It was strange to come across the story of Brian May's academic achievement recently. I knew of course, about his pursuits in Astronomy, including his recent co-authoring of the book Bang! No, the strange thing about this news, was that we've been listening to a lot of Queen in the Dragon's Lair lately. I mean A LOT of Queen.
Music is not something that Jes and I agree on very often. She likes acoustic, melodic folk with layered harmonies, and I like, well, I just like to Rock out. I'm generalizing of course, I can appreciate most of her folk favorites, as she can my outlaw country, but I still can't get her to fully recognize the genius of say the Ramones.
But one band we can agree on, is Queen. And not just a grudging acceptance, but we both share a genuine admiration and affection for the band and their music. Of course, we frequently disagree on what their best songs are...
Just the other night we were talking about Queen in general, and Freddie Mercury in particular. And the topic of Mercury's contribution to Gay Rights came up. Now I never really heard of Mercury marching in a Pride parade, or organizing fund-raisers for PFLAG. From what I've read, he liked to keep his private life, well, private. But his sexuality was basically an open secret.
Queen was probably the first band I was ever a fan of. Another One Bites the Dust, and the Flash Gordon soundtrack came out when I was third grade, and had me hooked. A year or so later, the "Rock is Satanic" madness hit the church I was in. While many absurd arguements were brought forth about backwards masking, and hidden meanings in lyrics, these well-intentioned but small-minded folks didn't really have to make any paranoid leaps of logic to indict Queen. I mean, really...
Charges of moral degeneracy against the Stones, the Beatles, ELO, Led Zepplin, and a host of others sounded plausible to my naive and brainwashed young ears. But the slander against Queen, that fell on deaf ears. To be honest, I didn't really understand at the age of ten or so, what homosexuality was, or why some folks thought it was so bad. My reaction was basically, "So What?" I couldn't wrap my head around how music that so fed my soul, was life-affirming, and gave me a tool for building self-esteem could be evil.
In that existential hell which is Middle School, a few years later, where homophobia seemed rule every part of a boy's life, somehow Queen was exempt from the insecure witchhunt of queerness. And mind you, this was in a small bedroom community near a large Army base in Texas. Oh, I remember the urban myth that "We Are the Champions" was the anthem for some national gay organization. Somehow this didn't stick. Even in this most repressed and homophobic environment, where stars like Wham!, and Elton John were highly disdained, Queen was somehow still cool.
I can't really explain it. Even now, I feel some shame for the hate, fear, and ignorance I was at best complacent to, at worst participated in, back in those days. Yet, their were seeds of tolerance planted by Queen, and I have to wonder how many other kids my age shared in that. And perhaps more importantly, how many gay teens were not only given those seeds, but also a lifeline through the outrageous showmanship of Mercury.
Listening to Queen still gives me hope, confidence, and love for myself and humanity. Songs like "All God's People" from Innuendo and "Heaven for Everyone" from Made in Heaven inspire and move me in ways that I think religious services are supposed to, but haven't for sometime.
So congratulations to the soon to be Dr. May.
Thank you to Roger Taylor and John Deacon, whose talents and contributions to the band sometimes seem to get overshadowed.
And Freddie, wherever you are, keep on rockin'.
Everybody else... well, "Get on your bikes and ride!"
For those interested YouTube user Oberon1969 has an awesome collection of Queen documentaries and videos. Check 'em out.