I’m sorry that I made you cry.
IMAGINE (Apple, 1971)
I could never quite reconcile the co-existence of “Imagine” and “How Do You Sleep?” on the same album. The former is the most hopeful of all atheist anthems. The latter is a vicious and unjustified attack on Paul McCartney, my favorite Beatle! I’ve since realized that “Imagine” is also a little bit hateful, and “How Do You Sleep?” is a little bit funny. But none of that matters. I don’t have to make these two songs fit into the same worldview. They only have to fit on the same album, and they do, because if Walt Whitman can contain multitudes, so can John Lennon.
I haven’t always allowed John Lennon to be as complicated as he needs to be. I’ve wanted him to be just a pop songwriter, like McCartney often is, and haven’t wanted to indulge his early 70s despair, afraid that it might become my own. But each time I listen to Imagine, I come closer to understanding that the John Lennon who barked out “Twist and Shout” in 1963, the John Lennon who loved his family and wrote “Woman” and “Beautiful Boy” in 1980, the John Lennon who felt a different way from one day to the next in 1971, are all one person, trying to communicate something even when he only has bad news. Imagine’s two loveliest moments, “Jealous Guy” (an apology, one of those songs guaranteed to always make me cry) and “Oh Yoko” (a love song), are all the lovelier for being ephemeral, preceded and followed by uncertainty and hate.