Monday, 13 November 2006

‘imagine is not about peace but oblivion’

Fan of the Beatles and solo Beatles as I am, I thought this item in the January 2006 issue of Word magazine by Andrew Harrison about Imagine (headed The Worst Song Ever, in a feature on The Worst Of Everything) hit the nail on the head in many ways:


Imagine is so routinely and unthinkingly acclaimed that it’s become one of rock’s sacred artefacts. Official anthem of Amnesty International. Top of C4’s 1000 Best Singles. Rolling Stone’s third-best single of all time. Sign-off at the end of every other Lennon-related fansite and source of the title for George Galloway’s auto-hagiography I’m Not The Only One. It is taken as read that this three-minute four-second song, released on October 24 1975 from the album of the same name and going to number one shortly afterwards, is the very pinnacle of what music can aspire to. It’s not so much a song as a hymn. Dislike it and you dislike rock and roll itself. You should probably go and stand in the corner with Britney Spears, Hitler, Simon Cowell and all the other agents of bummerdom.

I’ve always detested Imagine and, I think, with good reason. Has anyone listened to it lately? I mean *listened*, not genuflected before it. The irony of wealthy rock stars whingeing about the invidiousness of private property has been noted before but Imagine takes it to a whole new water-brained level. Lennon invites us to imagine absolute nothingness - not just an absence of heaven, hell, nations or belief, but no future or past either. It’s a manifesto for self-erasure from a man who’s bored of the world and everything in it, bar Yoko. I hear that rumbling sententious piano, see that white room in my mind’s eye (song and video are indivisible - and anyway, what kind of robot would want to live *there*?) and I can only think of Lennon’s heroin years. Imagine is not about peace but oblivion.

And its idealism is really a sneering contempt for anyone with convictions, or a reasonable desire of betterment in the material world, dolled up in groovy Apple Corps threads. Lennon just can’t stop his self-righteousness from peeking through (‘Imagine no possessions/*I wonder if you can*’). The song reaches its fatuous zenith in the final verse, where plain-speaking John employs the skills of the expert propagandist-rhetorician. ‘You may say I’m a dreamer’ (honest disagreement rubbished as cynicism) ‘but I’m not the only one’ (dissenters cast as an irrelevant minority) ‘I hope some day you’ll join us’ (offer salvation) ‘And the world will live as one’ (if you disagree, the world’s continuing woes are *your* fault). It’s creepy and culty and self-satisfied; a recipe for emptying your mind and filling it with Lennon’s hippy totalitarianism. I don’t just hate it. I fundamentally, violently disagree with it. And I hoestly believe it’s the worst song ever written.

You may say that I’m a dreamer - and maybe I am the only one. But let me refer you to a friend who has a terrible fear of flying. The least reassuring thing she could imagine when flying out of Liverpool John Lennon Airport into the teeth (she thought) of certain death was its new motto: ‘Above us only sky’.


- On solo Lennon in general, I often think also that people who think Paul McCartney was the MOR one has never listened to John Lennon’s solo albums, which contain much less of interest than PM’s of the same period. Plastic Ono Band is excellent, Imagine has its moments, but Mind Games, Walls and Bridges and Double Fantasy are on the whole unremarkable MOR pap, and Rock and Roll and Sometime in New York City (and Live Peace In Toronto, which I don’t know if it counts, but was in a box set of LPs I had) are just rubbish.

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