In this time of social distancing and a host of other concerns, some folks have been devising methods to cope with the stress. In my favourite instance yet, a Twitter user named Dana Jay Bein came up with ‘Coronavirus Rhapsody’ – the essential rock band Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, which has been tweaked to fit the current context.
“Is this a sore throat?
Is this just allergy?
Caught in a lockdown
No escape from reality.”
If you’re a true-blue Queen fan, you sang that in your head in Freddie Mercury’s voice.
This rendition once again establishes ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ as one of the most influential and memorable songs ever. The song is testament to the fact that Freddie Mercury – the bombastic and boldly erotic frontman of Queen – who wrote the song, is one of the best showmen in musical history. Even 27 years after his death, his work is still alive and breathing.
As such, Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ has once again proven to be a ray of hope and optimism in today’s dark times.
Musicians have the ability to jump the gap between popular culture and social activism when required. For instance, Queen’s lead guitarist Brian May recently disapproved of their iconic song ‘We Will Rock You’ (also written by Freddie Mercury) being used in one of Donald Trump’s political campaigns. May garnered popular support from artistes like Adam Lambert, who sings with the band now, and common citizens alike. Music, when fused with a social movement, has the ability to unite people with bonds rooted in emotions.
With ‘Coronavirus Rhapsody’ becoming an internet rage, it’s hard to ignore Queen’s musical legacy – which didn’t just win hearts with ingenious musical compositions but also because of Mercury. He personified the band’s identity, its victories and shortcomings, and he was the spirit whose loss it couldn’t endure.
Mercury’s range, histrionic mannerisms and that audacious roar – were all so powerful and yet so soulful. His songs include various harmonies, lyrics and even philosophy from the likes of Camus and Dostoevsky’s, among others. For instance, Dostoevsky was introduced to literature through fairy tales and later in his life, he went on to talk about human suffering with a whit of humour. Quite a few of Mercury’s songs were inspired by fantasies but he poignantly spoke of philosophy in his music when he sang songs about loneliness and the absurdities of the world.
Bohemian Rhapsody’ seems to also draw some inspiration in Albert Camus’ seminal work The Stranger. Using Camus’ ideas on existentialism, both their works feature young characters who unintentionally kill someone, fight a court case, and experience the same epiphanies. Getting enlightened by the idea that everyone is destined to die, and that life is meaningless, both characters face their executions unapologetically and peacefully.
What made Queen’s music a personal experience for fans was the messaging his songs imbued. He defied stereotypes and shattered conventions and encouraged people to break out of their moulds and embrace themselves.
For instance, ‘I Want to Break Free’ is an anthem for millions. The video featured band members dressed in women’s clothes and doing household chores. Mercury can be seen vacuuming the floor as he sassily performs the first stanza. Gender roles in the 1970s were far more rigid with women by and large assigned to the shackles of domesticity. Queen tried to break that stereotype with their get-up. It also included the very important message that everyone should be who they want to be without inhibitions, be it a drag queen, a gay person or a housemaid.
Similarly, ‘Too Much Love Will Kill You’ fits today’s political situation fittingly, one where people are so obsessed about their ideologies that they seem to have lost the ability to see beyond their own deep-rooted privileges. The lines ‘you’re headed for disaster, cause you never read the signs’, among many others in the song make it a relevant admonitory ballad and depicts the human condition in the most poignant fashion.
Mercury spoke to everyone who found it difficult to own their individualities, it. Turns out, in life, you’ve got to face the music, just like he did because that’s the only way ‘this’ song ends.
Today, in a time when a pandemic plagues us while polarisation and politics divide us, Queen’s music is like balm for the soul.
Devika Sharma is a communications consultant during the day and transforms into a chronicler of all things culture by night. Follow her on Instagram @devikasharma13
Featured image credit: Reuters/Valentin Flauraud