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(Credit: Abbey Road Studios)

Music

The pop-culture bidding war for John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ piano

@TomTaylorFO

Part and parcel of pop culture is the iconography that goes along with it. In fact, one of the most defining features of art since the dawn of popular music is the absorbing world that it ushers you into. Music isn’t just about melodies as it has been for millennia gone by; it’s now a celebration of the full artistic gestalt on offer.

Thus, it stands to reason that fans are eager to get their hands on a piece of history to call their own. With records so easy to come by, the best physical token of the past is something that your hero has handled, their metaphorical paintbrush, so to speak. Naturally, these investments set you back a pretty penny, but just how much exactly? And how do you even go about putting a price on a conduit that led the world down a more bohemian path for that matter?

Last month, John Lennon’s iconic Imagine album turned 50. Since its release on September 9th, 1971, John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s paean for peace with the title track ‘Imagine’ has become the sort of anthem that transcends the clutches of culture, grabs the lapels of society at large and gives it a rattle.

Tied up in its transcendent ways is the angelic white video that went along with it. The image of Lennon behind that pristine Steinway is etched indelibly on the sensibilities of society at large. As Yoko Ono Lennon has announced: “John and I were both artists and we were living together, so we inspired each other. The song ‘Imagine’ embodied what we believed together at the time.”

With such a seismic presence in pop culture, it is no surprise that the piano fetched a whopping fee of $2,100,000. However, the story of the auction is ironically a moment of cultural history in itself, because it was snapped up by none other than George Michael and he just so happened to be bidding for history alongside some fellow chart-toppers. 

As the story goes, the Wham! star outbid both the Gallagher brothers of Oasis and Robbie Williams at the auction in 2000 at the Hard Rock Café in London in a beautifully juxtaposed, almost satirical affair. There is a blindingly obvious irony to the idea of a symbol of unified humanity succumbing to an auction that almost seems like a New Yorker cartoon depicting a hammy paradigm for capitalist culture. 

However, as it happens George Michael’s aim was true, and just as the details of his philanthropy that came to light after his sad passing confirmed, he proved himself to be one of the most charitable pop stars of recent times. George Michael paid £1.45m for the piano and quickly announced: “It’s not the type of thing that should be in storage somewhere or being protected, it should be seen by people.” Thus, he toured the piano around the world “as a symbol of peace” and used it during the recording of his song ‘Patience’ in 2004.

In 2020, to mark what would’ve been John Lennon’s 80th birthday, George Michael’s estate allowed for the piano to be displayed at the famed Strawberry Field exhibition in the ‘Fab Four’s native Liverpool. They announced: “We are proud to be associated with Strawberry Field and the work that the Salvation Army do at the centre [in] helping young adults with learning difficulties acquire the skills and experience they so badly need to get employment.”

Adding: “We know that the piano will be a source of hope and inspiration to all who come to see it… not only during these difficult times but for many years to come, in the same way that it inspired George [after] he bought it some 20 years ago.” Thus, what might’ve seemed like a farcical legacy on the surface actually seems almost befitting when you do a little bit more digging.