Every time I see the Seattle Men's Chorus perform, I am moved to tears by something: a poignant arrangement, a graceful dance from the ASL interpreter, one of the anecdotes an individual chorus member shares, mid-show, about his own search for equality or love or both.
Today's performance was no exception.
I am stunned each time, too, at the group's ability to merge artistry with advocacy. They champion Washington's push for Marriage Equality and work with communities all over the state to reduce bullying of gay teens. They are men on a mission, but they use music to help them take their stand.
And they always know just what to sing for what occasion. Today that meant the Beatles' song book. Can you guess which song had me in tears from the get go?
I realize that I risk becoming a cliche when I cry over the first notes of John Lennon's "Imagine" -- that song plucks the same chord in me as it does for progressive, idealistic do-gooders all over the world. Hundreds of harmonizing voices dreaming together of a world where there's nothing to kill or die for? I'm a sucker for it!
After I dried my tears (a tongue-in-cheek version of "This Boy" helped a lot) and headed home, I thought more about the power of that song, that band and that artist. Maybe you already knew this, but Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, compiled in 2004 and updated in 2010, names "Imagine" as #3.
Further, "with 23 songs on the list, The Beatles are the most-represented musical act. John Lennon is the only artist to place multiple songs in the top 10 (as a member of the Beatles and as a solo artist)."
This information was new to me but not a surprise. Here's what was:
Of the top 500 songs, 204 were written in the 1960s, and 141 in the 1970s. As long as we're playing guessing games in this post, do you want to guess how many were written in the 2000s?
Music has power to move and inspire. It can capture the essence of a movement or a spirit of a generation. It can transform and challenge. And we're still using Lennon's anthem from 1971 to make statements at events as varied as marriage equality rallies, New Years Eve parties and 9/11 commemorations?
This is not a lament about there being no good songwriters, bands, melodies or lyrics these days. I cringe when I even think of myself saying such a thing, imagining my hunched-over body in a dingy bathrobe, screeching out my front window about "kids today." Instead, it's a search for that galvanizing popular culture reference that asks us to reach beyond ourselves, ask what kind of world we want, and be better. Lennon seemed to know what it took to get a politically radical message out to a varied public... and have them embrace it.
My trusty Wikipedia site tells me that:
In the book Lennon in America, by Geoffrey Giuliano, Lennon commented that "Imagine" was an "anti-religious, anti-nationalistic, anti-conventional, anti-capitalistic [song], but because it's sugar-coated, it's accepted."
I'm glad "Imagine" is still in the rotation, of course, since I love a good cry now and again. But I'm open to replacing it with some more contemporary sugar-coated dissent, if you've got some good suggestions.