The Story Of...Freddie Mercury
Bohemian Rhapsody is not a good film, but I loved it. Or rather, I loved watching Remi Malek play Freddie Mercury. The moment-for-moment recreation of Queen’s Live Aid performance actually made me teary-eyed. It brought me back to 1985, when I was 17 and watching Live Aid on my grandmother’s TV in Viareggio, Italy. It was a pretty boring show until Queen came on, even though we were all caught up in the moment of it. Except my dad, who kept a lazy ear on the TV and grumbled about how rubbish everyone was until Queen…and then he had to concede that Freddie Mercury could sing and he was quite the performer.
That’s high praise from my dad, who really didn’t rate pop music very much. But whatever you thought about Queen’s music – and virtually everyone I knew then absolutely hated them – there was no denying that Mercury was a special kind of talent. That multi-octave range, the totally uninhibited performances – yes it was all a bit high camp, but he was just so good at it, and anyone who had ever gone to a Queen concert (including me - during 1980’s The Game tour), came away knowing that Freddie really knew how to put on a good show.
I’ve always been a fan of Queen. I loved Another One Bites the Dust when it first came out, and I’ve always loved Bohemian Rhapsody. There’s just so much fun in his songs.
But of course Mercury’s life was a bit more complicated than that. His struggles around his sexuality are at the heart of the Mercury story, although I didn’t think the film did any kind of decent job in its portrait of a young man attempting to negotiate his bisexuality in a world that could barely disguise its discomfort and contempt for it.
The film also conveniently ignores that Queen’s legendary excesses – with booze, drugs and general debauchery – was a band-wide effort rather than a Mercury solo run, probably because the three remaining members of Queen produced the film. There’s lots of other details that are wrong, including when he reveals to the others that he’s HIV positive, but they don’t bother me as much because they help maintain the narrative tension rather than try to completely rewrite the story.
Freddie Mercury’s life was a lot more complex and interesting than the film portrays – and I could barely begin to do it any kind of justice in this radio piece, which I made in 2013, on the 22nd anniversary of his death from AIDS in 1991. If anything, it serves to remind me how great he was and that for all the millions of times you’ve heard it played, Bohemian Rhapsody is still a great song.