The Real Freddie Mercury, Deconstructed

I cannot express just how jealous I am of everyone who is attending the EMP Pop Conference in Seattle this weekend. One of yesterday’s panels was a roundtable on the one and only Freddie Mercury.

From the abstract of “Freddie Mercury Deconstructed” (I’ve bolded my favorite parts):

As the lead singer and songwriter of rock group Queen – and famous for songs like “Bohemian Rhapsody”, “Killer Queen”, “Somebody to Love”, “Don”t Stop Me Now”, “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”, and “We Are the Champions” – Freddie Mercury is arguably the most gifted and flamboyant of 20th century rock stars. Often neglected in discussions of Mercury”s stardom, however, are his Asian heritage and African roots, his interest and work with black and Asian musicians, and his bisexuality. The multiple (open) closets in which he worked and his subversive musical and visual content should have long ago prompted a total re-examination of the assumed whiteness, Western-ness and straight-ness of the rock front “man” mythology. But the often fraught journeys of contemporary artists like Mika and Adam Lambert and Sam Sparro suggests how far and not so far we’ve come.

This panel proposes to deconstruct Freddie Mercury’s impact on popular music, with a special focus on these hidden aspects of his public image. Among topics for consideration: Freddie Mercury’s early Bollywood and Hendrix influences; Tanzanian pop culture of the 50s; the politics of flamboyancy (Liberace to Elton to Morrissey and Mika); postcolonial superstardom; Mercury’s impact on contemporary artists like Lady Gaga; his influence on glam rock and the ways that his transnational identifications complicate our notions of “white” male rock singing; Queen’s ”70s multitracked vocal excess; Mercury’s buried ”80s records with Michael Jackson; revisiting Queen’s critical reception by the rock press; Mick Rock’s classic photographs of Queen.

There’s just so much to love and be curious about in those two paragraphs. I have always wanted to know more about how Mercury’s childhood in India affected his art. Alas, I haven’t yet been able to find any articles or posts about yesterday’s discussion. In lieu of that, I thought I’d share two of my all time favorite Queen videos.

The first is the song Save Me from the Queen Rock Montreal concert. Freddie’s voice is astonishingly pure here, which is all the more amazing when you consider that he was a fairly heavy smoker (also note the beer bottles on the piano):

My second favorite is a bit of an obvious choice, because it is one of Queen’s best known music videos after Bohemian Rhapsody. It’s “I’m Going Slightly Mad” from Queen’s last album Innuendo. Just great imagery. The only negative part of this video is seeing Freddie so painfully thin:

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One thought on “The Real Freddie Mercury, Deconstructed

  1. jaq says:

    Hi, the only notes by attendees I’ve been able to find is a very sketchy version on Livejournal. Apparently the abstracts are more provocative than actual talks. Speaker of the “Nu Orientalism” angle apparently didn’t turn up. Barry Walter’s “double closet” about Mercury repeats the hackneyed old claims of how he “dealt” with the race+sexuality double whammy, rather than how they EXIST as such in 70s-80s Brit rock-pop (regardless of what Mercury did – i.e. his “hidden” race/sexuality are quite overstated because interviews in print/audio ALL show flippant/ambiguous presentation rather than outright statement OR denial.)

    MJ’s name is thrown in to keep the panel newsworthy (because what does it say about “postcolonial superstars pow-wow” when Freddie was “replaced” by Jagger on final cut?), as is the inclusion of Mika/Lambert – both far less relevant to FM lineage than the 2 Georges – Boy G & G Michael.

    I’m afraid Freddie’s not getting his just due, because scholarship much like posthumous press on FM/Queen, have their own agendas/parameters of deigning significance, than actually treating the colossal near-impossibility of clean-cut categorization surrounding this most unique group.

    Not just Freddie himself was a mass of contradictions – so are his bandmates who in their own “white Brit” context were anomalies by Brit rock “standards” (barring personal life idiosyncrasies, the other 3 Queen “boys” both contrasted AND augmented the “flamboyance” & “hetero-deviation” of FM.)

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