Thursday, May 27, 2010

Day 49: I (and the world) miss Freddie Mercury

My brother saw Queen, in their earliest incarnation, opening for Mott The Hoople at the Bournemouth Winter Gardens, sometime back in the early 1970’s. He came home, raving about the support band he’d seen rather than the main act. I want to say that this must have been around the time of their first album Queen (by Queen).

I must have paid attention as I asked for Queen II for Christmas and Santa, god-love-him, delivered the goods. I’ve just stepped away from my laptop keyboard to check my dates in The Penguin Encyclopedia of Popular Music and that first Queen album was indeed ’73. To put it in some sort of perspective for you, Bohemian Rhapsody (which wasn’t the musical cliché then, that it is now) went to number one in the UK in 1975. The time I’m talking about was when Queen were on their way up.

I remember that one of the interesting facts or rumours (who knows, who cares?) that spread about the four members of Queen, was that they all held degrees of some substance from various universities. Why this was of interest, I can only imagine. But there were more titbits at odds with the usual dark arts of rock and roll: Frederick Bulsara (Freddie Mercury) was gay, maybe bisexual, until his death in 1991, he was born in Zanzibar, he was ‘interesting looking’. Freddie (and Queen) didn’t fit the prototype for rock stars we’d been supplied with.

I liked early Queen. The first two singles - Seven Seas Of Rye and Killer Queen - were as different and original as Freddie himself. The first six albums were in the LP collection at our house, but then the band turned a bit commercial, and as the expression went, back then, “everyone was into them”. That was always the moment to jump ship and pick up on the new kids in town.

Even so, Freddie Mercury’s finest hour was yet to come: Saturday 13 July 1985. I don’t know where you were, but I was still living in the UK at that time and I think we sat down to watch the whole shebang of the day-long, charity, fund-raising TV broadcast/show, beginning on the Saturday lunchtime (Status Quo were the opening act) and we didn’t get up from our seats until Live Aid was all done and dusted. My memory tells me this: as the day wore on and a few average artists were trotted out, things started to drag a little, maybe it was when they were doing the simultaneous cross to Philadelphia. Anyway, with kids in Ethiopia still starving and a billion viewers worldwide starting to drift, the moment was ripe for something or somone to bring thunder to the proceedings and rattle the house.

I can’t remember whether it was Radio Ga-Ga or We Will Rock You that hammered out of a wall of Marshall amp’s and speakers, but the moment that Queen hit the stage, fronted by Freddie Mercury, everyone from the Horn of Africa to Wembley and beyond, knew that they were watching something very, very special - the best act of the day - and they knew they were witnessing a star-power that eclipsed everyone who had been before or might come after, on either side of the Atantic that Saturday.

Freddie Mercury died in November, 1991, of bronchial pneumonia resulting from AIDS. It was a shock; I never saw that one coming.

2002:another live open-air concert in London, this time in front of Buckingham Palace to celebrate the Queens Golden Jubilee - 50 years on the throne. Once aagain, a cavalcade of musical stars were paraded. From Paul McCartney to Brian Wilson and Queen, this time post-Freddie Mercury. I think the remaining members of the band - Brian May, John Deacon and Roger Taylor - missed a trick that night. They elected to have Robbie Williams, who was riding the crest of a wave after Take That, on vocals, singing the lyrics that Freddie Mercury used to sing. On his day, Robbie Williams is a great performer, the consumate minstrel and troubadour. But their mistake was that Freddie Mercury is irreplacable, incomparable, treasured, prized and cherished.

Excuse my humble opinion, but this is what I would have done: I’d have found the best live footage I could lay my hands on of the band performing Who Wants To Live Forever or Somebody To Love and I would have erected a massive cinema screen behind the band and brought Freddie Mercury back; the three members of the band could have played live, with the footage of Freddie Mercury singing, and then for one night only, we’d have had the real thing just once more: Freddie Mercury resurrected.

Day #49 Tip: Create a Charismatic Hero
At the beginning of The Godfather (the first in the trilogy), Don Corleone (Marlon Brando) is in his study, listening to the request of a man, who wants retribution on two guys who defiled his daughter. Outside the window, the wedding of Don Corleone’s own daughter is taking place. Outside is sweetness, light, love and celebration. Inside is danger, darkness, power and retribution. Don Corleone asks the man what he would have him do? We can guess that the man would have something not particularly nice done to the two men and the Don acquiesces. The very next moment in the film, Brando, the godfather, parts the crowd at the wedding so that he can get to dance a bridal waltz with his daughter. Fearsome, authoritarian-cum-gangster one second, father-of-the-bride the next.

Don Corleone is a three-dimensional character, a man with many contradictory character traits.

Heroes, Heroines and protagonists in screenplays need to be fully rounded, fleshed out, contrary, charismatic, out-of-the-ordinary and much larger than life; that’s why we love them, even in the same moment that we can hate them - check out Ian Mckellen's Richard II .

I can’t remember how long it is into The Third Man that we meet Harry Lime, but it’s a long way into the film. He’s there alright, hiding in some doorway in Vienna ready to step out of the shadows into the light of a legendary film role. Orson Welles’s character (the creation of Graham Greene) had been talked about and talked about so much that you’re practically salivating at the thought of meeting this guy.

Showmen need an entrance.

Whether a loner Hero (Clint Eastwood made a film career out of this type), an Anti-Hero (Bogart’s stock-in-trade), a willing Hero, unwilling Hero or Catalyst Hero, make them shine, give them flaws, put adversity in their way and give them contradictions. When Harrison Ford was at the top of the Box Office pile in the 80’s and 90’s, this was said of him: “he can save the world one minute and put a band-aid on a child’s finger the next and do both with with the same wry grin on his face.”

Freddie Mercury was an unusual leading man, the likes of which we’ll never see again...a Queen Hero.

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