Freddie Mercury – The Dostoyevsky of Rock Music
Posted on April 14th, 2010

Dr Ruwan M Jayatunge

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 “ƒ”¹…”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.

2 Responses to “Freddie Mercury – The Dostoyevsky of Rock Music”

  1. Sarath Kumarasinghe Says:

    Dr. Jayatunga,
    This is amazing. I have admired Freddie Murcury a lot but did not know a tenth of what you penned. And I consider myself as a serious musician! To me, Fredie was one of the irreplaceable artistes lost to the world due to the AIDS curse.

    I do not know the significance of the timing of the article as it does not correspond to his birth or death. But it is well researched (what you may not find in Wikipedia) and worth every word.

  2. Beverly Says:

    This is a fascinating and well researched article. However I am moved to comment on Freddie Mercury’s heritage being described as simply “Asian.” Although Iranians are often classified as “Asian,” Freddie was born and raised in East Africa — a primarily Muslim sector. And, of course, he was also European educated. In fact, he is so completely multidimensional (culturally, ethnically, gender-wise, artistically) that I would describe him as a “cosmopolite whose parents were Iranian.” He didn’t seem to fit in any one cultural description and, by his very being, he framed a new reality in the world of performing arts.

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