Thoughts On The Dead

Musings on the Most Ridiculous Band I Can't Stop Listening To

Tag: live aid (page 1 of 2)

Eight Thoughts About Heroes


David Bowie held a microphone in the most British way he could think of.


It’s not a riff. Riffs are chunky, and they stop and start. It’s a line.


Robert Fripp played it on the record, which makes sense. It’s not music a human would come up with.


Every band should have a half-naked Puerto Rican playing percussion while dancing like his dick’s on fire. Shit, everything should have a half-naked Puerto Rican playing percussion while dancing like his dick’s on fire : Little League games, funerals, appendectomies.


He changed the words around, or maybe the song changed its own words around.

These are the first lines from the recorded version:

I…I wish you could swim
Like the dolphins, like dolphins can swim
Though nothing, nothing will keep us together

But a few years later, he started singing this verse first:

You…you can be mean
And I…I’ll drink all the time.
Cause we’re lovers, and that is a fact

The second way’s better.


Essay Question #1: Compare and contrast Heroes to Queen’s We Are The Champions.


Best part: false ending. (The false ending is the best part of any song with a false ending. Old tricks get to be old because they always work.)



I could be king.
And you could be my queen.

And just for one day, at that.

It’s a sad song. All of the best songs are secretly sad.


I won’t mention the “FEED THE WORLD” sign in between the Pepsi and Kodak ads if you won’t.

Bill Graham Addresses The Crowd At Live Aid

“Good morning. We welcome you on behalf of the Ethiopians.

“We’re gonna get started in just a second. We’ve got some great bands on the lineup, and we also have George Thorogood. Both Durans are here. Joe Piscopo is one of our celebrities, so who knows what crazy mishegos is gonna take place? Piscopo’s a wild card.

“Some short announcements before we get started.

“There is a blue Chevy Caprice in the parking lot with its lights on. License plate number RVA-119.

“Fuck Paul Simon.

“And finally: Philadelphia, you are a rock and roll town. Like my good friend Huey Lewis, who can also go fuck himself, says: the heart of rock and roll is in Philadelphia. We couldn’t do this show anywhere else. So, that said: please do not throw D batteries at the performers. If you want to keep throwing them at the cameramen and roadies, then go to it. But not the performers, please. If you must throw batteries at the stars, then keep it to a double-AA.

“Except Stephen Stills. You can throw car batteries at that putz for all I care. You see what he’s wearing, that putz?

“Look at him. Captain of the USS Cocaine. Putz. I’m wearing a long-sleeve button-down shirt with shorts and I still have moral standing to critique his outfit. That’s how much of a putz he is, that putz.

“Okay, so here we go. Feel free to get loose with each other and boogie. Tee-shirt concessions are open.”

One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Lawn

“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen of the press. Let me start off by saying ‘Fuck Paul Simon.’ Just a schmuck. A real schmuck, y’know? It’s a charity concert, we’re trying to raise money for Africans who are very hungry, and I gotta deal with calls about his hairpiece budget. I say to him: Paul, every dollar we spend on your skull is a dollar less to put in an African’s stomach. He says: no toupee, no Paul play.

“So again: Fuck Paul Simon.

“When Bob Geldof, who is a schmendrick, called Bill Graham Productions and begged us to produce Live Aid, I was honored but then I wound up screaming at him over the phone for two hours. He wasn’t thinking big. ‘Bill,’ he says to me. “I’m thinking about inviting Status Quo out for drinks.’ I say, ‘No, let’s have two simultaneous concerts on two continents.’ Geldof says, ‘Your idea is better.’ It was a transatlantic call, so it probably cost around a hundred bucks just to call an Irishman an asshole.

“And what does he do, this little pisher, this one-hit wonder mieskeit? He torpedoes me! This whole time, he torpedoes me.The Beatle he keeps, The Who he keeps, Bowie he keeps. All the good limeys. Sends me fat Ozzy and that little Phil Collins person. I didn’t ask for Phil Collins. Duran Duran? I didn’t want one Duran, but he sent both.

“The whole production, Geldof’s treating it like a competition. He calls me up, ‘I got Charles and Diana.’ He’s so excited, he’s bipping and bopping on the phone, and I just couldn’t bear to hear him so happy. Though the show was only two weeks away, I got on a plane to London so I could scream at him in person.

“On the plane ride back home, I thought about names. Royalty. They got royalty? Fuck ’em, we got royalty, too. Who, though?

“If this were next year, I could have called Refrigerator Perry, but he’s not famous yet.

“If we were doing the show in the Bay Area, I would call up Willie Mays and Joe Montana and be done with it. Montana ain’t gonna fly in Philly. I need a movie star. Stallone is perfect, but he’s out of the country. Clint! Clint Eastwood, right? Who’s bigger than Dirty Harry?

“Clint refuses to take my calls. I fly out to whatever that little beach village he rules with an iron fist is called, and the police meet me at the town line and throw me in the local jail. The charges are Conspiracy to Bother Clint and Vulgar Ethnicity.

“It’s a white little town. I stood out.

“Luckily, I was wearing my lock picks on my giant necklace right next to my Africa medallion. Just as I escaped from the Nazis, I escaped from Clint Eastwood’s goons.

“Now, your normal promoter–your Ron Delsener, your John Scher–is going to need a day or two to decompress after that experience, but I immediately made for the Hollywood Hills. Jack Nicholson. I’ll get Jack Nicholson, who is a better actor than Clint Eastwood anyway, and isn’t the tyrant of a seaside bedroom community.

“Jack refuses to take my calls. Luckily, he lives right next door to Marlon Brando, who I know from doing Apocalypse Now with him. I call the great Marlon Brando and explain my plight. Marlon won’t talk to Jack, but he will let me use the zip-line the two of them have in between their homes.

“I say, ‘Why the hell do you two have a zip-line?’ He says, ‘Girls and cocaine.’

“The great Marlon Brando.

“The plan is that Marlon will call Jack up and tell him there’s something coming. Then I zip over, and I figure I got maybe ten seconds before Jack starts shooting or calls the cops, right? Marlon agrees, and hands me a tranquilizer gun that he had handy.

“This is the part of the story where I remind you that I’ve been up for 60 hours straight at this point, and also I was abusing cocaine quite heavily with the great Marlon Brando.

“He says, ‘Just start firing away first thing. Jack’s quick, and he’s armed. He is a dangerous adversary, Bill Graham. Use your Jewish instincts.’ And before I had time to ask him what he meant by that, Brando pushes me out the window. ZZZZZZIPPP I cross the lawn twenty feet up, and I crash into Jack’s bedroom.

“There he is! I shoot him, like, seven times with the tranquilizer gun. WHAM! Right down!

“I hear laughing from Marlon’s place. It’s Marlon, but it’s also Jack! The sonofabitch is in the window with Marlon, and he’s grinning. You know, Nicholson. The grin.

“I yell over, ‘So who did I tranq?’ And they’re laughing so hard they can’t answer. It turned out to be a teenaged hooker that Jack was bored of! When he can breathe, Jack says that he’ll do the show. And then the grin, you know? Nicholson. The girl died, but I had my royalty.

“We’re also please to announce that Ashford & Simpson have been added to the lineup, and fuck Paul Simon.

Other Reasons The Grateful Dead Did Not Play Live Aid

  • Phil thought it was jive.
  • Numerous warrants out for various band members and crew in Pennsylvania.
  • At the meeting, Bobby said that “Live AIDS sounds like the worst kind of AIDS” and even though that makes no sense, everyone agreed just a little bit.
  • In 1985, Garcia looked like Santa Claus and we know how they treat Santa Claus in Philadelphia.
  • Madonna had taken out a restraining order on Billy due to an incident involving the 2016 version of Billy, a time machine, a thumb, and her butt.
  • Feared being blown off stage by the raw animal power of a reunited Led Zeppelin feat. Phil Collins.
  • Brent owed money to three of the Four Tops.
  • Also at the meeting, Bobby asked “Why are we playing if Kenny Rogers isn’t?” and no one could answer him.
  • The band wanted to play London instead of Philly, and Bob Geldof sent back a message saying that he wasn’t about to pay for two dozen hippies’ British vacation; everyone was rather impressed at how quickly Bob Geldof saw through their bullshit.
  • It’s not bad enough they have to deal with Bill Graham on the west coast; now they have to go to Philly to be yelled at in Yiddish?
  • Had to get ready for the big Boreal Ridge show.
  • Didn’t wanna.

A Predictable Visit With Billy

Hey, Billy. Whatcha doing?

“Thoughts on my Ass! Getting ready for Live Aid.”

Do NOT use that damn Time Sheath to go back to 1985 and appear at Live Aid.

“Gonna feed the Etruscans!”


“Who gives a shit? Party time! I’m gonna punch Eric Clapton in his dick.”

I support that, actually.

“They call him Slowhand, right? Not me, baby. Punch that dick so fast he won’t have time to be boring.”

Or racist.

“There’s always time for racism.”

True. Don’t go back to Live Aid.

“I want to. 80’s skank, man. Arcade skank.”


“Skanks on rollerskates.”



“And Madonna was there. I wanna stick my thumb in her butt.”


“Same reason people stuck their thumbs in Mt. Everest’s butt: because it’s there.”

But it’s not there, Billy. Madonna’s butt is in 1985. I mean, there’s also one in 2016, but you–

“Hard pass.”

–don’t want to stick your thumb in there any more. Please don’t go to Live Aid.

“Already packed. Gonna bring a couple pounds of 2016 weed, too. Those fuckers’ll think I’m a god.”

Please don’t sell drugs in 1985, Billy.

“Need a little spending money for this Mexico bullshit coming up.”

Is that who the keyboardist is?


Did you not see him?




Just where were our heroes the Grateful Dead–this is a blog about the Dead–when the rest of the planet was feeding the world with Sir Bob Geldof in London and Bill Graham in Philly? Why was the Dead not at Live Aid?

Several reasons, first and foremost being that they had a gig at a county fair. (Okay, it was just at the fairgrounds, but it’s still verging on Spinal Tapness.) Live Aid was 7/13/85, and the Dead were in Ventura, California. This is what Garcia, who was a glamorous Rock Star, looked like:

Living the dream.

Later on, he switched to a red shirt; this inspired the same joke told a billion times, and looked like this:

The first set–which has a truly peculiar set list–looked and sounded like this:

So, you know: they were busy. And if they weren’t, they would have pretended to be: they had tanked every festival they’d played before this (except Watkins Glen, where they played better at soundcheck than at the gig), and at those festivals they had been allowed to play for an hour or so.

And gotten paid. The Dead insisted on getting their money–in cash–before even leaving the hotel at Woodstock, and they shook Wozniak down for a hundred thousand or so at the US Festival. It’s not that the Dead didn’t do benefit shows: they did quite a few, and then started their own foundation to streamline their charity efforts.

But mostly the time thing. There was no way they could get their act across given the constraints of the show. The Dead didn’t play for 20 minutes; the Dead tuned for 20 minutes. Were they going to take the stage with vigor and bludgeon the crowd with hit after hit? The Dead didn’t even have one hit, let alone another one to follow it, and–even if they did–they certainly weren’t going to rehearse for the gig.

Now back to the money: the bands had been paying their own way, which is why so many performers showed up by themselves. The smaller acts got their tabs picked up by the record companies in exchange for the publicity, but I would assume the record companies figured out a way to make the acts pay them back. The Dead was four years into the Arista contract in ’85 and had not given Clive Davis a hit, so he wasn’t paying for the plane tickets; also, it’s not like they would have just shown up by their lonesomes and performed on borrowed gear: the Grateful Dead traveled heavy. The band may not have been able to afford to go.

AND Garcia was messy at the time AND they might have said no just to piss Bill Graham off AND who the fuck is Bob Geldof? AND they all hated MTV.

Plus, Bobby hates Phil Collins. Always has. Bobby doesn’t hate anyone, but he hates Phil Collins.


This is an apt metaphor.

Thoughts On Led Zeppelin’s Live Aid Set In Real-Time

  • Do not watch this.
  • I did it for you so that you would not have to; do not watch this.
  • To set the scene: it is 1985 in Philadelphia.
  • Women’s hair is enormous; men’s shorts are tiny.
  • Led Zeppelin broke up five years previous, choosing not to soldier on after the death of drummer John Bonham.
  • It was a good decision, as every single reunion they’ve performed has been atrocious, starting with this one.
  • Which starts out with an introduction from Phil Collins.
  • Who is also playing drums.
  • Live Aid was like Phil Collins’ bar mitzvah.
  • Smiling little fucker was everywhere.
  • Okay, so Phil introduces Led Zeppelin because I guess Joe Piscopo refused to do it or something, and from the INSTANT they take the stage, it is obvious that this will be a debacle.
  • Remember Queen?
  • This is how they took the stage:
  • A little bit of energy, confidence, excitement.
  • Led Zeppelin wanders out, and Jimmy Page trips over a mic stand.
  • Then Robert Plant starts complaining about the monitors and doing the ol’ “One, two. One, two” bit and then his voice cracks.
  • His voice cracks while he’s speaking, not singing.
  • It’s gonna be a long 20 minutes.
  • Plus: Jimmy Page’s guitar is out-of-tune, and he’s shitfaced.
  • Aw, who cares: it’s Rock and Roll!
  • Which is a confusing song, honestly.
  • The narrator states quite plainly that it’s been a long time since he rocked and rolled.
  • And yet he makes this admission via a rock and roll song.
  • Perhaps the song’s true theme is self-abnegation, and the lies we tell ourselves.
  • Anyway, it’s a mess: literally every bar band in the world plays this song better than Led Zeppelin did at this performance.
  • Like I said, Phil Collins in involved.
  • This did not need to end up in tears: Phil Collins was (he fucked up his back and can’t play any more) a monster drummer, and could have filled the role had he rehearsed with the band.
  • But he didn’t, and didn’t even seem to know the songs that well, and plus there was another drummer.
  • Cuz that’s how badass John Bonham was: it took two guys to replace him.
  • Maaaaaaan.
  • The other guy was Tony Thompson, who drummed for Chic, and played on the sessions for about half of the great disco hits.
  • Two legitimately great drummers.
  • Who had never played together before.
  • And the band had not rehearsed.
  • In front of 100,000 people and for a global audience of 1.5 billion.
  • In a way, the arrogance of this performance is amazing: only a Rock Star could expect this to work.
  • It didn’t.
  • John Paul Jones–who Wikipedia says was there, but has received no close-ups yet–is playing with Tony Thompson on stage right; Jimmy Page is playing with Phil Collins on stage left; Robert Plant is in the middle wearing at outfit from Chess King and praying that he will wake up from this nightmare, and he is also singing an octave down from where he used to and it sounds like a boring man vomiting.
  • Oh, thank God it’s over because now we get to hear Robert Plant address the crowd: he asks if they have any requests, and–apparently enjoying his joke–asks the same thing three more times.
  • Robert Plant was always a dipshit, but he looked like this:
  • And you really don’t have to be witty when you look like that.
  • But in 1985, at Live Aid, he looked like this:
  • And the Golden God routine had a bit of tarnish on it.
  • So they start Whole Lotta Love, which is a dreadful song I’ve always hated, and Jimmy Page is still out of tune.
  • Did he only bring one guitar to Philadelphia?
  • I know he owns many.
  • Did he not want to pay to check them on the plane?
  • Jimmy Page is so out of tune that Garcia from 1971 was giving him the stink-eye.
  • And this is where the true train wreck begins: Rock and Roll is easy to fake your way through for a drummer, but Whole Lotta Love has a specific groove to it.
  • Phil Collins does not know the specific groove.
  • So he just plays straight time, with the backbeats on the two and the four.
  • That is not how Whole Lotta Love goes.
  • Y’know the part where the drumsĀ  go WHOMP WHOMP, and then Jimmy Page goes BADEEDLE DEEDLEWHEEDLEDEEDLE?
  • (They do that part two times.)
  • Well, Phil Collins did not know that part, and so he just kinda stopped playing for a bit and watched Tony Thompson (who did know how the song went) and then Phil Collins said to himself, “Hey: I’m Phil fucking Collins,” and commenced bashing on his kit without a care in the world.
  • When they all try to come back into the song, it’s hilarious.
  • Remember when the Dead would come back into the song from the Playing Jam?
  • Exactly like that, but the Dead were never surprised when it happened: they had lived through train wrecks before.
  • But Robert Plant was, like, ashen.
  • Utterly humiliated.
  • Jimmy Page is too high and/or drunk to care.
  • John Paul Jones may or may not be there.
  • John Bonham remains dead, and an asshole.
  • Yup, they’re both out of tune.
  • Ugh, Stairway to Heaven.
  • The worst Mott the Hoople song is better than Stairway.
  • Is it because I loved Led Zeppelin so as a 15-year-old that I despise them so now?
  • Jimmy Page plays without intent, or at least he did at this show: it’s not sloppy because that’s the choice he made, it’s sloppy because he’s failing to hit the right notes at the right time.
  • (I really don’t know if I want to do Thoughts on the Led Zep, but I do enjoy saying mean things about them; it might happen.)
  • It’s been years, maybe decades, since I actually listened to Stairway.
  • Have these always been the words?
  • They are not good words.
  • Even if sometimes they do have two meanings.
  • Oh, don’t say it, Robert.
  • Don’t.
  • Have your dignity.
  • “Does anyone remember laughter?”
  • Oh, sweetie.
  • (The crowd cheered. “HE SAID THE THING THAT HE SAID THAT TIME!”)
  • We have not seen Phil Collins since the camera caught him out looking confused and sheepish, and someone has handed Robert Plant a tambourine; he plays it not well; and now the shot is once again of Phil Collins because Live Aid is the First Church of the Infinite Phil Collins, and he is lost again; Jimmy Page’s hair is now out of tune, and John Paul Jones is reported by Wikipedia to be there.
  • And…
  • She’s…
  • Buy-ay-ing…
  • Oh, just get on with it, you preening prick.
  • A.
  • For fuck’s sake.
  • Stair-a-way.
  • Yes?
  • To…
  • SAY IT.
  • Hea-vuuuhhhhhhn.
  • Good night, Philadelphia; there will be no encore.
  • Phil Collins has left the building.

A Never-Before-Seen Shot Of Live Aid

Garcia was there. They just didn’t film it. Swear to God.

Would I lie to you?

(Anyway, go check out the wonderful Rob Mitchum on Twitter, who is watching all 9,000 hours of the broadcast and tweeting about it. I flaked on the Led Zeppelin recap, but still might do it tonight if I can’t think up anything else to bullshit about.)

Live Aid

Oh, Younger Enthusiast, sit yourself down and get comfortable: your Uncle TotD has a story for you, one about victory and destiny and tragedy and farce, and simultaneously a tale of both absolute self-possession, and utter lack of self-awareness. It is set in 1985, before the medium upon which you read these words existed (kinda), during an age when Rock Stars ruled the earth. They dominated the popular culture just as thoroughly as Jay, Bay, and Ye do today; the weight of the record industry–much more powerful back then–was behind them, and their doings and happenings made the paper, and not just the music rags. (One day, Younger Enthusiast, I will tell you about newspapers.)

There’s this guy (all stories start with that phrase) named Bob Geldof, Irish guy from a band called the Boomtown Rats who had one truly majestic single called I Don’t Like Mondays. It sounds like this:

I have literally never heard another Bootface Cats song, but Mondays is the best song ever written about a female school shooter. Bob Geldof also played Pink in the movie version of Pink Floyd’s The Wall, and he was a radio deejay, and a journalist, and he went to parties. Whatever the Irish term for gadfly is, that’s what Bob Geldof was. Nowadays, he’d have an impeccably curated Instagram account.

Down the pub one night, a bloke said to Bob Geldof, “You know there’s a place called Africa?”

And Bob Geldof said, “No! Tell me everything.”

In 1984, Africa’s terrible place was Ethiopia. (Africa always has a terrible place.) Famine had struck, aided along by first the kleptocrat tyrant who was fucking everything up, and followed by the rebels who overthrew him and immediately began fucking everything up even harder. Trying to raise money, Bob Geldof called in favors from the British music world and recorded a Christmas tune, one as dunderheaded as it is catchy: Do They Know It’s Christmas?

So much casual smoking.

Anyway, that was called Band Aid, and it opened up the floodgates to a surge of shit: U.S.A. For Africa’s We Are The World, and then the metal guys did one, and I think there was a Canadian one that I’m sure one of the Northern Enthusiasts will post: the biggest stars you could get, singing the worst song you could write. (Except for Do They Know: Bono’s lead singering is a hoot, and George Michael’s verse is a joy, and the big silly FEED THE WOOOOOR-RLD at the end is either soaringly cynical or adorably naive, and either way is okay with me.

A single–even a hit Christmas single–will not feed the world. You might be able to feed a small family, but not the world. Certainly not Africa.

Queen had been thinking of Africa, too: South Africa, specifically. They had played there in November of ’84, and it had not gone well at the shows or around them: scheduled for 12 shows at the Sun City Casino, Freddie’s voice blew on the first night; he left the stage in tears, and the band had to cancel five nights.

Also, it was Sun fucking City. Strap in, Younger Enthusiast, as it’s time for another round of: The Past Was Terrible. From 1948 to 1991, South Africa had as official policy something called Apartheid.

Originally, South Africa–being in Africa–was full of black people. Then white people showed up, mostly the Boers (who were Dutch) and the British (who were British), and then those white people found diamonds and gold, and then many more white people showed up. The two white tribes fought a few wars, but then intermarried to the point where they were one white tribe. At this point, they began to fight the black tribe. (And, of course, by “tribe,” I mean the people who were living there first and not bothering anyone.)

And say this about Afrikaners: they were massively skilled at being atrocious to black people. America is good, and Australia has had its moments, but the Afrikaners maintained Apartheid in the face of international censure and internal rebellion for half-a-century. (It might have helped that neither the US nor the UK cut off trade with South Africa in any way.) Blacks were restricted in terms of housing, jobs; simply put: under Apartheid, blacks did not have as many rights as white people.

This was 1985, Younger Enthusiast, and–if I may speak simply once again–white people weren’t supposed to be acting this way any more. The atom had been split, and the moon trod upon: knock it off with the King Leopold bullshit. No sports team would play South Africa, and bands weren’t supposed to, either; most musician’s unions had rules about not going there.

(Sun City wasn’t technically in South Africa: it was in Bophuthatswana, which was a country within South Africa, but no one would recognize it because the whole thing seemed like a scam of some sort, so Sun City was really in South Africa.)

Queen played Sun City. They insisted on an integrated audience, and paid for a school to be built and other charity stuff, but the fact is that Queen played Sun City, against Little Steven’s express wishes.

So they were on everyone’s shit list, but Bob Geldof still called them to do his next charity benefit, which was not a single but a concert, and not a concert, but two simultaneous concerts on two separate continents broadcast to 1.5 billion people. Wembley in London, which held 72,000, and the old JFK Stadium in Philadelphia, where they packed in 100,000 that day. (Bill Graham produced the Philly show.)

It was everybody: the Stones and Dylan and U2 and Tina Turner and the Beach Boys and Tom Petty and Bowie and Sting and Madonna and Phil Collins and Phil Collins (he took the Concorde and appeared at both shows) and the Pretenders and The Who and Elton John and Run DMC. Led Zeppelin was there. The fucking Zep, man.

Queen knocked all their dicks in the dirt.

Human beings walk onto stage or even run, but Freddie pranced with that springy, kicky run he did: his heels hit his ass with each stride so the folks in the very last row know that he is running. He makes no hand gestures–that wouldn’t be seen in the back of the stadium–instead using his whole fist-topped arm to punctuate his lines

They do Bohemian Rhapsody first, and though the song starts with Freddie on piano he has to greet the crowd first: he punches the air, big roundhouses that end up above his own shoulder, and raises his hands in victory–this is before he’s done anything, mind you–and then back to the piano, where the crowd joins him without any prompting.

And it is here that you realize that while there were 72,000 in the stadium, there were 1.5 billion watching live, and another nine million on YouTube, and you must remember that the legend of this performance was based as much on what was broadcast as what was seen that afternoon in London. And what was broadcast was Freddie Mercury; there are three other men in the band, but none of them get any close-ups: the director stays with Freddie for virtually the entire set.

Mostly because the director figured that if he stayed on Freddie, he could get shots like this:

This was Radio Gaga, the second song–they only did the first verse of Bohemian Rhapsody–and once free from the piano, Freddie danced across the stage with his chest and cock proudly thrust towards 1.5 billion people, and then he planted himself there with his legs spread and dared the world not to look at him.

And sometimes he boogied across the stage. It looked like this:

These are motions designed for, and honed by, crowds. Large rooms with multiple levels, the farthest fan was hundreds of feet away, and detail was lost: broad and purposeful gestures would carry back to the cheap seats–Queen didn’t have a video screen–but amplified and magnified by the television cameras, they become mesmerizing and almost alien. Humans don’t move that way. Only Freddie Mercury moved that way.

At the end of the song, Brian and Freddie and John Deacon walk back to the drum riser and try not to fuck up the ending.


Freddie had done his vocal call-and-response routine since the band’s inception, and the Queen fans would not have been surprised to hear the ecstatic, almost aggressive, answer Wembley gives him: that’s how crowds always reacted when Freddie wanted to sing with them. How many people get a chance to sing with Freddie Mercury?

Into Hammer To Fall, which is a big sloppy rocker with a big dumb riff, and while he should be singing the second verse Freddie starts dancing with the cameraman, round and round with a naughty smile on his face; when he walks away from the cameraman he looks like this:

(You’ll notice Freddie’s studded armband. In the pre-Grindr days, Younger Enthusiast, there was something called the bandana code. Gay guys would put bandanas in their pockets, dangling out, and the color and placement would signify their specific interest: a blue one in the left pocket meant you wanted to get a beej; right pocket meant you wanted to give a beej. The studded armband was an offshoot of the code, and when you wore it on your right bicep it meant that you wanted to have sex with 72,000 people and also 1.5 billion people.)

At the end of the song, Brian and Freddie and John Deacon walk back to the drum riser and try not to fuck up the ending, but they fuck up the ending.

Queen never did much jawing onstage: Freddie made arch asides in between songs, and Brian usually introduced everyone, but before Crazy Little Thing Called Love, Freddie says this:

“That means all of you.” And the crowd roars because it is the best kind of show biz bullshit, and that is sincere show biz bullshit.

It is always apparent when someone does not know how to play the guitar, even before a note is struck, just from the way they wear the sucker. Freddie often disparaged his skills on the piano, and while he was a self-taught and highly idiosyncratic player, he accomplishes the one true goal of any musician, which is that he sounds like himself. He also made light of his guitar playing, but there he was right: Freddie had no fucking idea how to play the guitar.

On the other hand, he wrote Crazy Little Thing Called Love on a guitar, and it became a #1 hit single everywhere in the world. Did you ever write a #1 hit single on an instrument you had no fucking idea how to play? No. No, you didn’t.

If there’s a questionable choice in the set, it is this song: why make Freddie stand there with a Telecaster when he could be being Freddie? The question is resolved when one realizes that no one “makes” Freddie do anything, and he must have wanted to do that song, so shut up and stop being a picky little nerd.

At Live Aid they had lights on the side of the stage–green, yellow, and red–that flashed down and showed you your time; no act got more than twenty minutes, and both Bob Geldof and Bill Graham had threatened to pull the power of anyone who went over. (Geldof didn’t: The Who went five minutes over. Bill Graham totally would have.)

With four minutes left, Queen plays their fifth #1 hit of the set, which is the traditional set closer We Will Rock You/We Are the Champions. (WWRY/WATC reached the top spot in France, and Hammer To Fall was number one with a bullet point in the Fillmore South charts this week.) And we can both agree to pretend there is no sickly colonialist implication inherent in a London crowd singing We Are The Champions at a bunch of starving Africans.

Freddie looked like this:

There’s other tidbitty gossip, of course: Queen’s sound guy–perfectly named Trip–removed the limiters from the board, making them louder than all of the other bands; and Freddie hit on an oblivious Bono backstage.

The thing that matters–if it does–it that there were a little under five billion people on the planet in 1985; a third of them watched this show, and Queen won the day. These twenty minutes would lead to their biggest tour, and greatest success, and Freddie would be dead in four years.

I just don’t want you to get your hopes up. This story has a sad ending.

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