Friday, October 08, 2010

Still Trying to Imagine

Today is a big day for Beatles fans – especially the many who leaned toward Mr. Lennon when asked my generation’s most critical question: who is your favorite Beatle. Among other things this is the eve of what would have been John's 70th birthday. It is also the 39th anniversary of the release of ‘Imagine.’
Early this morning I made a simple post on Facebook that reads: ‘On this day in 1971 John Lennon releases Imagine.’ Almost immediately my daughter responded with a question for me: ‘Dad, I thought you didn’t like that song?’ She was recalling a conversation we’d had from years ago when I made a few critical comments about the lyrical content of Lennon’s absurdly successful (brilliantly simple) song.
Frankly, it is impossible for me to dislike Imagine and so what if I do? Who cares? But since my stubbornness about and momentary distaste for this song has been published on FB I feel I should explain. I know that my initial discomfort with Mr. Lennon’s words had to do with their distinct and unquestionable dismissal of religion (Imagine there’s no heaven; no hell below us; and no religion, too.) There is a clear socialist, even Marxist expression in some lines (Imagine no possessions; Imagine all the people sharing all the world.) Anarchy is also present (Imagine there’s no countries.) Now, I have little doubt that the humble Mr. Lennon had innocence in his heart when he parlayed these thoughts and verses into an icon of popular music. I doubt that he intended to tear down all things sacred, become a socialist dictator or annihilate our system of global government when he placed paper to pen and fingers to ebony or ivory. Nonetheless, Imagine troubled me at a visceral level. Even though political expression had certainly found its way into the pop music of the era, I felt this tune and its composer possessed a power of influence over my generation unlike any song or recording that preceded it.
Still, there was another underlying reason for my ambivalence toward Imagine. It lacked the musical fire, imaginative chord progressions and wonderfully tight rock melodies of Lennon’s prior work with The Beatles. (Imagine this: ‘When I was young, oh so much younger than today – I never needed anybody’s help in any way.’) I surely don’t begrudge any artist their right to explore and expand but Imagine caused me to mourn for the Lennon of old. Not fair, of course, but very true.
Finally, we must all face the sad and mighty truth that none of Mr. Lennon’s tangible desires outlined in this song – whether we embrace them or reject them – have been realized. (‘Nothing to kill or die for; Imagine all the people living life in peace; no need for greed or hunger.’) What a silly and wonderful dreamer he was. I really miss him. I hope someday I’ll join him - in heaven.


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