Imagine no “Imagine”

27 03 2009

For years I’ve disliked John Lennon’s supposed masterpiece, “Imagine.”  Oh, the tune is lovely, especially in its simplicity.  The lyrics, though, just bother me.  Until recently I never really understood why I couldn’t connect with the song.

But in the last few weeks, the reasons for my disdain became clear and they should have been obvious to me a long time ago.  “Imagine” is supposed to describe a utopian reality, the world of a “dreamer” in which all is right and good.  The world that John describes, though, isn’t in my opinion a utopia at all.  In fact, it sounds rather frightening and dreary.

The lyrics are in italics.  My comments are in bold beneath them.

Imagine there’s no Heaven

Imagine there’s no Heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky

It’s harder to imagine that there is a Heaven, not so much its existence, but what exactly it would be.  Real or not, Heaven gives many of us great hope for better, happier days to come.  I’d rather “imagine” Heaven than imagine an eternity of nothingness.

OK, I can imagine no Hell, I suppose (of course how does one imagine the non-existence of a thing?)  That seems pleasant enough.  This bit about sky being the only thing above us, again, seems fairly lonely.  I don’t see the pleasantness in that.

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do

Odd words to come from a man who fought for years to live in a particular country, i.e. the United States.  If countries aren’t so important, Mr. Lennon, why did you want so badly to stay in this one?   A border is just an arbitrary line on a map, after all.  No thank you, I quite like my own country and others as well.  Countries, like languages, make and shape people into who they are.  One of the great things about our world is that there are so many different people from so many different places.  We eat different foods, worship in different ways, celebrate family differently and, by necessity, live in societies that are governed differently.  If you want to imagine no bad countries, I’m on board with that.

Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too

It would be wonderful if there was nothing to kill or die for.  That one’s a bit hard to argue.  The positioning of that lyric before “an no religion too” is unfortunate.  There is no doubt that “religion” has been a major source in human history of all kinds of strife.  I would never suggest otherwise.  It has also provided BILLIONS of people with comfort in time of need.  I bet one local church in my area has fed more hungry people than John Lennon ever did.  For many, some type of “religion” has given us inner peace, a sense of something larger than ourselves, a purpose even.  And, no, I’m not going to divorce the words “religion” and “faith” or “religion” and “spirituality.”   Others can argue that if they like.

Ideally, the aim of faithful people is to better their lives and the lives of those around them.  If that is a goal, it certainly is an argument for the so-called “good” in “religion.”

Imagine all the people
Living life in peace

This sounds good.  Let’s try to imagine that.  Like I said, “religion” should be about the business of making the world a better place, including promoting peace.  Sadly, human beings don’t like peace really and no silly pop song is going to cause them to want to get along with each other.

You may say that 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

No thanks. I’m not interested in the “world be(ing) as one.”  I would like us to love and respect each other.  How about we all try following the “Golden Rule” for awhile; see where that takes us.

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can

Elvis Costello asked in “Other Side of Summer,” “Was it a millionaire who said imagine no possessions?”  Yes, Elvis, it was a millionaire who said that.   That millionaire was killed as he was returning home to one of the most exclusive residences in the mightiest city on earth.  Apparently “possessions” do not include: million-dollar plus apartments next to Central Park; millions in cash; royalties from the most successful songwriting partnership that has or will ever exist; investments in various companies, etc.  I really resent the preachiness — hypocrisy — of this line.

Besides, I quite like my possessions.  I don’t have too many fancy things, but I have a cozy home, family heirlooms, comfortable furniture, a brand-new bass guitar, a reliable vehicle and clothes.  I have loads of books and even more CDs.  I guess John thinks I should give up all so the world will be better place.
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world

It can’t really wrap my head around these lines.  Sure, no hunger seems easy enough to understand.  I’m not sure, though, where need turns to want and want to greed.  I’m also not sure what that “brotherhood of man” would look like or how we’d “share the world.”  Sounds like just so much blather.  Possessions, as I suggested aren’t bad in and of themselves, and I’m not sure I want to imagine the fruits of my labor belonging equally to others.  What do I get in exchange for everything I’m to imagine no longer having?

You may say that 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 could never join this cult.  ‘Cuz you’re really talking about destruction (of our entire way of life) and you can count me out.


You gotta crawl before you can walk*

24 03 2009

Maybe you’ve read that I bought a bass guitar this Saturday.  Since then I’ve been “playing” it quite a bit, getting to know the instrument.  But just fooling around on the fretboard gets a little boring so I figured I would tackle a song right away.

I found the tablature for the bass for Paul McCartney’s “Coming Up” (from McCartney II) and began fiddling with it.  I could play it pretty easily, in terms of hitting the notes, but I didn’t know where the notes went in the song (which is one of the problems with tabs.)  So I dig up this video on youtube and played along with the song.  I got it right the second time through.

Look, I’m hardly bragging.  I think this song has a great little bass line in it.  It’s very funky; really sweet.  But it’s kid simple.  It’s been a nice boost of confidence to have found a cool bass line that I can actually play along with the song.

If you’re new to an instrument, start with something easy and play along with it.  You’ll feel good and enjoy yourself.


*See if you can catch the clever pun in this otherwise cliche title. 😉


24 03 2009

I have several blogs and on this one, quite obviously, I focus on music.  Today, though, I’ll stray off topic  a bit and remember my dad.  I’m not going to memorialize or eulogize him; that has been done.  He died on this day in 1996.  Because much what I learned about him was through our chats about music, my presence at this site today is yet another reminder of him.

Miss you Dad.  Thanks for all that you did and we’re cool on those things you couldn’t do.


My new baby

24 03 2009

deanbass1In the last month or so, I’ve been (re)bitten by the music bug.

20 years ago I was in love with my guitar.  I never mastered it, but I really enjoyed playing.  I managed to get good enough to play a dozen plus cover tunes in a little band.

The demands of working, grad school, relationships and getting bored with my lack of progress as a musician ultimately lead to me shelving my guitar.  For the first time in maybe 3 years, I took it out of the case and started playing again last week.

Guitar, though, will never be an instrument at which I will excel.  I lost the desire to start over with it.  At the same time, I’ve been paying lots and lots of attention to bass.  If I’m playing a CD or listening to MP3s, my ears are searching for the bass lines.  I’ve just become enthralled by what a mediocre (let alone great) bass player can do for a band’s sound.

Not wanting to buy hundreds — maybe thousands — in gear, and wanting to try out the instrument before making it a major investment, I decided I would probably get an acoustic bass.  I can sit on the living room floor and noodle with it without either blasting out the windows (if she’s amped up) or being able to hear it (if she’s unplugged.)

Our local guitar store, Blue Fish Music, had just what I was looking for: an inexpensive acoustic/electric bass in nearly perfect condition.  I didn’t get it for a steal, but I paid a fair price.

She’s my baby now.  I’m really enjoying discovering this instrument and what it can do (or what I can do with it.)  I’m massively intimidated by people that have been playing for yours.  I watch players on youtube and think, “Damn, I’ll never be able to do that.”  But then I’ll find a cool song with a simple bass line, play it a bit and feel like, “Hey, if I stick to this I could be pretty decent someday.”

Whatever comes of it, I’m enjoying myself.  It’s a great creative outlet.

A re-discovered gem — Fear of Pop: Volume 1

19 03 2009

After stashing it away for the better part of a decade, I decided to dig out Fear of Pop: Volume 1, a Ben Folds solo  project — he did have help of other musicians — from 1998.  I had listened to it a few times after it was initially released and then shelved it again for a year or two.  It never really clicked with me.  Today I played it and I loved it.  Maybe it aged well. Perhaps my tastes have changed.  More than likely it was a combination of those two plus being a bit bored with listening to the same few bands all the time.

You’ve likely never heard this album. Although it had some critical acclaim, it doesn’t have obvious mass market appeal.  Ben Folds said that he put together the project to help “satisfy my need to express some things musically – textures, orchestration, rhythms – things that don’t always naturally fall into the standard three minute singer/song format. I love to paint sounds in an abstract way, discovering their effect after it’s all put together.”

There’s a little bit of everything on the album, which is primarily instrumental with some spoken word.  Electronica is probably the prevailing sound category, but there are the elements of funk, disco and rock to be heard.  The beauty of the album is not only its execution — the songs are good — but its variety.  It’s nothing like a Ben Folds or Ben Folds Five Album; it goes way beyond his power-piano driven pop-rock sound.

The closest thing to a commercial “hit” on the album is “In Love,” a spoken word bit with William Shatner.  What I dig about the song is that it is about love turned on its ear.  Most “love songs” tell the story of a man broken-hearted over a woman.  Folds (or Shatner, I suppose) tells the story of having enjoyed the short-term relationship but readily admitting that he is not willing to commit and doesn’t care enough to get upset about the relationship’s demise.  Brilliant.  Here’s a video of “In Love.”

Lennon’s and McCartney’s rebel songs

17 03 2009

In 1972, both John Lennon and Paul McCartney responded to the civil unrest (civil war, really) in Northern Ireland, “the Troubles,” by writing their own rebels songs.  Both Britons  essentially called for Britain to withdraw from the province, McCartney being a bit more straight forward in that regard.

Characteristically, McCartney softened the message with some positivity ( “Great Britain, you are tremendous, no one knows like like me…”) but Lennon went right for the throat (“A land full of beauty and wonder was raped by the British brigand! Goddamn! Goddamn!”)

McCartney has been accused of being the more conservative of the two former partners, but it’s pretty hard to argue that the call for withdrawal from Ireland, way back in 1972, was a conservative viewpoint.

Personally, I like “Luck of the Irish” better as a song.  The tune is great.  Some of the lyrics are lazy and corny; the references to leprechauns and the blarney stone.  McCartney’s lyrics weren’t a whole lot better, but his is a pretty good rock tune.

Lá Fhéile Pádraig Sona Duit (Happy St. Patrick’s Day)

17 03 2009

Here are a few lovely Irish tunes from my favorite Irish artist, Sinead O’Connor, one of ’em with my other favorites, the Chieftains.