On Living For Today and Serving Others (Or: Lennon v Dylan)
I have always hated the 1971 song ‘Imagine’ by John Lennon. The song celebrates and longs for the elimination of the things that make us distinctly human. It does it under the guise of wanting to break down the dividing barriers on the human race so that the world will be one, but the oneness Lennon dreams of, and the barriers he targets (no heaven so people live for today, no religion so that there will be peace) pretty clearly reveal what he thinks the biggest problems are. The dream Lennon holds out is one I find disgusting, not one that brings peace.
And that’s part of why I appreciate ‘Gotta Serve Somebody’ by Bob Dylan in 1979, beside it being good music. It was his last big single, and won him a Grammy.
It served as a response to Lennon’s ‘Imagine,’ which is exactly how Lennon took it. It’s the reason Lennon recorded a punk-rock demo response called ‘Serve Yourself’ which includes the repeating lines,
“You got to serve yourself,
Ain’t nobody gonna do it for you.
You got to serve yourself,
Ain’t nobody gonna do it for you.”
‘Imagine’ is all about ridding yourself of external masters, so you can be master of yourself. But instead of providing peace and unity, Lennon’s dreaming ultimately collapses into selfishness, because that is all serving yourself and living for today provides.