I came to Queen late. My brother, Jon had their 8-track, A Day at the Races and I listened to it one day when I was home, alone. It was the song, Long Away, that perked my ears up. I recall the moment vividly as I thought, “Wait, THIS is Queen, too?” I had only known them for “KIller Queen” and “Bohemian Rhapsody”, but it seemed like they could do, well, anything.
That summer, or maybe it was the next, I found this album at the record store in Bar Harbor. I didn’t know it existed. We didn’t have Wikipedia or Google in those days. You wanted to know about a band’s past work, you went to the record store, pored through the bin and talked to a clerk.
When I found this I had to buy it, simply because I was craving more Queen.
I listened to Side Black first. And that was it. The groundwork for everything the band would do later was all in there. And it seemed to be a discovery. No one else talked about it. Only the aforementioned Killer and BoRhap and We Will Rock You and We are the Champions and Bicycle Race, etc, etc.
When others were blazing up to Led Zeppelin, I was trying to sing like Freddie. When people would sing Beatles songs on the bus, I would air guitar like Brian.
When you first enter your teens the music you fall in love with defines you and helps you define yourself.
Queen was the first one to do that for me.
And I listened everywhere. I put my record player in the T-Shirt store my parents ran on Main St and when I would open the store, after I flipped on the lights and I warmed up the decal press I then put Black Side on the turntable and started my day with “Ogre Battle”. It wasn’t long before my mother would trudge downstairs from the apartment and make me turn it down, as I blasted “Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke” so loudly it could be heard in the kitchen upstairs and no doubt the tourists who had just come off the Queen Mary were more interested in a peaceful shopping experience as they unfolded sweatshirts and t-shirts leaving me a trail of detritus to refold and replace than they were to be exposed to Queen’s multi-layered operatic Prog Rock.
Summers in Maine were dotted with unrequited loves, skinny dipping, attempting to steal or set free lobsters from traps and music. Queen II was just the find that summer but it was already a half decade old. Then I got my hands on Jazz and could barely get past that amazing first track, Mustapha; I had to learn every word, every syllable. I called my father in, he and I would often bond on music, his love for Elvis Presley was a point of connection and inspiration for me, and said, “Dad! Dad! Listen to this! It’s Arabic, right?!?”. After all, Freddie Mercury was actually Farookh Bulsara, surely my father could tell me what he was singing, since Joe Lulu was born and raised in first Palestine, then Israel.
He listened. Then he looked at me and said, “I don’t understand any of those words.” And out he walked.
How could that be? Well, of course! Joe “Yosi” Lulu was ISRAELI, this was ARABIC. Duh! So, I got the lyrics down and learned, crestfallen, 20 years later, that Freddie just made up the words. My dad was right. Sorry I ever doubted you, pop.
I never saw Queen live but I watched Freddie in my mind’s eye, in videos and Live Aid and The Concert for Life and, later, in concert footage off of YouTube and there was no accident that I would, as lead singer of my own band, Throttle Back Sparky, would unscrew the mic stand in the middle, detach it and use it as my own Freddie homage prop, imagining my 10×10 stage as more Wembley than The Joint.
It tickled me no end when Wayne’s World exploded Bohemian Rhapsody into the universe again, at almost the same time as Freddie’s duet with Montserrat Caballe, “Barcelona” was the fanfare and anthem of the Barcelona Olympics. A triumph of taste, perhaps, since Queen was for the weirdoes while the likes of Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd were the flagship bands of the kids in my school. I was always more about the bombastic and the theatrical. Always looking for validation, I guess, the triumph of Queen as a lasting example of the greatness of stadium classic rock tasted sweet.