Think of whom we’ve lost and then see who’s still here. Don’t tell me about fair play–the universe has no interest in it, prefers the ironic aside and clusterfuck and whispered goodbye.
If Garcia OR Freddie Mercury were dead, then I’d say: sure, makes sense. Neither heroin washed down with Haagen-Dazs nor homosexual promiscuity set in the 80’s has life insurance salesmen banging on your door, but were there any grace to the world’s turning, we’d still have one of the charismatic fuckers.
Freddie picked the worst period in history to be a promiscuous homosexual artist in Britain, except for that period when Oscar Wilde got thrown in jail. And that other time when Alan Turing got chemically castrated. BUT BESIDES THEM, Freddie was clearly the unluckiest. (One wonders what it is with the British and the gays. Especially because–and I mean this with no pejorative–they’re simply the gayest people on the planet. All that fumbling about in the dorms at Eton and emphasizing the second syllable of ‘mama’ and smoldering glances in the servant’s stairway.)
Freddie was the highest of camp, and like the Dead, he was a creature of his times; he has no contemporary equivalent. The fun in his act, the frisson, came from the closet: remember, Freddie never confirmed even his HIV status until the very end, let alone his sexuality. (As if anyone has the responsibility to confirm fucking anything for the British newspapers. Or any of us, for that matter.) He did very few interviews, and when he did, he was glib and guarded. He was offended, quite rightly, by strangers poking about at him.
All he had ever done was be the most charismatic man anyone had ever seen, with the most beautiful voice anyone had ever heard. And they wanted more?
We would take what he gave us, which were his performances. Other than that, Freddie avoided the celebrity circuit and much scandal, which can be read as partly a credit to his intelligence (as he was an unbelievably scandalous motherfucker), and partly to the zipped lips of his friends. The good thing about seeing someone you know when you’re someplace you shouldn’t be, is that they’re there, too. The statute of limitations has still not run out on some of the shit Freddie pulled at his parties.
(At this point, I should probably warn you that this might go on for a bit and it’s not going to be about the Dead. I mean, lay even money on there being a Billy joke or whatnot, but you catch my meaning.)
Was Queen anything like the Dead? Well, leaving aside the conversation-ending “white guys playing Chuck Berry covers for other white people in hockey arenas” thing (CHECK YOUR PRIVILEGE, YOU CIS-NORMATIVE MONSTER), we find two bands that became legendary for their live performances, but not much else, and those performances themselves couldn’t have been more different.
By 1975, Queen had all of the moves that would serve them for the next decade in the most massive stadiums on the planet: the opening rocker followed by the medley of songs that were impossible to recreate fully live, the breathtaking harmonies from Roger Taylor and Brian May. (Compare this to the Dead, who ambled confusedly and one-by-one onto the stage and sang whatever the hell harmony note they pleased, thank you.)
The cool tiered drum riser is there, as well as their signature swooping, synchronized lights. They are all wearing capes, because the ’70’s, except for John Deacon, who is natted the fuck out in Travolta’s outfit from Saturday Night Fever.
When they write the eulogy for rock and roll–and they will, perhaps they have, perhaps they should have–the world will be a sadder place for no longer having a place for a phrase like this:
One Christmas Eve at the Hammersmith Odeon…
Freddie’s already his own man, his own uber-mensch. Everything’s there, and just exactly perfect: his coarse, Zoroastrian hair in just the right blocky post-Ziggy Stardust mega-shag, his thick, Zoroastrian dong straining at the seams of his Xandra Rhodes catsuit. Mic in the iconic half-stand thrust in the air, parried towards the crowd, hidden by his pirouettes, and jacked off, jacked off, jacked off.
And that mouth, like a camel who didn’t wear his retainer. Teeth too big for the mouth, mouth too big for the face. Voice too big for this life.
(If you don’t have the hour to invest in the ’75 show, then at least watch 40 minutes in: they do Big Spender, which is utterly goofy, of course, but it works because of Freddie and the tension of his identity, of being an openly slutty gay dude at the top of your voice back then. It was dangerous. Now, Freddie would be married and have three adorable adopted children whose gender identities are being left up to them. The gays have moved from the ghetto to the suburbs.)
Queen went from proudly and loudly displaying a rejoinder on their albums that “no synthesizers” to making records drenched with the bleeps and bloops of Can and Girorgio Moroder; they always were a rather European band, and that become more evident throughout the 1980’s. Their sales plummeted in America, save for the single Another One Bites the Dust, which was cleverly sent to Black radio stations without a picture of the band on the sleeve.
And then Live Aid:
They came into the trans-continental television show/charity something-or-other fully packed: they had been playing medleys of strictly the good bits from their songs for years, plus they were led by a man who truly believed that the answer to the question “how many people are in the audience?” should be “every single human on the planet.” Add to that the spontaneous 80,000-person-strong hand clapping in Radio Gaga and possibly a bit of technical chicanery behind the scenes (Queen’s guys may or may not have infiltrated the crew and turned their volume up a bit, for that extra push over the cliff), and they won the day, leading to a huge comeback.
They toured the world again, selling out quarter-million person capacity soccer stadiums in South America and enormous karaoke bars n Japan, and ending up back home for a sold-out weekend at Wembley Stadium.
Watch how he takes the stage, in a jacket visible from space with a triangular cut: it sits above his skinny hips in white track pants to make a silhouette of hyper-masculinity. Not that he needs it: neither of us, fellow Enthusiast, has ever been that confident. If you were to inject even a drop of Freddie’s confidence, your heart would shoot out your ass and punch you in the dick.
Then other things happened. Things confidence has no effect on.
So he’s gone. The Queen is dead. Long live the Queen.