Sunday, July 27, 2008

you-hoo-hooooo may say i'm a pessimist, but i'm not the only one...

this might seem alarming i think the john lennon song "imagine" is pretty depressing.

i know i am probably not the go-to source for trenchant insights into widely popular, yet, sadly, misunderstood songs*, but i think everyone has been looking at this song the wrong way.

guaranteed, if you and a group of your close friends, kin or a mixture thereof are sitting around and this song comes on, someone will inevitably remark about how idealistic and beautiful it is. if they don't say it out loud, one or more of them are definitely thinking it. because john is an excellent songwriter, you unconsciously do what he commands you to - imagine this utopian world he's thinking of. a brotherhood of man? who can really argue with that. sounds pretty awesome.

i think it's pretty much accepted that john was the token idealistic songwriter of the 60s/70s, but i think if he's worth his snuff, there's got to be more to this song than the simple, idealistic message of "can't we all just get along?"

he starts listing all the things that we'd have to take out of the equation in order to achieve this perfect world. so basically we're getting rid of possessions, countries, religion (including heaven and hell**), and consequently, things that we kill or die for, greed, hunger, and the negative side effects of living as though your fate is fixed.

but is the price worth the reward? i mean, yeah... this world would be awesome. but it would also be boring. these Utopians would have nothing to fight about or hate each other for, yes, but they'd also have nothing*** to talk about.

maybe this sounds ridiculous, but does he REALLY want to give up all of that, or expect anyone else to want to? i think no. and that's why this song is depressing and genius.

so he never actually uses the word "utopia" but that's what we're getting at here, i think, and while i was looking up the adjective form of the word (because apparently, in order for blogger to accept it, you have to capitalize it... even if you are not specifically describing Sir Thomas More's Utopia. idiots.) i stumbled on the etymology of the word, which i didn't know but maybe you did. it comes from the Greek words that mean "not" and "a place" so basically it means "nowhere."

so this perfect world is actually nowhere - it's some place we'll never find, which is one layer of sad. on top of that, to get it, we'd have to give up everything that makes most people's lives bearable. and so even if we could eliminate all those things, we probably never would.

which, to me, is fucking depressing. but maybe i'm the pessimist.

*but, doesn't make me any less right about "california girls."

**i read somewhere that at the airport in liverpool are written the words "above us only sky," which might be the best side effect of this song. this and FC's slogan of "you'll never walk alone" have me convinced that liverpool might be the coolest place ever. it's like those kids that write song lyrics and quotes all over their book covers... except they wrote them on their city. liverpudlians are awesome. and they're called liverpudlians! i love it.

***although, john neglects to mention getting rid of global warming, which would surely cause these Utopians some unforseen conflict.

1 comment:

nmtap said...

Jen, you're alternate take on this song kind of reminds me of the dystopian evocation in A Perfect Circle's "Imagine" cover from a few years back.