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 finally compelled by a wish to make comparisons, I rented Bohemian Rhapsody. I’d kept walking wide circles around that one before, failing to imagine how anyone could do it justice.

It was a little surprising to have found myself feeling such strong possessiveness about Mercury’s story. After all, roughly calculating the hours I’ve spent listening to Elton John vs. Queen, Elton would easily run circles around Freddie – not because I prefer his music, but because it has permeated events of my life to a greater degree through the voices, guitars, and pianos of musical friends. The Queen songs I liked least ( think, “Another One Bites the Dust”) were most popular during the years of the Elton songs I liked best. So they hit upon deep nostalgia.

I don’t think I fell in love with Queen until my 30s, BUT THEN it was, “Oh, wow.”

Freddie, from British Vogue

Freddie is clearly the more tragic figure – also the more naturally, organically flamboyant. Most importantly, he is not here to validate nor invalidate what has been done with the film, so feels more vulnerable.

I can’t help but think he might have added nuance in a few needed places, such as regarding the tenderness of relationships other than with his first love.

[potential spoilers ahead]

In the end, I found both films to be loving of their subjects. Artistry-wise I liked quite different things about each over the other, but what I slightly disliked in one, hinged upon the handling of the music itself. Bohemian Rhapsody was lip-synced, but that didn’t bother me, strangely. Rami Malek’s physical embodiment felt so genuine that I wasn’t put off by his lip-syncing at all.

Rather, I felt that not thinking about the music, a la “I like (or dislike) this better than the original, etc.”, kept my attention flowing with the story.

I would describe what was done with Elton’s story and catalog of music as, “easily 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. Rocketman is certainly the more conceptual. Think Across the Universe with a larger budget.

I’m a fan of Across the Universe, and covers of Beatles music generally, but until today there wasn’t a single Elton cover I enjoyed, even when sung by artists I like otherwise. He and his songs are fused for me.

Today though, I FOUND THIS playful rendition:

I mean, c’mon! Nice.

The role of the presence or absence of a father in shaping a human life features prominently in Rocketman, and must have been the main story the writers, or even Elton himself, wanted to tell as the portal to 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 is to make sense of everything in a cathartic way, to find a magic key that once turned, will make ‘it all’ always to have always been worthwhile. It is some version of karma I suppose, without punishments and rewards… something like, true character revealed.

I’ve had experiences of this in vision-dreams before… the curtain falls and everyone bows, acknowledging the roles that were played and why. One was of my step-father, the night that he passed away and before I knew that, in which he was surprised to find me ‘there’ to see him off, since we’d shared such a 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 these stories too… addiction to whatever can stop the consuming pain of a primal need unfulfilled, such that of a present father. Or the pain of understanding there may be knowledge that can’t be filled in… understandings you would have had to have received from the get-go.

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

The tragedy for those who become famous may be that the rest of us can imagine that there is more we could do to receive that love. To reach the pinnacle of achievement in the world and find it ‘still not enough’, must be tough to bear.

Once, I attended a large family dinner party. I was very nervous and determined not to order anything messy, also to keep smiling – an effort which had hold of my attention for most of the meal. Eventually, I did relax and begin to enjoy the moment, even to taste the food. As I let down my guard however, from the other end of the table traveled this sentence to my ears:

“Of course, we all know that only girls who grow up with fathers can be well adjusted.”

Either, I stopped in a way that caused everyone else to turn to me, or, the statement was made so loudly that everyone turned to me in hopes that I had not (or that I had), heard it. Incredibly, my coping skills did not skip a beat.

So here’s what I did: I faked obliviousness. Steely imperviousness spread across my face like a canvas and my shoulders pulled back like wings. I may have smiled. Or at least that’s what I imagine it looked like on the outside. Inside, I calculated. Glancing back and forth across the table, I considered how long it would take for the dinner to be complete, which way I would walk to the car to avoid one-on-one encounters, and how much time before I could fall apart at home.

I’m sure most have had moments like this, but what strikes me now, contemplating this scenario with enough distance, is how fast and automatic my responses were. How many times must this kind of thing have happened in my life so far (I was only 21), to teach my body such an immediate and layered behavior?

I must have seemed so resilient, albeit not too bright. πŸ™‚ I confess that at that time I also thought that the only full cure would come from becoming someone ‘special’. What I know now, is that it is something closer to the opposite.

††Imperviousness wasn’t the wrong response; back then it just wasn’t authentic.

As an aside, I wonder if wait staff generally realize how often they are the saving grace for someone enduring such a situation. Do they know how comforting it is to glance at a possibly bored but steady soul across the way, to be smiled at and asked after?

I do.

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