so unusual, really.

Except she is Lucy Vodden, the girl who was the inspiration for the Beatles’ 1967 psychedelic classic “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” and he is Julian Lennon, the musician son of the late John Lennon.

They are linked by something that happened more than 40 years ago when Julian Lennon brought home a drawing from school and told his father, “That’s Lucy in the sky with diamonds.”

Just the sort of cute phrase lots of 3- or 4-year-olds produce, but not many have a father like John Lennon, who used it as a springboard for a legendary song that became a centerpiece on the landmark album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”

“Julian got in touch with me out of the blue, when he heard how ill I was, and he said he wanted to do something for me,” said the 46-year-old Miss Vodden, who has lupus, a chronic disease where the immune system attacks the body’s own tissue.

Mr. Lennon, who lives in France, sent his old friend flowers and vouchers she could use to buy plants at a local gardening center, since working in her garden is one of the few activities she is still occasionally well enough to enjoy. More important, he has offered her friendship and a connection to more carefree days. They communicate mostly by text message.

“I wasn’t sure at first how to approach her. I wanted at least to get a note to her,” Mr. Lennon told Associated Press. “Then I heard she had a great love of gardening, and I thought I’d help with something she’s passionate about, and I love gardening too. I wanted to do something to put a smile on her face.”

Miss Vodden admits she enjoys her association with the song, but doesn’t particularly care for it. Perhaps that’s not surprising. It was thought by many at the time, including BBC executives who banned the song, that the classic was a paean to LSD because of the initials in the title. Plus, she and Julian were 4 years old in 1967, the “Summer of Love” when “Sgt. Pepper” was released to worldwide acclaim. She missed the psychedelic era to which the song is indelibly linked.

“I don’t relate to the song, to that type of song,” said Miss Vodden, described as “the girl with kaleidoscope eyes” in the lyrics. “As a teenager, I made the mistake of telling a couple of friends at school that I was the Lucy in the song, and they said, ‘No, it’s not you; my parents said it’s about drugs.’ And I didn’t know what LSD was at the time, so I just kept it quiet, to myself.”

Miss Vodden was diagnosed with lupus about five years ago after suffering other serious health problems. She has been struggling extreme fatigue, joint pain and other ailments.

There’s no doubt the fanciful lyrics and swirling musical effects draw heavily on the LSD experiences that were shaping John Lennon’s artistic output at the time — although many of the musical flourishes were provided by producer George Martin, who was not a drug user.

“The imagery in the song is partly a reflection of John’s drug experiences, and partly his love of ‘Alice in Wonderland,’” said Steve Turner, author of “A Hard Day’s Write,” a book that details the origins of every Beatles song. “At the time it came out, it seemed overtly psychedelic, it sounded like some kind of trip. It was completely new at the time. To me it is very evocative of the period.”

Mr. Turner said his research, including interviews with Ms. Vodden and Julian Lennon, confirm that she is the Lucy in the song. He said it was common for John Lennon to “snatch songs out of thin air” based on a simple phrase he heard on TV or an item he read in the newspapers. In this case, Mr. Turner said, it was the phrase from the son that triggered his father’s imagination.

Veteran music critic Fred Schruers said Julian Lennon reaching out to help Miss Vodden as she fights the disease is particularly moving because of the childlike nature of the song.

“It’s enormously evocative but with a tinge of poignancy,” he said. “It’s the lost childhood Julian had with that little Lucy and the lost innocence we had with the psychedelic era, an innocence we really cherished until it was snatched away.”


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