Is this really a thing? Outrage over Cee-Lo Green changing one lyric in John Lennon’s “Imagine” during his New Year’s Eve performance? Granted, Cee-Lo became superfamous for singing altered lyrics to his own famously profane hit song, but we’re supposed to be surprised that he displays similar irreverence toward someone else’s work?
Fine, so he changed the lyric, “And no religion, too” to “And all religion’s true.” (The offending alteration comes in at around the five-minute mark in the video embedded above.) But if you think about it, that line is just as provocative as the line it replaces. If all religion is true, then neither Muslims nor Christians nor Jews nor Buddhists can claim a monopoly on religious truth. (And then, I guess, we should all become Unitarian Universalists.) It’s a provocative change, provocative in a good way, like the rest of the song, and I suspect that that venerable provocateur, John Lennon, might have approved of the tweak, since he considered so little to be sacred, including his own musical canon (“I don’t believe in Beatles,” as he put it).
Besides, isn’t this a song about nothing being sacred? Has anyone really listened to the lyrics, beyond the chorus, that is? Lennon imagines a world of peace and unity, created by eliminating theism, nationalism, militarism, and capitalism. Maybe the song’s millions of fans are in agreement with that radical proposal, but I suspect most of them wouldn’t be willing to go that far and discard all the isms that make their lives comfortable in exchange for a vague utopian dream. It’s fun and fascinating to imagine, probably because it’ll never happen. We can work toward the world of brotherhood and non-violence that Lennon imagined, but we’re probably not going to get there his way. Or Cee-Lo’s way.