The Daily Agenda for Monday, September 5
September 5th, 2011
Today is Labor Day in the United States, which makes it a long weekend for just about everyone here. There’s not much happening today, but to take advantage of the three day weekend there are still a few celebrations going on.
Freddie Mercury: 1946. I was a freshman in high school in my quiet, Appalachian home town when “Bohemian Rhapsody” came screaming out of our radio speakers like an alien from outer space. Nobody was quite sure what to make of it, and nobody wanted to be too enthusiastic about this very flamboyant song. But whenever it came on the radio we always turned it up. And we listened, trying to figure out exactly what it was we were hearing. Queen had already been very popular in the U.K. for several years, but “Bohemian Rhapsody” was our introduction to this new band and we had almost nothing to prepare us for the — well, I’ll say it again — flamboyance of the band’s lead singer. Even the band’s name was provocative. One of my friends bought a Queen teeshirt at a concert clear out in Dayton, but his mother prohibited him from wearing it. It was “too homosexual.” And so was Freddie — maybe. Except he had a girlfriend, as the press went, so maybe he wasn’t. Maybe it was all an act, we told each other and ourselves. You know, a character like David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust or Alice Cooper any of the members of Kiss. Whatever he was, he flaunted it, as it went in our vernacular, but as long as it was a character he was flaunting, maybe it was okay. It helped that Queen’s follow-on hits — “You’re My Best Friend,” “Someone To Love” — were sufficiently “normal” while unmistakeably Queen to calm things down a bit. By the time News of the World came out and the testosterone-laden “We Will Rock You/We Are The Champions” became my high school’s unofficial anthem the same year that we won the state AA basketball championship, everyone had chilled. Those of us in that town and school who were easily freaked out over the very possibility of homosexuality — including us homosexuals — were well served by our sometimes willful naiveté. Without it, it would have been socially impossible to enjoy the music.
Freddie was something else. And he hoodwinked all of us who wanted to be hoodwinked, just enough so we could enjoy the music and the spectacle. The hits kept coming: “Fat Bottomed Girls,” Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” “Another One Bites The Dust,” “Under Pressure” (with David Bowie, of course). By the time it dawned on me that he really was gay, I had long since left home and it no longer mattered socially whether I was a fan or not. And by the time it was announced that he had AIDS and would die very shortly, nobody was surprised but everyone was saddened. It seems that there are some people who are too outsized in our world to remain in it for very long, and Freddie was one of them. On November 25, 1991, the day after he died, Britain’s tabloid The Sun carried a very simple headline: “Freddie Is Dead.” It’s hard to believe, but if he had survived he would be sixty-five today.
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