What ‘Imagine’ Tells Us About Our Perception Of John Lennon And His Abusive Past

09.09.16 3 years ago 4 Comments

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The first birthday present I can remember was Rubber Soul on cassette. It was the 1980s, and I remember this gift so vividly because I had to receive a new copy of Rubber Soul every few months. Cassettes, as you might recall, had a short shelf life, and I would spend hours rewinding and replaying my favorite song until the clumps of tangled plastic ribbon spilled off the spool. My mother, the ex-hippie, was surprised and a little concerned that I had become obsessed with the final song on the tape: John Lennon’s creepy, jealous rager, “Run for Your Life.”

Let this be a sermon
I mean everything I’ve said
Baby, I’m determined
And I’d rather see you dead

You better run for your life if you can, little girl
Hide your head in the sand, little girl
Catch you with another man
That’s the end, little girl

I’m sure it was disturbing to watch a little girl swoon over this specific song. John Lennon is threatening death to the woman that might betray him, but I just thought this song was about little girls. I sang my own version, repeating “little girl” loosely over the melody, and pretended he was singing it to me. John was my first favorite Beatle.

Unless you are an incredibly casual fan, stubborn, or willfully ignorant, you know that John Lennon’s history of violence and abusing women is well documented. And if you chose not to believe any of the recent indictments, his ex-wife Cynthia Lennon, or even his son Julian, you can get it straight from the horse’s mouth. “Run for Your Life” was Lennon’s first candid moment of conveying jealousy with hints of cruelty, but it would be far from his last. He reminded us, frequently:

I used to be cruel to my woman
I beat her and kept her apart from the things that she loved
Man, I was mean
But I’m changing my scene
And I’m doing the best that I can

In a post-Beatles interview with Playboy, Lennon gave us the context behind this verse in “Getting Better,” an otherwise McCartney-heavy track from Sgt. Pepper. Reflecting on the song, Lennon admitted, “I used to be cruel to my woman, and physically — any woman. I was a hitter. I couldn’t express myself and I hit.”

But that’s not the part of the song that gets used in those Phillips commercials. “Getting Better” is still a fan favorite, a track of poptimism reserved only for soundtracks with happy endings. Such grim words dissolve into Paul McCartney’s hopelessly optimistic chorus that’s eager to give John another chance. Just as I held onto the words “little girl” in John Lennon’s explicit threats of violence, so too has the public heard his admitted crimes and opted to sing a different part of the song instead, cheering “It’s getting better! It’s getting better all the time!”

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