O well, the last post was all about XTC, and there’s no reason not to make this one all about one of my other musical obsessions NO IT IS NOT THE MEKONS just sit down. Sheesh.
Come on, you snargles, let’s talk about the best arena rock heavy metal glam-prog-gay band ever.
I have sinned dear Father Father I have sinned
Try and help me Father
Won’t you let me in?
I am actually a bit surprised I’ve never been busted for speeding when that song comes on the car stereo.
I once did that song in an air guitar competition – we did lousy, even with my camp and hip thrusts; the LIAR concept and the length of the song, hey whatever. I pranced, I posed, I strutted and mimed. It wasn’t pretty but I didn’t care.
In those dim, dark days of yore, Freddie was still mostly in the closet (as much as anyone who fronted a band named Queen and prone to wearing leather could be) and it was still mostly acceptable for a lame white boy to love the band.
It was weird growing up in a suburb of Madison; as weird as any other suburb, I guess, but like many other teenage kids I responded with headphones and rock music. Although I mostly tended toward hard rock and metal (shocking, I know) I also developed a pretty intense affection for Queen.
I dunno if I can even tell you what triggered me. Maybe the musicianship; but I suspect it was the willingness to embrace diverse musical styles and resist being pigeonholed. Of course, they did arena-rock as good as anyone EVER, and actually came to define it. But they also did ballads and borrowed from opera and played camp and did prog rock and heavy metal and rockabilly and just about anything else you might want to consider. It speaks to my obsession that one day, when my cassette copy of Sheer Heart Attack gave up the ghost, I just walked downstairs, borrowed the keys from Dad, and went to replace it with a vinyl copy because I needed to hear it RIGHT THEN.
It’s so good to know there’s still a little magic in the air…. it still makes me turn it up LOUD.
Also, it has been my tradition that when I get a new car or a new car stereo, the first Queen album and Keep Yourself Alive are the first things played. Kind of a stress test, if you will.
Eventually, my life was changed by going to college and getting into New Wave and Punk, as foretold in the Prophecy. And Queen hit kind a mid-period slump, falling out of fashion and becoming a bit jaded. Although they never lost their immense popularity overseas; they set the arena standards in size and spectacle. I didn’t keep up with the band as much, and played them more rarely. Never really lost the taste for them, though, but in the company of punks it was a bit hard to explain.
However, as I’ve gotten older, I have found some gems in all the songs they’ve recorded since then. And somehow, I have found that I have once again amassed pretty much the entire catalog on my magical pocket music collection. Turns out, my dismissal of that work was ill-considered, and it makes me hope for an afterlife so I can apologize to Freddie for that.
I think my favorite album of theirs is Jazz. Man, I played the sweet living fuck out of that album. I think I wore out two cassettes, before buying the Big Black CD, and subsequently the little silver CD. What a record. The lyrics to Mustapha were the first Arabic I had ever heard.
In this video, they managed to attract objections from people alarmed at the cross dressing as well as people offended by the mockery of a British TV show. Oh, well done, gents.
And in the waning days of his life, Freddie gifted us with his work on Made In Heaven, when his health was failing; one of the most poignant albums dealing with mortality that I have ever heard. The stories of his efforts to finish the recording are heart-wrenching; after all was said and done, he wanted nothing more than to continue making music until his last breath.
Over the course of his life and career, he and his bandmates changed the face of music and how it is made, managed to create what is possibly the first music video, become worldwide successes beyond even his own grandiose dreams of those first days. Some of their songs are omnipresent and instantly recognizable, and even the meatiest of meatheads are willing to accept Freddie’s sexuality (I have to admit that it helped me accept homosexuals in my own young stupid days. After all, if Freddie was gay, how wrong could being gay be?).
I really regret, though, never having seen them play live. I see by the Great Gazoofle that they did play in Madison when I was there, and most likely I did not have the money or ability to go see them; or perhaps I had not yet learned how transformative and joyous seeing live music could be. I felt so regretful about it that in fact I actually went to see the Queen/Rodgers tour when it came through. I confess that the substitution was both better than I expected and still quite a disappointment; it was like the other bandmembers weren’t quite clear on how to fill out an arena show without Mercury. Well, at least they had Danny Miranda (classic rock’s go-to bassman!) on bass.
In an interesting and perplexing episode of synchronicity, while I was assembling this post in shop class, I came home to find Wife Sublime watching a Bio on Freddie; we both had apparently gone through a recent period of listening to Queen pretty heavily.
There is really only one way to finish this post; with the DEFINITIVE version of Bohemian Rhapsody: