Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Made in Heaven

The cover to Queen's album Made in Heaven
Tonight, I listened and sang along to Queen's album Made in Heaven.
Suddenly, doing the dishes, I realized it's the only music I've been listening to for two weeks.
Sometimes, in life, you discover that an artist - a writer, a musician, or maybe a painter - has come to a point of his artistic production where he has gone deeper towards a truth. This often happens when the artist nears death.
Made in Heaven was completed right after Freddie Mercury died from aids; the three remaining members of the band worked on the vocal material that Freddie had left for them to rearrange into thirteen heart-breaking tracks. Guitarist Brian May recalled in an interview how Freddie Mercury, a few weeks before the end, said: "Write anything and I'll sing it".
Freddie Mercury approached his final days singing like never before; imagine Luciano Pavarotti performing a high C from the chest while in his deathbed.

Listening to each song over and over again, I kept asking myself what made them so beautiful and, most of all, so touching. I understood that Freddie Mercury sang his last bits of life out. At times, like in "A Winter's Tale", his voice flickers perceptibly. In that split second, everything seems to be breaking to pieces; but he suddenly recovers, and again his voice reaches unequaled heights.
"Mother Love", the last song he ever performed, was left incomplete; his aching yet still powerful voice possesses at once sadness and hope, but the final verse was sung by Brian May because Freddie Mercury was not able to do so anymore. Towards the end, fractions of each song produced by Queen throughout their career were shrunk into two or three seconds; then, the sound fades away into the crying of a baby. I immediately thought of the theory according to which, at the end of our life, we have a light-quick glimpse of the most meaningful moments of our existence; in "Mother Love", something visual was beautifully transposed into music. 

How could he sing so marvelously, I wondered. He knew that the end was approaching, and everything had to be done on borrowed time. How could depression not take over? How could he find the strenght not just to sing, but to do so as no one else could ever do? There must have been something so much stronger than death keeping him up; his passion, the profound friendship with the band members. But what else?

Then I thought of my beloved dog.
O, Brother. He kept wagging his tail looking at us, asking for a last gentle caress, until he fell into a deep final slumber.
So I understood.
It was an intense love for life, however painful it might be. It was an ardent attachment to something that, all in all, is just purely and simply beautiful; a true sublimation of life itself through death.

A few months ago at the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute in New York, a character I played in a scene was consciously approaching death. I was instinctually brought to portray a very depressed person. The teacher interrupted the scene and asked me with a degree of impatience, "What are you doing, Jay?!".
"I'm dying", I replied.
"No, you're not. You're wanting to live."

Today, I fully understood what my teacher meant.

Is there an album, a symphony, or a kind of music that brings you to deeper introspective thoughts?



  1. Jay... what a beautiful and thought-provoking post...


    The visual of Pavarotti performing his last high C in his deathbed totally nailed it for me. And your sweet dog. And your acting example. Now I'm so intrigued to listen to this album. I want to hear/feel the emotion.

    I was raised very classical, so Swan Lake by Tchaiklovsky always gets me... and Muse... they're my band. Their music just taps right into my soul and speaks to me like no other. Love it.

    What an amazing post!

  2. Thank you for such a beautiful analysis of this album, Jay. I can't think of any particular album that affects me like this, though much of Bob Dylan does. I particularly like the song 'Hope I get to heaven before they close the door'. Forgotten the album though

  3. Interesting thoughts. It brings to mind the old question of what you would do if you knew you had only so much time to live.
    Music that brings me to introspection? There are so many. Two are Beethoven's 7th Symphony and Schubert's String Quintet. Certain Van Morrison songs are also good for reflection.

    Sad Songs Blogfest (I’m a day early I know)
    A Faraway View
    An A to Z Co-host blog

  4. Jay—this is so profound and wise. Thank you. Your conclusion reminds me of a Basho haiku I have always loved and wanted to emulate:
    A cicada shell;
    It sang itself
    Utterly away.

    The music which for me comes closest to revealing the deepest truths of the human psyche, life and death, is currently Puccini, Mahler, Vangelis’s Odes sung by Irene Pappas, and the ending of Lohengrin.

  5. I always loved Queen and still miss Freddie. He was such an enormous and unique talent. Hearing his voice always transports me in time and place.

  6. Morgan,
    I'm glad you liked my post.
    I also love Swan Lake, and I grew particularly fond of Tchaikovskij Symphony no. 4, which I discovered a year ago.
    Thank you very much for commenting!

    Hi Mike,
    I like Bob Dylan too; I don't know the song you mentioned, but I used to listen to "It ain't me, babe" over and over again. And not just that one!

    What I would do if...? In all honesty, I don't know.
    I love Beethoven's 7th too, especially the 2nd movement, with the slow, growing and sharp violin sound.
    Thanks for stopping by!

    Thanks for sharing the haiku with us. I love the concept that haikus, in order to be that, have to deliver the meaning of life and of the universe through their simplicity. This one definitely does. I'll remember it.
    I'm not very familiar with Puccini and Lohengrin, but I love Mahler's Symphony no. 2. Great choice!

    It's so true, up to now Freddie Mercury hasn't found the shadow of a valuable contender. I don't think there's a singer and a song-writer, out there, who can live up to the challenge.

  7. I agree with all the comments; this is a beautiful post. Thank you for writing it.

    There is so much music that pulls me to another dimension. Dido is my favorite artist and all her albums do it for me.

  8. this post. man, alive.
    straight to the heart, man.
    just. right on.

  9. I'm glad I found your blog in this blog-hop. I'll be reading!

  10. Raquel,
    Dido, I know some of her songs, the most commercial ones.
    When I was 16, the radio would play "Thank you" every morning at 5.45, when I'd wake up to go to school. So, for six months, I woke up with "Thank You", by Dido, which is a song I love.

    I'm happy my post touched you.
    Welcome to my blog!

    Thanks for hopping by and welcome to my blog!

  11. I suppose Janis Joplin, and Lowel George of Little Feat, were like that, but I believe the same thing that made them great were the thing that killed them, the drive. A type of manic-depression that drove them to madness. I don't know if the drive lead them to drugs or the other way around. I've seen that in writers, but not in dogs. I supposed trying to live killed them.

  12. I don't know, Dan, I feel like it's the old question "Would they be myths if they hadn't died so prematurely?". We have to admit that many artists owe their fame solely to their premature death. Personally, I believe James Dean had great charisma, personality and charms, but I don't really think he was the great actor people depict him as. Not at all!
    I think one might or might not like Freddie Mercury, but it goes beyond question that he had a great voice, knew how to write songs, and knew how to perform.
    You're right, what killed them made them great, and "trying to live" killed them. But is doing drugs really trying to live? You should admit that many other artists try to live "normally", like non-artists would. And something kills them anyway!

  13. Oh I do like your teacher's words!! Completely changes the situation doesn't it? Yay!

    I can never watch the video of Freddie singing "These are the days of our lives" right at the end where he looks at the camera and says "I love you" without blubbing up!

    At the moment I'm listening to Enya's "Only Time" ad finitum. I never used to like her but I discovered this song on youtube and am thoroughly obsessed with it - the words are so lovely, I just cry every time I listen to it!

    Take care

  14. I think it's not the drugs, it's the drive. The search for perfection, the pressure they put on themselves and the need to escape that pressure. Pressure does horrible physical damage to healthy people too. We are all on borrowed time and great people recognize that more than most because of their goals. In the end, if you think about it we agree.

    I've never cried at a funeral but I've wept for days when one of my animals died. Weird huh? I've been at deaths door a couple times. I was OK with it, and surprised to come out of it. I wonder what that says about me?

  15. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nuHl1oNoCEs
    I don't know which one is best, Jay, but again I have to thank you. In researching I discovered a wonderful David Bowie cover

  16. Kitty,
    It did change everything in fact! It made me see everything in a whole new perspective, and it created contrast, which is what you look for in drama and in writing too.
    Yea, Freddie's last video is very touching.
    I'll go listen to Enya's song right away.
    Thanks for the tip!

    Yea, the drive; that can be a powerful drug too, unfortunately, you're so right. Some people just can't seem to find their way around it. I think the secret also lies on the way you approach things; maybe one can be ambitious without making his life a torture. But yea, I do agree with you!

    Thank you Mike for sharing the links, I'll go listen to them!
    You found a great cover? By another artist? I'm curious to go check it out; covers often spoil the original song (with an exception, of course, for "Nothing Compares to You"; in this case, the original song spoiled the cover!)

  17. Jay,

    Freddie I think lived his life to fullest all the way to the end.
    Queen had some off albums during this time (Miracle) and some great ones (Innuendo), but this was a Swan Song like no other. My brother describes it as Freddie writing his one funeral dirge or his own "Requiem".

    Right now the album that is getting to me is Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart Club Band. It was introduced to me by my older brother. He died just recently and listening to this makes me realize there was so much more I could have learned from him.

    Looking forward to all your posts this month.

    The Other Side
    The Freedom of Nonbelief

  18. Timothy,
    Before anything else, welcome to my blog!
    I'm very sorry to hear about your brother. I believe there is still a lot you can learn from him; even if a person is no longer here, his actions and the way he lived his life never die. Freddie Mercury is the living example - note I said "living" - of that.
    I think "Innuendo" is a great album.
    I agree with your mother; Freddie wrote his own "Requiem", but he was also greatly helped by the rest of Queen, which I find so terribly sad and, at the same time, the expression of a friendship that goes beyond boundaries, even those imposed by death.

    Sgt. Pepper! I haven't listened to it in a while, but I'm also fond of that album!

    Thanks for stopping by Timothy! Glad to know you'll be a reader from now on!
    I'll go check out your blogs right now.

  19. Great post, Jay! I absolutely love your penultimate paragraph. I can sense it comes from your heart. :) Now, regarding the question you posed here, hmmm, I am a romantic fool so I have more than one album that makes me ponder about life, love, and everything in between. Kudos! Lovely post.

  20. Dear Claudia,
    I'm happy you liked it.
    It does come from my heart. The entire post does, in fact, but that paragraph was the hardest one to write. Emotionally I mean.
    So, my dear romantic fool, since you're not too familiar with Queen, let me suggest you listen to this song:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rhqM_oyWGJ8 (Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy)


  21. Yes! But I have SO many. Depending on my mood or what I'm going through at the time a certain piece of music will be my companion for weeks until I'm shaken from my spell. At one time or another it's been: STREET SYMPHONY by Monica, BEAUTIFUL by Christina Aguilera, THE BLOWER'S DAUGHTER by Damien Rice, A SONG FOR MAMA by Boyz II Men, VANISHING by Mariah Carey...I could go on forever... Lately it's been it's been a gospel song, ENCOURAGE YOURSELF by Donald Lawrence -- the title speaks for itself :-)

  22. What a great blog and I know exactly what you mean. New follower here. I’m enjoying reading my fellow “A to Z”ers. I look forward to visiting again.


  23. Jasmynne,
    You do do have so many! Among the ones you mentioned, I only know Mariah Carey's song; but I'd like to go listen to Encourage Yourself; you tickled my curiosity :)
    Thanks for visiting!

    Great, thanks, and welcome to my blog!
    I'll visit yours right away!
    I look forward to having you as a guest again!

  24. Hi Jay, I love Queen and Freddie Mercury's music! "I want to break free" is always in my head, still not exactly sure why, but I love it!

    This is me, Duncan D. Horne, visiting you from the A-Z challenge, wishing you all the best throughout April and beyond.

    Duncan In Kuantan

  25. Hello Duncan,
    "I Want to Break Free" is a great song, I've listened to it countless times!

    I love having so many people visiting :)
    You're welcome on my blog anytime!
    Wish you all the best too for the month of April, and good luck on you A-Z Challenge.

  26. Freddie Mercury. Sometimes just saying his name brings a chill along my spine. On certain days, when I let it sneak up on me, I find nothing nourishes quite like It's A Beautiful Day.

    And it's taken me a year and I'm still trudging through A Winter's Tale...

  27. Tom,
    It's a Beautiful Day is a truly touching song. Thanks for bringing it up.
    Have a great week!