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Imagine

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(Note: I recommend not following the links in this entry until you've read the whole entry.)

This morning I was flipping through Interzone (issue 200!), and got to a piece that stood out amid the bright colors of this issue: it had a gray page background, and it was a nonfiction article titled "Thinking the Unthinkable About Ronald Reagan," by Lester Bangs. A red bar near the top of the page noted that the piece was reprinted from Creem Magazine, December 11, 2000. This entry will unavoidably contain spoilers for a certain aspect of the piece; I apologize for that.

Now, I was only vaguely aware of Lester Bangs, a rock journalist best-known for his work in Rolling Stone and other magazines in the '70s. (And it's been said that he coined the phrase punk rock.) Most of what I know of him comes from reading Bruce Sterling's 1989 story "Dori Bangs," a personal-scale alternate-history in which artist Dori Seda marries Lester Bangs. (There's an interesting review of that story by Ray Davis, written in 1990.)

Anyway, the Bangs reprint essay in Interzone struck me as kinda weird. The first half of it was slow and rambling; Bangs came across as an odd mix of idealistic, nostalgic, snarky, and defensive. But eventually we reached the point: Bangs was writing an "as if this alternate history were true" article, from the point of view of a more repressive world (at least initially) in which the Beatles were banned from the US after claiming to be more popular than Jesus, and Reagan was successfully assassinated in December, 1980, before taking office, by someone surprising.

I thought it was a nice little speculative piece, another unlikely alternate history vaguely along the lines of those I was praising the other day. But somewhere around two-thirds of the way through, something made me wonder if I was missing something.

And by the end it became clear that I was. There were some very specific real-world references at the end that wouldn't have made sense in 2000. The author bio for Bangs at the end was clearly sfnal. And, wait, don't I vaguely remember that Lester Bangs is dead?

I wonder what the table of contents says about this piece—

Oh, look. It's in the fiction department. The title is "Imagine." It's by someone named Edward Morris.

And then I looked at the top of each page of the story and saw that if I'd been paying attention, I would already have known that it was fiction (it has the fiction-department tag) and I would've seen the real title and author (they're in small print at the top of every other page).

So: yes, Lester Bangs is dead; he died in 1982. (You can follow those links now if you want to.) This isn't a reprint article at all, but a fiction story presented as a reprint article. Excellently well done (both well-written by Morris and well-presented by the magazine); and though the nature of the piece would've been obvious to anyone who knew Bangs was dead (including anyone who'd read the Sterling story more recently than I had), I was pleased that I didn't remember that, because it gave me a nice little moment of disorientation/inversion when I figured out what was going on.

So anyway, then I came and checked email and found a resubmission of a story we'd previously rejected, an alternate history in which the Beatles and politics figure prominently. And I thought that was an interesting coincidence, and then Christine Lavin's song "The Dakota" (about remembering Lennon's death while she's in a taxi going past the Dakota apartment building, where Lennon was living when he died) came on my random iTunes mix. And while I was still smiling a little sadly about the coincidence, the bridge came up:

I don't believe in coincidence

So why, then, on the radio

Did an old familiar voice

Echo back from not so long ago?

It said, "Imagine all the people

Living life in peace."

Well, that's hard to do

When you're on this blood-stained street. . . .

In vaguely related news, I see that Lennon would've been 65 next month. I'm guessing that Andy Cox was thinking of that when he ran this story in the issue cover-dated October 2005.

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