John Lennon’s “Imagine”: Do People Get It?

Tom - February 12, 2007

The other day I was driving about and my iPod batteries ran out just in time for me to hear the last two songs in the local college radio station’s countdown of the 897 greatest songs of all time as voted by listeners. Number two was Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” and number one was not “Stairway to Heaven,” as it should have been, but “Imagine” by John Lennon. I let out an “Oh, come on!” My first reason for protesting is that, as a piece of music, “Imagine” does very little for me. It’s nice enough, the melody is OK, but it’s no “Stairway.” It’s not even an “Eleanor Rigby” or “Hey Jude.” But besides the not-so-special music, I dislike the song because the lyrics are a naive, simplistic, pie-in-the-sky, anti-God, anti-religion smackdown. Observe:

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

The song goes on to invite us to imagine all the people who would live in peace if there were no religion. In addition to not having countries or possessions, a large part of Lennon’s prescription for fixing things so that the world can “live as one” is to get rid of religion and all thoughts of God.

I don’t want to debate that point. Suffice it to say that while I acknowledge the harm that some religious worldviews are causing and have caused, I disagree with the sentiment that getting rid of religion altogether is in the best interests of humanity. What I am curious about is why so many religious people love this song, given it’s message. I doubt that many of the voters in that radio station poll who, on their own, put “Imagine” in their top ten favorite songs of all time are anti-religion evangelists. Given the level of religiosity in American culture, I’m sure that plenty of them at least believe in God.

And it’s not just the poll. I seem to remember from a few years back an apparently religious American Idol contestant singing “Imagine” just weeks after singing a gospel song. Also, when I asked my (believer) wife about the song she said she likes it. She says she never really noticed the anti-God sentiment. It’s a common enough phenomenon to be exposed to a song for a long time and never really get it. It happens to me all the time.

So, do people know what “Imagine” is about and like it anyway? Or do they not really get what it’s about and they just like it because it’s a nice little pop song? Can/should a believer know what it’s about and still like it? If my perception that many people like the song without really getting it is correct, is it troubling that such a negative message (from a believer’s perspective) can so stealthily become ingrained in our popular culture?

For the record, I don’t dislike all art that can be considered anti-religion or anti-God. I think that learning how other people see the world and understanding why they believe or don’t believe can be valuable. For instance, I love the Ingmar Bergman films I’ve seen even though his protagonists usually struggle with belief and his perspective is that of a non-believer; I find his films endlessly fascinating and challenging and thought provoking. “Imagine” does none of that for me.

49 Comments »

  1. First off, I should probably concede that I really like John Lennon\’s music and he has long been my favorite Beatle. On many occasions as I\’ve listened to this song, I\’ve thought about what it is saying, and wasn\’t completely comfortable with it.

    I\’ve actually enjoyed the simple melody and I love the line \”You may say I\’m a dreamer.\” The song appeals for a better world, and that is attractive. The problem, of course, from an LDS perspective, is John Lennon\’s prescription for that better world as a world entirely without religion.

    But if you think of money (possessions), religion and government as a cause of many problems in the world, the song makes sense. And there are a lot of people out there who feel that these things ARE the problem.

    John Lennon is the Beatle who got in trouble occasionally for making explicitly anti-religious remarks. For example, saying on one occasion that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus Christ. He dabbled only a little in religion – his experience with the Maharishi in India – but at the end of the day seemed to have realized it was all a scam (and wrote \”Sexy Sadie\” as a result, to describe what he thought of the guru). I\’m thinking that John Lennon was a bit of a realist in this regard – and I also doubt he ever came into any significant contact with Mormonism. I don\’t think his complete skepticism was correct, but based on his experiences, it wasn\’t completely unfounded either.

    The part of this song that makes me kind of laugh is the line \”imagine no possessions.\” John Lennon was incredibly wealthy and I never have seen or read any evidence that he was giving up his wealth or throwing his wealth away. To this day the remaining Beatles (and their heirs) are a rather materialistic group and they will go to court to protect their property. So it really is just an imaginative exercise, a \”what if\” song.

    I suppose, if you really wanted to twist this towards a potential Mormon interpretation, you could think of the scripture that says:

    Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world. James 1: 27

    Comment by danithew — February 12, 2007 @ 5:40 am

  2. The strange thing to me, is that the same John Lennon who wrote “Imagine” also wrote “Grow Old With Me” which is a song that I feel would fit very well within Mormon views of romantic love, family and yes, God. There even appears to be a suggestion of a marriage relationship that does not end:

    Grow old along with me
    The best is yet to be
    When our time has come
    We will be as one
    God bless our love
    God bless our love

    Grow old along with me
    Two branches of one tree
    Face the setting sun
    When the day is done
    God bless our love
    God bless our love

    Spending our lives together
    Man and wife together
    World without end
    World without end

    Grow old along with me
    Whatever fate decrees
    We will see it through
    For our love is true
    God bless our love
    God bless our love

    Sorry for such long comments. I had a major Beatles/John Lennon phase and have never really recovered from the experience. :)

    For anyone interested, you can listen to a Mary Chapin Carpenter cover of “Grow Old With Me” on my radio blog. This is one of my all-time favorite songs.

    Comment by danithew — February 12, 2007 @ 5:50 am

  3. Remember the old TV sitcom called WKRP in Cinncinatti that starred LDS actor Gordon Jump? In a certain episode the radio station was under fire for playing “Imagine” from a group of religious fundamentalists. Gordon Jump’s character was nervous about offending, but in the end his speech went something like, “he’s only saying imagine it. Just imagine it.”

    I get the song, I like it, and I don’t find it at all offensive. I’m a huge John Lennon fan, btw, and an even bigger Beatle fan so I have to come clean there. But, it’s true — from a certain point of view, one has to admit that these “structures” (for lack of a better word) like religion, possessions, etc., are what people fight about. I think the song is saying that just imagine what it would be like to tear down all the excuses for fighting and wonder what life would be like. I don’t really see that as anti-God.

    Danithew can make me a Beatles mix tape if he wants. :-)

    Comment by meems — February 12, 2007 @ 6:01 am

  4. LOL! Meems, I’m on it.

    Comment by danithew — February 12, 2007 @ 6:07 am

  5. Well, wouldn’t say I’m offended by the sentiment, I just think it’s overly simplistic. I wouldn’t campaign actively against it or try and shelter my children from it or anything. It’s just interesting to me how messages spread and how people can, either directly or indirectly, support the propagation of a sentiment that is at odds with their own beliefs.

    I suppose I may be doing something similar by enjoying and praising work like Bergman’s. Some religious people would probably be uncomfortable with those films’ examination of belief from a non-believers perspective. Further, I do value other art that is ultimately contrary to my personal belief.

    danithew, no need to apologize for lengthy comments. It’s better than no comment at all.

    Comment by Tom — February 12, 2007 @ 7:16 am

  6. Tom, I think the concerns you express about this one song could be expressed about secular music in general. This has been something that has bothered me at times but I haven’t found a way to reconcile them – that is, how to entirely reconcile my love for the Church with my (oft-time) love for secular music.

    I think it is Moroni who writes that we can recognize the good by whether or not it leads us to Christ. I’ve sometimes felt rather strongly that secular music groups (let’s say the Beatles or Led Zeppelin, for example) do basically nothing to lead us to Christ. Does that make them bad?

    My feeling is that there is something that is good about this music, or it wouldn’t have so much appeal … but maybe we have to ask ourselves whether it is good enough? Honestly, this is a difficult question for me and though I’ve tried a few times, I’ve never been able to wholly reject secular music – which means I’ve always turned back around again and re-embraced the medium.

    Comment by danithew — February 12, 2007 @ 7:29 am

  7. One thing that Lennon did get right is questioning the value of traditional notions of Hell. One of the most appealing aspects of Mormon theology to me is that non-believers don’t spend eternity in Hell.

    A recent song that expresses a similar sentiment to “Imagine” but doesn’t bug me as much because it expresses less certainty about how the world would be a better place without religion is “Vein of Stars” by the Flaming Lips:

    Who knows?
    Maybe there isn’t a vein of stars calling out my name
    No glow from above our heads
    Nothing there to see you down on your knees
    Twenty-five, twenty-six, twenty-seven
    (twenty years in the future)
    Off in the future maybe there ain’t no heaven
    It’s just you and me and maybe it’s just as well
    ‘Cause if there ain’t no heaven maybe there ain’t no hell?
    Who knows?
    Maybe there isn’t a vein of stars calling out my name
    Who knows?

    Comment by Tom — February 12, 2007 @ 7:31 am

  8. “Led Zeppelin…[does] basically nothing to lead us to Christ.”

    Um, Dan, Stairway to Heaven!

    Tom,
    Even though I’ve always known the message of the song I’ve never been bothered by it. Of course that might have something to do with the fact that I’m not much of a lyric person (did’nt we discuss this at KB?). At least this song is beautiful musically, unlike so much of today’s pop that is musically offensive.

    Comment by Rusty — February 12, 2007 @ 7:47 am

  9. LOL. Backward masking and “if there’s a bustle in your hedgerow” … that’s all I have to say.

    Comment by danithew — February 12, 2007 @ 8:02 am

  10. Have fun: http://jeffmilner.com/backmasking.htm

    (Whether there’s anything to this, I don’t know …)

    Comment by danithew — February 12, 2007 @ 8:04 am

  11. wow, dan and Tom have said it all. But i’ll add one more crazy idea. Let me first say that Lennon is my 3rd favorite Beatle. I never thought he matched Paul’s genius and George just seemed like a nicer guy. I’ve always viewed him as a bit pretentious. You know, leading a protest and then retiring to his penthouse on Central Park. That being said, I see a parallel between “Imagine” and the words Joseph recieved from the Savior:

    I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all ccorrupt; that: “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.

    Call it a stretch and I know GBH has been preaching the “lets all get along” message, but the truth is that there are many church’s that are corrupt. And from a non-believers standpoint I could see why the corrupt church organizations..uhum..catholic church….would make someone believe that they’re all corrupt. So sure, there are good things happening in all churchs and we should work together with them blah blah blah, but John Lennon seemed to understand the Great Apostacy better than most.

    Comment by CJ Douglass — February 12, 2007 @ 8:23 am

  12. I’m with meems.

    I have no problem with overly simplistic song lyrics.

    My kids went to a John Bytheway fireside last night where he talked about standards. They told us what he said about music—stay away from stuff that is anti-God or pro-Satanism. My husband said, “But what about Slayer!” (One of his favorite bands.)

    Comment by Susan M — February 12, 2007 @ 8:30 am

  13. Rusty,
    It was here at 9M. And for me, too, music is usually almost entirely a sonic experience. I often don’t understand the words very well and, though there are plenty of exceptions, I don’t usually get meanings. I’m sure Zeppelin has some non-Gospel-friendly messages, but for the most part I just hear sounds. It’s hard, maybe impossible, to make moral judgments of music as a purely sonic experience. Sure, some instrumental music may make someone feel dark or something, which may have implications as to the moral value of the music, but by and large I consider my secular music listening to be a morally neutral endeavor. Maybe slightly negative because of the opportunity cost of devoting too much attention to something that’s isn’t home teaching or something otherwise uplifting. And when you look at the words, most of the secular music I listen to is pretty benign and some of it is quite positive. Mainstream popular music seems to be more sex-focused and shallow than what I usually listen to and the personalities (Aguilera, Britney, Jessica Simpson, Eminem, etc.) are decidedly bad role models.

    Comment by Tom — February 12, 2007 @ 8:30 am

  14. I can’t believe Bytheway is still getting around. If it wasn’t for that name . . .

    Comment by Tom — February 12, 2007 @ 8:34 am

  15. Susan,
    have you heard “Lamb of God”? I really like their stuff but can’t figure out if I’m going to get struck down one ofthese days. Like has been said, I don’t listen to the lyrics too much but the name of the band sounds a little iffy.

    Comment by CJ Douglass — February 12, 2007 @ 8:38 am

  16. Tom and everyone else – I don’t think, and never have thought- that this song is “anti-God.” Perhaps it is anti- religion and I don’t disagree with that thought either since so many terrible things have been done in the name of religion. I think about the after life. My favorite scripture comes from the Book of Moroni as Mormon writes to his son Moroni and laments the wickedness of both the lamenites AND the Nephites and says “And now, my beloved son, notwithstanding their hardness, let us labor diligently; for if we should cease to labor, we should be brought under condemnation; for we have a labor to perform whilst in this tabernacle of clay, that we may conquer the enemy of all righteousness, and rest our souls in the kingdom of God.” That doesn’t seem to describe “religion” to me – only our existence with God. I don’t think we’ll be focused on doctrine and theology at that point because we will have reached that goal in our eternal lives, to live with God. There will be “no religion” in heaven because there will be no need for religion to inform us of our “labor to perform.”

    It seems to me that Lennon was simply trying to get us all to focus on our obligations to each other today. While we certainly look to the future in our religious lives, part of that future will be determined by what we do today in the here and now. View the DVD of “The Killing Fields” and see an all too common example of man’s inhumanity to man in the Cambodian holocaust. When Sidney Shanberg finally comes to the refugee camp to rescue Dith Pran he embraces Dith Pran and says, “I’m sorry.” And Dith Pran answers “No need to be sorry.” “Imagine” is playing in the background and it seems to have been written for just a scene. I think it IS a religious message.

    Comment by lamonte — February 12, 2007 @ 8:42 am

  17. As a teenager it would drive me batty when people would say “I don’t listen to the words, I just like the music.”

    I’ve a much more soft stance on the matter these days – but on a personal level, if I really like an artist or a band, then I want very much to know what they are saying in their songs. So when I look up the lyrics, it can be a deal-breaker for me if the band/artist doesn’t actually have anything to say.

    Just as an example – some years ago I was interested somewhat in the music of the Stone Temple Pilots – but I was disappointed in the lyrics. In general, they really didn’t seem to say much or have any kind of message or coherent thought going on. At least that was my take on it. Maybe someone will show me differently or have a particular song lyric to point out. Of course it occurred to me that the lead singer was a heroin addict and that might be impacting his ability to get a thought across.

    On the other, more positive side, I’ll never forget the first time I heard the Smiths album “the Queen is Dead.” I was listening to “There is a Light that Never Goes Out” and thinking that the flute music and guitar work went very nicely together – and then as I started to listen to what Morrissey was actually singing – well, it flipped me out. He was so original, it was making me laugh and at the same time it provided such a contrast to the (rather calming, I thought) music that was playing.

    Comment by danithew — February 12, 2007 @ 8:45 am

  18. I’ve heard a couple Lamb of God songs and I might even have an album but I never thought about what their name might mean before. (I’m oblivious to band names meaning something a lot of the time, I just hear it as a name and nothing else.) I just did a quick web search and discovered a lot of their songs and album use religious terms. Kinda funny. I tried reading some lyrics but couldn’t really understand much of it. From what I read it sounded like they’re basically ticked off at what mankind does to itself.

    Comment by Susan M — February 12, 2007 @ 8:47 am

  19. lamonte,
    I think your right on.

    Comment by CJ Douglass — February 12, 2007 @ 8:50 am

  20. Dan, I was never a huge STP fan, but I always liked the song that I thought was about murder. Something about “when the dogs begin to smell her.” Maybe just my morbid imagination.

    Comment by Susan M — February 12, 2007 @ 8:51 am

  21. danithew,
    I’m kind of the opposite. I don’t care at all if the band has something to say. I don’t like it when they do say stuff that’s banal or dumb, but it doesn’t bother me in the least if they sing nonsense. Radiohead is one of my favorite bands of all time and as far as I can tell they don’t say much, or at least I can’t usually decipher much meaning. And my love for my band of the moment, Deerhoof, is all about the sounds. One of my favorite songs goes, “Flower! Flower! Flower!” Another one just says, “Come see the duck.”

    Comment by Tom — February 12, 2007 @ 8:54 am

  22. Tom, it’s not even just the lyrics to me … if I really like a band, I usually end up reading a lot about them, finding out their names, their backgrounds, whether they went to college, etc. and etc. The music and lyrics are just a part of that package for me – though they are probably ultimately what makes me want to know more about the lives of the artists themselves.

    I have to say that Deerhoof is one of the bands that has interested me more – out of the groups that have been mentioned/sampled over at Kulturblog. I still don’t really know much about Deerhoof though.

    Comment by danithew — February 12, 2007 @ 9:00 am

  23. Lamonte, CJ Douglass,
    Well, I think it’s nice to say that our religion is exempt from criticisms because we’re not corrupt like those other ones that have caused all the problems, but I don’t see exemptions written into “Imagine.” No thoughts of Heaven, Hell, or God is the ideal that will unify the world.

    There are a lot of prominent atheist critics of religion going about right now (Dawkins, Dennet, Harris). They seem to think that corruption is inherent in religion. They surely wouldn’t exempt us from their criticism just because we haven’t perpetrated a genocide. It’s possible that I see “Imagine” in a more negative light because I associate it with these virulent anti-God types who also think the world would be a much better place if nobody believed in God. Bergman escapes this negative association because he puts forth a much more compassionate, nuanced view.

    Comment by Tom — February 12, 2007 @ 9:04 am

  24. Yeah, I’m with lamonte on this one. What Lennon is talking about is really close to our view of the Celestial Kingdom. There will be no religion, there will be no posessions, we’ll live for today because today is eternal and the hell below us is no longer a motivator to scare us into doing what is right. But all that being said, I still don’t really care enough about the song to feel strongly one way or the other.

    Comment by Rusty — February 12, 2007 @ 9:23 am

  25. Tom,

    Just a review of the lyrics:

    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 may say I’m a dreamer
    But I’m not the only one
    I hope someday 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 may say I’m a dreamer
    But I’m not the only one
    I hope someday you’ll join us
    And the world will live as one

    I don’t see anything about “anti-God” in those words. And what about “A brotherhood of man,” and “Sharing all the world.” And finally, “Living life in peace” and “The world will live as one.” It seems that is the ultimate “religious” message – at least the one that I hope for. “And the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind…”

    I agree there are misguided people in the world who believe that God is the cause of all our troubles rather than the answer to our problems as we know Him to be. But I don’t think Lennon is one of them – at least it is not evident in the words to this song.

    Comment by lamonte — February 12, 2007 @ 9:25 am

  26. Lamonte,
    I can certainly see the positive messages and nice sentiments, and I hope I’m not sounding like I have a strong negative feeling towards the song. I’m not calling it evil or anything, but it does plainly suggest that we would be better off if people didn’t believe in God and if people didn’t adhere to religion. Most of us probably agree that corrupt religion is harmful, but most of us also are active proponents of belief in God and of practicing religion here and now as a way of moving individuals and society toward the same ideal that Lennon suggests we could reach by ridding ourselves of belief in God (I’m interpreting “above us only sky” as suggesting atheism). I can’t see the two viewpoints as compatible.

    That said, again, I’m not arguing anything stronger than that a good part of the message of the song is in opposition to our view of what the world needs and that it’s curious that so many believers like the song. Maybe all believers that understand it and like it see the religious beliefs of others, and not their own, as being the obstacle to peace and unity so the song doesn’t bother them just like it doesn’t bother most of us.

    Comment by Tom — February 12, 2007 @ 9:47 am

  27. re: susan #12, heeeeey! we were there!

    Comment by makakona — February 12, 2007 @ 5:13 pm

  28. You’re in Orange County? Drop me an email if you want: susan at strangepulse dot com.

    Comment by Susan M — February 12, 2007 @ 5:24 pm

  29. I was on splits once with a missionary who loved to play the piano. He played and sang Imagine in the home of an investigator. I remember sitting there listing to the words and wondering if he’d ever thought about them. Later that day, while tracting, he peered in someone’s home and noticed a piano. He asked if he could come in and play a song. I was relieved when they politely declined. :)

    Comment by Bradley Ross — February 12, 2007 @ 6:45 pm

  30. I don’t like Imagine. I respect Lennon’s right to opinion, and don’t think he was anti-God, but the song became an anti-religious anthem. It, like many of Lennon’s songs and quotes, came to represent more than he inteneded.

    Comment by KyleM — February 13, 2007 @ 1:22 am

  31. John Lennon was mischievous in the writing of his lyrics and I think he was very aware of the various meanings that his lyrics conveyed.

    To put it another way – when some people complain that John Lennon’s lyrics can be interpreted as anti-God, I don’t think they’re beating around a guy who is completely helpless and innocent in the way he approached this stuff.

    Just the same, the “above us only sky” line is far from coming right out and saying there is no God. The listener does have room to interpret this different ways.

    Comment by danithew — February 13, 2007 @ 4:24 am

  32. Of course Lennon was anti-religion and anti God. He was an anarchist hippy. However, the song is very pretty.

    Comment by Doc — February 13, 2007 @ 8:38 am

  33. BTW,
    This song is an absolutely an anarchist anthem and describes their idea of utopia. Yes it seems religious because it is very idealistic and humanistic. It also believes all the anti-religious rhetoric and sees religion as a systematic way to put down liberty and freedom, interesting, if misguided.

    Comment by Doc — February 13, 2007 @ 8:41 am

  34. Would anyone care to explain what “mischevious in his writing” means or how anarchist automatically means anti-Christ or even why you would describe John Lennon as an anarchist? Then imagine, if you will, what life will be like in the hereafter. Am I an anarchist for imagining that?

    Comment by lamonte — February 13, 2007 @ 9:24 am

  35. When I wrote that John Lennon was mischievous in his writing, I was thinking of a few different things.

    You’ll be listening to a seemingly innocent song, and then, if you’re paying attention, you’ll realize that Lennon threw in a line that was a bit naughty. For example, in the song “I’ve got a Feeling” he throws in the line “everybody had a wet dream.”

    Another example is in the song Revolution, where you have him singing: “when you talk about destruction, don’t you know that you can count me out (in)” … he follows that word out with the word “in” … so that the message gets kind of boggled a little bit.

    He was really quite playful and irreverent (sometimes even mean) with people and liked to tweak people’s nerves or push their buttons. There’s that line in “I Am the Walrus” where he says “don’t you think the joker laughs at you” … and some have suggested he’s flat-out telling his listeners that he’s laughing at them.

    Comment by danithew — February 13, 2007 @ 10:37 am

  36. This post reminded me of my college days, back in the 1970s, when I attended an evangelical Protestant college (think of an atmosphere something like BYU, but with far fewer students and, thankfully, no onerous dress code). I was an occasional DJ, and Imagine was one of the very few songs of the day, other than those with profanity or blatantly glorifying drugs or unchastity, that we weren’t allowed to play.

    Comment by Eric — February 13, 2007 @ 10:51 am

  37. While I don’t gives a rat’s ass about Imagine Lyrics, I will say the song shouldn’t have even made the top 10,000 (it’s a plain, boring, lds hymn book type, gay, chick song). I vote Freebird as a little better rock anthem than Stairway, followed by Lady Marmalade for a pop balance. Imagine just sucks, period.

    Comment by Steve EM — February 13, 2007 @ 10:57 am

  38. danithew – I feel like I’m being a bit of a pest but I also feel it necessary to correct what I beleive to be misconceptions. In the song “Revolution” Lennon wrote and said “But when you talk about destruction, don’t you kow that you can can’t me out.” There was no double meaning as your comment seems to imply. It simply says he’s not talking about violent revolution but peaceful revolution. And the following line is “ADon’t you know that it will be all right” – nothing to rhyme with ‘in’ in that line.

    Certainly Lennon included some sexual references in some of his songs but they were quite tame compared to what we hear on a regular basis these days. I think this post started with Tom lauding the song ‘Stairway to Heaven’ by Led Zepplin. I concur that is a great song but Led Zepplin hit the big time with the song “Whole Lotta Love,” which contains some of the most sexually explicit phrases I’ve ever heard in any song lyrics. I’m sure we can agree to disagree on the merits of John Lennon’s songwriting but I think he was a genious.

    Comment by lamonte — February 13, 2007 @ 11:06 am

  39. I don’t think anyone argued his genius. Just like Prince, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Tom Petty…. All musical/lyrical geniuses in their own way.

    I think people can recognize talent without liking the message.

    Comment by KyleM — February 13, 2007 @ 1:23 pm

  40. Lamonte,

    I recently discovered that a lot of popular songs have their own entries in wikipedia, which is awesome. Revolution is one of the many songs covered.

    There are at least a few versions of Revolution. Here’s what wikipedia says about one of those versions:

    “Revolution 1″ contains a notable lyrical difference to the final “Revolution”: Lennon’s vocal for the track adds the word “in” following the line “When you talk about destruction/don’t you know that you can count me out”. Lennon said in interviews that he was undecided in his sentiments toward the song’s theme so he included both options.

    Comment by danithew — February 13, 2007 @ 5:16 pm

  41. I remember when”Imagine” was played over the closing credits of the movie “The Killing Fields” and one critic (I think it was George Will) noted how ironic that was, because the song describes exactly the world the Khmer Rouge tried to create in Cambodia.

    Comment by WasatchMan — February 14, 2007 @ 1:55 am

  42. WasatchMan – I guess that’s just an indication of the intelligence of George Will. If he thinks “Nothing kill or die for” (there were 1.5 million murdered) and “Living life in peace” (did I say there were 1.5 million murdered?) describes the goals of the Khmer Rouge he should pay a visit to Cambodia where the skulls are still stacked high as a reminder. The song doesn’t describe a crude communist style society as was attempted by Pol Pot but rather a Zion-like society, with decent, caring people as achieved by Enoch and his people.

    Comment by lamonte — February 14, 2007 @ 7:00 am

  43. Lamonte,
    Firstoff, Anarchism the official 19th century movement is much different than the love of chaos and disorder we have been conditioned to think of. Anarchism has its roots near the genesis of communism, its main point of difference was the use of violence versus a voluntary communal society.

    The song describes their aims precisely in that they belief in no government, no heaven, no hell, no organized religion as these were all things used to control people, no possessions as people should have all things common and only then could there be world peace.

    Sure, this is a picture of a City of Enoch, Zion type scenario, but the aim was to do it simply by the goodwill of man, making it humanistic rather than religious. It is humanistic, and denies the existence of God, or at least his involvement in man’s affairs. In many ways they adhere to the ideal of teaching correct principles and letting others govern themselves.

    They also had a strong belief in free love that I think would not have gone over very well in the City of Enoch. In their eyes it was just another thing people fight over and use to control other people.

    So yes, if you see much in common with our ideal of Zion it is because there is, and that does not make you and anarchist, as there are also clear differences. I hope this clarifies any previous comments.

    Comment by Doc — February 14, 2007 @ 8:28 am

  44. If you accuse me of trying to have the last word I won’t disagree. I believe the original premise of this post was to say that John Lennon’s song was anti-religion and anti-God. Anarchism has many faces including that of the communist and the Christian. Devout Christians who have stated beliefs that there is no higher authority than God’s authority are sometimes thought to be and accused of being anarchists. And so we see that one could be a Christian AND an anarchist But I’m not sure there is any evidence, except perhaps the song in question, where Lennon expressed any kind of anarchist thoughts. And that is not the premise of this post.

    Clearly John Lennon lived a life contrary to what we believe to be in accordance with God’s laws. One might consider him to be a hypocrite for suggesting we live a life without possessions while he lived in the Dakota Apartments in Manhatten. But I suppose one could interpret the words to this song in more ways than one. As a child of the 60′s I guess I’ve shown my true colors in the things that I’ve said.

    Comment by lamonte — February 15, 2007 @ 10:09 am

  45. Face it lamonte, you’re biased because that scene from “The Killing Fields” still gets you choked up.

    Comment by CJ Douglass — February 15, 2007 @ 11:44 am

  46. Lamonte: I believe the original premise of this post was to say that John Lennon’s song was anti-religion and anti-God.

    Well, it’s not so much that I find “Imagine” so especially deserving of condemnation that I would devote a blog post to it. It’s that the case of “Imagine’s” popularity among even believers illustrates some things I find interesting: that people often don’t understand something that they’re exposed to over and over, that people can embrace art that stands in opposition to their own personal beliefs, and how stealthily certain messages get propagated. There are other works, I’m sure, besides “Imagine” that also illustrate the point. It’s just that “Imagine” got me thinking about it so that’s what I used as an example.

    That said, I really can’t see an interpretation of “Imagine” that doesn’t put at least part of its message in direct opposition to the Mormon view of what humanity needs in order to live in peace and unity. While the ultimate ideal that “Imagine” espouses does have a lot in common with our notion of Zion, the song clearly prescribes atheism and abandonment of religion as steps toward “Zion,” whereas the Mormon view is that belief in and obedience to God and the practice of true religion are what is needed. At least, that’s my understanding of the Mormon view.

    Comment by Tom — February 15, 2007 @ 12:41 pm

  47. Sorta OT. This is in response to #1, whether John had any contact with Mormons.

    I was looking through the liner notes to “Let it be…naked” this morning and it shows some discussion the Beatles had when filming Let It Be. Anyways it’s somewhat silly but John says the following:

    “Guest star Glyn Johns who played a Mormon Cathedral”.

    Google found an online version here

    Another aside, John Lennon’s “Mother” is a very powerful song too. (Warning of being bad parents)

    Comment by real matt — February 15, 2007 @ 1:55 pm

  48. LOL.

    Comment by pumpkin — October 2, 2008 @ 11:20 pm

  49. 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

    beautiful!!!

    Comment by Foo — April 17, 2009 @ 8:18 am

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