Acrossthebarline

July 23, 2009

Dis-"Imagine"-ation

Filed under: Uncategorized — improviz @ 1:36 AM


The song “Imagine,” by John Lennon has been suggested for the crypt and, kiddo, it’s easy if you try. I [imagine] there are many people who would react to any critique of this song the way Republicans do to flag-burners, Japanese to Mothra and the good citizens of Transylvania to grave-robbing. Just remember, it was common in the 19th century-the only way for medical schools to get cadavers…

So, no one likes to see an assassination, but boy was I surprised at the reaction that Lennon’s got from my friends. How did the man come to be seen as such a saint? I expect John and Mary Q. Public to indulge in the process of transference that makes them conflate the art with the artist. But my own(sophisticated, media-savvy) friends?!!

What ever kernel of human goodness first inspired this impetus to romanticize the artist has long been successfully coopted as just another way to sell product. Mark it down as first cousin to the Nostalgia Industry-the Artist As Romantic Hero Industry. This industry is not only propagated by mainstream media and PR flacks, but also buttressed by The Academy, which sublimates its own cultural hero-worship into doctoral theses purporting to tell us the real meaning of the Halloween movie franchise and Dylan’s religious conversions.

So, to the strictly musical point: what did Lennon contribute after the demise of Lennon-McCartney? The best of it was “Cold Turkey”, “Instant Karma!” maybe “Working Class Hero.” But look at the rest of his output through the cold light of day and tell me what the fate of his songs would have been had they not been written by an ex-Beatle.

The fact is, none of these songs would have made it to the second round of a local song writing contest.

I have less of a problem with an overtly political tune like “Working Class Hero,” or a self-aggrandizing one like “I’m the Greatest,” or a rocker-albeit completely derivative-like “Whatever Gets You Thru the Night.” “Imagine,” though, was written to be anthemic (like the moribund “Give Peace a Chance”) and passed into cooptation with nary a shake nor shiver. It could very easily have been confected by Proctor and Gamble’s flack staff and, in fact, has been used to sell everything from American Express to creationism.

Finally, why can’t lame piano players just say no to the instrument of Chucho Valdez, Bud Powell and Glenn Gould?

History has not done this song any good and the situation will only get worse as time passes. So, help save the world just a little bit. Shake yourself free of your worshipful torpor and join me in tossing this song into the Crypt. I’m not a dreamer and I know I’m not the only one.

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7 Comments »

  1. hi, it's amy here… well, i'm still a dreamer, and i never had any doubt that you weren't one… (you're just WAY too reasonable for that!) but these days my beatle of choice is george harrison. ("run of the mill" is one of my favorite songs) your crypt cracks me up! not only are you just as curmudgeonly as ever, but you may as well shove our entire wedding cd in here! hehee i still love these old songs, just as i still love you, mr. crankypants.

    Comment by ASK — July 24, 2009 @ 9:53 PM

  2. ken here…imagine no curmudgeons…life would be so bland!you make a good point about the re-packaging of the dead star. john certainly had some low points in there between plastic ono and double fantasy; but he was a great talent who used his fame to actually help people and make a difference in the world. the simplicity of the song underscores its 'anthemic' humanist message of acceptance and peace. with his characteristic venom and wit, lennon was hardly a pollyanna. history (seen in the endless stream of war and violence) has never been kind to pacifists; yet that (for me) is the path that will save the world. while i do believe there is a heaven, i still love the song. you think i'll join you tossing it into the crypt? dream on!

    Comment by ASK — July 25, 2009 @ 10:41 PM

  3. thanks for throwing in with the Other Side of Darkness (I know the devil made ya do it).

    Comment by Steve — July 28, 2009 @ 9:02 PM

  4. "Imagine there's no heaven…and no religion too". Some corporate anthem!! John got away with one that time… -Yankeedog

    Comment by Anonymous — August 19, 2009 @ 11:28 AM

  5. 3 cheers for Magical Thinking.

    Comment by Steve — August 19, 2009 @ 3:46 PM

  6. Ah, Steve, 'You made me write this, I didn't want to do it, I didn't want to do it…'Imagine being a fourteen year old isolated gay-teen farm boy in Nebraska, with a future of uncertainty ahead of him trying to fall asleep and hearing this on AM radio! The song/recording literally saved my life. When in history has the veil been lifted, slightly, gently and ever so non-cynically around very deep and ultimately radical ideas? The song is almost perfection — simple but not simplistic; what you might regard as barely competent piano playing to was to me elemental, the burnished essential — and mind you, I was playing piano myself (Chopin, Rachmaninoff,) at a high technical level. There is a reason my baby-grand is painted white — and it's not Liberace.The song/recording to me still stands — always will I Imagine…Fear is a great servant but terrible master… Imagine tells us not to be led by our fear of the unknown; our greatest fear.Mr Ed

    Comment by Edward Meradith — August 19, 2009 @ 7:36 PM

  7. Thank you for writing! No one's personal experience is to be gainsaid by another and certainly my experience with this song is nowhere near as emotionally weighted as yours… Perhaps it might be reasonable to simply acknowledge that it is possible for this chaotic human family to have radically different responses to the same stimulus.

    Comment by Steve — August 19, 2009 @ 9:47 PM


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