I’ll admit, to my unending chagrin, that when I was younger, I played the, “I’m not like other girls,” card a lot, though to my credit it was less out of a sense of superiority than it was out of a real sense of not-quite-belonging. And, admittedly, in 1994, almost all of the girls I knew had crushes on mostly age-appropriate boys from TV or movies, with a few of them branching out to some older athletes and pro-sports players.
I didn’t really know a lot of twelve-year-old girls with a crush on Freddie Mercury. 45-year-old, queer, three-years-dead Freddie Mercury.
When I was young – I mean, really young, still in our first house, so I was probably five or younger – my parents would occasionally bring down their old vinyl records and spend the day playing music on their old turntable. One of the albums was Queen’s “News of the World,” and my earliest memory of the band was being utterly terrified of the album cover. It wasn’t until I was in 4th grade that my mom brought down her records and I sat and actually gave it a listen.
I think it was “Spread Your Wings” that officially hooked me. There was something about that song thematically that spoke to me, as a socially-isolated pre-teen, and the more I learned about the band – and the more I listened to them – the more I found that resonated with me.
Queen was never high art, and they never aspired to be. They did some incredibly innovative stuff, musically, but they wrote a lot of what Freddie would call “disposable pop:”
As a wanna-be creator, especially a young, self-conscious one, this was so important, and so uplifting. There’s this idea that creativity has to come from suffering, that there are objective, definable criteria for “art,” that everything has to have layers of symbolic “meaning” in order to matter. Freddie wrote music for the pleasure of writing and performing it; he wrote it to be consumable, for people to enjoy – if it happened to resonate with people, great, but it was about loving it in the moment, appreciating it in the now. If it brings you pleasure, and brings others pleasure, can’t that be enough? Can’t that pleasure be it’s measure of worth?
Disposable pop or not, their music struck a chord with me; it was loud, over the top, more than a little tongue-in-cheek, and totally self-aware. It was everything I wished I could be, as an artist – someone who took risks, had fun, and was happy letting their audience value and enjoy the product in whatever way they saw fit. Instead, I was a second-guessing, self-conscious, and pretty thin-skinned kid who, as a result, never really went out on a limb creatively. I wanted so much to be like them, it was painful.
By the time I was twelve, I owned every studio album Queen every released, plus their live recordings, a limited edition interview disc, two of Freddie’s solo albums, two rare Brian May recordings, and every video (music video compilations, documentaries, concerts, and the Freddie Tribute Concert) and book available to me. A lot of those sleepless nights in my pre-teen and early teen years were spent reading and re-reading Freddie’s biography. I got really involved with Queen a few years after Freddie’s death; I didn’t “lose” him in the same sense that long-time fans did, in that I went into the fandom already well-aware that he was already gone. I only ever knew him in the past tense. But those early years in the fandom, listening to those albums on Infinite Repeat, watching those videos, and reading those books, I learn how acutely and painfully you could miss someone you never knew.
A writer – and fan – named Daniel Nester wrote two collections of lyrical essays on the subject of Queen fandom that captured the essence (if not the details) of my experience quite well, and I recommend to you God Save My Queen and God Save My Queen II, if you like that sort of thing.