Freddie, George and the decade that changed everything.

I noticed a funny thing recently. Within days of each other, it will be the fifteenth anniversary of Freddie Mercury (24th Nov) and the fifth anniversary of George Harrison (29 Nov). Barely ten years separate these two events, and I find that a strange quirk of the universe. This post is less about them than it is about me.

In November 1991, I was nine years old. I lived in Welwyn Garden City, which as then almost as lovely as the name suggests. I was at my beloved primary school, with my best friends Richard, Laura and Louise. I was quietly convinced I would grow up to marry Jason Donovan, be a great singer meself and in all possible ways live happily ever after. I was happy-go-lucky, I loved Elvis and Buddy Holly. I also liked My Little Pony and Barbie- although my Barbies tended to be mechanics rather than models or mommies. Mine tended to go rock climbing up bookcases instead of ‘out to pizza’ with Ken.

In November 2001, I was nineteen years old. I lived in Irvine, California while I studied for a year at UCIrvine, along with my best friend Natasha. I was quietly deluding myself that I was in love with Angel from Buffy, although this was rapidly ceasing to be the case mostly because that season of both Buffy and Angel was crap. I was cynical, bitter, and in all ways socially stunted. I loved the Beatles, David Bowie and the Doors and I was becoming very much in love with Led Zeppelin and Thin Lizzy. I also spent most of that Autumn/Fall listening to a record called All Things Must Pass.

In November 1991, I found out that Fredddie had died at breakfast, at our old kitchen table. I was probably eating Coco Pops, cos I didn’t eat any other cereal (I hate the taste of milk). My Mummy told me that Freddie Mercury had died of AIDS and my brother, six years old, said “What, of a hearing aid?” The minds of children, huh?

I remember being sad, because I knew who Queen were- their theatrics and overblown pomp-rock appeals to children. I knew him as a mustachioed guy, but also remember being confused by the video for ‘I’m Going Slightly Mad’ because I didn’t recognise them all dressed up as they were. I remember gazing at the album cover for The Miracle in a bookshop window in Welwyn Garden City (cunningly called the Welwyn Bookshop), being fascinated by the art in which the band’s faces are all morphed togehter. I remember thinking Brian must have been the leader because he had the biggest hair. The minds of children, huh?

My dad bought me the re-release of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, double A-sided with ‘These Are The Days Of Our Lives’ on a cassette tape. Imagine that- a cassette tape! This was way back when I had a little ghetto-blaster tape machine and a giant record player, back when even singles were released on 45s- as the norm! Imagine that, kids! A time when Top of the Pops actually mattered, when the Christmas Number One single was a Really Big Deal (Bohemian Rhapsody got it of course, for a second time). It was a time when people were starting to purchase CD players. So long ago, in fact, that George Harrison hadn’t even undertaken his final tour. So long ago that the world still looked a lot like the 80s. There was a riot in Paris that summer on the twentieth anniversary of a guy called Jim. Hell, in November 1991, the Soviet Union still existed (just) and the people of Britain were talking about people like John McCarthy and Terry Waite.

Oh God, that was also the year of ‘Everything I Do (I Do It For You)’ and the Number One that wouldn’t just fuck off and die. Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Jaysus.

Let’s put it a Clare-way: I had a favourite pair of cycling shorts in 1991. They were black with a neon pink stripe down the side. Me and Rich loved what we called ‘luminous colours’. The minds of children huh?

Many things happened over the course of the next ten years, rendering the world a very different place. By 2001, nearly everyone had mobile phones, so the phone boxes were disappearing. Not all that many people had home computers here in Britain in 1991- by 2001 most people had the internet. Between 1991 and 2001 both Take That and the Spice Girls had arrived and pissed off back from whence they came. It was only a year since Margaret Thatcher resigned with self-pitying tears as our Prime Scumbag. By 2001, her Tory world had been so utterly destroyed by in-fighting, sexual shenanigans and cash-for-questions that no Conservative leader had a chance of taking power off Tony Blair. The great irony, of course, is that Tone has turned out to be the Iron Bitch’s great political and spiritual heir.

In 1991, some people still believed Charles and Di might be a fairytale marriage. By 2001, they’d separated acrimoniously, divorced noisily and she’d died terribly.
Ten years is a very long time indeed. I mean, in 1991, I knew who the Beatles were. I’m pretty sure I’d seen Yellow Submarine, I certainly knew a bunch of the songs and I could certainly name the lot of them by ’93, as I proved in a quiz during Music class where I won the entire thing pretty much by being able to name a guy by the name of George Harrison as in fact, being a member of the Beatles. George himself was something fairly abstract, unknown. In 1991, I probably wouldn’t have been able to confidently identify him in a picture of the lot of them. Kids my age knew Paul for his Rupert and the Frog Chorus and generally being Thumbs-Up Macca. We knew Ringo because he did the voices on Thomas The Tank Engine. We knew John because he was the dead one. George, on the other hand… while Queen always appealed to little kids, he didn’t. Taciturn and in some ways almost uninteresting, George Harrison was probably quite kid-friendly in person (I’m so guessing) but in terms of celebrity there are few less likely to attract the under-tens. Good. By 2001 though, he had become such a part of my life that his death did quite honestly, devastate me. Not entirely consume me- I was not loved by him in return so I’m not even sure I’ve the right to it… but musically I was destroyed. It’s only very recently that I’ve been able to approach most of his records.
The ten years between Freddie and George should mark my transition from child to adult, but they do not. At nineteen, I was capable of surviving alone (the basic requirement for ‘adult’) but in my mind, heart and soul, I was still very much a child… as anyone who knew me then can attest.
Musically though, nearly everything of my education and development came in those ten years. In 1991 I liked Jason Donovan, the musicals my Mum took me to up in the West End, and Elvis, Buddy and the other tapes and records my Dad let me play. In 2001, the CDs I had to take to California included all the Beatles, some Dean Martin, Bowie, Zep IV, Jailbreak and some Dylan and The Doors. You know, the usual.
In 1991, Andrew Lloyd-Webber musicals appeared to be the height of musical achievement to a nine-year-old such as myself. By 2001, I’d been through the Clapton, Dylan, Hendrix fascinations and come out the other side still relatively insane.
The worlds of 1991 and 2001 bear some resemblance to each other, but they’re also worlds apart. In the same way, nineteen-year-old Clare was clearly the same person as nine-year-old Clare, but a close look would’ve rendered the differences quite clear. The hair was the same colour until the Station to Station dye job in Jan 02… the clothes were the same jeans, t-shirt and trainers but 501s replaced the 80s stonewashed jeans, a Beatle t-shirt replaced the Muppets and black Adidas replaced the whistles-bells-and-three-pairs-of-laces LA Gear. There was still a smile, but it was not wide and toothy so much as it was a little twisted at the end- the very real evidence of the previous ten years.
In 1991, I’d had meself plenty of tantrums and hard-done-by moments and hysterics. In 2001, I had looked into the very depths of the dark corners of my soul… and was finally picking myself up from the experience- thanks in no small part to the Beatles and to George in his own right. Thanks also in no small part to Queen- bombast is a great palliative to despair.
Ten years separate the deaths of Freddie Mercury and George Harrison. It doesn’t feel like very much and I’m sure to those in their fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth decades, it doesn’t seem like much at all. But those ten years contained everything that changed for me. So many of the important things of my life fall between those two deaths. Perhaps Freddie’s death represents something of the start of it all. What ‘it’ is, I’m still not sure, but George’s death represents a high (or indeed, low) point in it. Everything you know of my character, it’s all in those ten years. It’s the decade that shaped and changed my life and the person I was to become in the next ten.

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One Response to Freddie, George and the decade that changed everything.

  1. angiej says:

    In 1991, I’d had meself plenty of tantrums and hard-done-by moments and hysterics. In 2001, I had looked into the very depths of the dark corners of my soul… and was finally picking myself up from the experience- thanks in no small part to the Beatles and to George in his own right. Thanks also in no small part to Queen- bombast is a great palliative to despair.

    Ain’t maturity grand? 🙂 Painful, but sorta nice in a settled, assured-in-your-bones sort of way.

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