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Lyrics for "Imagine" by John Lennon
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On September 21, 2001, just days after the 9-11 terror attack on the U.S., Neil Young performed John Lennon's song "Imagine" on the broadcast musical benefit telethon "America: A Tribute to Heroes". Simulcast live from London, New York and Los Angeles on the four major TV networks and the Internet, the program was seen by an estimated 89 million viewers and netted roughly $230 million in donations.
For many, Young's performance was emotionally wrenching and heart felt. Performing on a grand piano and accompanied by a small orchestra of violins, Young's rendition of Lennon's "Imagine" spoke to many of us who were suffering from the terrible tragedies in New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia (the Pentagon is actually located across the Potomac River from Washington, DC).
Those in the studio that night, reported that Young appeared to be on the verge of tears upon completing the song. Pulse Magazine wrote that Young's performance of "Imagine" on the Benefit telecast was "one of those moments you never forget."
From The New York Times article "Waiting for Our John Lennon" (September 30, 2001) by Neil Strauss:
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."
From a Pulse Magazine interview, April 2002, by Tom Lanham on the emotions Young went through on the night of 'A Tribute to Heroes?':
"Pegi, my wife, got an email from a friend of hers after the 11th with the words to 'Imagine' on it. And it was at the same time as I was trying to figure out what to play, because we only had two-and-a-half, three days' notice to do the show. And that seemed to be a good sign to me. So we went ahead and got the lyrics, the ones I couldn't remember, and I just learned it, practiced it, and when we did it that night everything just came together.
And obviously, those are the nuts and bolts, but the real emotional part ... Well, it's just so obvious why it was the way it was. That's one of the things about being a musician or a singer or a songwriter--when these things come up, it's a chance to do your job, to do what you do and have it really be what it's supposed to be. "
From Book Review in Maclean's (May 13, 2002, by BRIAN D. JOHNSON):
Young has performed "Imagine" twice since then at the Bridge School Benefit Concert on 10/20 and 21, 2001 at the Shoreline Amphitheater, Mountain View, CA where they were finale encores featuring all performers.
In a review of On The Beach by Stephen Holden in Rolling Stone, 9/26/74:
Much as Kurt Cobain's death marked the end of the grunge era, Lennon's death put an end to the 1960's love and peace spirit, albeit some twenty years later.
In a Playboy Magazine interview with John Lennon and Yoko Ono in January 1981 (coincidentally, the same issue features a nude layout of Barbara Bach--Ringo Starr's wife), Lennon discusses Young's lyrics:
Lennon: I hate it. Its better to fade away like an old soldier than to burn out. I don't appreciate worship of dead Sid Vicious or of dead James Dean or of dead John Wayne. It's the same thing. Making Sid Vicious a hero, Jim Morrison--its garbage to me. I worship the people who survive. Gloria Swanson, Greta Garbo. They're saying John Wayne conquered cancer--he whipped it like a man. You know, I'm sorry that he died and all that--I'm sorry for his family--but he didn't whip cancer. It whipped him. I don't want Sean worshipping John Wayne or Sid Vicious. What do they teach you? Nothing. Death.
Sid Vicious died for what? So that we might rock? I mean its garbage, you know. If Neil Young admires that sentiment so much, why doesn't he do it? Because he sure as hell faded away and came back many times, like all of us. No thank you. I'll take the living and the healthy.
From Rolling Stone interview by Jann Wenner interviews in December 1970:
LENNON: If you want the record bit, since Iíve been listening to the radio here, I like a few things by Neil Young and something by Elton John. There are some really good sounds, but, then there is usually no follow-through. There will be a section of fantastic sound come over the radio, then you wait for the conclusion, or the concept or something to finish it off, but nothing happens except it just goes on to a jam session or whatever.
Itís interesting to hear Van Morrison. He seems to be doing nice stuff ó sort of 1960s black musicó he is one of them that became an American like Eric Burdon. I just never have time for a whole album. I only heard Neil Young twiceó you can pick him out a mile away, the whole style. He writes some nice songs. Iím not stuck on Sweet Baby [James Taylor]ó Iím getting to like him more hearing him on the radio, but I was never struck by his stuff.
Neil Young pays homage to John Lennon on two of his albums. On the 1995 album Mirror Ball , on the song "Peace and Love", Young sings the lyrics:
On the 2003 album Greendale, on the song "Devil's Sidewalk", Young sings the lyrics:
John Lennon, you are missed greatly.
Play and listen to MP3 sample of Neil Young's cover of John Lennon's "Imagine" from the telecast fundrasier CD America: A Tribute to Heroes
Read excerpts of John Lennon: In His Own Write
For more on Clear Channel radio's 9/11 song ban playlist, see The Clear Channel Banned Songs List and Urban Legends Reference Pages: Rumors of War
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