Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The power of the per

High school can be a tough three years (or longer, for some people) particularly when one (i.e., “me”) showcases their musical taste for all in the classroom to see.

Case in point, I had my Queen – Greatest Hits cassette with me since I had just received a trendy Sony Walkman (remember those?) and would use it in Vis Com class whenever the coast was clear, so to speak.

When I had the cassette out on my desk, Shawn—who was on the five year high school plan—walked by, looked at the case, took out the sleeve, and proceeded to fill in the lower portion of the right stem on the letter “n” with a black felt marker (as you can see in my recreation here).

On one hand, I was impressed that he had the intelligence to recognize that such a subtle change in appearance could reassign the word’s shape so it had a completely different symbolic meaning (leaving aside the queen=drag queen connotation for a moment).

On the other hand, I was annoyed that he was mocking Freddie’s recent adoption of leather and moustache, which, more or less, “outed” him publicly at that point in the band’s history.

On the third hand, the doughhead defaced my cassette sleeve.

Monday, June 29, 2009

That Queen from the ’70s Show

Media Moment: That ’70s Show
Queen Related: Episode Title: Sheer Heart Attack

I had heard rumblings that That ’70s Show had used a few Queen song titles as episode titles, but I didn't realize the extent to which they embraced them until I looked up this episode on That ’70s Central, Episode Guide. It turns out that the entire line-up of Season Eight episodes is based on Queen songs. Here’s the rundown:

Episode / Air Date / Episode Title
#801 / November 2, 2005 / Bohemian Rhapsody
#802 / November 2, 2005 / Somebody to Love
#804 / November 9, 2005 / You’re My Best Friend
#805 / November 16, 2005 / Misfire
#803 / November 30, 2005 / Stone Cold Crazy
#806 / December 7, 2005 / Long Away
#807 / December 14, 2005 / Fun It
#808 / January 12, 2006 / Good Company
#811 / January 19, 2006 / Who Needs You
#809 / January 26, 2006 / Sweet Lady
#810 / February 2, 2006 / Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy
#812 / February 9, 2006 / Killer Queen
#813 / March 16, 2006 / Spread Your Wings
#817 / March 23, 2006 / Son and Daughter
#814 / April 13, 2006 / Keep Yourself Alive
#815 / April 27, 2006 / My Fairy King
#816 / April 27, 2006 / Crazy Little Thing Called Love
#818 / May 4, 2006 / We Will Rock You
#820 / May 4, 2006 / Sheer Heart Attack
#819 / May 11, 2006 / Leaving Home Ain’t Easy
[Special #4 / May 11, 2006 / That '70s Show: The Final Goodbye]
#821 / May 18, 2006 / Love of My Life
#822 / May 18, 2006 / That ’70s Finale

Of course, Queen aren’t the only classic rockers represented on the show . . . Seasons Five, Six, and Seven are based on Zeppelin, Who, and Stones songs respectively (what, no Floyd?). I find it curious that for a show based in Wisconsin, they are showcasing British bands of the ’70s instead of American ones. What does this say about the show’s writers’ musical preferences? Or is it merely based on historical significance?

Speaking of the writers, I’m inclined to ask whether the main storyline for the Season Eight—or any of the band-based seasons, for that matter—episodes were written ahead of time and they matched a Queen song to each; or did they scan the entire Queen song title list and get inspired to write an episode around a song title?

Whatever the case, having Queen wrap up the series is a feather in their cap, and I wonder if this was an arbitrary decision on the part of the producers, or whether they wanted the series to go out with a royal punch.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Good call.

Media Moment: Wayne’s World
Queen Related: Bohemian Rhapsody

You gotta give Mike Myers credit . . . he almost single-handedly resurrected Queen’s popularity in North America with the Bohemian Rhapsody sing-a-long and headbanging sequence from Wayne’s World in 1992. Unfortunately, it coincided with the aftermath of Freddie’s death a year earlier.

While it’s not my favourite movie, I admit to having seen it five or six times over the years, so why not again when it was on TV last night? I’m glad that the BoRap scene is near the beginning so I didn’t have to fast forward too much to enjoy it quickly.

I’ve always been thankful that the song was featured as prominently as it was in the film. It wasn’t some background tune that lasted a few seconds . . . it actually played a role in the film and a good chunk of the whole song was included. Myers was astute enough to let the audience hear each of its three distinct styles of music: ballad, opera, and rock.

The beauty and complexity of the song was played night after night to a captive audience in the movie theatre. They had no choice but to sit in the darkness and listen to the song in all its glory. Just like Wayne and friends do in the car up on the screen.

For me, this was akin to the hundreds of times I sat in isolation; headphones on and actually listening to the song for what it contained musically. That was the hook for me, and I believe that was the hook for the millions of movie-goers who were introduced to Queen through Wayne’s World.

I also noticed a personality similarity between Garth and Freddie. Maybe it was Carvey’s portrayal of shyness? I’m not sure, but I sensed a bit of Freddie in that character.

On a different note, headbanging behaviour (as shown by metal fanatics) has been the focus of a recent medical study. Bottom line . . . headbanging is bad for the neck.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

I don’t know about the cosmos but this album rocks

A local music store was having a 40% off going out of business sale recently and, lucky for me, they had a double-album vinyl copy of the Cosmos Rocks. Although I turfed my record player years ago, this record will accompany all of my original Queen LPs that I still have.

After seeing Queen+PR at the MGM Grand in Vegas during their 2006 tour, I was eagerly awaiting the new album of material that they said they were working on. I had already listened to Return of the Champions and thought that while PR didn’t match Freddie’s abilities vocally or musically, I found that their renditions of Bad Company tunes were almost better than the originals because of Brian and Roger’s input.

Did this mean that Brian and Roger would become merely a backup band to PR when the new album came out? Would the signature Queen sound be there (i.e., Brian’s guitar, vocal harmonies) or would the PR imprint take centre stage?

I picked up the new CD in October of 2008 when it came out in North America, popped it into the player in my car, and was pleasantly surprised at the rocking good time brought on by the title song. As a matter of fact, Brian’s playing on this song really shines. At first, I thought I was listening to Stevie Ray Vaughn during the guitar solos, which is a style I’ve never heard Brian play before. The more I listened to this song, the more I thought that Brian had found the inspiration he was looking for.

Without going into a song-by-song review, overall, I think the album’s strengths outweigh any of its weaknesses. In particular, We Believe is definitely an anthem for a new world. Brian’s songwriting is at its best here as he tries to promote peace and harmony in a war-torn world.

While I don’t consider this a true Queen album, I always look forward to new music by Brian and Roger under whatever label it happens to be. Do I think they should retire the name “Queen”? No, it’s their legacy, not the fans’; it’s the name that is known worldwide and they should be able to capitalize on it as they wish.

Yeah, but Freddie suggested the “Queen” name . . . and John’s not on it! So what. Freddie and John’s past work isn’t negated by their absence on new Queen songs. Fans should be thankful to have new music to listen to on its own merit and this album delivers just that. To put this in perspective, I think the Rolling Stones would be hard-pressed to put out an album of this energy and passion. They haven’t done anything original since the early ’80s.

My only criticism is with the graphic design for the sleeve. I don’t know how Richard Grey gets the contracts for Brian and Roger’s work, but his album designs have never been that stellar (to use a cosmos metaphor). Perhaps if the branding for this new album was a bit stronger, the marketing for it may have taken it to a different level. For Heaven’s sake (again, a cosmos metaphor), even Hot Space had a more interesting album cover.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Eis Eis, Baby

Media Moment: Late Show With David Letterman
Queen Related: Under Pressure riff

You know, back in 1990 I was annoyed when Robert “Rip” Van Winkle flagrantly sampled John’s bassline for Ice Ice Baby, but—twenty years later—I’m even more frustrated as it’s become metonymy for anything to do with “ice” in popular culture.

My theory was proven correct on Letterman the other night when his guest was Shannon Eis (pronounced like “ice”), who was explaining this year’s new toys. As she was introduced, bassist Will Lee played the opening riff to Under Pressure . . . er, I mean, Ice Ice Baby.

I suppose I could forgive Van Winkle’s free ride if he had gotten permission to use the sample before releasing the song. At least Queen and Bowie would have made it official. But he didn’t. He appropriated it, told everyone that he added an extra note so it was his, then recanted a while later saying that his original remark was just a joke.

Brian did say during an interview on Rockline back in 1991 that they were going to “sue his white ass off.” Perhaps Abba has Queen to thank for getting royalties from Madonna who sampled Dancing Queen a few years ago.

Photo from the Sun-Herald

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Sounds (and looks of Queen)

Media Moment: Late Show With David Letterman
Queen Related: Musical guest using Red Special copy

Usually I only watch the first few seconds of Letterman’s musical guests before finding the delete button on the remote, but a recent band on his show caught my eye, however. Not because the lead singer appeared to be the second coming of Debbie Harry, but because the guitarist looked like he was playing a Red Special.

Sure enough, when the camera passed by Felix Rodriguez a few more times, I could see that he was definitely playing an original Guild BHM1 guitar. If I remember correctly, these guitars were an early commercial endorsement by Brian although he withdrew his support when Guild failed to address some quality issues.

Felix didn’t sound like Brian—at least not the song performed on Letterman—but his use of the Guild knock-off must be a Queen homage. He could have opted for any garden variety guitar but why pick Brian’s and then not try and sound like him? To be fair, I suppose, he may simply like the feel of it, rather than the sound.

But as I dug a bit deeper into The Sounds website, I noticed that their merchandising included a t-shirt with a small crown in the design. Queen coincidence? Maybe. What about one of their singles called Queen of Apology? Maybe it’s a song about their lead singer, Maja Ivarsson? Who knows.

But that Guild Red Special says a lot about their overall identity and they must have been aware of the Queen reference it suggests. Being from Europe (Sweden), Queen’s musical legacy in that part of the world was most likely stronger than a lot of other acts so who can blame them for acknowledging them as possible influences.

Whatever is going on with Felix is fine. He certainly piqued my curiousity and I will definitely keep an eye out for them from now on. Here’s a link to one of their videos so you can see Felix and his BHM1 in action.

Photos from http://the-sounds.com/photos/

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Chipmunque Clips

I remember “borrowing” this Chipmunks album from my brother back in the early ’80s. He didn’t realize that back then I was secretly compiling my Queen collection, and with his new record containing a helium-induced version of Crazy Little Thing Called Love, I needed to have it.

At that time, the analogue technology for creating those squeaky chipmunk voices were pretty rudimentary, from what I understand. Basically, record the voices at a tape speed that is half as fast as normal, then play it back at normal speed and, voila, squeaky voices. Doing it today is probably a bit easier given the inexpensive digital tools available, which may account for the deluge of Chipmunk cover tunes that are on YouTube these days.

Queen songs get a sizable share of the Chipmunk online presence, as I discovered. Here are the clips I found:

Another One Bites the Dust
Bohemian Rhapsody
Don’t Stop Me Now
Hammer To Fall
I Can’t Live With You
I Want To Break Free
Keep Yourself Alive
Radio Gaga
Somebody to Love
These Are the Days of Our Lives
Tie Your Mother Down
Under Pressure
We Will Rock You / We Are the Champions

And to double-up on the parodies, there’s even a Chipmunk’s version of Weird Al’s tribute to Bohemian Rhapsody:

Bohemian Polka

I wonder what Monserat Caballe’s voice would sound like if it was given the Chipmunk treatment for Barcelona?

Friday, June 19, 2009

Barry “Bulsara” acquitted

Some might remember the international news coverage from the summer of 2001 regarding the murder of a well-known British journalist named Jill Dando by a man claiming to be Freddie’s cousin, Barry Bulsara.

Barry George (his real name) was acquitted of her murder in August of 2008 after repeatedly claiming his innocence. Apparently, new evidence was discovered that his defense team said would clear him of the murder conviction. An appeal was submitted, a retrial was set, and, sure enough, he was found not-guilty.

Since his release, he’s been seen lingering around Dando’s grave. Perhaps his clinically assessed low IQ (75) is betraying his true motives . . . does he not realize that stalking the grave of the woman he had stalked when she was alive is not the best tactic for maintaining public perception that you’re innocent?

One of the main story angles at the time of his arrest was that he used Freddie’s family’s birth name (Bulsara) to pretend to be was someone he was not. I do feel a bit better knowing that it wasn’t just Freddie’s reputation he has pirating but he also took on the monikers of Paul Gadd (Gary Glitter’s real name) and Steve Majors (Steve Austin+Lee Majors), amongst others.

The full story can be read here.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Heath Will Rock You

Media Moment: A Knight’s Tale
Queen Related: Contains We Will Rock You and We Are the Champions

After watching this film on TV again last night, I must say that the late Heath Ledger does a great job as the daring knight who’s out to kick some jousting ass. However, I believe it’s Paul Bettany’s portrayal of the saucy Geoffrey Chaucer that makes the movie memorable.

American director, Brian Helgelund, tried a similar approach as Australian director, Baz Luhrmann, in Moulin Rouge, in that they contemporized a period piece by giving it a modern soundtrack. By and large Helgelund pulls it off nicely although in a much different way than Lurhmann. I’d be curious to know who came up with the funky soundtrack idea first?

On second thought, who cares? What sticks in the craw of most old-school Queen fans about this movie is that it features WATC sung by Robbie Williams which kickstarted the Williams-as-Freddie debate.

I don’t know that much about Robbie Williams but I got the impression at the time that he wanted to fast track his own career by jumping the queue of whatever potential Queen vocalists there were (if any) without having achieved “street cred” of his own.

I guess if that were the criteria for joining Queen, Paul Rodgers does make the cut. But throwing Adam Lambert into the Queen mix, though, as the media speculated, seems akin to taking him right from off street with no experience at all. Then that would make Robbie Williams a seasoned veteran.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Dr. Fred N. Furter

Back in the ’70s, everyone was wondering who could portray Freddie if his life story were to play out on the big screen. And at that time, it seemed that Tim Curry had landed the role that Freddie was born to play—Dr. Frank N. Furter in the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Hey, what if Tim played Freddie? That could work since Tim looks like him, has an overbite, and sings pretty good, too. But it wasn’t meant to be, I suppose, although Adam Ant’s name came up a few times in the early ’80s as a possible shoo-in for playing Freddie.

What about now, since there’s a much-hyped Freddie biography in the works? Apart from the speculation of who would front the band, playing Freddie on-screen is a much different challenge. Johnny Depp was being played up in the media as a possible candidate (personally, I can’t see it), as was Sasha Baron Cohen, whose Borat character is supposedly based on Freddie. (Cohen, I believe, could pull it off.)

Although Freddie didn’t make it into the RHPS, Brian did, in a 1995 London production of the show. He guest-starred as “Eddie” (Meat Loaf’s character from the film) and did a superb rendition of Whatever Happend to Saturday Night (Hot Patootie). The soundtrack can be found here. Brian’s wife, Anita Dobson, was one of the main headliners for that run.

One final Queen–RHPS tie-in . . . Richard O’Brien, who plays Riff Raff and is the main creative force behind the entire production, was also in Flash Gordon.

Monday, June 15, 2009

I’m The Kurgan from the clan McKurgan

Media Moment: Highlander
Queen Related: Songs throughout

Guess what was on TV this afternoon? When Highlander came out in 1986, I rushed to see it at West Edmonton Mall within a day or two of its opening, knowing that Queen gets the lion’s share of song time. If I had waited much longer, I would have been out of luck since it was gone after only a week.

The appeal of the film, however, was felt long after its theatrical release. As Roger quipped on Rockline back in 1989 (or was it 1991?), it developed a strong cult following. I’m sure that with the release of Highlander II, the general concensus was that any goodwill from the series was now toast.

But, thanks to Duncan Macleod, Connor’s younger television clansman, the franchise was back on its feet. I even got to hear Prince’s of the Universe every week, which must have cost the producers a fortune in royalties.

Clancy Brown—with his briccolage safety pin disguise—made this movie work, in my opinion. His height, menacing voice, and sense of humor all give the Kurgan the memorable traits of a great villian. I often wonder if Clancy smiles whenever he hears himself mutter the famous phrase “There can be only one!” on Gimme the Prize. He should be flattered that he appears on a Queen album as they were very particular about who gets included.

As for Connor, I came across this Walk of Fame star for “Connor Macleod,” but iMDB.com has no actor with that name. The mystery deepens: the official Hollywood Walk of Fame website has no record of that name either (the closest is Chuck Connors), so the image is either someone’s wishful fabrication, or the star is on another walk of fame somewhere else in the world (of which there are a few). (Note: the web address on the image didn't help either, as you can see.)

Finally, I think it’s interesting that Clancy Brown went on to star in ER, while his Highlander co-star, Roxanne Hart, went on to star in the “other” primetime medical drama, Chicago Hope. Christopher Lambert’s career, unfortunately, never really recovered from the Highland II fiasco. He did swing a couple of appearances in two Queen videos so he’s still ahead of me based on my Queen bucket list.

Maybe Adam Lambert and Christopher Lambert should form a band: Lambert+Lambert.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

On with the show

Media Moment: Moulin Rouge
Queen Related: Cover of The Show Must Go On

I remember seeing this film at the theatre and thinking, if Ewan McGregor is doing a Kiss song, surely Queen will make an appearance at some point. Then comes a Bowie song, then an Elton John song, then a… But no Queen.

Until nearer the end when the familiar opening chords of The Show Must Go On begin and Nicole Kidman and Jim Broadbent do a fine job of incorporating the song and its theme into the critical moment in the film where Satine must carry on with the show even though she’s dying (wait, did I just give that away).

The single CD soundtrack didn’t have TSMGO but I actually found the more rare box set that contained a second disc which had the song, along with the other great tunes missing from the single CD release.

As for the movie, which was on TV again last night, I really liked the highly stylized treatment that Luhrmann gives the overall picture. From the harsh lighting to the deliberate use of scale models of the city, he really captured the spirit of turn-of-the-century Paris in the naughty part of town.

And if Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor weren’t enough of a draw…to contemporize the soundtrack with theatrical covers of popular rock songs was an innovative way to bring today’s youth to the theatre to watch a story set in the late 1890s.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Queen: An Airbrushed Biography

Queen: An Illustrated Biography
by Judith Davis
Proteus Publishing, 1981
ISBN: 0906071917

What a dated cover illustration this is, eh? It’s style resembles something that is straight out of the ’70s. But it was 1981 and I bought it as soon as I saw it at the bookstore.

Davis’ book was one of the first biographies of the band that I can remember, and I’m glad I picked it up almost 30 years ago. In hindsight, there was nothing that exciting contained in the book since it merely chronicles the band’s career. (The real gossipy stuff would have to wait another seven or eight years.)

What I like about this book is that the cover is so different in its depiction of the band than later branding would embody. Any proscribed sense of royalty, majesty, or even high decoration is absent and instead we’re presented with a ho-hum air-brushed illustration of the band that was probably painted by an in-house illustrator at Proteus who managed to knock it off in a couple of hours.

But that's okay, it’s still a neat image. I wonder if the artist kept the original all these years or did it end up in a garage sale like so many other urban myths. Imagine what a collector’s item it would be if all the band members had signed the original.

Postscript — August 5, 2012

I received an email from a fan in Croatia looking for more information on this book as she is interested in purchasing a used copy. Although it has eluded me in the past, it turns out that there are at least two significant errors in this book. One is shown here on page 85:

And the other is in the discography where the Jazz album is missing altogether. Apparently, Queen released News of the World in 1977, took a year off, and released Live Killers in 1979.

What’s up with the Jazz confusion in this book, Judith?

Friday, June 12, 2009

Neko and Deaky

Neko Case, the American-Canadian (?) alternative country artist, songwriter, and former drummer, released an album in 1997 called The Virginian, along with her band, Her Boyfriends. Inconspicuously rounding out the song list is a twangy version of Misfire, from Queen's third album, Sheer Heart Attack.

She definitely takes the song into the “bride’s dress and cowboy boots” direction—wait, that was k.d. lang’s early persona—but you get the idea. I guess the original does have a country feel to it, so Case didn’t have to inject a completely different energy into it. Her rendition could be described as being akin to Dwight Yoakam’s countrified version of CLTCL, from the Gap ads a few years back.

John must have smiled when he heard the cover version. I view the song as his formal initiation into the band because it was his first to appear on a Queen album. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the first song of his ever to get recorded and released, so to have an artist like Case go back through the Queen catalogue and select his first attempt must have been flattering, to say the least.

Now, if we could only get Michael Bublé to do a cover of My Melocholy Blues

Thursday, June 11, 2009


My Aunt Leslie went to see Flash Gordon at the local cinema in 1981…or so she thought. It turns out they were showing Flesh Gordon, a soft-core porn film from 1974 that poked fun (pun intended) at the ’30s serial. She walked out twenty minutes later once she realized it wasn’t the movie she thought it was.

Speaking of Flash, Queen have taken a critical beating over this album because it (supposedly) doesn’t compare to the rest of their oeuvre. Let’s remember, though, that it was never meant to be a collection of pop songs but a series of musical interludes that support the film’s visuals. Weren’t they asked to deliver a hard rock soundtrack instead of contributing a song or two that would merely be dropped in and truncated when the scene ended?

With this as the criteria, this is the only true soundtrack that I know of (with the exception of the Who's Tommy, which is a musical) that is composed entirely on hard rock instruments instead of a 60-piece orchestra. Again, this was new territory they were treading in; and Brian, in particular, rose to the occasion with his main title theme, battle score, and The Hero, which kicks ass during the closing credits. It would have been interesting if they were given a similar challenge to score Highlander in its entirety instead of just contributing a few songs.

So what’s up with Flash’s theme song being used in Blades of Glory with Will Ferrell and Jon Heder? Don’t get me wrong, I think it was great that the director opted for it to bring home the final skating competition…I just wonder who on the production team nominated it for inclusion in the film? Did they think that North American audiences would recognize it and buy the soundtrack? Whatever the case, I was pleasantly surprised when I heard it.

Oh, and if you’ve seen Flesh Gordon, be sure to check out it’s sequel, Flesh Gordon Meets the Cosmic Cheerleaders from 1987. There’s a Canadian classic for you.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

How does Freddie stack up?

I’d like to see online trader, Craig Stevens, produce a Lego Freddie bust from his long-hair and checkerboard spandex days.

Craig, of course, created this life-sized Lego bust of ’80s Freddie and, voila!, the Internet is abuzz with square-block-Freddie.

I would be curious to know how Craig approached the sculptural problem. Did he start with frontal and side view photographs, run them through a pixelating filter of some kind to get a mathematical breakdown of the number of layers he’d need, and proceed with building it from a two-dimensional map?

Or did he do it the Michelangelo way—start with a square block of Lego bricks and remove them one by one until Freddie's likeness revealed itself?

The matrix-type structure of the bust reminds me of those trendy ’80s pinscreen boards. You know, the type made famous in the video for Midge Ure’s If I Was.

Photo by Craig Stevens.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Bat Out of Heaven

I’ve been a fan of Meat Loaf since 1977, roughly the same time I discovered Queen. It’s taken me years to realize that it was Jim Steinman’s songwriting brilliance that propelled the first Bat Out of Hell album to the top of the all-time best-seller charts.

I do have a soft spot for Meat Loaf, himself, though, and actually got to meet him in 2001 at the airport in Toronto. (On the downside, I kept picturing him as “Bob” from Fight Club the whole time we talked.)

I’m also a huge fan of Steinman’s 1981 solo album, Bad For Good. I understand that these songs were originally destined for Meat’s follow-up album but his voice was shot and Steinman couldn't wait forever. So, he recorded the songs himself.

Also around 1977, I discovered the fantasy art of Peruvian-American illustrator, Boris Vallejo, and have followed his work to the present day. As a side note, I think Boris’ work has weakened considerably since divorcing Doris, his first wife, and marrying fellow fantasy artist and bodybuilder, Julie Bell. They are definitely a power duo in the commercial art world, but painting together on one composition just doesn’t work, in my opinion. Nonetheless, anything with Boris’ finger on it will catch my attention, even if it's his wife’s.

So imagine my surprise when Bat Out of Hell III is released on Halloween Day, 2006 and I discover that my three great passions have converged on one album: Brian guesting on a Jim Steinman song (Bad For Good) on an album whose cover art is painted by Julie Bell (who’s married to Boris). The stars have aligned…finally.

Brian’s distinctive multi-layered guitar kicks off the song (which is a very different intro from Steinman’s album version) but Brian’s strongest contribution to the song happens at the 4 min 30 sec mark as the guitar lead begins. Brian’s trademark sound is all over this track and I could definitely imagine Freddie singing it instead of Meat.

Monday, June 8, 2009

The “Japanese” Hero

We all know that Japan was one of the first nations to embrace Queen in the early days. If you watch any DoRo documentary, they usually show the boys getting off an airplane with throngs of Japanese fans holding copies of Queen II and screaming as if the Beatles have finally arrived. To this day, Japan is honored with unique (and official) Queen releases that international collectors salivate over.

Japan must have made a lasting impression on Brian and Freddie: Brian paid homage to them by including Japanese lyrics in Teo Torriatte (Let Us Cling Together); and Freddie's affection was evident by his pond of Japanese koi he kept at Garden Lodge.

Fast forward to 2007 and Freddie ends up as number 52 on a Nippon Television Network survey called History's 100 Most Influential People, Hero Edition. Here is a link to the full story that appeared in the Wilson Quarterly.

The list is comprised mainly of Japanese people, which makes sense. Strangely absent from the list, however, are historical figures from the west, although Walt Disney (#40), Elvis (#70), and Audrey Hepburn (#46) make the list. Freddie did manage to squeak past his fellow historical heavyweights, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (#69) and William Shakespeare (#87).

The only concern I have is the date that the story appeared: April 1st.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Mad Dadds & Englishmen

Having trouble seeing the small details of this painting on your computer screen? Well, having stood in front of the original at the Tate in London, I can tell you that you need a magnifying lens to see the detail in the painting. This makes sense since Dadd used a magnifying lens when he painted it.

When I bought Queen II at the used record store in 1978, I remember reading, in mice type, along the bottom of the LP jacket: “Inspired by a painting by Richard Dadd.” The song it is referring to, of course, is The Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke and its lyrics tell the story of the myriad of mythical characters in the painting.

As an art student at Ealing College in the late ’60s and early ’70s, I can imagine Freddie visiting the Tate and seeing the painting for the first time and being awestruck at Dadd’s attention to detail, not to mention his obvious love of Victorian-era faeries and other ethereal creatures. In some ways, Freddie managed to outdo the complexity and richness of the painting in his song.

Even more amazing about Dadd was that he produced his masterpieces as a paranoid schizophrenic while in a sanitarium for killing his father whom he thought was the devil (Wiki). I’m sure this added a layer of intrigue to Freddie’s perception of the painting, although I’m glad he didn’t include such references to Dadd’s condition in the song.

Wikipedia. (2009, May 23). Richard Dadd. Retrieved on June 5, 2009, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Dadd

Richard Dadd. Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke. 1855–64. Oil on canvas. 54 × 39.5 cm. Tate Gallery, London.


Friday, June 5, 2009

The Rockman and the Red Special

I’ve always drawn a parallel between Brian May and Tom Scholz, of Boston. As guitarists, their styles are immediately recognizable and their innovative use of multi-tracked guitars is still, I suspect, a pioneering achievement few others have mastered.

Aside from their musical similarities, they have many interesting connections.

With higher education:
- Tom is a graduate of MIT with a Masters in mechanical engineering
- Brian has a PhD in astrophysics

With electronics:
- Tom built the Rockman, a commercially successful pocket amplifier—not to mention he worked at Polaroid as a Senior Product Engineer. He could probably make a VCR out of a pack of gum and a jack knife.
- Brian built the Red Special, a one-of-a-kind guitar whose tremelo bar rarely goes out of tune even though it’s made from motorcycle parts and a knitting needle.

With philanthropy:
- Tom has been a vegetarian for years and actively supports PETA and Greenpeace as well as supporting homeless shelters, food banks, stopping world hunger, animal rescues, and advocating for children’s rights.
- Brian is a vegetarian and supports the following charities:21st Century Leaders, 46664, Nordoff-Robbins, Prince’s Trust, Teenage Cancer Trust, Whatever It Takes, and the Mercury Phoenix Trust.

And, of course, they’re both pretty tall. Tom is 6' 5" and Brian is 6' 2".

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Fiddler on the move

Media Moment: David Garrett: Live in Berlin
Queen Related: Cover of Who Wants To Live Forever

Public television has some interesting programs and last night’s broadcast of a David Garrett performance in Berlin was no exception. I've never heard of him before so I normally wouldn’t have bothered watching the concert, but I happened to catch the program’s summary which mentioned WWTLF. Hey, I’m open to seeing how a violin (or is it fiddle?) virtuoso plays homage to Highlander, so I PVRed it and watched it this morning.

The song was third in the set—after Michael Jackson’s Smooth Operator—so I didn’t have to fast forward to find it. Garrett does not mention Queen or Brian but instead says, “One of my favorite tunes is Who Wants To Live Forever from the soundtrack to the film Highlander.” And thus begins the haunting opening lines that we all expect Freddie and Brian to sing.

Immediately following WWTLF, he introduces a medley of ’70s and ’80s songs which started off with the familiar, stomp-stomp-clap. After this intro, the medley didn’t include any more Queen, to my disappointment.

His violin performance reminded me of Lucia Micarelli’s marvelous (and spontaneous?) interpretation of Bohemian Rhapsody on Josh Groban’s Live at the Greek CD/DVD.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Freddie’s “get”

Pedigrees for registered horses are big business and big bucks are spent for champion stallions to sire offspring (known as “get” in the horse breeding industry) with the hope that their foals will inherit those award-winning character traits from both parents.

Naming the foal to acknowledge its pedigree means going back through the breeding lineage (usually the male side) and finding two or three names taken from the father or grandfather, mix them up, and that becomes the foal’s registered name. If the registered name becomes too unruly for common usage (i.e., Colonel Freckles My Darling), then the horse will usually be given a “barn name,” which is a whole lot easier to remember and pronounce.

So, how does Freddie factor into this horse naming business? There are at least two horses that I know of, thanks to my time spent at a horse magazine, that have the name Freddie Mercury. One belongs to a teenager in Ontario who regularly shows him in competition, and the other is owned by a woman from Oklahoma, I think, who actually has a video of him up on YouTube.

Some questions I would have for these owners might be:
- Are these horses’ names merely the result of pedigree coincidence in their naming?
- Are these barn names? If so, then why use FM?

Freddie’s naming legacy now includes a star, a rose, an insect, a cat, a jet airliner, and now, two horses. Not bad for someone who never had kids.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

We Will Rock Peru

Media Moment:
The Media and Globalization
Queen Related: Queen mentioned in scholarly research

Sure, we’ve seen umpteen different television commercials using Queen songs to hawk products, and you’ll most likely hear WWRY at any sporting event…but I certainly didn't expect to read about Queen in my Masters textbook, The Media and Globalization.

The chapter is on heterogenization of cultures through mediated global communication. The indigenation of popular music (usually from the West) into a different culture was cited as a contributing factor in creating a common experience for members of that society, Lull (2000) states:

“A Peruvian band playing traditional Andes folk music at a tourist restaurant in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, suddenly breaks into the English band Queen’s We Will Rock You to the delight of German and Canadian girls in the audience” (Rantanen, 2005, p. 84).

Goes to show that when WWRY is played around the world, it brings people of all cultures together through of a shared memory of the song.

Rantanen, T. (2005). The Media and Globalization. London: SAGE Publications Ltd.

Monday, June 1, 2009

I ain’t lyin’ when I say I heard Brian

Media Moment: The Adventures of Pinocchio (1996)
Queen Related: Soundtrack features Brian

Well, I didn’t even have to wait until noon today before I got my first Queen sighting...I was flipping through the TV channels and stumbled across The Adventures of Pinocchio. You know, the one that features Brian on the soundtrack. He does a duet with Norwegian soprano, Sissel Kyrkjebø, called What Are We Made Of, as well as contribute music and voice to a fairly elaborate opera scene in the movie. I’ve heard rumours that he actually has a cameo in this film somewhere so I’ll have to PVR it and watch closely.

As for the movie itself, it is a strange mix of Team America-style puppetry, SNL-type humour with Rob Schneider, and Warhol-inspired lunacy with Udo (“are you a were-gin?”) Kier as the bad guy...all directed with a bizarre family-friendly, Fellini-esque feel.

Come to think of it, maybe this Pinocchio puppet should have made a cameo in Team American (everyone else did!). I’m sure there’d be a deleted scene on the DVD involving that nose of his.