When we think about the flamboyant frontmen of the ‘70s and ‘80s, a few names spring to mind. But Freddie Mercury, Queen’s powerhouse vocalist and outrageous showman with his kohl-rimmed eyes and rock-god swagger, has inspired a deep devotion like few others.
Freddie adored the stage, but he was open about the struggles of fame. “Love is the hardest thing to achieve and the one thing in this business that can let you down the most,” he once said. The blurry lines of his sexuality drew the eyes of women and men alike. And he boldly faced death after a public struggle with AIDS — the first major rock star to lose his life to the disease at only 45 years old. Today would have been Freddie’s 69th birthday — an age he never expected to see: “I certainly don’t have any aspirations to live to 70. As far as I’m concerned I’ve lived a full life and if I’m dead tomorrow I don’t give a damn. I really have done it all.”
Acclaimed God Save My Queen author Daniel Nester wrote about his obsession with the band Queen in his first two books — part experimental essay, memoir, prose poem, and music biography. No one can wax lyrical superfan quite like Nester. Flavorwire recently spoke to the author and asked him about some of the most memorable moments in the life and career of Freddie Mercury. Nester, whose new book Shader: 99 Notes on Car Washes, Making Out in Church, and Other Unlearnable Subjects arrives November 15 (a coming-of-age story set in the same New Jersey town where Martin Luther King, Jr. was once thrown out of a bar at gunpoint), filled us in on Freddie’s love of Scrabble, cats, and more during our conversation.
Here are some of the most epic Freddie Mercury moments according to the author.
September 5, 1946: Freddie Mercury is born in Zanzibar, off the coast of Western Africa. (His birth name was Farrokh Bulsara. Did you really think his last name was Mercury?) Some enterprising Zanzibars offer Mercury-themed tours these days.
June 26, 1973: Queen before Queen. Before the band released their first album, Freddie Mercury records a one-off single for EMI, a cover of “I Can Hear Music,” a cover of a Beach Boys song (first recorded by the Ronettes in 1966). But it’s the B-side, a cover of the Gerry Goffin/Carole King tune “Goin’ Back,” that’s the keeper.
October 31, 1975: “Bohemian Rhapsody” is released as a single in the UK. You might have heard this one. That’s 40 years ago this October, and to commemorate, the band creates a beer, Bohemian Rhapsody Lager, made in the former Bohemia part of the Czech Republic.
July 1977, Wessex Studios, London: Freddie goes toe-to-toe with Sid Vicious. It started with a wisecrack. “Ah, Freddie Mercury,” Sid said. “Have you succeeded in bringing ballet to the masses then?”
“Oh yes, Simon Ferocious,” Freddie says. “Well, we’re doing our best, my dear.”
He stands up, walks over to Vicious, flicks a finger on one of the safety pins on his leather jacket.
“Tell me,” Freddie says. “Did you arrange all these pins just so?”
Sid stepped forward. Freddie pushed him in the chest.
“So?” Mercury says. “What are you going to do about it?”
Sid backed down. Punk Rock 0, Stadium Rock 1.
October 7, 1979: Freddie brings ballet to the masses. Freddie Mercury and the Royal Ballet perform “Bohemian Rhapsody” for a charity gala. He wears a biker jacket and a tutu. “In those days, the press didn’t know what to make of it,” said Barcelona keyboardist, co-producer, and co-author Mike Moran. “Later, of course, opera became big time with Pavarotti, the World Cup, and the Three Tenors. So suddenly, everybody wants to duet with an opera singer. Yet again, Freddie was courageous and before his time.”
August 1981: Freddie Mercury appears in Playgirl. No nudity, but Freddie is named one of “The Ten Sexiest Rock Stars” alongside David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen, and Eddie Money.
c. 1984-1985: Freddie helps smuggle Princess Diana into gay bar dressed as a boy. In her memoir, comedy actress Cleo Rocos writes that Mercury and British comedian Kenny Everett dressed Diana in an “army jacket, cap and sunglasses” for a night out at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern, south London. More than likely, they drank Bellinis.
July 13, 1985: Queen rock Live Aid, Freddie hits on Bono. It’s regarded as one of the best live rock performances of all time, but what you may not know is that following his band’s set, Freddie hit on Bono. Hard. According to the U2 singer, Freddie got “really playful.” Oh, and Freddie stole Bono’s ridiculous hat during the concert finale.
March 1987: Freddie meets opera diva Montserrat Caballé at the Ritz Hotel in Barcelona, Spain. “I’d never seen him so nervous,” Freddie’s assistant Peter “Phoebe” Freestone recalled later. One night they stayed up singing together by a piano.
April 13, 1985: “Completely assholed,” Freddie sings “Jailhouse Rock” with Spandau Ballet singer Tony Hadley in New Zealand. Hadley and Freddie finish a bottle of Stolichnaya at the bar, then switch to port. According to Queen drummer Roger Taylor, neither could remember a single word.
2011: Through the power of television, Freddie sings in a Nissin Cup Noodle commercial. He sings his 1985 solo hit “I Was Born To Love You,” and it’s the best thing you will see today.