Thursday, October 25, 2012

"A Hallmark card set to music"

Continuing in the uncharitable spirit of my last post, here's an entry from The A.V. Club’s “Hatesong” series that pits British folkie Frank Turner against one of the most hallowed totems of modern pop culture: “Imagine.”
It’s always grated on me as a song for a whole host of reasons: the production, the lyrics, the sappiness, its popularity, the knowledge that Lennon was so much better than this one song, and yet it’s the one most people know...
It’s a Hallmark card set to music. There’s a pretty high dose of hypocrisy in here as well. For a man who had a dedicated, refrigerated room in his New York penthouse apartment for storing his fur-coat collection to sing “Imagine no possessions” takes a fair amount of chutzpah. I mean, I have no problem with the man collecting fur coats. Whatever floats your boat. But there’s a certain strain of material disdain that can only result from being really fucking rich, which is intensely patronizing.
. . .
The sacrilege! Turner lands some solid blows against a song that I too have long thought was overvalued. Musically, “Imagine” is ponderous and earthbound. It sort of limps along, content to be muted rather than convey much conviction. Phil Spector didn’t help matters out with his muddy production job. A cleaner sound would’ve been better. Same for the melody and the vocal; there’s little blood flowing through either. Message-wise, I can understand why people want to connect with the song, but one person’s idealism is another person’s naivete. Throw in the bald hypocrisy and the preachy tone (“It’s easy if YOU try,” “I wonder if YOU can,” etc.), and it quickly becomes easy to start imagining much better songs. Indeed, “Jealous Guy” is far and away the true highlight of the Imagine album.
However, my biggest issue with “Imagine” is how it has helped to warp the real John Lennon into a sanitized figure of myth. Let me elaborate. As history shows, John was a complicated, flawed and volatile individual. Within this one man was a broad spectrum of conflicting natures that often operated at the extremes. He was loving and abusive, peaceful and violent, caring and selfish, self-deprecating and vain, funny and bitter. Perhaps you could say he was more human than most. But, in the popular imagination, John has become so closely tied to the soaring idealism of “Imagine” that we’ve gone and made a saint out of him. Let's call this the “Imagine Effect.” It filters out the bad and leaves us with false caricatures: John the Activist, John the Peace Lover, John the Humanist Messiah and so forth. These incomplete pictures might make us feel good, but they’re distortions of the truth. And (to paraphrase John), when assessing the legacy of historical figures - even our idols - all we should want is the truth.
"Jealous Guy"
(If the video is removed, go here.)

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