“Rap” is an ancient form of rhythmical speech. One who delivers a modern performance of such is known as a “Rapper,” and what the Rapper does is known as “Rapping.”
One practitioner of this art is improbably known as Cee Lo Green. What kind of a name, might one wonder, is Cee Lo? But all names are culturally connected to something or other. What about improbable names like Edwin, Pamela, or Vergilius? To criticize the dude for the name would be an ad hominem logical fallacy and probably racial. What kind of name is Green?
Cee Lo Green what did you mean? What did you mean oh Cee Lo Green? Did you mean to be obscene? Is your religion just plain mean?
John Lennon and I were born in the same year. He is 48 days older than me. Among the many differences between us, perhaps the most important just now is that I am alive and he is dead. And this has been our relationship for the past 31 years.
You have no doubt heard quite a bit recently about “standing” to bring cases in court. Here is a good example. No person, or organization, that I know of has standing to contest Cee Lo’s admitted modification of John Lennon’s masterpiece “Imagine” when he sang this work in a public display at Times Square, on New Year’s Eve that celebrated the arrival of 2012, said by some to be the last year for the life of our planet and for all that thereon dwell.
And note just how the words were changed in the Cee Lo presentation.
John Lennon had written: “nothing to kill or die for / and no religion too.”
The Cee Lo version said: “nothing to kill or die for / and all religion’s true.”
It is a sad fact that Helen Kagin is not alive to confront this outrage. “Imagine” was her favorite song and she adopted it as a theme song for Camp Quest. I warned her that she might get sued for copyright violation, but she didn’t care and did it anyway and no one ever complained. Helen would have been on them faster than a priest on an altar boy.
However, if you do not have some legal right to the song, you have no right, or “standing,” to complain in court. The change in wording from “and no religion too” to “and all religion’s true” is way beyond accidental. It is a deliberate change, and it is, in my view, wrongful, but I also know I cannot really do anything about it
Or, it could perhaps be argued that Cee Lo had not looked carefully at the words of a song he knew he would be singing on television from Times Square on New Year’s Eve.
And, that change of three words changes the entire meaning of the song. We know that, and he knows that. The idea was to do some religious implantations into Americans of the idea that religion, whatever form it may take, is, ipso facto, good. The mere fact that “all religion’s true” is a meaningless statement does not deter the evangelical drive of those who would see us all converted.
In may be that the heir(s) of the rights to the song either approved of the change in words before it was sung, approved after it was sung, or don’t really care. None of these possibilities give you or me any rights whatsoever to enforce who sings the song how. Nor do we want to get an official court opinion saying that, given the facts as they now exist, the words can be changed, in the manner done here, at will.
There is still, of course, the Court of Public Opinion. And it is to there we could go to make our outrage heard. Every atheist in the country could write to NBC protesting the permitted mangling of this great atheist song by John Lennon. We can, in all of our strength, write, and forcefully tell, of our outrage that NBC permitted such a thing as letting some rapper change the atheist meaning in the song “Imagine” to make it appear to be a song stumping for, and affirming, an all inclusive view of religion as universally true. Then, after all of our voices have been heard, maybe NBC or some polling outfit can ask people what they think and report that 87 % or more of Americans think the change in the words of “Imagine” was a good thing. Then it is our turn.
And the Court of Public Opinion might then be treated to a great pouring out of proof that John Lennon had in fact, become a strong Christian, and a supporter of Jesus Christ. And that he got murdered before he had a chance to tell the world. And this could, in theory, be confirmed by his heirs. And the argument that could flow from that assertion could easily encompass the concept that John Lennon would have approved of the changes to his atheistic song to make it into a positive song strongly supporting the side of religion, and dog knows what else.
And thus would we have done our work and our world a great disservice by once again permitting the religious principle to operate that a lie is okay if it helps prove the truth.
Does this mean you should do nothing? Of course not. This is truly an outrage and an affront to the memory of John Lennon and to the very integrity and meaning of his song “Imagine.”
Complaints based on artistic grounds will probably be more effective than arguments grounded on theological biases.
Our argument, and protest, should be grounded in principles of ethical and fair treatment for atheists. As Bobbie Kirkhart observed, how would “they” like it if we should sing, in public forum media, “How Great Thou Aren’t?”
Maybe we should.
So, welcome to another little skirmish in the American Religious Civil War (ARCW).
© Edwin Kagin 2012.