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Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us, only sky

John Lennon, Imagine (1971)

Writing in the New Humanist in 1996, Nicolas Walter described John Lennon’s Imagine as ‘probably the best-known humanist text today’. Though its vision of a world without religion, national borders, or materialism provoked significant controversy from its release in 1971, the song remains a powerful and international peace anthem, and the piano on which it was composed an enduring symbol. Although not everyone would agree that a world without countries, religion, and possessions would be a necessarily better or a happier one, many humanists would accept that these each have the power to breed conflict and division, distracting from our common humanity. In Imagine, we are encouraged instead to picture ‘all the people/ Sharing all the world’. Rolling Stone called the song ‘22 lines of graceful, plain-spoken faith in the power of a world, united in purpose, to repair and change itself’: a humanist vision of human agency and cooperation. Without the threat or promise of an afterlife, it is for human beings to try to build a happier, fairer, and more peaceful world in the here and now.

Today, the unassuming Steinway Model Z upright piano is a reminder of the power of creativity, imagination, and collective effort for a better world. And though Lennon died young, his inspirational words and music live on. In 2020, Lennon’s wife and collaborator Yoko Ono was finally credited as a co-writer on Imagine – something he himself had called for ’because a lot of the lyric and the concept came from Yoko’. In this, another layer of inspiration and collaboration has been revealed as part of the piano’s story.

Image: © The Goss-Michael Foundation

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