It was twenty years ago today… I’ve always wanted to write that and mean it! It genuinely was twenty years ago today that I bought John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’. You may wonder how I remember. Well, here’s the story.

Her name was Emily and I was sixteen. I had fallen in love for the very first time and this emotional revelation coincided with my awakening to the world of popular music. Certainly, I had been aware of music prior to Emily’s intervention, but she made me realise just how cool music could be.

Immediately I started seeing her, she started making me tapes and lending me albums. If memory serves, one of the first was Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’ – on cassette, with the inlay card liberally doused in her perfume. My own record collection was rather limited at the time – a few Neil Young albums, some James Taylor, a smattering of Motown, the Beatles’ Red and Blue albums, ‘Eliminator’ and ‘Afterburner’ by ZZ Top, ‘The Greatest Hits of 1985’ (which I bought for Paul Hardcastle’s ‘19’ and Ray Parker Jr’s ‘Ghostbusters’) and ‘Now 8’. I also had Queen’s ‘Greatest Hits’, ‘A Kind of Magic’ and ‘The Best of The Crusaders’ which my uncle had taped for me.

Emily and I settled on the Beatles. We bought ‘The White Album’ together. I have it to this day: when we split up, I got custody. We read her father’s copy of Goldman’s notorious ‘Lives of John Lennon’, overlooking the salacious hearsay and agreeing that Lennon was, effectively, a saint. She would draw pictures of John and include them in the notes she regularly sent me. For my part, I would write songs for her and sign my notes “peace and love.”

For three months, it was perfect. We met every lunchtime and spent an hour kissing outside the school gates. We would go to each other’s houses every evening and pretend that we were much more intellectual than we were. I started reading Camus and Kafka, Emily started meditating. Over and above all the bullshit, though, we had fun. Until the day after St. Valentine’s day. I went into a school filled with rumours on that fateful Monday morning. Emily, it seemed, had been spotted kissing my best friend, Alan. We met that lunchtime. She confessed, I cried and sneaked home to wallow in my heartache.

That evening, my parents were going shopping and I decided to tag along. Browsing the music section in Asda, I came across ‘Imagine’ on cassette. The title track had been “our song,” so I figured I should buy it to keep the memory, and the hope of reconciliation, alive.

I listened to the album over and over, completely missing the hypocrisy of a multi-millionaire singing “Imagine no possessions,” in a 72 acre mansion. I missed the linguistic cruelty of ‘Crippled Inside’. I overlooked the venomous digs at Paul – ‘How Do You Sleep?’ has John spitting bile at his erstwhile partner, while the inner sleeve shows John wrestling a pig in an obvious parody of McCartney’s ‘RAM’ artwork. Instead, I focused on the positives of what is, still, one of my favourite post-Beatles-Beatle albums. The simplicity and hope of the title track; the acknowledgement of past wrongs and plea for forgiveness that is ‘Jealous Guy’; the anger and cynicism in ‘Gimme Some Truth’ (in my opinion, Lennon’s finest post-Beatles lyric). Even the somewhat trite ‘Oh Yoko’ spoke to me on a level that few other songwriters have ever reached. Despite its faults, despite its almost Paul-like sweetness in places, despite its blatant hypocrisy, the overwhelming feel of the album was one of hope.

This hope spawned a plan. I would copy the album for Emily and present it to her in an attempt to win her back. I took out a BASF C90 and set the ghetto blaster to “dubbing.”

The following morning, in our English class, I walked up to her, handed her the tape and…choked. I couldn’t say a word. I blew it. My face turned scarlet, my confidence shattered, and I didn’t so much as speak to another girl for six months.

Emily and I met again when I was at uni. By then, she was affecting a liking for Leonard Cohen, smoking Marlboro red and wearing Soviet army surplus clothing, always with a dog-eared copy of ‘Factotum’ by Charles Bukowski poking out of one or other pocket. I won’t even begin to describe my own affectations of the time, but, suffice to say, we got together again and for six glorious months first love had been rekindled. They say lightning never strikes twice. It did, and, once again, she went off with Alan behind my back. How do you sleep, indeed?

I’m happy to say that we’re on good terms these days. I see Emily from time to time with her kids, and we share happy memories of our mutual past. She claims she never listened to the tape, but I don’t believe her. She also claims to have no recollection of cheating on me, twice, with my best friend. She does admit, however, that we were a sweet, if naïve, couple, and, that John, not Paul, was the greatest Beatle. On those points, at least, we can agree.







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