An American Editor

September 4, 2017

The Lesson of Bohemian Rhapsody

Sometimes an editor can learn a lesson from another discipline. Here are different performances of the same song (except for the Colbert parody). It reminds me of the differences between editors — some are competent, some are incompetent; some are professional, some are unprofessional; some are ethical, some are unethical; some are good, some are great.

But most importantly, it illustrates an important lesson that too many editors have either forgotten or failed to absorb: Often the original is best.

First up are the Muppets:

Pentatonix does an excellent job, and certainly one that is praiseworthy, but is it really an improvement — in contrast to simply being different — of the original?

These children also do a fine job performing on the Colombia version of The Voice, but is this an improvement over the original?

In this tribute performance to Freddie Mercury, who had died, Elton John, the remaining members of Queen, and Axl Rose perform Bohemian Rhapsody. Although it is clear that the performance is professional, I don’t think it rises to the same level as the original. Modifications were needed to accommodate the voices of the singers, thereby, I think, providing a good, but not great, performance.

Finally, before we get to the original, here are two parodies based on Bohemian Rhapsody. The first is Stephen Colbert:

The second is a Star Wars parody:

At long last, here is the standard against which all other versions are judged — the original Queen version as written and performed by Freddie Mercury:

Although all the versions of Bohemian Rhapsody have their merits (and demerits), in the final analysis the original Queen version rises to the top. This illustrates that sometimes the original is best, a lesson a lot of editors need to learn. Probably the single, most often made complaint by authors against editors is that the editor changed what didn’t need to be changed, that the editor made it worse.

Every editor needs to remember that change for change’s sake (or because the editor thinks he/she can say it better) is not the best approach to editing.

Richard Adin, An American Editor

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