A couple of weeks ago, over Thanksgiving dinner (was it really two weeks ago already?!), we were sitting around the table, working our way toward a tryptophan coma, when my cousin made a comment about the shirt I was wearing.
“John Lennon, eh?” he said.
“Yep,” I replied. I mean, what else could I say? He had nailed the fact that I was wearing a gray t-shirt with a likeness of the former Beatles’ face on it, in addition to a peace sign and lyrics to Imagine. I lifted another forkful of turkey to my mouth, naively thinking the conversation was over. It was not.
“It’s no wonder hippies adored him. That song is nothing but a Communist manifesto.”
Now, my cousin is a good guy. An interesting person. He is a world traveler, fluent in Russian, and knowledgeable about a wide variety of topics, ranging from politics and veganism to Breaking Bad and the Wu Tang Clan. But this assertion was pure blasphemy! Lennon was all about peace and love, and would never subscribe to the ideals of Communism.
“Where did you get that idea?” I asked, truly befuddled.
“It’s right there in the lyrics. He advocates a classless society free of possessions, where everybody shares in the wealth and nobody goes hungry.”
Hmm. I hadn’t thought of that before. You say that like it’s a bad thing, I wanted to add, but there was at least one flag-waving veteran sharing a spot at the table, so I let the matter drop. The truth is, I thought my cousin was missing the point of the song, and was grasping at straws trying to make the lyrics fit the unintended message.
And then I googled the song. Turns out John Lennon himself said, “‘Imagine’, which says: ‘Imagine that there was no more religion, no more country, no more politics,’ is virtually the Communist manifesto, even though I’m not particularly a Communist and I do not belong to any movement.”
Whoopsie. How about that! Looks like I owe my cousin an apology for doubting him.
And yet, though it may hint at a hammer-and-sickle mentality, I prefer to view the song as Rolling Stone describes it: “22 lines of graceful, plain-spoken faith in the power of a world, united in purpose, to repair and change itself.”
How can that be a bad thing?
To some, “Imagine” is an unachievable Utopia, overly sentimental and melodramatic, asking the listener to abandon political systems while adopting one similar to Communism, hypocritical because a millionaire rock star is asking others to imagine a world without possessions. I suppose those arguments contain at least a hint of validity, but when I listen to the song, I hear an idealistic plea for peace and love and racial harmony. And I ask myself, once again…
How can that be a bad thing?
There is one lesson to be learned here, regardless: I really need to start paying attention to lyrics more.
Although, sometimes I do. I once worked for a company where the head of Human Resources – a strict and proper middle-aged white woman – was inexplicably wandering down the hallway, singing The Rolling Stones’ “Brown Sugar.”
“You do know what that song’s about, don’t you?” I asked her.
“Umm…” she said, and stopped dead in her tracks.
“It’s got nothing to do with baking cookies,” I said. “Try interracial oral sex.”
At that, she turned beet red. Cocked her head to the side, and I could tell she was mentally repeating the lyrics to herself. And then she turned even beet redder.
Doing the Getting
I finally got started on my Christmas shopping. I’ve always been a bit of a procrastinator, preferring to wait until after Thanksgiving, but this year I got an even later start than usual. Is it really mid-December already?! At the same time, I have fewer gifts to purchase, now that my kids are all grown up. Sniff. I pretty much already knew what I was getting everybody who matters anyway, so it was simply a matter of doing the getting. All online, of course. You don’t think I’d actually venture out to a store, do you?! That’s just crazy talk.
This year, the holidays have been a juggling act. I suppose that’s natural once you’re newly married, and your world suddenly expands to include a whole lot of people who you never had to factor into the equation before. We’ll be traveling to Seattle next weekend to visit Tara’s mom, then Christmas Eve with my aunt and uncle (and hopefully my kids), and Christmas Day with my parents. Three days after that, we’re hitting the road for Nevada, where we’re planning on spending a week visiting a whole bunch of other family members and friends. It’ll be a whirlwind trip, with overnight stays in Ely, Tonopah, Las Vegas, and Elko, but I’m pretty excited about the whole thing. And hoping to see snow! Last week, Ely’s temperatures dropped to -20. There’s no telling how cold it’ll be this year, but just in case, I’m stocking up on long johns. Better safe than sorry, you know?
Have a great weekend!
- John Lennon – Imagine! (netnewsledger.com)
- Imagine – John Lennon (lifeplustimes.wordpress.com)
- A Day to Celebrate Lennon: His Best Works, and Thoughts from Yoko (wnyc.org)
- Lennon ‘Bed-In’ sign to go to auction (time4sleep.co.uk)
11 thoughts on “You May Say I’m a Dreamer”
You know Mark, like you, I think I need to listen to the lyrics more because I can see the viewpoint your cousin has of Imagine. But also like you, I hear an idealistic plea for peace and love and racial harmony as well.
Perhaps what Lennon meant by, “Imagine that there was no more religion, no more country, no more politics”, was that we should listen to what our “heart” tell us, rather than what religion, our country or politics tell us.
Sounds like you’ve got a faaaaaaabulous Christmas holiday planned! And I hope you see snow too!!!!!
Have a super weekend, buddy!
P.S. Thanks for sharing video clip. I LOVE that song!
“Perhaps what Lennon meant…was that we should listen to what our “heart” tell us, rather than what religion, our country or politics tell us.”
My heart tells me that’s a very astute observation, Ron. I’m running with it!
Hope you’re getting more snow, too. I haven’t put any football games on yet today so I’m in the dark.
I have to say Imagine has to be one of my least favorite songs. I remember having to sing it for Chorus in high school and I could not get over how much it reminded me of a Communist society. There were people like you who liked the peacefulness about it but I am someone who loves to tear into lyrics and the lyrics of this song just got on my absolute last nerve. I found so much wrong with it yet I was forced to sing it. Its so funny how one song can affect two people so differently.
It’s always interesting to read a completely different perspective on what I always imagined was a universally beloved song! Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Were you ever tempted to just mouth along to the words instead of actually singing?
I read this post yesterday and decided to ponder your words before commenting. I just re-read it and decided to mull it over a bit more, but I will say as someone who has lyrics constantly in my head and as a person who very much believes in the power of words, I think sometimes a song is just a song. I don’t want to be accountable for the writer’s meaning. I want to give it my own meaning. “How can that be a bad thing?” I love that you said that.
I like the idea of giving a song your own meaning, and I suspect many of us do that quite often. I bet a lot of people don’t know that “Smells Like Teen Spirit” had nothing to do with rebellion and, instead, deodorant was the true topic. Sometimes naivety is a good thing!
Sounds like a supremely busy Christmas season! I love Imagine too & I don’t care if others interpret it to mean Communism. I like to think of it more like Utopia.
To some, Communism is Utopia!
I just like the song. Don’t really care what it’s about. I think that most songs have an emotional meaning to an individual just as a certain smell or taste does.
I can’t wait to see you and Tara in a couple of more days. There are going to be some great memories created!!
Love ya, SIL
I agree! We all have our own individual associations with certain songs. If somebody was listening to “Imagine” while camping and got attacked by a bear, for instance, he’d forever associate it with blood and violence and pain – the total opposite of the song’s true meaning.
Already enjoying the new memories! 🙂
I can Imagine that John is in that place now…