John Lennon once sang, "Nobody told me there'd be days like these," a sentiment that could easily apply to an age in which rock stars such as Bono and Bob Geldof are getting serious face time with world leaders -- instead of being derided by politicians for their incursions into politics.
Lennon's music is the focal point of "Instant Karma: The Campaign to Save Darfur," a double CD being released Tuesday to benefit Amnesty International's relief efforts in the war-torn region of Sudan.
Initially, Amnesty International officials had approached Lennon's widow, Yoko Ono, for permission to use his "Imagine," a song she'd never approved for any philanthropic project.
"I'm not afraid to say no," Ono, 74, said Saturday. "There are so many people and organizations [who've had] that same request, and I've said no to everybody.... The Amnesty International people brought [this proposal] to me and I responded very quickly because I had been doing some projects with them before that and had a very good feeling about them.... So in this case it was a big 'yes.' "
Big indeed. Beyond giving her thumbs-up for "Imagine," she opened the door to Lennon's entire solo catalog. The result is 23 performances from such established stars as U2 ("Instant Karma"), Christina Aguilera ("Mother") and Green Day ("Working Class Hero," which has been released as a single) and comparatively new arrivals including Corinne Bailey Rae ("I'm Losing You"), the Postal Service ("Grow Old With Me") and Regina Spektor ("Real Love").
"Imagine" gets two performances, one by pop-punk princess Avril Lavigne, the other by latter-day surfer dude Jack Johnson. The vituperative "Gimme Some Truth" also appears twice, in a version by Mexico's Jaguares and a duet by two offspring of rock royalty, Jakob Dylan and Dhani Harrison, George's son.
"Instead of just the big, big names," Ono said, "the 'now' people are in here too. I like the fact that they cover it all, and I'm sure John would have been very happy."
This latest attempt to bring the power of music to bear on a tragic political and social situation dovetails with Ono's long history of encouraging artists to use their power to effect change.
"This is a time we really have to work together to shield the Earth and to rescue people from violence and injustice," Ono said. "When Bob Geldof began the first Live Aid [in 1985] and Michael Jackson was doing 'We Are the World' ... I was saying in my mind to John, 'Look at this, this is really happening.'
"I'm sure he's happy he was like a steppingstone," Ono said of the evolution of activism in pop music since Lennon's death in 1980. "At the time we did things together, we were really being slashed and attacked and jabbed. Now, people are starting to understand."
-- Randy Lewis