I love Freddie Mercury. Those who know me personally can attest to this fact, repeatedly. They may even be sick of it, but I don’t particularly care.
66 years ago, a son named Farrokh was born to Bomi and Jer Bulsara, who were living in Zanzibar, which, at the time, was a British colony, just like India. Farrokh was then sent to India to study, in a little satellite town called Panchgani, somewhere between Mumbai and Pune, and that was where he grew up and sang and studied and played the piano and began to evolve. A 12-year-old Farrokh formed his first band there, a little group known as the Hectics.
17 years old. A revolution in Zanzibar, which necessitates the departure of Arabs and Indians. Farrokh (who by now had rechristened himself Freddie) enrolled at Isleworth Polytechnic and earned a Diploma in Art and Graphic Design at Ealing, knowledge he would later use to design that iconic logo his little future band would have.
Freddie sold clothes in Kensington Market and remained shy and reclusive (yes, really). He then met these two guys, one named Brian May, the other Roger Taylor. They found a bassist named John Deacon, and Freddie named their little group ‘Queen’.
And the rest is history. Mercury was a singer, a pianist, a guitarist, and one of the most iconic songwriters of all time. He was a man of brilliant taste (two of Queen’s albums were named after Three Stooges films) – his favourite artists were The Who, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, Pink Floyd and David Bowie. [Another person I know (and occasionally love) lists those guys as her favourite musicians of all time, in addition to Mercury himself.]
He was known for his iconic parties (there are videos on the internet of many of these – they are brilliant!) that were, like him, unabashedly flamboyant, but like all flamboyant people he was extremely shy and retiring in real life. Mercury once said of himself: “When I’m performing I’m an extrovert, yet inside I’m a completely different man”.
1975 brought with it a song that is now a benchmark in musical history – opera, rock, ballad, classical music and god-knows-what-else all rolled into one, a song for which Freddie wrote and recorded every single operatic bit himself, played the piano, and was just brilliant at. That was a little ditty called Bohemian Rhapsody.
Freddie had already proved he could do slow classical-rock (not classic rock, but a brilliant-sounding amalgamation of classical piano with hard rock), [Queen], harder rock [Queen II], quasi-metal hard rock [Sheer Heart Attack, one of the BEST albums of all time and one of my personal favourites- Brian May's brilliant songwriting skills on display in all their glory here] and then came A Night at the Opera and A Day at the Races, each with a little bit of every member of Queen in it, some with songwriting contributions from all four. (Unlike my favourite band, though, they never fought, which is brilliant in itself.)
You had classic rock, classical, hard rock, metal, everything in this one brilliant album – in addition to a few wonderfully happy, beautiful tracks that belonged in a novel out of the 50s and 60s, that would not have been out of place in an Enid Blyton book (Seaside Rendezvous is one). News of The World had some of the most beautiful jazz-esque music and some of John Deacon’s most ouststanding songwriting (he remains, in my opinion, one of the world’s most underrated songwriters, which is very very sad).
Funnily enough, next came Jazz, the album, which brought with it what has been voted the ‘world’s best driving song’ by several people, including the car experts over at this little show called Top Gear. [Thanks, Richard Hammond. I completely agree.]
They would go on to do their first soundtrack, which was for the movie adaptation of the comic book superhero Flash Gordon – it would not be their first. With Hot Space (which was unfairly panned, I happen to think it is a lovely album) came a genre they had not explored before – Funk. Also with this album came a collaboration with another man I am completely in love with. David Bowie.
Their next album, A Kind of Magic, would also be a soundtrack, to Highlander, a lovely film about immortal warriors.
It was around this time that Freddie was diagnosed with HIV, but chose to keep this news private. His sister noticed telltale sores and asked him, which is when he admitted it to her. Roger, Brian and John, who were close friends in addition to being his bandmates, knew also – so they worked and worked and worked some more, coming out with The Miracle (beautiful, beautiful album cover) and what is one of the most iconic albums in rock – Innuendo, on which you can find The Show Must Go On, sung by a practically dying Freddie, in his full vocal range . I challenge you to not get goosebumps when you listen to it.
Written by Dr. Brian Harold May (astrophysicist and guitarist and rock god extraordinaire), The Show Must go On was one of a few songs that was a farewell to Freddie while he was still alive. The story goes that Brian wasn’t sure if Freddie would be able to handle the vocal range the song demanded, owing to his illness, but Freddie downed a fifth of vodka and said “I’ll fucking do it, darling!”.
The videos to The Show Must go On and These are the Days of Our Lives (an extremely emotional song written by Roger Taylor as a sort of ode to Freddie, written in the full knowledge that he hadn’t much longer to live) were shot in black and white to mask the fact that Freddie had grown thin and gaunt, to hide how much the illness had really ravaged him. Instead of spending his last days moping about, he went off his medication and spent all his time in the studio instead, choosing to reveal the truth only at what would quite literally be completely last minute:
24th November, 1991 – Freddie Mercury announces to the world that he has AIDS
25th November, 1991 – Freddie Mercury dies, leaving behind a legacy of music and talent that will remain unparallelled for a long time to come.
Every time I sit at the piano to play a Queen song, I think of Freddie. Every time I’m in the car, singing along at the top of my voice, I think of Freddie (thank you, Mike Myers). The man and his band have got me through some of the loneliest times in my life.
Farrokh Bulsara may be no more (who really does want to live forever?) but the memory and the music Freddie Mercury will live on in the hearts of millions.
The only difference is, I DO like Star Wars :)