100 Awesome Things Challenge – Post 8

I had a bit of a break as you might have noticed… I also started writing Post 8 around the Sgt Pepper movie but it was so abysmal (the film more than the post itself) that I had to abandon it… and I don't think it's very nice to tear it to shreds in the immediate aftermath of the death of one of its stars… so anyway…

On Monday I had the afternoon off work so I headed to Starbucks to continue editing my novel o' doom… and with their free wifi I was listening to the YouTube playlist I have called 'Researchering' which is supposed to contain music which is useful to the aforementioned novel… it's become a bit of a 'stuff I like' list. Who saw that happening, huh?

So I wanted to listen to "As" by Stevie Wonder to begin. So I did. But I'm not going to post about that record today. I'm going to post about the video that came up next.

"These Are The Days Of Our Lives" by Queen

I've told this story here before so I'll be brief: I still remember the morning of 25th November 1991. I was nine years old and sat at our pine kitchen table for breakfast like the day before and the day after. I couldn't tell you what I had for breakfast but I assume it was Coco Pops because that's how I rolled then.

And then my mummy told me that Freddie Mercury had died of AIDS. My brother was a couple of weeks short of his seventh birthday and replied "What, of a hearing aid?" which is funny and heartbreaking simultaneously. I was a middle class suburban child and only knew AIDS was a disease that was on the news a lot and there was no cure for it. I can't remember my exact reaction to her news because it's become coloured by my feelings since.

Another quick story which takes place some time before this (presumably 1989): In our town there was an old-fashioned bookstore in a strip-mall near Sainsbury's which for a long time (seemed long anyway) had some records in the window. One was The Miracle by Queen. The cover features the four band members' faces morphing together into one person. I loved it and seem to recall persuading my mum more than once to walk that way to Sainsbury's just to look at it. I assumed Brian was the band's leader because he had the biggest hair, which is quite a neat way of looking at rock band dynamics when you think about it…

Anyway, my friends and I were Queen fans even then. I suppose now that the group's mad theatricality appealed to children. I was already a rock fan anyway. My dad had bought me my own record player (secondhand at a jumble sale, we're not Rothschilds) when I was six in an effort to stop me wrecking his with my clumsy child ways. I loved Buddy Holly and the other rock and roll dudes. When I was really little I'd even made up a stupid dance to "Piltdown Rides Again"… I was already initiated into that world when Freddie died, is what I'm saying. And he was the first rock star I lost.

I didn't know at the time that Jim had already bought the farm, that Philo had worn his body out, that Steve Marriott's house had burned down. I knew that John Lennon was dead because it was a simple fact of life by then. I didn't know that it would hurt later.

When the group re-released "Bohemian Rhapsody" as a double A side with "These Are The Days Of Our Lives" my dad got it for me on cassette tape. I preferred Bo Rhap of course, because I could do the head-banging thing. I must've spent the last weeks of 1991 with permanent neck ache.

But then when I did listen to "These Are The Days…" I got it. I was nine but I was a weird kid and already knew that the best had passed. I was coming up to leaving my beautiful, wonderful primary school years and wasn't happy. I knew it wouldn't be the same. I started to really understand what we'd lost when Freddie went. But it was a beautiful song even as it made me sad.

A few years later, Made in Heaven was released. I was at a perfect age and mental situation to get totally sucked in by the pain and grief anew. I taped a TV show about the group and watched it over and again. And that's when I learned that the videos for "I'm Going Slightly Mad" and "These Are The Days Of Our Lives" were shot in black and white to hide the toll HIV/AIDS was taking on Freddie. The "Slightly Mad" video had really confused me when I was a kid, in a good way, and now I saw why he was wearing the wig and the pancake… my heart broke anew.

Queen are a group I have loved dearly in my time… without ever getting totally sucked in. I still don't own the Miracle even now, or most of their studio albums, probably because they're all still full price in the shops. For Queen, it seems, I am content with a handful of compilations and Made in Heaven. I just need to hear that voice every so often… Which seems weird. I mean, they were a huge group, innovative and interesting, influential and enduring. Maybe one day I will fall down that rabbit hole completely.

This song is beautiful. It's beautiful without the context of Freddie's death. With that context, it's beautiful and heartbreaking. He doesn't look well but he is still Freddie, still fierce. He's wearing a waistcoat with cats on it, man! It is a great song about growing old, which is interesting given that many of the Great Rock Stars were in their forties by then…

The thing people didn't get about rock back in the day was that it would grow with the musicians. It didn't have to be a young person's game after all… but the music did change. Of course it did. People change. Freddie did. In the video he's still throwing his Freddie Mercury shapes but it's neither frantic nor manic. He no longer needs to prove himself because he's Freddie Mercury. This is the man who held the entire Live Aid audience in the palm of his hand, after all.

There is one moment in the video that I love more than any other in almost any music video. It's the end, or thereabouts. Freddie, our hero, looks up into the camera and whispers "I still love you". It's his last appearance and he chose to end it like that. I love that and I don't think I've ever watched it without replying "right back atcha, man" in some form. I meant it then and I mean it still.

There's not much positive in the world, but the dynamic between musical hero and the fans can be powerful and tremendous when there's love and respect from both sides. Freddie and Us was such an example.

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