Endless rhapsody

By JAMES PARKER  |  August 7, 2007

The DVD leaves unexplored the relationship between these two men, which is a shame, because Freddie and Brian were a whole new twist on the sexual dyad of the hard-rock singer/guitarist. When Jimmy Page solo’d, Robert Plant would arc his back and whoop like Maid Marian having her bottom pinched; Pete Townshend could force a sort of orgasmic bluster from Roger Daltrey; Bowie fellated Mick Ronson’s fretboard; even AC/DC’s Bon Scott, the hardest of them all, would gurgle like a randy old woman over Angus’s chop-chop riffing. May and Mercury, by contrast, were not do-er and do-ee but some kind of Venusian perv conspiracy, otherworldly and mutually titillating, an erotic in-joke. Night at the Opera’s most prominent feature, of course, was the masterpiece “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Freddie’s suicide ballad/nonsense operetta/metal rave-up, in which (or so the roxperts speculate) his increasingly undeniable no-prizes-for-guessing homosexuality is grappled with as if in a shamanic dream state — “Bis-mill-ah NO! We will not let you go!” — and so on. The pure pop counterweight to all this on Night at the Opera was bassist John Deacon’s “You’re My Best Friend” — a song to rival the finest of Paul McCartney in its clear and passionate uxoriousness. (It takes a real man, pop kids, to write a line like “I’m happy at home.”)

When 1976 let slip the dogs of punk, Queen’s future — for about a minute — looked shaky. The critics had been out for them since Nick Kent, in the NME, described Queen II as “a bucket of urine,” and as the most disgracefully ostentatious of the mega-bands (Freddie’s “lifestyle” was a legend), they were freshly reviled by this urchin generation. Things grew moody in the Queen camp: ostrich feathers wilted, catamites dozed on their leashes, magnums of Moët & Chandon were left unquaffed. “I really thought that might be it for us,” confided Freddie to an interviewer later. But no! Queen would not be punked, and in 1977 they came back with the one-two knockout of “We Will Rock You”/“We Are the Champions,” a totalitarian marching song and a hymn to the gay übermensch, stamping their dominance forever on the face of pop. And sports. Still to come were the timeless Chic ripoff “Another One Bites the Dust” and the magnificent Bowie collaboration “Under Pressure” (“It’s the terror of knowing what this world is about . . . !”), but with this double-A-side smash, Queen proved themselves impervious to history. It was their finest hour. Naturally they followed it with “Fat Bottomed Girls.”

Freddie Mercury (real name: Farokh Bulsara; country of origin: Zanzibar) died of AIDS in November 1991. His funeral service, according to the traditions of his family, was conducted in the ancient language of Avestan, and prayers for the salvation of his soul were offered to the God of the Zoroastrians, Ahura Mazda. To say the man was one in a million is to understate it by a factor of 10. Listening back, one hears that the dominant tone in his voice, curiously enough, was rage: a thin, tearing snarl, and a teeth’s-edge clarity of enunciation. Rage, perhaps, was the real engine of his caprice: like Ming the Merciless in 1980’s Flash Gordon (for which Queen provided the soundtrack), Freddie liked “to play with things a while before annihilation.” The more Apollonian Brian May, meanwhile, only last week completed his doctorate in astrophysics at Imperial College, London — more than 30 years after he set it aside to form Queen. His dissertation is titled “Radial Velocities in the Zodiacal Dust Cloud.” I couldn’t have put it better myself.

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