Forums > Queen - General Discussion > It's A Hard Life, Pagliacci

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Posted: 15 Jan 10, 09:20 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote

The line from the opera, "Ridi, Pagliaccio, sul tuo amore infranto" obviously being the "tune" so to speak Mercury uses to open IAHLs " I don't want my freedom...." , having read deeper into it today (I've been in a Barcelona frame of mind and was looking more into opera, caballe, etc on YT) it led me deeper into the actual opera itself and why Mercury used IT and not any other famous opera?

In very brief (if I am correct), the opera is about a sad clown Punchinello who hides his great loneliness/loss of his wife behind his clown performances to his public. Thus the sad clown story begins. (True???)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RL7wdUPXpiM

I love IAHL, I think it's underrated, but I only ever thought that Mercury used this line as a tongue in cheek ref to opera in general (as did the famous "cornetto" advert in the UK many years ago), but now having looked more into the opera's story, I feel he may have been using the actual line and play to describe the way he felt of himself in general at this time.

Different biographies suggest 'Phoebe' got him deeper in to opera in the 80s and would translate what was going on when Mercury listened.

We all know that Mercury was a very clever composer... is it reasonable to think that he intentionally wrote this song as both his interpretation of the opera Pagliacci, and his own view of himself eg. lonely and hiding behind his stage persona, losing lover after lover, as we all know he did.

If this is true, I go on to further state how clever he was... not many rock stars can claim to such genius when composing simple rock/pop songs. It may also be said that IAHL is FAR more complex a song than just a simple pop song if this is the case.

A lot of fans think Freddie's genius in writing was at its peak early (70s) on and that he lost his was a bit in the 80s (body language anyone?)... but doesn't this back up how clever a man he still was?

I'm sorry, I am rambling. Yara would be proud (sorry Yara). I just want to know if anyone has any thoughts on IAHL, or if I'm maybe looking to deep into it. Maybe it was just a big joke to Freddie!!!


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Posted: 15 Jan 10, 09:21 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote

SLIGHTLY OFF TOPIC    :    Jim Hutton in a documentary said Freddie might have went on to write an opera... I wonder if he could have???


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Posted: 15 Jan 10, 10:20 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote

great thread,  one of my all time favorite songs.  If this song was on opera or races people would be rating it's a hard life with the best of them.   Barcelona was freddie's true masterpiece of the 80's with hard life only slightly behind.

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Posted: 15 Jan 10, 11:02 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote

Otis B. Driftwood (Groucho Marx) sings the operatic intro of IAHL in gibberish during 'A Night at the Opera'. 

Perhaps.....someone in the band watched one of their favorite movies again during The Works sessions, and thought it might work......

or perhaps not.

btw, one of their very few tracks where the extended version equals or surpasses the original.


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Posted: 15 Jan 10, 11:03 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote

Thanks Mike, i totally agree with what you're saying. It's up there with Somebody To Love I think.

I got thinking about it after just reading Jim Hutton's book, when he explains the time period Mercury got REALLY into opera, and how he loved Mme Caballe. If what he claims is accurate, then even she marvelled at his composing and that "he got more out of her voice than what she even thought she was capable of"... but that's off topic too.

Freddie seemed a very quick learner... i wonder if it's true that if he kept learning he could have written a small opera styled project? Barcelona being his first proper attempt at the fusion of styles to me is genius, and i reckon he could have pushed himself even further in the opera world if he sadly was allowed more time!

Back to topic, I think It's A Hard Life is extremely clever and it's a shame that it's not given the credit it's due. Not many everyday 'Joes', myself included, have any great knowledge/study of opera, or the afore mentioned opera, but I wonder if more of us did, that we would actually see the true genius in the make-up of this song. I think Freddie out did himself here, but being the modest man he was, and that the song wasn't a MASSIVE hit, that the deeper routes of the song have never been explored properly!

I wonder what any music students on the site, who have greater knowledge on opera, think of this?


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Posted: 15 Jan 10, 11:15 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote

Ha Ha... that's a good counter point, and one which i thought of too so I'm glad you picked up on it.

That's why I wanted to discuss it. It's very easy for a Queen fan, such as myself, to get carried away when talking about Freddie... we all have done it.... possibly over glorified some of his work/creativity to an extent. Was it just a mild reference to opera, tongue in cheek like Bo Rap?

It's just the "story" in IAHL is so similar to the opera's, i.e Freddie's own life and loneliness/let down's in love, compared to Punchinello's loss of his wife and resulting loss/anger in the opera. Punchinello, was the sad performer having to make people happy while being so unhappy inside.... just like Freddie.

A very good point Goodco... and a very good film.

(I love that Queen asked for Groucho Marx permission for using ANATO/ADATR for their album title's, and his reply was "sure, as long as you call your next album Greatest Hits of the Rolling Stones").




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Posted: 15 Jan 10, 11:23 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote

i'm sure freddie would have done more opera stuff like barcelona,  Barclona2 perhaps?........Sad that we'll never know.

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Posted: 15 Jan 10, 18:10 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote

The Pagliacci opera is about a Clown, Canio, that discovers that his wife (she's an actress too) betrays him with another man. But he can't stop the play they are acting in, so he must pretend to be happy like all clowns. But he ends up killing his wife and her lover onstage.
It's a true story - it happened in the south of Italy about a century and a half ago and Leoncavallo's father was the judge in the trial.
Well, it's a bit like The Show Must Go On...


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Posted: 16 Jan 10, 01:01 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote

> having looked more into the opera's story, I feel he may have been using the actual line and play to describe the way he felt of himself in general at this time.

The actual answer was only known by Fred himself. Sometimes these things result out of serendipity. For instance, we could say that Bo Rhap was released on Halloween because they'd used an operatic symbolic fancy dress for that song; or that Hammer to Fall was inspired by Maxwell's Silver Hammer, which happened to be played on certain Californian station while Brian was thinking about new songs for 'The Works', etc.

What we know, thanks to Dr Wig, about A Hard Life, is that Fred was in a sort of depressive state of mind. The video's sort of a joke within a joke, showing how Fred felt alone even in such rich and pompous world. In that sense, quoting that opera (and not another one) was sort of a match made in heaven. But whether it was deliberate or not we can only guess.

> Different biographies suggest 'Phoebe' got him deeper in to opera in the 80s and would translate what was going on when Mercury listened.

There are always three sides of every story.

> We all know that Mercury was a very clever composer... is it reasonable to think that he intentionally wrote this song as both his interpretation of the opera Pagliacci, and his own view of himself

Keep in mind that the song is not his interpretation of that opera; only the first four bars are. The remaining 97.63% of the song hasn't got anything to do with opera. Likewise, Body Language isn't heavy metal because of the couple of distorted guitar notes it has near the end.

> If this is true, I go on to further state how clever he was... not many rock stars can claim to such genius when composing simple rock/pop songs.

TBF, IAHL is not 'simple rock/pop'.

> It may also be said that IAHL is FAR more complex a song than just a simple pop song if this is the case.

It's not 'far more complex' either... it's very clever, very beautiful, etc. But it's neither as simple as most '84 hits nor as complex as Bo Rhap or other things Fred wrote before or since.

> A lot of fans think Freddie's genius in writing was at its peak early (70s) on and that he lost his was a bit in the 80s (body language anyone?)... but doesn't this back up how clever a man he still was?

He was very clever, but not quite as much as in his early days. He wrote only a few masterpieces on his own in the 80's, and several ones in the 70's.

> SLIGHTLY OFF TOPIC    :    Jim Hutton in a documentary said Freddie might have went on to write an opera... I wonder if he could have???

I suppose he'd have gone for the 'Barcelona' formula in terms of team-work: Mike Moran assisting him on composing, and Tim Rice on lyrics. That's a winning combination.

> If this song was on opera or races people would be rating it's a hard life with the best of them.

IMO, that song would've been only 'good' in either album, as there were far too many gems with superior musical qualities to that one. For 'The Works' it's like a skyscraper in a town of two-floor buildings.

> Barcelona was freddie's true masterpiece of the 80's with hard life only slightly behind.

Yes, but a lot of the work on 'Barcelona' was made by other people, including a considerable amount of the arrangements. For IAHL, Fred mostly received help on lyrics, but he directed the musical aspect including the guitar solo (Brian wanted to play something else but the boss is the boss).

> Otis B. Driftwood (Groucho Marx) sings the operatic intro of IAHL in gibberish during 'A Night at the Opera'.

That melody was already quite famous before 'The Works', there are many places where Fred could've seen it, including of course the opera itself.

> If what he claims is accurate, then even she marvelled at his composing and that "he got more out of her voice than what she even thought she was capable of"... but that's off topic too.

Not quite off-topic, and it's very interesting to comment here. If you keep writing these posts, I'll end up adding 'Barcelona' and 'Bad Guy' to my website.

> Freddie seemed a very quick learner... i wonder if it's true that if he kept learning he could have written a small opera styled project?

Even as early as 1975, he already had enough knowledge and (what's more important) creativity to do that.

> Barcelona being his first proper attempt at the fusion of styles to me is genius, and i reckon he could have pushed himself even further in the opera world if he sadly was allowed more time!

Theoretically, yes, but keep in mind that a reason for him taking it that seriously was precislely his realisation of having very little left to live. If he'd thought he'd be around for several decades, maybe he'd still writing Body Language's and 'Mr Bad Guys''s until the end.

> I think Freddie out did himself here

There I disagree. Great song, but not even close to his best pieces.

> Well, it's a bit like The Show Must Go On...

Indeed.



John hated HS. Fred's fave singer was not PR. Roger didn't compose 'Innuendo.' Witness testimonies are often inaccurate. Scotland's not in England. 'Bo Rhap' hasn't got 180 voices.
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Posted: 16 Jan 10, 12:47 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote

>If what he claims is accurate, then even she marvelled at his composing and that "he got more out of her voice than what she even thought she was capable of"... but that's off topic too.

I think this is likely to be true since Opera singers aren't used to sing songs that are composed for them. If you have a song that is tailor-suited to your strengths then you get more out of it.

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Posted: 16 Jan 10, 14:13 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote

Any idea what it was that made Freddie so allegedly so sad and depressed at the time? He had money, fame, success, a loving family for support, a lover, and this was also before he became afflicted with AIDS. So, what was he complaining about.

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Posted: 16 Jan 10, 14:41 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote

You're the loneliest when you're surrounded by people, paradoxically enough. Plus, Fred was probably naturally depressive - most geniuses are.



John hated HS. Fred's fave singer was not PR. Roger didn't compose 'Innuendo.' Witness testimonies are often inaccurate. Scotland's not in England. 'Bo Rhap' hasn't got 180 voices.
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Posted: 16 Jan 10, 16:04 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote



ParisNair wrote:

Any idea what it was that made Freddie so allegedly so sad and depressed at the time? He had money, fame, success, a loving family for support, a lover, and this was also before he became afflicted with AIDS. So, what was he complaining about.

lol,   Just because the man had all these things means he couldn't write a sad song?......That's like saying why did brian write all the sad songs he written with all the money he has.....too much love will kill you, ect.....that's a silly statement.







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Posted: 16 Jan 10, 17:09 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote

mike hunt wrote:
lol,   Just because the man had all these things means he couldn't write a sad song?......That's like saying why did brian write all the sad songs he written with all the money he has.....too much love will kill you, ect.....that's a silly statement.

My comment was a reaction to the general veiw that Freddie was unhappy/depressed during this time. I wasn't referring to the particular song. But thank you for taking it lightly rather than getting pissed off.
Sebastian wrote:
You're the loneliest when you're surrounded by people, paradoxically enough. Plus, Fred was probably naturally depressive - most geniuses are.

Interesting observation.

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Posted: 16 Jan 10, 17:50 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote

I'm quite sure I've read somewhere that, at the time, Freddie's lover was quite a violent chap... no surprise he was reflecting about love and happiness.


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Posted: 17 Jan 10, 02:19 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote

... great topic! "It´s a hard life" is really one of my all time favourites.

Ever noticed that the piano line in the beginning (after the "Vesti la giubba" intro) and at the end is a direct reference to Bohemian Rhapsody (listen to the first four notes in Bb but then continuing in Ab, while BoRap stays in Bb)? I don´t think that happened by coincidence, considering that both songs deal with depression in a way. Maybe Sebastian could add something to this.

By the way (offtopic, I know) - Brian May seems to be a bit of a Wagner fan. Listen to the beginning of the Prologue of Götterdämmerung (Ring cycle) and the intro of "Who wants to live forever":

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uYgN_nJtvfE.

He also used the Bridal chorus from Wagner´s Lohengrin opera in the Flash Gordon soundtrack (wedding march).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1qJ756DSVp8&feature=related



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Posted: 18 Jan 10, 11:40 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote

Thanks guys for your input.

Sebastian, as always, I appreciate your opinions (really helps to keep the
discussion flowing nicely) and I hope you don't mind me using your trademark
style in replying.

SEB : The actual answer was only known by Fred himself. Sometimes thesethings
result out of serendipity. For instance, we could say that Bo Rhap was released
on Halloween because they'd used an operatic symbolic fancy dress for that
song; or that Hammer to Fall was inspired by Maxwell's Silver Hammer, which happened
to be played on certain Californian station while Brian was thinking about new
songs for 'The Works', etc.

- I don't think he 'references' the opera (in the opening lines) out of
chance or accident. I think he purposely uses the opera and it's theme, not
only in the opening lines, but throughout the song. His frame of mind probably
being lonely, good chance of recent heart break from a lover. You only need to
look at the lyrics, one example, "And now you say it's over and I'm
falling apart". He would have had knowledge of Pagliacci, more likely
having seen it even and I reckon he did purposely use it in the lyrics while
composing the song.


SEB : The video's sort of a joke within a joke, showing how Fred felt alone
even in such rich and pompous world. In that sense, quoting that opera (and not
another one) was sort of a match made in heaven. But whether it was deliberate
or not we can only guess.

- You've jumped much further ahead to the actual video. The idea for the
'opera style' video would have been conceived well after the composing of the
song and thus, not so relevant. The original idea for the song could well have
been deliberate, as he could have been recently 'dumped' by a lover and may
well have thought of himself as Punchinello, thus giving birth to the idea of
using that opera in IAHL. He may have intentionally even used the opening lines
of IAHL as a simple acknowledgement for the listener that he wrote the song
while thinking of Pagliacci.


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Posted: 18 Jan 10, 11:41 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote


SEB : Keep in mind that the song is not his
interpretation of that opera; only the first four bars are. The remaining
97.63% of the song hasn't got anything to do with opera

- Again, this is were I disagree. The rest of the song, although not using
the music from the opera, could very well have been a direct reference to
Pagliacci. You only need to read the lyrics from it. They both have very
similar themes of loss/hurt/blame etc etc.


SEB : TBF, IAHL is not 'simple rock/pop'.

- I don't claim it to be simple rock/pop. You've misread me here. I use
"simple rock/pop" just as a generalization of all music at that time,
whether rock, pop, funk, disco etc etc and that Mercury could go one further
with his songs than other artists. (AND I do acknowledge that he isn't the only
writer who had songs of the same ilk and genius).


SEB : It's not 'far more complex' either... it's very clever, very beautiful,
etc. But it's neither as simple as most '84 hits nor as complex as Bo Rhap or
other things Fred wrote before or since.

- I disagree, I think that if my opinion here is correct, in that he
cleverly bases his frame of mind and life at that time, and incorporates the
story in Pagliacci into the song, cleverly even adding a direct reference
in the opening 'tune', then it is quite a complex piece of work. More so than a
lot of his songs, especially in the 80s. 





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Posted: 18 Jan 10, 11:42 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote


(Otis B. Driftwood (Groucho Marx)
sings the operatic intro of IAHL in gibberish during 'A Night at the
Opera'.)
SEB : That melody was already quite famous before 'The Works',
there are many places where Fred could've seen it, including of course the
opera itself.

- I hadn't thought of this. Freddie may have just heard it while watching
the marx bros film and liked it! I reckon though he would have more likely have
seen it early 80s or before even, thus having more knowledge of the
storyline... which in turn he incorporates into IAHL, again with the 'tune' at
the start and lyrics thereafter. IMO


SEB :Not quite off-topic, and it's very interesting to comment here. If you
keep writing these posts, I'll end up adding 'Barcelona' and 'Bad Guy' to my website.

- lol. That will only lead me to doing just that Seb! The more information
on your website the better imo, it's a fantastic place to research from (although
I bet time consuming on your part!).


SEB : Theoretically, yes, but keep in mind that a reason for him taking it that
seriously was precislely his realisation of having very little left to live. If
he'd thought he'd be around for several decades, maybe he'd still writing Body
Language's and 'Mr Bad Guys''s until the end.

- I'm not so sure here, I think he would always have made Barcelona at this time and it would have been
no better or worse. I don't think his disease led him to doing Barcelona as a sort of 'bucket list', I
reckon the timeline would have always meant it happening when it did. In terms
of 'end product', I think it would have always been taken as seriously whether
ill or not, and we would have still had the same results... and remember the
others didn't know he was sick while making the album.


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Posted: 18 Jan 10, 11:42 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote