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My cable went out about a half hour before midnight on New Year’s Eve, so I’m afraid I missed the shocking moment when Cee Lo Green changed the most famous line of John Lennon’s most famous post-Beatles song, Imagine.

The song is beloved by many people, of course, but it’s pretty much an anthem to atheists because of the plainly atheist lyrics in the first two stanzas:

Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today…

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace…

In the wake of 9/11 Richard Dawkins used a paraphrase as part of one of the most spine-chillingly effective ads for an atheist viewpoint in history:

Now, as I say I didn’t catch the performance, but I gather the only change Cee Lo made was to change “And no religion too”  to “And all religions true” – which is quite a change, admittedly, but given the absence of heaven and hell already accomplished it is more nonsensical than anything else.

Cee Lo did apologize and stress that he meant no disrespect in a tweet:

“Yo I meant no disrespect by changing the lyric guys! I was trying to say a world were u could believe what u wanted that’s all.”

(Update: the tweet was badly received, and it and all responses were deleted.)

I believe him, unhesitatingly. He just wanted to stress the inclusiveness of Lennon’s vision, and so he changed the most atheist line into a woollier NewAge pantheist alternative. It was a poor choice both politically and artistically, but it plainly wasn’t malicious, and I doubt that John would have been terribly annoyed. Given what a big moment it was for Green, it was quite a tribute to John Lennon for him to cover the song at all.

While I think Ashley F. Miller overstates the case she makes two good points: First, the altered lyric isn’t really all that far from the original intent (Lennon was wishing away the divisiveness of religion, and Cee Lo was obviously aiming at that too). Second, how can you really stay mad at this guy?

Cee Lo in his chicken suit

How could you ever be angry at that?

~ by BT Murtagh on January 2, 2012.

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