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Bohemian Rhapsody

‘We are in ‘Bohemian Rhapsody.’

Repetition provides a sense of stability and predictability. For example, with its seasons, the annual cycle brings comfort by adding a cadence to peoples’ lives. The year-end traditions offer an opportunity to celebrate and reset, time and time again.

Music utilizes that human penchant like no other art form: It is peppered with choruses and refrains; preferred tracks are listened to repeatedly with no lassitude. Isn’t it extraordinary?

As observed in the book ‘On Repeat: How Music Plays the Mind’ (2014), ‘repetitiveness […] carves out a familiar, rewarding path in our minds, allowing us at once to anticipate and participate in each phrase as we listen. [It] creates a sense of shared subjectivity with the sound, and […] with each other, a transcendent connection that lasts at least as long as a favorite song.’

And yet, Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody (1975), one of the best songs of all time, shatters that concept. In this emotional masterpiece, there is no loop, no repetition. As a further insult to convention, the song can be dissected into five musical sections, each of a different style, from a ballad to opera through rock.

In that sense, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ mirrors the present state of affairs. Social, political, media, and economic patterns have lost any kind of structure. There is no safety in repetition. Patterns and norms are gone. The rhythm is constantly changing, leaving no respite for the participating audience.

‘We are in ‘Bohemian Rhapsody.’

But, if there is no psychological hook to ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ through repetition, where does the deep, cross-cultural attachment to that song come from?

Bohemian Rhapsody’ uses a powerful storytelling mechanism. The lyrics mirrors Joseph Campbell’s ‘Hero’s Journey(1949), a concept introduced in these notes more than ten years ago. As demonstrated by Mr. Campbell, the most remarkable stories of humankind, including Star Wars and the Lion King, follow a specific pattern. The human psyche is instinctively wired to relate to the such narrative.

In ‘Bohemian Rhapsody,’ the event that triggers the beginning of the hero’s adventure is the killing of a man (‘Mama, I Just Killed a Man’). A murder has been committed. The hero comes to this terrible realization (‘Gotta leave you all behind and face the truth.’) What follows is the descent into the abyss, with horror and confusion (‘I don’t want to die.’) After the stage of the ordeal, the hero seeks closure through atonement (‘Any way the wind blows.’) The story is allowed to end on a peaceful note.

Like the ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ protagonist, society has committed a crime. As it gradually overcomes denial, it realizes that its operating model has caused significant damage to the environment and has become socially unstable. Society, too, faces a descent into the abyss. It must go through the ordeal of a violent behavioral change to emerge ready to tackle the challenges allowing it to return to a safe place.

Will the hero make it? The story is unpredictable, intense, and frightening.

‘We are in ‘Bohemian Rhapsody.’

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