Thursday, November 29, 2018

Bohemian Rhapsody: How Queen's Music Resonates with Sports & Sprituality

I've never been a huge Queen fan. Sure I appreciate many of their songs, but, in my youth, I would forgo their videos on MTV. I've never felt even the slightest impulse to purchase one of their albums. I realize "Bohemian Rhapsody" is #166 on Rolling Stones' 500 greatest rock songs of all time. Though I "get it," I would never pick the six minute ballad on my personal Top 100 list. Ever. However, I do love music—all types. I'm a fan of Rock n Roll—its history and all that goes "Behind the Music." A big one. So, viewing "Bohemian Rhapsody" was on my  short list. What did I find? What were my concluding thoughts? It is the story of a band who created the three greatest Jock Rock songs of all time. Bar None. The question is How?
Live Aid: Wembley Stadium, 1985. Look at the crowd.

John Anderson of America Magazine captured word for word what I expected in this much anticipated bio-pic. He writes, "Loud, vivid and yearning to be operatic, “Bohemian Rhapsody”—a.k.a. the Queen movie—was always destined to be a martyr’s tale, a tragic romance, maybe rock’s answer to “La Boheme.” Freddie Mercury, the band’s guiding diva, died of AIDS complications in 1991—early enough in the epidemic to have been one of its more celebrated victims. The band was huge (still is; few acts will ever outsell them), and Mercury was pop’s most flamboyant performer—a closeted icon who rode a gay aesthetic to stardom. It is a poignant story even now. Or especially now."

I watched the two hour, 15 minute film in conflict, with curiosity and at one point completely ready to rock out. Mercury is complex; no surprise there. His vocal range of four octaves and his energy—few, if any rocks stars live up to the billing of that title. He does. And yet, his inability to arrive on time or stray from the center of attention—ever—are the "stuff" of divas. I mused, "Are we left to expect this of all musical geniuses?" Sigh. 
Anderson writes "the movie is far more conservative than its subjects." Duly noted. For the most part, Queen's lifestyle—at both home and on the road was underplayed. The tension between band members is largely unseen. However, Mercury notes the in-fighting, the squabbles and tension with the three other men in Queen is exactly what made them what they are: #52 on Rolling Stones greatest Rock Artists of All Time.

When tension is creative it can give birth to something remarkable. And from that creative tension, emerged what I believe are songs that resonate with sports like no other....with the spirituality of sports....of athletic contests on the highest levels...and of championships on every level. For example, the lead guitarist, Brian May wanted more audience involvement at arena concerts. Hence using foot stomping as an instrument created "We Will Rock You." Freddie Mercury wanted to integrate disco into their ever evolving sound. The bass player John Deacon had a riff to share. That creative tension accounts for "Another One Bites the Dust." What better song to play for a home team when a rival goes down?!
What most sports fans will most widely recognize as Queen's greatest Rock Jock ballad is a song that is played—even today—at Super Bowls, NBA Finals, in team slide shows and at little league parades. We are the Champions. I'll let the words, and the music speak for itself.

According to the Culture Review, Anderson and his movie viewing partner left the theater, much like I did...still thinking about the film and waking up the next day to only think more, question more, smile more, sing more.

I wondered,
How could a band like Queen create three masterpieces that resonate so deeply with sport? The viewer has no sense that they are sports fan. Not one athlete arrives on the scene, into their inner-circle or among their groupies. My answer emerged from Anderson's conclusion.

He writes, "
It will seem odd, but in my ruminations about the highly entertaining if problematic “Bohemian Rhapsody” I keep thinking about “Lawrence of Arabia,” a genuine epic but also a film with many parallels to Mr. Singer’s. Its hero was sexually repressed, the war within himself being reflected in his conflict with an outside force (Freddie’s enemy being standard pop musicality). He had allies who were fiercely loyal, but the forces of the system were fatally arrayed against him. His demise is foreshadowed—or, actually, just spelled out—from the opening moments of the story. And while historical accuracy is not the first priority, the point of the story is sacrifice: the artist on a cross. That may seem a bit grandiose, but grandiosity was always the fuel source of Queen and Freddie Mercury—and of “Bohemian Rhapsody” as well."

This movie captures the very same energy that drives athletes, especially champions. So many athletes have wars within themselves. Every great team battles conflict and becomes great by overcoming the outside forces. No athlete, no team, no coach is immune to demise. Nor are they unwilling to make sacrifices. The greatest of them make sacrifices that are in the end, transformative. No wonder the great sports stories must be underscored by a Queen song. 

I left satisfied with my conclusion and ever more grateful for the music. U2 sings "she moves in mysterious ways." Lord—YOU move in mysterious ways....this is but one of them.

Photo Credits
Movie Poster
Album Cover
Live Aid

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