We watched Bohemian Rhapsody the other night. ICYMI, it’s the story of Freddy Mercury and Queen. Since I knew very little about the story of Queen, or Mercury, but love their music (I am still humming Love Of My Life three days later) it was well worth watching. The person who played Mercury, Rami Malek, is a talented actor and the whole film was well cast. It was a good, not great, movie I thought, as biopics go. The tragedy of greatness self-sabotaged – hitting bottom, realizing loss, re-forming, re-birthing, reconciling, and then prevailing – is a familiar one. In this case, the audience walks out humming We Are The Champions after reading that Freddy Mercury died of AIDS just years later.
This juxtaposition underlines the pall of a rhapsodic (Dare I say it? Yes, I must.) life undermined because of mistakes made, misfortune, and the resultant tragedy of music-that-was-never-created, never performed, never experienced. Not to mention the grief of a life-lost-too-soon. As Roy Hobbs says in The Natural, “Some mistakes I guess we never stop paying for.”
Bohemian Rhapsody is thus a cautionary tale.
This great talent, this unique personality, this “live-on-your-own-terms” Freddy Mercury dared to dress, create, sing, interact, just…to… be, himself regardless of family tradition or societal or professional norms. The bohemian in all of us aches to be ourselves. Not merely to be unconventional or to draw attention or to experience unfettered, libertine, dissolute lives. Not merely to break rules or to laugh at authority. Not merely to be different, unique.
But to be ourselves. Who we would be were we to choose sans the strictures of societal sanctions. The character we choose to portray on Halloween. The free spirit we would let go on Beltane. The artist who breaks with tradition. The entrepreneur who changes the rules of the game.
This bohemian-ness, of course, is allowed only on the outskirts of society or through force of nature. Freddy Mercury was allowed to be himself, even when he made tragic choices, because his talent overcame objection. His gravest mistake, perhaps, was when he abandoned the people who loved him most for who he was, in exchange for those who used him transactionally.
Over years, as culture and practice change, the line representing acceptable and too-far-from-normal moves. What once was outrageous is now S.O.P. What was standard fare in the 1950’s would have been considered scandalous in earlier eras. Social rules are defined by those who define them, by those who set the current standards, not by some incontrovertible natural law.
People are, however, as Freddy Mercury found so sadly, subject to natural laws. And though he broke with societal convention, he was disciplined in seeking excellence, in developing his talent. We see him demanding take after take after take to get the music just right. Success does rest on sacrifice and discipline over time, natural laws, we see.
Bohemians will always be free spirits. They will always be “different”. In every place and in every era they will represent that inner self that people long to be, would choose to be, if they didn’t have to pay such a price. If they – we – were more courageous. More willing to sacrifice popularity for genuineness.
Bohemians live life on their terms. Sometimes those terms result in tragedy, sometimes not. But on their terms.
In that sense they, rarely what society would consider winners, are truly the champions.