Only the good die young. – Queen
One of the great things about Freddie Mercury and Queen is their music’s hauntingly accurate sense of foretelling. Not only did their lyrics narrate spellbinding stories, but they also told prophecies, and tragic ones at that. On the 5th September 2016, we celebrated Freddie’s 70th birthday. I use the simple past tense here and not the conditional past because the spirit of Mercury is still thickly tangible.
For some of those who grew up listening to Queen and experienced receiving the news of his death on the 24th November 1991, the reality of it never really sunk in. How can such phenomenal showmanship and composition ever allow its master to die? For some of those who did not live through Queen’s roaring years, Freddie Mercury had never really been born and never really died; he is an eternal concept, an icon that leaves one weeping at the fact that they can never experience his work in the flesh, much like how many mourn the loss of the Alexandria Library. No way can the bright light of this star ever be extinguished. And so, it was very apt that Asteroid17473 – which was discovered the year he passed – was named after Freddie on his 70th birthday.
A queen amongst men, no one did flamboyance quite like Freddie. Commenting on the name of the band, he had said that “it’s very regal obviously, and it sounds splendid. It’s a strong name, very universal and immediate.” The band’s propelling single Killer Queen speaks of a decadent courtesan, with guitar riffs and cabaret piano dressing the stage for the unique genre of theatrical rock that was to come.
Freddie was a Baroque and Renaissance man all rolled into one, and Bohemian Rhapsody is a testament to his genius. Composed in his probably-velvet-and-chandelier-adorned mind away from the studio, the song is a repertoire of all that he wanted to perform, ie. everything. He was a creator of theatricality, and his six-minute showcase covered several branches of music, all merging perfectly.
Freddie was also a crazy cat lady – what else? He had taken custody of Oscar the cat who had belonged to his ex beau Tony Bastin, and wrote a song dedicated to his favourite tortoiseshell puss, Delilah. He would frequently call home to his partner Mary Austin, who’d put the receiver to the cats’ ears so that Mercury could chat with them.
Oddly enough, Mercury never considered himself to be a great pianist, and would often be quite nervous before performing Bohemian Rhapsody. Later on, he’d compose less and less music with piano solos in order to allow himself his trademark showmanship onstage. Here’s one occasion where the two came together for one colossal performance in Montreal:
With regards to my above comment on Queen’s music being prophetic, I am of course mainly alluding to May’s Too Much Love Will Kill You and Who Wants To Live Forever. The former had been inspired by May’s tumultuous relationship with Anita Dobson, but for fans and listeners, it’s Freddie speaking to us about his fatal illness in the code he knew best – music. There is an incredibly moving rendition of Too Much Love Will Kill You by Pavarotti and Brian May, but perhaps for today, it would be best to let Freddie take to the stage.
Happy birthday, Mr Fahrenheit.