Fathers, Legends and Queens

I spent a lot of Fathers’ Day watching films, beginning with Rocketman as a promise to my daughter, who loved it so much that she paid to see it three times. Then, wishing to make comparisons, I rented Bohemian Rhapsody., which I’d walked wide circles around before, failing to imagine how anyone could do Freddie’s story justice.

It was in fact a little surprising, to have felt such strong possessiveness over Mercury’s story, since roughly calculating the hours I’ve spent listening to Elton vs. Queen, the former would easily run circles around latter. This is mainly because his music has permeated key events of my life to a greater degree, often through the instruments of musical friends.

I didn’t fall in love with QUEEN until I was into my 30s, but THEN it was, “Oh, wow.”

Freddie, from British Vogue

Freddie is clearly the more tragic figure, also the more naturally flamboyant, which makes him delightful to watch. But, importantly, he is not alive to validate nor invalidate what has been done with his life story, so is also far more vulnerable. I can’t help but think he might have added nuance to a few needed places in the film, such as regarding the tenderness of relationships other than with his first, female, love.

So I didn’t want to like the film.

[potential spoilers]

However, in the end I must admit that both films were sufficiently tender with their subjects. Artistry-wise, I mostly liked them differently, with what I disliked hinging upon the handling of the music itself.

That Bohemian Rhapsody was lip-synced should have been a problem but wasn’t, because Rami Malek’s physical embodiment felt so genuine that I wasn’t put off by his lip-syncing at all. I felt that not thinking about the music, a la “I like (or dislike) this better than the original, etc.”, kept my attention with the story. I was also already a fan of Malek, thanks to binge-watching Mr. Robot during a time I desperately needed that immersive distraction.

On the other hand, I would describe what was done with Elton’s story and catalog of music as “translatable to stage.” Choices made to adjust to the pace of the story and Taron Egerton‘s voice, make total sense when putting the concept itself at the fore, and Rocketman is definitely more conceptual. Think Across the Universe with a bigger budget. I’m a fan of Across the Universe, and covers of Beatles music generally, but there isn’t a single Elton cover I deeply like, even when sung by artists I value; his voice is simply fused with his songs for me.

Today I did find THIS playful rendition:

I mean, c’mon! Nice.

The presence or absence of fathers in shaping a life, features prominently in Rocketman, and must have been the main story Elton wanted to tell as the hook into understanding his longings… the depths he sank to, the fits of ego that possessed him. Longing has shaped many artists – to be reached for and loved, seen and known.

Me too.

My longing has been to make sense of everything in some cathartic way, to turn the puzzle inside out. It is the fairy tale of finding (or being!) a magic key that once turned, makes ‘it all’ always to have been worthwhile. It is some version of karma, but without punishments and rewards… something like, true character revealed, and that being a good thing.

I’ve had experiences of this kind of flip in vision-dreams before. Once the curtain falls, everyone bows, acknowledging the roles that they played and why, with even the villains deeply appreciated. In my last dream of this sort, I encountered my once step-father, the night that he passed away. He was surprised and delighted to find me there (whatever ‘there’ means in this context) to see him off, since we’d shared tragic history.

When you realize how perfect everything is you will tilt your
head back and laugh at the sky.

– Totally Fake Buddha Quote

Addiction features prominently in both musicals too… addiction to whatever can stop the consuming pain of a primal need unfulfilled, such as for that of a present and approving father. Or the pain of looking for knowledge that can’t quite be filled in… understanding you would have had to have received from the get-go, or early along the way.

Therefore, we will always require the kindness of others. We will always need others to empathetically imagine us as though we had been given all those pieces – to see the ways in which what is missing makes us the wonderful beings we are.

The tragedy for those who become famous may be to reach the pinnacle of achievement in the world and find it ‘still not enough’. No matter status or stature, the answer is never ‘out there’.


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