29 September, 2020

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Freddie Mercury – The Dostoyevsky Of Rock Music

By Ruwan M Jayatunge

Dr. Ruwan M Jayatunge MD

When I’m dead, I want to be remembered as a musician of some worth and substance.
 Freddie Mercury

Freddie Mercury emerged as a popular singer when Elvis, Mick Jagger, Ian Gillan, John Lennon, Barry Gibb, Mike Love etc dominated the music world. When he entered the Rock Music Industry, it was not multicultural and the Anglo American media giants predominantly controlled it.  During that era,   a non-WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants)   had no chance to become a rock star.  Although prolonged and laborious work of black American musicians like Chuck Barry, Little Richards, Ray Charles, and Quincy Jones had made some progress and opened some doors in early sixties and early seventies the rock music industry was highly exclusive.

Freddie Mercury was the first major rock star who had an Asian origin.  Regardless of his origin, Freddie conquered the music world and became the best of the best. His vocal prowess and flamboyant performances were incomprehensible. Freddy will be remembered as a talented vocalist of any generation. He could sing anything from hard rock to opera, from blues to metal. He was an artist with many talents. Freddie Mercury was an accomplished pianist, lyricist, stage performer and a composer.

Freddie’s songs conveyed deep philosophical and psychological messages. He sang about his inner solitude and sometimes his dual individuality and the emotional divergences. He thought that his Indian, origin obstructed him to become a great star and he changed his real name Farookh Bulsara in to a numinous pseudonym. As Salman Rushdie once stated Freddie Mercury deliberately concealed his identity and became a nowhere man from nowhere land. Freddie Mercury had a lifetime struggle to establish his identity. He had a cast of thousands and a man with thousand faces. Describing himself in an interview Freddie stated “Deep down inside I am a very emotional person, a person of real extremes, and often that’s destructive to myself and others.”

Freddy Mercury had a problem with his appearance. Freddie was not happy with his dental esthetics.  He was extremely troubled by his protruding teeth. Freddy Mercury knew that in the music industry a lot of emphasis placed on body weight, size, and appearance. Therefore he grew mustache in order to hide the overbite.  When he laughed in public Freddy took extra efforts to cover his teeth with the hand. He himself admitted that it was affecting his appearance. In an interview he once stated

  I don’t like the way my teeth protrude. I’m going to have them done, but I just haven’t had the time. Apart from that- I’m perfect.

Freddie Mercury’s biographers say that he did not want to correct his teeth, because he feared that the timbre of his voice would have been affected by the OMF Surgery. To overcome his negative self image Freddy presented himself as a Prince or a King sometimes wearing a crown on the stage. His sex addiction could have had a link with this negative self-picture.

Following words come with a melody when Freddy sang the Princes of The Universe

I am immortal
I have inside me blood of kings
I have no rival
No man can be my equal
Take me to the future of you all

 I’m a man that will go far
Fly the moon and reach for the stars
With my sword and head held high
Got to pass the test first time, yeah
I know that people talk about me
I hear it every day
But I can prove them wrong ’cause I’m right first time

His songs carried underlying meanings and Mercury’s allusions to his own controversial life. Freddie Mercury was a follower of a religion named Zoroastrianism that is one of the world’s oldest and most exclusive religions founded by the prophet Zoroaster in 600 B.C. His songs touched the mysticism of religion to magic and some theological terms from Zoroastrianism.

Freddie Mercury was the lead singer of the rock band Queen and he was the driving force behind the group. With Freddy, the rock band Queen composed songs that drew inspiration from many different genres of music and they achieved a gigantic success. He gave the band a distinctive characteristic of music and the vocal harmonies. His singing was inimitable and exceptional. No one could sing like Freddy Mercury and to give a first-rate stage performance. Even today, Freddie is still regarded as the most excellent male vocalist who made a deep impact on his fans.

His songs had most diverse kind of lyrics and it was a mixture of music, ideas and philosophies of Rene Descartes Jean Jack Russo, Goethe, Friedrich Nietzsche, Jean Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Little Richard and  Jimi Hendrix. Most of his songs were inspired by magic and fantasy. But he spoke of deep philosophy through  his music.

In the song, My fairy King Freddie Mercury comes with a classic prose and poetry that narrates a fantasy land. Although the situation imagined and it does not correspond with reality, it expresses the desire and aims of the singer to detach from the realism.

In the land where horses born with eagle wings
And honey bees have lost their stings
There’s singing forever to you
Lions den with fallow deer
And rivers made from wines so clear
Flow on and on forever
Dragons fly like sparrows thru’ the air
And baby lambs where Samson dares
To go on  

In 1984, Mercury made his music video ‘I Want to Break Free’ that was an outcry and emotional catharsis.  In this video Mercury dresses as a woman but keeps his moustache, which symbolizes his identity predicament,   isolation and ostracism despite the preservation of masculinity. Freddie Mercury kept a mystique about his image. Mercury once said of himself: “When I’m performing I’m an extrovert, yet inside I’m a completely different man.

I Want to Break Free corresponds to Freddy’s masculine and feminine personalities.  Inside him, there were distinctive anima and animus. (Psychologist Carl Jung postulates that each individual has both masculine and feminine components of the psyche. For a male, the feminine component is the anima, and for a female, it is the animus. The Anima and Animus are deeply rooted subconscious Archetypal symbols, which fundamentally are identical on a collective level). In the early days of his musical career, Freddy dressed like a transsexual – someone like Boy George.   Freddie Mercury publicly spoke of his sexuality and admitted that he was a bisexual.

Freddie Mercury s elation could be notified in the hit song The Show Must Go On, where he recounts his inner feelings. 

“My soul is painted like the wings of butterflies
Fairy tales of yesterday will grow but never die
I can fly, my friends”

 Freddie’s dual personality was captured in the song Great Pretender.  This is a form Jungian explanation of the persona -The Relations between the Ego and the Unconscious” (1928)   Two Essays on Analytical Psychology by Carl Jung.  Jung describes the persona as a complicated system of relations between individual consciousness and society, fittingly enough a kind of mask, designed on the one hand to make a definite impression upon others, and, on the other, to conceal the true nature of the individual. Freddie Mercury  summarized the Jungian words thus.

Oh yes, I’m the great pretender
Just laughing and gay like a clown
I seem to be what I’m not you see
I’m wearing my heart like a crown
Pretending that you’re still around

In the early days Freddy’s mother Jer Bulsara was not happy about her son’s interest towards music and she saw Freddy’s song writing as a waste of time.   He was sent to a boarding school in Mumbai and Freddy was homesick.   When Freddie was 16, the family moved to Britain and he pursued his life long career as a musician. In his song Mother love Freddy talked about maternal affection hence.

I don’t want to sleep with you
I don’t need the passion too
I don’t want a stormy affair
To make me feel my life is heading somewhere
All I want is the comfort and care
Just to know that my woman gives me sweet – Mother love

Freddie’s unrivaled song living on my own gives a picture of a desperado opposing the Victorian society. Freddy always became a controversial character who acted on his fantasies and instincts. In addition, he openly challenged the hypocrisy of the Victorian society. He was the modern day Oscar Wild who faced harsh remarks of the tabloid newspapers. He described his passion and emotional soreness in graceful lyrics. His disheartening song Living on my own is a living testimony of Freddy’s emotional twinge.  

Sometimes I feel I’m gonna break down and cry
Nowhere to go nothing to do with my time
I get lonely so lonely living on my own
Sometimes I feel I’m always walking too fast
And everything is coming down on me down on me
I go crazy oh so crazy living on my own

Freddie Mercury’s powerful ballad Who Wants to Live Forever was the soundtrack to the motion picture Highlander directed by Russell Mulcahy and staring Christopher Lambert depicting the fictional character Connor MacLeod. In this song- Who Wants to Live Forever Freddie’s voice reverberates in a high falsetto and creates a magnificent melody registering his phonetic abilities perpetually.  Who Wants to Live Forever made Freddy as the   best singer of all time. He was well known for his powerful vocal competency and was able to roar through a metal tune.

There’s no chance for us
It’s all decided for us
This world has only one sweet moment set aside for us

Who wants to live forever
Who wants to live forever
Who dares to love forever
When love must die

His musical hit Bohemian Rhapsody carried a numerous metaphors and symbolism that transformed the band into a global phenomenon. Bohemian Rhapsody” song was written by Freddy Mercury which had no chorus but consisted of   six sections: introduction, ballad, guitar solo, opera, rock and outro. Bohemian Rhapsody could be considered as an enigmatic philosophical song that was not decoded completely. Up-to-date Bohemian Rhapsody remains a puzzle.  This song has fatalistic lyrics. Some argue that Bohemian Rhapsody echoes Mercury’s personal traumas reveling the complexity of his inner mind. This song represents a self-explanatory portion of Freddy. Perhaps Bohemian Rhapsody could be the musical version of Albert Camus’s novel The Stranger.

Albert Camus’s novel The Stranger involves a complex character named Meursault. For Camus, life has no rational meaning or order. As Albert Camus stated, “the nakedness of man faced with the absurd was highlighted in his novel. Meursault’s philosophy of absurdism, atheism, determinism, nihilism, and stoicism are well marked in Bohemian Rhapsody. Bohemian Rhapsody divulges a life and attitude, which possess no rational order.

Bohemian Rhapsody begins with the powerful vocals of Freddy, which describes the clashes between his inner fantasies and realities. He was born in Zanzibar to an Indian Parsi Family and raised in England. He was exposed to three different cultures and in each culture; his biopersona (biological component of his personality) was suppressed creating a colossal guilt in him.  The society that he lived expected him to live an artificial life less then his expectations. Mercury felt trapped and found no escape.

Is this the real life
Is this just fantasy
Caught in a landslide
No escape from reality
Open your eyes
Look up to the skies and see
I’m just a poor boy, I need no sympathy
Because I’m easy come, easy go,
Little high, little low
Anyway the wind blows, doesn’t really matter to me – to me

In the second part Freddy talks about a murder which could be treated as a metaphor. Metaphor and allegory were powerful literary and conceptual tools which often used by him to create melody, rhythm and philosophy.

Like Meursault he reaches self-knowledge by committing a murder.

Mama, just killed a man,
Put a gun against his head,
Pulled my trigger, now he’s dead,
Mama, life had just begun,
But now I’ve gone and thrown it all away
Mama, ooo,
Didn’t mean to make you cry
If I’m not back again this time tomorrow
Carry on, carry on, as if nothing really matters

In the third section, Freddy talks about his destitution and hidden death wish contrary to his insensible desire to live. In Bohemian Rhapsody Camus’s philosophy of the absurd is written in every line.

The imaginary character of Albert Camus’s novel The Stranger – Meursault was a social deviant. He was an absurd man. The struggle to find meaning where none exists is what Camus calls, the absurd.  The absurd man will not commit suicide and he wants to live, without renouncing any of his incongruous hopes. The doomed character recounts in Bohemian Rhapsody reminds a nihilistic man that was narrated in Camus’s novel The Stranger.

Too late, my time has come,
Sends shivers down my spine
Body’s aching all the time,
Goodbye everybody – I’ve got to go –
Gotta leave you all behind and face the truth
Mama, ooo –
I don’t want to die,
I sometimes wish I’d never been born at all –

The Opera Section begins with a powerful  vocal presentation. Freddy Mercury uses the name of a fictional character – Scaramouch that was created by Rafael Sabatini.

I see a little silhouetto of a man,
Scaramouch, scaramouch will you do the Fandango
Thunderbolt and Lightning – very very frightening me-
Gallileo, Gallileo,
Gallileo, gallileo,
Gallileo Figaro – Magnifico –
I’m just a poor boy nobody loves me
He’s just a poor boy froma poor family
Spare him his life from this monstrosity
Easy come, easy go – will you let me go

In the subsequent part, the singer utters a name Bismillah which means the God. It is a poetic phrase translated as in the name of the God, most gracious and most compassionate.

Bismillah! No, – we will not let you go – let him go –
Bismillah! We will not let you go – Let him go
Bismillah! We will not let you go – Let him go
Will not let you go – Let me go
Will not let you go – Let me go
No, no, no, no, no, no, no-
Mama mia, mama mia, mama mia let me go –
Beelzebub has a devil put aside for me, for me, for me.

The final part of the song is the rock section. In this branch Freddy’s emotional struggle and apathy is emphasized. However, he is ready to accept the consequences.

So you think you can stone me and spit in my eye
So you think you can love me and leave me to die
Oh Baby – Can’t do this to me Baby
Just gotta get out- just gotta get right outta here – 

Nothing really matters
Anyone can see
Nothing really matters, nothing really matters – to me

In Bohemian Rhapsody the meaninglessness of all endeavors are emphasized in the final line.  According to the theory of Absurdism that was introduced by the French Algerian philosopher Albert Camus there is a fundamental disharmony that arises out of the co-presence of man and the universe. Man has a desire for order, meaning, and purpose in life, but the universe is indifferent and meaningless; the Absurd arises out of this conflict. Meursault was always aware of the meaninglessness of all endeavors in his life so as the nihilistic man of the Bohemian Rhapsody.

Freddie Mercury and the rock band Queen were revolutionary. In 1980, they preformed in South Africa ignoring the United Nations Cultural boycott. Although the members of the rock band Queen were widely criticized, they might have contributed something positive for the South African apartheid system to change. Similarly,  in 1986, they performed in Budapest. It was the period when the Communist block was about to disintegrate and the Eastern Europeans were embracing the Western type of Democracy.

Freddie Mercury could be regarded as the Fyodor Dostoyevsky of Rock Music who painted rock music with philosophy, fantasy and psychology. He sang about the inner human psyche and human freedom. The talented artist, accomplished musician and legendary showman Freddy Mercury died on the 24th of November 1991 at the age of 45. He lived a relatively a short life, but he made a profound impact on music and culture.

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    Freddie was not an accidental genius. He knew his condition and his purpose from the get-go; he had a clear and present sense of his Destiny as well as his unique qualities. He knew how and did preserve all that was sacred in himself, knew how to communicate with his subconscious and knew how to live so that his fountain would continue to flow….up to and until the very last possible breath. There was nothing accidental about Freddie.

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      You are absolutely correct, there is nothing accidental about Freddie. He knew at age four that he could sing. He so advised his mother. He loved deeply and completely and understood his role in this world. Thank heavens for this gift.

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    Nice one Ruwan.

    By the way, the song Great Pretender was first performed by The Platters in 1955. Here’s an extract from Wikipedia:

    “”The Great Pretender” is a popular song recorded by The Platters, with Tony Williams on lead vocals, and released as a single on November 3, 1955. The words and music were created by Buck Ram, the Platters’ manager and producer who was a successful songwriter before moving into producing and management. The Great Pretender reached the number one position on both the R&B and pop charts in 1956.[1] In 2004, the song was voted 351st greatest song of all time by Rolling Stone.”

    In ‘those’ days the word ‘gay’ did not have the connotation it does today, so it was a happy coincidence for Freddy!!

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      Well said Java! A version of the Platters is still touring even though all the originals are dead. Is this some kind of reincarnation?

      I always wondered about the name “Buck Ram” – could be a good name for a gay porn star!

      Comparing Freddy to Dostoyevsky is a bit of a stretch.

      Talking about re-incarnation the proprietor of Classic Entertainment on Galle Road looks just like Freddy Mercury.

  • 0
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    Ruwan,
    By the late 60’s Harold Wilson opened UK doors to the Indian and Pakistani woman by stopping checking their pussy at the airport for virginity. The first Asian to be a British MP was also a Parsi Dadabhai. The Parsi’s are Indo-Europeans who were driven away by the Islamist Arabs their homeland Iran and they were given refuge by the king of Gujarat on the condition that they blend with the locals……. Subsequently the European traders/invaders namely the Portuguese, Dutch and British favored them over the locals because they were able to conceal their caste/class like the Europeans and were diligent etc. etc. Indira husband Gandhi and Jinnah’s wife Petit were Parsi. Homi Bhabha Atomic Station, TATA all Parsi- know where it starts; not Asian. Carl Jung “Ignorance and fraud goes hand in hand.” In SL there are around 30 families very secretive- take care freemasons.
    Yes Freddy was talented but he was in the right place at the right time – late 60’s. His song Under Pressure with the living Welshman David Bowie speaks of a similar musician who uses poetry and prose of Bernard Shaw. His last Album Heathen and song “A better future”
    Oo-o
    I might just stop wanting you
    I might just stop needing you
    I might just stop loving you
    I demand a better future
    I demand a better future
    I demand a better future
    For I might just stop loving you,
    Loving you, loving you
    I demand a better future
    I demand a better future
    I demand a better future
    For I might just stop loving you, loving you, loving you
    I demand a better future
    At 66 he’s back today with Where Are We Now?, and his new album, The Next Day, will be out in March.

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    You are a true buffoon, doctor.

    You spend so much time on this hero who died on a park bench in London!

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    Whilst we may think Parsi’s are less Eastern, the Greek-history loving Westerners do not consider them as Westerern.

    So, what about their Aryan credentials we follow as our ‘Asian’ culture ?

    Freddy is my fav rock singer, composer and performer, not because he had some Indian.
    Freddy is the first rocker to bring the opera sophistication to rock and a voice to match.
    Whilst, Freddy had to change from Balzara to Mercury, Joseph John and Albert Perera had to change to Sunil Shantha and Amaradeva.

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    It’s nice to divert to popular music from an ocean of ethnic arguments. I liked Mercury’s singing but, sadly, his personal preferences of a private natureseem to have had generated some negative feelings in me. I intensely disliked the way he dressed while performing. His music stood out with “I want to be free” remaining in the memory for a long time.

    Its lovely to remember the great singing group The Platters and their
    immortals “Only youy” “the Great Pretender” “Smoke gets in your eyes”
    and a thousand more. Thank you, Ruwan, for bringing back memories of a more plural, harmonious and pleasant past – uncontaminated by the extremities of divisive politics. Those were the days, when as school children, we were glued from 2-5 pm listening to “Sunday Choice” beamed from Radio Ceylon and that made our day. We certainly were a more united and happier (in the arts) people then. Our collective endeavours today should be to regain this composite whole for this and future generations.

    I agree with Padraig Colman a comparison of some of these pop singers with the great musicians of the classical music days can generate heated arguments. I found myself in one when I was with some friends in Bangalore recently. There was a reference to AR Rahman, who created the music for “Slumdog Millionaire” A young lady with us referred to him being called the “Mozart of Madras” I let it pass until she needled me in for an opinion. My views of the music in that
    gory film was poor and to bring in the name of the venerated Wolfgang Amadeus was near sacrilege. I managed to stay alive by saying the Music of Mozart, Bach, Chopin or the 3 great Tenors of recent times is in a different planet and cannot be compared. I may not have made many friends in that group that day – intense Indian nationalists though from the more elitist of society there.

    Senguttuvan

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    Striking how you mean to derive an entire personality on only a few pointers, some of which are incorrect or incomplete.

    As stated before, ‘The Great Pretender’ is only covered by Freddie.
    The use of a crown, is only a stage outfit, as the band is called Queen. Would you like to derive something from the jacket with arrows, or the white blouse, the times he was shirtless, or carrying a country flag? It’s an outfit. No more than any of the other outfits. It’s entertainment.

    Bohemian Rhapsody is no philosophical allegory, it’s in fact quite meaningless and sounds nice. A story, like many other songs.

    Freddie does not portray himself to be a king or prince in Princes of the Universe. It’s a song written as a soundtrack to the movie Highlander. Again, it’s a story being told.

    Who wants to live forever was written by Brian May…
    And so on and so forth.

    You’re referencing to inaccurate statements, which you falsely assume to be true, when you’re not inventing ‘truths’ yourself.

    Please, let’s also remember that Queen was not only Freddie. Without any of the other three band members, the band would not have been / would not have been as massive as they have become.
    There’s a reason why the band themselves decided to state ‘written by Queen’ rather than name a band member. To analyse one man’s personality on the efforts of four, is not only putting forth a lie, but also an insult to Brian, Roger or John.

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