---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Tue, 02 Oct 2001 22:49:15 -0700
From: radtimes <email@example.com>
Subject: Waiting for Our John Lennon
September 30, 2001
Waiting for Our John Lennon
By NEIL STRAUSS
IF the Vietnam War was the first war that America witnessed on television,
then the war on terrorism is the first one that Americans are coming to
terms with on the Internet. E-mail boxes overflowed with communiqus from
eyewitnesses and survivors in Manhattan, many of which painted a picture
far bleaker than that on the
news. Then there were editorializing e-mails like the Afghan-born novelist
Tamim Ansary's plea for the civilians of his native country and an
anonymous writer's suggestion that instead of sending soldiers and bombs,
American forces should bring food and other gifts to cripple Afghan support
for the Taliban. Other e-mails offered links to Web sites where small slide
shows and Flash animations, all accompanied by music, served to drive home
a point in a way that sometimes only art can.
So it came to be that an executive at Clear Channel Communications was
circulating among its more than 1,100 affiliate radio stations a list of
songs deemed questionable for airplay in light of the attacks, a link to a
Web site (www.yellow7.com/imagine) began to circulate on the Internet
grapevine. At the site, an excerpt from a song that was part of the Clear
Channel graylist (it's not quite a blacklist, since it's voluntary) played
over images from the Sept. 11 attacks and their aftermath, with each
photograph perfectly keyed to a song lyric for maximum emotional impact.
The song was "Imagine," by John Lennon. In various guises on the Internet,
remixed with quotes from President Bush or covered by unknown home-studio
musicians, "Imagine" quickly became the soundtrack of hope in the wake of
Sept. 11. Chief among its many attractions is this verse:
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
Written on the back of a hotel bill on an airplane, "Imagine" has been
embraced as a universal anthem since its release in 1971. The song's
critics, however, see Lennon's sentiments as naive anarcho- communism, a
completely impractical proposition put forth by a man far removed from
reality. But the reason critics dislike "Imagine" also happens to be
exactly why the song, and all such art, is necessary. It envisions, and in
doing so creates, a world that we can't in real life.
It was no surprise, then, that Neil Young, rock's eternal hippie and fiery
man on the mountain, knew just what song would be most poignant to perform
on "America: A Tribute to Heroes," the all-star television fund-raiser
broadcast on Sept. 21. Those who were listening closely may have noticed
that when it came time to sing the lyric "Imagine no possessions/ I wonder
if you can," Mr. Young changed the word "you" to "I."
Mr. Young's point was to remove a small arrogance from the song, to confess
that even he, the self- sufficient mountain man, may not be able to let go
of the material world. Lennon, on the other hand, presented the challenge
like a master speaking to you, the listener and disciple, who must change
yourself in order to change the world. This sentiment ran through most of
his songs and catchphrases, like "War is over, if you want it." Even his
classic song "Give Peace a Chance," currently being re-recorded by his
widow, Yoko Ono, and her pop-star friends, did not cast blame on the
typical countercultural enemy, "them." Instead, it had a "you" implied.
(Lennon will be honored on Tuesday in "Come Together: A Night for John
Lennon's Words and Music," broadcast live on TNT from Radio City Music Hall.)
These types of grand statements and direct challenges were the solo
Lennon's genius and his Achilles' heel. As a pop star and an artist, he had
a certain license to be arrogant, eccentric and overconfident in his
beliefs and abilities. But at the same time, he had the strength of
character to be true to himself and those ideals, even if they were
ever-fluctuating and ever-mocked. As he once said, speaking of his and
Yoko's bed-ins, "We are willing to become the world's clowns if it helps
spread the word for peace."
As idealistic as the songs were, however, they also had a realistic side.
They didn't demand peace now; all they asked the listener to do was to
imagine peace or to give it a chance. Lennon never wanted to be a leader.
He didn't want people to believe in leaders or expect leaders to do
anything for them. He just wanted to be a good example, which he sometimes
That is why "Jealous Guy," another song from the "Imagine" album, is just
as revolutionary as the title track. It expresses the sentiment that paves
the way for "Imagine." As honest an apology and self- recriminating a
statement as any in music, "Jealous Guy" says that love is
difficult difficult but possible, and really quite simple if you're
willing to let go of your ego. And once you find that you're a much
happier, more complete person as part of a couple living in peace, it's
only a small step to start imagining how that feeling would increase if
shared among three people, or 20, or a nation, or a world. Of course, we
live in a country in which more than one in every three women brought into
an emergency room is there because of domestic violence. So if peace is to
start at home, we still have a long way to go.
As talented a dreamer as he was, John Lennon was far from perfect. Even in
his most idealistic days, he could be petty, vindictive and cynical, often
in song. He was a walking contradiction, and admitted such himself, stating
in an interview, "Part of me suspects that I'm a loser, and the other part
of me thinks I'm God Almighty." In other words, he was an average human.
UNFORTUNATELY, my generation has yet to produce a fallible yet credible
visionary, a deadly serious yet wickedly funny, peacenik pop star along the
lines of John Lennon. This is because, until now, nothing has happened in
my generation that has removed us from our solipsism.
For the generation that came of age from roughly 1900 to 1920, there was
World War I. The generation that came of age between 1920 and 1940 had the
Great Depression to deal with. For the 1940-60 generation, World War II and
the cold war. For the 1960-80 generation, Vietnam. But for those of us who
reached maturity between 1980 and 2000, there was nothing. Or at least no
major war, national catastrophe, or event that pulled people outside of
themselves and their advancement or comfort and into a larger sphere of
fear, suffering or danger that they would share with the rest of humanity.
That was one reason Y2K fears were so rampant: people believed that it had
been quiet for too long, that something had to happen.
Unfortunately, it just did, and now we're waiting for our John Lennon, who
isn't afraid to look like a clown while giving us hope a type of hope so
simple, so naive and optimistic, that, after we laugh at it, we must cry,
because we think, yes, he's right, but there's nothing we can do about it.
And that's what differentiates most of us from the John Lennon of the late
60's and early 70's: he tried to do something about it, and he challenged
you to as well, even if on the smallest level possible, because he knew
that the worst sin is
believing that you can do nothing and then acting on that belief.
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.
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