Given my age, it should come as no surprise that my favorite band of all time would be Queen, and that I would be, still am, a Freddie Mercury fan. Not that I dismiss The Who, Yes, The Grateful Dead or The Beatles, or even The Monkeys. Of course, this is about a band, so I am not even considering Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Pete Seeger, and on and on.
Freddie Mercury, dubbed by some as the greatest rock singer of all time, referred to by some as one of the greatest entertainers, even the best voice of all time, is one of the few people I could say I would have traded places with in my lifetime. It isn’t that my life has been so ultra-spectacular that there are only a few people I would have seriously traded places with, though there are only a few. It is that I am a realist and every life, for all its seeming stardom, has its own darkness, and it is unlikely I could have done that-special-someone-else’s life as magically or meaningfully as that person did it. There have been some cases where I think I could have done a far better job of it than the people involved if I were given the same gifts and opportunities afforded them, which they somehow squandered. But, alas, I digress.
I have been celebrating Freddie’s birthday by listening to Queen all day on this Labor Day, while doing house work, while eating lunch and dinner (my granddaughter was visiting for breakfast or I might have started marking the anniversary much earlier in the day), while working for my client (developing agendas and authoring client reports eased along by the amazing talent of Freddie Mercury in the background), sometimes just sitting in my big armchair and watching him/them, and watching, and watching, and listening (of course).
When I was young, for years I wished myself a man, for reasons I won’t expound on here. Though I prefer a man in my bed, have never experimented with crossing over, I have lived a fairly masculine life, been more tomboy than princess, and when older, more butch than Jackie Onassis, spending the bulk of my career competing directly with men and holding down jobs that are routinely relegated to my male counterparts, currently holding my own in an industry where only 10% of cybersecurity professionals worldwide are women. The gender-bending personas of Prince, David Bowie, Freddie Mercury, comedian Eddie Izzard, have always intrigued and inspired me.
But that is the lesser, almost insignificant, of motivations, the primary obsession being how much I wanted to be a professional singer. I took voice lessons, guitar lessons, piano lessons, all on my own as a young adult, my father refusing to invest in such a ridiculous interest when I was a child. I did play the viola for one year in junior high. I sang and played guitar in a folk group for a couple of years in my early twenties, and did theater (musicals mostly) for a few years in my mid- to late twenties.
One day, driving through downtown Waterbury, Connecticut, in the winter of 1984, a public announcement came on the radio about an audition for a regional theater production of “Annie” that had been postponed from a previous date due to inclement weather, and the rescheduled event was taking place right at that moment just blocks from where I was driving. So I went, on impulse, and auditioned, walking in unprepared, sang two songs with the sheet music they provided and I was accepted into the chorus which performed all the non-primary roles and spent the play singing and dancing in act after act — in the orphanage, on the streets of New York, around a fire in an alleyway. It was a blast.
I rarely watch TV, but I love “The Voice” and live slightly vicariously on the occasion that I watch it. So yes, I would have stepped into Freddie Mercury’s shoes, burned bright and hot even though it was too quick, especially for us, those who still love his music, his magic, his bright star, and, as it should be, on this day, a shooting star is named for him in celebration of his incredible talent and his gift to music that lives on. His lyrics and his voice will rattle around in my head for days: “I want to ride my bicycle // I want to ride my bike // I want to ride my bicycle // I want to ride it where I like.”
Who would you, in all earnest, have traded places with in your lifetime, or would this moment if you could, and why? List all the reasons, no matter how obscure they might seem. If you want to be a little more daring, pick one, and do something about it in the next week. (For instance, go sing for someone.)
“I remember in ‘Law of Desire,’ where I played a homosexual, that people were more upset that I kissed a man on the mouth than I killed a man. It’s interesting to see how people can pardon you for murdering a man, but they can’t pardon you for kissing one.” – Antonio Banderas
Image: “Key West Sunset,” Key West, Florida, 2016. © Faith Vicinanza