Andy Stone: A Stone’s Throw
August 15, 2012
Subversive! That’s what it was. Damned subversion.
An assault on God and country. And right there on TV, in the middle of the Olympics.
Is nothing sacred?
OK. Timeout. I have to say I wasn’t outraged by the subversion so much as I was saddened – but we’ll get back to that in a moment.
First, let me note that I was not captivated by the Olympics this time around, though the fault, I am sure, was entirely my own, not the Olympics’.
They were a grand display of all that is best – physically best, at least – in the human race.
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In any case, we did watch the closing ceremony. And that was when I was slammed by that display of subversion: a video of John Lennon singing “Imagine.”
It was not a minor, offhand passing moment of accidental subversion.
The song was a centerpiece, played in full, with sweet children performing the lyrics in sign language.
But for all the sweetness, that song most certainly is subversive.
In case you’ve forgotten, here are the opening lines:
“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.”
For those who are a little slow on the uptake, those lines are a clear attack on religion.
Lennon was flat-out saying that religion, with its thoughts of heaven and hell, is keeping people from living, really and truly and properly, “for today.”
And here are the next few lines:
“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.”
So, clearly, it’s an attack on God and country. And not just an attack on one particular God or one particular country but an attack on the entire idea of God and country.
We could be “living life in peace” if it weren’t for God and country.
And how bizarre beyond bizarre, subversive beyond subversion, to play it at the closing ceremony of the Olympics, which are an orgy of nationalism.
And then, icing on that layer-cake of subversion, we get to the next verse:
“Imagine no possessions/I wonder if you can/No need for greed or hunger/A brotherhood of man.”
That’s communism – plain and simple.
Our hot-fudge sundae of nationalism, with a rich candy coating of commercialism, was suddenly topped by this bright red cherry of communism.
Well, of course, I wasn’t outraged. Not me. You know what kind of rotten person I am.
But, as I said, I was saddened.
What touched me first, of course, was the unavoidable memory of Lennon’s violent death, American-style: assassinated in the street by a madman with a gun. Little Johnny Lennon from Liverpool, truly American at last.
What a tragedy. What a waste.
But then I was struck by what was, for me, maybe even sadder: the sugar-coated trivialization of that song’s deeply felt subversion.
It was as if, in honoring John Lennon, Britain and the world were patting him on the head and saying, “Yes, yes, dear boy. Aren’t you just ever so precious?”
We play his beautiful melody and listen to his clear, simple voice and we cheerfully ignore the searing reality of his actual words: Religion and Country are nothing more or less than things “to kill or die for.” And private property is the root of most evils.
What’s outrageous is that there isn’t any outrage. What’s outrageous is that the savage intelligence and wit of John Lennon has been stripped of all meaning and turned into a sweet little hymn to play between the flag-waving and the commercials for soda pop, soap powder and credit cards.
“You may say I’m a dreamer,” Lennon sang. “But I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us. And the world will live as one.”
Fat chance. More likely that we’ll buy the world a Coke.
At least that’s what they’re counting on.
What they’re counting on is for all of us to be so tone-deaf – or just plain deaf – that we can’t hear, can’t listen, can’t, damn it, understand the words that are ringing in our ears.
Forgive me if I step back for a moment to take a wider view and mourn for the lost promise (at least it seemed like a promise) of those long-ago days when Lennon was still alive and we all still had some hope that we could change the world for the better. (And most definitely not by buying it a Coke).
We were, of course, young and foolish, idealistic and hopeful. We believed in the Brotherhood of Man. We believed in peace – or, at least (thank you again, John) in giving peace a chance.
And, well, you can see how all that worked out.
If things are not colder and meaner now then they were then (Lennon wrote “Imagine” in 1970 or 1971 – at the height of the Vietnam War, not that long after the Kent State killings), things are certainly not any warmer or cuddlier.
We are wracked by strife, prejudice, poverty and inequality. Religion and nationalism are taking over politics and it looks like our government is up for sale to the highest bidder. (“I have a bid from Koch Industries for one billion dollars! Going once, going twice …”)
The song the Olympics should have featured was from The Who (whose performance at the Closing Ceremonies wasn’t broadcast by NBC, because the network desperately needed to air the premier of its newest soon-to-fail sitcom).
You know the song I mean. The one where Roger Daltry declares “I’ll get on my knees and pray, we don’t get fooled again!” Then he lets out one of the great screams in rock ‘n’ roll history and howls, “Meet the new boss! Same as the old boss!”
No wonder NBC didn’t want to let those guys on the air.
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