What is this thing that builds our dreams / Yet slips away from us / Who wants to live forever? / Who wants to live forever? / 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 dares to love forever, when love must die?
If you know good rock music, then you know Freddie Mercury and his band, Queen. The other day I was listening to their album Live at Wembley ’86, where they performed the song Who Wants To Live Forever (listen to it here). Amazing song, amazing lyrics. Right after, they perform I Want To Break Free (here), and I can’t be sure if they put some deep thought in the order of the songs or not, but these two in sequence surely brought a strong meaning to the performance. It made me think a lot, and this post here is me trying to digest those thoughts. It was so beautifully… human. I guess that is what art is about, right?
I never met Freddie, and all I know of him is from his music, and yet I have the feeling that I know him better than many people I have small talk with everyday. To me that is what makes a great artist: when you can see his soul through his art. Transparency.
The first song openly questions the one thing religions and supernatural worldviews usually offer: eternal life, immortality. If there is one thing Jesus offered in the gospels, it was eternal life, but here Freddie Mercury asks “who wants to live forever?“. Then he asks, “who dares to love forever?“, and finally says “love must die“. I find it really hard to elaborate the depth of these words. Listening to them, I find myself marveling at the gap between God and Man, how God dared to love us forever while knowing it would mean his death. That we, mortals made of dust, do we, will we, dare to love? Freddie then finds the point of connection between the eternal and our experience: now. To love forever is to love right now, with all you are, because the now never ends. It gets too complicated when you think of the future, because the future is always dark. A touch, a kiss, full presence in that one moment. Now touches Eternity.
The second song, I Want To Break Free, is an existentialist cry for freedom. If you have seen the official video for the song (here), and if you know something about Freddie Mercury, you probably understood what the song is about: on a first layer, women gaining freedom in society. Feminism. Which is not that complicated. On a second layer, and perhaps more personally to Freddie, homosexuality. Did you ever try to empathize, and think how it must be to honestly (not self-deceivingly) feel everything in you saying you are a certain way, while people around you claim that the Ultimate considers you abhorrent? Oh the torment.
Perhaps I am reading too much into the songs and into Freddie’s performance, but I felt a deep angst in his questioning: God, you know I have to break free. I’ve fallen in love, I know it is real. I’m tired of their lies, I’ve got to break free. There is a beauty to Man questioning God openly like that. It’s what Abraham did when God said He would destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. It’s what Jacob did when God visited him without blessing him. It’s what Moses did when God said He’d given up on the Israelites. It’s what the name “Israel” means. I hear Freddie saying “God, you made me this way, you know how I feel, I can’t be honest with myself and not follow this path at the same time. I have to break free — from dogma, from rules, from judgement, from pointed fingers.“
I do not wish to get into discussions about the nature or morality of sexuality outside the “traditional“. But meditating on these things and trying to have empathy for my neighbor, I realize that in my own actions and way of living, I often find myself wanting to break free and wondering if eternal life is worth it, just like Freddie did. I attempt to love and I find it hard, because true love is always sacrifice. What made him a great artist that represented a whole generation was not that his lyrics spoke to a minority, but how deeply human they were, and we are all human, we are all sinners, even the most saintly and religious. We can all relate.
So dare, like him, to live an honest life and pray honest prayers. Perhaps sing them, if praying is difficult. Art is one of the most honest forms of religious expression. Be who you are and question God like you would question a friend, question the things religious people tell you, not because you know better than everyone, but because you don’t. That’s what questions are for: finding answers. God is big enough for any question, and if you search Him, you will find Him.
Finally, have mercy. Mercy on those questioning those things you think you have already found the answers. Have mercy on those who do not understand. And pray for them, with them, even for yourself: God have mercy on us, sinners.