Thursday, January 3, 2013

John Lennon Is Dead His Song is Stupid

New Years Eve was my night to stay with our very, very old mother who has all of her marbles but who has bad feet and legs and a bad back.   She wanted to watch the ball in Time Square fall for what she said might be the last time.  The Ball falling was never something I thought was worth opening an eyelid for so my new years tradition is to go to bed as early as I possibly can.   But, as I said, it was my turn to stay with our mother on New Years eve, so I saw the thing for the first time without Guy and the Royal Canadians.  Instead of their gooey rendition of Auld Lang Syne they had some recent post-adolescent in a band called "Train" intoning John Lennon's atheist anthem, "Imagine".  It must have been the lack of sleep but I listened to the words for the first time in a long time, and the truly uninspired melody and banal harmony and was struck at just how insipid the song is.   I can easily imagine it taking Lennon about five minutes to knock off, he having had enough song writing experience to crank something like that out while he was brushing his teeth.

Imagine there's no heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people living for today

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace

You, you may say
I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one
I hope some day you'll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people sharing all the world

You, you may say
I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one
I hope some day you'll join us
And the world will live as one

The first thing to notice is how few of those who intone the thing or sway nostalgically to it have gotten on with that "no possessions" part of the deal.   Starting, of course, with the smart mop head, himself.  I don't really  know how big his estate was at the time of his untimely murder.  I've seen figures up to 800 million dollars as the size of the estate he left and have read speculations that his estate might be worth twice what it was then.   So I'm able to imagine he and Yoko had not sold all they had and given the money to the poor.   They lived in the Dakota, for a start.  You don't buy a condo there unless your possessions are quite a bit more than merely imaginary.  So, you can see why he would have to imagine no possessions.   He'd have had to imagine that mountain of cash away very, very hard.   That would be unlike the Jesus he clearly didn't much like who said "Sell all you have and give the money to the poor."   I can easily imagine how a vestigial memory of that scripture might have annoyed his early middle-aged materialist mellowness.   Or maybe it was the parable of Lazarus and the rich man who went to hell.  I can imagine anyone who suspected their wealth might turn out that way would welcome there being no hell.  I think it's such stuff that's really behind the Brit atheist hostility to Jesus, not stories about the Virgin Birth or the alleged violation of the Second Law of Thermodynamics his resurrection is supposed to be.  I doubt one in a hundred of the sciency atheists could state the Second Law.

But it's definitely not the "no possessions" clause of the thing that makes it so popular with a certain type, I haven't noticed imagining no possessions being particularly popular with them.  It's the atheist lyrics to the rather dreary chant.  Imagining no religion is the big one.  Being a not all that adventuresome thinker of the Brit variety,  Lennon pushed the ahistorical, materialist line that religion was to blame for evils such as killing that it, unlike atheism, holds to be a sin that could damn the killer to that hell that Lennon wants us to disbelieve.  Along with the heaven which is the only possession that some of the most desperately poor people have*.    As cherished as any mountain of material possessions held by atheists is their monumental conceit and smug certainty in their superiority to any number of others.   John Lennon was definitely the most pretentious of the Beatles, the most inclined to present his fluff like "Imagine"  with 100% more seriousness than its content warranted.   It says nothing that you couldn't have found on a particularly banal poster of the period in music that was absolutely not challenging.   It is the atheist "Amazing Grace" only it isn't about anything, whereas that most oversung song** of the English Speaking Peoples at least has a back story based in actual events and moral transformation.   I can't imagine anyone being inspired to have a new experience from "Imagine".   Call me iconoclastic but I'd rather hear Yoko having the dry heaves, it at least elicits some startle response.

For the time it claims our attention, art should at least aspire to be transformative .  People settle for far too little from it, especially true in banal pop music.  Imagine if we stopped pretending that cheap commercial crap like Lennon's song was anything but cheap commercial crap with about as much sincerity as the inspirational song in a set performed in Branson or Las Vegas, people might feel like they had permission to look for more.

John Lennon is dead, his drippy, self-important song was never alive.  I'm not saying I'd go to the bother of looking for a copy, but I'm unaware of a single song George Harrison wrote that isn't better.   I got the feeling he really meant what he sang, which is the ground floor requirement of real quality in art.   Which is why people can't have a drippy, nostalgic non-feeling from it.   "Imagine" might be a fitting successor for Guy Lombardo's dreadful 13,473,457th annual rendition of Auld Lang Syne, but only because pop music has gotten so much less sophisticated than his stuff was.  He knew something about music.

* It's always so nice how ready the Brits are to kindly "enlighten" people who have nothing else out of their religious faith.   More on that later.

** For equal time, I am on record as having dissed Amazing Grace, which I cannot stand every time I hear it.  I have given permission that it can be played at my funeral only if I'm really dead and can't hear it and no one with musical taste is present.  Only,  "Imagine" isn't a strong enough song to cause that much of an emotional reaction against it.

UPDATE:  The pop music scribbler, Steve Simels, has apparently noticed I've once again dissed the mop heads and has reacted predictably as anyone familiar with him could have predicted.   I think I'll go on with this idea a bit in the near future. 


  1. Never thought much of the song, either. Certainly not the best thing Lennon ever wrote ("And so this is Christmas/War is Over" is a bit of a seasonal favorite because I have a recording of it with local Austin artists performing; but it's pretty banal, too, all things considered).

    Lennon did better work with McCartney than either ever did solo. And Harrison's work has more depth and spirituality than anything Lennon ever thought about.

    I've always loved the idea that if everybody just thought like "us," everything would be hunky-dory. I mean, didn't we all get over that in grade school? If that's the best sentiment you've got, even "Kumbayah" is a more serious plea for harmony and world peace.

    And really, all things considered, "Kumbayah" gets a bad rap. But this returns us to one of my favorite topics, that religion is concerned with culture and community, not with being the one-size-fits-all answer to all of humankind's questions. "Imagine" is right in line with the 60's cliche that "Christ is the Answer!", to which, at least in the Peanuts cartoon, Snoopy (a/k/a, the "Christ figure" of the strip, according to Robert Short) carried the response: "What is the question?"


  2. I wonder just who was the "us" we were being invited to join and if he was intending to turn The Dakota into some kind of free hostel for all of those other dreamers.

    Wasn't ever a Beatles fan, I was listening to Martha and the Vandellas instead. My British invasion was Dusty Springfield and Joe Cocker. Though I listened to a lot more jazz. A Genuine Tong Funeral and Escalator Over The Hill, Carla Bley's music, especially as performed by Gary Burton and other musicians in that bunch. "Imagine" is music waiting to be licensed to a financial services corporation.

  3. A dumb song becomes popular when it resonates with some deep human yearning... in this case, I suppose the yearning for "us nice & reasonable folks" to somehow overthrow the rule of The Evil Them. Yearning too much, alas, can incline people to overlook the fine print.

    Even though "Everybody knows, the war is over/ Everybody knows, the good guys lost," our prolefeed media serve us up big heaps of entertainment in which the good guys win by hours of [necessary & justified, they insist] violence. Restoring, in the end, the same old illusion of "getting back to normal life" -- which seems to be the best we're culturally permitted to seriously imagine.