After a few false starts, I finally got to see the Queen biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody, last night. It was incredibly moving and, for this forty-something, brought backs floods of memories of my eighties childhood.
First off, I acknowledge that liberties are always taken when it comes to someone’s life stories on screen. Economies are made and time is sometimes compressed to make for a more impactful storyline. But Freddy Mercury’s life didn’t really need additional impact, did it?
I’m also aware that it’s been critiqued for not showing enough about his sexuality. I’m not sure about that, as I got to see how he struggled, how the press hounded him and how we eventually found love. Not knowing him personally, I can’t say how much was left out, but I don’t think we were likely to see anything too overtly sexual in a film aimed at a general release.
I’d maybe put it another way: it was all there if you knew to look for it. It didn’t gloms over the sadness that ran throughout his life, but it definitely flagged just how much he wanted to enjoy life – and found this whenever he was in front of (and controlling!) an audience.
Especially if you watched the fantastic Remi Malek’s facial expressions. The man transformed into Freddie, and the way he managed to flash such a combination of thoughts and emotions across his face throughout the film was superb.
The casting throughout was great, in that you could both recognise the characters but their performances weren’t distracting. Remi’s on stage Freddie was marvellous to watch – he’d obviously spent a long time studying footage of Queen at work.
My one critique would be that I could have watched another hour of it. Yes, that’s not much of a complaint at all. I was totally submerged in the 80s once again and revelled in the memories that came back – both of Queen’s music and the Live Aid concert.
I ‘discovered’ Queen via a friend at school, who had a quite magnificent collection of ‘bootleg’ tapes of Queen concerts. So I really first heard Queen in their live and unadulterated form. And marvelled at Freddie’s on-stage vocal gymnastics. I was in awe. It was unlike anything I’d heard before.
The Live Aid concert was literally a phenomenon. I remember, as a nine year old, how my local streets were basically deserted in suburban Dublin, as people stayed in to watch megastars perform one after another. I also remember the frantic activity of those lucky enough to own a VHS recorder throw in tape after tape to record the event. We didn’t have one at that point, so I couldn’t only look on with jealousy. And hope that my memories didn’t fade too quickly.
I vividly remember hearing about Freddie’s passing. I was getting a lift home from school one afternoon when it was announced on the radio. I remember being speechless for a while, then quite incredibly sad. Especially when they emphasised just how young he was.
The flip side was, of course, that he had accomplished so much in that short lifespan.
It was also my real introduction to the AIDs crisis, something I’d basically been cushioned from growing up in middle class Dublin. In these pre-internet days, you learnt either through direct experience or via woefully uneducated rumour and gossip.
Fast forward a few years and this awkward, introverted teenager was playing ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ on the piano at the National Concert Hall in Dublin at a school concert that raised money for Africa each year.
I know, right? Thankfully, no recordings of the evening still exist, but it’s an experience I’ll take with me to my grave.
Firstly, the chance to play on such a magnificent grand piano, but also to play that incredible piece of music in front of a large audience. As is still my musical habit of a lifetime, I fluffed notes in the first ten seconds. Paused. The continued to the very end without a hitch. I remember wanted to drag out those final notes (‘…any way the wind blows’) for the rest of my life.
I don’t remember the minutes after my performance ended as I was in a wind tunnel of performance anxiety, relief, excitement and joy. Somehow I found myself backstage, grinning like the proverbial cat and learning very quickly that girls love a boy in a tux who can play the piano. Sadly, their attention and none-too-subtle hints went right over my head.
The start of a lifetime on the stage?
Of course not.
As this blog clearly illustrates! But I spent my late school years and start of university playing piano in restaurants and wine bars in the evening. South Dublin’s suburban eateries were graced with my renditions of Gershwin, Cole Porter and yes, Queen’s very best. Though I had to sneak in the latter by hamming up the delivery and only playing them when the venue was really busy and loud.
So yes, last night’s trip to the cinema was one of the best I’ve had this year. Both the film and my trip down memory lane were hugely enjoyable and I know what I’m going to be listening to all weekend.
Freddie Mercury was one of the musical greats and we were lucky to have him for as long as we did.