As it’s Halloween, I thought I’d have a little fun and do some horror parody lyrics for Queen’s classic hit “Bohemian Rhapsody.” I set it in Dracula’s backyard of Transylvania:
Is this the dawn light? Is this a grave oddity? Caught in some cobwebs, No way back to the cemetery. If you are wise, You’ll look to the skies and see, I’m just a bat now, I need nothing bodily, Because I’m queasy come, queasy go, Batwing high, batwing low, Every time the cock crows always seems to terrify me.Mama, just bit a man, Put her fangs against his neck, Closed her lips and now…oh heck. Mama, mortal life had just begun, But now you’ve gone and transcended eternity.Mama, ooh, Didn’t mean to make you die, If I’m not back from the dead this time tomorrow, Carry on, carry on as if bloodsucking really matters.
Too late, my thirst has come, Sends bloodlust down my spine, My body knows it’s feeding time. Goodbye, everybody, I’ve got to go, Gotta leave you all behind and drink from Ruth.
Mama, ooh (any way the cock crows), I can never lie, I sometimes wish we weren’t undead at all.
I see a little silhouetto of a vamp, Scaring me, Scaring me, will you do the Fang-dango? Drinking blood and fighting, Very, very frightening me. (Garlic Pizza) Garlic Pizza. (Garlic Pizza) Garlic Pizza, Garlic pizza from Holy Joe’s A big no-no-o-o-o.
I’m just a poor boy, no vampire wants me. He’s just a poor boy from a vampire family, Spare him his life and we’ll sharpen his teeth.
Vampires come, vampires go, will you let me go? Bram Stoker! No, he will not let you go. (Let him go!) Van Helsing! We will not let you go. (Let him go!) Bela Lugosi! We will not let you go. (Let me go!) Will not let you go. (Let me go!) Never let you go (Never, never, never, never let me go) Oh oh oh oh No, no, no, no, no, no, no Oh, Vlad the Impaler, Vlad the Impaler (Vlad the Impaler, let me go.) Count Dracula has a coffin put aside for me, for me, for Hallowe-een.
So you think you can shove me out into sunlight? So you think you can stake me and leave me to die? Oh, baby, can’t try burying me, baby, Just gotta crawl out, just gotta creep right outta this crypt.
(Ooooh, ooh yeah, ooh yeah)
Stakes they go with hammers, Everyone can see, Stakes they go with hammers, Stakes they go with hammers into me.
Well, ladies and germs, I thought I’d update my blog on yesterday’s events in Rathfarnham in Dublin (next stop for Queen? Las Vegas! I know, different planets).
As I was heading down to Marlay Park, a butterfly flew into my face. (“My soul is painted like the wings of butterflies,” the line from Queen’s “The Show Must Go On” immediately came to mind. A heads-up from Freddie? Hmm, onward.)
The Darkness kicked off proceedings and their phenomenal, heavy, twin-guitar sound battered the audience for nigh on half an hour. Justin Hawkins was utterly hilarious throughout, displaying a Russell Brand-style comic wit and bludgeoning the audience for not cheering enough, faking singing, treating people as objects and using the word “pussy” in the wrong context (think “innocent creatures.”) All this while pitting one side of crowd against the other.
There was a jaw-dropping moment when Justin Hawkins did a headstand on the drum podium and, upside down, clapped in time to the beat WITH HIS LEGS!!! I shit you not. Tried to get some footage of it but the moment passed before I could.
Often the truth is said in jest and you could sense Justin’s frustration that The Darkness were bottom of the bill. They only had two real hits, a Christmas song, which they couldn’t perform in the middle of a record-breaking Irish heatwave (more on that later). The other hit was “I Believe In A Thing Called Love”, the song that kicked it all off for them and promised so much. It’s still one of the best songs of the noughties; euphoric, silly with some awesome Brian May-style axe solos going on all over the place. Strange how they were never really able to follow it up with more hits. The Darkness split soon after hitting big, reunited but the hits dried up and they were never the same again. That’s a pity. There’s definitely a feeling of unfinished business with The Darkness, here’s hoping they can catch lightning in a bottle once more. I wish them well.
Next it was Mouth Almighty, Sir Robert Geldof, aka Bobby Boomtown, informing us from backstage that his band “The Boomtown Rats” were the best band ever. It was good comic bluster to follow on from what Justin Hawkins had done. Geldof continued taking the audience down a peg or two, stating that he was from the Dublin borough of Dun Laoghaire and that nothing else good ever came from there. He also revealead that he was wearing “fuck off bell bottoms” while we, his audience, were wearing “Dunnes Stores shorts” (think Primark or Walmart if you’re outside Ireland), but that comment just demonstrated how long he has lived outside Ireland (he lives in London). Dunnes Stores was full of imported, bulk-bought tat back in the day but now it’s full of ridiculously-overpriced designer gear that most people can’t afford. Geldof did the hits (“Like Clockwork”, “Rattrap” and “I Don’t Like Mondays”, hey, I don’t either. On a side note, if you think US school shootings are a recent phenomenon “I Don’t Like Mondays” is a UK number one hit from 1978 on that very subject. The song was based on a true story. An American girl used her father’s rifle to fire into the school next door. When questioned about her motives, she simply said, you’ve guessed it: “I don’t like Mondays.” The song didn’t do well in America as they weren’t anywhere near ready to even consider gun control.) The songs still sound terrific and really got the crowd going.
For a man of nearly 67, Bob Geldof still has the moves like Jagger and was in fine voice with his whiny, pleading Dylan-esque delivery. There were many funny moments in his set like when he appeared to be casting out demons from his guitarist preacher-style and telling him to go with arms outstretched. Then he claimed someone had spiked his drink and, after pointing several accusatory fingers at every corner of the crowd, proceeded to moan, howl and roll about the stage feigning illness (reminiscent of James Brown when they’d bring out the cape and help him offstage). Then Bob was up on his feet working the crowd up to ninety again. A solid booking and good, old-fashioned entertainment.
Enter the main event: Queen + Adam Lambert. It was good to hear “Seven Seas of Rhye”, “Killer Queen” and “Play The Game” again.
It was a very warm night in Dublin and I think the heat got to Adam, Roger and Brian. Bri was struggling to move around the stage and had a pained expression on his face most of the time. He seemed a fraction late on his solos too. It got worse though as Brian’s Red Special guitar cut out at one stage when they were down the front. Luckily, it roared back into life soon after.
Roger struggled to hit the very high notes in “I’m In Love With My Car” for once and that was a shock. Maybe he was having trouble with his voice or struggled to breathe in the heat. He did have heavy jackets on strangely. Roger seemed very distant during the show and said very little. He was probably exhausted from all that travelling and touring in the last few weeks around Europe.
Adam messed up the lyrics on some of the songs, another surprise. It was the last night of their European tour. Had complacency set in? Or was their confidence knocked by not selling out the show at Marlay Park? Or was it their age (Adam excluded)? Or the heat? Or all of the above? (I did think their 3Arena show in Dublin last November was much tighter, but maybe I went in expecting too much after that flawless display) Whatever the reason, they have just under eight weeks before their Vegas residency to iron out these wrinkles.
Once again, Adam was desperately trying to win over resistant Queen fans by saying he wasn’t trying to fill Freddie Mercury’s shoes. Adam’s a lovely guy who craves the acceptance of Queen fans, but, if they don’t like him by now, they never will. He really needs to stop explaining himself and apologising for his existence. He is the lead singer of Queen and that is it. Accept it or don’t, it’s up to you.
There were several surreal moments. At one point I noticed a nine-foot tall banana-coloured object moving in my peripheral vision to the left. Turned out it was a crowd-surfing Freddie Mercury lookalike wearing Freddie’s iconic yellow military jacket from the 1986 Wembley concert. It happened during “I Want It All”, which really has taken on a life of its own live now, as Brian May always hoped it would.
The crowd seemed to consist of very small females complaining that they couldn’t see anything and giant males who were stopping anyone from seeing anything.
There were several beach balls bouncing around the tops of the crowd and one did strike me in the back of the head at one point. I looked around with a stunned expression on my face, as if to say “who threw that?” and the whole crowd laughed.
A blonde, tattooed, Eastern European chick with enough fake tan on to make her skin resemble leather was grinding on me during “Love of my Life.” It was like being mugged by an octopus and, yes, as she was a Sweaty Betty, there was a wet, slimy aspect to her. Funny, on one hand, on the other, we live in a #MeToo culture and it really was too much.
There was another blonde chick to my left with very long hair and a plait running down her back. Her wet, sweaty hair kept falling on my arm like a horse’s mane and I had to keep shrugging it off. Really, girls, in a heatwave at a concert, don’t tie your mother down, tie your hair up out of the way!
A guy in front of me was smoking weed with his girlfriend (plait girl with the sweaty hair, yep, her again) and anyone else who requested a puff. Huge clouds of smoke of dubious origin wafted up my nostrils. I don’t remember the rest of the show and I think I’m Australia now. Maybe. Woke up with a honking great migraine, a sore throat but many great ideas funnily enough. I may now know The Meaning of Life and The Secrets of The Universe, but that, dear reader, is for another blog on another day. This is what happens when you’re forced to confront the mystic ways of the East and take “The Inner Journey.”
The band built up a fine head of steam on “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” and “Bohemian Rhapsody” got a thunderous reception from the crowd (the last time I heard a spontaneous feral roar like that at the finale of something was when Riverdance debuted at the Eurovision Song Contest, also in Dublin)
The confetti cannons fired at the end and some of it landed in my hair. I renamed it “Consweaty.” Then it got even weirder. A drunk, heavily-tattooed ginger guy with a sideline in clinging body odour had the nerve to elbow me to ask if he could get up on my shoulders. It was met with a curt ‘No’ by me (subtext: ‘F*** off’). Sorry, I don’t want some strange guy’s sweaty ball sack humping my neck, not with the state my knees are in right now.
I decided to exit the area before more bizarre requests were made of me. The long trek home began on stiff legs and aching feet. If there is another tour, I’d like it to be built around some new material, perhaps a new studio album with Adam or even the new James Bond theme tune which would be perfect for them (hard to believe Queen, that most British of bands, has never done a song for that spy on Her Majesty’s secret service. Could be one for The Bucket List). Maybe they could try some interesting cover versions on the next tour or bring on a few guest stars to freshen things up (other stars would probably shy away from competing with Adam’s awesome vocals though).
If that turns out to be the last time I see Queen live in my lifetime, I’d be happy with what I’ve seen. They were and are an amazing band and always will be. Long may they continue to reign.
It was Halloween night, October 31st, 1975. Two parallel and seemingly unconnected events were about to take place in music history that wouldn’t cross streams until a decade later.
Queen were about to release their magnum opus “Bohemian Rhapsody. Written by Freddie Mercury, it would enter the UK chart at number 17 on November 15th 1975, reach number one on November 29th and held the top spot for nine weeks until January 24th 1976. Bo Rhap, as Queen fans call it for short, was taken from Queen’s album A Night at the Opera, the title of a Marx Brothers comedy classic movie. Appropriately, Bo Rhap would deny Laurel and Hardy’s tune “Trail of the Lonesome Pine” the number one spot and hold them at number two for two weeks.
Also that October 31st, an unknown singer and former music journalist named Bob Geldof made his debut at a Dublin school Halloween dance. His group The Boomtown Rats were rookies who knew nothing about set lists and ended up doing a three-hour performance of mostly dodgy cover versions. Geldof claims a girl approached him during the interval and offered to “give me one.” He said he knew he was in the right job there and then: “You try getting laid in Dublin in the 70’s!”
Geldof would make it big fast. Less than three years after that inauspicious debut, the Rats had their first UK top ten hit with “Like Clockwork” in the summer of 1978. Four months later in October 1978, they had their first number one single with “Rat Trap.” The Grease soundtrack had dominated the charts in 1978 and Geldof took great pleasure in hiding behind a John Travolta poster on Top of the Pops before ripping it in two to reveal his yawning face as he began to sing.
Queen celebrated Halloween night 1978 with one of the most infamous parties in rock history in New Orleans.
Those two seemingly disparate events in music history at Halloween 1975 would coalesce in Geldof’s Live Aid spectacular at Wembley Stadium on July 13th, 1985 and result in the greatest live performance of all-time. Geldof announced Queen’s participation in the event before they’d fully agreed to it along with many other big name acts like The Who and David Bowie.
Once their hand had been forced, Queen set about preparing their unforgettable set with military precision. The clocks in the orchestra pit of the theatre where they were rehearsing (put there by their roadie Ratty) were just the start. Queen’s sound designer Trip Khalaf took the limiters off the sound at Wembley Stadium meaning that Queen were automatically louder than every act who’d played before them that day. They moved the goalposts certainly but as I always say, no one remembers how you got a chance, they only remember what you did with it. Queen smacked this one out of the ballpark for the home run of home runs. Geldof reacted immediately to Queen’s sound: “I was actually upstairs in the Appeals box in Wembley Stadium, and suddenly I heard this sound. I thought, God, who’s got this sound together? and it was Queen.”
What was the first song in Queen’s set? “Bohemian Rhapsody,” from that long-forgotten Halloween night that launched Live Aid’s founder and gave the stars of his global jukebox their biggest-ever hit and opening number on the day.
Geldof was adamant in his praise of Queen and their astonishing rise to the occasion on his big day: “Queen were absolutely the best band of the day. They played the best, had the best sound, used their time to the full. They understood the idea exactly, that it was a global jukebox. They just went and smashed one hit after another. It was the perfect stage for Freddie: the whole world. And he could ponce about on stage doing ‘We Are the Champions’. How perfect could it get?”
Just over six years later, the great Freddie Mercury was taken from us by the dreaded AIDS virus. However, the band he founded with Brian May and Roger Taylor continued on in various guises without disgruntled bass player John Deacon.
In 2004, Queen began a collaboration (and released an album) with Free and Bad Company frontman Paul Rodgers to mixed results. Rodgers exited the regal vehicle in 2009 and Queen faced the prospect of never touring again until fate favourably intervened yet again.
It is here that the paths of Bob Geldof and Queen cross yet again. Queen were no longer touring and, as usual, Bob was only too happy to offer his opinion. Since the turn of the century, Geldof had been suggesting that Brian May and Roger Taylor “find a kid with Freddie’s range.” There seemed no one around who fitted the bill at the time. Whether Geldof’s prophecy became a self-fulfilling prophecy for Queen or not is anyone’s guess, but luck would be more than a lady, it would be, as Brian May dubbed him – Madam Lambert to the rescue.
This was the era of reality TV shows like X-Factor and American Idol. While most of the contestants promised great things, precious few went on to have any career let alone a long one. On American Idol, a contestant named Adam Lambert with a unique voice and vocal range unleashed his extraordinary interpretation of Bohemian Rhapsody. Word got back to May and Taylor and they played with Lambert on the semi-finals of American Idol. An invitation to perform at the MTV Europe awards and the resultant ecstatic reaction and Adam Lambert became Queen’s new lead singer and the third (and final, Taylor says) incarnation of this mighty band was underway.
The Boomtown Rats didn’t play live from 1986 until 2013 when they surprised everyone by going back on the road for a UK and Ireland tour in support of their fifth greatest hits album “Back To Boomtown: Classic Rats Hits.”
Today, July 8th, 2018, the seemingly eternally-intertwined paths of Bob Geldof and Queen cross once more as The Boomtown Rats support Queen + Adam Lambert at Dublin’s Marlay Park. There is much grey hair in evidence in both camps with Bob Geldof turning 67 in October and Roger Taylor turning 70 next year and Brian May the eldest at 71. It is probably the end of the road for these two legendary bands and the era of rock they came from.
I saw Bob Geldof once in the street in Dalkey in Dublin in July 1988. He was (unsuccessfully) looking for the way in to The Queen’s pub on Castle Street. He tried to gain entrance through the graveyard and then peered myopically through dusty old windows as his entourage shouted “Bob! Bob!” at him. My friend at the time, for reasons best known to himself, shouted over “Bob Marley!” to add to the confusion. Little did I know that exactly 30 years later I’d be seeing Mr Geldof perform at Marlay Park. The feeling of fate and destiny being fulfilled appears to apply to me also as well as Queen and The Rats.
Beyonce has her Sasha Fierce alter ego, Bob Geldof has his Bobby Boomtown persona in his ubiquitous snakeskin jacket. His punky venom will get an airing later today. So let us revel in the majesty of Queen and The Boomtown Rats once more. We will never see their like again.
On June 3rd, 1986, “A Kind Of Magic”, the twelfth studio album from Queen was released. The European Magic Tour supporting the album began four days later at the Rasunda Stadium in Stockholm, Sweden.
It was the first Queen album I’d purchased as a Queen fan, the others being purchased after Live Aid and after this album (by early ’87, I had all Queen’s albums on vinyl and still do.)
With Queen contributing many songs from this album to epic fantasy film Highlander, there was a sort of return to thematic elements of Queen’s early albums minus the quirky, Tolkienesque lyrics about ogres, titans and fairy fellers. This was Queen doing a concept album 80s-style with syths and Highlander’s immortality theme playing into the tragic reality about to engulf Freddie and the band.
Highlander star Christopher Lambert explains how Queen’s involvement grew:
“Highlander coming out was a very exciting time for me. What was also very interesting is that Queen were meant to do only one track – it was the opening credits, ‘Princes Of The Universe’, that was the deal. So they sat down for a private screening for them in a movie theatre and Freddie Mercury when he came out, he said all excited: “I’m doing the whole fucking album! This movie is too fucking great!”. They went and wrote the songs in four weeks and went into the studio and it was one of the biggest selling albums of their career. So you know it’s strange, it’s like nobody ever thought that Highlander was gonna be, thirty years later, still a cult movie, music included. About Freddie… there are many good singers, but to be really great it’s not enough just to sing correctly. You have to do it with the heart and he is the best at it.”
Although it was hard to imagine during Queen’s post-Live Aid second wind, “A Kind of Magic” would be the end of an era for them in many ways. It would be the final album before Freddie’s HIV diagnosis in April 1987 (“Innuendo” would be recorded under time constraints and Freddie’s increasing availability issues due to illness). The Magic Tour would be Freddie’s last with the band.
It was also the last time they worked with German producer Reinhold Mack. Mack first worked with Queen on “The Game” album in 1979 at Musicland Studios in Munich. He had produced some of Queen’s biggest hits including “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”, “Another One Bites The Dust”, “Under Pressure”, “Radio Ga Ga”, “I Want To Break Free” and “One Vision.” Brian May said that Mack had been “quite a find” for the band. He was responsible for a different, stripped-back Queen sound, the antithesis of the elaborate, complex sound of previous Queen producer Roy Thomas Baker. With Baker, Queen played every track in the studio until the take was perfect. Mack said they didn’t have to do that and that he could drop in snippets of different takes. This surprised the band and saved them a lot of time. Mack even persuaded Brian to drop his Red Special and play a Fender Stratocaster belonging to Roger on “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.”
“A Kind of Magic” would also be the last time Queen would do several songs for a movie (here’s hoping the James Bond producers giver Queen + Adam Lambert a shot at the next theme tune).
“A Kind of Magic” is a very listenable album. I can listen to it all the way through unlike some of the late seventies albums which were a smattering of big hits and filler. As with Queen’s concerts on The Magic Tour, the album kicks off with the extended version of “One Vision” which teases out the intro superbly until Freddie’s ethereal vocal cry echoes across the synths just before Brian’s euphoric riff kicks in. “A Kind of Magic” the single follows.
A John Deacon song “One Year of Love is next and it’s the kind of classy, smoky ballad that Sade did so well at the time (saxophone courtesy of the guy who played on “Careless Whisper.”) “Pain Is So Close To Pleasure” is a rare sojourn into Motown stylings for Freddie Mercury (“Cool Cat” on “Hot Space” and B-side “Soul Brother” would probably be the closest tracks to this).
“Friends Will Be Friends” ends side one. Even though it’s a self-conscious attempt to repeat “We Are The Champions” and didn’t make the UK top ten, I still like it as a song.
Brian’s “Who Wants To Live Forever” starts side two and, from here on in, it’s all songs from the Highlander soundtrack. Seal and Ronan Keating said this song made them cry the first time they heard it and it is a very beautiful song with lush orchestral accompaniment. It worked well live on The Magic Tour too, although it was still “a new song” as Freddie said and hadn’t found its place among their other hits with the audience yet.
Brian Blessed’s Vulcan says “who wants to live forever?” in the battle scene near the end of “Flash Gordon,” Queen’s last big fantasy soundtrack outing. It’s possible Brian unconsciously remembered that line from the previous film but it’s a perfect iteration of Highlander’s themes.
Brian’s rip-snorting “Gimme The Prize” erupts with a cascading Brian May solo, it reaches a crescendo and a sound clip from the film Highlander kicks in (a news reporter comments on one of the many decapitated bodies in the film: “A head, which at this time, has no name.” Clancy Brown’s Kurgen responds with “I KNOW HIS NAME!”). “Here I am!” Freddie declares, “I’m the master of your destiny” (one reviewer at the time compared him to Alice Cooper on this).
Roger’s unsurprisingly drum-heavy “Don’t Lose Your Head” pounds in. It began life as the B-side to the single “A Kind of Magic” under the working title “A Dozen Red Roses For My Darling.” Some thought this was filler (black singer Joan Armatrading pops up to say “Don’t Lose Your Head” over and over for no apparent reason, maybe an attempt by the band to counter negative publicity over their Sun City shows in Apartheid-era South Africa around that time.) It does get a little repetitive but I don’t hate it.
Then we come to the final track on the album – “Princes of the Universe.” It’s Freddie’s only solo writing credit on the album (almost hard to believe considering he wrote most of Queen’s early albums single-handedly). The title is outrageously camp but the song builds up an incredible head of steam. With Princes, “One Vision” and “Gimme The Prize”, “A Kind of Magic” is probably the closest version to a heavy metal version of Queen we ever got. The single of “Princes of the Universe” was released in America and the video featured Highlander star Christopher Lambert crossing swords and sawn-off microphone stand with Freddie.
It would be three years before the next Queen album was released, the longest gap there had ever been between albums up to that point. There followed a frenzied period of activity to get new Queen material out before Freddie’s inevitable demise. So “A Kind of Magic” is a demarcation point between what went before and the beginning of the end of Queen Mach 1 (two more would follow with Paul Rodgers and now with Adam Lambert.)
I’ve come up with some parody lyrics for Queen’s classic song (and soon to be movie of the same name) “Bohemian Rhapsody.” See what you think.
Bohemian Bap-seedy by Stewart Stafford
Is this just food hype?
Is this a granary?
Come on this snack ride,
No escape from the culinary
Open your eyes,
Look at what’s baked with me,
I should avoid carbs, this is what’s wrong with me,
My weight is easy come, easy go,
Blood sugar high, blood sugar low,
Non-food sales at Waitrose, don’t really matter to me, to me.
Mama, bought a sliced pan,
Got the knife just like she said,
Put the butter on the bread.
Mama, you had one cream bun,
But now I’ve gone and scoffed it all away.
Didn’t mean to be so sly,
I’ll get you another one by this time tomorrow,
And if not, and if not, well I guess it doesn’t matter.
Too late, my hunger has come,
Was going to order food online,
Stomach’s rumbling all the time.
Goodbye, everybody, I’ve got some dough,
Gotta leave you all behind and bake some bread.
Mama, ooh (anywhere your wind blows),
I don’t want diabetes,
I sometimes wish I had a gastric band and all.
I see a little cornetto/choc-au-pain,
Swiss rolls, Swiss rolls, will you get me Focaccia?
Vienna rolls with piping,
Very, very frightening me.
(Petit Gateau) Petit Gateau,
(Petit Gateau) Petit Gateau,
Petit Gateau and Fig rolls
I’m just a foodie, nobody loves me.
He’s just a foodie from a foodie family,
Spare him his life from this pomposity.
Tell me yes, tell me no, who made the dough?
The miller! No, he did not make the dough. (Make the dough!)
The miller! He crushed the wheat like so. (Crushed it so!)
Vanilla! We love that flavoured dough. (Flavoured dough!)
Love that flavoured dough. (Flavoured dough!)
Never eat that dough (Never, never, never, never eat that dough!)
No, no, no, no, no, no, no
Oh, Ciabatta, Ciabatta (Ciabatta’s running low.)
The baker man has some goodies set aside for me, for free, for free.
So you think you can bribe me with slices of Rye?
So you think I’ll forsake bread and eat up some pie?
Oh, baby, this is never a maybe,
Just go and get out, just go and get right outta here.
(Ooooh, ooh yeah, ooh yeah)
The oven needs some batter,
That’s all I can see,
The oven needs some batter,
The oven needs some batter for me.
It was on this day, November 24th, a quarter of a century ago that the world lost Freddie Mercury. I remember the day well. I’d read in the newspaper (remember them?) in April 1991 that Freddie had a “mystery wasting illness.” It said he’d viewed some properties for sale in London and the owner was told to “be out” when Freddie arrived. He was seen being helped in and out of the car. As soon as I read that, I knew it was AIDS. Still, I thought he had a few years more to live.
On November 23rd, he put out the press release confirming he had AIDS. On Sunday the 24th, I was flicking through the TV channels before going to bed and Sky News were playing the Barcelona video. The newscaster, Scott Chisolm, said: “That’s how he’d want to be remembered.” I thought it was a bit premature to be talking about him in the past tense despite his AIDS diagnosis. Then he read the headline that Freddie had just died. Despite my suspicions, it was still a hell of a shock. I remember just sitting there stunned the next day, the wind howling outside. Queen guitarist Brian May said Freddie’s death was one of the grimmest memories of his life. It was one of mine too. An awful, frightening time. There was no cure for AIDS then and it appeared the virus was going to go on killing people indefinitely. Who would be next?
I was 20 then and Freddie seemed old to me at 45. I’m 45 now and, I can tell you, it isn’t old at all. He was still a young man with a long way to go, but we never get the best for very long. They come out of nowhere, shake up everything and then they’re gone, leaving us to wonder who they really were and where they came from.
Most rock stars die suddenly without warning; Elvis, John Lennon, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, etc. Freddie, like his Under Pressure collaborator David Bowie, knew he was dying and had time to prepare for it. There are little hints and clues in the final albums released while he was alive The Miracle and Innuendo.
His most famous work, Bohemian Rhapsody, was re-released and hit number one again over Christmas 1991 for five weeks (adding to the nine weeks it had spent at number one in the UK over Christmas 1975.) It’s been said that the success of Bohemian Rhapsody gave Freddie the money and fame to embark on the lifestyle that killed him. The song made him, remade him at Live Aid in 1985 and was a fitting epitaph to his career in late 1991.
How good was Freddie Mercury? He named the band Queen, designed their logo, wrote their first top ten hit and their first number one single. Just look at the originality of Bohemian Rhapsody. There hasn’t been a song like it before or since. That’s why it stands so far apart and above most other contemporary songs. Freddie wasn’t only a genius songwriter, he was a superb pianist, arranger, producer and an unforgettable showman on stage (I was lucky enough to see him on his last tour with Queen at Slane when I was 14). Who else could walk on before a football stadium crowd and command them all effortlessly for two hours? There was that unique voice with the four-octave range. The groundbreaking and hilarious videos Queen made. He even danced with the Royal Ballet company for Christ’s sake. And all this before the age of 45. He crammed a lot of life into his short time on earth. May he rest in peace while conducting the choir eternal.
I’ll leave the final words to Freddie himself, he said: “I don’t think I’ll make old bones and I don’t care. I’ve lived a full life. I really have done it all and if I’m dead tomorrow I don’t care a damn.”
Allow me to elaborate on my quote, dear readers. In the Second World war, Britain and Germany were gleefully bombing each other’s major cities into oblivion day and night. In the myopia of war, they thought they were engaged in a conflict to strengthen themselves, but were, in fact, destroying each other as major world powers. This created a vacuum into which stepped the new superpowers – the United States and the Soviet Union.
In the aftermath of the war, Britain was devastated physically, financially and mentally. Rationing was still in force and luxuries were unheard of for a whole generation of children. The war was before their time but the impact and implications of it were a daily fact of life. Ruined areas called bomb sites still pockmarked the land and the new kids played on them, including a young David Bowie.
Bowie’s biographer Paul Trynka kicks off his excellent book Starman with this illustration of grim post-war austerity from Peter Prickett: “Everything seemed grey. We wore short grey flannel trousers of a thick and rough material, grey socks and grey shirts. The roads were grey, the prefabs were grey and the bomb sites seemed to be made of grey rubble.”
Behold the constraints of reality! Glam Rock in the 70s was going to be the antithesis of all that childhood drabness and deprivation. First though, Tolkien would unleash the beast that was The Lord of the Rings. Despite being written in stages between 1937 and 1949, three volumes were published over the course of a year between 1954 and 1955 (The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and the Return of the king). There was a sudden glut of Tolkien product in the marketplace at just the right time. The books were manna from Heaven for a generation starved of good food, new ideas and hope. For the first time, they had in their hands an affordable escape and a template for a way out of their difficult situations. It was like the scene in the Wizard of Oz where the world goes from monochrome to eye-popping technicolor as Dorothy reaches Oz. John Lennon was one of many British kids who became a fan of Tolkien’s.
The Beatles turned everything on its head when they shot to fame in 1962. As well as topping the charts with monster hits on both sides of the Atlantic, they also made some remarkable films including A Hard Day’s Night, Help and the surreal, Pythonesque Magical Mystery Tour. Kicking around for ideas for a new Fab Four flick, John Lennon suggested an adaptation of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.
Peter Jackson directed both The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings trilogies. In 2014, he said “The Beatles once approached Stanley Kubrick to do The Lord Of The Rings and he said no. I actually spoke about this with Paul McCartney. He confirmed it. I’d heard rumors that it was going to be their next film after Help.”
It wasn’t just Kubrick who rejected The Beatles: “It was something John was driving, and J.R.R. Tolkien still had the film rights at that stage, but he didn’t like the idea of the Beatles doing it. So he killed it,” Jackson added.
Lennon had published two books himself, A Spaniard In The Works and In His Own Write, his love of wordplay being evident in the titles. Lennon was fan of Lewis Carroll as well as Tolkien and his writing has been compared to Carroll’s, particularly I Am The Walrus.
It is arguable that many of the prog rock concept albums of the 70s were an attempt to transfer Tolkien’s epic fantasy imagery to the album format. Rick Wakeman played piano on Bowie’s Life On Mars and was the keyboard player with Yes. Wakeman did a 70s concert at an ice rink with skaters playing knights on horseback jousting to the music he was playing. He admitted recently that he had gone too far but it was excess-all-areas in the 70s.
Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin was a serious Tolkien nerd, liberally sprinkling references to the books in his songs. Take these lines from Zeppelin’s Ramble On: “Twas in the darkest depths of Mordor, I met a girl so fair. But Gollum and the evil one crept up and slipped away with her.”
Queen, in turn, were big fans of Led Zeppelin. They played Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song during soundchecks and Plant turned up at The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert in 1992 to perform Innuendo and Crazy Little Thing Called Love. It’s possible that Freddie and the boys imbibed some of Zeppelin’s Tolkien imagery by osmosis. Seven Seas of Rhye was Queen’s first hit. It came out in 1974 and was written by Freddie Mercury. Rhye was a fantasy world that Freddie had created with his sister Kashmira. Freddie sings of “the mighty Titan and his troubadours” in Seven Seas of Rhye. On other Queen albums there was “Ogre Battle” and “Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke.” The imagery of Brian May’s The Prophet’s Song on A Night At The Opera is very Tolkienesque, although the images came to him in a dream. Queen would also go on to do the music for fantasy films like Highlander and Flash Gordon.
Tolkien was probably horrified by the bands and music he inspired but that would have been a typical reaction from his generation. None of it was intended for him. He was unable to foresee the consequences of publishing his books but it is interesting to see how one creative act can inspire many similar and dissimilar ones, spreading out like ripples in a pond. We pass the torch of inspiration down the generations, it is not ours to keep but ours to maintain and pass on.
“The lowest point in my life was in 1975, when I was 28, living in Los Angeles. I really did think that my thoughts about not making 30 would come true. Drugs had taken my life away from me. I felt as though I would probably die and it was going to be all over. My assistant, Coco, got me out of it. Thanks to her, I got myself out of America to Berlin”
So he did and that is where the genesis of his classic song “Heroes” begins. Germany has an oddly influential place in popular music history. Elvis was stationed there in the army in the 50s. The Beatles went to Hamburg and learned their craft and lived it up in the early 60s. Bowie recorded his Low, Heroes and Lodger albums there and Queen recorded several albums in Munich, including their best-selling album The Game. U2 would record Achtung Baby there in the early 90s. David Bowie played a concert in West Berlin in 1987 that could be heard over the Berlin Wall in East Berlin. Earlier this week, when news of Bowie’s death broke, the German Foreign Office tweeted: “Good-bye, David Bowie. You are now among #Heroes. Thank you for helping to bring down the #wall.” Praise, indeed.
The album “Heroes”, the second of Bowie’s “Berlin trilogy”, was recorded at Hansa Studio by the Wall in what was then West Berlin. It was produced by Bowie and Tony Visconti with Brian Eno playing a key role in it also. (Bowie credits Eno with shifting the emphasis of his career away from the creation of characters like Ziggy Stardust to the music itself.)
The song “Heroes” was recorded using a noise gate technique. According to Wikipedia, a noise gate is “an electronic device or software that is used to control the volume of an audio signal.”
It goes on: “The invention of a technique, called multi-latch gating by Jay Hodgson, common in classical music recordings for years, is often credited to producer Tony Visconti, whose use on David Bowie’s “Heroes” may have been the first in rock. Visconti recorded Bowie’s vocals in a large space using three microphones placed 9 inches (23 cm), 20 feet (6.1 m), and 50 feet (15.2 m) away, respectively. A different gate was applied to each microphone so that the farther microphone was triggered only when Bowie reached the appropriate volume, and each microphone was muted as the next one was triggered.
Bowie’s performance thus grows in intensity precisely as ever more ambience infuses his delivery until, by the final verse, he has to shout just to be heard….The more Bowie shouts to be heard, in fact, the further back in the mix Visconti’s multi-latch system pushes his vocal tracks [dry audio being perceived as front and ambience pushing audio back in the mix], creating a stark metaphor for the situation of Bowie’s doomed lovers shouting their love for one another over the Berlin wall”
(Tony Visconti recently admitted that the he and his mistress were the couple seen kissing by the wall.)
Bowie played the sax solo at the end of “Heroes” and even recorded a version in German called “Helden.”
When released on October 15th 1977, the song only got to number 24 in the UK charts a far cry from smash-hit Ziggy Stardust mania just a few years earlier. Even his appearance on Top of the Pops in a plain shirt with a less-harsh remix of the song seems muted compared to his culture-changing turn on the same show with Starman.
The noise gate technique the shouting Bowie had to resort to did result in a harsh-sounding vocal that wasn’t exactly radio friendly at the time which perhaps accounts for its low chart-placing. (Queen’s “We Are The Champions” was released the same month and became an instant classic anthem when it reached number 2 in the charts.) While “Heroes” remained a favourite with his fans, in the general public’s consciousness the song quickly faded from the charts and into obscurity. It remained there until eight years later, when Bowie had the inspired idea to include it in his set for Live Aid.
Bob Geldof had christened his Live Aid charity extravaganza “The Global Jukebox” and told the artists on the bill to give him hits, hits and more hits to keep viewers watching and donating. While “Heroes” wasn’t one of Bowie’s biggest hits on first release, it is one of his best songs and the idea of being heroes for a day was the perfect tagline for Live Aid. So it proved, the song went down a storm. Everyone in Wembley Stadium got swept up in the idea of their generation changing the world in that place at that time. Bowie told the Wembley crowd: “You’re the heroes of this concert.”
Queen had ended their legendary Live Aid set earlier with “We Are The Champions.” That day, “Heroes” joined “We Are The Champions” in the pantheon of inspirational anthems that are often played at sporting events. When a documentary was made about the Live Aid concerts by the Band Aid trust later in 1985, a montage of the artists that performed was cut to the sounds of David Bowie’s “Heroes.”
The rehabilitation of “Heroes” reached its apotheosis at the London Olympic games of 2012 when “Heroes” was playing on loop in the background at each medal presentation. It even featured in the closing ceremony.
Who knows, perhaps “Heroes” may even become a posthumous number one for David Bowie, such is the popularity and poignancy of the song now. That would be a fitting close to the remarkable journey the song has taken in the unforgettable life of its creator and in the lives of us all.
Dreams have inspired thinkers of all kinds to come up with great works throughout history. Author Salman Rushdie referred to it earlier this week as “the world of imagination and dream, the irrational world which is not subject to logic.”
The theory of relativity is alleged to have come to Albert Einstein in a dream. The genre of science fiction owes its existence to the nightmare Mary Shelley had that inspired her to write the novel Frankenstein in 1816. Bram Stoker had an erotic dream about female vampires ravishing him after a crab supper one night. That surreal spark lit the touchpaper of his classic vampire novel Dracula and became the “brides of Dracula” sequence.
A nightmare inspired Stephen King to write The Shining:
“In late September of 1974, Tabby and I spent a night at a grand old hotel in Estes Park, the Stanley. We were the only guests as it turned out, the following day they were going to close the place down for the winter. Wandering through its corridors, I thought that it seemed the perfect – maybe the archetypal – setting for a ghost story. That night I dreamed of my three-year-old son running through the corridors, looking back over his over shoulder, eyes wide, screaming. He was being chased by a fire-hose. I woke up with a tremendous jerk, sweating all over, within an inch of falling out of the bed. I got up, lit a cigarette, sat in the chair looking out the window at the Rockies, and by the time the cigarette was done, I had the bones of the book firmly set in my mind.”
A nightmare also inspired King to write Misery:
“I was on Concorde, flying over here, to Brown’s. I fell asleep on the plane, and dreamt about a woman who held a writer prisoner and killed him, skinned him, fed the remains to her pig and bound his novel in human skin. His skin, the writer’s skin. I said to myself, ‘I have to write this story.’ Of course, the plot changed quite a bit in the telling. But I wrote the first forty or fifty pages right on the landing here, between the ground floor and the first floor of the hotel.”
James Cameron was in Rome in the early 1980s. The production company behind his directorial debut Pirahna II: Flying Killers (you’re not missing much, folks) fired him. He was starving and penniless. In his hotel room, he had the “fever dream” that would lead to his big breakthrough – The Terminator:
“I was sick at the time. I had a high fever. I was just lying on the bed thinking and came up with all this bizarre imagery … I think also the idea that because I was in a foreign city by myself and I felt very dissociated from humanity in general, it was very easy to project myself into these two characters from the future who were out of sync, out of time, out of place.”
Dreams can even inspire musical compositions. Singer/songwriter Sting keeps a diary of his dreams and he named his 1985 album “The Dream of the Blue Turtles” after one of them.
Queen guitarist Brian May on how he wrote the classic track We Will Rock You:
“Queen played a gig at Bingley Hall near Birmingham. It was a popular venue at the time. It was a big sweaty barn and that night it was packed with a particularly vocal crowd. They were definitely drowning us out with their enthusiasm. I remember that even after we left the stage they didn’t stop singing – loudly. They sang You’ll Never Walk Alone, which is very emotional. Quite a choking thing really. I certainly found it inspirational. Later that night back at our hotel I said to the others, “That was great. So what should we do to continue generating that kind of energetic response?” I woke up with the We Will Rock You lyrics in my head and had it written in about 10 minutes.”
A similar thing happened to Paul McCartney when he wrote The Beatles classic Yesterday:
“I just fell out of bed and it was there. I have a piano by the side of my bed and just got up and played the chords. I thought I must have heard it the night before or something, and spent about three weeks asking all the music people I knew, ‘What is this song?’ I couldn’t believe I’d written it.”
The idea for my first book The Vorbing also came to me through a dream. I’m not for one minute comparing myself or my book to the aforementioned works of genius. Their reputations are set in stone, mine has yet to begin. I am merely stating that the process was the same for me. It was in June 1996 that I had a nightmare, a fragment of a dream really about vampires. They were coming out of the sky and flattening people around me. I woke up and ran downstairs to type it up before I forgot it. I wrote a short story that would become the first chapter of The Vorbing. From there, I kept working on it every day that summer. I was not on the internet then, so there were no distractions. I recreated the world of my dream on the page and then expanded it to see where it would take me. I was about to start the second year of my acting course and was so lucky to continue being paid during the summer recess. I could put 100% into seeing if I could write a book for the first time. Somehow I did and it felt like climbing a mountain.
It did become an obsession. I had not chosen to write a book about vampires, they had chosen me to write about them for some reason and I couldn’t stop. Now, 19 years later, the book is nearly ready for release. It is a time of great excitement but also great uncertainty as I push my baby chick out of the nest to see if it can fly. Some will try to shoot it down, no doubt, but some will also give my baby a chance and nurture it. Vampires should fly at Halloween and this year, The Vorbing takes flight.
“I, being poor, have only my dreams; I have spread my dreams under your feet; Tread softly because you tread on my dreams” – William Butler Yeats