Thoughts On The Dead

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

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Last Thoughts On Queen

Oh, no.

Everyone saw this coming. This is how it works. I write something pretty and vaguely intelligent, and then I ruin it with jokes and pictures of Rock Stars’ crotches.




Oh, my sweet Jesus, the tea service.

Right? So, I just want to wrap the whole thing up and tell the nice people all the little details I couldn’t figure out how to get in the main narrative.

Please don’t say that this–

This is the Extended Cut.

–is the Extended…I hate you.

But we’ll shake it up. No bullet points. Just pictures and bullshit under them.

Fine, whatever, no one cares.

That’s Mary Austin. (On the left.) She was Freddie’s first girlfriend–they lived together until around the time Queen II came out–and if such a cliched term as “soulmate” can be applied–then that’s what she was. Freddie wrote Love Of My Life about her, and left her everything when he died.

I am unsure as to whether that was her day-to-day hat.

I didn’t talk about Roger Taylor enough, and he doesn’t get the credit he deserves; I’ll give it to him: Roger Taylor was better than John Bonham. In every way. He played just as well, and had the restraint not to do a 45-minute drum solo; if you have two drummers of equivalent talent, the one that doesn’t make you sit through almost an hour of drunken tom-tomfucking is better. Roger Taylor was also not a complete dirtbag monster who liked to sic his goons on people.

(I’m not saying Roger didn’t have his Parish hit a few people, but John Bonham employed men who weren’t Parishes: they were solely there to babysit him and hit strangers for his amusement. John Bonham had Ty Domis.)

And, as you can see in the photo, Roger could sing. Well. He could have been the lead singer of any band that Freddie Mercury wasn’t in, and he was: The Cross, his side-project, put out a bunch of records and toured in between Queen dates. Roger played guitar and sang in his scratchy countertenor; he was capable of hitting stupidly high notes in his falsetto, and actually had the most precise voice in the band: Freddie avoided some tough notes, and Brian slid into some, but Roger’s pitch was as solid as his time.

He looks like this now:

Roger and Bobby were Beard Buddies for a very short time. Roger wanted to discuss products and various grooming strategies; Bobby kept repeating, “I just don’t shave.” The relationship died.

I am getting a Phillip Seymour Hoffman/Marky Mark in Boogie Nights vibe from this shot.

“I wanna kiss you.”

“No, Meat!”

“Please lemme kiss you.”

“Down, boy!”

And so on.

Brian May looked like this in the late 1970’s:

He looks like this today:

So don’t let anyone tell you the world’s all bad.

It’s Dr. May now–you know this–as Brian went back and completed his PhD in astrophysics; he also cares deeply about badgers, which are groundhogs with British accents.

In 1984, Brian and Roger looked like this:

The rest of Queen made for rather handsome women, but Roger was downright hot.

This was Jim Hutton. (On the far left.) He cut hair at the Savoy Hotel, and they met in ’85. Jim was Freddie’s last major relationship; he lived at Garden Lodge even after they broke up, and he was the only one in the room with Freddie as he died.

Like I said, Freddie left Mary the house and the money; she moved in, and threw Jim out. In the years after Freddie’s death, Mary Austin always played the widow.

Jim wrote a book, and died in Ireland in 2010.

When Rock Stars complete their appointed tasks, men wrap robes around them and point the way to the limousines with flashlights. There is a police escort for the limos, and all the cars in the convoy are running when the Rock Stars get in them. From here, there are only two destinations: the hotel or the airplane.

This is a very low-quality image of Bobby meeting the Clintons, and I don’t know why it’s here.

Me at the beginning of 2016:

Me at the end of 2016:

I looked for a recent picture of John Deacon, so I could complete the “this is what they look like” bit, but the only one I found is a nasty and intrusive paparazzi shot; he’s walking down the street minding his own business–he’s retired, he doesn’t do that any more–and some asshole with a Nikon starts clicking away at him. It ran in the Daily Mail, of course, and so I will not post it.

This is a picture that John Deacon posed for:

This is John Deacon (right), Freddie Mercury, and Freddie Mercury’s penis making friends with a Japanese dog. (Fun fact: very few Japanese dogs are named Rex, for reasons you can probably imagine.)

Nothing says rock and roll like a hockey arena.




I wasn’t kidding about the badgers: Brian May fucking loves badgers. In the Brexit vote, Brian voted “badger.” One of the pollworkers told him that “stay” or “leave” were his only options, and he played a twenty-minute guitar solo at the woman until she stopped talking. Then, he voted “badger” once more.

Wait, that’s a badger? Looks like a skunk fucked an Airedale terrier. Do they do anything? Are they magical? (Many British animals are magical.)

Anyway, Brian loves the little diggers, but the government doesn’t, and they keep organizing culls. (A cull, Younger Enthusiast, is when the organizing powers of a society decide that there are too many of a specific kind of being. People do it to badgers, and deer, and bear. Sometimes, we do it to each other.) Brian protests, and he has written several songs about the topic, including Save The Badger Badger Badger and–with Slash on co-lead guitar–Badger Swagger.

For the love of God, do not go looking for those songs. You can find them easily. I did. Don’t make my mistake. Trust me: you don’t want to know.

That is Roger Taylor with a wombat. Roger doesn’t care about wombats, at least not deeply, but he was in Australia and when you are a famous person in Australia, they make you take pictures with their freakish fauna. Look at him. He doesn’t want that thing. Stop making Roger Taylor hold wombats, Australia.

This is Queen’s crew, and I think our guys could take ’em. That one in the middle looks big, but he’s wearing flippity-flops. I think Precarious Lee could kick these guys’ asses, and he’s only semi-fictional.


“Don’t yell at me.”


Freddie and Garcia had very little in common besides charisma and bitchin’ facial hair, but they shared a passionate love for cigarettes: one of the things Freddie always complained about was that when he went on tour, he would have to cut back on his nicotine consumption. (Freddie liked Silk Cuts, because Queen insisted on being as European as they could about everything.)


Holy shit.

I found it.

John Deacon’s hair looks spectacular.

Good job, John Deacon.

Goddammit, John Deacon.

Anyway, Roger and Brian are still Queen. Legally, at least, if not completely morally; they have followed Freddie’s instructions and carried on as if nothing really mattered.  After George Michael stole the show at the tribute concert, people were clamoring for him to jump into the slot; decide for yourself:

I think he made the right decision not to. No one can follow Freddie.

Not for lack of trying, though: Brian and Roger have gone out on the road with Paul Rodgers from Free–who doesn’t sing so much as wear denim and grunt–and then a few years ago, dignity having been abandoned in the previous century, the two went on American Idol for “Queen Night” and all the semi-talented melismatics took a run at I Want To Break Free. One of the youngsters, a flashy tenor named Adam Lambert, could hit the high notes and didn’t smell too weird, so Brian and Roger hired him.

It looks like this:

Fun fact: this picture was the subject of a controversial children’s book entitled Adam Has Two Grandpas.

Whatever. Everything changes; nothing lasts. We’ll never know what Freddie would have thought.

No idea.

Nope, not a clue.

And now we’re done.


The euphemism is “bushmeat.” It means monkey or ape, and they eat bushmeat in Africa. The Congo is in Africa, and some time in the early 20th century, a hungry fellow ate some that belonged to a monkey or ape that was infected with the simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV).

Viruses are clever fuckers, and they can swap out big parts of their code at once, and we call that a mutation. Scientists think it happened around 1920: SIV mutated into HIV.  That’s how humanity gets most of its diseases. Close contact with animals, and the viruses that live in them see an opening. Smallpox from cows, and the flu from pigs, and anthrax from sheep, and chicken pox from chickens. (Chicken pox is very unimaginatively named.)

Queen’s last album was Innuendo, and there’s no way to listen to it. Not bereft. Not without. Just listen to the record without the bullshit around it, but the bullshit is important this time. Not just silly Rock Star stories, the saddest one, and maybe the last one.

Which is a shame; the record’s a good one. The title track features an exceedingly rare guest, Steve Howe from Yes, playing the flamenco bit in the middle. It’s old-time Queen, full of whipsaw tonal shifts and imperialist pomp. Give it a listen:

For a few decades, this new disease spread around Africa, aided by unsterile needles. Not junkies: needles in hospitals got reused at the time. Unlike other viruses which could be communicated through any bodily fluids, HIV required blood; this meant it spread slowly, but the virus had a trick up its sleeve. HIV lays dormant for several years, asymptomatic, and so allows the host to propagate it further. Ebola burns itself out quickly, but HIV simmers unseen.

Freddie had been hounded out of London. He could stay in his beloved home, Garden Lodge, but that was all; there were photographers in the trees across the street. Everyone knew. An old hanger-on had sold Freddie out to the tabloids, lurid and gory details about orgies and doctor’s visits. He and the band decamped to Montreux to make Innuendo. No one bothered him in Switzerland. The album came out in Feburary, and he band made their last public appearance–the four of them–at the Brit Awards in February of 1990.

They looked like this:

Everyone knew.

By the 70’s, HIV had spread westward, first to Haiti and then to New York and San Francisco. It hid there for a while, seeping into body after body and laying low for years. Sharing needles or anal sex. Two good ways to mingle blood. The virus got into the blood banks, too. Transfusions are a great way to mingle blood. The blood banks didn’t know, at first: there was no test for the virus at first. Later on, they knew but refused to do anything about it.

Freddie wrote this one. He thought it was funny, and it is:

This is one of their better videos, actually, with winking visuals and a sense of fun. It also showcases something that delights all Queen Nerds: Freddie Mercury was the worst lip-syncer in the history of show biz. There are no examples of him doing it correctly; he’s always a tiny bit off. It’s not that he’s not trying–Freddie always gives a performance–but, for whatever reason, he’s incapable. It’s adorable.

There was a bed in the studio so Freddie could lie down between takes. There is padding under his shirt and jacket.

Still, he found the strength to chat up a gorilla:

The first death was in San Francisco in 1980, and then one in New York the next year. Then, the deluge. Doctors were confused. Young and healthy people, some gay men but not all, ravaged by weird and obscure maladies: sarcomas and lymphomas and pneumonias, illnesses that men in their thirties and forties should not be dying of.

Sudden weight loss, sores and cankers and unhealing wounds, and then the coughing would start.

At first, the disease was called GRID. Gay-related immune deficiency. The virus was renamed, but the sufferers were shunned. Hospitals wouldn’t treat them, schools expelled them, businesses fired them. The first official government report was not produced until 1986. No one gave a shit. There was no treatment.

Listen to this now, please. It’s a dying man. Listen to him.

This is Freddie’s last great vocal; he cut it in one take. His legs weren’t working well that day, and so he propped himself upright against the mixing board. Someone brought him a chilled Stolichnaya vodka. One take. He didn’t have time for a second.

In the eyes of the Lord, we are all equal. In the eyes of man, some folks get what’s coming to them. No one cared about junkies and faggots, but eventually women and children started popping up positive, and then Magic Johnson got it. Magic, you see, had gotten HIV through sex with women; this made it an accident and a tragedy. Public opinion shifted. It does that.

Liberace died, and so did Rock Hudson. Willie Smith, who made clothes, and Jean-Michel Basquiat, who made art. Eazy-E and Mr. Brady. Thousands and thousands of young men whose mothers are still alive, and still miss them.

In 1995, a new drug called a protease inhibitor was created. It kept HIV from becoming AIDS. Rapid progress was made. The disease can now be managed.

On May 30th, 1991, Freddie, Roger, and John Deacon filmed the last video Queen would ever make. (Brian filmed his bit a few weeks later, and would be edited in.)

On November 24th, 1991, Freddie Mercury died at his home, Garden Lodge. Jim Hutton held his hand. He was not alone.

The world mourned. There was a tribute concert the next year, and an album of the tracks he had left set to posthumously-composed music. There was a Broadway show that plays in Vegas now. Brian and Roger have soldiered on in the face of public skepticism. John Deacon retired.

They cremated Freddie, and no one knows where his remains are. Mary Austin, his first girlfriend and lifelong love, scattered him somewhere, but she won’t say where. He used to tell people that he’d liked to be dumped in Lake Geneva, in his beloved Montreux.

“Just throw me in, darling.”

The town built a statue overlooking the lake.

Queen is dead. Long live Queen.

The Miracle

Every drop of rain that falls in Sahara Desert says it all,
It’s a miracle.
All God’s creations great and small, the Golden Gate and the Taj Mahal,
That’s a miracle.
Test tube babies being born, mothers, fathers dead and gone,
It’s a miracle.

I don’t want to compare Queen to the Insane Clown Posse, I truly don’t, but these are absurdly non-miraculous occurrences Freddie is describing. A test tube baby is the mathematical opposite of a miracle. Rain in the Sahara is non-predictable. Is that what you meant, Freddie?

Let’s move on.

The Miracle came out in 1989, three years after their last album and tour; it did well in the rest of the world, and hit #24 in America. There was no tour. It would be unfair to compare the record to their earlier stuff–they were no longer that band, not those people–but it might be the best of their later stuff. There’s synthy bullshit all over the place, and some of it is too cutesy by half, but even through the dated production some songs stand out. I always dug Invisible Man:

The band knew Freddie was dying. He had broken the news and then forbidden them from mentioning it. They were already looking back; they cosplayed as their younger selves in the video for the title track. (Plus little kid doppelgangers.)

Fun fact: the young man playing Brian grew up to be popular British actor Idris Elba.

Wait, kids playing Rock Stars in a video? Where have I seen this bit before?

Oh, God, it’s all melting together.

Was It All Worth It, with a bit of rearranging, could fit into The Game quite well; the lyrical content places it in 1989, though: it’s impossible to listen to without tombstones in your ears. Freddie answers the question with a resounding, “Yes, it was a worthwhile experience,” and then he laughs.

Listen for yourself. You don’t need the rest of the record, but this song’s worth it:

You’ll note the writing credit: they were sharing it at this point. The band was getting along, according to the usual sources. Freddie would be dead in 30 months.


A Photo Op At The Races

This is the single most British photograph I’ve ever seen: the flat caps, the overbites, John Deacon.

Freddie is talking to–I believe–John Reid, who was Elton John’s manager and the man the band turned to for help in extricating themselves from their first, thieving, management team. (The guys Freddie wrote Death on Two Legs about.)

At their first meeting, John Reid told Queen that he was gay, and asked if that would be a problem.

Roger responded, “We’re talking about money, John.”

They had a very fruitful relationship.

Another Photo, For Some Reason, Of Freddie Mercury And Bananas

Freddie, you have a bunch of bananas on your head.

“What, darling? I can’t hear you. I’ve a bunch of bananas on my head.”

That’s not how the joke goes.

“Oh, who cares? Stoli?”


Let Us Shop Together

This is what a five million dollar vacation will buy you. After the Magic tour, Freddie and his last longtime boyfriend, Jim Hutton, went to Japan for what Freddie delightfully described as his “Million Pound Vacation.” I did the math: that’s five million in today’s dollar.

“Welcome back to England, Mr. Mercury. Anything to declare?”

“Only my genius!.”

“And an entire warehouse full of knick-knacks, darling.”

Live At Wembley

And that says it all, doesn’t it?

In 1986, Queen did 26 shows called the Magic Tour; 1.5 million people saw them, and the smallest venue they played was 40,000. (Practically a nightclub, darling.) Right in the middle of the tour, they played two nights in London at Wembley Stadium, and it has been called the Greatest Rock Gig EVAR.

I have written to numerous Important Rock Critics to see the rubric used in judging rock gigs, but my letters have gone unanswered.

(TotD also finds it suspicious that so many of the Greatest Rock Gigs EVAR were recorded for posterity, whereas so many other shows–surely not as great–were lost for the want of a Betty Cantor. So many bands’ best shows just happen to be the ones that were heavily bootlegged, or were more widely available (at better quality) than other shows.)

And the fact is that this show is mostly identical to any other on the tour: mostly the same set list every night, mostly the same outfits. (For all the purist Deadheads out there sniffing at the idea of something so low as caring about your visual presentation, let me remind them: when the entire audience isn’t on acid, you need to give them something to look at.)

Queen played the same show their whole career, really: “deafen ’em, blind ’em, and leave ’em wanting more” was their ethos. Here’s every Queen show: ten or fifteen minutes of the loudest songs they knew (and Queen knew many loud songs); Freddie goes to the piano to catch his breath and they do a medley; one or two songs from the new album; Brian plays his guitar while everyone else in the building goes to pee; stools and acoustic guitars at the front of the stage; Bohemian Rhapsody; loud song; WWRY>WATC; Brian’s version of God Save the Queen plays while they bow.

This tour was no different. They performed what they called an Impromptu at every show, but it was always the same riff; Freddie even gave the same speech about the band not breaking up every night. A comparison could be made–favorably or not is up to your taste–to a Broadway production.

Perhaps this is what makes this show so special: there’s nothing special about it; just another night of the tour. There were better sets, musically, and the crowd in Leiden sang along so boisterously that you almost couldn’t hear the band. (Trust me on this one: I have stared into the live Queen abyss. So many AUD’s.) You might say that it’s a hometown show, and that they were excited, but I’d offer up the night in Budapest–the first massive outdoor rock concert behind the Iron Curtain–for viewing; it’s the same damn show.

And it’s still magic, kind of.

Watch this. I know I keep telling you that, but it always works out well for you. (Except the time I told you to google “turtle penis,” but that worked out well for me because I think it’s funny to make people look at turtle penis.) Not the whole show–you may if you choose, but I wouldn’t ask someone to watch an entire concert–just the first song.

This version in particular. A young TotD wore out a VHS copy of Queen at Wembley in high school, but this is new to me: Freddie Cam, in addition to the cut that so many Queen nerds know by heart.

Name another famous jacket. Michael Jackson’s red zippered number, and Prince’s purple duster: that’s it. People have been wearing jackets for at least a hundred years, and there have been three famous ones.

But take a closer look at Freddie’s outfit:

The jacket’s purpose it to be seen from the very last row, but it’s not some bullshit 80’s neon: it is the color a crayon thinks the sun is, and now look even closer. The horizontal buckles deliberately clash with both the vertical piping of his trousers–possibly the loosest Freddie has ever worn onstage–and the diagonal stripes on his Adidas: this contrast makes you stand out against a background. It is reverse camouflage: look at me, look at me.

Here, look at him:

Besides Freddie, how many Frontmen were there? Who didn’t play instruments, and had to dance around and shake their asses on huge stages? Mick Jagger, David Lee Roth, Axl Rose. Bono. Steven Tyler, fuck that vulgar clown. Who else? Oh, right: Robert Plant, but he just stood there and showed the crowd his chest and cock; the other guys worked the stage in order to show as much of the room their cocks and chests as possible.

(Metal had a lot of Frontmen, but most were goofy at it: Ozzy wanders around confused, and Bruce Dickinson was and is confined to the platform above the drums, as far away from Steve Harris’ spotlight as possible.)

And Freddie was the best.

Bands make promises–art makes promises–and a band with songs like Let Me Entertain You, We Will Rock You, and Another One Bites The Dust is making the promise of power and spectacle; Freddie delivered.

This is two minutes of beauty. Watch it:

It is telling that this moment, Freddie alone with 80,000 people, is maybe the most famous of the show. With neither accompaniment nor lyrics, he connects with the entire crowd–outsinging them, of course–while throwing drinks at them, and finishing with a cheeky “Fuck you” which they cheer him for.

And there was some serious Rock Star bullshit, too:

The giant inflatable band member/pigmonster/hooker loosing from its moors and floating away is grad level Rock Star bullshit. Only Pink Floyd and Queen managed to lose a balloon, I think. (Pink Floyd did it on purpose.)

Freddie conducts the crowd through the whole show, just like he always did. Some nights he demanded they sing with him, and other nights he let them. But they always did.

Charisma is uncoupled from talent; there’s not a one-to-one relationship. One can be creative and capable without magnetism, while some bores and hacks demand your attention. Nor is it a function of looks: Freddie was striking looking, but a good deal of that was due to his being Freddie; if someone else had his face, it would have been a mess. Charisma has nothing to do with effort in performance: James Brown exerted maximum effort, and Garcia played it cool.

What the fuck is it?

That’s as good a definition as any.

There are three other men on stage, and it’s a shame to overlook them: the band sounds like a hurricane driving a Rolls Royce, powerful and tight, and they still nail the harmonies, and Brian does all his guitar poses.

First he does this one:

And then he does this one:

Roger, who is the drummer, does not strike any guitar poses, because he is the drummer. He looks like this:

Roger and Mickey were sweatband pals; sometimes there were sweatbands you could get in America, but not in England, and Mickey would mail them to Roger; vice versa.

(Let’s see who’s been paying close attention. Guess the name of the shoe company that sponsored the tour.)

At some point in the show, John Deacon changed out of a track suit a Russian in a dashcam video might be wearing:

Only to put on this outfit:

And let us speak no more of it.

Queen played two nights, the 10th and 11th of July, 1986, and though there was demand, Wembley was not available for a third show; instead, the band returned to England for a show at Knebworth on August 9th. Knebworth isn’t a stadium, it’s a rich guy’s lawn, and as many people can come as they want: at least 120,000 turned up.

And that was it.

Some sources say that Freddie learned he was HIV-positive in 1987; others say it was as early as 1984. All the sources–every single interview with every single person who was close enough to hear him–say that Freddie made numerous comments about how this was the last tour. About how he didn’t have it in him for any more.

I keep telling you: this story has a sad ending.

Linking On A Sunday Afternoon

Enthusiasts, I will not exaggerate for comic effect: there are 18 billion tabs open in my browser right now; I can hear my computer wheezing as I type this, so it’s sharin’ time. (Obviously, most of this bullshit is Queen-related.)

But this isn’t! The Unofficial 31 Days of the Dead: obscure goodies and well-known classics both. An advent for the addled.

This is! A spectacularly-written excerpt from Queen Unseen, written by Peter Hince, who was Freddie’s Parish. (Rock Stars all have Parishes, and Rock Nerds can name them all.) A minute-by-minute account of a typical Queen show, and it’s worth reading even if you despise the band, just for the perfect little details. (Freddie’s champagne was water, and Rock Stars neither light nor extinguish their cigarettes: someone hands them a butt, they smoke some of it, then hand it back.) If you like it, go buy the book.

This isn’t about Queen, just something I’ve written about before (and better); the author works for Pitchfork and therefore legally has no clue that anything existed before the year 2000. (The great Jesse Jarnow is the only one over there who doesn’t need his ancestors murdered via Time Sheath to prevent their existence.)

Read this bullshit:

When, exactly, pop albums grew to be quite so long remains a mystery, considering the average length of an LP was 15.8 songs circa 2003, and for the last five years, it’s held at around 14 tracks across all genres. There is a certain joy in the short pop album, and an undeniable confidence in the work. Madonna’s eight-track self-titled debut hovers near perfection; had she added another four or seven or 12 songs to the 40-minute runtime, it’s hard to imagine they’d all be quite as good. Thriller, Purple Rain, and Janet Jackson’s Control all work their magic in nine songs. Maybe blockbusters like Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black make it look easy to pull off even 11 classic songs in a row, but it’s just not. None of Michael Jackson’s most iconic albums (Off the Wall, Thriller, Bad) are longer than ten tracks. So while Drake may boast that he’s “MJ in every way” on VIEWS, the platitude rings even more false than previously believed.

I hope this writer is in her twenties: it’s the only excuse. Pop albums became so long because they were no longer anchored to a tangible product that was limited in scope. No “LP” was ever 15 fucking songs long, because “LP” stands for “Long Playing” and it refers to a vinyl record. An album might be 15 songs long, but a 15-song LP would either be three feet in diameter, or from one of those Hardcore bands with tunes lasting under a minute.

Purple Rain was nine songs long because of audio science and technology. Madonna literally could not have added the “four or seven or 12” songs to her debut album, as that would have meant pressing another record. When you were a giant and best-selling artist, you could make a double album that had a bunch of filler on it. (The Clash once made a triple-album that was entirely filler.)

Read a fucking history book. Or this site, which is just as good and contains far more dick jokes.

Someone who has read a history book–and written one, too–is the great Jesse Jarnow, who listened to all 1,200 discs of the entire Bob Dylan: The Live ’66 Recordings and wrote it up for Pitchfork. They rejected the piece initially, as Kendrick Lamar was not mentioned, but ended up printing it; we are all better off for it.

Fun fact! Dylan’s backing band on that first electric tour was none other than The Band, but Levon Helm had quit or something some months earlier, and a fellow named Mickey Jones played drums. Mickey went on to have a long career in Hollywood as That Redneck Guy:

Right? That guy!

We close, as is customary, with John Deacon.

No, you shush.

Anyway, John Deacon was not only a superb bass player, and sporadic writer of #1 hit songs, but also (partially) responsible for Brian May’s instantly-recognizable guitar sound. This is the Deacy Amp:

Before John Deacon joined Queen, he studied electrical engineering. Walking home from the pub one day (I assume all British people are walking home from the pub at all times), he saw some audio components in a dumpster and built himself a practice amp. There were no controls on it at all, not even a power switch, hence the battery. It was at full volume, or it was off: the world’s only binary amplifier.

John Deacon brought it to the studio one day, very early on, and Brian plugged the Red Special into it; that was it. From that moment on, every guitar sound on every Queen album was produced by this little dinged-up fucker that still smelled like the coffee grounds and Chinese food leftovers it had been sitting in before being rescued.

(Brian’s tone was also aided by something called a treble booster, which is the whitest thing I’ve ever heard. The booster–like the guitar and the amp–was handmade.)

Onstage, Brian had his trademark wall of Vox AC30’s–kind of a thinking man’s Marshall Stack–but in the studio, it was all the Deacy. This is what it sounds like:

Feel free to insert your “Tony Stark built this in a cave with scraps” joke here.

A Kind Of Magic/Flash Gordon

First of all: skinny leather ties are bitchin’. Second: the headstock’s tough to see, but it’s a familiar shape.

We open with a picture of John Deacon to introduce A Kind Of Magic because the magic that Queen was talking about was within John Deacon the entire time. He just had to look into his heart.

Please don’t be weird.

Yeah, I’ll try to maintain decorum while discussing Highlander.

Phenomenal fucking flick.

It is, and A Kind Of Magic is the (unofficial) soundtrack: six of the nine tunes show up in the movie. (The album and tour opener One Vision would not appear in Highlander, as it had been featured in the previous year’s Iron Eagle. For the Younger Enthusiast: Iron Eagle was The Karate Kid, but with F-16’s. Arabs kidnap an American pilot, so his teen son steals a warplane and blows up all the Arabs; he does this with the aid of the rock and roll tunes he blasts from a walkman strapped to his thigh. Swear to God.)

The record’s crap, so let’s turn our attention to Queen’s movie career: since Freddie died, their songs–the two or three you’d assume–have been licensed off to movie after movie, but they were more selective when they were active. The two high points (for a very loose definition of “high”) were Flash Gordon and Highlander.

Back in the ’40’s, there were something called serials, Younger Enthusiast. On Saturdays, the local movie theater–which would normally be empty during the day–would put on a lineup for the kids: cartoons, and action movies or westerns, and also serials. Ten minutes of your favorite hero a week, and at the end of each short film would be a cliffhanger; the studios cranked them out for pennies. Superman, Batman, Buck Rodgers; all the same shtick: a guy, a girl, a comic sidekick, a bad guy, and no production values whatsoever.

One of the serial heroes was Flash Gordon. Along with his best girl, Gail Girlfriend, and the loyal but bumbling scientist Dr. Jew, he had adventures in space; the three battled Emperor Ming, of whom it was fruitless to ask for mercy. The name of the planet Ming ruled was Mongo.

On the other hand, none of that is any dumber than Star Wars. (Which makes sense, as Star Wars stole massive amounts of bullshit from the sci-fi serials, and George Lucas actively pursued the Flash Gordon property before making his own dopey space movie.)

I’ll be honest: I haven’t seen Flash Gordon in a while.

Wait, is this the movie where Timothy Dalton sticks his hand in the monster tree? And then he fights Flash on a swiveling platform? And Brian Blessed?

I retract all the jokes I was going to tell about Flash Gordon.

(Fun fact: that is not a costume. That is what Brian Blessed wore to the studio that day. That is also his personal war club; he brought it from home.)

And like I said yesterday or the day before–I have lost track of time down here in the rabbit hole–the Flash Gordon soundtrack is just one song, plus 35 minutes of bloopy and thumpy noises. The song is a good one, though, and captures the campy pomposity that the movie aims for, but does not quite reach; the bridge (the “Just a maa-aaan, with a maaa-aaan’s courage” part) is one of the best they ever wrote.

The song’s not even three minutes long. Give it a whirl:

Queen made two types of videos: ones where they tried, and ones where they didn’t. This is one of the latter, but at least they didn’t make John Deacon pretend to sing like they usually did.

In contrast, here is a video in which effort (and money) was put forth:

I don’t what’s worse: sitting there while wearing a sweater, or swordfighting Christopher Lambert with a mic stand.

That video was for Princes of the Universe, which is a dreadful and herky-jerky mash-up of four or five ideas masquerading as a song, and the footage was from Highlander, which cannot be called the greatest film ever made solely because all movies have not been made yet. It is possible–though vanishingly improbable–that a better film that Highlander might be produced one day, and so we technically cannot award it the title.

Highlander, Younger Enthusiast, was about a race of Immortals that wandered the earth lopping each others’ heads off with swords. One of these Immortals was Juan Sanchez Villa-Lobos Ramirez, who was played by Sean Connery, and played as Sean Connery. (Did Sean Connery ever actually act? I’ve never seen him do anything onscreen other than be Sean Connery in different hairpieces.) The hero, MacLeod, who is supposedly from the Scottish Highlands–hence the movie’s title–was played by Christopher Lambert, who is from somewhere. Switzerland? Luxembourg? Maybe he is a Walloon. The point is that when Christopher Lambert spoke English, it sounded like his tongue was wrestling with his teeth.

But the bad guy is very bad. So bad. He is called the Kurgan; he kills and rapes, and is boisterous in churches. Christopher Lambert–now in 1985 New York–must fight both the bad guy and the English language; he ends the movie with a 1-1 record.

The movie tanked on release, but got a cult following and spawned a million sequels, spin-offs, and teevee shows; every single one of them–save the original–have been worse than terrible; they’re rebooting it next year.

A Kind of Magic went to #1 in the UK the week it was released and stayed on the charts for over a year; in America, the album barely made it into the top 50. North America was not included in the itinerary for the Magic Tour, which would be 26 shows and finish up at Wembley Stadium, where they would have their greatest triumph.

Man Out Of Time

Goddammit. Precarious!


Why is Brian May taking a selfie in 1975?

“Maybe he thought his hair looked good.”

It does. Still, though. Did you give Queen the Time Sheath?


Did someone give them the Time Sheath?




Oh, come on. Wally?


You have big, booming monotone and that sounds ridiculous.


Yeah, okay.


Sure. Stop lending out the Time Sheath, please.


Doesn’t matter. Knock it off.

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