Music Matters
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

All Songs +1: Sean Lennon's Surreal Ode To Michael Jackson's Pet Chimp, Bubbles

Sean Lennon's latest collaboration is with Primus bassist and lead singer Les Claypool. They're calling themselves the Claypool Lennon Delirium, and their new album is a collection of trippy, psychedelic space jams called The Monolith Of Phobos (a reference to a large rock discovered on Phobos, a moon orbiting Mars).

Most of the songs are celestial meditations with surreal lyrics about space exploration or drugs. But one track, "Bubbles Burst," offers a more personal reflection from Lennon about his memories of Michael Jackson's pet chimpanzee, Bubbles. Lennon and Jackson were friends and, as a child in the mid-1980s, Lennon would hang out with Bubbles at Jackson's Neverland ranch.

The song itself is a plainspoken description of how Jackson acquired Bubbles and what it was like living at Neverland. But a new video for "Bubbles Burst" adds an unsettling twist, portraying Jackson as grotesque and demented.

For this week's +1 podcast, I spoke with Lennon about how he came to write "Bubbles Burst" and how he wants people to feel when they see the video. You can see the video and hear the entire conversation using the orange play button above. You can also read edited highlights of the conversation below.

On The Video's Intention

"I think it's important that even if people don't believe me or are angry about the way Michael [Jackson] is portrayed in the video, that the truth is my intention is very sincere and harmless, and I'm just making a song. I'm not trying to take him out or anything, or put him down. I was just trying to have fun and talk about an odd situation in a way that makes it art. It's like a parallel dimension, and it's a dark, comedic manifestation that comes more out of the song and not out of real life. It's like a reflection of a reflection. As a visual poem, I think it represents something real: [Michael] was very lonely and he was weird and had weird interests. And he was in this kind of Peter Pan universe — this bubble he'd created for himself. And there's something dark about that. There's something sad about that."

On Meeting Bubbles

"I met Bubbles at Michael's house. It felt like I was in Charlie And The Chocolate Factory or something going up to that house. There were Model-T Fords driving around and re-creations of old streets. It just felt very surreal and fun. And I think I met [Bubbles] in an arcade. At least I say that in the song. There was a big arcade with video games, and that's where a lot of the people my age liked to hang out. I remember running into Bubbles there. And I'd say we became friends because I wanted to hang out with him a lot. It was just surreal."

On Why He Wrote This Song

"I was telling Les [Claypool] about it, and we were talking about song topics, and it just seemed like it fit in with the theme of trippy narratives that our record has. And I thought it'd be interesting to write about something that actually happened. It just felt right. I think I'd resisted much of my life talking about those kinds of stories, because they just seemed so hard to figure out how to translate them or relate them. And I just thought it was an interesting metaphor for what happened to a lot of Michael's friends who were my age. It felt like there was something odd going on, and I still don't know what it was. Nothing ever happened with me in an illegal way, but the whole place just felt like I was in some Peter Pan fantasy land. And there was a sense that when Bubbles got too old, he'd have to be gotten rid of, because chimpanzees turn into angry adults or dangerous adults. And it just felt like that was something I could relate to in terms of the whole situation out there. Because there was something Michael liked about hanging out with kids, because they're so innocent and fun. Then, when you become an adult, it felt like you were a chimpanzee: too old to play with anymore."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit

Robin Hilton is a producer and co-host of the popular NPR Music show All Songs Considered.