Since it happened several months ago, I haven’t been able to forget an event which took place in a St. Vincent de Paul thrift store.

There weren’t a lot of people in the store the afternoon I stopped by, but they all seemed to be of my own vintage. The hair on the heads of both men and women was silver or gray or gone.

I was poking around in the used office supplies area when a fresh song began to play on the store’s sound system. From its first couple of chords I recognized “Bohemian Rhapsody,” a song which had become popular in 1975, when I was in college.

Now, Bohemian Rhapsody is–and was back then–a musical mold-breaker. For one thing, it was six minutes long, almost double the usual length of a song. Also, its several sections were performed in different styles–hard rock guitar solo and singing, but then a classical opera chorus, and a ballad.

So as the song began to play, I was prepared to listen with mild nostalgic pleasure. I only ever knew a couple of lines from the lyrics, but the music was well-written and evocative.

But there in the store, a strange mumbling rose around me. I glanced around, and realized that several people were singing along. Not loudly, but meditatively. ‘Way back then, these folks–no doubt as college kids in the mid-1970–had listened to the song over and over, and learned the lyrics. Here are part of them:

Is this the real life?
Is this just fantasy?
Caught in a landslide
No escape from reality
Open your eyes
Look up to the skies and see
I’m just a poor boy, I need no sympathy
Because I’m easy come, easy go
A little high, little low
Anyway the wind blows, doesn’t really matter to me, to me

As you can tell, the message of these first few lines is deep and introspective, and as the song goes along, even deeper–alluding to murder and eventually to suicide. And these people had implanted these phrases as deeply in their hearts as a lifetime churchgoer might have done with “Rock of Ages” or “Jesus Loves Me.”

We are at the mercy of song-writers. Music does things to us which a 28-minute sermon can’t, which is something I tell our church musicians. Over the years I’ve become very conscious of this. Even though I love music, and perform it, I don’t listen to either Christian or secular pop songs. Something within me rebels against allowing a particular lyricist’s view of reality to take possession of my mind without my conscious permission.