Imagine there's no Heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
One of the basic tenets of Christianity is the belief in heaven and hell, and John Lennon felt that these concepts were being exploited for the wrong reasons.
In a 1980 interview with Playboy magazine, published shortly before he was assassinated, Lennon took a moment to riff on what he believes to be the flaws of Christianity:
But the whole religion business suffers from the 'Onward, Christian Soldiers' bit. There's too much talk about soldiers and marching and converting. I'm not pushing Buddhism, because I'm no more a Buddhist than I am a Christian, but there's one thing I admire about the religion: There's no proselytizing. (Source)
Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
During the time period in which he wrote "Imagine," John and his wife, Yoko Ono, dreamed up a fake country called Nutopia in response to the United States' concerted efforts to get him deported from the country.
In the late 1960s, during Richard Nixon's first term in the White House, John Lennon's political activism became an increasing source of anxiety and paranoia for the president. As a Lennon biographer explains, the deeper the John and Yoko became involved political activism, the more the FBI and CIA kept tabs on them.
Lennon, a British citizen living in New York City, had to appear in hearings before the Immigration and Nationalization Service, repeatedly pleading his case to stay in the country. On April 1st, 1972, John and Yoko decided to play a big, fat April Fool's joke on the INS. They alerted the media that they were going to hold a press conference at the New York Bar Association, and when the cameras arrived, this is what they saw:
Flanked by Yoko and an indulgent Leon Wildes (his lawyer), John announced the creation of a "conceptual" country called Nutopia with "no land, no boundaries, no passports, only people." Its national flag was a Kleenex, and anyone who heard of its existence automatically became both a citizen and an ambassador. As ambassadors-in-chief, he and Yoko claimed diplomatic immunity from normal immigration procedure and legal process, and the prerogative to stay in America for as long as Nutopia's national interests should warrant. On the service door of their Dakota apartment kitchen appeared a plaque reading NUTOPIAN EMBASSY.
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace
This verse inspired Yoko Ono's "Imagine Peace" tower in Iceland.
In 2007, Yoko Ono, the widow of John Lennon, finally began making an old concept for a "peace tower" a reality. It's a beam of light projected high into the sky by nine spotlights surrounding a huge base. The tower is in Iceland "because it is a very eco-friendly country" (source), says Yoko, and most of the country's energy comes from water, not oil.
The tower itself is engraved with "Imagine Peace" in 24 languages and is to be lit from October 9th (Lennon's birthday) to December 8th (the day of his assassination) each year.
Along with projecting the words to "Imagine," the tower will also be surrounded by "wish trees" upon which hang hundreds of thousands of handwritten wishes for peace. Upon its unveiling in 2007, Ono, joined by Ringo Starr and George Harrison's widow Olivia, addressed a crowd and instructed them to spread messages of love and peace all over the world.
She wrote, "'I dedicate this light tower to John Lennon. My love for you is forever.' Yoko Ono." (Source)
You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
This is one of the most famous song lyrics…ever.
We don't have any proof, but we bet if you said this line to just about anyone in the English-speaking world, they would know where and it came from and who wrote it.
It's an assertion of solidarity between all people who try to live their lives in a peaceful way and push for worldwide happiness. It represents the awesome power that music has to unite people across borders and generations.
Imagine no possessions
This line was written into the screenplay of Forrest Gump in order to suggest that the character of Forrest himself was the inspiration for "Imagine."
A recurring motif in Forrest Gump is that Forrest becomes a crucial player in many of the defining historical moments of the '60s and '70s. At the peak of his fame, John Lennon appeared on The Dick Cavett Show.
In the film, the screenwriter inserted Forrest into the same episode of the show, and the scene depicts John, Dick, and Forrest sitting together. Forrest recounts his recent trip to China in which mentions that the Chinese do not have much stuff ("no possessions") and don't congregate in churches or synagogues ("no religion, too").
Upon hearing this, the host says, "It's hard to imagine," and Lennon replies, "It's easy if you try, Dick," effectively dictating three major lines from the song.
No need for greed or hunger
This line may refer to the "Concert for Bangladesh" that George Harrison threw for starving war refugees.
When East Pakistan (now known as Bangladesh) seceded from Pakistan in 1971, a war broke out between the secessionist rebels and the Pakistani army. Meanwhile, millions of civilians caught in the crossfire fled toward the Indian border.
As if being a refugee wasn't bad enough, the people were then blocked by torrential monsoons and many died. Many of those who survived were left on the verge of starvation. Ravi Shankar—a famous Indian sitar player and Norah Jones's dad—was a good friend and mentor to George Harrison of the Beatles. When he told Harrison about the refugee crisis, the Beatle decided to host a charity concert and went about recruiting some of his rock star friends.
Bob Dylan, Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, and others signed on immediately, but when John Lennon got the call from George to headline the benefit, he panicked. First of all, George hadn't extended the invitation to Yoko, and John was upset because by that time, Yoko was his musical partner and he didn't want to perform without her by his side. Secondly, John was fearful that the concert might be a scheme hatched by the other Beatles to get the band back together; Lennon biographer Dan Richter wrote that Lennon "was terrified the other Beatles were out to trap him. He thought he'd be onstage with George and Ringo, and then Paul McCartney would walk on, and headlines all over the world would say 'Beatles Reunion.'" (Source)
At this point in time, John had already moved well past the Beatles era in his mind and was immersed in creative projects with Yoko. As he later told Playboy, he didn't want to reunite the Beatles because in his opinion, they'd just turned into a hit machine and had lost their artistic spark. He said, "I had become a craftsman and I could have continued being a craftsman. I respect craftsmen, but I am not interested in becoming one." (Source)
With all this in mind, it's not hard to see why John skipped the concert. Even without his presence, however, the Concert For Bangladesh at Madison Square Garden in New York raised over $250,000 for the refugees and showed that rock and roll stars can give back, too. George later said that it was due to John Lennon's humanitarianism and peace-making efforts that he conceived of the concert in the first place.