Bohemian Rhapsody: An Encounter

I saw the movie; and before that, I watched archived video of the Live Aid Concert from 1985. Then I read the Wikipedia article about the British rock group Queen and its lead singer Freddie Mercury. So, I was prepared for the movie.


Thirty years ago, I wasn’t prepared. I was caught up in a ministerial career and had little time for rock music. Furthermore, I had no understanding of sexual orientation and little sympathy for homosexuals. In fact, there was not a single person in my life that I knew to be gay (which is not the same thing as not knowing any gay people).


How things have changed, in me and in the world.


I have wrestled with the cultural, biblical, and ecclesial traditions of human sexuality as it relates to orientation and behavior. Like many people, my mind has changed and, more important, my disposition toward people has changed. While there is a great deal about this whole matter I still consider a mystery, I have come to empathize with the struggle of people to embrace themselves, to find their place in the world, to discover their vocation.


That’s what this movie is about: discovering yourself and your place in the world. It was a long struggle for the man who came to be Freddie Mercury; and what he found deep inside was so different than what had surrounded him since birth.


He was born in Zanzibar, into a Parsi family, with the given name Farrokh Bulsara and with a serious overbite, all of which pushed him to the social edge, especially after the family moved to England.


No wonder, after he found his voice with a rock band, he introduced himself with these words: “We are four misfits who don’t belong together. We’re playing for the other misfits. They’re the outcasts, right at the back of the room. We are pretty sure they don’t belong either. We belong to them.”


I never really belonged to any rock band or culture; but I can say my mind has changed about rock music.


For most of its history over the last 60 years, I have led my life largely free of its influence and appeal. As a teenager, I eschewed dancing and its music; as an adult, I avoided concerts and their culture. Which, of course, left me out of touch with much that was going on in the world, both good and bad.


Until YouTube.


Once I opened myself to the wonderful world of video, I discovered the delightful side of rock music, especially all that I missed early in life: Bob Dylan, Jerry Lee Lewis, the Beach Boys, REM, and Led Zeppelin.


And, in these latter days, Queen.


Queen was a British rock band whose lead singer was that immigrant with the embarrassing overbite. But that unusual mouth formation was, as providence would have it, a hidden treasure; it gave the socially retiring, vocationally aspiring singer a rare (almost) four-octave vocal range.


Mercury put it to good use, singing the songs and leading the band as they took to the stage all over the world, selling more than 200 million records along the way. Everywhere then and now fans know the song, “We are the Champions.” His “Bohemian Rhapsody” is now judged one of the great rock songs of all time. Its album remains the top-selling record in British history.


What helped all of it was the Live Aid Concert, a world-wide phenomenon with more than one billion people attending in some form or another. They were raising money for the famine in Ethiopia and the star-studded line-up included Sting, U2, The Who, David Bowie and Elton John.


But it was the late-addition, already-ailing Freddie Mercury that stole the show. His performance that day is now considered one of the greatest platform performances of all time, sealing his celebrity as a rock icon.


Farrokh Bulsara had found himself; but along the way he had acquired something else: AIDS. His courage, talent, and confidence took him to the top, but the disease brought him down; and he died a little more than six years after his greatest stage triumph.


It is not easy to fight through layers of accommodations, expectations, and fears to find your self, your voice, your place. It wasn’t easy for the zany immigrate from Zanzibar; and it is not easy for us. But the movie encourages us to stay at it until we are at home with ourselves and with the world.


The movie made me a fan of Freddie Mercury, and the movie strengthened my resolve to look deeper inside of myself in that continuing struggle to, as I have said to many young preachers, find my own voice. It’s not too late.