Bohemian Rhapsody Brings Back Good, Sad Memories

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Joanne had a wee thing for Brian May of Queen. (Photo by Sandy Hutchinson)

As always, I was late to the party. 

 The cinemas lost me, possibly forever, when I endured nearly three hours of The Lord of the Rings with youngsters spilling Coke and popcorn on me, leaving the theatre 17 times each and talking throughout the movie. It wasn’t the first time, but I was definitely thinking it would be the last.

Then, unceremoniously, it just stopped. The movie, I mean. Snap to black. We, the audience, waited half an hour for it to come back on, but no such luck. We left as a slow throng, all of us given a chit to re-see the entire blasted thing when all I needed was the last 20 minutes. No refunds. 

I’ve been back twice. Once to hide in air conditioned comfort on a 36 degree day. Once to see Daniel Craig as James Bond, in order to write a column about him. 

Therefore, I did not venture forth to see Bohemian Rhapsody in the theatre when it landed in November. I thought about it. I tried to make myself. I couldn’t do it, even though I desperately wanted to see it. I’m such a wuss.

Then, early last week as I was mulling the Oscar nominees, there it was on Max TV. I’ve never purchased anything so quickly. 

Afterward, I couldn’t sleep. Freddie Mercury was in the room.

I’m sure I have written about Mercury (and David Bowie, but I digress) far too many times over the years. To say I was/am a fan does me a great disservice. I was/am attached to him by the brain cell and the heartstring.

He died of pneumonia as a complication of AIDS on Nov. 24, 1991, 27-and-a-bit years ago, for heaven’s sake. I experienced shock and horror, disbelief and misery. One dark night a couple of weeks later, as husband madly worked long Christmas hours, I cranked up Queen on the stereo, hauled out a jigsaw puzzle, poured myself a bottle of wine and cried. 

What was it about Freddie Mercury — for me, and apparently so many others? Obviously and primarily, there was his spectacular, soaring voice which could move from bass to coloratura within just a few bars. And his flamboyant concert performances. And his unique, rather tragic persona.

I had no schoolgirl crush on Mercury when I first really listened to Queen in 1975 when A Night at the Opera was released (although I maybe had a wee thing for Brian May, whom I still adore.) This wasn’t about sexual awakening (I had no clue about his own orientation, not that that would have mattered much), nor about being hip and trendy by joining the Queen craze. He inhabited my brain and my heart.

It was ridiculous. It still is.

So, I ask myself again, what was it about him that made me weep at his death almost as if I’d lost a family member, for God’s sake? And why do I write of him? 

He was so damn human. So great, and yet so human. He could be self-aggrandizing and self-flagellating. So introverted personally, so extroverted publicly, so confused (for a while) about his sexuality, so tortured and yet blessed by his bizarre teeth — which were defining body bits in his life. He was teased about them mercilessly, yet the strange configuration of his enormous mouth was part of why his voice was big, beautiful and unique. 

He was also uncompromising when it came to his creativity, which is how we got Bohemian Rhapsody, the crazy operatic six-minute song, in the first place.

To this day, his voice can put me on my knees, or make me dance like a fool half my age; make me sing off-key in public; transport me back to so many times of my own life. 

I think Mercury is iconic because he showed us how fragile and yet how searingly insightful, creative and talented we humans can be. How the possibility for greatness can lie within us, as imperfect and fallible as we all are. And, how a life of “fame and fortune and everything that goes with it” may not, indeed ultimately will not, save your life.

Can we all be Freddie Mercury (choose your own hero here if you must)? Well, no. But we can try: we can allow our finer passions to lead us, to define us, even as we succumb to the pitfalls of being human.

And so, as I watched Bohemian Rhapsody the movie, particularly the Live Aid concert scene, I sobbed all over again, at the early loss of someone so incredibly human, and so genius.