It was also undeniably inspired by Lennon’s wife, Yoko Ono. Indeed, Lennon drew portions of the lyrics in “Imagine” from Ono’s 1964 poetry book, “Grapefruit.”
And in a 1980 video interview, Lennon said the song “should be credited as a Lennon-Ono song because a lot of it — the lyric and the concept — came from Yoko.”
Soon, more than four decades after the song’s release, 84-year-old Ono is likely to receive the songwriting credit Lennon said was always due her.
On Wednesday, the chief executive of the National Music Publishers Association announced that the process is underway to add Ono to the song as a co-writer, Variety reported. David Israelite, the CEO, shared the news at the organization’s annual meeting in New York, where “Imagine” received the “Centennial Song” award.
Ono and her son, Sean Lennon, accepted the award onstage, where Ono proclaimed “this is the best time of my life,” Variety said. Ono — who is currently fighting a flulike sickness and had to be pushed onstage in a wheelchair — said her current illness has made her appreciate the song even more. Patti Smith then performed what many described as a poignant rendition of the song.
Sean Lennon later wrote about the award ceremony on his Instagram, calling it the “proudest day of my life.” “Cut to: my mother welling up in tears,” Sean Lennon wrote. “Patience is a virtue!”
And on Thursday morning, Ono tweeted a portion of an interview recording in which Lennon said “’Imagine’ was inspired by Yoko’s ‘Grapefruit.’”
“There’s a lot of pieces in it saying imagine this or imagine that,” Lennon said. “I know she helped on a lot of the lyrics but I wasn’t man enough to let her have credit for it. I was still selfish enough and unaware enough to take that contribution without acknowledging it.”
“I was still full of wanting my own space after being in the room with four guys and always having to share everything,” he continued.
The song, he said, “expresses what I learned through being with Yoko and my own feelings on it.”
Lennon died after being gunned down in New York on Dec. 8, 1980, by Mark David Chapman.
Downtown Music Publishing, which manages Ono’s and Lennon’s solo work, tweeted that the award — bestowed to both its songwriters — was “an incredible honor for us.”
Because “Imagine” was originally released in 1971, the song will enter the public domain 95 years after its publication date. (Due to changes in law, music published after 1978 extends the copyright for 70 years after the death of the last writer).
This means that adding Ono as an author would not extend the life of the song’s copyright, Variety pointed out.
But the decision would also be a highly controversial one among a segment of die-hard Beatles fans, some of whom still blame Ono for breaking up the band in 1970 by creating tensions and divisions between Lennon and the other band members.
As Delia Lloyd wrote in The Washington Post in 2012, many Beatles fans have formed the impression that “Ono was this new-agey, avant-garde, exotic Japanese freak show who forever spoiled the rough, working class sensibilities of the sometimes-truculent, creative musical genius from the streets of Liverpool.”
“There’s no doubt that after meeting Ono, Lennon moved in a decidedly different creative direction,” she added.
But Paul McCartney tried to dispel that mind-set in a 2012 interview with David Frost, announcing that Ono was not responsible for the disbanding.
“She certainly didn’t break the group up, the group was breaking up,” McCartney said. He added that without Ono’s influence, songs such as “Imagine” would never have been written: “I don’t think he would have done that without Yoko, so I don’t think you can blame her for anything.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story cited an article in Variety that mistakenly reported that adding Yoko Ono as an author would extend the song’s copyright term. In fact, the song has a fixed copyright term of 95 years from initial publication.
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