If there’s one John Lennon song I can go ten more lifetimes without ever hearing again, it’s Imagine. Not because I disagree with the song’s beautiful message, but rather the fact that it’s been so tremendously overplayed and beaten to a bloody repetitive and insincere pulp in cover form, by everyone from Seal to Pink to A Perfect Circle.
A recent rendition of the track by Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell, however, gave the tune a new direction, a new listenability and relevance. The singer’s visit to Howard Stern’s Sirius/XM show last week was an insightful & revealing one, touching on troubled childhoods, crazy girlfriend stabbings and addiction – as well as the music that got the troubled youth through his hard times and into a creative space: The Beatles.
Chris said the Beatles were his beacon in times of trouble, and insisted that John Lennon was the greatest songwriter of his generation.
And then he started to play.
Something in the reworked melody, the different timing, is just captivating enough to distract you from whatever else you’re doing. He hits the magic in the chorus, and the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.
And when he reaches the higher registers in the “Imagine no possessions” verse, we’re fully inside, our lower spines resonating like a tuning fork at the descending melody of “I wonder if you can”. His wailing of the “brotherhood of man” line breaks down the final line of resistance, of attention holdout. This man has the magic.
Bob Lefsetz made a poignantly true remark about Chris’ take on the song in his latest Lefsetz Letter: In the U.K., a studio take of “Imagine” could be the Christmas number one. But in the U.S., no format, no song gets that kind of mindshare. Our country is in chaos. The media could adopt Chris Cornell’s heartfelt rendition of “Imagine” and it could become a rallying cry. Then again, the media doesn’t want to get on the side of the protesters. We’re not in it together in America, we’re all busy protecting our own turf. Not only do we not intersect monetarily, we don’t culturally either.