↑ Play “Imagine” while reading this.
I was born a few months after John Lennon’s “Imagine” hit the airwaves. Imagine this: I recently had the opportunity to catch up with the late songwriter.
Origen: In “Imagine” you asked us to imagine “no hell below us.” What’s the word on that?
Lennon: One can only imagine there’s a hell below us, because in fact there isn’t.
O: My mother played records for me when I was still in the womb. Rachmaninov. The Beatles.
L: Isn’t that amazing?! You had the child’s mind I was trying to return adult minds to.
O: As a child it was easy to imagine everything in “Imagine,” but of all the things in the song, I had the hardest time imagining no heaven.
L: If you were wrong on that score, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.
O: The song says people would live life in peace if we could forget about religion and live for today. Above us, only sky.
We have to change the world and ourselves, don’t we? There’s a benevolent circle.
L: The abuse of music. The abuse of nakedness. There’s a reason it’s called breaking someone’s spirit. Human beings are spirits who inhabit bodies, after all.
O: In your life and through your music, you responded to your times—to Vietnam, to the Civil Rights movement. You wanted to change the world, but you clearly saw internal change—us changing ourselves—as key.
L: We have to change the world and ourselves, don’t we? There’s a benevolent circle. Focus too much on yourself, or on the world, and you’re out of balance. Balance is important, you know?
O: That reminds me of “But if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao, you ain’t gonna make it with anyone anyhow.”
L: Balance. Making it with people, and balance.
O: Speaking of Chairman Mao, I was in downtown Berkeley today.
L: Great town. Glad to see Strawberry Creek’s still running.
O: In the window of a student café, I saw a poster inviting people to join The Revolution. There was a picture of Earth revolving. It was clearly calling for a revolution not just of world power structures, but a revolution of worldview as well.
L: That’s what we need, isn’t it? A revolution of worldview.
O: I also saw the windows of Chase and Wells Fargo smashed from the previous night’s protest over police brutality. In “Revolution,” you say, “When you talk about destruction, don’t you know that you can count me out.”
L: Yes, I feel destruction is a distraction. The answer to destruction isn’t more destruction. The answer is creation. Transformation.
O: In your lifetime, transformation was about sociopolitical issues, and the environmental issue was just emerging. Now the urgency of the environmental crisis is the animating force for change.
L: The interconnectedness of life on Earth helps you see the interconnectedness of society. The exhaustion of natural resources is connected to your personal exhaustion. I remember when the pace of change was called “glacial”—it was a kind of apology. Sorry you can’t have what you want right now; this kind of change is glacial. Now glaciers are melting so fast, we need to change immediately.
O: Do you still think it’s gonna be “All right. All right. All right”?
L: Yesterday I had tea with George Carlin. He says, “The planet will be just fine. WE’RE fucked.” So that’s some cold comfort for you.
O: The Earth has been through mass extinctions before.
L: Bungalow Bill, what did you kill?
O: Do you still think all we need is love?
L: Hey, I’m just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round.