Writing this post, I made a new friend in the man behind this rock n roll number called Bohemian Rhapsody. The name of this man is Freddie Mercury, which was of course his pseudonym to the name he was given at birth, Farokh Bulsara. He was a soul who had travelled the world and in the real sense of the world travel. He was born to Parsi parents, in East Africa, which was occupied by British presidencies at the time, got his initial schooling in the Indian sub-continent, developed the love for western pop music and finally migrated to England with his family.
This multi culturalism early on in his life probably left an everlasting influence on the little boy Freddie was. He may have been moving around different continents with their own religions and communities, but his heart had been dedicated to the religion of music and art-making. At the age of 7 he was playing the piano with a knack of imitating any piano pieces they played on the radio. He must have lived varied kinds of worlds on the outside, but on the inside he was rooted in just one – of music. And it is through his music that he befriended millions including me. He continues to befriend more and more souls with his voice that he leaves behind in his music.
I think he would even qualify as a Dead Star that continues to shine its light on distant worlds, long after it is burnt out. I am a sucker for such ghosts of stars on my night sky because they light up my loneliness and help me through the pain.
Coming back to the 6 minutes of rock n roll ballad that made this little boy a legend of the music industry. It was called Bohemian Rhapsody. Funny how having lived in so many different geographical places, he should name his magnum opus after a land he never visited. Bohemia is an ancient piece of land in the Czech Republic, Europe. But anything termed Bohemian is actually related to not the land but an idea. The idea of unorthodox or anti-establishment political or social viewpoints, which often were expressed through free love, frugality, and—in some cases—voluntary poverty (Wikipedia). So Bohemians did not belong to a particular geographical area, they were co-dwellers of a mental space that inhabited only the highest possible thoughts of celebrating life in its entirety.
And the same rings true for the Rhapsody created for the people who belonged to the virtual, but yet more real than most ‘real’, lands. The words used to define that which is Bohemian holds true for the elements of this legendary ballad as well.
It is unorthodox for mixing classical opera with mainstream rock n roll under one rhythm. It is anti-establishment because it is the story of a boy who committed a murder and is pleading not guilty before the authorities. And more so because this story was written by a boy who discovered he was a bisexual, a gay man, and who killed the ‘man’ inside of him that refused to love another ‘man’. He too pleads not guilty of any crime. And all these anti-establishment viewpoints are definitely expressed with love that is absolutely free flowing in its glam rock and comic buff opera music. It is this free-love expression that made the public love its music even though not understanding the real intentions behind it. It is was an instant hit both in UK and the US. It took the song to be played just 14 times, over a weekend, on the radio and people were lining up at record stores, where the records of Bohemian Rhapsody “sold like pancakes”!
But since I am not a rock n roll fan, not yet at least, the thing that attracted me to this little boy was the lyrical libretto of the song. Because I am sucker for beautiful words, words that speak to the innermost parts of ourselves. Words which we may not be able to frame on our own, but in the company of a poet friend, they come to be discovered so easily.
Writing this post, I realised the few words that had caught my initial attention proved to be much more deeper than I had expected. The line –
So you think you can love and me leave me to die
Had caught my attention immediately. I was obviously thinking about Joseph Campbell and his Hero journeys where the Hero is held back by his people in the name of love. In the name of love he is not allowed to make journey to unknown lands. In the name of love he is held captive and it is said that this was being done for his own good. But then he has to break away from this selfish love which is no love but addictive attachment, really. This ‘escape’ is at the center of almost all the great Hero journeys that Campbell happened to have studied. And since he was a world mythologist, he had studied almost every great religion and their mythologies of the world. Even those ones that Freddie grew up surrounded by. And yet Campbell supported Freddie’s escape from all those myths into the world of a Bohemian myth of his own where all authorities, social-political-even-religious, had to be questioned by every individual and accepted only if they spoke truth to the person’s own heart and logic.
Yes, Bohemian Rhapsody is a lot more than just a rock n roll ballad by a gay man discussing his frustrations. It is so much more than just that, to a mythology enthusiast like me, at least. It is the story of a hero that looked to heroes from other cultures and communities who also had been frustrated at the laws of the world around them – the clergy, the administration, the religious leaders, their Gods and their followers (who happen to be their loved ones, as well). Indeed, the one thing that connects all the people Freddie invites in his Rhapsody, share this group of close loved ones, who wanted their sons to return back from the immoral adventure rides and lead normal moral lives.
The Bohemian Rhapsody was a 6 minute long ballad released in the era of more than 95% of Radio songs not crossing 3 minutes. And they refused to compromise on the length of the song they spent months recording, when the usual lifespan of a song in recording studios at the time was a couple of weeks. So I have decided to do justice to this giant of a composition and dedicate two blog posts to it. After explaining my fascination for this lyric libretto in the first blog post; In the next one, I will bring out the heroes Freddie has invited into his life story and established the Bohemian culture through breathtaking music and vocals at the same time. I will also hope to establish the underlying rules of what makes an artist a legend!
I would like to end this post by saying that if you have not heard the music of Freddie Mercury and his boys from Queen, you must and give them a chance to enthral you with their grand dreams! There is something for everyone in the musical breadths of this multi talented and versatile musicians. Some of my favourites are A Kind Of Magic, Fat Bottomed Girls, Another One Bites To Dust, We Will Rock You, Crazy Little Thing Called Love, Who Wants To Live Forever and Show Must Go On. Their’s is a kind of music that is pure and grand by nature and mad and tickling by sophistication!
Coming Monday I will continue my discovery of the literary friend in Freddie Mercury (Farokh Bulsara) and hope to surprise you with things I found and was surprised by, myself!