I missed Freddie Mercury’s 70th birthday. I mean, everyone missed it, including him. He died in 1991, the year I graduated from high school and two years after I got super into Queen. Twenty-five years later, they are still one of my favorite bands.
There are a lot of reasons. Rock operas get me. If there are going to be rock operas, you should have those four dudes – Freddie, Brian May, John Deacon, and Roger Taylor – on speed dial. They made them seem effortless and seamless, and no one did it the same way. Every song told a vivid and often preposterously compelling story.
I like them so much, I have owned at one time or another all of their later work, including the posthumous album, the super 80s stuff, the solo machinations. It’s not all gold, but it tells a full story.
And it was about the full story for me. I get caught up in the details. Even in writing this tribute, I find myself going down multiple rabbit holes, looking at discographies, dates, producers, etc. Details that are only important to me, and take away from the real story, of how I came to like this band.
I was 15. My aunt, an accident for my grandparents, so much closer to my age than her siblings, had asked me to be her best man. She was marrying an American, which would’ve been more of a controversy had she been older. My grandparents were just happy she had found someone to marry her.
And I really liked him! A little older than her, he was still relatively young and immature. They lived in Ohio, so when I went up in the winter, he would teach me to drive stick and do donuts in empty parking lots. He liked food, and I liked food. We quoted Monty Python to each other. When they came down, we went to theme parks and the beach.
I was happy that I would be tied to this couple.
In the car with him, there was a lot of what would now be considered classic rock. And in Ohio in the late 80s, Queen was a big part of that. They stuck out to me, even with Rush, Van Halen, the Who, they were something different and amazing. And when I went home and started getting all their cassettes, I confirmed it.
My intent was to impress my soon to be uncle by knowing a bit of their music, but it soon became a sprint to get to all Queen’s discography. Then it became a marathon to learn it all.
He hadn’t prompted me to choose Queen. He never said anything about them one way or the other. They were the representation of his taste, but for me, Queen became so much more.
As it turns out, thank Ahura Mazda.
A quick aside: I never know if I should use the singular or plural when referring to a band like Queen, or a sports team like the Magic, for that matter. In this case, the plural feels right because of how much each one meant to the band. I get it, the sum is greater than the parts and all, but it just doesn’t feel right.
Back in Ohio six months later. Liner notes, the odd article, and word of mouth had provided a version of the story. Before the world wide web was readily available, when there was still a way to hide things, the stories were always more muddled, more made up, more prone to hyperbole and mythos.
I waited for what seemed like 300 songs to play during pre-wedding errands. The station that would reliably play Queen every eighth song was now we-will-rock-blocking me.
Finally, though, it came time for Queen.
“Oh, this is ‘Sheer Heart Attack,’ from News of the World. Roger Taylor actually wrote this one, and John Deacon wrote a couple of the songs as well. This was the first album where Freddie Mercury and Brian May didn’t write most of the songs,” I said in one breath.
I was amazed at how lucid I sounded, and I suddenly found myself exhausted from the effort of hoarding all the knowledge I had about the band. Queen had become my singular focus, and I was so nervous about stumbling and getting something wrong, that I didn’t realize how much I had retained. How much they had come to mean to me.
“Freddie Mercury,” my soon-to-be uncle said. “That fu—ng fa—ot. They should all be taken out to an island.”
Another aside: I love to read, but I always had the air of skepticism of the young and relatively smart. I looked for holes and typos, picked character motivations apart, and often failed to lose myself in the moment. Certain phrases trying to evoke imagery that I had yet to feel myself, I tended to view them with a self-righteous disdain.
Like the description of someone dealing with disappointment feeling deflated. Certainly that wasn’t an accurate representation of a disillusionment, no matter how extreme.
And that’s what I believed until that moment in the car, when I was absolutely and utterly deflated for the first time in my life. Later I would come to realize that not everyone needs to share my passions. Not all those I expected or needed approval from would provide it in the way I may expect, if at all. And sometimes those I put on a pedestal would fall off.
But, holy crap, this first one really, really hurt.
I didn’t know what to do or say. It was 1989, so could I have even been woke yet? The day went on, the wedding went on, and I baptized one of their kids (she and her sisters are definitely woke).
Our interactions now are primarily through Words with Friends. I’ve thought about asking him if his stance has softened at all, but it feels too fresh still. The first cut is the deepest, and all that.
Maybe his opinion of Freddie has changed.
Mine never has.