Notes on Freddie Mercury's Mr. Bad Guy Album
"Thank you New York. It was a pleasure doing business with you!"--Madison Square Garden, 1977.
"There are 240,000 men here, and I'm going to fuck the lot of you!"--alleged quote, Knebworth, Queen's last live concert, August 9, 1986.
Total U.S. sales: 167,000
Let's Turn It On
A friend-of-a-friend, let's call him "Fish," says he played foosball in a North Jersey hospital one afternoon with Freddie Mercury. He says this happened in 1984. For years, I thought he was full of shit.
It sounds like everyone's story of meeting a famous person--the one that's embellished and crystallized in each retelling. But I forgot about a news spot on MTV: Martha Quinn reports Freddie is injured in a bar brawl in Munich, and hurts his leg.
This happened in May 1984. I had to face that Fish might not be full of shit.
Made In Heaven
I have a rule that states that in rock music, there are Ethel Merman singers or Fozzie Bear singers. This rule applies only to singers with careers that begin after April 1970, the month the Beatles broke up. I call it The Ethel-or-Fozzie Rule.
In this rule, I attempt to demonstrate divide in singers among showtune histrionics (Ethel) and holier-than-thou groans (Fozzie). To skeptics, I refer to the episode of The Muppet Show, in which Merman sings a medley with the Muppet troupe, among them Fozzie.
The first Ethel Merman Band, formed in April 1970, is Queen.¹
¹First season, 1976; also, see duet with Animal, "Eek/Perfect Pitch" (voice of Frank Oz, also voice for Fozzie Bear.
I Was Born To Love You
In 1983, J.J. Jackson asks Freddie what he thinks has kept the band together, "with the same personnel," for 12 years.
"Money," he says, without hesitation, and smiles devilishly.
"That doesn't seem to be a motivating factor with other bands," Jackson replies.
"Oh we love the money," he says, ash-flicking. "If they don't say they love the money, they're talking out of their asses then, to be honest. They really are."
"What am I gonna be?" he asks J.J. later. "A gentleman farmer?"
One question remains: How does Freddie end up in a hospital in Cumberland County, NJ? And playing foosball, no less? Fish didn't ask for Freddie's autograph; he has no proof, no photo. But Freddie did keep an apartment in the city then, on East 58th.
Maybe, like the Tom Cruise character in Eyes Wide Shut, he was limoed out to the lecherous orgies of Montclair, only to tear his leg ligaments again. Maybe his entourage thought it would be less of a fuss to admit him in a hospital there.
The next day, Freddie inflicts his five-bar brush pass on 15-year-old Fish.
Your Kind of Lover
One night I went to hear my friends' band in a Pennsylvania rock club. We hung out later in the parking lot, and my friends beg me to do my Freddie Mercury imitation. They get everyone to chant--Fre-ddie! Fre-ddie!
I run around with a broken tree branch in a Magic-era swoop, do a couple "Day-Ohs." Just then, a cop car drives up and shines a flashlight in my face. "Hey, settle down out there," the cop says. "And get back to your car." I throw the branch-mike into the brush.
On the ride home, my ex-girlfriend hits and kills a dog, a big German shepherd.²
²She didn't see it, but I did. She felt the bump, killing it, and kept on driving.
Mr. Bad GuyMr. Solo, Mr. Bored, Mr. Scaramouche, Mr. Buffoon, Mr. White Pants, Mr. Skirmish. Mr. Multiple Image. Mr. All-The-Notes-You've-Ever-Played-in-Your-Life. Oh look at those mountains of bodies. Oh look at them all, scrambling to reach up to you.
Mr. Bored-to-Death, I want to ask you about the mountains, about the stock character you made for yourself. Thirty-seven years in a standard comedy. Will no one speak of gay and fascist aesthetic³, at least the conciliation of the multiple-image of one's self?
The stairs, slavewomen, goose-steppers, always reach to heaven. Naturally.
³"We sat there for a couple of days on and off trying to think of something for 'Born to Love You,' and suddenly on the telly there came one of the Hitler youth marches with the people goose-stepping, and I said 'That's it, it goes with the music,' because we were playing the music at the time and on the telly there was this old silent footage of the Hitler youth goose-stepping and I said, 'That's it, that's it, that's it,' so that became the last bit of the video, except it all turned out with people wearing pink plastic bustiers."--David Mallet, director, video for "I Was Born To Love You."
Man Made Paradise
In one Fan Club newsletter there's a candid shot of Brian May sitting in a studio chair behind the soundboard. As he covers his mouth, I always imagine him listening to the Brian sound-alike play his bits for this song, getting angrier and angrier.
"Sometimes we don't like each others' songs," Freddie says around this time, "But I can still sing them." In this same photo, he smiles at Jim Hutton, his last boyfriend. "I don't want to live my life living a quartet," he says around this time.
The album's dedication: "To all cat lovers everywhere--screw everyone else."
There Must Be More To Life Than ThisI bought a used copy of Live Killers for a dollar. And there were these photos I found hidden in the sleeve, dated 1979. In one, a guy cups a blonde's bare tits from behind. In another, the same guy smiles across a coke-white mustache. His pants are completely down.
I told this story last week to an older man at a bar who had actually seen Queen play live in concert. I start asking my usual questions. What songs did they play? Who opened? What was Freddie wearing? I go to buy him a drink.
When I get back to my seat, he was gone.
Living On My Own
The fruits of unripe wisdom, the forced smile of new lovers--they want to see their own face--out of vanity or comfort--it's never been the poet's concern to be street barkers who warn out of duty--
Those closest to the big house, after all, know how the big house is run, and so they're the ones most likely to complain--To remain admirably silent and need-blind, as simple as a Russian novel, as needless as a queer Irish barber--
The guardians are only as good as the cobblers, they say to the cobblers, out of noble obligation--It's simply not interesting anymore to trample on this adolescence-- Maybe these questions can be combined--My face falls apart when touched
My Love Is Dangerous\Love Me Like There's No TomorrowAt a bachelor party, I ask Fish to tell the foosball story again. Freddie was limping, he says, and beat him in a best-of-seven series. And it does sound like Fish is lying. Fish is a famous magician's stagehand. He is full of shit about so many things.
After the final game, Fish asks Freddie the Foosball Champion if he is in fact Freddie Mercury. "Yeah, that's me," Freddie says in his high voice. I tell Fish about my research, and he enjoys my comeuppance. He adds one more detail.
"Freddie didn't fag out at all," Fish says. "He trash-talked through all of the games."