I’ve always admired John Lennon for his playful, Alice-in-Wonderland type Lyrics, his powerful voice, his catalogue of rock and roll songs and ballads, and his authentic spirit. But there is one song, which I‘ve never loved: and that is the sacred cow them all—‘Imagine’. It seems to me all wrong, a nursery ryme for adults, the lowest statment of the ex-beatle.
Imagine there’s no heaven , It’s easy if you try, No hell below us. Now wait just a minute! Wouldn’t that be a flat world, without an up and a down, without metaphysical depth or verticle dimension, without being and becoming? Is that a world you really want, with nothing behind the curtain? Isn’t that a world without collective or individual imagination.
Imagine is an anthem, and anthems are coercive—they stink of ideology. Certainly a world without war, hunger, greed or possessions — where everybody lives in the blissful present and the nightmare of history has been forgotten—where religion has finally been crushed and the tyrannical Jehova overthrow—seems like a desirable world, doesn’t it? This song makes you want to sing and hold a candle, and mabye shed a tear. It is the perfect marketing jingle for our times. It’s like the secret. You just have to imagine the world you want to appear, and it will appear.
No, I don’t think that such world would be desirable. Our world has all kinds of heaven and hells— there are heavens and hells in each person. Why would we want to live in a world where only surfaces matters? Wouldn’t that be a superficial world without without lore, without mythological resonance.
And if we just lived for ‘today’, while forgetting about yesterday and tomorrow, outside of time and history, naked and back in Eden—what kind of people would we really be? (For some reason I picture a lot of middle-age two year olds, throwing food around the google cafeteria.) And if we were just ‘one’ wouldn’t we lose all manners, distinction, outline, contrast, and individual beauty. Wouldn’t we just be a characterless, homogenous mass.
The sentiments of the 1960’s may have been radical at the time, but they need to be revised — our creative culture desperately needs a renaissance. Perhaps the reason the ‘alt-right’ has become a compelling counterculture —which is a terrifying thing to contemplate—is that there is too little going on besides endless political resentment in the art world. The antidote is: meditate and study history, don’t just ‘live for the present’ like happy spiritual consumers, but live for tomorrow too.
The world ‘without heaven or hell’ has been tried: the result being various concentration camp-like states. Isn’t North Korea a perfect example of ‘no heaven above and not hell below’ — a state based entirely on materialist presuppositions, bent on destroying the ancient metaphysical basis, a place of suicidal terrors.
Great artists have always tried to imagine and depict the highest possible heavens and the lowest hells — to portray the vertical depths of being—rather than merely to describe the horizontal ‘desserts of the real’. A world without heaven and hell might be a dessert —without potential or memory, a kind of documentary, hard-boiled, type of world that is merely literal, and doesn’t understand symbol or metaphor.
Countless visionaries have attested to sublime, heavenly states of being. And similarily there are actually deep hells that one can fall into as a consequence of going astray — perhaps there is a reason to be deeply terrified of them. We don’t have to go very far to find of hell, just turn on the evening news or look deeply into the eyes of your neighbour. These heavens and hell states are not only found on the surface of the earth, but in our dreams and inner space. To try to imagine them away sounds like a game of pretend.
The hippy dream, with all its magnificent experiments, needs to be revised. It’s beauty was to insist on the the imagination, to bypass the merely political. Lennon got it right at first when he sang ‘I am the Walrus’: He was exploring multiple identities and worlds, and the subconscious mind. Perhaps if had he lived he would have gone back to his earlier emphasis on creativity. After John Lennon’s magnificent confessional album Plastic Ono band, he might have returned to his genius, as an absurdist, as a playfull wordsmith, as someone who bends time and space rather than one who tries to reduces it.
So I say, John, if you are out there — bring back the Walrus. The Walrus was magnificient. It was terrifying. It was theatrical. It was playful and absurd. It was like a religious icon. And we need such masks, personas, dream. I’ll say it again. John. Bring back the Walrus.”