Imagine that

I don’t ever read Rolling Stone, but David Fricke’s written a surprisingly good article concerning John Lennon’s Imagine. There is an interesting contradiction with Lennon’s own words that I heard regarding the song on the video collection I downloaded last week. The article states:

Lennon had written “Imagine” earlier that year, one morning in his bedroom at Ascot, while his wife and collaborator, Yoko Ono, looked on.

I always love this stuff. Were they there? What’s the source for this information? What Lennon said on the videodisc release was that the lyrics came from a notebook that he shared with Yoko. They had been riffing on “imagining” and said it was impossible to tell who wrote what, or came up with what idea. Consequently, he later gave her co-writer credit. However, it is impossible for most people to accept the idea that Ono was responsible for anything “good” when it comes to John. That sucks, in a big way.

However, they do credit Neil Young’s wife with the idea to do the song for the WTC tribute, and even attribute the source of the information:

According to Don Was, the show’s musical director, it was Young’s wife, Pegi, who suggested he play “Imagine.”

Sometimes I wonder just what the fuck people think artists do, and how they come up with stuff. This bit in particular just grated like fingernails on a chalkboard:

“It’s extraordinary that Lennon was able, out of a clear blue sky, to construct this elegant appeal for a saner universe,” says songwriter Jimmy Webb. “I could see something like this being inspired by a horrific event like the World Trade Center attack. But he was just sitting around one day and came up with this idea for a song calling for a better world. It’s clairvoyant.

Uh, remember Vietnam? No, there were never any horrific events before the WTC to inspire anyone, no wars, no need to think of a better world. Yeah, he’s psychic. And he was just sitting around and perked the damn thing up, and had never thought of stuff like peace, or imagining before. Get real people. Most artists I know of spend a lot of time engaged with the big subjects, playing with things and experimenting until eventually something works. It isn’t as mythic as most people seem to want to claim. It’s called work. Lots of it. I tend to think of the song as a very well-wrought conversation, between John and Yoko, that Lennon has invited the world to join in on. With great music besides.

Later in the article David Fricke goes on to say much the same thing. But it’s way past the attention span of a typical reader, after the strangely biased scene painted in the beginning. Fricke invites the help of Michael McClure to explain the song’s poetry:

The poet Michael McClure, a charter member of the Beat movement in San Francisco in the 1950s, describes the actual metric structure of “Imagine” as a combination of “white soul and American, black Southern heart. It would have been a pretty good blues song – it has that kind of cadence. But it also echoes, in a subtle way, the English tradition of William Blake, saying, ‘How sweet I roamed from field to field’ – the classic English ballad structure.

“It’s a great poem,” McClure says. “It’s a great song. But I think that’s minor to the fact that it’s really a wisdom work. The essentials of life are all in this poem, all in this anthem. And we’re so lucky to have it in Lennon’s voice. We don’t have the voice of the writer of the Book of Job or the Tao Te Ching. But we have the voice of Lennon.

McClure actually gets it. Which is a nice way to close the article. But Fricke didn’t. He went on with some more stuff. Okay, so maybe I don’t think it is as good as I originally stated. But as an artist, and a writer, I can’t help but have my say as well.

1 thought on “Imagine that”

Comments are closed.