A group of us went to the opening night of the Queen biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody, last week. I’d been looking forward to it for a year, and it fulfilled every expectation. I don’t know how many liberties were taken with the storytelling, and there’s been some critical grumbling. But for me, what was presented was beautiful, outrageous, tender, thoughtful, rousing, heartbreaking, and victorious. It hit all the notes I was hoping for, both emotionally and musically (I’ll see it again for the soundtrack and accompanying montages alone). And I’ve fallen in love again with Freddie Mercury.
This movie told the story of a young man conflicted and confused about familial expectations, his appearance, and his sexuality. He rejects perceived limitations. He audaciously and successfully reinvents himself as a superstar through a combination of singular talent and sheer force of will. He wrestles with excess and self-absorption. Ultimately, he matures and finds peace through an authentic reckoning with himself and his relationships. It’s a great story because it’s a familiar story — it’s the story most of us have lived in one way or another. I mean, I wasn’t born in Zanzibar into a Zoroastrian family and I’m not a global singing sensation, but still Freddie’s story was so relatable — self-doubt and courage, self-expression and indulgence, individualism and community… We can all get that, right?
It’s the journey into self-acceptance and real love for ourselves and each other. It’s victory, success, fulfillment, satisfaction — finally recognizing that we are the champions not because we’ve forced our human flaws and frailty into submission, but because we’ve finally embraced who we’ve always been.
We are the champions not because we’ve won a competition or beaten each other at some zero-sum game, but because we’ve finally recognized that we need each other and we’re all in this life thing together. If it’s a game, it’s one of Infinite Sum, not zero.
After the movie, I was doing a bit of online biographical research, and I started to consider Queen’s mega-hit “We Will Rock You.” I had never given that song much thought; it wasn’t one of my favorites. It’s been a stadium chant, a sporting-event staple for over forty years. I remember the tough teenagers blasting it on their tape decks down by the community pool when I was in elementary school, which was kind of intimidating. “We will rock you” sounds like a battle cry, a shout of defiance and ferocity.
I was surprised and charmed, therefore, to discover that the chorus was lifted directly from a Czechoslovakian lullaby: “Little baby, sweetly sleep, we will rock you, rock you.” The verses of the song are very bleak and despairing. Though Freddie sings them like a challenge — “you got blood on your face, you big disgrace, waving your banner all over the place” — it’s truly a cry of hardship, loneliness, and futility. Therefore, at first listen, “we will rock you” sounds gutsy and maybe belligerent.
But what if it’s still a lullaby? Perhaps really it’s the chorus of a community soothing, cradling, and loving one who has lost his way.
I can’t wait to be with you this Sunday. Let’s honor our own stories, our paths of self-discovery, the rich and sexy ways that Spirit has individualized as each and every one of us. We will celebrate as well the marvelous truth that we’re holding each other through it all, rocking each other through everything into the Wholeness we can only fully embody together.
© 2018 Drew Groves