A Little Outrageous, Freddie Mercury Style
“It means whatever you want it to mean.”
Freddie Mercury never quite explained the lyrics of Bohemian Rhapsody. Some lyrics do not need to be fully understood, he felt.
Yesterday, I watched Bohemian Rhapsody. The movie is really a biopic of Queen’s phenomenal lead singer, Freddie Mercury.
The movie begins with a bustling backstage scene at the monumental Live Aid concert. But the camera is squarely focused on Freddie Mercury, dressed in his characteristic vest and jeans, walking past busy crew members. The camera religiously follows him up the stairs as he nears the door where two bouncers stand guard. His gait gradually changes from casual to purposeful, as he shakes his arms, and jumps up and down; almost like the legendary berserkers who psyched themselves up before a battle. Except that he was more subtle, as he worked himself up to face the 70,000 music hungry crowd that erupted when he walked on stage. History was about to be made.
The next 2 hours kept me on edge as I watched an airport baggage handler transform into a rock star.
In pre-liberalised India, I came to appreciate Queen and in particular Freddie Mercury, thanks to recordings of Top of the Pops that my boarding school friends from the UK brought to school.
I had often wondered how an immigrant Parsi boy could have made it so big in the music world at a time when anyone who looked remotely brown in England was labelled as ‘Paki’. The word was loaded with unspoken rules that you could make a living in England, but you were not allowed to assimilate.
But Freddie did not just settle for assimilation. He claimed his inimitable place in the history of rock and roll. He broke down walls of music genres by throwing opera and ballad into rock music. He believed that music need not live within ghettoed genres. When he wrote his masterpiece Bohemian Rhapsody, he broke every convention and every popular formula of the time. Throwing in a Bismillah here and a Scaramouche there, the song was a reflection of Freddie’s roller coaster life as he soared to stardom, fell from grace, and picked himself up to give his finest performance at the Live Aid Concert in 1984.
How did he do this, at a time when ‘brown’ wasn’t taken so seriously anywhere in the West; certainly not in the music industry.
Freddie strutted through life believing right from the start that he was a legend. He dressed the part, he walked the part, and he sang the part. His confidence made ludicrous look iconic. He was able to turn his weaknesses into his greatest strength. What the world saw as buck teeth, he saw as his ability to produce more range. Regardless of whether this was medically true or not, he believed it.
His music became mainstream because he appealed to the ‘bohemian’ in everybody. When asked what his band stood for, Freddie declared, “We’re four misfits who don’t belong together. We’re playing for other misfits…And the outcasts right in the back of the room, we’re pretty sure they don’t belong either. We belong to them.”
We can all learn a little madness from Freddie; to be a little edgy; just enough to break a few rules and conventions; but not nearly enough to break laws. Can we walk the fine line? Perhaps we can try. Today, we are far too caught up in trying to fit in. Sometimes all it takes is a little outrageous, a little fearless to unleash the real genius. As the caption on the Bohemian Rhapsody poster reads, “Fearless lives forever.”